Mick Archer has written a lovely article about my encounter with late and great jazz pianist, Marian McPartland and included some of my recollections about playing in piano bars.
I finally had the opportunity to see La La Land this past week. In short, I was delighted from start to finish. Imagine my surprise when the two men who accompanied me to the cinema proclaimed this to be “a terrible movie” and “boring,” respectively.
Another friend disliked the opening sequence with a traffic jam resulting in people getting out of their cars and singing and dancing.
As for me, I loved the opening for quickly putting the viewer into the world of Hollywood where every other person seems to be grasping for a toe hold into the world of entertainment. Although they may get to sing, dance, act, write, direct or design for TV and movies, all of these people have to keep on scrambling to pay bills and keep their cars running. The scene also has the principal characters “meeting cute” with an angry flipped finger at one another.
The use of bright colors throughout the movie whether it be with clothing, furniture, signage or scenery absolutely delighted my eyes. The score was tuneful and lyrics well-crafted. The song “City of Stars” is still going through my head. The orchestration found so many different ways of presenting the simple but potent melodies. The script dialogue is reminiscent of the rapid bantering of 1930’s screwball comedies.
Now a word about the stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. She can actually sing pretty expressively. Gosling’s singing is serviceable, but I was really impressed with his ability to simulate playing the piano really well. He reportedly sang and played piano, guitar, bass and cello in a group in 2009 so he came to the film with some musical skills. His dancing is pretty impressive, too, especially since he is six feet tall and gracefully manages his long legs. Stone and Gosling were cast for their box office names and their acting chops, but their musical and dancing skills are most entertaining.
One of the men who dissed the movie did sheepishly note the large number of Oscar nominations for this “terrible movie.” Let me compare this to the political climate. We definitely see the world through our own filters, be it for movie-watching or political opinions. Some of us just have better taste!
Dame Cleo Laine turned 88 this week. Born to a black Jamaican father and a white English farm girl, Laine went on to make inroads into jazz, musical theater and classical music. Milestones include her recording of Porgy and Bess with Ray Charles, her concerts with Frank Sinatra at Royal Albert Hall in London, her classical recording of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and her star turn in the Broadway musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Let me say that I have been a big fan for a long time. I snuck into one of her rehearsals at the famed Venetian Room in the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel. I had to leave that afternoon before her opening night, so I was trying to catch some of her act before heading for the airport. She was absolutely phenomenal.
A few years later, I was singing at the Pump Room when who should come in for dinner but Dame Cleo Laine and her very talented husband, bandleader/instrumentalist, Sir John Dankworth. After their meal, they actually hung out with our combo around the piano. They gave my band leader and me contact information for them in England and said they would love to have us perform at their home should we be in England. Little did we know that they had a very professional venue called The Stables on their residential grounds. Alas, I never made it to Great Britain and Sir John died in 2010.
While summoning up this cherished memory, I wish you a very happy birthday, Dame Cleo Laine. You are one of the classiest ladies in the music business.
He sings, writes songs, plays a zillion instruments including insanely good jazz piano and creates highly inventive videos that are all the rage on the internet. And oh, he is only 22 years of age.
As a child, he was an actor in tv and movies and also sang child vocals in operas. His mother, sisters and grandfather are all musically-inclined so he grew up surrounded by the audio art.
Catch these 4 varied video clips and enjoy his genius. Warning: once you start, it is hard to stop watching his video clips of well-known tunes and of his original material.
Fascinating Rhythm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K28H04Y2IdE
Crazy She Calls Me with Jamie Cullum:
Watch him in action in a big band recording:
I can’t wait to see how this guy evolves. He has been commissioned to create arrangements for orchestras and bands around the world.
Chicago Tribune writer Howard Reich initially set out to uncover his mother’s past in hopes of understanding her erratic behavior in the present. Prisoner of Her Past is Howard Reich’s book and film about his mother’s World War II experiences creeping back into her life sixty years later.
The film is extremely moving, but the book benefits even more from Reich’s meticulous writing. Readers of his incisive musical criticism will delight in his own musical journey as he discovers Gershwin, Mendelssohn and other classical composers as well as his exposure to jazz, both live and recorded.
The book deserves a place on the shelves of readers interested in the Holocaust and World War II, of those curious about post-traumatic syndrome or of those wanting to read a son’s poignant memoir about his troubled mother.
To mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the film, Prisoner of Her Past, will be broadcast on WTTW HD, the Chicago PBS affiliate on Thursday, May 5 at 10 pm and on WTTW Prime on Friday, May 6 at 4 pm.
Both have recorded several albums of iconic Great American Songbook material.
Ella Fitzgerald put out nine impeccable “songbook” albums, each featuring a different songwriter or duo, including Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Streisand, vocalist, actress, director, is also noted for recording film and Broadway songs by Stephen Sondheim, Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch, among many others.
I rectified that situation last week and marveled at the performance clips of this iconic singer-pianist-songwriter. Yes, it is painful to see the downward trajectory of Nina Simone’s life and career, but filmmaker Liz Garbus allows us to see the joy and passion in Simone’s performances as well.
Music clips are interwoven with interviews of her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly and her ex-husband, Andrew Stroud, footage of Hugh Hefner introducing her before she entertains a Playboy televised party and stunning video of her civil rights involvement. The film depicts her life in Liberia, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland after the divorce from her ex-New York cop spouse who had also been her manager. Especially moving are the comments by her long-time guitarist Al Schackman.
The title of the documentary is a quote from literary giant Maya Angelou who uttered this famous phrase to the world famous musician. Simone most likely suffered from manic depression or bi-polarity which was not effectively treated most of her life.
Mental illness was not the only challenge for Simone. Her budding career as a young classical pianist may have been thwarted by her lack of funds, her gender and the color of her skin. The civil rights movement consumed her and she admitted to Martin Luther King that she did not espouse non-violence in the black struggle. Her husband served her well in business but according to Simone, was abusive both emotionally and physically in their marriage.
As counterweight to the heavy topics, there is the glorious music that still attracts both young and old alike: I Loves You Porgy, My Baby Just Cares For Me, Mississippi Goddam, Strange Fruit, the Janis Ian-penned Stars and the Lorraine Hansberry-inspired Simone composition To Be Young, Gifted and Black are among the many songs heard in the film.
What Happened, Miss Simone? has been nominated for a 2016 Documentary Feature Oscar.
June Christy would have been 90 this week. As a birthday tribute, I will be performing selected songs from her repertoire this Friday at Barba Yianni.
Born in Springfield, IL, Christy was most famous for being the talented blonde chick singer with the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the 1940s and 1950s. She recorded many beloved jazz songs including It Could Happen To You and I Remember You.
I had the honor of being on the same entertainment roster with her during Deco Days here in Chicago. I was in a jazz vocal group called Champagne Edition which opened for the still-lovely Miss Christy. When she took to the stage, it became apparent that alcohol had eroded her health and performing abilities. She died at age 64 from kidney failure. It was a big thrill, nonetheless, to cross paths with such a jazz vocal icon.
I was staying at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel and noticed Laine was booked to open in their Venetian Room that evening. Alas, I was departing the city that afternoon so I snuck into her rehearsal before heading to the airport. It was a good twenty minutes before a hotel employee asked me to leave. Still, I had seen the great jazz diva for at least a mini-set.
Years later, she and her husband John Dankworth were in Chicago for a concert. They had a late supper at the Pump Room where I was singing. To my utter delight, Laine and Dankworth came up to the stage and hung out with me, another male singer and our trio. They even gave us their home address and said if we were ever in Great Britain,
they would love to have us perform at their residential concert space. Sad to say, I never made it to England and saxophonist/band leader John Dankworth passed away in 2009.
Still and all, this is a delicious memory encountering one of my jazz goddesses. Happy birthday Dame Cleo Laine.
I recently became better acquainted with Lawyers for the Creative Arts, an organization comprised of lawyers from the Chicagoland area who donate their time and expertise to help artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers with their legal problems. Creators have been given pro bono legal help with everything from copyrights to contracts to law suits.
Their recent benefit luncheon in the Palmer House’s Empire Room honored law firm Sidley Austin for their pro bono work, former board president William Frankel for his longtime service to LCA, Mark Howard, founder and choreographer of the Trinity Irish Dancers and Liz Carroll, the noted performer and composer of Irish fiddle music. The incoming Consul General of Ireland, the Hon. Orla McBreen introduced the program and popular cultural commentator Rick Kogan acted as master of ceremonies.
In the last twelve months, LCA lawyers have provided legal service to over 2000 people and organizations. Founded 42 years ago, some of the earliest volunteer lawyers are still active in the organization. Beneficiaries of LCA’s legal advice have dubbed the organization “An Angel to the Arts.”