Large Association of Movie Blogs
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, June 30, 2011

This Saturday At 9:00 A.M. PST: Bernard Herrmann Tribute On KFJC

"In orchestrating the picture I avoided, as much as possible, the realistic sound of a large symphony orchestra. The motion picture soundtrack is an exquisitely sensitive medium, and with skillful engineering a simple bass flute solo, the pulsing of a bass drum, or the sound of muted horns, can often be more effective than half a hundred musicians sawing away." Bernard Herrmann, 1941 New York Times interview

On KFJC this Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to noon Pacific Standard Time, film soundtrack music expert Robert Emmett will be presenting a three hour tribute to composer-conductor Bernard Herrmann.

Yesterday was the centenary of Bernard Herrmann's birth. If perchance you aren't a music or movie buff and do not know who Bernard Herrmann is, you certainly know his striking, dramatic scores for such films as Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Psycho, North By Northwest, Taxi Driver and many more.

He also conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra and created the music for Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts prior to his film score composing career.

While saying that Herrmann's creative scores and varied orchestrations added tremendously to the impact of these iconic movies would be the understatement of the decade, they also stand alone as works of art.

One does not have to be a film music buff to hear his scores, independent of whatever celluloid opus they provided counterpoint for, and find them fascinating and immensely pleasurable listening.

Among the tributes that continue to hail forth through 2011 is a good overview written by Tom Huizenga, Bernard Herrmann At 100: Master Of The Movie Score.

There are also a number of documentaries available via YouTube. Here are the first three segments of Channel 4's documentary, Music Of The Movies - Bernard Herrmann (embedding is disabled on subsequent parts):

Herrmann, like noted pianist-author-raconteur Oscar Levant, wanted more than anything else to be an internationally recognized, respected classical composer/symphony conductor - and thus was never at peace with even resounding and sustained success in the craft of writing scores for motion pictures. It's also a bit reminiscent of the talented animation director Shamus Culhane, whose memoirs expressed how he didn't care for cartoons per se and, as what he really wanted was to play the violin or viola in a symphony orchestra or string quartet, his entire career was something of a "Plan B".

That said, Bernard Herrmann did write a cantata based on Moby Dick and an operatic take on Wuthering Heights, as well as symphonies.

One would hope that if he only knew of the sheer number of prestigious orchestras around the world performing his music in 2011 and beyond, Mr. Herrmann would feel some measure of satisfaction and vindication.

The KFJC tribute will be available via their Broadcast Archives through July 16.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We Nominate Tinky Weisblat For Alzheimer's Advisory Council

Today, your semi-intrepid correspondent breaks from his customary clip-laden tributes to mid-20th century movies/cartoons/music - or occasional short, snotty, snarky humor pieces - to take on a topic close to home.

The Department Of Health And Human Services is in the process of assembling an Advisory Council on Alzheimer's Research, Care & Services. Two of the council members will be caregivers.

We join those who support the nomination of author Tinky "Dakota" Weisblat - not just because we love her name and enjoy Tinky's prose on far-flung topics - but because she is a caregiver, an eloquent advocate, and currently resides in close proximity to Washington D.C.

Tinky, author of The Pudding Hollow Cookbook, has turned her wordsmithing ways to chronicling the day-to-day life of caregiving for a mother who suffers from dementia. Her blog, Pulling Taffy - A Family's Year with Dementia and Other Quirks, has provided a tremendous service to those of us - LOTS of us - who are both caring for family members stricken by Alzheimer's Disease and attempting to be as positive as we can through the experience.

She would be a terrific choice as one of the caregiver-advisors for the council.

Nominations can be e-mailed to Helen Lamont at Department Of Health And Human Services. In the following online version of Federal Register (Volume 76 issue 112), just scroll down past SUMMARY and DATES to ADDRESSES for further instructions.

The deadline is EOB on June 30, 2011.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Burt Bacharach Day

Since June 20 is the birthday of Brian Wilson, I'm posting the one clip available involving Brian (with or without The Beach Boys) covering Burt Bacharach music. Posted this clip of an intriguing but never finished demo - The Beach Boys covering Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By" - a couple of years back. Don't have the particulars, but it would appear to have been very likely recorded between the Wild Honey and Friends albums in 1967-1968.

Listening to how deftly the Burt and Brian styles of composition and vocal arrangement dovetail, one concludes that had Capitol Records encouraged the Brother label to release non-Beach Boys solo projects by The Wilsons - all spotlighting new original material and musical ideas that broke with the BB's "sun, surf n' babes" Top 40 formula - the results would have been rewarding.

Fortunately for music lovers, Brian re-emerged 30 years after this recording, Wondermints and Stockholm Strings in tow, to set things right and celebrate both the commercial and more experimental aspects of his music in style.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Saluting The Sultans Of Swing

Today, the jazz-crazed author of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog salutes The Sultans Of Swing. Let's start with this clip of Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa, tearing it up in the 1937 Warner Bros. musical Hollywood Hotel.

By the early 1930's, there were already tremendous swing bands led by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong (leading the Luis Russell Orchestra), Fletcher Henderson, Jimmie Lunceford, Cab Calloway, Don Redman, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Walter Page, the Dorsey Brothers and legendary drummer Chick Webb, just to name a few.

Soon these mighty musical juggernauts of 1930 would be followed by Benny Goodman, Count Basie and, in Paris, a "little big band" known as The Hot Club Of France.

It remains a well kept secret to all but the most obsessed jazz buffs that the various Sultans Of Swing continued to record superb albums, and lots of them, long after the heydey of the genre was a dim speck in the rear view mirror. Had guitarists Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, saxophonist Leon "Chu" Berry, bassist Jimmy Blanton and drummer Chick Webb lived longer, they would have as well.

First and foremost, let us not forget the incredible Coleman Hawkins, the featured soloist in the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (the one that rocked New York City in 1924) who continued performing and recording consistently great music in a distinguished five-decade career.

Hawkins does what he does brilliantly in this clip featuring swing trumpet ace and frequent bandmate Roy "Little Jazz" Eldridge.

Here's The Hawk, in top form, with none other than ubiquitous studio ace and music educator Mickey Baker on guitar, in 1962.

And then there's Ben Webster, who made his name as one of the featured soloists in the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

And then, the flip side of the tenor saxophone coin, the wonderful Lester "Prez" Young, as light and airy in tone as Hawkins and Webster were gritty. Prez first swung the Walter Page and the Count Basie Orchestras and also made guest appearances on Benny Goodman recordings featuring guitarist Charlie Christian.

Along the way, Prez created numerous enduring musical masterpieces, with and without frequent collaborators Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Jo Jones. Late in his career, he recorded the most soulful and heartfelt albums of them all - any genre, any idiom.

Across the pond from Prez, but darn close to equally soulful, the incomparable guitar genius Django Reinhardt.


Although Django passed away in 1953, his Hot Club Of France bandmate, Stephane Grappelli, would continue playing and touring into the 1990's.

Some of the greatest swing music was performed in the early 1940's and anticipates the swing-to-bop revolution in jazz.

This is no news flash. Among the stylistic and spiritual predecessors of Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey were the guys who drove the Goodman and Basie bands, Gene Krupa and "Papa Jo" Jones, who continued rocking the house well into the 1960's.

Jones played frequently with the tenor saxophonist responsible for the wild solo (which anticipated both r&b and hard bop in one fell swoop) on the Lionel Hampton Orchestra's rocked-out 1941 recording of "Flying Home", Illinois Jacquet.

Jacquet and Hampton never got bored with playing Flying Home and neither did the audience, as this 1967 Newport Jazz Festival recording demonstrates.

Among those post-WW2 genre changing recordings would be those by the restlessly creative Artie Shaw, who got bored with being the second King Of Swing in the 1930's and quickly reached the point when he never, ever wanted to play "Begin The Beguine" again).

Shaw continued recording and kept experimenting with new ideas and different ensemble blends long after the big band era was over.

Woody Herman's riff-powered Second Herd, featuring the stalwart sax section of Stan Getz, Zoot Sims,Serge Chaloff, Herbie Steward and (after Steward left the band) the writer of the band's arrangements, Al Cohn, chose the sophisticated swing-to-bop Lester Young approach over the more "thundering" 1930's style of the First Herd.

Also closer in spirit to the next wave - Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano - than to the commercial pop-oriented big bands - would be three who died in 1941-1942, the aforemtioned Charlie Christian, the Duke Ellington Orchestra's Jimmy Blanton and saxophonist Chu Berry. In fact, it could be argued that Christian WAS the next wave, as he was playing at Minton's Playhouse with Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke, often joined by Parker and Gillespie.

Count Basie Orchestra tenor saxophonist Don Byas, who, as Coleman Hawkins did, always looked forward, unafraid of new ideas in music, would join Dizzy Gillespie's 1942 quintet, featuring Max Roach on drums.

Don Byas relocated to Europe in 1946, where he continued to play and record in a style that blended key elements of swing music and what would be called bebop. Byas would be sought out by younger musicians, as well as American bands on tour.

Among the very harmonically advanced pianists (in addition to Ellington and Hines): the under-recorded but influential Clyde Hart, Mary Lou Williams, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson.

Mary Lou Williams, the innovative and groundbreaking pianist, had already been looking ahead towards that future in her 1930's recordings as music director/arranger of the Andy Kirk Mighty Clouds Of Joy big band and would continue blazing new frontiers for four decades.

Here's Art Tatum, playing beautifully on The Steve Allen Show (IIRC, the piano virtuoso's only TV appearance) in 1954.

Teddy Wilson would be an enormous influence on the next generation of piano trios - especially those of Bill Evans - and would collaborate with Lester Young, bassist Gene Ramey and Jo Jones on Prez' last great albums in 1956.

Jazz pianist and vocalist Nat "King" Cole, who began his career as a stylistic disciple of Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson, hosted his own TV show in the 1950's! The thought, after viewing the Tatum clip and Nat's shows, persists: imagine, just imagine, jazz on television!

In the corporate-dominated 21st century, with 500+ cable channels, even the once music-friendly PBS is largely a jazz-free zone! So we'll time travel back to 1963 and Nat King Cole's BBC special; even when Nat played and sang primarily in a pop vein, the jazz feeling and harmonic/melodic sophistication remains undeniable.

These musicians and their swinging alumni did us all an enormous favor by never jumping the shark or becoming "oldies" acts.

The Count, The Duke, The Earl Of Hines and their various royalty/alumni, disregarding the ever-ephemeral and shifting public tastes, just continued swinging like mad.

Satchmo, Duke, Mary Lou Williams and Teddy Wilson in particular continued to create masterpieces late in their lengthy musical careers.

Pianist-composers Ellington and Williams kept writing new material and experimenting with new arrangements right up to their last days.

Closing this tribute: two clips of Mary Lou Williams, summarizing decades of jazz and blues with her customary panache and originality.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Favorite Music Clip Ever a.k.a. The Clip Of The Day

25 years ago today, the great bandleader/clarinetist Benny Goodman passed away at 77 years of age, pretty much the way we would all like to leave this world - expiring during a post-practice nap after a five decade career in music.

Turns out my favorite music clip ever is the following incendiary performance by Benny's 1937 Quartet, featuring Lionel Hampton on vibes, pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer extraordinaire Gene Krupa, from Hollywood Hotel.

There are some excellent CD box sets of BG available, not the least of them the following beaut from the fabulous Mosaic Records.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

And This Blog Loves Film History Researchers

Ever since seeing Buster Keaton's Cops on Paul Killiam's Silents Please TV show as a pre-schooler, I have been fascinated by vintage films and film history.

That said, this blogger is pleased to call attention to any worthy initiatives and projects benefitting film preservation - and regards today's posting as a rather belated birthday tribute to film historian, author, documentary producer and 2010 Oscar winner Kevin Brownlow.

One of our favorite San Francisco Bay Area organizations/venues, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, is on the list for the annual Community Challenge contest by the National Trust For Historic Preservation. The organization that receives the most yes votes from the This Place Matters list gets a $25,000 grant: manna from heaven in these lingeringly moribund economic times.

While the museum, soon to be hosting the 14th annual Broncho Billy Film Festival, is faring quite well in the voting, it will need all the support we silent movie mavens can muster to land that grant.

Film history buffs, merely click here and give the museum your yes vote. To harken back to the not wonderful days of machine politics, Vote Early And Vote Often! Well. . . er. . .uh. . . let's paraphrase that to say if 10,000 classic film buffs all vote yes, it's excellent news for the good folks at Niles. Voting ends June 30. Go, Niles!

To go through all the ways that the J.R. Bray Studio helped establish the art of cel animation would be longer than the grocery shopping list for a NFL team's caterer.

Patents and technology established by J.R. Bray and Earl Hurd a century ago were the beginnings of a foundation that subsequent animation producers, especially the brilliant and driven Walt Disney, took to the max just a few years later. And between 1913 and 1927, a host of important animators (including this blog's favorites, New York cartoon producers Max and Dave Fleischer) got their start in cartoonland with films produced under Bray's auspices.

That said, it's fantastic news that Tom Stathes of the Cartoons On Film blog, unquestionably among the youngest and most conscientious animation historians in the western world, has joined forces with quite a lineup of scholars to launch the Bray Animation Project. This will be an invaluable source for researchers and animation aficionados. Go, Tom!