Sunday, April 30, 2017
Today, the dreaded Writer's Block, clearly upon this blogger like a hungry housecat on ACME Smoked Whitefish Salad, determines our month-ending topic: the downright astonishing number of April birthdays for jazz legends, including April 30, both International Jazz Day and the natal anniversary of MJQ and Heath Bros. Quintet bassist magnifique Percy Heath (1923-2005).
As February 26 remains a bonanza for birthdays of comedy and musical comedy performers from stage, vaudeville, movies and TV (Jackie Gleason, Danny Kaye, Betty Hutton, Tony Randall, William Frawley), the entire month of April is chock full of birthdays of iconic jazz artists, as well as composers for movies and television who were heavily influenced by jazz.
First and foremost, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog shall atone for missing the 100th birthday of the ultimate lady of song, the incomparable and always perfect-pitched Ella Fitzgerald, born on April 25, 1917, by paying homage with these amazing concert clips.
One day earlier on April 24, two of the greatest jazz saxophonists who ever lived, Joe Henderson and Johnny Griffin, share a birthday.
This writer saw these two greats play together - they tore it up - at Yoshi's Oakland (Claremont Avenue location) way back when, but does not remember if the concert took place on an April 24! If it did, that would have been fitting, indeed.
And a few days later on April 29, Duke Ellington, the maestro, the composer, the man with the symphonic vision who painted with the sophisticated sonorities of a brass and reeds orchestra, was born.
Guitarist and guitar teacher (neighbor and friend of at least two of this blogmeister's film historian colleagues) Larry Coryell was born on April 1.
No doubt Larry had a few good jokes - musical and otherwise - about having an April Fools' Day birthday.
April 7 is the birthday of Billie Holiday, a legend and songstress like no other. While well aware that many of Billie's greatest performances, such as her appearances at New York's Café Society, stints as vocalist with the Count Basie and Artie Shaw big bands, as well as Lee Young's epic early 1940's swing-to-bop ensemble (featuring Lee's brother, Count Basie Orchestra saxophonist Lester "Pres" Young), were not captured on tape or film, there's still plenty of magic even in her last recordings.
Even while her physical health and strength were clearly deteriorating, Billie's ability to feel and express that lyric, find its essence, remained undaunted.
Among notable late career Billie Holiday appearances on television, the following are from CBS TV's The Sound Of Jazz special - yes, believe it or not, music other than country-western actually was seen on network television in 1957 - and features the yin and yang of swing tenor saxophonists, Bean and Pres. . . Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. She sounds great. So do they.
Keyboard wizard, super prolific recording artist and multi-genre world music explorer Herbie Hancock, born on April 12, 1940, is still touring. Herbie started his career in the late 1950's and early 1960's and continues rocking on nearly two decades into the 21st century.
Obviously, music keeps him energetic and youthful at 77 - although we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog would love to find out just what Herbie's specific diet and workout regimen is.
Arguably the single bluesiest tenor saxophonist to ever work in jazz, the soulful Gene Ammons, was born on April 14, 1925.
Born on April 16, the same day as two of our all-time favorites, Charlie Chaplin and Edie Adams, one of the jazziest of composers for movies, Henry Mancini.
Sharing a birthday with center fielder Marquis Grissom, the great silent movie actress/comedienne Fay Tincher, this blogger (writer Psychotronic Paul Etcheverry) and his craftswoman-illustrator fraternal twin: keyboardist and prolific composer for movies and TV, Jan Hammer. Unquestionably, artistic tie-ins between Jan and Henry Mancini abound, although the latter did not tour with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Jeff Beck Group.
Also born on April 17, Dutch percussionist Han Bennink and one of the unequaled kings of the upright bass, Buster Williams.
April 20 is the birthday of vibraphonist, bandleader, member of Benny Goodman's historic quintet and key stylistic predecessor of rock n' roll Lionel Hampton. Here's Lionel, making history with The Benny Goodman Quartet in 1937.
This ridiculously hard swingin' version of Flying Home from the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival would be this blogger's favorite among the many great Lionel Hampton Orchestra recordings. This edition of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra features quintessential "Texas tenor" Illinois Jacquet. Deftly blending r&b, jazz and rock n' roll, Jacquet, ever the showman, does not disappoint!
The larger-than-life volcano of creativity - composer, arranger, bassist, bandleader of the Jazz Workshop, activist and wordsmith - Charles Mingus and one of the cornerstones from his 1970's group, George Adams, both have April birthdays, on the 22nd and 29th, respectively. This writer, who prefers his modern jazz undiluted, finds Mr. Adams' sonic stylings always a splendid antidote to the syrupy and overly sentimental sounds of "easy listening" saxophonists. Let 'er rip, George!
Frank Sinatra liked, in fondly reminiscing about hot-blooded romantic encounters, to sing "it was a very good year" and, as friend of Basie, Ellington and Holiday, would very likely agree that for the world of music, April was a very good month.
There were so many bandleaders, virtuoso jazz composers and brilliant instrumentalists born in the month of April, it would not have been possible to cover all of them in this post and actually finish the post!
Sunday, April 23, 2017
"I'm a bit disappointed in myself. I know I could have accomplished a hell of a lot more... I could write anything any time I wanted to. But I let other things get in the way.... I've been floating around in the breeze." Hoagy Carmichael
While writing about Harry Ruby and about Musicians In The Movies, couldn't help thinking of the Indiana-born songwriter, pianist, composer, character actor, radio star and lawyer-turned-musician Hoagy Carmichael. When this blogger, amateur musician and jazz geek thinks of 1920's and 1930's music, Hoagy invariably comes to mind, so it's about time we give this Songwriters Hall of Fame member his post!
Many in the same age group as this blogger were introduced to the great songwriter via his memorable appearance on "The Hit Songwriters" episode of ABC-TV's The Flintstones as prehistoric tunesmith "Stoney Carmichael" on September 15, 1961.
This wasn't the first time a Hoagy Carmichael song appeared in an animated cartoon. His 1938 song Small Fry was made by the Fleischer Studio into a Color Classic cartoon about a juvenile delinquent fish!
Just consider a mere few of the many great songs from the Hoagy Carmichael backlog, created in collaboration with lyricists Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Mitchell Parish, Sidney Arodin, Jack Brooks, Harold Adamson, Stuart Gorrell, Jo Trent, Connie Dane, Paul Francis Webster, Robert De Leon and Dick Voynow.
Washboard Blues (1925, lyric with Fred B. Callahan)
Star Dust (1928, lyric by Mitchell Parish)
Rockin' Chair (1929)
Georgia On My Mind (1930, lyric by Stuart Gorrell)
Up The Lazy River (1931, lyric with Sidney Arodin)
Lazybones (1931, lyric written with Johnny Mercer)
The Nearness Of You (1937, lyric by Ned Washington)
Two Sleepy People (1938, lyric by Frank Loesser)
Heart and Soul (1938, lyric by Frank Loesser)
I Get Along Without You Very Well (1938)
Skylark (1941, lyric by Johnny Mercer)
Hoagy found his way into songwriting as a law student who became enthralled by the music of Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong.
Carmichael performed many of his songs in movies. His first silver screen appearance was in Topper. Tough to top a movie in which Hoagy sings and Cary Grant stars.
As much as we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love Bogey and Bacall in To Have And Have Not, the musical interludes by Hoagy - Hong Kong Blues, Am I Blue and Baltimore Oriole - are immensely entertaining and add a lot to this unbeatable classic movie.
The George Raft - Claire Trevor film noir Johnny Angel included the evocative "Memphis In June" (1945, lyric by Paul Francis Webster).
"Ole Buttermilk Sky" was featured in the movie Canyon Passage and released as a single.
It received an Oscar nomination for Best Song of 1946, but did not win.
Carmichael and lyricist Johnny Mercer did win the 1951 Academy Award for Best Song for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," from the Bing Crosby-Jane Wyman vehicle Here Comes The Groom.
Another feature which makes good use of Carmichael's musical talents is Las Vegas Story.
We'll take the Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog (and Lazybones) route and quote the excellent Songwriters' Hall Of Fame entry for Hoagy verbatim. This tells the story more effectively than this writer could. Kudos to whoever wrote this for Songwriters' Hall Of Fame and we shall illustrate the bio with judiciously chosen clips! In addition, there are also the two books Carmichael wrote about his career in music.
"Hoagy Carmichael was one of the most inventive and adventurous of the great American songwriters. Much of his best work reflects his love of the jazz of the 1920s, most notably one of the greatest standards from the era, “Stardust”.
He was born Hoagland Howard Carmichael in Bloomington, Indiana on November 22, 1899. His father was an electrician and his mother played the piano for dances and silent films. Although his ambition was to become a lawyer, Carmichael showed an early interest in music. When his family moved to Indianapolis in 1916, he took lessons from an African-American pianist Reginald DuValle (1893-1953).
He attended Indiana University, and, while there, he organized his own jazz band. When the great jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, then at the very beginning of his brief career, paid a visit to Indiana University in the spring of 1924, he and Carmichael quickly became friends, and it was for Beiderbecke that Carmichael wrote his first piece. Not long afterward, Beiderbecke and the Wolverines recorded it under the title "Riverboat Shuffle".
Carmichael went on to the Indiana University Law School, and continued to perform and write music while there. He graduated in 1926, and began to practice law in West Palm Beach, Florida. However, the discovery that another of his early tunes "Washboard Blues" had been recorded prompted him to abandon law for music. He briefly returned to Indiana, and then in 1929 he arrived in New York. He resumed his contact with Beiderbecke and was introduced with some of the most talented young musicians of the day, including Louis Armstrong, the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, and Jack Teagarden. Another important lifelong friendship during this time was also established with lyricist Johnny Mercer.
Gradually, musicians heard Carmichael’s songs and he became increasingly well known as a songwriter. In addition, his performing career flourished and he made many recordings. One of his early recordings featured him with the Paul Whiteman band playing and singing his own "Washboard Blues".
In 1936 he moved to Hollywood and continued to write independent songs for publication and songs for movies. In 1937 he began what was to become a significant secondary career as an actor, appearing in a bit part in the film Topper. Roles, which usually involved singing parts, followed in many other movies, including To Have and Have Not (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Canyon Passage (1945), and Young Man With a Horn (1950). In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he became a regular on television in the western series Laramie. In the 1940s, he was also a popular radio personality."
Among Hoagy's last TV appearances was the PBS children's show Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop.
A kids' show featuring Hoagy is not necessarily at all far-fetched, especially considering that the music director on the long-running flagship PBS children's show Mister Rogers Neighborhood was none other than jazz pianist and composer Johnny Costa, like Art Tatum, Jaki Byard, Hazel Scott and Oscar Peterson a fleet-fingered speed demon on the keys.
The song here, "Everybody's Bustin' Out Of Doors" is both covered by the man himself in classic Hoagy style but also by vibraphonist Monty Stark's rock-jazz fusion band The Stark Reality, who created an album of 1970 style versions of Hoagy Carmichael songs. Sometimes the blend is a bit jarring, but for the most part it works. Unfortunately, now that we are in 2017 and every human upon this earth is glued to their smart phones, nobody is busting to get out of doors, not even children.
Fred Rogers also hosted a show a few years later, Old Friends, New Friends in which Hoagy appeared. Unfortunately, this blogger has not been able to locate any clips from the latter 1978 show. Perhaps they will turn up eventually on the Fred Rogers tribute website.
Carmichael sang and played "Rockin' Chair" on the piano on Annie Ross and Georgie Fame's United Kingdom-recorded tribute album In Hoagland (1981). Hoagy's last public appearance occurred when he filmed Country Comes Home with country music recording artist Crystal Gayle for CBS in 1981.
Hoagy Carmichael died of heart failure at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California on December 27, 1981. His remains are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana.
In 1986 Carmichael's family donated his archives, piano, and memorabilia to his alma mater, Indiana University, which established a Hoagy Carmichael Collection in its Archives of Traditional Music and the Hoagy Carmichael Room to permanently display selections from the collection.
Finishing up this tribute to Hoagy: the following great covers of his classic tunes. Leading off: Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden!
Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra delve deeply into the Hoagy Carmichael songs about love lost.
Sinatra contributed his share of classic Carmichael covers.
Hong Kong Blues has inspired covers by a wide range of musicians.
Here's one by The Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis!
George Harrison was a Hoagy Carmichael fan and recorded Hong Kong Blues and Baltimore Oriole on his Somewhere In England album.
There are many incredible covers of Hoagy's classic "The Nearness Of You," but a favorite of this music loving blogger is by ace guitarists Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor.
Hoagy Carmichael was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. Hoagy's sidewalk star tribute can be found at 1720 Vine Street in Hollywood.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Today we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Hans Conried, another first ballot selection for the Comic Character Actor Hall Of Fame.
Kicking off this 100th birthday tribute will be the following interview with Hans by radio historian Chuck Schaden and two brilliant Conried turns on sitcoms featuring Lucille Ball, in I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show.
Hans would reprise his music teacher role in the 1964 Jerry Lewis feature The Patsy. He proves a perfect foil for Jerry's slapstick.
Another part the star of stage, screen, television, radio (Orson Welles' Mercury Theater) and animated cartoons is remembered for is as the cantankerous Uncle Tonoose on The Danny Thomas Show.
One of many superlative Hans Conried performances is his central role in the subversive classic The 5000 Fingers Of Dr. T, produced by Stanley Kramer, directed by Roy Rowland and penned by none other than Ted Geisel, A.K.A. Dr. Seuss.
It's Conried's performance as the diabolical Terwilliger that makes the movie work.
The performances of "Get Together Weather" and "Doe-Me-Doe Duds," the latter in particular distinguished by patented Dr. Seuss lyrics, may be this writer's favorite segments of the movie.
Hans Conried's work in various shows by Jay Ward Productions remains consistently stellar and indispensable. Conried was no stranger to cartoon voice work, having contributed a witty and wonderfully florid John Barrymore-esque performance as Captain Hook in Disney's 1953 version of Peter Pan.
Here's Hans as ever-dastardly villain Snidely Whiplash in a particularly hilarious Dudley Do-Right Of The Mounties cartoon.
This writer also likes Hans Conried, best known in the Jay Ward Productions cartoons as Snidely Whiplash, as con artist, low-budget raconteur and snake oil salesman Prof. Waldo Wigglesworth in the Hoppity Hooper series.
Also like Hans very much as the reluctant, underpaid and ashamed host of Fractured Flickers, created for Jay Ward Productions by Chris Hayward.
Fractured Flickers is still controversial for its use of silent movie clips and found footage.
This dyed-in-the-wool silent movie buff does not regard the show as an affront to the original footage; after all, Fractured Flickers does not present a complete version of F.W. Murnau's Sunrise or 4 Devils, mastered from pristine 35mm nitrate materials, and then skewer it mercilessly in MST 3K style.
In addition, the guest stars, interviewed by an ever-incredulous Hans Conried, are often quite funny.
We tip our Snidley Whiplash top hat to Hans Conried - among the 100th birthday crowd with Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and John F. Kennedy - and hope he's cracking jokes and talking Shakespeare with a bunch of other pals and thespian cronies in the next world!
Sunday, April 09, 2017
Think virtual reality is cool? Here, from the pages of Life Magazine, is the way to watch TV and escape your humdrum existence: use the patented 3-D headset! Here's inventor-publisher and Godfather of Science-Fiction (not the Godfather of Soul), Hugo Gernsback, doing just that!
The television audience could see Uncle Miltie in drag in multiple dimensions!
Just imagine - Dagmar as you've never seen her before!
Watch Bwana Devil on TV - in 3-D and in THRILLING COLOR!
Add a second pair of the patented 3-D glasses and see Bwana Devil in 4-D!
Take LSD with two or three pairs of 3-D glasses atop your 3-dimensional TV headset and see Bwana Devil in 5-D! Then, keeping that headset on, listen to the album Sunrise In Different Dimensions by Sun Ra & His Arkestra.
Saturday, April 01, 2017
I love Abbott and Costello but never liked April Fools' Day. Neither did Charlie Brown of Peanuts.
That said, the great comedians of the silver screen and TV best demonstrate the adage there's no fool like an April fool - and the following classic bit from the dapper gentleman of silent film comedy, Charley Parrott Chase, is no exception.
Surprisingly, it's tough to find April Fools' Day cartoons and genuinely funny stuff about superstitions. While the Warner Bros. cartoons "Neurotic Claude Cat" series by the Chuck Jones production crew, commencing with The Aristo-cat, comes fairly close, it's The Stupidstitious Cat, a Paramount Noveltoon by Famous Studios, that focuses entirely and obsessively on this topic and features main character voices which strongly recall Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson.
Believe it or else, we actually like many of the cartoons produced by Famous Studios.
Noveltoons featuring Jim Tyer's rubbery animation, as well as the gorgeous backgrounds and foregrounds of Shane Miller and key contributions from animation legends Bill Tytla and Otto Messmer, have their share of blazing moments, especially when seen on the big screen in glorious Technicolor.
Here's an obnoxious April Fools' Day cartoon, cranked out quite a few years later by Famous Studios and starring Popeye. The series had slid substantially downhill from the spinach swillin' star's heydey in such rousing animated adventures as Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor.
This blogger, even as a kid watching TV way back when, found the post WW2 versions of Bluto and Olive Oyl insufferable and could not comprehend why Popeye did not simply eat his spinach, beat the crap out of Bluto and deposit awful Olive on a slow boat to China - a very slow boat to China.
Still, even when Cookin' With Gags was made in 1955, many years after the departures of Jim Tyer, Bill Tytla and Otto Messmer, Famous Studios employed many talented Fleischer Studios animators responsible for the cartoon glory that was Ko-ko the Clown, Bimbo, Betty Boop and Superman. Fortunately, the Noveltoons from the 1940's can be seen on DVD.