Friday, February 26, 2021
Today's post looks back at 20th century music, both in the thick of pop culture (r&b, soul, rock, pop) and on the adventurous far fringes of it. We'll start, recalling the wide ranging, multi-genre Art Ensemble Of Chicago heading of Great Black Music, with The Greatest Of All Time.
Another recording artist whose career, as Aretha Franklin's did, began with singing in church was Sam Cooke, who rose to prominence as the lead vocalist with the gospel vocal ensemble The Soul Stirrers. Sam would become a hitmaking songwriter and pop star. Among many accomplishments, Sam appeared several times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Thanks to a host of talented documentary filmmakers, there are wonderful clips featuring the masters of the blues. Many have tried to play this style of music - and few have succeeded.
Remembering the crooners of soul and r&b, here's the wonderful Al Green!
And then there was Bobby Womack!
Do we love Stevie Wonder, who began as 12-year-old Little Stevie and grew into a remarkable songwriter? Yes.
Also love the fact that Stevie has penned a gazillion excellent songs and can also rip through the chord changes of John Coltrane's Giant Steps.
Here's a guy whose synthesis of advanced harmonies and sophisticated lyrics addressing social and political issues strongly influenced Stevie: Curtis Mayfield, the poet laureate of words and sound.
As the head of his own label, Curtom Records, Curtis Mayfield was working along the lines of maestros Quincy Jones and Brian Wilson, producing and arranging his own albums and those of other recording artists. He was also a masterful guitarist who inspired the reggae rhythm guitar style. Here's Curtis, in concert from Ronnie Scott's.
A stone's throw from the guitar-driven funk of Mayfield's 1970's records is the "P-funk on the 1" music of electric bassist Bootsy Collins.
Remember watching this very performance of Parliament/Funkadelic on Late Night with David Letterman. Yes, Dave had outstanding musical guests on his show.
Here's the one, the only James Brown (at one time in the late 1960's and early 1970's the employer of several cornerstones from Parliament/Funkadelic) on Late Night with David Letterman!
Speaking of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, another master was Clifford Brown, a genius of the trumpet.
Clifford Brown made one television appearance - on The Soupy Sales Show!
On the topic of not-too-shabby trumpet players, here are Dizzy & Pops, playing "Umbrella Man" on The Jackie Gleason Show. If Roy Eldridge could have been included to make this The Three Aces, that would encompass the development of jazz trumpet phraseology from the early 1920's through the 1940's.
This guru of jazz drummers co-led an incredible and still unsurpassed quintet with Clifford Brown: the great and innovative bandleader, percussionist, activist and teacher Max Roach.
The architect of swinging "hard bop" and bandmate of Clifford Brown in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers waxed numerous terrific records and led varied ensembles over five decades: pianist, songwriter and bandleader Horace Silver!
Another ace pianist and composer who played with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and subsequently led excellent ensembles that made top-notch recordings was Cedar Walton.
Have no choice but to follow these gentlemen with a few more powerhouse pianists!
Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, Ted Curson and Dannie Richmond IN THE SAME GROUP! YIPES!
Composer and bandleader Charles Mingus leads his brilliant 1964 lineup of the Jazz Workshop ensemble (Eric Dolphy, Johnny Coles, Jaki Byard, Dannie Richmond).
The saxophonist most frequently featured in Black History Month promotions every year would be John Coltrane, of course.
The saxophonist never featured in Black History Month promotions - or any promotions, for that matter, was the unorthodox, uncompromising and unique modern jazz artist Albert Ayler (1936-1970). He said "my imagination is beyond the civilization in which we live" and that is still true 50 + years after his untimely death. For Albert, sonic explorations through the cosmos were his playground and traveling too far was not possible.
Here's a short clip from the Nuits de la Fondation Maeght concert of July 25, 1970. The group supporting Albert is vocalist Mary Maria (later Mary Maria Parks), Steve Tintweiss on double bass and Allen Blairman on drums.
WHERE is the rest of the footage from this film? Wish the rest of the footage capturing the Nuits de la Fondation Maeght concerts in the documentary Albert Ayler: Le Dernier Concert (currently kept in the archives of the Fondation Maeght) will be released to film, Blu-ray or DVD up someday. The complete soundtrack from the July 25 set has been issued as the Live On The Riviera album.
The record of the Nuits de la Fondation Maeght concert from two nights later, July 27, 1970 - his last appearance would be on the following night, July 28, in a set played for an invited group of fans at La Colle-sur-Loup - remains among the greatest of the saxophonist's shooting star career.
The July 27 concert is particularly compelling and reflects that his forte was live performance, not studio recordings. The contrast between Albert's utterly ecstatic "outside" saxophone playing and the diatonic, darn near "churchy" chords of keyboardist Call Cobbs, Jr. shouldn't work. . . and yet, in the weirdest way, does. Cobbs, pianist in Wardell Gray's group and pal of Art Tatum, plays the simple melodies in a way a modern jazz pianist a la Lennie Tristano or Cecil Taylor would not.
Strap yourself in for Albert's original blend of raw blues (sans the standard I-IV-V chord changes), skronky atonal free jazz and hymn-like folk melodies, none of it done halfway or half-baked, EVER.
Albert, known for his group featuring drummer Sunny Murray, is not for the faint of heart, but musically can be rewarding, tantamount to cracking The Stravinsky Code.
These recordings, including four pieces performed at Ayler's last musical performance on July 28, 1970, can be found on the Revenant Records box set, Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962–70).
Sadly, Albert Ayler would be among a veritable throng of luminaries from rock n'roll, r&b and jazz to die prematurely and tragically in 1970-1971. While sorry they left so soon, we owe all these musicians and recording artists a debt of gratitude and thanks.
Friday, February 19, 2021
Saturday & Sunday: Niles Film Museum Spotlights Boxing, Auto Racing, Aviation, The Miles Brothers - and Reckless Reggie
Do we love silent movies at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog? Yes. Do we love vintage music? Yes. Do we love learning new stuff about early 20th century history? Absolutely! Fortunately for the gang here, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is presenting a series of online programs this weekend.
The museum's press release elaborates:
Our online shows continue with an interesting combination of subjects: boxing, race cars, and aviation, linked together by a salute to Reginald Denny, whose movie and television career spanned over 50 years! We're showcasing 4 of his films and hosting a Zoom webinar with his granddaughter Kim Pucci. We will also be featuring Czar of Noir Eddie Muller, boxing expert Colleen Aycock, car racing historian Greg Berkin, and car racing enthusiast Heather Taylor. Add in a presentation by our own historian David Kiehn and we definitely have a full program.
All, influenced to differing degrees by such dashing screen presences as Harold Lloyd and the Triangle Pictures pre-swashbuckling incarnation of Douglas Fairbanks the Elder, headlined feature films through the 1920's.
The starring vehicles of Reginald Denny often cast him as a race driver, so, of the trio, he is the closest to the Fairbanksian action picture ethos. An accomplished pilot, driver and amateur boxing champion, Denny had quite the predilection for adventure offscreen as well as on. He's also on the short list, with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, of actors who loved to race cars.
While Reginald Denny, Douglas MacLean and Johnny Hines preceded the guy who blended the handsome, dapper leading man persona with more broad slapstick, way-out situations and unapologetically absurdist comedy - at least as the star of his own films - Charley Parrott Chase (who only starred in one full-length feature, the 1929 part-talkie Modern Love), the Reginald Denny features in particular reveal more than a glimpse of what the movies would see 15 years later in talkies, with such headlining leading men who were also gifted comic actors as Cary Grant, Robert Montgomery and William Powell.
Along with acting in radio and television as part of 51 year career in show business, Reginald Denny also penned screenplays and collaborated with his scenario writers on his 1920's films.
Mr. Denny, along with Hedy Lamarr (the scientist who did modeling and silver screen acting on the side), was on the short list of movie stars who were also inventors. He was an expert in the design of aviation models and the development of unmanned aircraft technology, the robot planes known today as drones. That story merits a couple of books in itself, and, thankfully, Reginald's granddaughter Kim has written one!
The lineup of presentations is as follows. Links will become active at 12:01 a.m. on each day of the weekend.
Saturday February 20
Daredevil Denny aka Reckless Reggie
The Man with No Fear - Films, Fun and Endurance of Reginald Denny. Before starring in feature films, Mr. Denny headlined The Leather Pushers series of short subjects in 1922-1923.
These 18 action comedies, produced for Universal, were based on Colliers articles by H.C. Witwer in which pampered scion of the well-to-do Kane Halliday, after his father loses the family fortune, ends up supporting himself as a pugilist in the gritty NYC boxing scene. This tribute to Reginald Denny and The Leather Pushers presents the second and third episodes of the series, with piano accompaniment by Greg Pane.
The Leather Pushers II: Round Two (1922) Directed by Harry A Pollard. Written by H.C. Witwer, Malcolm St. Clair and Darryl F. Zanuck.
The Leather Pushers III: Payment Through the Nose (1922) Directed by Harry A. Pollard.
Along with Reginald Denny's pugilistic exploits in The Leather Pushers series, there will be presentations about boxing.
The first program, presented by author, Film Noir Foundation and Noir City Festival founder and champion of film preservation and restoration Eddie Muller, whose father was the dean of West Coast boxing writers and a key figure in the establishment of San Francisco's annual Golden Gloves competition, explores why, unlike other sports, boxing was only seen in big cities, and tells the story of "the sweet science" in the San Francisco Bay Area.
THE JOE GANS STORY and the Miles Bros. connection
Colleen Aycock, editor of the compilation of essays The First Black Boxing Champions, talks turn-of-the-century boxing, early filmmaking and Joe Gans, the first prominent African-American prizefighter and champion, who preceded Jack Johnson. She will tell the story of the boxing matches in the San Francisco Bay Area and Nevada shot by the early innovators of documentary filmmaking, the Miles Brothers.
3:00 pm PT / 4:00 pm MT / 6:00 pm ET - Boxing Q & A with Colleen Aycock on Zoom
Boxing expert Colleen Aycock will be joining us for a live Zoom Q & A. She is the Co-Editor of IBRO (the International Boxing Research Organization), author and co-editor of 5 boxing books. Her latest book, The Magnificent Max Baer: The Life of the Heavyweight Champion and Film Star, honors her father, a Depression-era professional boxer, and one of Max Baer’s sparring partners. Classic Images, a monthly publication devoted to the Golden Age of Hollywood, included this among its short list of Best Books of 2020.
Feature Presentation: California Straight Ahead (1925, Universal)
Program: Pebble Beach and Monterey auto racing in silent film stories and their fast and furious cars.
Gregory Berkin will present a pictorial view of turn of the century automotive history, car racing and silent film at the Pebble Beach Lodge, the Hotel del Monte, the Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance and the famous 17 Mile Drive. Presented through still photographs, rare film clips and other archives, this presentation will illustrate the vibrant culture of rarely seen silent films such as Universal-Jewel's 1924 SPORTING YOUTH starring Reginald denny and Laura LaPlante. SPORTING YOUTH was filmed on location in Pebble Beach and the local Monterey Del Monte Race Track. Other film clips include the 1927 classic silent film FAST AND FURIOUS and many surprise films.
Saturday at 5:00pm PT / 8:00pm ET
LIVE ZOOM: Bay Area CARS & CINEMA (1900 to present)
Gregory Berkin will be available after this presentation for Q & A. Heather Taylor, racing enthusiast from the Sports Car Club of America hosts.
The First Indy 500 was filmed and released by the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago! Piano by Frederick Hodges. This film, courtesy of Blackhawk Associates, will be available until April 17th.
Sunday February 21st
Program: The Miles Brothers - from boxing to Market Street to aviation, they filmed it all!
Historian David Kiehn, author of Broncho Billy & The Essanay Film Company, who discovered the Miles Brothers' Trip Down Market Street film (and was on was on 60 Minutes with Morley Safer a decade ago talking about it), will delve into the brothers' many accomplishments in early filmmaking, tell the story about the brothers BEFORE MARKET STREET and in the years after. Make sure to tune in for our premiere of the 1912 footage Christmas Day 1912 Aviation Meet at Tanforan, filmed by Earl Miles!
WORLD PREMIERE Christmas Day Aviation Meet at Tanforan, filmed by the Miles Brothers Studio
In less than 6 minutes, Earl Miles filmed a holiday air meet at the Tanforan Race track on the San Francisco peninsula, groundbreaking for the upcoming Panama Pacific International Exposition (opening in 1915) and a very popular location for ice skating. From the Filippini Family / Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum collection. Piano Accompaniment by Greg Pane.
Feature Film Presentation: Skinner's Dress Suit
5pm PT / 8pm ET
Zoom with Reginald Denny's granddaughter Kim Pucci, the author of a biographical book about her grandfather titled Prince of Drones: The Reginald Denny Story! Join us for a discussion about this most interesting man and his historic legacy regarding the development of model aircraft and unmanned aircraft technology - now known as drones.
Thanks to all at the museum for doing this. We look forward to these presentations! For more info on the Saturday and Sunday programs, see A Salute to Reginald Denny, early boxing, race cars and aviation at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum website.
And, if you are lucky enough to actually have some disposable dough-re-me in this time of reduced paid work, buy the outstanding books by ace authors David Kiehn, Eddie Muller (note: we could use a second hardback copy of Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir), Colleen Aycock and Kim Tucci while you're at it.
Monday, February 15, 2021
Today's post pays tribute to the music great who passed at 79 on February 9.
There are a few pieces I have enjoyed that augment the obits with a guide to his music. The following video, Chick Corea: Documentary of Legendary Jazz Great, Pianist and Composer, is a good place to start.
The New York Times noted his excellent work in 12 Essential Performances, while there is an article Chick Corea: His 10 Greatest Recordings posted in The Guardian. The tribute in writer Mark Evanier's outstanding News From Me blog was excellent. Our tribute here shall consist mostly of cool covers from Chick Corea albums that are must-listens.
Loved how Chick's music was all over the map, from Latin jazz to rock to classical to super modern free jazz to the art of the piano-bass-drums trio (previously exemplified by Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson).
Chick was nothing if not prolific, so the Corea albums I have heard are a scant few among his 90+ records catalog as a bandleader.
Shall ask the Alexa robot inhabiting our kitchen to play more Corea tunes and will also peruse YouTube to find more complete albums and concerts.
Could the gang here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog recommend these albums more highly? Absolutely not!
Unfortunately, we must close today's post by noting that there have been problems galore with Blogger of late. Frequently, embedded videos do not play at all. Some, such as the following videos of two Chick Corea concerts, can only be played on YouTube. That's okay by me.
Other videos play as they always have - no problem - through the 14+ years I've been doing this blog.
Shall post complete Chick Corea concerts now - hopefully, they will be playable!
Enjoy - and, by all means, check out the cool videos on Chick's YouTube channel.
Sunday, February 14, 2021
February 14th is the natal anniversary of all-time comedy great Jack Benny. It is apropo that we pay tribute to the King Of Cheapskates and old time radio today, as a recent post was devoted to Jack's good friend Eddie Cantor.
The star of radio, television and (occasionally) movies was born Benny Kubelsky on this day in 1894. Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog respectfully tipped our top hats (originally worn by Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle in THE ROUNDERS) to Jack six years ago on his birthday - and are thrilled and delighted to pay tribute to him yet again.
We'll kick this tribute to the man hated by violins around the world off with an episode of The Jack Benny Program featuring a guest star dear to all of us at the Psychotronix Film Festival: the one, the only Vincent Price.
The biggest stars in show business appeared on The Jack Benny Program, both on radio and television. He wasted no time in enlisting silver screen icon Marilyn Monroe, the bombshell with a flair for comedy, as the guest star for the TV show.
Here's Jack with special guest star Humphrey Bogart.
On this live show with Bob Hope, bound and determined to crack Jack up on the air, ad-libs abound.
Hope would frequently return as a guest star.
Sometimes Jack guest starred on his pals' shows, with felicitous results.
As funny as the Jack Benny radio shows, especially those from 1946-1950 are, I consider Jack's TV shows of the early-to-mid 1960's among his very best work. The following episode co-starring Jack's chum George Burns is a scream.
Some of the funniest episodes of The Jack Benny Program involve guest stars who grab the opportunity to have a bit of fun with their silver screen images as bad guys. Peter Lorre (and Jack's writers) has a field day in the following show. It's not that surprising, considering how much humor slips into the Peter Lorre Warner Bros. movies in which he co-stars with Sydney Greenstreet.
Asking the question of what my single favorite Jack Benny TV or radio show would be, the answer, hands-down, would be the episode in which Raymond Burr co-stars as Perry Mason. Burr did several appearances with Benny and clearly, after so many years portraying the likes of that creep in REAR WINDOW and the Cherries Jubilee slingin' mob boss in RAW DEAL, clearly loved doing comedy.
Need lots of laughs right now, as the recent passing of music giant Chick Corea and the losses of two personal friends in 2020 have hit this blogmeister hard. Luckily, Jack's the guy to deliver the laughs!
For more info, read Jack Benny and the Golden Age of American Radio Comedy by Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley (the William P. Hobby Centennial Professor of Media History at the University of Texas), as well as Jack Benny and the Golden Age of American Radio Comedy by Trav S.D.
Thursday, February 04, 2021
Fans of vintage animation by the Fleischer Studio will be thrilled to hear good news regarding the next Cartoons On Film crowdfunding project, devoted to the 1919-1923 entries in the innovative Out Of The Inkwell series. The producer of the Cartoon Roots series, Tommy Jose Stathes of Cartoons on Film, wrote a detailed post on the Cartoon Research website about it, Out of the Inkwell Restorations? Yes, With Your Help! on February 1.
The Cartoons On Film YouTube portal elaborates: "It's official! The next Cartoons On Film crowdfunding project will now also cover a group of rare 1919-1923 Out of the Inkwell films from Max Fleischer. Max's famous Inkwell Clown, in his earliest rotoscoped form, will come to you in brand new 2K scans and restorations from rare archival prints in the Stathes Collection—and only if YOU help make this a reality by pledging on Kickstarter by Sunday, Feb. 7th."
Tommy Stathes adds, “This will be a really good opportunity to go back to a variety of prints and to rehabilitate the films in a way that hasn’t really been done before, especially not in our modern era of 2K scanning and HD film viewing. In doing so, I’ll be able to present some films that a few of you have seen before in far better looking versions, as well as some true rarities that have not been in distribution for decades.”
This is the second Kickstarter by Cartoons On Film in 2021; the first one for the restorations of 15 early silent Walter Lantz cartoons quickly met and exceeded its goal.
Stretch goals have been added to the original Kickstarter to fund the Out Of The Inkwell set. The earliest Koko The Clowns were among "Goldwyn Bray Comics" as Max & Dave Fleischer's studio were among the production crews making cartoons for J.R. Bray.
While the mid and late 1920's Koko The Clown, especially such "Inkwell Imps" vehicles as Ko-Ko's Earth Control, have been frequently screened (and even featured prominently in classic film programs curated by the writer of this blog) and seen as often as any silent era cartoons, including those produced by Walt Disney and Otto Messmer, the earlier Out Of The Inkwells are much more rare and in many cases seldom seen. When it comes to the films of Max and Dave Fleischer - and for that matter Max' son Richard (the director of such unbeatable classic movies as Narrow Margin and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) - we're ALL IN!