Monday, November 23, 2009

Turpentine and Truth



I was watching Warner Brothers' not insignificantly flawed but immensely atmospheric The Two Mrs. Carrolls:


Sally Carroll (Barbara Stanwyck), having gushed into an upper-floor studio, freezes, instantly sick and horrified at the sight of Geoffrey, her artist spouse (Humphrey Bogart), assiduously and zealously going over a canvas with a turpentine-soaked rag.

Sally: Geoffrey, what are you doing?
Geoffrey: Something I should have done weeks ago – I'm sick of looking at it – it was phony.
Sally: Oh, Sweetheart, you shouldn't have done that – you might not think it's so good, but someone might have bought it.
Geoffrey: Well, I don't care what other people think – it's what I think.
Sally: But you thought it was good once.
Geoffrey: That's why I know I'm slipping.
Sally You can't always paint masterpieces.
Geoffrey: Well, I can always try.





Barbara ... Babs ... Missy ... Sally – don't get me wrong – my sympathies are with you in the grand scheme of this little Warner Brothers drama. But your crazy, murderous, obnoxious, implacable husband is right, here: If you're an artist – heck, even if you're not an artist, but merely a person of integrity – you can't shove something out, to which you feel no sense of attachment or commitment, on the hope or assumption that no one will recognize its inauthenticity or feel its counterfeitness and that people will clamour to buy it, blinded by its slick, shiny veneer. Sure, you know they may buy it, purchase it, with money. But ultimately, in another more important sense, they won't buy it – they'll become aware of its absence of credibility. You know that – as an artist, a human being – and you can't be associated with something that is simply "product," statement without substance. Even if you have no pretensions to producing masterpieces, you can't put out intentionally small, modest things – you can't release words – that are just puffs, hollow. You have to omit – or keep the turpentine handy.

Funny that a no-good bum but ego-maniacal character like Geoffrey Carroll could see this much.


*The Two Mrs. Carrolls screenplay by Thomas Job



Sunday, November 22, 2009

In Service of Music



I caught Frank Vignola a few nights ago at the
Ark in Ann Arbor. The tickets for the show, sticking in my bedroom mirror frame, had been tantalizing me for over a month – and Frank and confreres delivered on my expectations. His band – comprising the leader, rhythm guitarist Vinnie Raniolo, double bassist Gary Mazzaroppi and guest accordionist Julien Labro – opened with an almost misleadingly relaxed "Stardust" and, without pause and employing the instantly recognizable intro to the Django Reinhardt-Stephane Grappelly recording of "Honeysuckle Rose," went into a spirited treatment of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" (perhaps a nod to Birthday Boy Tommy Dorsey).

In making mention, early in the proceedings, of the 2010 Django Reinhardt Centennial, Vignola set the tone for the evening. The legacy of the Belgian guitarist, like a convival, vivid and colourfully-garbed ghost settling comfortably in the best armchair, was very much in evidence throughout the set. Still, though the Long Island-born Vignola, capable of tossing off patented Reinhardt licks and creating heady Gypsy jazz atmosphere, is unmistakably a Django disciple, he's no clone. Frank Vignola is his own man – virtuosic, vibrant, vital and enclopedically informed on jazz. And blindingly fast. Apart from the distinctive manner of bending the strings, if there's one thing in Vignola's playing that, for me, conjures Reinhardt, it's the dazzling, dizzying speed. Like Django (and "Django's Tiger"), Frank flies through the changes, deftly, cleanly and with clever detours from the expected course. The velocity, though, is not without artistic purpose; Vignola's speed on the strings is always used in service of the music. Again acknowledging Reinhardt with a soulful and nuanced "Nuages" and then the recent passing of guitar-slinging giant Les Paul with a respectful "How High the Moon," Vignola verbally commented on the langourous lope into which the band had fallen with a jocular "Old guy's tempo." This guy, though often loud and fast, knows when and how to employ such.





I discovered the guitar-playing of Frank Vignola, a chronological contemporary of mine, a good 15 years ago when, intrigued by unusual instrumentation, a diverse song list and a Gatsby-esque CD cover, I grabbed a copy of the second album of Travelin' Light. Having been not just instantly awestruck by his technical skill but delighted by his unique "voice," I've been a Vignola follower ever since. The highlight of Thursday evening, for me, was perhaps an appropriately ferocious, and – yes – fast, trek through Django's "Rythme Futur" (spoken of, in Relative Esoterica, here); Frank and his fine crew took me places – in the past as well as the future – with that one. The night, or Frank's part of it (the miraculous Hot Club of Detroit took the stage next), neared its close with that perennial showpiece, "Flight of the Bumble Bee": remember, this is one of the things Harry James got critically stung for buzzing on his trumpet back in the 1940's. It was flashy, without musical substance, just a display of prowess – or so the snobby "they" said. Modest in dimensions and unassuming in manner, Vignola vindicated the Rimsky-Korsakov piece (he gave the composer credit), the artistic application of speed ... and maybe even the oft-maligned (among "purists") Harry James with a zealous and yet effortlessly-winged flight. "Serve the song," I always say (see, I'll even quote myself): playing fast or slow ... and always extremely well, Frank Vignola does just that.



Dig Italian-American Frank, unabashedly ethnic (like a certain Mr. Lang), on the 'tube:


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reflecting on Stafford Style



A few months ago – if you weren't aware – the UK's Jasmine label added to its catalogue a third Jo Stafford entry, "Reflections: The Ultimate Collection." Well, naturally, I had to buy – in scanning the track listing, I'd spotted several previously unreleased records (and you know that one is all it takes, for me). Well, the 4-disc set turned out to be something of a hodge podge
– even for an artist billed as "America's Most Versatile Singing Star": some of the later things from Jo's first Capitol stint ('43-'50), including duets with Gordon MacRae and Johnny Mercer; the Columbia hits, Great American Songbook and Americana interpretations and Mitch Miller-initiated dross; several religious hymns; the entire "A Portrait of New Orleans" EP, with Frankie Laine's two sans-Stafford sides as well as the duets and the solo Jo's.

Oddest – and, for me, most revelatory, perhaps – of all among these 100+ tracks, though, are the records from late in Jo's Columbia tenure, a time when Rock & Roll had supplanted big band, swing and jazz as pop music. Dopey sing-along cycle aside, A & R man Mitch Miller was a trend follower – when sparser, guitar-prominent accompaniment became the fashion, he wanted even the by then middle-aged orchestra alumni signed to the label to don the musical clothes of the day and sell records to the kids. Jo herself admitted that to some extent she was willing to go along with the program in trade-off for being one of a very few artists who didn't have to pay for their own recording sessions. Such songs, represented in Jasmine's "Ultimate," as "Hibiscus," "I'll Buy It," "What's Botherin' You Baby," and (the egregious) "Underneath the Overpass" do not bear the Kern or Gershwin pedigree and the Rock & Roll-tinged rhythms and instrumentation applied to them seem unlikely Stafford surroundings – but Jo triumphs. An amazing feat when you consider the intrinsic worth of the material.





Today, Jo's birthday, as I've listened, I've thought about the quality that preceded her celebrated versatility – adaptability: without the capacity first to gain an understanding of the environment and then to adjust and conform to and fit it, while retaining your identity, you can't acquire versatility. In those garish late '50's years, Jo didn't turn into a pony-tailed Teen Queen chanteusie – no. But she again displayed the elasticity of
her contemporary outlook, so essential to her musical style.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Haven't Forgotten



Here I am: stuck in '38-'39. Well, I shouldn't say "stuck" – I mean, I'm thrilled to be planted at this point in the 20th century, surveying musically, with the aid of my CD collection, the waning years of the Great Depression. Today, I spun, among other platters, Disc 7 of Mosaic's magnificent Mildred Bailey set (out-of-print, as eventually become all things Mosaic), from which played, at the command of the mindless but benevolent random buttom, "Have You Forgotten So Soon," a treatment that I'm mad about of
a now undeservedly forgotten ballad.

The song was put together by a distinguished lyricist team, Edward ("Body and Soul") Heyman and Sam ("My Old Flame") Coslow, and a considerably more obscure Tin Pan Alley composer, Abner ("On the Beach at Bali-Bali") Silver. I am touched by its plaintive, lilting melody and still more deeply affected by its picturesque and (like most everything else I adore) at once both timeless and capturing-the-period words. Who better to deliver this combination than the hip Rockin' Chair Lady, Mildred Bailey? Similar in tone to but more vivid in its details than 1940's "At Least You Could Say 'Hello,'" this 1938 offering presents an eternal question, posed yet today by hurt and disbelieving jilted lovers, against a backdrop of distinctly '30's images.

I first came across Mildred's 9/29/38 interpretation, in which she is accompanied by the band of her xylophone-playing husband, Red Norvo, and fell in love with both song and performance thereof and later reacted with equal enthusiasm to the Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra 9/22/38 take, featuring the sensitive vocal of the scandalously underrated Jack Leonard.

I couldn't find Mildred's version on youtube but came across TD's. Though Jeri Southern isn't a musical direction that I've taken, when, in scrolling down the list, I happened upon her record, on which I saw she is joined by Johnny Smith, a guitarist whose playing I greatly admire, I decided to veer off there and was rewarded by a probing exploration, which includes a verse I hadn't known. Jack and Mildred double up here and there and each has his/her own choruses . Jeri's reading, taken at a crawl, follows, in part, the Mildred lyrics. Wonder if it was La Bailey who introduced this later singer to the extremely beautiful, sentimental but not lachrymose song?






Have You Forgotten So Soon?
Music by Abner Silver,
Words by Edward Heyman and Sam Coslow

I
find it difficult
To think that once you cared for me at all.
I can't believe
That you refuse to speak to me
Each time I call.

Have you forgotten so soon –
That lovely night in June;
Our graduation dance;
The glorious beginning
Of a beautiful romance;
All those gay diversions
We planned in advance –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Have you forgotten so soon –
The sun upon the sand;
The moon of yellow gold;
The things at Coney Island
That the fortune teller told;
Air-conditioned movies
That gave us a cold –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Don't you still remember
The Witches' Party
On Halloween?
And that grand December –
The whitest Christmas
We've ever seen.

Have you forgotten so soon –
That loving cup we made
Of old Italian wine;
That New Year's Eve at Tony's
When the gang sang "Auld Lang Syne";
All those nights in Heaven
That used to be mine –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Have you forgotten so soon –
My birthday party cake;
The sandwiches you made;
The kisses that I borrowed
And so eagerly repaid;
And the day we walked
In the Easter Parade –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Have you forgotten so soon –
The winding country lane;
A little wayside inn;
And sipping tea while list'ning to
A muted violin;
Thrilling to the old songs
By Irving Berlin –
Have you forgotten so soon?

Don't you still remember
The moonlight hayride,
The Beaux Arts Ball?
And that grand September –
The crimson woodland,
The waterfall.

Have you forgotten so soon –
The concert in the park;
The Army-Navy game;
The time I lost my money on
A horse that bore your name;
The day I snapped your picture
That's still in my frame –
Have you forgotten so soon?




I'll admit – this is a song that really starts the tears going with me.












Monday, November 09, 2009

Docile ... and Not



I have the Merriam-Webster Online Word of the Day sent to my email address. Today's word is docile. I remember, twelve years ago, Nelson's vet saying that Nelson was a very docile puppy. He was – and very sweet. He was quick in learning his tricks, too – nothing fancy, as such displays in answer to a demand therefor always seem to me like making someone sing for their supper, but he did the basic stuff; his shake was particularly fetching (to keep it dog-themed). He had his own form of diplomacy: if ever he didn't care to do something I asked, he'd just turn his head away as if he didn't realize that I was speaking to him – cute!

My eldest sister says that people who have dogs are bossy and people who have cats aren't. My sister loves cats, has three.



Docile



Yes, Nelson was docile. Aubrey, on the other hand, is not. In fact, he's downright intractable. He has to see the color of my money – or, rather, training treats – before he'll deliver.
And I don't ask that much. Aubrey, the little hellion, can be quite rebellious. Then again, I remember, too, my step-father describing me as a "militant rebel." Yeah ... that was an amazing flight of imagination. Aubrey's intractable ... but, then again, somewhat more subtly, so am I.



Intractable



Monday, November 02, 2009

An Anniversary: More and Less



With the passing of time, some things – such as my appreciation of the artistry of Bunny Berigan, my favorite trumpeter, born 101 years ago today – grow greater; other things – such as my attention to
Relative Esoterica, my web journal, begun 3 years ago today – diminish. A subjective view of subjectivity.




Please dig the one and only Bunny, unchanging in his revelance, timeless – and yet who, with the passing of time, has attained giant dimensions:








Monday, July 27, 2009

Doggone!



Ah, what the heck ... I feel like following up a post about two dogs that I love with a little tribute to a record whose title features a canine exclamation: doggone!
– as in "Doggone, I've Done It."

Chronologically touring the CD collection, I today found myself easing into 1933; it's been a '32-'33 day: think Roosevelt defeating Hoover and Repeal the following year. One of the highlights of my day surely has been The Sisters, accompanied by The Brothers, jiving (as only they can) through an exceedingly cute number by a Dave Franklin, whom I can't, at the moment, recall having encountered elsewhere. This record, cut 6/17/32, is truly one of my all-time favorites:

Eight sprightly little introductory bars, setting the perfect tempo, and then the girls are off, drawling away. The Dorsey Bros., Mac (Tommy) and Lad (Jimmy), play an uncharacteristically minor role in this one but, still, that no one gave the Boswells better (or as fine) support is highly evident. The line-up is Tommy, trombone; Jimmy, clarinet, Bunny Berigan (
yeah!), trumpet; Joe Venuti, violin; Dick McDonough, guitar; Artie Bernstein, bass; Stan King, drums. ... Oh, and that's Martha, the eldest of the sisters, providing that fine piano comping; I love her on this side. A harmonious and inimitably swinging chorus and verse by Martha, Connee and Vet en masse and then Connee – the middle sister, vocal arranger for and heart and soul of the vocal trio – gets a chorus to herself; dig the accent and the Armstrongian sense of what's right for the moment. Next, Four String Joe, the michievous Mr. Venuti, serves up sixteen sassy bars (check out Martha behind him). ... And now – Bunny! Hear him getting on mike; the sudden increase in his volume gives the record an immediacy that you have to relish – you're right there in the studio. I love the way he negotiates the diminished chord in bar 9 of his spot. Listen hard for the great, too-soon-gone (from the planet) Dick McDonough. Fine, well-placed accents from Stan King.



Doggone, I've Done It

Music and Words by Dave Franklin

Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love;
Doggone, it hit me from heaven up above.
The day I met him, I knew I was gone;
My heart went kerplunk – oh boy, I was sunk.
Doggone, I’ve done it – I fell with a thud;
It must be springtime, ‘cos it’s in my blood.
Mr. Cupid sneaked behind and gave me a shove;
Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love.
Oh, you dog!

I don’t use strong expressions;
I’m known for my repression;
Nobody ever heard me swear.
But something’s gone and changed me;
It’s really disarranged me –
I’m cuttin’ loose and I don’t care.

Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love;
Doggone, it hit me from heaven above.
The day I met him, I just knew I was gone;

Heart went kerplunk – oh boy, I was sunk.
Doggone, I’ve done it – I fell with a thud;
It must be springtime, ‘cos it’s in my blood.
Mr. Cupid sneaked behind and gave me a shove;
Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love.

Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love;
Doggone, it hit me from heaven above.
The day I met him, I knew I was gone;
My heart went kerplunk – oh boy, I was sunk.
Doggone, I’ve done it – I fell with a thud;
It must be springtime, ‘cos it’s in my blood.
Mr. Cupid gave me a shove;
Doggone, I’ve done it – I’ve fallen in love.







It's The Girls!


Bunny ... Who else?


Oh, you dog ...