Monday, July 17, 2017

Dave, Bill and Carol, Sybil and Adam and the other Dave ...


And now for the really exciting news!




Let me be among the first to tell you of the publication of Dave Frisberg's memoir "My Dear Departed Past", Hardcover, Backbeat Books, at Amazon, wherever books are sold and also https://www.davefrishberg.net/.  The great man generously explores, explains and even reveals the causes for revising the texts whenever he felt it necessary to do so.  He cites many of his most endearing lyrics, including "Peel Me A Grape", "Van Lingle Mongo" and "The Sports Page", just to name three.  He also tells us how and why he wrote them, the kind of information we've all been longing to know.

A stroke in 2014 knocked the wind out of his sails, more from the shock and surprise of it than its level of intensity. According to his wife, April Magnusson, the stroke occurred during the night.  He had been exercising  at the gym on a daily basis, and had been there the previous day.

The good news is that although there is some loss of memory, it is "spotty", but there is much he remembers. April says: "He cooks oatmeal for us every morning, and retains every bit of his keen sense of humor.  He does not do much emailing, so it is best to email me at aprilmag@aracnet.com if anyone wants to send him a message."

The book is often revelatory, informative and filled with people and places that will evoke warm memories for many who read the book. "My Dear Departed Past" is an essential addition to your jazz library.

*************

P.S.  Once Dave and I stood on an Amtrak platform at Back Bay Station in Boston, waiting for his Acela train to New York.  He turned to me and said: "Carol. Your coat is hip".  This from the hippest man on the planet.  I was thrilled.  The coat was old as well as cool, and still hangs in the hall closet, proudly bearing the coveted Frishberg Seal Of Approval.

P.P.S  With an aching back to prove I've been bending down, climbing up and generally poking through boxes of photographs in my so far futile attempt to locate a cherished photograph Dave sent a long time ago, I am forced to describe it for you instead of actually posting it.

It shows Dave seated at the piano, fingers on the keys, his first-born son in his lap.  The child is looking directly at the camera with a slight, somewhat bemused smile.  

Dave's caption:  "Teaching Harry the changes to "Lush Life".  

No matter when I find it (and I will), I will show it to all of you.

Buy the book. 
Now!

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Oh! Canada ...

In the latter part of June, I experienced visceral elation inspired by the people and places I visited, viz: On June 23rd, I boarded a Porter Airlines flight from Boston to Toronto to acclimate myself in preparation for my engagement the following night singing with the pristine, eloquent piano accompaniment of the brilliant Bill Charlap.  I know this duet setting intimately because Bill and I have embraced this format several times in the recent past.  See our our Jazz Standard gig here.

However, on the night of June 23, I sat in the audience at The Jazz Bistro, a comfortable, beloved venue (one of the best of its kind in all the world), listening to Bill and his equally amazing wife Renee Rosnes display their combined prodigious skills.  Ah, jazz! Ah, jazz at its most delicious. Jazz as pure, dazzling art. Jazz in all its glorious, concentrated form.  Jazz with its complexity and generosity of spirit.  As a fan, my presence was rewarded a hundred fold.

Here's a picture of Renee and Bill during a typical duo presentation.  Bill and I share a running joke that they should hire a small, quick-footed child to sit under their feet, prepared to run back and forth under these giant instruments to alert the other of an approaching change of tempo or key modulation.


Zankel Hall
Skidmore College - Saratoga Springs, NY
Saratoga Springs, NY
Renee Rosnes
Bill Charlap
Seated at two 9' Model D Steinways 


Providing The Jazz Bistro audience with a feast, Bill and Renee played, with delicate precision and exuberant improvisation, some compositions by these luminaries:  Frank Loesser, Bill Evans, Joe Henderson, Jule Styne, Burt Bacharach, Arthur Schwartz, J. J. Johnson, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Gerry Mulligan, Cole Porter, Charlie Parker, George Gershwin, Dick Hyman, Duke Ellington, Lyle Mays, Antonio Carlos Jobin and Thelonious Monk. A truly ambitious program, filled with earthly delights.

I was seated at the corner of the bar, and my perch also gave me the opportunity to witness another artist at work, namely the Head Bartender David Belsey. This man possesses a graceful and totally silent technique.  

You have probably been subject to one or more of those dreadful incidents when the introspective mood has been shattered by the sound of ice cubes falling from a metal bucket into a steel-lined bin, dropped from a height of six feet by a numb-skull hired to mix drinks and the music be hanged.  "Oh? There's a performance going on?  Who knew?"  

My friend Belsey would have none of it, thank you very much.  He carefully selects the proper glass, holds the metal shovel-like instrument above the open ice chest, opens and closes doors silently, and suspends all motion during those moments when the audience is fully involved with the artist's endeavor. Often, he just stands there, waiting for just the right second to resume his work. It's another show just to watch him perform his delicate choreography with such style.

The Jazz Bistro also employs another superb expert who manages the sound system.  He's Adam Cree, a meticulous and devoted audio technician who sees that the artist looks and sounds his or her very best. And he will stay at the task until and only when he and the artist sign off.  Awards of some sort should be created for Adam and David.  Bravo gentlemen.  You are The Best.

Mr. Cree and Mr. Belsey have been instructed to perform their assigned tasks the way they do because The Boss long ago established this policy, building loyal audiences who come to The Jazz Bistro to enjoy the music in an environment free of extraneous distractions.  At The Jazz Bistro, you will not ever be seated beside a table for twelve, celebrating Uncle Saul's 88th birthday complete with party hats and lusty choruses of Happy Birthday.  Thanks to Sybil Walker (she's The Boss, otherwise known as the heart and soul of the club), an evening at TJB is meant to enrich and nourish your jazz soul, and it succeeds every time. Congratulations and thank you Sybil for your tenacious devotion to jazz.  Another Award, if you please.  Oh yes: the food's great too.  

I often wish I lived in Toronto.  S-i-g-h ...  

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Read any good books lately?

That used to be a fairly common question, especially when I was growing up in the 1940's. I nurtured a firm belief that men who read books (like my high school English teacher Mr. Hopkins) were sophisticated and worldly wise, a notion derived from seeing such scholarly types courtesy of MGM.  So I assumed certain men who looked that way were gentle and sensitive, like my high school English teacher Mr. Hopkins.  He had a book tucked under his arm every time I saw him, and he always encouraged my writing.  I was only a teenager, so it never entered my mind at the time that older men might also ignite my nascent romanticism (unlike MHST Mr. Hopkins). He did, however, teach me that reading is one of life's great pleasures, a lesson of inestimable value.

Judy Garland's sweet love letter video to Clark Gable (who presumably carried the weighty "Gone With The Wind" under his arm in 1937), is below, but one need only substitute the name Walter Pidgeon because he was the older man of  my dreams.  This image says it all for me ... the pipe, the tweed jacket, the book!



In his movies, he was a true father figure: kind and gentle, romantic, debonair, urbane and sophisticated with a touch of what I took to be a slight British accent although he was born in Canada.  If you remember the 1942 classic film "Mrs. Miniver" with any fondness, you will recall that Pidgeon's character Clement Miniver reads a portion of "Alice In Wonderland" aloud to his wife and children, hunkered down in their bomb shelter on the grounds of their home, proof of his love of classic literature.  He was my heart throb.  He lived in Boston for a time, and even studied voice at the New England Conservatory.

Judy Garland's love letter to Clark Gable is from the movie "Broadway Melody" of 1938.




******

I am writing this literary-flavored post today because a loyal reader has asked me to. She wrote: "I know you enjoy reading, so could you tell me what books you like and what are you reading now?"  Happy to oblige.

Dear E: On my bedside table at the moment, among a stack of others, is a recent acquisition titled "Great Short Stories By American Women"*, featuring some authors unfamiliar to me, plus a few outstandingly famous ones.

I was very moved by Edna O'Brien's intense book "The Little Red Chairs",* and I will read anything and everything by Ian McEwan*.  I am also reading a book by British journalist Martin Gayford which describes fascinating episodes in the period from October to December, 1888 when Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin shared an often stormy relationship in Provence for a few fractious weeks. Why am I reading this? Because Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists, and I met Martin Gayford many years ago in London, so I feel a double connection to the book. I am enjoying it very much. *



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Speaking of relationships which frequently foundered in the choppiest of seas, I recommend John Brady's rollicking book about that fun loving, happy-go-lucky pair, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. Their own version of Bosworth Field is strewn with the wreckage of a match which on paper should have been Sinatra's dream come true because he was truly mad for the woman. However, a rival named Jack Daniels persistently meddled in the affair, leading to the inevitable flame out. Still a good read if you ever imagined yourself an inconspicuous insect clinging to the stucco.


******

Here are photographs of just a few authors whose works I admire: Recognize anyone?












I am also reading a fascinating book titled "Elizabeth The Queen, The Life Of A Modern Monarch" by Sally Bedell Smith, Random House 2002.  This is part of my research for a work of fiction that occupies my time sporadically. I am also flailing away at my memoirs of interactions with famous jazz musicians and singers during my 60+ years as an active jazz singer. (My Web Site).

I've always been intrigued by the British Monarchy ever since my mother acquiesced to my demand that she wake my ten-year old self at the crack of dawn on November 20, 1947, so that I might listen to the live radio transmission commentary of the wedding of Princes Elizabeth to Prince Philip Mountbatten at Westminster Abbey. I knew I'd see actual film footage of the fairy tale moments when next I went to the movies, and the Pathe News Reel would most certainly include images of the Royal Occasion.  Just now I am thinking of the fabulous technology which today enables us to witness events as they occur.  If I'd actually been able to watch a live broadcast of that wedding, I'd have been in heaven, dazzled into speechless enchantment.



******
Of course, you will visit your library as often as possible. Read book reviews, make your own choices, and fan the flames of your curiosity. Read about science, philosophy, the arts, criticism, poetry, fiction or biographies, geography, politics, architecture and history. Just read any and all subjects that inspire you. And please remember the following truism from a famous American film director, screenwriter, author, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist and art collector who once wisely said:

"If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books,
don't [have sex with] 'em.
Don't sleep with people who don't read!"
                                                        -John Waters


I am now going to pour a glass of wine, put my feet up, and open my book.  

Write me about your favorite authors, dear Readers. 

-CS

P.S.  There is no prize if you correctly identify the authors.  Sorry.  But give it a go just the same.

P.P.S.  I have a reasonably extensive, growing library, Mr. Waters.  

******

"The Yellow House" by Martin Gayford, Mariner Books 2006
"The Little Red Chairs" by Edna O'Brien, Little Brown 2015
"Great Short Stories By American Authors", edited by Candace Ward
           Dover Thrift Editions, Paperback, 1996
"Frank & Ava, In Love and War" by John Brady, St. Martin's Press 2015
"Elizabeth The Queen, The Life of a Modern Monarch"
            by Sally Bedell Smith, Random House 2002
"Nutshell" by Ian McEwan, Nan Talese-Doubleday  2016








Tuesday, April 25, 2017

For the love of Ella ...


And that's a perfect example of Ella at her best.  Extraordinary.  No other word can describe it.

**********

She was everything you have always assumed her to be: a modest, at times painfully shy woman, whose all-consuming raison d'etre was to sing for those millions of us who thrilled hearing her perfect voice and infectiously playful, swinging improvisations.  Born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia, endless streams of data are being cited by radio hosts and music scholars around the world marking this date of her birth one hundred years ago.

My awareness of her silken voice and dazzling scat singing began when I was a teenager, a time when Ella's voice was heard with predictable regularity emanating from my compact AM-FM Bendix radio.  It was a state of the art little band box: One dial to turn it on (and also control the volume), and one dial to locate a signal.  It was one of my most prized possessions along with the portable turn-table on which I played my growing collection of 78s, 45s, EPs and LPs. .

The radio sat on my bedside table, allowing me to easily control the sound, kept low to keep from disturbing my parents or my sister in adjoining bedrooms. Those late-night disc jockeys were my heroes, generously sharing their enthusiasm for the music, and more importantly for me, identifying the musicians, names which were well-known to seasoned enthusiasts, but totally new to me, filling the empty spaces of my brain greedily absorbing this new and exciting information.  I was learning about jazz, its soloists and singers who introduced me to a music I'd forever embrace.

Not surprisingly, I didn't realize my voice contained qualities similar to Ella's, so I studied her distinctive sound, tried to emulate her precise diction, flawless intonation and fastidious choice of material.  Like her, I never received formal vocal training, unable to this day to read music. However, her brilliantly straight-forward approach made it relatively easy to memorize songs, and her approach became my personal User's Manual, forming the basis of my own repertoire.

Her ballad interpretations, which were stunning for their pristine, uncomplicated interpretations, could, did and do break my heart.  Her voice possessed a graceful fluidity, combined with a brilliant demonstration of her particular genius in which she created improvisations equal to any major jazz musician of that period.
She was simply my idol..

Because I bought her records and studied them with youthful zeal, in my view we were and remain connected with umbilical strength.

May she never be forgotten.

-Carol Sloane
Visit www.carolsloane.com 

A portion of this article appears in the March, 2017 issue of The New York Jazz Record

And then there is this oft-told incident
which I recently posted at
my FaceBook Home Page ....

Circa 1975:  I am sitting beside Ella Fitzgerald, in the VIP section of a major European airport lounge, awaiting the announcement of our flight departure. At the time, I was Jimmy Rowles' traveling companion to who took the piano chair after Tommy Flanagan retired from that position he'd held for over twenty years.  It was Tommy who recommended Jimmy to Ella's manager, Norman Granz.

There beside Ella, I couldn't resist the golden opportunity to ask:  "Ella. Is it possible, with your vast repertoire, you have a favorite song?"  She replied without hesitation: "Oh yes", and began to sing the beautiful verse that begins: "I have almost everything a human could desire."*  She asked me if I knew it, and when I said I did, and we began to sing the rest of the verse together.  Just the two of us.

In a quiet corner of a luxury space reserved for exclusive first-class passengers, I knew I was the most privileged of them all.



**************


-Carol Sloane


 * "I Want Something To Live For" by Billy Strayhorn







Sunday, February 26, 2017

For The Love Of Mel Brooks

(Caveat: I published this item in 2007. It is reprinted here by request).

I am going to tell you about my fun-filled first meeting with Mel Brooks which occurred in the earliest days of my life in Greenwich Village. In 1958, I lived in a one-room basement apartment in a building which still exists. I know: I paid a brief nostalgia call to the address recently.



My neighbor, Charles Morgan Harris, a sweet, starving illustrator, lived in the identical cramped unit beside mine. We learned quickly that we shared a love of jazz and our friendship lasted until his untimely death. Our small building contained six other tiny apartments, one of them the second-floor residence off the elderly, cob-webby Mrs. Eleanor Biddlecomb who shared her digs with a tortoise shell tabby.

Our flats faced an indoor courtyard, an area which dampened street noises considerably and provided my Siamese cat ample opportunity to pay Courtesy Calls on the very tolerant neighbors who left windows open. The building, which fronts West 15th Street, was also the home and office of a woman who provided secretarial services. One of her clients was Mel Brooks.

On a balmy spring night, Charles and I were sitting in the courtyard as we always did when I came home from my secretarial job uptown, sipping our adult beverages, and listening to our favorite Miles Davis recordings.  We recognized Mr. Brooks as he strolled jaunty-jolly toward us, smiled and pulled up a chair. We knew who he was from his occasional television appearances with his best pal Carl Reiner. He politely asked about our lives, what kind of employment we had, did we like living in that place, etc.  We exchanged this sort of light chatter which included describing our 85-year old neighbor, Mrs. Eleanor Biddlecomb.  Mel seemed interested that she was fragile but feisty in nature. *

Mel was not as well-known to the general public then as he is today, but I was aware of his background and experience as one of the writers for a favorite television variety show of  mine called "Your Show Of Shows" which was a live 90-minute program starring comedy legends Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.  It was broadcast on Saturday nights from 1950 to 1954. I was usually glued to the television screen.

The show employed an amazing staff of writers, among them: Mel Tolkin ("All In The Family"), Carl Reiner ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" and others), Mel Brooks, Michael Stewart ("Bye Bye Birdie", "Hello Dolly"), Joseph Stein ("Fiddler On The Roof"), a diminutive woman named Lucille Kallen who took notes and managed to contribute more than her share of funny lines, brothers Danny ("The Carol Burnett Show") and Neil Simon ("The Odd Couple" and numerous Broadway hit plays).

Before long on that soft April night, Mel had us reeling with his jokes and hilarious takes on people and life in general. He was scheduled to appear on The Late Show Starring Johnny Carson, and he couldn't resist rehearsing his schtick for us:

He was going to be sitting in that Number One spot beside Johnny, and after a few minutes, Johnny would mention, feigning naive curiosity: "You like to sing, don't you Mel?" To which Mel would reply: "Well, yes ... and if I may ... I'd like to ... may I?"  "Of course, please do", says Johnny.

Mel: (To Skitch (Henderson, band leader): I'll sing "Dancing In The Dark" if that's okay ... just give me an arpeggio in C ... "

Mel begins to sing, and gets as far as  "... and it soon ends", suddenly breaking off. "No, sorry Skitch, that key's too low ... could you take it up a half-step." Skitch complies. Mel stops in the same place. "Sorry, it's still a little too low ... another half-step please?" Mel stops at the same place again, and this time he's standing, presumably to make it easier to reach the low notes. The back-and-forth continues, taking Mel progressively into higher musical range. He's now standing ON the chair.  The key is still not a good fit. Finally, Mel is standing ON Johnny's desk, audience is screaming and JC looks appropriately bemused. Charles and I are now hysterical, holding our sides and gasping for air. He did this bit on the show the following night.

Before he left us that evening, I asked what he was working on.  "Well, I can tell you right now that I want to produce a show on Broadway called "Springtime For Hitler".  We explode into tear-producing laughter:  "Oh Mel! STOP ... we can't take it any more".

* * * * * * * * * * * * * 


P.S. This meeting with Mel Brooks took place in 1958.  The movie "The Producers" was released ten years later in 1968.  Of course, I was thrilled and delighted that Charles and I had learned of "Springtime For Hitler" a full ten years before its release.  The Broadway sensation opened in April, 2001, and received a record twelve Tony Awards.  Mel's vision was realized in spectacular fashion.  I saw a matinee about two weeks into the run.

*  Please take special note next time you see it: In the movie "The Producers", starring Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock and Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom, there is a scene in which Leo is carefully entering the names and amounts little old ladies have contributed to the next Bialystock project. One of the checks is signed "Mrs. Eleanor Biddlecomb".  Mel did not have a note pad with him during this visit, so I can only surmise that the lady's name struck him as perfect for one of his doddering underwriters who might use a walker.  He may even have immediately added it to his notes for the movie.  In fact, Mrs. Biddlecomb looked exactly like Estelle Winwood (below) known as "Hold Me Touch Me" in the movie.





Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The ides of January are upon us, and much has occurred which directly affects my mental and physical well-being. First came a heavy dose of euphoria in the form of several hours spent in the company of my brilliant friend, jazz pianist Bill Charlap who played with generous sensitivity for two sets of classic songs which we presented to an ultra-aware audience at The Jazz Standard on January 11th.

Bill and I enjoy a long and loving relationship which has included club and concert appearances as well as numerous recording sessions spread over twenty-five years. You can track his tour dates at Bill Charlap's web page, so if he's appearing within driving distance, you can plan accordingly. To hear him with his partners, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, is an exhilerating experience, not to mention the truly divine moments when he and his remarkably gifted wife Renee Rosnes appear together in concert. Renee is a leader in her own right, and is focused on her thriving career, of course.  But believe me: It's a match made in Michelangelo's ceiling when they share the stage in a duo-piano setting. No excuse is good enough to miss that unless, of course, you find yourself in the ER, heaven forbid.

My own focus, after the surge of encouragement I felt on that magical night at The Jazz Standard, is to find sympathetic assistance to help me locate a compatible record label.  I am determined to return to an active career, and my inspiration derives from Bette Davis.  In 1962, she placed this ad in The Hollywood Reporter which gave the clear impression she was desperate for work.



Like me, she most certainly was not unemployable.  In her case, she was trying to make a point that some actresses "of a certain age" were overlooked because of their longevity (Ms. Davis was 54 at the time).  A false rumor has persisted that she was given her role in "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane" because of it. Nothing of the kind.  In fact, it was published about a week after the movie wrapped. 

I am not suggesting I have any age-related issue.  In fact, since my significant weight loss of 55+ lbs in the past year, I am feeling as effervescent as my esteemed colleague Marilyn Maye

To borrow a baseball metaphor, I still have my fast ball, and I'm ready to get back into the Starting Line-up. 


 Look out World.  Here I come!



* * * * * * * * * * * * *