Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Songbirds" Tenth Anniversary

****** With utmost respect and admiration, I'd like to salute the Moderator of an online group of music fans. His name is David Torresen and "Songbirds, The Singers of Classic Pop and Jazz" has been a thriving, exhuberant forum since its inception in June, 1998. Membership now includes over a thousand fans scattered across the planet. Daily mail includes information about familiar singers, and news of fledgling talent worth investigating; new recordings and valuable re-issues are posted, newspaper reviews, commentary, gossip, and the occasional good-natured debate among loyal fans of a singer and those who vehemently disagree.

****** Members are avid collectors, singers, composers, journalists, and musicians, with a healthy representation of some well-known artists. Here is the official description of the site:


****** Songbirds: The Singers of Classic Pop and Jazz. A list primarily devoted to discussion of the legendary female vocalists of "classic pop" and jazz: Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Doris Day, Sarah Vaughan, June Christy, Ethel Waters, Mildred Bailey, Rosemary Clooney, Lena Horne, Anita O'Day, Carmen McRae, Chris Connor, Maxine Sullivan, Lee Wiley, Mabel Mercer, Jo Stafford, Dinah Washington, Julie London, Margaret Whiting, Nina Simone, Blossom Dearie, Keely Smith, Annie Ross, many more. Also, plenty of discussion of crooners, songwriters, bandleaders, and contemporary singers keeping this great song tradition alive. The common denominator is singers who interpret the Great American Songbook (to which we refer in shorthand as "GAS") -- Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Dorothy Fields, Jule Styne, many more.

****** Non-members can view the Home page at Songbirds; but are required to apply to the moderator to become members to be able to view past messages in the archives and post messages. The service is free.

****** Happy Tenth Anniversary David and the entire International Songbirds community.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, R.I.P.

Today's sad news of the death of George Carlin in California at the age of 71 reminded me of the following incidents. Although I hadn't seen or talked to him in a very long time, I have observed his steady ascension in the field of stand-up comedy with great admiration and respect.

****** One day in the mid-1960's, I was doing laundry in the basement of the large apartment building in Newark, New Jersey where I lived at the time. A man I'd seen on television unexpectedly entered, carrying a full basket and a box of detergent. We chatted, and I mentioned that I was surprised to know he lived in the building too. We hadn't at the time worked a gig together, although not too long after this encounter, we did appear on the same bill at the legendary hungry i in San Francisco. I opened for him.

****** George Carlin's career was just beginning to blossom, and he was frequently invited to appear on The Tonight Show or The Steve Allen Show. One memorable bit of hilarity featured "the hippy-dippy Weather Man", a character hopelessly bewildered by all things meteorological, who delivered the daily forecast in devil-may-care, hipster slang. He also appeared slightly stoned. Very funny and clever and totally inoffensive.

****** A few short weeks after the laundry meeting, I found myself on a bus to Philadelphia where I was hired to open for George on a weekend engagement at a brand-new venue. In fact, I believe we were the first of a very short line of entertainers to perform there. The club was most unusual: A small Catholic church which had been officially desanctified by the Vatican was now to function as a small concert hall/night club, with the bar located in the former choir loft. Carvings of saints and any other evidence of its previous function had been removed, the statue of The Virgin Mary replaced by an enlarged photograph of Billie Holiday. Duke Ellington's image hung in the spot previously occupied by the Crucifix.

****** The owners didn't seem to have a clue about how to run the place, and when asked, admitted they had relied on word-of-mouth and volunteers posting signs on street corners to alert the city of Philadelphia of its existence. Little wonder, our Opening Friday night audience consisted of about ten people, a piano player for me, the bartender and a couple of waitresses. With true professional grit, George and I delivered our best work as if the house were full of admiring fans.

****** On Saturday night, we faced the same dismal situation. We were both disappointed but didn't talked about it. As I was about to start the first set, there was some excitement at the front door. Like the Pied Piper himself, Bill Cosby entered, leading a group of as many as fifty people. We had an audience! Later we discovered that Cosby had heard of the embarrasing head-count the night before, and took it upon himself to round up friends and family to give us much appreciated support. A very magnanimous gesture I'm sure George never forgot. I know I never have.

****** George's language on stage was riddled with obscenity and profanity, none of it even slightly offensive to me, a veteran of a seven-week engagement opening for Lenny Bruce. Like all of his true fans, I heard his message; his colorful vocabulary merely reinforced his stinging observations and no-nonsense perceptions of our often misguided, even disasterous life choices. I hope other comedic philosopers will emulate George , but there will never be another quite so unique.

****** And be sure to check this brilliant piece of Carlin business.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Back Announcing ...

****** I have a perpetual bone to pick with radio personnel who fail to "back announce" the track I just heard and loved. I want to buy that cd! But I don't who the singer was or the title of the disc. Grrrrrr.

****** When I was a dj (at WGBH-FM in Boston and WICN-FM in Worcester), I always back announced and often listed all sidemen as well, thus incurring the wrath of more than one Program Director. I did it anyway.

****** In my last post, I cited a superb rendition of Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise" sung by Anna Moffo (June 27, 1932 - March 9, 2006). She was an Italian-American lyric-coloratura soprano admired for her lush, radiant voice and great beauty. Her rendition of Vocalise is flawless, and my rave review might prompt you to seek it out. Therefore, I take this opportunity to "back announce" it: "Rachmaninoff Vocalise", RCA Number 09026-63669-2, features Ms. Moffo and Evgeny Kissin, James Galway, and Rachmaninoff himself coducting the piece played by The Philadelphia Orchestra, among others. Thirteen tracks in all. Go and get it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Where have I been lately?

****** My posts have been less than consistent, for which I apologize. This spring in New England has been filled with brilliantly fine weather demanding that one spend as much time outdoors as possible. Other delicious distractions for a dedicated sports fan such as myself: The Red Sox season is in full flow, The Boston Celtics at this writing need only one more victory to clinch the club's 17th NBA Championship title; the Boston Bruins are scattered about, nursing sprained knees and wounded pride, and the NE Patriots will be on the training field in August.

****** Yesterday, my husband and I spent the day watching and cheering for Tiger Woods as he faced one Rocco Mediate in a thrilling 18-hole playoff match for this year's U.S. Open title. Tonight, the Celtics will play game six against the enemy team called the L.A. Lakers. Soon, the the world's most accomplished tennis players will compete on Wimbledon's famed grass courts.

****** Added to these considerable temptations to remain firmly rooted potato style in my favorite chair, there is the stack of books beside said FC and the others which spill over the bedside table. During my childhood school years, vacations meant I was allowed to sit under the trees all summer if I liked, to endlessly and most voraciously read-read-read. I am today filled with the same giddy anticipation of the pleasures awaiting me among the pages any one of those books. What have I read lately? Jeffrey Archer's "Prisoner Of Birth" (I am a murder mystery/thriller addict), and "Counselor, A Life On The Edge Of History", a highly interesting book written by President John F. Kennedy's Special Counsel Ted Sorensen. I confess I was eager to re-live the days of JFK's administration in order to remind myself how proud I once was about the occupant of the White House.

****** I am scheduled to sing a few lovely Billy Strayhorn songs during a tribute concert to the composer. Bill Charlap is Musical Director of the series at The 92nd Street Y in New York. Full details are available here

****** The summer offers yet another highly pleasurable diversion: The New York Racing Association's annual summer meet at Saragota Springs, NY which attracts the most beautiful animals bred to run as fast as their spindly legs will carry them and a small jockey around the Oval Track. We prefer betting on the turf races, and our data base of information taps into various sources.

****** I hope your summer is filled with all of your favorite pleasures.

PS ... New compact discs I love: "Rachmaninoff's Vocalise", with thirteen tracks of the lovely melody played and sung by various artists. Best of the lot: Anna Moffo with The American Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting. To die for.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bill Finegan, R.I.P.

****** Bob Brookmeyer sent me the message of the death on June 4 of our beloved friend Bill Finegan. What can I say after I say I'm so sorry we have lost him. He had entered my life in 1958 when I was a young singer, knowing very little about the man except that I was a bona-fide fan of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra and owned all the lp's. It was easy to become hooked on the unique sound of the orchestra, with its delightful colorations, concert/jazz inflections, and the surprisingly successful use of unorthodox effects such as sleigh bells, hoof beats, booming tubas, vibrant kettle drums, fifes and even a glockenspiel!

****** So when I was told that Columbia Records had arranged for Bill Finegan to write the arrangements for my debut recording, I could hardly believe my good fortune. When the time came for our first meeting to discuss songs and become acquainted, I was prepared to be thoroughly intimidated by so brilliant a person and one I admired so much. Bill typically put me at ease from the start, and I fell madly in love with this charming, down-to-earth, funny genius.

****** Our collaboration, "Out Of The Blue", was recorded in 1961. When I arrived at Columbia's 30th Street studio in New York, I was thunderstruck to find so many famous musicians gathered, not just for me, but to share the experience of playing Bill's arrangements. I'll never forget that he arrived late, placed a full eight-ounce glass of straight bourbon on the podium, and set about calling the first take. God, I was nervous but from the moment I heard the glorious introductory chords of "My Ship", I felt safe and calm. Bill not only wrote the music, he also supervised the editing of two master tapes: one in monaural and one in stereo, the latter technology being one of the decades exciting new innovations.

****** Although we drifted apart over the years, I felt the loss of the connection most acutely about a year ago, resulting in a long love letter which I intended would convey my undying affection and respect for him. We began intermittent telephone chats, and I vowed to visit him. The last time we talked I was attempting to find out if he felt strong enough to see me. He emphatically said "No", but at the end of our chat, he said "I love you kiddo", I said "I love you too" and hung up the phone in tears.

Sauter-Finegan Orchestra Discography:

New Directions in Music (Bluebird, 1952)
The Sound of the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra (RCA Victor, 1952)
Inside Sauter-Finegan (Victor, 1953)
Concert Jazz (RCA, 1954)
Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra (RCA, 1954) (with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
The Sons of Sauter-Finegan (RCA, 1954)
Adventure in Time (RCA, 1956)
Under Analysis (RCA, 1956)
Straight Down the Middle (RCA, 1957)
Return of the Doodletown Fifers (United Artists, 1960)