Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Can I Say?

I am in receipt of this email:

"Dear Mrs. Sloane,

You are an inspiration for all of us. I’d like to invite you to hear a few examples of my jazz singing. Please, listen the tracks entirely and you will see me imitating a trumpet with my voice on “‘Round Midnight” and doing the scats on “My Funny Valentine”.

Jazz is relatively poor in male singers but I assure you that I am a real jazz singer."

* * *

Although I audibly groan anticipating the sound of a voice imitating a trumpet on "Round Midnight", or even more frightening, that I'm about to hear a machete-chop through "the scats" on "My Funny Valentine", nevertheless, with misgiving aforethought, I visit the site he provided, instinctively sensing I am stepping through and into the portals of Vocal Hell.

This poor guy can't sing a note, let alone the challenging melodies and intervals each of those songs possess. How did he ever become so delusional? How do any talentless people persuade themselves they can do it better than Mark Murphy, Sinatra, Joe Williams or Nat King Cole, to name a few. Why hasn't someone delicately and with utmost consideration for his feelings advised "Don't give up the day job? Shall I be the one to (1) burst his dangerously inflated balloon, or (2) simply reply that I am unfortunately unable to offer any helpful assistance at this time, or (3) should I ignore the note completely. The last is just too rude. I'm going with Door No. 2.

Speaking of screwing up cherished melodies, I will recommend you NOT GO NEAR the newest recording by famed operatic soprano Jessye Norman ("Roots: My Life, My Song", a 2-cd set on Sony). I will confess to having heard only the stingy snippets provides, but they are enough to make my head spin. Ms. Norman "pays tribute" to Ellington and Monk (!), and acknowledges her admiration for and being influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Lena Horne and others, producing calamitous, seriously flawed readings of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", "Take The "A" Train", and "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing". Please believe me: Indeed, it don't.

Although I feel certain hers is a sincere tribute to Ella et al, I don't quite see it that way. In her interpretations of standard jazz classics, she has basically trivialized the music rather than elevated it. These songs were brilliant at birth, filled with the original joyous content of syncopation and swing. For all her vocal prowess, Ms. Norman is beyond her depth here, and it would all be quite laughable if it weren't also so embarrassingly awful.

* * *

I am off to sweltering Manhattan next week to sing four songs with Bill Charlap and an All-Star band. His Jazz In July series at the 92nd St. Y will feature Hollywood film music, and so I will explore familiar material not previously absorbed by my larynx: "When You Wish Upon A Star", "Moon River", "The Days Of Wine and Roses" and (heaven help me) "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". The program closes with "As Time Goes By", a song beloved by all, and which I know by heart along with all the dialogue from "Casablanca".

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Father's Day, 2010

A major technical glitch occured at BlogSpot over the weekend, thereby preventing the publication of a Father's Day tribute on Sunday. Here is the belated item:

Frank Albany Morvan
September 26, 1909 - June 5, 1993

Well, there he is! The short stop for the Esmond Mills Textile League, c. 1930, at the precise moment of ball-to-bat contact. In my earliest memories of my father, he's in his baseball uniform. Family pictorial archives over-flow with images of me, sleeping in my pram behind the back-stop, while Dad strode to the plate and (from all accounts) could be counted on to put the team in a winning position with his youthful confidence and graceful skill, a consistent string of singles and doubles comprising the basic staples in his talented bag. He was a popular man in town, and we were all very proud of him. Good-looking chap too (or Claudia wouldn't have given him a second glance), he loved baseball and the Boston Red Sox all his life, and I inherited his depth of devotion.

He loved the popular music of the day, and when he chose to join us in a chorus or two of some familiar ditty, his vocal quality very much resembled Bing Crosby's silken croon. He was a gentle, smooth man himself, who enjoyed the outdoors, and the solitude of fishing for perch on Georgiaville Pond. He taught my sister how to bait a hook with a night-crawler harvested from the back yard in the wee small hours of the morning (I never quite got the hang of this particularly gruesome activity myself), but he praised us when we got a bite or actually landed a ferocious blue gill. (He would have baited my hook for me).

He liked the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Peggy Lee, four-part harmony groups (especially The Mills Brothers), and confessed an admiration for Gene Autry's Texas twang even though we teased him about it. He also loved the sound of the U.S. Military Academy Choir and their rousing renditions of patriotic songs.

My mother packed him off in the family sedan at Christmas and Thanksgiving during WWII to the USO station in downtown Providence. His orders were to invite as many as would fit into the car to join us for a feast and some genuine family holiday fun. Lots of young men from many far-away states became our friends, and Mom maintained a correspondence with them through the remainder of the War and beyond. One of our gifts to them: A free long-distance call to their families wherever they might be.

Dad liked to listen to a baseball game and drink a cold one in the back yard on a hot summer day while spluttering and howling about some stupid error committed by the Red Sox. A favorite beverage was the locally-brewed Narragansett Beer which is currently enjoying a huge renaissance in New England. Miss you Dad. Hope the brewery's open where you are.

Preserving the tradition of fair and unbiased journalism, SloaneView directs you to this site for our Mother's Day, 2010 article.