Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Reading

I have completed the task of reading Justin Cronin's book titled "The Passage", and after 766 pages of vivid encounters with creatures of horrendous proportions and voracious appetites mainly for human flesh, I am rewarding myself with a very dry martini. I fell for the hype. That's why I bought the book. But I can see it transformed by special effects' technicians who will create scenes of mass destruction, desolation and desperation on film for a young audience whose stupendous support at the box office will generate millions of dollars for all involved.

Apparently, Mr. Cronin has two follow-up books ready for publication, but I shall pass. I am not much for this sort of "literature", so the rest of the summer I will be re-reading Hemingway. Incidentally, go here for a comprehensive review of "The Passage" written by Ron Charles, the Fiction Editor of The Washington Post. He may persuade you to get on the band wagon too. I can't deny the story is a near-perfect summer read. Just keep the martini pitcher handy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 20th Caught In The Act

On July 20th, I proudly performed as part of the Jazz In July series at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan's UES. Artistic Director Bill Charlap assembled an all-star band: Ken Peplowski, tenor and clarinet; Byron Stripling, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Ted Rosenthal, piano; Bill Charlap, piano; Sean Smith, bass, and Lewis Nash at the drums. The program was titled "Hooray For Hollywood" and I got to sing four melodies I've always liked but never actually inserted in any set list ever (except for "As Time Goes By" which was the closer featuring all of the soloists).

In the first part of the show, I sang "When You Wish Upon A Star" from the 1940 animated Disney film "Pinocchio". In the movie, the song is sung by the insect character Jiminy Cricket, the sweet voice of Cliff Edwards doing the actual singing.

With the elegant assistance of John Allred on trombone, we channeled Lee Wiley's version of "Moon River" from her legendary cd "Back Home Again".

In Part II, I sang "The Days Of Wine And Roses" while standing beside handsome Byron Stripling whose trumpet gave the song gorgeous added texture, and then "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" as Ted Rosenthal played piano with great sensitivity, gracefully guiding me through the familiar, beloved changes. I can't begin to tell you what an immense pleasure it all was for me.

My good friend, main photographer/make-up man and Best Pal Eric Jacobs saw to it that my face and hair looked their best so that I strode on stage with confidence, and the audience was warm and welcoming, just as one has come to expect from the knowledgeable 92nd St. Y jazz fans. Thanks to everyone but especially darling Bill Charlap.

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 amazon.com 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".