Blog Archive

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Phyllis Diller R.I.P.

The over-the-top and then some comedienne Phyllis Diller died yesterday (August 20, 2012) having reached the age of 95 years.  I didn't really get to know her although I opened for her in the mid-1960's when we appeared at the super-glossy Manhattan cabaret room called The Blue Angel.  It was here that Bobby Short honed his craft, playing sprightly music in the bar, seducing the audience leaving the Main Show Room to linger a wee bit longer to enjoy a night-cap and a shot of Cole Porter.

Phyllis was serious about her work (not a lot of jokes flying around the dressing room), and she once confided that she had a Master Plan for her life, emphatically certain of the upward trajectory her career would take.  As I observed during subsequent years, she most certainly achieved her goals.

As was often the case in the '60's and '70's, many musicians and singers (the famous and/or hopeful) enjoyed the after-hours atmosphere of a club in Greenwich Village called Bradley's, where they could sit in with Tommy Flanagan or Kenny Barron or Jimmy Rowles.  Superb bass players had the gig too: George Mraz, Red Mitchell, Sam Jones, and Ron Carter were magnets for jazz purists.  So it was no surprise when Jimmy told me Phyllis Diller had walked in one night, carrying her C melody sax, hoping for an invitation to improvise with the best of the best.  Unfortunately, I can't remember if Jimmy told me the names of the songs they played, but he did say she enjoyed every minute of it.  I knew that Phyllis played the piano with a more than passable skill, but this saxophone business was news to me. 

For those like myself who need a little primer regarding the C melody sax, here is some basic information found at this web site.

The C melody saxophone is a saxophone pitched in the key of C, one whole step above the tenor saxophone. 

A major selling point for the C melody saxophone was the fact that in contrast to other saxophones, it was not a transposing instrument. As a result, the player could read regular printed music (e.g. for flute, oboe, violin, piano, or voice) without having to transpose or read music parts that have been transposed into B♭ or E ♭which most other saxophones would require.  This enabled amateur musicians to play along with a friend or family member by reading from the same sheet of music—so long as the music fell within the pitch range of the C melody saxophone itself i.e. was not too high or low.


My friend Nancy Barrell hosts a successful internet jazz program. She's been broadcasting for more than 6-1/2 years all over the world and her site is ranked 26 out of over 400 jazz stations on She plays lots of Frank Sinatra's recordings, and jazz singers and instrumentalists who have recorded the great standards. The program is 6 1/2 hours long and is changed regularly. Listeners can listen without charge. However if you want to hear the program sans commercials, the fee is a very reasonable $6.00 a month. I have listed Nancy Barrell's web broadcast site in the Links' column on the right. Click on her name and feast your ears. 

Another cyber jazz program is hosted by the amiable New Englander John Birchard.  You can click his site in the Links' column.  I very much enjoy John's dry wit and intelligent commentary.  The following biographical information is from his site:

Born and raised in Vermont, John Birchard followed high school by joining the U-S Air Force. It was in the Air Force, in Fairbanks, Alaska, that he found his career. He began broadcasting with Armed Forced Radio. After his discharge, he attended the University of Alabama, earning a bachelor’s degree in Radio & TV. Following graduation, a radio job took him to Hartford, CT and a full-time role as a jazz disc jockey. He worked at WCCC-FM for five years, then moved across town to WTIC where he was a producer (and host of a weekly jazz show) for two more years. The next seven were spent in New Haven, CT as a talk show host and emcee of the annual Quinnipiac Intercollegiate Jazz Festival.

Wherever he went, John maintained his love of jazz. He served as emcee for jazz concerts and festivals at Yale University (the Gil Evans Orchestra, The CTI All-Stars, Ella Fitzgerald) and other venues – and was master of ceremonies for the Hartford (CT) Jazz Society’s 20th birthday festival (Dizzy Gillespie, Marian McPartland, Jaki Byard, Herb Ellis/Barney Kessel). The Voice of America in Washington, DC was home for the final fifteen years of his half-century in broadcasting. And at VOA, he hosted a combined salute to the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. State Department international tour featuring Dizzy Gillespie’s band and to the memory of VOA’s beloved jazz voice Willis Conover. In retirement, he has written and published a book, Jock Around the Clock. Now, he hosts CYBERJAZZTODAY.  Click Vermont Jazz in the Links' column on the right. 

To ease myself through the remaining dog days of summer, I am reading more than usual, enjoying nights with the windows wide open, the sweet sound of crickets cricketing a perfectly peaceful background for this most cherished of pleasures.  I cannot bear to think of a life without books.

Please don't hesitate to tell me the titles on your reading list.  There is a little envelope at Comments below.  Just click that and write me. 


Barbara H said...

Just started to read The Art of Cooking Omelettes by Madame Romaine de Lyon ©1963, recommended by Julia Child on her How to Cook an Omelette tv segment. A small book with glimpses of people and life in Lyon and New York in her time, plus 500 omelette variations. Next book will probably be the just released, definitive Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child.

Sloane said...

Dear Barbara: We are birds of a feather! I too enjoy reading cook books as avidly as any other printed work. Try "How To Cook Everything" by Marc Bittman, a nationally-recognized and much praised food writer. He's easy to find on the internet if you don't know him.
Thanks for writing.