Laurent has often said that everything is a Broadway song cue for me – a statement I take exception to vehemently. Not everything is a Broadway song cue – just most things.
Take for example a recent posting my blog buddy JP over at My Husband and I where the eponymous “I” lays in bed with his husband Guido and muses on life. Or I am assuming he was in bed as that seems to be JP’s favourite place for amusing and musing. But I digress – back to the song cue: his musings on life, french toast, their new business venture, and their relationship cued a song in the vast catalogue of Broadway songs stored in the Dewey decimal system that I call my mind: Life Is! It’s the introduction to Zorba, an 1968 Kander and Ebb musical version of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel and Michael Cacoyannis film.
There was a time when hit (and not so hit) Broadway shows toured often with, if not the original stars, stars of equal renowned. When they showed up at the Royal Alexandra or the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto my friend Charlie and I would head down to see them – in the case of Juliet Prowse in Sweet Charity at least twice as I recall. And I have a feeling we may have seen Zorba more than once. When we liked a show we liked a show.
Though when it premiered the show had been referred to more than once as “the poor man’s Fiddler on the Roof” it was reworked and recast for the road – John Raitt was the Zorba and the great Chita Rivera sang and danced the Chorus Leader. Some of the darkness of the original had been erased but the wry acceptance of events good and bad remained in many of the songs. Particularly in Life Is!
The show opens in a taverna where a group of people are drinking, playing music, dancing, and talking. Someone suggests they tell a story – another suggests the story of Zorba. When ask what it’s about the Chorus Leader (Lorraine Serabian of the original cast) says that it’s about that passage from birth to death – LIFE!
So here’s to JP, Guido, the old cafe, the new cafe, french toast in bed, and LIFE.
Though it is often a fading shadow of what it once was there is still some good and interesting programming on the CBC. I am thinking particularly of the weekend line up which has the once standard mix of intelligent discussion, documentaries, a variety of music, and comedy. Would that the midweek programming were as varied or as interesting but that may just be nostalgia speaking.
This past Sunday on Vinyl Tap, his weekly music programme, Randy Bachman featured voices that reeked (figuratively) of whisky, cigarettes, and late nights. Voices that are immediately recognizable: amongst others Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Howlin’ Wolf, and Peggy Lee. Yes Peggy Lee – if ever there was a voice that invoked smoke and sensuality it would have to be Norma Deloris Egstrom. And in particular the Peggy Lee of Fever.
It wasn’t until Bachman mentioned it in his introduction that I realized the bare bones instrumentation on this iconic performance: a double base, snapping fingers, and a pared down drum set. That’s it! And of course that voice! Bachman also recalled the first time he heard it on a Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show. My search for a Sullivan appearance (she first appeared on the show in 1948 during the series’ first season and performed 17 more times until the show ended in 1970-71) turned up empty handed but I did find this 1958 appearance on the George Gobel Show. It was long thought lost but now rests with the Library of Congress.
Again Bachman filled us in on a bit of the history of what most of us think of as Miss Lee’s signature song. It was composed in 1956 by John Davenport – the pseudonym of Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell – and recorded by Little Willie John. Two years later Miss Lee recorded it with revised lyrics and a new orchestration. The “Romeo and Juliet” and “Pocahontas and John Smith” verses were written (uncredited and uncopywrited) by Lee herself and it is generally believed that she also did the orchestrations. It differs considerably from the John version and has since become the accepted cover.
Little Willie John was a leading figure in the early days of R and B whose career came to an end as the result of his drinking and violent temper. He was charged and jailed for manslaught in the mid-1960s and died in Washington State Penitentiary in 1968. Because of legal concerns and his fading popularity his last album wasn’t released until 2008.
On this day in 1801: First Barbary War: The Barbary pirates of Tripoli declare war on the United States of America.
Bohuslav Martinů was one of those composers I had heard about but never really paid too much attention to until the past five or six years. I always figured his music would be too “modern” for me. It wasn’t until I attend a performance of his The Greek Passion in Palermo that I began to understand him as a composer. I came out of the Teatro Massimo that Sunday afternoon with tears streaming down my face, a complete and utter emotional wreck. He had touched an emotional well and has continued to do so as I’ve explored his work.
Granted most of my exploration has centred around his vocal works – particularly The Epic of Gilgamesh and Hry o Marii (The Plays of Mary) I’ve started to listen to his symphonic and some of his chamber works. Yes Martinů broke with the romantic tradition but like Smetena, Dvořák, and Janáček is strongly influenced by the folk melodies of his Czech heritage. And unlike many modern composers he writes vocal music to a language – it’s cadences, subtleties and rhythms.
The story of the opera is based on Nikos Kazantzakis‘s Christ Recrucified, a powerful novel that caused a stir when it was published in 1954. It paints a painful and unflattering picture of the people of a Greek village, who turn away refugees from another village. Their fear and bigotry is fuelled by the Church and their Politicians who incite them to murder a young shepherd who had been chosen to play Christ in their Easter Passion Play the following year. His actions had become too Christlike and his association with the refugees threatening, particularly to their local priest. The opera ends on Christmas Eve with his murder by the villager who was to play Judas. As the bells ring and the Kyrie is sung by the devout villagers the refugees, lead by their priest Fotis, leave still searching for a place and people that will welcome them.
The final scene from that moving performance I saw in Palermo is available on YouTube but sadly not for embedding. A left click will take you to the video – the quality is not the finest but it will give an idea of the performance that moved me so much and stays with me to this day.
“Toward midnight the bell began ringing, calling the Christians to the church to see Christ born. One by one the doors opened and the Christians hastened toward the church, shivering with cold. The night was calm, icy, starless.”
“Priest Fotis listened to the bell pealing gaily, announcing that Christ was coming down on earth to save the world. He shook his head and heaved a sigh: In vain, my Christ, in vain, he muttered; two thousand years have gone by and men crucify You still. When will You be born, my Christ, and not be crucified any more, but live among us for eternity.”
On this day in 1803: Thousands of meteor fragments fall from the skies of L’Aigle, France; the event convinces European scientists that meteors exist.
I’m a little late with this week’s music but a few things I was doing for the PEI Symphony had me preoccupied. And speaking of the Symphony we have our final season concert coming up with violinist Marc Djokic playing the Sibelius Concerto for Violin under the direction of our wonderful maestro Mark Shapiro.
To celebrate Canada and our 150th birthday Djokic, with his sister Denise and several other musicians, has made a series of videos for NONCERTO called “Extreme Locations”. Amongst their locations are inside the structure of the Confederation Bridge that joins the rest of Canada to our Island, Cows Creamery (the best ice cream not just on the Island but anywhere!) and this one filmed at Green Gables National Park. The Djokic Duo plays Erwin Schulhoff‘s Zingaresca against some wonderful shots of the area around Cavendish on the North Shore.
As we have discovered over the past year there is a vibrant arts scene here on the Island almost out of proportion to the size of the population. There are any number of artists and studios covering every medium that I know and a few that I hadn’t realized existed (pin-point photography being one). Though theatre is most active in the summer there are any number of theatrical performances – professional, semi-professional, and amateur – throughout the year. And not just the “safe” stuff: a mid-winter run of The Laramie Project played to almost sold out houses and a production of The Dining Room played in various mansion venues throughout the city.
And when it comes to music the choice is not restricted to the expected traditional Maritime fiddle playing, though there is no dearth of ceilidhs featuring some remarkable artists almost every week. There seems to be something for every musical taste from operatic arias to pop standards to heavy metal. We had a chance to hear a fair spectrum of music this past weekend but the high point had to be an evening of Blues at the PourHouse with singer, song writer, and actor Guy Davis and the legendary blues harmonica player Fabrizio Poggi.
It was produced by the good folks from the Trailside Music Café and Inn out at Mt Stewart. The Inn won’t be in full swing until the end of April so they decided to open their performance season here in town. Davis is Blues and American Theatrical Royalty. His mother was Ruby Dee, the great American actress and his father Ossie Davis, the equally great actor, writer, and director. And his musical heritage stems from the protest movements of the last century and the earlier influences of likes of Leadbelly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Big Joe Williams. But he admits that the one man he stole from and who influenced him most was Sonny Terry. Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train is his most recent album with Poggi and is a tribute to the partnership of those two legends of the Blues: Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. The two joined forces to remember these two greats in a concert that was simply two men, two harmonicas (though actually Poggi had a case of about 20 that he switched continually – sometimes in mid-tune) and a guitar.
Here they are doing Black Coffee – first recorded by Sarah Vaughan in 1949. It has since had covers by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Marianne Faithful. What I find remarkable in this live club recording is when Poggi lets loose and shows what has made him a master of the harmonica.
Davis prefaced this song much the way he does on this clip – and then asked us to join him in the chorus. More than one of us in the audience sang it with a sense of recognition that there had been times when we earnestly wished we had not stayed away so long.
A remarkable and more than memorable evening!
On this day in 1928: The Bremen, a German Junkers W 33 type aircraft, takes off for the first successful transatlantic aeroplane flight from east to west.
Dedicated to the history of Charlottetown Harbour and yachting on Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown