Mercoledi Musicale

Quand le jazz est là, the jazz programme we listen to most evenings on Radio Canada, follows the lead of so many CBC programmes these days and plays the same material two or three times a month. It still beats the sh stuff played on English radio that time of night so if we get Etta James singing Don’t Cry Baby twice in two weeks I’m not going to complain. However, and you knew there would be a however, three times this month we’ve been “treated” to a bizarre version of Nature Boy by Claudia Acuña, the Chilean jazz vocalist and composer. To begin with she draws it out to Wagnerian lengths – or whatever the equivalent is in jazz terms – and then for the last 2 minutes turns it into a Bossa Nova riff.

As a much needed palate cleanser I turned to YouTube and found that everyone and their nearest and dearest have done a cover since Nat King Cole first recorded it back in 1947. So I thought why not go for the original.

Of the song a reviewer in Los Angeles magazine referred to it as sounding “… like something that, from the minute it was written, existed out of time and place—all thousand and one Arabian Nights compressed into two and a half minutes as mediated by a cracked Mojave Debussy slugging down the last of the absinthe from his canteen.

By all accounts composer eden ahbez was an unusual person and part of the early “hippie” movement in California. When Nat King Cole had him tracked down so he could get the rights to record Nature Boy ahbez was living under the L in the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. He slept outdoors with his family and ate vegetables, fruits, and nuts. He claimed to live on three dollars per week. Lest it be thought he was only that “cracked Mojave Debussy” he went on to write other songs for Nat King Cole and worked with others as composer/arranger and producer. He once told a questioning policeman: “I look crazy but I’m not. And the funny thing is that other people don’t look crazy but they are.”

The word for January 22 is:
Mendacity /menˈdasədē/ /mɛnˈdæsədi/: [noun]
Mid 17th century from ecclesiastical Latin mendacitas, from mendax, mendac- ‘lying’
I’ve loved this word ever since I heard Burl Ives as Big Daddy declaiming it in A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And a word that seems more appropriate for revival every day.

Mercoledi Musicale

Most Thursday nights we head over to Baba’s Lounge – a small, at times cramped, bar/restaurant on the second floor above Cedars, a really good Lebanese restaurant. We have our favourite seats at the bar, Tommy and JD the bartenders/waiters pretty much know what we’ll be having for dinner and in the way of adult beverages. We chat with friends, other regulars, and many of the musicians then settle back to enjoy an evening of Island Jazz. Dan Roswell, a really fine sax player, has been producing jazz evening there for sometime now – as well as our annual summer PEI Jazz & Blues Festival.

Our friends Marlee and Evan setting up for a Thursday night session at Island Jazz last fall.

Last week was a tribute to lyricist, songwriter, and singer Johnny Mercer. Looking at his list of what have become standards it would be easier to list the composers and media he didn’t write for. I thought I knew the bulk of them but I don’t honestly ever think I’d heard this number he wrote in 1962 with Doris Tauber. And I’m surprised I’d never heard this incredible version by Dinah Washington.

Mercer and Judy Garland had an off and on again relationship for many years and he claimed she was his inspiration for more than one song. He once said that the song the most reflected his feelings for her was I Remember You.

March 6 is National Crown Roast of Pork Day. Apparently it is the butt of many jokes here on the internet.

Mercoledi Musicale

In which an old fart moans about those youngsters today.

A recent posting on the CBC addressed the number of singers who seem to be developing vocal problems these days – Adele, Celine Dion, Michael Bublé et al.  It went on at length about the trials of touring, two shows a day, and audience expectations based on recordings.  Looking at that list I saw nothing that singers have not had to deal with in the past.  One thing that was not mentioned was sound engineering that gives the balance of sound to the instruments.  Nor the David Foster inspired arrangements that required a singer to start forte and end at fortississimo.   It’s a bit like bad sex – if you start with a climax where the hell do you go from there?

And something I’ve noticed in musicals recently:  despite the presence of those wireless mini-mics that are taped to widow’s peaks and ear lobes often the lyrics are unintelligible.  Last year we saw a production of The Threepenny Opera  at the National Theatre in London in a specially commissioned translation.  They should have avoided the expense for all that could be understood of the lyrics even with the body mics.  Only one of the performers who was intelligible – not a good thing in Brecht-Weill.

Now lest you think I am being an old curmudgeon – well fine I am but .. – I have two videos of singers who have the technique to sell a song without resorting to shouting to indicate emotion, who make every word count, and who were able to withstand the touring, do two or three shows a night, and meet their audiences expectations.

And here’s Mel Tormé showing how to set a mood and deliver a song without destroying your vocal cords.  And just for the fun of it as a coda June Christy chirping, Mel drumming and Nat King Cole jamming.

It was surprised and sad to read in the article that Sophie Milman, a singer I have admired since hearing her back in 2015, has developed trouble.  But she admits that she hasn’t learned how to husband and manage her voice.  It would seem to be a skill set that is lacking in vocal training today.

On this day in 1747: The first venereal diseases clinic opens at London Lock Hospital.



Mercoledi Musicale

Okay there’s a bit of a theme here but we can partly blame EvilGnome for that. I mentioned that gardenias reminded me of Billie Holliday and suggested I might post something by Lady Day. He countered with Etta James singing the title song from Fritz Lang’s 1953 film noir The Blue Gardenia.

I couldn’t find the dynamic Miss James doing this Nelson Riddle composition but did come across this clip from the movie – guess we’ll just have to settle for Nat King Cole doing the film’s title song.

The actress playing the blind flower seller is Celia Lovsky – former wife and life-long friend of Peter Lorre – and after their divorce a well-known character actress in her own right. Trekies remember her from her appearance on the first Star Trek series.

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