Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yes, We Are ADDING to: "Adding A few More Off Topic Notes (Or Are They Really?)"

We promised that we would be adding to our post about music events and culture in New York: Tuesday, October 19, 2010, Adding A few More Off Topic Notes (Or Are They Really?).

We have been keeping our promise and we promise that we will be updating it further after this. What are we up to? The updates provide clues.

Recently added to our post is information about Friday night's El Frente performance, the flyer for which is above,* together with a long addition of information about stage erections and Marty Markowtiz’s use of free prison inmate labor for his concert series.

(* This performance did not happen as advertised. It did not happen because, when it turned out that a number of things about the evening were not going to be as advertised, various bands scheduled to perform that evening did not.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Adding A few More Off Topic Notes (Or Are They Really?)

Why are we providing what you see below, including the flyer (click to enlarge) for an imminent Sunday evening (October 24th) performance of Fran Landesman songs by Shepley Metcalf at the Metropolitan Room on 22nd Street in Manhattan? Is it off topic to our usual Noticing New York concerns? Could our only reason be that Shepley is, through the extended family, a cousin by marriage as well as perhaps are some others who get mentioned in what appears below?

Maybe it will all get connected. We are short of time right now and will leave you guessing. Perhaps the clues are in some of the links below. For the answer you’ll have to check back by clicking on this post later and find out how it is updated in the future. . . As indeed it will be.

Shepley Metcalf at the Metropolitan Room on October 24th

Lyricist Fran Landesman' is the native New Yorker who penned the jazz standard "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most."

Something Irresistible: Shepley Metcalf Sings Fran Landesman. Sunday, October 24, 7 pm. $20.00 cover plus 2 drink minimum. Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Musical director Ron Roy on piano, Chris Rathbun on bass, and Bart Weisman on drums. Reservations recommended by clicking here or calling 212-206-0440.

If you want to get a preview listen go here. It is almost certainly incumbent upon us to give a Noticing New York mention to that fact that one of the songs on Shepley's album which she performs in her act is "In a New York Minute" which has lyrics that could be apropos to more than a few of our posts like:
It’s the perfect city if you’ve got a buck
But it shows no pity when you’re out of luck
The wry, frank and clever Fran Landesman lyrics are a big part of the evening's fun. Many of them play with the implication that life is most worth living when your are living it hard ("Scars") and perhaps making one's fair share of mistakes ( "I'm Not Taking Any Chances".)

I am not sure how much we are free to disclose (Shepley's Metropolitan Room performance engaged in some entre nous "what happens in New York stays in New York based humor") but one of our favorite songs about living all-out is Landesman's Hyde Side Blues available for a listen at Shepley's website if you click. The song's protagonist wants to see less of Dr. Jekyll.

The lyrics are by no means the only part of the evening's success. Ms. Landesman words were all put to music by Simon Wallace. (It was through Mr. Wallace that Shepley tracked down the song writing team when she was having difficulty finding them.) Shepley demonstrated the surprising dimensions adds by the music by reading a song aloud that started as a poem and then singing with a very different feeling accompanied by Wallace's music.

The evening presented many rare moments because even if "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" is a well recognized song in the American Song Book cannon, most of the other Landesman/Wallace are rarely recorded if at all. Given their very high caliber one wonders why this is the case. Shepley is the first to be performing and recording them in the U.S..

Right now it looks likely that Shepley will return to the Metropolitan Room for several more engagements in March.- Update on this:

Shepley’s Fran Landesman show songs is returning to the Metropolitan Room on March 2, 5, 19 and 20, specifically:
Something Irresistible: New Songs by Fran Landesman
Music Director Ron Roy on piano
Chris Rathbun on bass, Gene Roma on drums
Wed March 2 at 7 pm
Sat March 5 at 9:30 pm
Sat March 19 at 7:00 pm
Sun March 20 at 4 pm
Here is Stephen Holden’s Times music review of a Shepley’s show: Traveling to the Stars, No Joy or Romance Needed, by Stephen Holden, March 8, 2011.

More Performances, Brooklyn Neighborhood Ones, at First Acoustics


First Acoustics? First what? Here is a link. And we wrote about it before: Wednesday, February 25, 2009, Adding Something Off Topic: A Few Notes. The First Acoustics performances are hosted in the space of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Brooklyn Heights at the corner of Pierrepont and Monroe Streets.

Upcoming First Acoustics concerts (usually Saturday evenings):

Priscilla Herdman
with Max Cohen
SUNDAY, November 7, 2010, 3:00 p.m.
All seats $20.00

Red Molly
with Pat Wictor
March 19, 2011
All seats $30.00

Janis Ian
with special guest Natalia Zukerman
April 9, 2011
All seats $30.00

We're about 9
with Barnaby Bright
May 7, 2011
All seats $25.00

Bob Cuningham Ensemble
May 21, 2011
All seats $25.00

And one day we are hoping . . . Maureen Kelly Stewart.

But this season you have already missed whom we saw:

Jonathan Edwards
with Judy Gorman (Judy is another Brooklynite from very nearby.)

The Nields (We have a story.*)
With Chris Brown (Accompanied by John Walsh)
* Digressing To Follow Through On A Superfluity of Connections: One of the great things about First Acoustics is that it is the kind of intimate environment where you will likely get the chance to have a few words with the performers while asking them to sign CDs of theirs that are available for sale.- The Nields are a delightful duo: Catch them when you can.- Speaking to Katryna Nields after the show I couldn’t help mentioning that one of my professors at Sarah Lawrence was a law professor with the last name of Neilds. “Jack Nields was our grandfather!” said Katryna.

I probably don’t need to confess it, as I did to her then, but I have always found it ironic, given that I chose to become a lawyer, that when I studied law with him Jack Neilds gave me the lowest grade I ever got at Sarah Lawrence. He gave me something like a B+. Sarah Lawrence didn’t hand out grades, using verbal written evaluations instead, but had actual grades in the administration office when you needed them to apply for graduate school. Low grade or not, he was a great teacher and I have always remembered him, including the way it would irritate his hearing aid if I let my metal ring ding the metal chair in which I sat during conferences with him.

I understand that a number of years later Jack Nields was a don and mentor to Rahm Emanuel (Class of ’81), the same fellow now leaving the Obama administration to run for Mayor of Chicago. Reportedly Emanual says he “got lucky right away” at Sarah Lawrence and `found himself' studying Supreme Court decisions under Nields. I also remember spending a lot of time in the library hauling Supreme Court decisions off the shelves.

One of the things I chose to focus on in my studies with Professor Nields was policing techniques that could make communities safer. That choice is perhaps not so surprising for that time: This was the 1970s in the aftermath of much of the urban destruction that ensued following the Robert Moses era that was just then coming to an end. Another connection that came from studying with Professor Nields is that he introduced me to the work of civil libertarian lawyer Paul G. Chevigny (now an NYU Law School Professor emeritus) who wrote two excellent books I then had a chance to read: Police Power: Police Abuses in New York City and Cops and Rebels: a Study of Provocation. The title of the first book is self explanatory. The second book is about when the police take the role of agent provocateurs.

Before Nields introduced me to his work I had no idea who Paul Chevigny was notwithstanding the fact that he and I had grown up in the same ten-story building on Gramercy Park. I knew about his father though. Paul Chevigny’s father’s was a writer and my father loved his book: My Eyes Have a Cold Nose. Hector Chevigny was blind and his book’s title referred to his guide dog named “Shadow.” Shadow was so named because Hector Chevigny's career had included writing scripts for the famous radio program (You recall: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”) and because it was obviously appropriate for a companion who was always at your side. The world being quite small it also turned out that Paul Chevigny's wife Bell Chevigny also taught at Sarah Laurence while I was there.

If you’ll sit still as we meander in this digression to make one last recommendation: “Election Day” is a remarkable documentary directed by the Chevigny’s daughter Katy Chevigny which, shades of the Gore/Bush presidential contest, shows the immense problems in our system of elections by combining the different stories of 11 citizens determined to vote in the November 2004 election. That means that there are at least three generations of remarkable Chevigny talent. Oh, speaking of threes, we found that “Election Day”completed a very satisfactory triptych to evaluate our election problems if you also watched "Recount," HBO’s dramatization of the Bush/Gore ballot-counting battle and the documentary “Hacking Democracy.” (And you see, this digression all started with telling you about going to see the Nields First Acoustics performance.)
And someone we didn’t see this season at First Acoustics:

Mike Bjella Jazz Quartet
and Camila Meza Group

While We Are Talking Brooklyn: Indy Brooklynite Ingrid Michaelson

Then there is Brooklynite indie-pop singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson who, with us, shares the same sort of extended cousinly relationship with Ms. Metcalf that we do. She’s touring a lot which takes her away from New York (playing Columbus, Ohio on October 21st) but she has a New York City engagement December 10, at the Highline Ballroom.

See the video and links below:



Here’s the link to another visually fun video we can’t embed here.

Here is Ingrid in a (09.16.09 ) duet with Greg Laswell doing new untitled song they wrote.



Ingrid and Greg will be getting married next fall.

And Then Even More Entertainment Specially Pertinent To Our Brooklyn Neighborhoods (Music Included)

Tickets Go On Sale for IN THE FOOTPRINT, the theatrical examination of Atlantic Yards controversy from The Civilians.

Click here for a video of "The Neighborhood Song" also appearing in a YouTube version embedded below.



For more video click here for the Gentrification or "Pardon the Crackers" scene and here for a lot more from their YouTube Channel.

We have seen the original version of In the Footprint ("Brooklyn at Eye Level") and we saw the short condensed cabaret version they put together using out-takes performed at Joe's Pub (at the Public) so we know the work is really good and a very entertaining evening. We'll definitely go see it in its third incarnation (and are looking forward to the movie as well).

The Joe's Pub version included the valuable addition of a scene that we didn't remember being in the first version, apparently based on an interview the Civilians did with an employee who worked with and was then fired by Ratner. That really benefitted the piece because it needed some insight into what was going on in the other side in that Ratner corporate world. Unfortunately the Ratner people were not giving interviews.

We admit to be being disappointed (only slightly) that the Civilians have not yet inserted into their piece the scene we suggested where (this is a true story) Ratner snaps his cell phone shut and, on the golf course, tells his golfing companion (a guy who owns a line of successful comic books)- “I just bought myself a basketball team!” (See: Tuesday, November 11, 2008, You Oughta Be in Pictures, . . On Stage, In a Book, In a Documentary.)

If they want to have another really good Ratner scene they can set it in the reception area of Ratner's office where, again absolutely true, Ratner was showing a live video cam projection on his wall of all the Atlantic Yards site property he didn't yet own as he awaited with arrogant assurance the New York Court of Appeals eminent domain abuse decision that would give it to him. See our Noticing New York piece: Tuesday, December 1, 2009, Unfair Substitution of Fiction For Fact in the Atlantic Yards Dialogue. In that piece we offered the following piece of dialogue “Actually, with this Court of Appeals decision I’m going to have to get a bigger wall!”
You can read what we wrote to figure out whether that dialogue would stretch the Civilians standards for strict verismo authenticity, notwithstanding that Ratner actually dared to project the land he wanted to steal for the visiting on the wall of his reception area.

Bloody Bloody Coincidence

The other day we picked a theater show to attend with an out-of-town visitor and we almost went to "In the Footprint" but instead wound up at "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," highly recommended by some Austin, Texas music aficionados who had just visited New York. It was Monday night and the theater was filled.* I am not sure exactly what to make of "Bloody Bloody" but its primary process sensibility seems to owe a lot to Monty Python's style of tangling with history (and perhaps a tad also to some Saturday Night Live skits). A (dead?) mule was hung upside down over the audience as part of the theater decorations' extended stage set. I nearly found myself expecting the unexpected Spanish Inquisition. Where Monty P. tends to deal with European history from a university student's standpoint, "Bloody Bloody" deals with American history (traveling fewer centuries back) from what appears to be a Midwestern high school student's perspective.

(* Reportedly, it was "the Public's second-highest-grossing production ever during an Off Broadway run this past spring.")

What I was startled to learn after the show was that in choosing between "In the Footprint" and "Bloody Bloody" for our evening excursion we were choosing between two shows with music and lyrics written by the same composer/lyricist, Michael Friedman. We would not have readily noticed this commonality given that the style of the music was, to us, so different. With respect thereto, it had to be pointed out to us by our New York guest that "Bloody Bloody's" Pythonesque approach is mashed up with an emo sensibility. If you are not following what emo is then you too would have missed the joke about Jackson's populist crowds' placards that demanded "Emocracy." Both "In the Footprint" and "Jackson" deal with politics, elitist trickery, and a fair share of populist anger. Footprint is the most tightly constructed from a standpoint of intellectual rigor. If you are choosing between the two shows, you are likely to find "Footprint" the more accessible and easier to relate to even though it deals with arcana such as what is "ULURP." Maybe not so if you are of an age where you just got your first credit card.

The "In the Footprint" Michael Friedman vectored connection means that "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" doesn't take us very far from our favorite Noticing New York subjects but we also found this: 35-year-old Mr. Friedman was previously an "urban planning consultant"! This we found in an Observer article about what a big fall Mr. Friedman is having that makes the case for Friedman's "Very Big Fall" while failing to mention "In the Footprint" as one of Mr. Friedman's fall achievements. (See: Composer Michael Friedman’s Very Big Fall, by Kimberly Kaye, September 28, 2010.)

This fall Friedman will also be present in the New York theater with his work on the predicted hit revival of “Angels in America.” The Observer article does credit Mr. Friedman for his past work with the Civilians. It also notes that Mr. Friedman “has three ambitious new projects in the works,” one of which is another Civilians project: “The Great Immensity,” about the global environmental crisis; “Pretty Filthy,” (with the Civilians) about porn and an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem's “Fortress of Solitude,” a story about two motherless boys in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Omnibus’ Passing Strange Mention of How Eminent Domain Haunts the Prokhorov/Ratner Basketball Arena

On October 23, 2010, Atlantic Yards Report covered Brooklyn Omnibus, a new song cycle “that considers what it means to call Brooklyn home” (created by the musicians Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the collaborators on the Broadway musical play Passing Strange) that also mentions the how ominously foreboding Atlantic Yards is to the community.

Under the heading “The haunted arena” Atlantic Yards Report’s Norman Oder writes about a vampire song sung as an encore. Pointing out the nod to Thomas Wolfe's “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” Mr. Oder provided pertinent lyrics about the Nets Prokhorov/Ratner “Barclay” Basketball arena:

Only ghosts have eminent domain/we can't wait 'til the Barclays Center is done.

Only the dead have eminent domain/it's the dead's job to drive the living insane.

For some other ghost stories about the Prokhorov/Ratner arena see: Monday, January 19, 2009
A Fable for Our Times: Gehry and the Spirit of the Land.

(Below, Halloween being celebrated in Brooklyn Heights 2010.)
Foxily Making A Wolfe Connection

The windows of our own apartment look out into the windows of a brownstone where Thomas Wolfe once lived not long before he died (September 15, 1938). “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” appeared in The New Yorker on June 15, 1935. The plaque on the building across the way (see below) says that Thomas Wolfe lived there from 1933 to 1935 so it would, indeed, seem that Mr. Wolfe wrote “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” in Brooklyn Heights while living in that building across from us.

Noticing New York is still working hard to get to know Brooklyn. We were not hoping to haunt you with knowledge after we expire. Instead, our knowledge is to prevent you from being haunted.

And If You Are In Austin, Texas? Then. . . .

If in Austin Texas you should catch Continental Graffiti.

Continental Graffiti hasn’t been around all that long but it features Katie Holmes (no, not that
Katie Holmes, this one fiddles and sings) and Olivier Giraud who plays the guitar and sings. We think of them as the modern equivalent of the team-up of Django Reinhardt and St├ęphane Grappelli. Holmes is new on the Austin scene. Giraud is well known from prior bands he was in. They are both great.

For personal reasons we have a significant, special affection for their rendition of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek." They better hurry up and produce a CD, something they haven't done yet. Oh yes, maybe also we can entice them to visit Brooklyn?

The best way to enjoy them may be at the Continental Club where dancers have very visibly worn out the linoleum and the cover before 9:00 PM on Monday night’s is nonexistent; just please donate to the band.

Check out the videos on their website below:





More Coverage

We must wonder why Continental Graffiti has not produced a CD yet. Surely they have sufficient material to produce one at least if they include all the American S0ng Book covers they do so well. Yes, doing `covers,' as opposed to one's own songs does require paying more royalties. There is also the question of the gritty authenticity of original product versus new, possibly repetitive editions of the already familiar. (This is also a question that relates to analogous concerns when creating a cities: Is it good to create faux recreations of earlier architectural styles?) Still, we love the American Song Book genre and that genre entails an entrenched tradition of covers. Usually the performers succeed in making new renditions entirely their own. One admonistic truism: If you are going to cover another famous artist's song make sure that you perform it at least as well as the original artist or perform it differently enough to make the performance your own. Continental Graffiti is safe on that score.

Rabbit Redux?

Speaking of copies vs. originals, Lena Dunham has a new film out, “Tiny Furniture,” that received a very respectful review in the New York Times. (See: Movie Review: Tiny Furniture; Girl Undefined: Post-College but Pre-Real World, by Manohla Dargis, November 11, 2010.) Ms. Dunham is actually a distant cousin of ours via our shared Dunham ancestry.

The Times review uses the film as an opportunity to provide this dissertation on the subject of authentic originals versus repetitive copies thereof:
One of the knots that Ms. Dunham requires you to untie while you’re watching “Tiny Furniture” is the extent to which she is playing with ideas about fiction and the real, originals and copies. Is the character Aura actually Ms. Dunham (the unique woman who lived in that loft) or is the director playing a copy of herself? Ms. Dunham doesn’t overtly say. One hint, though, might be the character’s unusual first name, which suggests that Ms. Dunham, at the age of 24 and herself a recent graduate, has read the social theorist Walter Benjamin’s 1930s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” one of the most influential (and commonly classroom-assigned) inquiries into aesthetic production and the mass reproduction of art.

Benjamin argued that an original work of art (say, a Rodin sculpture), has an aura, which creates a distance between it and the beholder. But aura decays as art is mechanically reproduced (say, for postcards).
One reason we believe that Aura isn’t an entirely authentic version of Ms. Dunham: In the film Aura has a pet white hamster; the real life Ms. Dunham, like us had pet rabbits. After babysitting for us she became our official rabbit adviser.

Another Cousinly Connection To Sing About, a French One

Another cousin of ours who is a singer performer is Jean-Paul Vignon. Jean-Paul also wrote several of his early French hits. If he doesn’t sound familiar it may depend on how old you are and how far back you can remember. If you memory is good enough you may recall that he was on Ed Sullivan many times and did a wonderful duet of “Boom/Boum*” half in French, half in English with Liza Minnelli. It was around the time that the twist was coming in (and yes the Beatles).

(*It was written by Charles Trenet. Another version of it was used several years ago in the film “Something's Gotta Give”)

I think that Jean-Paul’s very best recording is one that didn’t become a hit, “Goodbye, Goodbye, Colette,” a quiet beautifully crafted and sweetly sentimental song by Paul Vance who also wrote
"Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," and the Shangri-Las’ "Leader of the Pack."
Paul Vance is, by the way, by no means dead though he was one falsely reported to be so. “Goodbye, Goodbye, Colette” is an exquisite song that nobody else ever recorded and has been forgotten about but it could be a success today. I admit that I am almost certainly prejudiced on that subject because I was there when it was recorded. You see, connections like that count for a lot. (The flip side of Collette, "Ma Via (My Life)" was also written by Vance.)

Jean-Paul was once promoted as the “Young Chevalier” because none other than Maurice Chevalier himself had identified him as the young man who was his most likely successor. Notwithstanding, providing a good example of how the market often fails to work well to distribute older or niche genre music, of perhaps an 80 or so songs Jean-Paul has recorded, I can only find five that are currently commercially available (three are e-music downloads, two are from Amazon). The situation is improving, however, because not long ago there I could find none all.

The five songs to be found (all listed below) are all from Jean-Paul’s French pop star period before he came to the United States or hit the Ed Sullivan Show, Merv Griffin Show, Red Skelton Show, Tonight Show, etc. Two of the songs (those asterisked) were written, or co-written by Jean-Paul himself. However good the songs are, they should not be considered to represent the creme de la creme of Jean-Paul’s oeuvre. He certainly doesn't consider all of them among his best. In fact, he considers (I disagree) that when singing one of these songs he was in particularly poor voice.
* La pluie (J.P. Vignon - J.C. Pelletier)

Mon Amour (written by Charles Aznavour)

Je te tendrai les bras (written by Dorsey-Giraud)
Artist: Jean-Paul Vignon

* La fille du port (J.P. Vignon - J.C. Pelletier)

Le chant des moissons (written by P. Saka & H. Decker)
"Mon Amour" and "Le Chant des Moissons" were both on Jean-Paul's very first recording, recorded live in 1956, back when there was no such thing as editing such a record before it was pressed. The two songs on the flip side of that original 45 recording, "Madame la Lune"
and "Les Etoiles s’Amusent," were both co-written by Jean-Paul (with A. Lasry).

In fictional TV land (aside from meeting Jean Luc Picard in the Star Trek Next Generation series) Jean-Paul, teen-idol fashion, visited Patty Duke on the Patty Duke Show, in “What's Cooking, Cousin?” That’s “Patty” who has (according to the show’s theme song): “only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights.” What sights would Patty see from Brooklyn Heights now? The development of Brooklyn Bridge Park, see: Monday, May 24, 2010, Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth? An Examination of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Terms of the Politics of Development, Part I.

Pasticheing With the Pizzarellis

Our last Noticing New York piece about music in New York featured our recommendation to go enjoy the First Family of Cool, the Pizzarellis, and we specifically mentioned John Pizzarelli and his wife, Jessica Molaskey, of whom we are great fans. Here’s more about them.

The Pizzarellis not only connect magically with their audiences, they also go out of their way to have strong connections with their communities. This includes many special benefit concerts held to raise money for their children’s schools.

Well Schooled

You can see the Pizzarellis’ at Feinstein's or The Carlyle and spend perhaps $400 or more for a table for your group on any particular evening (Yes, Birdland: April 12-16, or the Metropolitan Museum: March 31st, are less expensive, as is maybe even the Algonquin) or, you might be able to catch one of these school benefits and spend only $30 per head (plus whatever you might want to spend on a CD for autographing*) and thereby support a good cause into the bargain. The last of these benefits was one we caught Sunday afternoon, January 30, 2010. It was their 16th annual benefit for the Anderson Public School at 77th and Columbus where their daughter goes to school.

(* NNY Recommended.)

The trick is to find out the where and when of those performances. We found out when Jonathan Schwartz announced it on WNYC the day of the concert. That is also the way we found out about another such benefit, the first one we went to years ago. At this latest benefit John Pizzarelli said that, running some numbers, they calculated that the sixteen benefits for the Anderson school had now brought in over $100,000. That’s not to mention that they have done other benefits for other of the schools their children have attended.

Plans (and Lyrics) Change

John mentioned, with appreciation, the Jonathan Schwartz on-air announcement of the benefit and that his announcement brought people in all the way from Long Island. By way of returning the favor, John then played a song written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, noting that Arthur Schwartz is Jonathan Schwartz’s father: “I Guess I’ll have to Change my Plan.”

The song is best known for Fred Astaire’s rendition of it in the Dietz and Schwartz movie musical The Band Wagon. In addition to live performances, John Pizzarelli has recorded two versions of it but (drat and double drat!) a version where he sings the song is not available in MP3 format at the moment. He did the vocal, accompanying himself on guitar, early in his career (1987) in a version that is available on vinyl on his album Sing! Sing! Sing! More recently (2008), he has an instrumental version with violinist Aaron Weinstein that is on their album “Blue Too” available on emusic. (Emusic is our very favorite site for getting music on the web. The Pizzarellis have been quick to embrace technology and much of their music is available on the emusic site.) Aaron Weinstein performs with the Pizzarellis at venues like Birdland and was also playing with them, wearing an endearing bow tie, at the Sunday benefit.

Delightfully, John Pizzarelli took the time to tell some of the back story to “I Guess I’ll have to Change My Plan” which is that the Dietz lyrics to the Schwartz melody were not the first. The song was originally written (in 1924) as the camp song “I Love to Lie Awake in Bed.” (Pizzarelli accidently substituted “like” for “love” telling the story.) The camp was Camp Paradox on Brant Lake in the Adirondacks and the first set of lyrics were written by none other than Lorenz Hart. (Born in 1895 Hart must have been about 29 at the time.) Having once been a camper there, Hart later rented a cottage nearby which gave him the chance to collaborate with Schwartz when Schwartz was a camp counselor. Who else went to the camp? Hart’s more famous collaborator Richard Rodgers who, we read, spent hours playing the piano rather than engaging in other camp activities. (One of the women in Pizzarelli’s audience that afternoon indicated that she too had gone to the camp.)

I was delighted that Pizzarelli brought this camp song story up. Though I first heard it more than a decade ago (one Saturday afternoon on David Garland’s old edition of Spinning on Air), I hadn’t heard the story since. Pizzarelli not only told the story, he sang the original lyrics in their entirety:
I love to lie awake in bed
Right after taps
I pull the flaps
above my head.
I let the stars shine on my pillow,
Oh, what a light the moonbeams shed,
I feel so happy I could cry
And tears are born
within the corn-
er of my eye.
To be at home was never like this.
I could live forever like this.
I love to lie awake awhile
And go to bed with a smile.
Princely Promotion of a Change of Plans

With “The King’s Speech” currently in the theaters vying for a bevy of Oscars, Pizzarelli missed another intriguing, now topical, part of the song’s back story. The song first became famous in Europe as the “Blue Pajama” song with the assistance of the Prince of Wales, who “repeatedly requested the song at nightclubs and formal events,” the Prince of Wales I refer to here is the one who became the (never-crowned) King Edward VIII of England for 325 days before he abdicated (in 1937) to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallis Simpson of Baltimore, thus clearing the way for “Bertie” of “The King’s Speech” to ascend to the throne as King George VI.

Allegedly, the Prince took up with Mrs. Wallis when she was still married to her second husband. The Prince might have fallen in love with the Dietz and Schwartz song because of the song’s role in the story of the 1929 Broadway musical in which it was originally introduced, particularly the bent taken by its second verse. (These days you only hear, and can only readily find, the first verse.) The show was The Little Show. In it, the first verse describes the termination of a love affair because of the advent of an unsuspected husband. But in the second verse the singer decides to pursue the married woman anyway.

As The King’s Speech film tells the story, “Bertie” himself had his own a special relationship with music and songs. Because music is ingrained in such a deep part of the brain, singing songs was an effective treatment for his stuttering. For the same reason severely-wounded Congressman Gabrielle Giffords is reportedly using singing in her attempts to reclaim her faculties of speech.

Change of Plans for Princely Promotions

While The King’s Speech was an original piece of work and hardly a copy, the casting of Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury is a fun tip of the hat to how the story echos the famous work in which Jacobi first came to the attention of most of us: He played another improbable and similarly impeded head of an empire who ultimately surpasses everyone's skeptical expectations, ascending to power after all those ahead of him in the line of succession unexpectedly fall away- - - “C-C-C-c-laudis can't be emperor!” they once said.

The Local Gets Promoted by Schwartz

Pizzarelli paid more tribute to Jonathan Schwartz’s father with a second fairly well known Schwartz and Dietz song, “Rhode Island Is Famous For You.” That song, with plenty of wordplay, romantically riffs off all the local things for which various states are familiar. (More on the value of local things later.)

Schooled in Local Politics
Admittedly, the Pizzarellis do have something of a relationship with Jonathan Schwartz. They are, for instance, regular guests on his annual on-air Christmas show. Observation: Over and over again relationships crop up as very important in human affairs. Something to muse on in that regard: Why is it that, in politics, it so often seems that the influence of background relationships cause a problem while, in music, we almost always consider that relationships add something beneficial to the mix? (Of course, with New Orleans District Attorney and part time singer Harry Connick, Sr. – father of actor/singer Harry Connick, Jr.- you got both politics and music mixed together.)

Politics were in evidence at the Pizzarelli benefit concert. They traipsed in with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who, at the outset of the concert, stepped up to the microphone to say a few introductory words. He praised the Anderson School principal, interjecting that he thought she would make a great Schools Chancellor thereby taking a swipe at Bloomberg’s recently appointed Schools Chancellor Cathie Black. If this wasn’t clear enough to the rest of the assembly, Stringer threw in that he also believed a lot of people in the room would probably make a really good Schools Chancellor. The responsive groans and clapping showed that the audience was in emotional tune with Stringer’s snideness.

Notwithstanding, you couldn’t detect whether Mr. Pizzarelli had any sympathies with Mr. Stringer on this topic. I don’t know the Pizzarellis’ politics. Two key ingredients contributing to any Pizzarelli performance’s success are, in my opinion, good humor and comedic humor. The former, to which most of us aspire, does not always easily accommodate the dark takes on the political powers and the lack of respect for the common man you often find in the analysis offered here at Noticing New York. As for the Pizzarelli family’s skill with the comedic, that seems to come from their extraordinary timing, honed, I think, by their musical skills and coupled with an acute intelligence about human nature. The Pizzarellis slant toward intelligent songs. Ms. Molaskey’s next album is likely to involve Dave Frishberg. (She told us this after the benefit when we complained that we were unable to present her with a recent new album to autograph.)

Smarts Out of School

In 2006 Ms. Molaskey was performing with Mr. Frishberg at Feinstein’s in what Times critic Stephen Holden said “may be the smartest cabaret show you’ll see all year.” (See: Her Voice, His Tender, Cruel Songs, by Stephen Holden, October 19, 2006.) Holden also commented, “as a cynical pop commentator on the games people play, there is no more ferocious wit than the jazz songwriter Dave Frishberg,” saying Frisberg provides what he deems “the funniest punch line” of “his most famous song, `My Attorney Bernie,’ . . a scathing portrait of a high-powered lawyer by a client”:
He buys wine from the rare imported rack
That’s ’cause Bernie is a purist, not your polyester tourist
Bernie waves the glass around a while and takes a sip and always sends it back
Like Other Musicians . . .

By contrast, more of the humor of Ms. Molaskey’s husband John has to do with a sort of infectiously good-natured clowning. This was in evidence with John’s closing song for the afternoon, one he does frequently, that acknowledges his New Jersey roots: “I Like New Jersey Best.” Apart from the fact that we involuntarily wince at any mention of Bruce Ratner’s Nets (whether they will hopefully stay put in New Jersey or not) the song is amusing, partly because about halfway through Mr. Pizzarelli starts adopting different musical personas, starting out with imitations of Paul Simon (born Born1941 in Newark) and Bruce ("The Boss") Springsteen (born 1949, Long Branch, New Jersey) and then running through the likes of everyone (including non-New Jerseyians) from Bob Dylan to the Beach Boys, Dean Martin and Johnny Cash. At one point he switches back and forth between imitations of Billie Holiday and Madeline Peyroux the joke being that his impressions of both sound identical. Does Madeline Peyroux imitate Billie Holiday?

You come away from all this understanding that Mr. Pizzarelli is not only a gifted mimic but that his voice is a lot more supple than one might immediately suppose from the pleasant slightly nasal twang-ishness with which he usually sings.



At one point in the parade of parodies you think you are listening to Mr. Pizzarelli imitating Bronx-born Bobby Darin only to have Mr. Pizzarelli puckishly disabuse you of this notion: He archly states that he is really doing Kevin Spacey (born 1959 in South Orange, New Jersey).

Kevin Spacey used his own singing voice to play Darin in "Beyond the Sea" a biopic about Darin’s life. (It produced one of two 2004 biopic soundtracks worthwhile to own, the other being De-Lovely with another actor named Kevin, Kevin Kline, starring as Cole Porter.) Spacey is, himself, a gifted mimic as his singing in that film will attest, but if you want further proof of this you may still be able to catch, in the theaters, the film “Casino Jack” about Washington lobbyist and Republican political operative Jack Abramoff and the scandals that shipwrecked him. In that film Abramoff, played by Spacey, is depicted as being addicted to assuming the mannered delivery of different other actors to replicate their famous quotes from different movies. Spacey struts his stuff accordingly. (Don’t confuse Spacey’s “Casino Jack” with the Alex Gibney documentary about Abramoff: “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” Gibney also did "Client 9" the documentary about the fall of Eliot Spitzer about which we have written.)

A Sketchy Story About Tony Bennett

Seeing the Pizzarellis economically at one of these benefits or in the lush luxury of Feinstein’s each has its respective benefits. The following will illustrate both. We saw the Pizzarellis twice at Feinstein's (I’m going to skirt mention of the family event I missed part of in order to utilize my first highly-valued reservation.) The second time we saw the Pizzarellis was when my wife and I decided to introduce our young daughters to their first taste of cabaret. I made the reservation far in advance, hoping to get the best table possible. We conscientiously arrived early. Though these strategies had seemed well-advised I then found myself wondering why a close-to-the-stage table immediately beside us was still vacant. Then, just as the lights were lowering for the performance, Tony Bennett walked in to sit there. My mother (one of the celebrated Daly sisters) was with us. I had seen Bennett (and Diana Krall) perform at Radio City Music Hall with her in 2000, so as Mr. Bennett sat down I repeated to her something she had said to me at that time: “There’s the sexiest man alive.” Though my voice was low I believe Mr. Bennett heard me because, when I said it, Mr. Bennett turned and gave my mother a knowing nod. We were, I’ll repeat, sitting very close.

Now the good thing about seeing the Pizzarellis at their benefit concerts as opposed to Feinstein's is that, in our experience, they are more approachable than at perhaps any other time. More so than at, say, the Algonquin. This is where the advisability of buying CD’s for autograph comes in. As John Pizzarelli’s wife Jessica was autographing CDs for me- this was several years back at the first Anderson School benefit concert we went to- I was telling her the Tony Bennett story. “I remember that performance,” she said and then went on to describe how she and John had been a little bit worried because, during it, Mr. Bennett was keeping his head down in an absorbed way and looking up only periodically. The explanation for this?: In addition to being a superlative singer Mr. Bennett is an accomplished painter and he loves to do sketches. Everything became clear when, after the show, he went back to visit John and Jessica and the rest of the crew, including John’s bass-playing brother Martin, to show them how he had rendered them in sketches during the performance. (Here is link if you want to see a sketch Bennett did of Leonard Lopate while being interviewed by him on the radio. I wish I could link you to the sketches Bennett did at Feinstein’s that night.)

The cover art for “Bennett on Holiday,” Bennett’s album of Billie Holiday classics, incorporates a portrait of Billy Holiday Bennett did himself. (This information is per the inside of the album’s jewel case, “Portrait of Billie Holiday by Tony Bennett 1997,” apparently not otherwise discoverable on the Internet.)

Back to School to Face the Music Again (This Time It’s Taps)

Speaking of jazz musicians playing at New York public schools, one evening, years ago, I got a crucial perspective on the way our New York public schools were being run when I went with friends to see Wynton Marsalis (or was it Jon Faddis?) play at the Louis Armstrong High School in Queens. The evening was proceeding with an incredible amount of energy and Marsalis (or Faddis) was clearly having a marvelous time performing for an audience that included many black youths . The excitement was such time seemed to pass out of existence but then, just as the minute hand of the clock reached toward twelve to denote the hour (a fairly early one at that), a figure appeared in the doorway to the left. It was a like a comic book or a graphic novel with the figure casting as long black shadow into the room from light that streamed from behind. Silently the figure raised an extended finger and drew it sharply across his throat like a knife: the symbol for cut. It was the school superintendent, a well-paid white building keeper who was part of strong union. Marsalis/Faddis looked over saying something like “Aw, we don’t really have to quit now, do we?” The figure stood implacable. The school’s principal, a black woman I knew to have an incredible force of personality, rushed over to have hushed words with the man. The result was a very few extra minutes for Marsalis/Faddis to wrap up his performance. It was evident where the power was and how it was misplaced.

BTW: Wynton Marsalis often plays with clarinetist Dr. Michael White. I may similarly have a doctorate (one in law) but that Michael White is not me. . . . . Thinking about it again I am pretty sure it was Jon Faddis who played that night, but not to worry, Mr. Faddis also plays with Wynton Marsalis and Dr. Michael White.

Back to First Acoustics

There is so much more to say about First Acoustics. Livingston Taylor has performed there twice, opening their first season and closing their third. We missed his sister Kate Taylor: Drat and Double Drat! We are looking forward to the possibility that in the future Livingston and Kate could be returning to perform together on the same First Acoustics stage.

For those of you who may not know but think the names sound familiar, siblings Livingston and Kate are also siblings of James Taylor. Having seen him in two marvelous First Acoustic performances we can vouch that Livingston is a spectacularly engaging performer whether he is doing his own songs or those of others, often enough classics from the American Song Book. He chose some ASB selections accompanying himself on the piano when he closed the second season. Hearing Livingston play the piano was an unexpected pleasure.

One of the benefits (benefits?) of being a First Acoustics enthusiast and member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation that hosts it on Pierrepont and Monroe Streets in Brooklyn Heights is that I got “volunteered” to help erect the stage for Livingston’s performance. It was actually rather fun and good exercise but the hidden dividend to pitching in was that I was there when Livingston arrived to get ready for the evening and that meant that I got a backstage experience of how genuinely gracious and sweetly dispositioned Mr. Taylor is. In other words it’s not all an act unless he’s putting it on for the backstage crew as well.

I hope we all did a good job of making sure that the stage was securely and soundly executed.

A Stage or Two Removed?

Now compare this opportunity to get involved and be part of things with the way that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was avoiding labor costs for his concert series by utilizing the free labor of orange-and-white-stripe-jumpsuited inmates from Rikers Island. (See: August 16, 2010, Marty’s prison labor! Beep’s concert series gets inmates to cut costs, By Stephen Brown.) The Brooklyn Paper called this “Marty’s `con’-cert series.”) When the issue came to a head this summer the city told Marty that he won’t be able to use the inmates this way in the future. (See: August 25, 2010, City jail to Marty: Get your own workers! By Stephen Brown.)

The Brooklyn Paper reporting that the practice would be ending said that the Department of Correction “made sure the inmates weren’t from . . .” the communities where they were sent to work “so that the prisoners wouldn’t be seeing old friends while gathering chairs.”

(Above: A rendering of Marty's planned potato chip-shaped amphitheater to be built in Asser Levy Park. . . after a lot of trees are cut down around the park's periphery.)

Marty’s practice of using inmate labor had reportedly been going on for about 15 years but it got spotlighted by members of the Coney Island (and Brighton Beach) communities who were angry about plans for the new $64 million potato chip-shaped amphitheater planned to be built in Asser Levy Park and the increasing noise of concerts already being held in the park’s existing facility. The level of noise was actually great enough to be illegal. That was until Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council fast-tracked a special bill this summer to exempt these particular concerts from complying with the city's existing noise law concerning outdoor amplification close to houses of worship or schools.

"It's a clear end run around the existing law," said Norman Siegel, the well known civil liberties lawyer who is representing two plaintiff synagogues in their suit to stop the concerts when the law sponsored by a City Councilman from another borough (Queens: Peter Vallone, Jr. a Democrat from Astoria) was in the offing. After the "temporary" law passed the New York Times reported that Mr. Siegel criticizing it as "unfair," and saying "the opposition would continue" commented:
“They legitimized an illegality,” . . . “which is why so many people in this community are very upset. It smacks of favoritism.”
Marty’s Hiring Practices, 2010, 1995, 1990 and a Terrible Accident

Marty’s convict-hiring practice reportedly goes back only 15 years (that would only be back to 1995) . However, there was call for scrutiny of his hiring of convicts and allegedly doing even more work in connection to the concerts dating back to a terrible accident in August of 1990 when Markowitz, then a state senator, was using the concerts to build up his image. (Wikipedia puts it this way: “creating a series of oceanfront concerts and other festivals rather than drafting legislation.”) 48-year-old Curtis Mayfield, the performing musician known, among other things, for composing the soundtrack to Super Fly, was paralyzed and rendered quadriplegic when part of the stage collapsed during a windstorm. (See: Curtis Mayfield and 6 Others Injured at Brooklyn Concert, August 14, 1990.) Six others were injured, including three crew members and a 12-year-old girl. Even though Mr. Mayfield continued to work his health progressively declined as a result and he died in December 1999 at the age of 57.

To some this was the result of a freak accident due to an "unexpected gust of wind" when ''a thunderstorm caused overhead stage lights to topple over.'' Mr. Markowtiz is quoted as recalling that it was ''like a mini-tornado.'' (Tornadoes in Brooklyn?)

Not everyone viewed the event as an unpreventable freak accident. A letter to the editor in the Times called for Markowitz's hiring practices to be investigated. It was responding to an article about Markowitz as impresario (and "the only politician in the city who deliberately seeks to entertain" NEW YORKERS & CO.;On Stage With Senator Impresario, By Somini Sengupta, July 21, 1996). The Times had mentioned both the Mayfield accident and how "Mr. Markowitz persuaded the state to dispatch prison inmates to set up the stage for each concert" " to keep costs down." Here is the letter to the editor:
As a stagehand who lives and works in Brooklyn, I was outraged about your piece on Senator Markowitz. The stage and light tower collapse that permanently disabled Curtis Mayfield has never failed to upset me and many of my co-workers.

Mr. Markowitz's hiring practices should be examined closely. Brooklyn has some of the finest stage technicians in the country represented by Local 4 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Marty Markowitz has refused to hire Local 4 workers.

Instead, he chooses to take risks with the safety of the performers and audience by employing amateurs -- prison inmates -- to perform highly skilled jobs.

Rigging and setting up an outdoor show with electric lights and sound on tall steel towers requires skill and experience. The competent women and men of Local 4 have the experience and they are right in Marty's backyard along with all of his other consituents.

(See: Marty Markowitz: Senator, or Social Director? August 11, 1996.)

We can't determine whether or not hiring of inmates was the proximate cause of the Mayfield accident as this letter alleges but it is certainly clear that the hiring of prison inmates as cheap concert labor, together with the questioning of the practice, goes back further than recently reported.

Withholding Our Noticing New York Applause For The Political Ruffles In Marty's Potato Chip Extravaganzas


In an earlier Noticing New York post (under the heading “Marty Markowitiz’s Not-So-Real Charities”) we made clear the multiplicity of our concerns about Mr. Markowitz’s concerts which are ostensibly run as “charitable” endeavors:
1. The money taken in by these “charities” is readily used as pseudo-campaign funds exempt from any limits on what companies can donate.

2. Markowitz uses the charities to supplement the incomes of people working for him in non-charitable capacities.

3. Markowitz puts taxpayer money directly into his “charities” with no-bid contracts.

4. The Bloomberg administration funnels New York City money to Markowitz this way.

5. The charities are also supported by donations received from companies doing business with the city that are difficult to distinguish from outright kickbacks, including such companies as Forest City Ratner. Markowitz is famous for his irrational and unqualified support for Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megadevelopment. Because of Markowitz’s support, Atlantic Yards stands to get over $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies for the project, plus effect a 22-acre land grab with associated eminent domain abuse and zoning-override windfalls. Between 2003 when Atlantic Yards came into the picture and 2008 when we last wrote about this, Markowitz’s “charities” pulled in between $680,000 and $1,00,075 from various Ratner-affiliated companies and allies. Similarly, Markowitz’s nonprofits got at least $170,000 in donations from the cruise ship industry when he helped convince the city to open a cruise ship terminal in Red Hook.

6. Further undermining his political independence and accountability to the public Markowitz’s charities also get funds from Bloomberg’s Bloomberg, L.P. with both Markowitz and Bloomberg refuse to disclose the amount.
(See: Monday, October 20, 2008, “Charity?” We Begin to Groan.)

Jeez, all this and the public still has objections to Marty's potato chip? The Markowitz take?: “This whole opposition is bogus.”

Nevertheless, you you can if you wish go to the concerts and see headliners intended to bolster Marty’s political image. The following list of artists who have played over the years that was woven into a recent largely complimentary Times article: Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, the Stylistics, the O’Jays. Earth, Wind and Fire; the B-52s; Hall & Oates, John Legend, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, the Dramatics, Neil Sedaka and Brenda Lee, Aretha Franklin, and, of course, the unfortunate Curtis Mayfield.” (See: Bringing Fun to Brooklyn, - subheaded “Free Concerts Thanks to Borough President,” By Ben Sisario, July 15, 2010.)

We consciously avoid participating in events that distract and placate the public with spectacle. (See: Friday, September 24, 2010, Sports Culture Capper: Yankees, Professional Sports and Criminals Wearing Yankee Hats.)

Berklee College of Music Connection: El Frente

Livingston Taylor, for whom I hope we erected a solid stage (motivated by our freely adopted adopted convictions, not out of our having been convicted) ought to be a superb performer; he teaches “Stage Performance” in the Voice Department at Boston's Berklee College of Music.

We have a nephew, Alexander Crook, attending the Berklee College of Music and his band, El Frente, is getting a lot attention recently, including a battle-of-the-bands style performance at the Palladium in Los Angeles last month. This Friday night (on the late side) they will be performing here in New York at OS Art House at John Street Grill, 17 John Street, between Broadway and Nassau.* See the poster below. “OS” is apparently short for “Original Sessions.” 12:40 A.M? How will everyone get up in the morning to make it to D.C. in time to attend Jon Stewart's (and Stephen Colbert's) Rally to Restore Sanity?

(* This performance did not happen as advertised. It did not happen because, when it turned out that a number of things about the evening were not going to be as advertised, various bands scheduled to perform that evening did not.)

Alexander, a percussionist in the band, has studied native and aboriginal rhythms with masters in Guinea, Africa and Brazil. El Frente has been applauded as the best Latin band in Boston (See: Friday, August 6,2010, Best Local Musician or Latin Band: Rock/Pop, TORNASOL & EL FRENTE, By TuBoston.com in which is part of a Best of El Planeta list compiled by TuBoston.com.) Below is a video, more than a year old, from one of their performances also available at this link.

Dipping Low to “Dip It Low”?

Much of Alexander’s musical talent has probably been passed on to him by his father, Larry Crook. Larry is also a percussionist as well being as a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. It’s a like-father-like-son sort of thing. Surely some copies of some replicating music genes were passed along.

Speaking of copying things in the music field, if you Google Larry’s name another musician’s name that is going to come up at the same time is Christina Milian. That is because Dip It Low, a song with which Ms. Milian had tremendous success (some say it was her most successful), without permission incorporated music from a song, “La Sirena,” recorded years before by Larry and two other musicians (Thomas Turino and Dan Dickey). Dip It Low took twelve seconds of “La Sirena,” looped it to play continuously and built the rest of the Dip It Low melody over it. Dip It Low was on Ms. Milian’s second (2003/2004) album, “It's About Time” and was described by the New York Times as her “breakthrough American hit” and “one of the summer's most popular songs.” Ms. Milian eventually sued her producer Poli Paul (also of Black Eyed Peas fame) for this infringement. (See: Christina Milian Sues 'Dip It Low' Producer For Dipping From Another Song, 8/8/08, by Gil Kaufman.)

Wikipedia (together with a number of other sites that ironically themselves plagiarize from Wikipedia on this) currently says that Crook and the other two musicians “recovered over a million dollars (after lawyer expenses)” from Milian. That may or may not be true but part of the terms of the settlement were that the amount of the recovery not be disclosed. Noticing New York has frequently decried non-disclosure and gag order agreements in other contexts, for instance when developers are given proxies by politicians to exercise the public power of eminent domain and, similarly, when landowners are selling off pieces of the environment to gas extraction companies engaged in high pressure tactics to acquire land for hydrofracking. Is openness and information about control over public domain also important here? Maybe not. What about the issue of how freely musicians should be able to copy and take inspiration from the music they hear? That’s probably a harder question.

How much did Larry recover in his lawsuit? It is probably not safe to infer anything from the fact that he drives a Jaguar; it is likely he was driving it before.

Coming Insert on Copyright and Music Licensing Rights Coming

An insert is being drafted for this post which will be an extended discussion about copyright and music licensing rights and it will appear here. A preview of that insert has already been posted. That preview, just a portion of what is coming, is available here: Wednesday, March 9, 2011, An Insert Preview - Music Superstar Ethics: How Completely You Can Sell “You can say what you say, but you are what you are.” Jay-Zzzzus!

Perry Connected
Obviously although music is often the specific subject of this piece, much of it is also about the importance of connection. Music can assist greatly in making us feel connected, but conversely, doesn’t the music we listen to often mean a lot more to us when we have a chance to feel connected to the musician involved, when we are there, able to see the performer live, able to clap in appreciation, and when we sense that the musician knows they are performing, in an intimate way, for us? My family had a particularly wonderful experience enjoying music in a non-New York venue I am about to recommend to you. Part of the joy we felt was the joy of feeling connected to the performer. This is going to sound like a strange recommendation but if you are traveling and have the opportunity you might wind up enjoying some wonderful music in the Jacksonville, Florida airport. You’ll want the central atrium lobby area just outside the security cordons.

Indeed, this is what happened to my family this past New Year’s Eve day. Through a set of circumstances too bizarre to go into, fortune deposited us in the airport with five extra hours to spare. For that entire time into we listened to a young virtuosic soprano saxophonist by the name of Morton Perry. By young, I mean that Mr. Perry is still in college. Tall and thin and equipped with great stamina, Mr. Perry played without stop and without repeating himself for hours. He played many of our favorite songs and he played without referring to any written scores. We clapped for everything he played, getting occasional small nods and big smiles from him along the way. He was backed by the minimal accompaniment of a device emanating some recorded rhythms and quiet chords. When Mr. Perry finally did take the shortest of breaks we thanked him for his rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” a song which had special meaning for us on that trip. He performed a pleasingly unconventional arrangement of it. A few minutes later, in acknowledgment of our thanks, he played the song again, this time without his backup tape and using the more conventional and familiar arrangement. Eventually, after playing uninterrupted for about three hours straight, Mr. Perry did return to the beginning of his recorded back-ups and we heard some songs performed again, being especially pleased to hear “Over the Rainbow” yet a third time. (More on Mr. Perry after a digression.)

A Digression on Somewhere Over the Rainbow

For those of you willing to follow this recommended lead, here is an embedded link to a 2008 NPR story which is an absolute listening gem, a rhapsodic explication by commentator Rob Kapilow on why the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America was so on target in putting the Academy Award-winning "Over the Rainbow" at the very top of its list of the greatest songs of the 20th Century and why the original Harold Arlen arrangement is the superlative one. (See: 'Over The Rainbow,' From Kansas To Oz, October 15, 2008.) In the interview Kapilow illustratively plays the song’s melody as he explains its structure. To whet your appetite we’ll tell you it includes this synaesthetic observation by Yip Harburg, the song’s lyricist:
“Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.”
And, as a riddle to tantalize you further: Listen to see if you can spot the coincidence of the two lost dogs providing bridges. Kapilow sees the entire song as in essence a bridge, taking full octave leap to link two worlds, Kansas and the metaphysically metaphorical Oz.



Lyricist Yip Harburg has a second well-known, somewhat similarly themed rainbow song which was part of the score for Finian’s Rainbow, a revival of which was recently on Broadway. (The 1947 show has far better bones than the 1968 Francis Ford Coppola film with Fred Astaire would lead you to believe and its whimsical political satire was in many ways ahead of its time.) The rainbow song in Finian is “Look to the Rainbow,” some of its lyrics being:
On the day I was born,
Said my father, said he.
I've an elegant legacy
Waitin' for ye,
'Tis a rhyme for your lip
And a song for your heart,
To sing it whenever
The world falls apart.

Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow it over the hill
And stream.
Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow the fellow
Who follows a dream.

'Twas a sumptuous gift
To bequeath to a child,
For the lure of that song
Keeps me head runnin' wild,
It's a rhyme for me lip
And a song for me heart,
And I sing it whenever
The world falls apart,
(Last Broadway performance album available on Emusic.)

Over 100 artists have covered (recorded) its predecessor, "Over the Rainbow." The Judy Garland version with the perfect Harold Arlen orchestration is so iconic it is hard to rank it among the rest, but, setting that version apart, the soaring Eva Cassidy recording that was posthumously released on her 1998 Songbird album must be the one to beat. You can also watch Eva Cassidy singing another version, recorded for Easter, that was posted on YouTube April 4, 2010 (Easter). In June, Glee finished its 2010 season with a version of the song and also played it at the White House on April 5, 2010 (YouTube available) probably right around the time they were recording that episode (six weeks prior is pretty typical of the industry).

NPR’s Marketplace very recently reported that, 72 years after the song's initial release, “Over the Rainbow” is again at the top of the charts in Germany and France and maybe Japan next with a version performed by Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (known as “Iz”). (See: "Over the Rainbow" finds new life in Germany, Friday, February 11, 2011.) Back in December NPR ran a story about how this redefining edition of the song was recorded in 1988 not long before the singer had a severe heart attack. He was hugely overweight and died in 1997 at age 38. (See: 50 Great Voices: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: The Voice Of Hawaii, by Renee Montagne, December 6, 2010.) Iz’s now well known version, first released 17 years ago, is actually a medley that takes some liberties with the melody and melds in “What a Wonderful World.” (“What a Wonderful World” is the very last song that Eva Cassidy sang in concert at her farewell performance before she died of cancer at 33. Is that a coincidence?) Lyrics from “What a Wonderful World” that get incorporated via the Iz medley include: “The colors of a rainbow.....so pretty ..in the sky. Are also on the faces.....of people ..going by . .”

According to Marketplace the popularity of the Iz version has ignited a ukulele playing craze in Germany. (The Glee version, essentially a cover of Iz's reorchestration of the song deferentially incorporates a ukulele.) The official Iz video of “Over the Rainbow” does not include any medleying with What Wonderful World that gives the song an extended length of about 4:41. That video ends with a flotilla of boats including a Hawaiian canoe (and sails that say “Iz Lives) that ceremonially release Kamakawiwo’ole’s ashes into the sea.

Here is a Marketplace link to videos of covers of the song that includes the Glee episode recording and another of Neil Sedaka crooning it in Italian: Covering 'the Rainbow' Posted by Katharine Crnko on February 11, 2011. You can also hear the classic Eva Cassidy version there. Here is video of another live Cassidy performance where she is in much better voice than the Easter performance.

(Below is the official Iz verion)



Back to Mr. Perry
Mr. Perry is a sophomore at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He has an identical twin brother, Marlon, also a musician, who plays the drums. Much of this information is available on the Internet which we began searching to know more as soon as Mr. Perry’s music transfixed us. In fact, if you are reading this now it might be because you Googled “Jacksonville, Florida, Airport - - soprano saxophonist” as we did. The results we got then were not very helpful but this Noticing New York post should remedy that previously existing gap in the Internet and lead you to the information about Mr. Perry you are possibly looking for. The problem is that you have likely been left wondering what this article is all about- To find that out you are going to have to read a lot more of it.

When we talked with Mr. Perry we told him that we had just come from visiting our in-laws and explained to Mr. Perry that Larry, whom we were visiting, is an ethnomusicology professor at the University of Florida. As we talked Mr. Perry’s eyes softened and he asked us if we had heard of the Berklee College of Music. He confessed to us that he had ambitions of going there. Of course, this is the same Berklee College of Music we have mentioned elsewhere in this post and we, accordingly, told Mr. Perry that Larry’s son Alexander, with whom we had also just been visiting, was a student there so that, indeed, we knew very well the wonderful school he was talking about. We found Mr. Perry very modest given his appreciable talent. He told us he had learned a lot from another older saxophonist, Ron King, who also plays at the airport.

(Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Amazing Grace at Riverside Arts Market, June 5th, 2010. This version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is perhaps a little more bebop than what Mr. Perry played at the airport.)

Morton Perry from RAM on Vimeo.




(Also at Riverside Arts Market)

Mr. Perry also plays at Jacksonville’s Riverside Arts Market. Open March through December, the Arts Market is an entrance-free art-and-culture-and-food-and-entertainment market with lots of free entertainment and activities. Run something like a flea market, the vendors all bring in their own tables, canopies and displays. It opened April 4, 2009 at the instigation of Dr. Wayne Wood who imported the idea for it after visiting the Portland, Oregon Saturday Market. The Oregon market is similarly partially covered by an old bridge. The Jacksonville market is adjacent to Jacksonville’s historic neighborhoods of Riverside and Avondale.

Two More Music Notes

When we recently saw Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks again he played "Over the Rainbow" for us at our request. His last words upon concluding their performance at the end of the evening: "Support live music."


MORE on all of this later. . . .