Comedian Art Metrano died this month. You can see his most famous routine here. The name of the ultra-annoying show-biz tune Metrano hums incessantly in the background is actually a lovely song called “Fine and Dandy.” Anita O’Day shows just how fine and dandy the song can be.
Fun fact: The music for “Fine and Dandy” was written by Kay Swift, but the lyrics were written by Swift’s husband, James Paul Warburg, who was a banker and financial advisor to FDR, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations who wrote about nuclear disarmament issues. He wrote the lyrics to “Fine and Dandy” under the pseudonym of Paul James.
Further Fun Fact: Warburg divorced Swift because she had been having a long-term affair with George Gershwin.
And let’s end the year with this amazing clip of Eleanor Powell tap dancing. What she does, just from a percussion point of view, is incredible. I recently interviewed tap dancer Rusty Frank, a tap dance historian and preservationist, and a tap dancer herself, who maintains that it was the tap dancers who moved popular music forward with their taps. The innovative percussive rhythm steps of the tap dancers were picked up by the drummers, pianists and guitar players of the bands who in turn shaped the new ideas in music. Watch and listen to what Eleanor Powell does with this George Gershwin song from Lady Be Good. It’s a long way from “Tea for Two.”
With the madness of the last week it’s nice to just relax and give oneself up to an artist who is totally in control of her talent.
Lady Gaga sings a jazz/pop version of the Rodgers and Hart standard that promises a lot and delivers a lot.
She sang this often on her 2015 tour, and if you look on YouTube, you can see that in every performance the vocal arrangement is different, she’s clothed in a different costume and wig, and yet every performance is right on the money. Really a rare talent.
When an arts center depends on its community, how do you deal with lockdown conditions? Ellen Kodadek, artistic and executive director of Flushing Town Hall, talks with us on Arts Express about some of the strategies they have implemented at her institution, including virtual hangouts and virtual jazz jams.
Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear the interview as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI NY radio and Pacifica affiliates across the country.
Monday morning, 60s jazz singer Monica Zetterlund rehearses her signature song in her native Swedish with Bill Evans at the piano. Great to watch her as her doubt and pleasure register so transparently.
This new compilation of interviews with Billie Holiday has an introduction by journalist and writer Khanya Mtshali. Listen to my conversation with Ms. Mtshali, as broadcast today on Arts Express radio on WBAI 99.5FM NYC, as she explains why Billie Holiday was not the person you thought she was.
These are some excerpts broadcast today on Arts Express from a fascinating panel called “Jazz and Self Determination” at this year’s Left Forum. The speakers you’ll hear in order are Jeremiah Hosea, Ras Moshe Burnett, Ahmed Abdullah, Greg Tate, and moderator Althea Sully Cole. Listen as they grapple with what self-determination means to a jazz musician both personally and creatively.
If you ever done any theater improv, you know that the art and craft of making things up on the spot is a tricky one to master. The imperative is always to deal with what is happening in your environment at that very moment—to accept what’s in front of you and then embellish and extend. It’s always tempting to speed ahead in your mind, rather than trust that if you just follow your way from moment to moment to moment, you’ll get to where you need to go.
It was with delight that I read the following about musical improvisation in Anita O’Day‘s autobiography High Times, Hard Times (a wonderful portrait of a giant of jazz song). The parallels to theater improv were immediately recognizable. I had never heard anyone talk about musical improvisation the way she does. In the following paragraph she writes about how she learned to improvise on a melody by being committed to staying in the moment, and using any cues in her environment she could at that fleeting instant to spur her imagination:
“I saved ‘Oh, Lady Be Good’ as an encore. At the point where the bridge comes to the second chorus, i needed an idea from somewhere. I saw a polka dot blouse. So I developed that chorus as a bagful of polka dots. To keep the version going, I searched for ideas. Where was I going to get my inspiration? I looked around the room and that gave me the idea of singing the structure of the room—long wall, short wall, long wall, short wall. That gave me the frame for the chorus. I turned to the band. Five men. So I put it into five rhythm. Anything that I could get an idea from, I put to work to fill out my time on the stand. I did it that way because technically I was not knowledgeable about music. I needed to get the thought behind the sound going, and I took it from wherever I could get it. In all, I did twelve choruses of “Oh, Lady, Be Good!” and when I finished the place exploded. People shouted, stampeded, applauded, whistled, stood on their chair and cheered. It was the response you dream about…”
Thought and action at the speed of sound. Just thrilling.
The wonderfully versatile singer, actor, and songwriter Nellie McKay spoke with us a while back, following her engagement at Birdland in New York City. You can listen to the interview as broadcast yesterday on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5FM NYC by clicking on the little triangle above.
Andre Previn died this month. I only knew of him as a composer and conductor of music for film, but he was also a very fine jazz pianist as this performance of “Just in Time” from the Broadway show Bells are Ringing, written by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne, attests.