Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald. Last night I found time to watch
Pete Kelly's Blues on DVD. The 1955 film directed by Jack Webb is a bit clunky and cliche by today's standards, but at least someone had the good sense and taste to cast Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald in the same movie. For some reason Peggy received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance as a mobster's alcoholic chanteuse. She's hardly on-screen, the camera is two miles from her face (Webb directed), and she's woefully underused on two partial vocals. (Jo Van Fleet won the Supporting Actress Oscar that year for East of Eden.)
The real reason to see this movie is Ella. She plays a knowing roadhouse blues singer, sings two songs beautifully lit, and she runs away with the film. I've admittedly never been much of an Ella fan, always finding her song choices a little glib and her delivery too glossy and lacking in emotional commitment. But after watching her here, I realize she was really too good in the mid-1950s to dismiss that cavalierly.
Like Sonny. In July 2007, video documentarian Bret Primack posted a terrific clip on the influence Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane had on jazz and each other. Bret interviewed Sonny, Jimmy Heath and Paul Jeffrey on-camera about how the tenor titans interacted with each other and the mutual admiration they shared for each other. As always with Bret's work, a fascinating look inside the lives of two jazz legends:
Hank O'Neal. I was happy to hear last week that Hank's book, The Ghosts of Harlem, will be published early next year in the U.S. by the University of Vanderbilt Press. His portraits and conversations with jazz legends from Harlem's golden age was started in the mid-1980s and first published in France by Filipacchi in 1997. [Photo: Esther Bubley]
Over lunch, Hank (who also co-founded Chiaroscuro Records) mentioned that the U.S. version will include new portraits and a new interview (with Billy Taylor) along with an introduction by Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel. [Pictured: the French edition]
Here's a clip of Hank in 2003 discussing his work on exhibit at New York's Weill Gallery:
Terry Teachout sent along an email last week applauding my series on Moonlight in Vermont, offering up his own rave rendition. The Wall Street Journal theater critic and Louis Armstrong biographer favors Betty Carter's version with the Ray Bryant Trio. I had not heard this one before, but after giving it a whirl, it's indeed leafy, snowy, frosty and just plain glorious. Not to mention Bryant's tender touch. And dig Carter's final notes! If you're unfamiliar with her 1955 interpretation, have a listen and a gander:
Will Friedwald, the New York Sun jazz critic and noted author, sent along an email remarking on a range of recent JazzWax posts. In response to my essay on Grant Green and Sonny Clark, Will recommended Green's Matador (1964), featuring pianist McCoy Tyner. "My Favorite Things is a nice variation on the Tyner-Coltrane classic," Will says. Here, here!
Will also pointed out that while he favors Frank Sinatra's Moonlight in Vermont from the Come Fly With Me album, he has a soft spot for the cut-down sextet adaptation of the Billy May arrangement Sinatra performed during his 1961-62 World Tour:
"I like the small group versions, dozens of them, much better than the full orchestral one. They're much more intimate and personal, and Sinatra's word-painting is at it's all time greatest here. He really makes the lyrics come alive like no one else—even topping himself on the studio version."
Will also recollected the first time he heard Moonlight in Vermont:
"It was at a concert by Sarah Vaughan (in her native Newark, circa 1983). She was kidding around when her pianist played the intro and she said, 'I know the first word of this song, pennies—you can't sing a song unless you know the first word!' I remember it well because I had never heard the song before and knew it wasn't going to be Pennies from Heaven!
Regarding my post on the documentary, Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, in which Will appears several times on-screen with shrewd O'Day insights and analysis:
"Glad you liked the Anita movie. I met Anita many times, but she was a hard gal to love. I used to think of her as "The Norma Desmond of Bebop."
What a solid line!
In the Mood. Following my two-part post last week on original recordings of jazz standards ("Guess That Jazz Tune"), I received the following email from JazzWax reader James Wardrop:
"Are you aware there is an Artie Shaw side to the story? According to the liner notes on Hindsight's Artie Shaw and His Orchestra 1938, Vol. 2, writer Patricia Willard refers to the six-minute air check version on the album this way: 'This is the complete music brought to Artie by composer Joe Garland—far more interesting than the accelerated excerpt which was a hit for Glenn Miller. Shaw recorded this several times at differing tempos.' In Shaw's words: '[Our version] had a more sophisticated, torrid Black beat. It's post-Fletcher Henderson...kind of Jimmie Lunceford-Chick Webby.' "
Charlie Parker and Lester Young. Mark your calendar: This week, New York radio station WKCR will be airing its annual end-of-summer birthday celebration of Charlie Parker and Lester Young. The 72-hour live marathon broadcast will run from August 27 to August 29. The music of Bird and Prez will air as always around the clock, so you can dig the founding fathers of swing and bebop anytime during this three-day period here. If you're new to the yearly show, catch it. Hosts Phil Schaap, Sid Gribetz and others are sure to have stacks of rarities and new ways of looking at the music.