It was with some gratification that I read on Friday that the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas would be willing to remain open for another year if it received a $100,000 donation to cover operating costs. The Liberace Foundation's newfound optimism comes amid national media attention, which spurred a spike in attendance after the museum announced plans to close for good on October 17.
My article on the museum in the Wall Street Journal earlier in the week seems to have helped bring attention to the museum's plight and a wake-up call to the foundation, raising hopes that a "white knight" investor might emerge to sustain the museum and its employees.
Of course, the museum will need more than just a check to fend off the grim reaper. If the Liberace Foundation does succeed in winning some breathing room, it should hire a brand marketing team with experience in resurrecting celebrity icons. I, for one, was never a fan of Liberace's music. But I am very big on the guy's outrageous style, his passion for the extreme, his self-mocking humor and place in entertainment history.
To resurrect interest in Liberace, the brand experts I interviewed for the article said his image or voice would need to be featured in a film or TV show or in a contemporary piece of music, such as a hit rap song. Think Vincent Price in Michael Jackson's Thriller. Point being that the Liberace brand's survival depends on how well it is distilled for today's youth market. Only then will a new generation become curious about the entertainer and his legacy and want to know more.
I'm rooting for the little museum that could. Liberace, for all his flaws, deserves better.
Here's another clip of Liberace and Elvis in 1956. Hank O'Neal, who knows everyone and everything, informs me that the man in the middle is George Liberace, the entertainer's brother and bandleader...
Duke Ellington. Following the Friday distribution of September's JazzWax Insider, I received the following email from legendary Mercury Records producer Jack Tracy...
"I found your e-newsletter most interesting, especially the portion about your remembrances of the people you've interviewed.
"It brought to mind the many times I interviewed or just chatted with Duke Ellington. I always left those encounters with the impression that he wasn't telling me what he really thought but instead what he wanted me to hear. Not to imply that he was lying, however, just that he would provide me only with enough information, suitably couched, so that I would go away without any ill feelings.
"Only once did I see him in what I thought was a moment of total honesty. One night I went to hear his band in Chicago at a ballroom on the South Side. After a set in which Duke played an especially great solo, practically tearing the piano apart, he came backstage grinning and laughing. His eyes were sparkling, and he said something like, 'Did you hear that? Look out, Art Tatum!'
"I can still see his face at that moment nearly 60 years ago."
Burt Goldblatt. Jazz blogger Ed Leimbacher has a wonderful tribute post on photographer and album-cover designer Burt Goldblatt, whose eye for drama, color and perspective was exceptional, as the album cover to the right shows. To read his post, go here.
Royce Campbell. Guitarist Royce Campbell sent along this clip of Lucciano Pizzichini, a blues prodigy who was 9 years old at the time this video was made. Be sure you're sitting down when you view it...
Sonny Rollins. There are some terrific photos of Sonny Rollins appearing at the Beacon Theater on September 13 by Andrea Cranford at the MSG.com site here.
Radio roundup. Today, Sid Gribetz of WKCR in New York will present five hours of Tadd Dameron from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. (EDT). You can listen in on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here... David Brent Johnson of WFIU has just put up a free podcast of his recent show Goin' Up: Space Age Jazz. Recordings include Duke Ellington's Blues in Orbit and Ballet of the Flying Saucers to music by Russ Garcia and Les Baxter. To listen, go here.
MTV for hipsters. Still complaining that there's never anything worth watching on TV? Problem solved. At Oldies Television, you can watch the 100 greatest TV shows featuring music from the 1950s and 1960s as well as video jukebox hits. A special thanks to JazzWax reader Joe Lang for hipping me to the site. Go here.
CD discoveries of the week. Tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart has just released Around the Corner, an album of mostly lesser-known tunes by well-known composers. Backed by guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Peter Washington and Phil Stewart on drums, Grant plays tenor and soprano saxes. Included here are Alec Wilder's breezy swinger That's My Girl, Duke Ellington's Blue Rose, Ray Evans' Maybe September (Tony Bennett made this ballad famous on his Movie Song Album) and Barry Harris' Around the Corner. One of the album's high points is the Gil Fuller-Dizzy Gillespie ballad I Waited for You, on which Grant digs in and swings down low on tenor. I prefer Grant and Bernstein together minus the piano. They play off each other beautifully.
You'll find Grant Stewart's Around the Corner (Sharp Nine) at iTunes or here.
Trish Hatley is a Bellingham, WA, singer who understands how to make standards her own without distorting the melody or the songwriter's original intent. In many ways, she's a throwback to the great club singers of the late 1950s. On I Remember, released last year, Hatley takes on 12 American Songbook and jazz standards. Generally, I shun such efforts by singers because so many sound the same. But in this case, Hatley brings a knowing understanding to each one, elegantly updating songs like Young and Foolish, Shiny Stockings and Mountain Greenery. Dig what she does with Tangerine—giving the tune just enough pep without being overbearing. There's a warm maturity in Hartley's voice, and her vibrato and phrasing throughout are top-notch. The arrangements by Hartley's pianist Darin Clendenin provide the tentet behind Hartley with a rich, supportive sound. Hats off to reader Kurt Kolstad for turning me on to Hatley and this album.
You can sample, download or buy Trish Hatley's I Remember at CDBaby.com here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Yet another Fontana gem from the Netherlands featuring a photo of a jazz legend, in this case Coleman Hawkins, unfairly positioned as though ogling a model. And once again, the model selected was about as engaged in the effort as a lamppost.