In The Wall Street Journal this week, I interviewed actor-singer Joel Grey for my "House Call" column on growing up in Cleveland (go here). His father was a saxophonist and clarinetist who played with local society bands and then moved the family to Los Angeles when he joined Spike Jones's band in the 1940s. Joel's mother had terrible mood swings that often sent him scurrying to hide under his bed.
Also in the WSJ this week, my "Playlist" interview with John O'Hurley, who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld (go here). John picked Harry Nilsson's Without You as his favorite song for deeply personal reasons that included the death of his sister. [Photo above of Michael Richards, left, and John O'Hurley on Seinfeld from YouTube]
Jim Czak, one of New York's finest jazz audio mixers and recording engineers, a gregarious friend of musicians and a huge fan of my work, died on March 15. Jim's mixes when he was owner of Nola Recording Studios in the 17th-floor penthouse atop the old Steinway showroom on 57th St. were universally warm and intimate. He carried on that tradition with every project he worked on after Nola closed when the building was sold a couple of years ago.
In 2010, when I wrote the liner notes for Carol Sloan's We'll Meet Again (Arbors), I went up to Nola to watch Carol record. Jim's humor and calming influence kept everyone in the studio at ease. His final mix not only wrapped Carol's beautiful voice in a warm frame but placed the instruments in just the right place on the final recording.
An avid reader of The Wall Street Journal and JazzWax, Jim often called or sent a text after reading my work. Just last week Jim called to tell me how much he enjoyed my "Anatomy of a Song" column on Yes's Roundabout. Here's Jim's last email to me from March 13 following my post on the Beatles at JazzWax (here come the tears again):
"Marc, here we go. When the Beatles came to do The Ed Sullivan Show in August 1965, where did they stay and where did they rehearse for the show? They stayed at the Warwick Hotel on Sixth Ave. and rehearsed at Nola in the studio. Also, when they were at Shea in '66, one of their opening acts was Bobby Hebb. I was the assistant on Hebb's first record at Bell Sound. I told you I was old." For more on Jim, go here.
Miss you Jim.
Here's a track from Carol's album mixed by Jim (backed by guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli). Doesn't get any warmer than this...
And here's Jim at work in January...
"I got to know Jackie during the last few years of his life when he had mellowed quite a bit. I had a friend named Bob Daniels who was a Jackie Paris enthusiast. He had all of Jackie's recordings, and they had become personal friends. I remember Bob taking me to see Jackie at the Tavern on the Green where he had a week-long engagement that packed the room. But his abrasive personality resulted in his never being asked back to play the room again.
"When I spent some time with him it was just chance encounters. On those occasions he was most personable, and he told me about his fight with cancer. He was a unique and wonderful singer who at times was erratic. His lack of wider success was likely the result of changing musical tastes and a time when his super-hipness seemed like an anachronism. But his setbacks were even more affected by his difficult, ego-driven personality. He was his own worst enemy.
"Anne Marie, I only knew slightly, again through Bob. She was always pleasant. Toward the end of her life, I witnessed a strange occurrence. I was at a New York Sheet Music Society meeting where singer Giacomo Gates was performing. While he was singing, a voice suddenly emerged from the back of the room singing along with him. It was Anne Marie, and she proceeded to the front of the room where Gates was singing. She was probably in the early stages of the dementia that affected her at the end."
The Beatles. Following my post on the newly released 2-disc DVD/BluRay set of Ron Howard's documentary Eight Days a Week on the Fab Four's touring between 1962 and 1969, Bob Skaleski sent along the following...
"I don't remember the year—perhaps 1964 or '65—my girlfriend and I went to Comiskey Park in Chicago to see a Beatles Concert. We sat in the left-field upper deck and had a great view of the field and other sections of the park. The Beatles played somewhere around second base and they were hardly visible. I would say the place was 85% female teenagers. Total attendance was around 55,000. I'm not sure how Paul, John, George and Ringo sounded because the intense screaming began a half hour before they appeared and continued as we left for the parking lot. Their music could not be heard. I felt I was in a science fiction movie about swarms of killer bees. My jacket suffered a tear when the girl to my right kept grabbing it due to hysteria."
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Today, the band that was formed in 1965 by trumpeter-arranger Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis has reached near-cult status. The orchestra played for 12 years and is the darling of many jazz musicians today who occupied chairs in the band at one point or another. When Lewis died in 1990, the band became known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which has performed at New York's Village Vanguard for the past 50 years.
Now, a comprehensive, gorgeous book on the band is out, 50 Years at the Village Vanguard (SkyDeck). The book, by Dave Lisik and Eric Allen, is a 9-inch by 11 hardcover that runs 325 pages. It's loaded with color and black-and-white images, many rare, and details the band's formation and its arrangers, and its evolution, tours and discography. If you love this band, the coffee table-size book fits comfortably on your lap and is superb reading while listening to the orchestra's recordings.
To order 50 Years at the Village Vanguard, go here. At the top, click "U.S. Orders" in the States and "International Orders" everywhere else.
What the heck. Here's Johnny Rivers in 1966 singing his hit Poor Side of Town...
Oddball album cover of the week.