02/20 VISION

In the tumult of men and events, solitude was my temptation; now it is my friend. What other satisfaction can be sought once you have confronted History? –Charles de Gaulle

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Indeed.  Where else but in my solitude can equilibrium’s vision be sought (much less found), if the following selection of February 20 events from “confronted History” is representative of “the tumult of men and events”:

1513 Pope Julius II (aka The Fearsome Pope and The Warrior Pope) died and was laid to rest in a huge tomb sculptured by Michelangelo [In those days, Catholic artists regarded such Popes as ‘Patron’ Saints

1839 U.S. Congress prohibits dueling in the District of Columbia [What a bad idea this turned out to be, given that since then, no one in D.C. has had a clue how to better resolve differences]

1907 President Theodore Roosevelt signed an immigration act which excluded “idiots, imbeciles, feebleminded persons, epileptics, and insane  persons” from being admitted to the U.S. [Unfortunately, there has not been a comparable act excluding such persons from becoming politicians]

1909 F.T. Marinetti, Italian poet, published the first Futurist Manifesto in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro and in Venice, including the statement “We want to glorify war – the only cure for the world.” [Evidently a utopian exception to “The cure is worse than the disease”]

1927 Golfers in South Carolina were arrested for violating the Sabbath [Talk about playing a-round!]  

1933 Congress completed action on an amendment to repeal Prohibition in the U.S. [and “I’ll drink to that!” rang out across the land]

1942 Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, was born [Coincidentally, the cartoon character Pruneface premiered (in a Dick Tracy comic strip) the same year]

1996 Gangsta rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg acquitted of murder in 1993 shooting of alleged gang member [Draw your own conclusions]

2002 The Pentagon stated that its recently created “Office of Strategic Influence” would not spread falsehoods in the media to advance U.S. war goals. Office was shut down six days later (Feb. 26) [Apparently the bummed guy in this snapshot was the last to get the message]:

Love’s labor lost. Lament in SOLITUDE. But despair not. It seems that Love, like the passions and madness of history, is where you — and a buoyantly young Julie Andrews — find it. So don’t be [Venetian] blind, it’s/all around you/everywhere.

 

 

STONE COLD DEAD

Alas! He is cold, he cannot answer me. –Mary Shelley, author of FRANKENSTEIN

Because I could not stop for Death — He kindly stopped for me. –Emily Dickinson

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *    grave stone 2Have you given any thought to what you want on your tombstone after you’ve gone to that great big pizzeria in the sky? I wouldn’t wait until the last minute if I were you, because ye know not the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36, or thereabouts), and once ye’re at the pearly gates, it’s too late. Now, it’s possible, before getting the gate, that your spirit may remain a while in the grave to consider what far-out gems of wit you might have come up with — but dream on. Afterthoughts aren’t written in stone….and if you don’t write your own epitaph, others may use the occasion to pick a bone “After you’ve gone.”

All of which brings me to SWI and its impending death. SWI, the blog for which I wrote many posts up to a few years ago, will bite the dust in November, according to its editor. Two of those remaining posts (published in early 2012) deal with real epitaphs not deserving of being left to vanish forever into the cold November ether or….wherever. Here are some of my favorites:

Here lies the body
Of poor Aunt Charlotte.
Born a virgin, died a harlot.
For 16 years
She kept her virginity
A damn long time
For this vicinity.
–DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA

Here lies Butch,
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger,
But slow on the draw.

Beneath this smooth stone
by the bone of his bone
sleeps Master John Gill;
By lies when alive
this attorney did thrive,
And now that he’s dead he lies still.

Here lies Anna Mann
Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann.

MARGARET DANIELS
She always said
Her feet were killing her
But nobody believed her.

SIR JOHN STRANGE
Here lies an honest lawyer
That is Strange.

This is the grave of Mike O’Day
Who died maintaining his right of way.
His right was clear, his will was strong
But he’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong.

Beneath this stone my wife doth lie
Now she’s at rest and so am I.

JOHN BROWN, DENTIST
Stranger! Approach this spot with gravity!
John Brown is filling his last cavity.

Here lies the body of W. W.
Who never more will trouble you, trouble you.

Here lies the body of Mary Ford
Whose soul, we trust, is with the Lord;
But if for hell, she’s exchanged this life,
‘Tis better than being John Ford’s wife.

Owen Moore
Has passed away
Owin’ more
Than he could pay.

I’ll close with one I wish one and all could say in the end:

Been Here
and Gone There.
Had a good time.

 

 

ATTENTION! (Or, as the French say, ATTENTION!)*

*There is a pronounced difference.

 

It is said that youth must be served, but the extent of what this generation knows of music is such that 1920s-1940s popular music/classic jazz, and hence this post, might as well be in a foreign language. However, for those past being served by the myopic world of current culture, listen up! August 15 is one of those days of a convergence which doesn’t come along every day: it’s the birthday of no less than four Golden Age American songwriters, the titles of whose songs afford me a theme-opportunity beyond the happenstance of their birthdays-in-common.

All four (born on this date from 1892 to 1901) were prolific tunesmiths, but what caught my attention is that each wrote one song with a girl’s name in the title which, in two cases, became standards, and in all four cases, were big hits in their day. The writers: Harry Akst, Sidney Clare, Charles Tobias, and Ned Washington; the songs: DINAH, MISS ANNABELLE LEE, ROSE O’DAY and STELLA BY STARLIGHT.

Although none of these men’s fame survived their era, a number of their compositions did (or, as an Irving Berlin song title put it, The Song Is Ended, But The Melody Lingers On). One such ditty is DINAH, by Harry Akst,  a favorite of jazz musicians which has been recorded countless times since the 1920s. I like so many versions of this song that I couldn’t further narrow down this list if you Akst me to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhVdLd43bDI
(Louis Armstrong)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P0XQuOd5HI
(New Orleans Jazz Vipers)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlPLXNsz4GA
(Bing Crosby/Mills Bros.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdkvJQuj2co
(Fats Waller)

The next tune, by Sidney Clare, is a particular favorite of mine.Written in 1927, it was recorded by numerous jazz and dance bands and became a toe-tapping best seller in America and Europe. What’s not to like about her? She’s wonderful, she’s marvelous….MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqavTUwm7sM
(George Fisher Kit Cat Band)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj-nTjL_aTY
(Savoy Havana Band)

Next we have Charles Tobias’s ROSE O’DAY, the most lightweight of the four — due, not to diet, but to being a silly novelty song which nevertheless was one of 1941’s top hits:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkH-hmRFA_Y
(Dick Todd)

Last but not lightweight, there’s STELLA BY STARLIGHT, composed by Victor Young as the theme for the 1944 film “The Uninvited,” with lyrics added by Ned Washington in 1946. This beautiful standard has been recorded by dozens of artists, including the following:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwSaY1oSCw4
(Billy Eckstein)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UZ0xqdP2rw
(Anita O’Day)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P94vB3mLRzc
(Frank Sinatra)

That’s all. AS YOU WERE (if you’ve ever been in the military, you know what that means).

 

MAY 23 IS INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY

Although it is tempting to sum up the classic jazz era of 1917-32 with a few major names (Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, etc.), there were many other important contributors. The classic jazz era was one of dizzying innovation and breakthrough. –Scott Yanow, jazz writer

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I am a classic jazz lover, pure and simple — which does not mean I love classic jazz exclusively. On the contrary, I’ve enjoyed the best of various types of music over the decades. But, considering the noisome state of what has been popular of late, I’m glad I was born early enough to appreciate the difference between music and noise. Thus, these poems on this day:

COUNTERFEIT NOTES

The things that pass
for music these days.

OUTDATED

I could tell you what it
was like in those days,
but you had to live it
to appreciate it, and why
should you give a damn?
I wasn’t born yesterday.

The destiny of every
generation is to become
irrelevant to the next.
You may save its music for
your collection of coming
tomorrows, its sounds
long died in the past, but
when you go, so too
goes the living ghost
of the world you knew.

WHEN JAZZ WAS JAZZ

Listen —
You can’t get
there from here.

May 23 also happens to be the birthday of all-time great clarinetist ARTIE SHAW, who was born in 1910 and played with many jazz/dance bands beginning in 1926. In 1936, he formed his own group, which evolved into one of the leading bands of the swing era. He also composed a number of fine songs, including LOVE OF MY LIFE (lyrics by Johnny Mercer) and ANY OLD TIME (which his band recorded in July 1938 with Billie Holiday as vocalist). That same recording session produced his biggest hit:

SOUNDIES — THE SEQUEL

For those who watched the Jukebox Saturday Night clip in my first SOUNDIES post and may not be familiar with The Ink Spots (the great 1930s-40s vocal quartet which was so humorously spoofed by the Modernaires in that clip), here is a clip of “the real thing”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvwfLe6sLis

When the previously mentioned James Roosevelt became a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1941, Tin Pan Alley great Sam Coslow (composer of many 1930s-40s hit songs) took charge of Soundies operations. As Coslow tells it in his autobiography COCKTAILS FOR TWO:

“Panoram was a glorified juke box that ran films instead of records. Roosevelt decided to find someone who could produce a regular program of short musical films [and] decided that my background was right for the post. I had twelve years experience with musicals, writing songs and special material, recording and scoring, and, more recently, producing a feature film.”
“Jimmy’s office was down the hall from mine in the Goldwyn studios, and we had a number of talks. He finally arranged for me to fly to Chicago to meet with [the] president of the Mills outfit. We agreed to set up a new production company called Roosevelt, Coslow and Mills, Inc., later shortened to R.C.M., Inc.”
“I was named as production head….to turn out three shorts a week in Hollywood, plus another three a week at a studio in New York. One of the first things we did was a series with Louis Armstrong. At first I played it safe by using established musical names who happened to be around Hollywood or New York. Besides Armstrong, I hired Duke Ellington & his Orchestra, Spike Jones, and bands like Les Brown’s and Stan Kenton’s.”
“What was more notable about the talent used in the Soundies, however, was an array of great performers who were destined to become top names in the entertainment world.  Like Doris Day, for instance….Nat King Cole….Cyd Charisse….Dorothy Dandridge….Gale Storm….Ricardo Montalban….Liberace.”
“The concept of seeing as well as hearing popular performers had great novelty value for audiences of the day. Television was still in its experimental stage, and Soundies had the same kind of exotic appeal. The machine even makes a gag appearance in a Hollywood feature film, Hi Diddle Diddle (1943).”
“But the machine was no joke to movie theater owners. People were spending their dimes in the Panoram, not at the box office. Theater operators banded together to combat the movie-machine menace. Several states proposed severe licensing and taxation measures to discourage the proliferation of film jukeboxes. Fortunately for Panoram owners, the proposed legislation was tabled upon the outbreak of World War II.”

I could of course go on “Soundie-ing off,” but I need to wrap this up sooner or later, and found a clip that does so nicely:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeSlF2VDck8

 

SMACK AND GEORGE

Today I’d like to pay tribute to two giants of jazz and film born on this date: Fletcher Henderson, jazz immortal, born Dec. 18, 1898, and George Stevens, master film director, born Dec. 18, 1904. Though gone from the scene for decades, both have left records of creative achievement in their respective fields which have stood the test of time for mortals who appreciate such things.

FLETCHER HENDERSON, nicknamed “Smack” for his habit of smacking his lips, was a trailblazing jazz arranger and leader of outstanding big bands for two decades. At various times from 1924 to 1935, his band included such jazz greats as Louis Armstrong, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Sid Catlett and J. C. Higginbotham. In early 1935 he broke up his band and began arranging for the fledgling Benny Goodman Orchestra, launching the new and exciting sound of the swing era which would define American popular music until WWII. Although he put together another band in 1936 and had one hit record, within a few years Henderson had disbanded in the face of heavy competition. Thereafter he worked primarily as an arranger between short stints leading big bands. He suffered a major stroke in 1n 1950 and died Dec. 29, 1952. According to jazz critic Stanley Dance, Henderson’s was the first big jazz band and set the standard for many to come. Here is a typical Fletcher Henderson swinger:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0Ts6vZNyqk

GEORGE STEVENS, though you may not remember his name, directed some of the best movies you have seen, if you are a classic-film fan. These include (in chronological order):

ALICE ADAMS (1935), starring Katherine Hepburn and Fred MacMurray.
SWING TIME (1936), the best (in my opinion) of the Astair-Rogers musicals, with outstanding Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields songs, including the Oscar-winning “The Way You Look Tonight.”
A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (1937), the first Astaire musical without Ginger Rogers, nonetheless notable for its George Gershwin score (his last before his premature death that same year). Joan Fontaine co-stars as the English “damsel in distress.”
GUNGA DIN (1939), starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942), starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in their first picture together. Oscar-winning screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin.
THE TALK OF THE TOWN (1942), starring Cary Grant, Ronald Colman and Jean Arthur.
THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn. Stevens was Academy Award nominee for Best Director.

A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Academy Award winner for Best Director.
SHANE (1953), one of the all-time great Westerns, starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur and Jack Palance.
GIANT (1956), starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. Academy Award winner for Best Director.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1959). Film version of well-known true story of Jewish refugees hiding in WWII Amsterdam. I can especially relate to this film, having actually been decades ago in the building (now a museum) where Anne hid with her family and others and wrote her diary.

Here is a clip from Stevens’ A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS, in which Fred Astaire is doing his best to escape detection behind the chorus during a function at the castle where damsel Joan Fontaine resides:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1C-_Adawq8

THE END of our post (but not of our inheritance)