Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC. By Karen Chilton. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008.
Two recent books published by two academic presses, shed new light on the complex issues of racial, ethnic, and gender conflict in mid-century American jazz and entertainment industry history by focusing on some trailblazers, while providing new information on some key figures. Both books are labor-of-love social histories/memoirs of impresario-producers, entertainers and musicians, who contributed to American popular culture and commercial music, jazz, film, radio television and recording industry. Both books incorporate and weave together material gleaned from press reviews, magazine articles, and other contemporary accounts, with personal recollections of people who were involved (either written or oral histories). Most fascinating are the personal recollections, distinct voices heretofore not heard, including businessman-impresario Barney Josephson and pianist-singer Hazel Scott.
Café Society: The Wrong Place for the Right People tells the personal story of Barney Josephson (1902-1988) , founder and owner of the infamous interracial New York City nightclubs Café Society Downtown in Greenwich Village (opening in December 1938), Café Society Uptown (openings in October 1940), and later, The Cookery (which started presenting live entertainment in 1971). A remarkable and visionary man, Josephson was a true humanist who created a place where artists of all ethnic and racial backgrounds could perform for mixed audiences when segregation was the routine on the New York nightclub scene and most nightclubs were under mob jurisdiction. The décor of these nightclubs included satiric murals lampooning “high society.” Josephson commissioned many artists to contribute to the unique décor of his establishments, including Syd Hoff, Abe Birnbaum, John Groth, Gregor Duncan, William Gropper. Anton Refregier, and Christina Malman. Josephson told them, “You’re free to paint what you like, absolute freedom.” (p. 26).
Josephson presented the best of jazz, blues, spirituals, gospel, boogie-woogie piano, and the American songbook, performed by the best and the brightest entertainers, including Billie Holliday, Lena Horne, Hazel Scott, Paul Robeson, Mildred Bailey, Kay Starr, Sarah Vaughan. Big Joe Turner, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Mary Lou Williams, Big Sid Catlett, and comedians Jack Gilford, Imogene Coca, and Zero Mostel; and dancer Pearl Primus, among others. Barney Josephson was an ardent friend and confidant of some amazingly talented musicians and fostered their artistic development by offering regular work and long-term contracts. Many who were given an important first break at Café Society went on to have major careers in radio, film, television, and as recording artists. Music producer John Hammond was Josephson’s key talent advisor in the early days of Café Society. Ivan Black, a friend from Josephson’s high school days, was his maverick press agent.
Underlying this epic posthumous memoir is a story of enduring love and devotion. Although this book is written in first-person, it is the work of Barney Josephson’s last wife, Terry Trilling-Josephson (they met in 1979, when he was 76), and is based on her taped recorded and transcribed interviews with Josephson at the end of his life. Trilling-Josephson, an associate professor of communications and performing arts of The City University of New York, former actress and speech pathologist, describes her husband as a “marvelous raconteur” and recognized the value of his recollections for jazz history. Two years after his death, she returned to the project to create a posthumous memoir. She interviewed many of the musicians and performing and visual artists from Barney’s life; some contributed their own memories of him to the book. She did some research and wove together his words, her interviews, press clippings, reviews and testimonies of people from Josephson’s life into this memoir. Some of book has the tone of a fond eulogy, yet other parts read like a “show business tell all.” Although a patchwork job was required to put it together, the book is generally a well-paced and fascinating read. Sometimes the chronology seems a bit muddled with some tales told out of order and a few repetitive passages, but generally it works well and make an important contribution to the literature.
This memoir contains a poignant account of life during the Great Depression, American race relations, and the inquisitions of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which focused it zealous attention on Josephson’s brother, Leon, who had ties to the Communist Party, USA. Barney Josephson was tarred with the same brush during the Red Scare which forced the closing of the Café Society. Barney Josephson re-emerged later opening a hamburger restaurant, The Cookery where he eventually added live entertainment to the very intimate space, including Mary Lou Williams, Albert Hunter (who made a comeback there at age 82 in 1977, after twenty years out of the business, working as a nurse), Helen Humes, and Susan McCorkle,.
The book also details Josephson’s long and complex relationship with Hazel Scott (later to become Mrs. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.) as her employer and manager. He was outraged by her “false testimony” against him when she appeared at a HUAC hearing (at her own request) that she performed for certain benefit concerts because Josephson insisted she do so; he said that he left the decision up to the performers whether or not to contribute a performance to benefit various causes (many identified by HUAC as communist-related organizations. Her side of this story is found in the Hazel Scott biography to be discussed in the next post.)
Some gossipy tidbits seem vindictive and may have been included to settle old scores. The tone and details of some of these reports may be hurtful to people and their families and should have been edited out, for example, the name of his lover and intimate details of his sex life at age 21. Some things should be forgotten; Barney Josephson’s role in the history of twentieth-century American music should not.
Next time: a review of the Hazel Scott biography.
Monday, July 12, 2010
COMPOSER MARC SHAIMAN AND ARRANGER SAMMY NESTICO
TO RECEIVE GOLDEN SCORE AWARDS JULY 22
On Thursday evening, July 22, 2010, The American Society of Music Arrangers & Composers will host the Annual Golden Score Awards, hosted by actor/producer Rob Reiner, at the Universal Hilton Hotel in Universal City. The 2010 Golden Score Award will be presented to the multi-talented award winning film, television and theatrical composer, lyricist and arranger Marc Shaiman. And, the Award for Lifetime Achievement in Arranging will be presented to the prolific arranger / conductor Sammy Nestico.
Performances for the evening include Actress, Singer, Comedienne Jenifer Lewis; Tony Award winning Actress & star of Hairspray on Broadway Marissa Jaret Winokur; Jazz greats John Clayton and Johnny Mandel and surprise guests TBD! The Citrus College Blue Note Orchestra will also perform.
Marc Shaiman’s career began as a theatre/cabaret musical director. His work with both Bette Midler and Billy Crystal led to his involvement in their films and the rest is history. Marc’s lengthy filmography now includes Broadcast News, Beaches, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, Sleepless in Seattle, The American President, The First Wives Club, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Wedding Planner, The Bucket List, Hairspray I and II, among others. Television credits have included "Saturday Night Live," multiple Academy Awards (including 2010), Emmy Awards, The Tony Awards, Jay Leno, Bette, and Martin Short plus multiple specials. Theatrically and on the concert circuit he has worked with Bette, Billy, Peter Allen, Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Martin Short, Tracy Ullman, Robin Williams, Hairspray, The Odd Couple, and more.
At the age of 17, Sammy Nestico became the staff arranger for WCAE Radio in Pittsburgh; he joined the USAF Band in Washington, DC as a staff arranger and subsequently became the leader of the famous Airmen of Note for 15 years. Sammy spent 14 years with the Count Basie Orchestra (winning 4 Grammy awards) while simultaneously being engaged by Capitol Records as arranger/orchestrator, co-writing the equivalent of 63 albums for them. He has arranged and/or conducted for Phil Collins, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and more. His numerous television credits - Merv Griffin, Goldie Hawn, "The Tonight Show," Bob Hope, "Mission Impossible," "Hawaii Five-O," "The Bob Newhart Show," "Charlie’s Angels," "M.A.S.H." and many more plus feature films and national commercials.
The evening begins with cocktails and silent auction at 6pm, followed by dinner at 7:15 pm and awards and entertainment. Funds raised will benefit ASMAC’s educational programs, workshops, master classes, and fund several scholarships. For information on tickets, please call 818-994-4661. If you want to sit at my table, tell them at The Proper Image and they will give you a special price for your ticket. I am very proud to serve on the Board of this special organization and hope you will join us for what should be a fabulous Hollywood kind of evening.
Monday, July 5, 2010
I'm sad to report that Don died last week in Los Angeles after years of dealing with some chronic health issues. Born in Chicago, Don James attended Hyde Park High School where his classmate and best four-hand jamming friend was Herbie Hancock. He graduated from the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University as a music composition major and piano minor. Later Don studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris with an emphasis on counterpoint, sight-reading, piano, and composition; he studied composition with the formidable and legendary Nadia Boulanger.
Upon returning to the United States, Don worked with jazz bass trumpeter Cy Touff for over a year at the Happy Medium in Chicago and began his recording and arranging career. After a two year period in the Army as a Band Training Instructor, Don returned to Chicago where he worked as a conductor/pianist/arranger on many record dates and industrial shows.
In 1969 Don returned to France where he co-composed the music for the "Lido de Paris" with a French team. Three more shows followed and he then moved to Los Angeles to begin composing, arranging and orchestrating for "The Ice Capades," doing 13 seasons from 1974 - 1986 with another show in 1992.
Again Don returned to Paris to do four shows for the Moulin Rouge before returning to the United States to work on many television variety shows, winning two Emmy Awards. One was for "Ben Vereen - His Roots" and the second for "Baryshnikov on Broadway." Then Don worked on "The Tim Conway Show" as dance arranger for the Don Crichton Dancers and the dance arranger for the “Mermaids” on Love Boat. Animation music work followed for DIC and Hanna-Barbera including music for "The Smurfs," "Paddington Bear" and "The Wizard of Oz" (an animated version). Don worked on more than two dozen feature films as arranger, orchestrator and, at times, ghost composer. Some of the films include Assassination, Messenger of Death, Crime and Punishment, The Fifth Monkey and Those Lips, Those Eyes. He was a member of SACEM, the French performing rights society.
Deeply concerned about the future of the profession and the working conditions for arrangers and orchestrators, Don James served for many years on the Board of the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers. I spoke to him a couple of days before he died and he was upbeat. He was working on a new arrangement, was optimistic that health-wise he was back on track, and felt good about getting back to his writing. Guess it isn’t always up to us. We'll miss you, Don. Thanks for your comradeship.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
The year Janet Lawson for nominated for a Grammy, she got beat out by Ella Fitzgerald. Golly. Janet is an amazing jazz musician, scat singer, and composer, who lives in New York City. One of her albums (1993, The Janet Lawson Quintet, CD 1101) is available from Cambria Master Recordings, a Southern California label, at http://www.cambriamus.com/ (I produced this re-release of her two lps). From July 15 through 24, 2010, she will give master classes at the Sigulda Arts School in Sigulda, Latvia. Lucky young musicians. She is currently an instructor at the New School in New York City and is well known on the East Coast for her performances at festivals, theaters, clubs, and master classes/workshops. The director of the summer school is Guntars Zvejnieks (email@example.com). Fascinating how scat singing breaks down all language barriers. Fascinating how jazz has become an international language. The main theme this year of the Sigulda master classes is "Freedom in Music," and the school "aspires to enrich each young musician's knowledge and understanding of the concept of freedom in music." Here, here!
About her teaching, Janet wrote, "I am committed to improvisation which is about trusting, about being in the moment, about being free, about relating, about communicating. I really felt and still do that I need to express my authentic self. Our society needs to live in harmony while encouraging the individual to find their own true voice. This is what I teach in my jazz clinics. I found my true voice through improvisation." Visit her web site at http://janetlawson.hypermart.net/
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Alan Broadbent was ASMAC's monthly luncheon speaker on June 23 at Catalina's in Hollywood. Long a major force in jazz as a pianist and arranger, he's the guy who accomanied Irene Kral on those amazing vocal albums, he did arrangements for Natalie Cole, and plays with Charlie Haden's Quartet West (since the mid-1980s). His album with 'Round Midnight, a trio with bass player Brian Bromberg and drummer Joe LaBarbera, recevied wide-speard critical acclaim.
Born in 1947 in Auckland, New Zealand, he remembers intensely the first time, at age eight, he heard Chopin and how he became tuned into the emotional power of music. "I played Chopin and my friends played rugby." Broadbent started his professional career playing piano and writing arrangements with the Woody Herman Orchestra (1969-72), including arrangements Blood, Sweat and Tears tunes. He moved to Los Angeles in 1972, and after some lean times, got a call in 1974 to play with Nelson Riddle's band at the Beverly Hilton, beginning a a gig as Riddle's painist for a decade. During those years he played many session recordings for David Rose, Johnny Mandel, and Henry Mancini. Then, according to Broadbent, "The writing thing happened while I was driving from the Radford to Columbia studios" and he told the ASMAC audience that Mahler's music always inspires him. He admist that he spent a couple of years learning to hear instruments (instead of only the piano).
He's accompanied Sheila Jordan, Sue Raney, Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Karrin Allyson, Mary Stallings, Judy Niemack, and Carol Sloane. He recorded three ballad albums with Irene Kral (Where is Love, Kravel Space, and Gentle Rain). He's performed with Chet Baker, Warne Marsh, Scott Hamilton, Bud Shank, Shelly Manne, Bill Berry, Bill Perkins, Gary Foster, Bob Brookmeyer, Jack Sheldon, Don Menza, and Peter Christlieb, among others. His solo piano CD is on the Concord label.
In addition to playing piano, Broadbent is well known as an arranger and conductor, including a stint with Natalie Cole on her "Unforgettable" tour. He's written for her and they did three albums together (Take a Look, Holly and Ivey, and Stardust). He's writing for orchestra, including a recent Steve Tyrell Sinatra project. He's conducted and arranged albums for Mel Torme, Scott Hamilton, and Marian McPartland. Did I mention that he's been nominated for several Grammy Awards?
Impressing the ASMAC audience with his sincerity, humility, and unabashed love for music, Alan is a poetic, pure musician; he's a very soft spoken gentle man, and an amazing talent. He ended his talk by playing the piano. How fabulous to meet him and hear him talk about his life and career and being reminded why we are in music even when times are tough in the entertainment business. Here he is in a photo with violinst-composer Marcy Vaj.
If you don't know about ASMAC (American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers), I'd suggest you visit the website: http://www.asmac.org/. They have a big event coming up July 22, 2010, honoring Marc Shaiman and Sammy Nestico that will be the subject of future posts.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Catalina Popescu is one of the amazing women of jazz in Los Angeles and she was appropriately honored by the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers at their June 23, 2010 luncheon. The beloved Catalina is the most gracious, lovely, and welcoming host you'll ever meet. She is a fabulous chef and her venue, Catalina Jazz Club, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, is the Los Angeles performance home of countless jazz musicians from here and around the world. ASMAC is particularly grateful to her for the fabulous luncheons the organization presents there on a regular basis, including talks and performances by composers, arrangers, performers. Here she is with Ray Charles, ASMAC Vice President, and her certificate of honor. Visit http://www.catalinajazzclub.com/ for details about their upcoming events. The next ASMAC luncheon at Catalina's will take place August 18, 2010 featuring Hollywood flutist Louise Di Tullio. ASMAC's web site is http://www.asmac.org/ and on July 22 they will present their Golden Score Gala Dinner, honoring Marc Shaiman and Sammy Nestico. In the meantime, Catalina, we hope you feel the love and appreciation flowing your way from ASMAC and the entire Los Angeles music community.