Monday, April 22, 2019

SCOTT JOPLIN'S RAGTIME

Here is a great article I found online on the music of Scott Joplin. He is often considered the "father of Ragtime"...

Scott Joplin's ragtime gets its dues finally. 1973's The Sting took it global, but there's more to ragtime music than that film's Keystone Kops crazy-chase soundtrack One album was all it took to herald a revival. In 1970, the year of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Beatles' Let It Be, a record of arcane late 19th-century American piano music, released on a label that was otherwise building its reputation as a chronicler of the hardcore American avant-garde, began to sell in implausible quantities. Audiences ordinarily enamoured of piano miniatures by Chopin, Brahms and Liszt were suddenly taking pleasure in the compositions of Scott Joplin, the Texas-born "King of Ragtime" whose über-catchy 1899 Maple Leaf Rag brought him immediate popularity, but who died in 1917 with two typically embarrassing composerly problems hanging over him: syphilis and a terminally unproduced opera, Treemonisha, which would only be recognised as a masterwork long after his death.

Joshua Rifkin, an up-and-coming pianist in 1970, had ragtime brought to his attention by the composer William Bolcom and the evangelising jazz writer Rudi Blesh. Rifkin persuaded the New York-based Nonesuch label to act on his hunch that the trickster melodies and brain-worm syncopations characteristic of ragtime pieces – decked out with such whimsical titles as The Entertainer, Heliotrope Bouquet and Swipesy – would appeal directly to the hearts and minds of classical piano buffs. But neither pianist nor record label could have foreseen the itchy enthusiasm for this once popular but long-since forgotten music that would mushroom across the United States and beyond.


In terms of time and historical distance, if not exactly musical content, an equivalent discovery today would see the mainstream media suddenly fixate on bebop; The One Show's Gyles Brandreth recalled from catching up with authentic jam-making in Dorset to discuss the intricacies of period Charlie Parker records. That's the force with which ragtime percolated deep inside American culture. Woody Allen gave his 1973 film Sleeper a ragtime soundtrack. EL Doctorow called his latest novel Ragtime. Film director George Roy Hall underscored his wisecracking card-hustler movie The Sting with Joplin rags.

Pre-Spotify – and pre-Simon Cowell – wildcard albums had leeway to punch above their market weight; Scott Joplin could and did chart alongside The Beatles. But if Rifkin brought ragtime to hundreds of thousands of people, the Oscar-wining The Sting catapulted the music into the mainstream. With visionary prescience in 1915, Joplin proclaimed "50 years after I'm dead my music will be appreciated." He was only out by a few years, but ragtime's complete identification in the popular imagination with The Sting became difficult. Here was ragtime dressed in fancy instrumentations, dolled up to the orchestral nines by film composer Marvin Hamlisch; rags no longer smiling innocently, but lent an insincere Hollywood grin.

Joplin's mantra would never waver: appreciation of his sleights-of-hand – notes never quite falling into the patterns you expect – relied on savouring each moment. By rushing his tempos, he said in his School of Ragtime primer, "very often good players lose the effect entirely." But the high-energy hokum of The Sting recast ragtime as Keystone Kops crazy-chase music by default, an unhappy paradox given that George Roy Hall was introduced to rags via Rifkin's recordings – interpretations rooted in his insistence on treating Joplin with the same faithful respect afforded to a Chopin Mazurka or a Brahms Waltz.


"Rag" as in "tease", so ragtime is literally "tease time". Hearing Joplin's signature composition "The Entertainer" today is like the warm glow of a comedian's dependable catchphrase; it's always nice to hear it nice. Other Joplin compositions, though, reveal their tease only gradually. My own fascination with Heliotrope Bouquet has at times bordered on obsession. My musician's brain that can fully rationalise Joplin's harmonic moving parts, but that nuts-and-bolts analysis actually tells you little about its true emotional sting. Balanced flawlessly in an emotional fault line between forlorn melancholy and aching wistfulness, this piece wears smiles you only see once they have already begun to fade. This is Peggy Lee's tart Is That All There Is? decades before the event. Or music that mirrors Schubert's trademark harmonic polysemousness – and all neatly contained within a four-minute structure.

The letter of a Joplin score must be obeyed. Rifkin's intuition has long since been vindicated, although questions remain about where ragtime stands historically in relation to jazz. The scholar Terry Waldoargued, in his superb 1976 book This Is Ragtime, that the music presented a sonic metaphor for the day-to-day experience of early 20th-century Black America, the melodic liberation of the right-hand endeavouring to undermine the left-hand's slavish regularity. And although jazz musicians of a certain mindset would eagerly adapt ragtime to their own improvisational ends – Sidney Bechet's 1932 Maple Leaf Rag is a true jazz masterpiece – my own hunch is that Joplin's music was anyway inherently improvisational.

Rags had the same identikit structure. Looped 16-bar phrases always gravitated back towards the home key, but merry-legged melodic lines took sharp, unforeseen corners, drunk on their own invention; Joplin was improvising on the page. But modern jazzmen were surely too darn cool to acknowledge these frivolous compositional follies? Well, actually no. Thelonious Monk shamelessly mined ragtime and stride piano, reshaping its raw energies. And John Coltrane's compressed, sped-up saxophone lines – his so-called "sheets of sound" – built on Monk's palette of gestures. And Coltrane's example would galvanise Steve Reich and Jimi Hendrix – and The Doors and Evan Parker – and about every emerging jazz and rock musician of the 1960s and 70s – into action, fuelling revolutions to come...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

THE MUSIC AND DANCE OF THE RAGTIME ERA

During the 19th century, most of America's music, dances and fashions were imported from Europe, as composers and dance masters emulated the latest styles from Paris and London. At the same time, African Americans were combining their native music with European forms, resulting in their spirituals and "Ethiopian Melodies" that were adopted by minstrel shows and American composers like Foster, Christy and Gottschalk. During the 1890s and early 1900s this unique African American music developed into a new sound – syncopated Ragtime music.

At the end of the 19th century, many Americans were becoming bored with the old music and dances, which were essentially those of their grandparents. The Twentieth Century was seen as a time to make great changes, so most people were ready for innovations, probably with the expectation that the changes would come from society's cultural leaders. But instead, many Americans began to find it "modern" to dance their Two-Step to the new Ragtime music from the rural South and Midwest. Some high society ballrooms embraced the African American Cake Walk as "the popular fad of popular society." In the early 1900s, Ragtime music gained a wider acceptance and was soon accompanying the new Four-Step (soon to be re-named the One-Step) and a spontaneous menagerie of "animal dances" such as the Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug and Camel Walk, especially among the lower classes. By 1910, the popular phrase was, "Everybody's Doin' It Now," but in fact most of middle and upper class society was only talking about it. Many could not yet accept the new ragtime dances because of lower-class associations.


In 1911 the newlyweds Irene and Vernon Castle found themselves in the right place at the right time, exhibiting their versions of the new American dances in a Parisian dinner club. They became immensely popular in Paris, and their fame spread through Europe. When the Castles returned to Irene's New York home in 1912, their dancing set a new prototype for Americans to follow. The Castles were a young, elegant, attractive, wholesome, married couple who had become the rage of Parisian high society. In a word, they had class. If they could dance the new ragtime dances with propriety, then all levels of society could, and did. The Castles were joined by other exemplars, such as Joan Sawyer, Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton, all becoming catalysts in an explosive new dance mania. And after two centuries of Americans dancing in the European manner, Europe was now importing the latest music and dances from America. 


During the ragtime dance craze, the ballrooms were dominated by the One-Step, a dance where a couple merely walked one step to each beat of the music. Its immense popularity was due primarily to its simplicity, so that even novices could be modern. Those who were especially fond of the new dancing had a wide variety of other steps and styles to choose from. The Argentine Tango, which had been received with great acclaim in Paris, was renowned for its flirtations with sensuality, previously forbidden in public dancing. In contrast, the Hesitation Waltz was characterized by an elegant, almost balletic grace. The Maxixe was a swaying Brazilian two-step (polka) that was thought of as a Brazilian Tango. Vernon and Irene danced the One-Step in a unique style that became known as the Castle Walk. The Half-and Half was an unusual hesitation waltz in 5/4 time, accompanied by even more obscure experiments in 7/4 time. Lastly, the Fox-Trot, which combined slow and quick steps in a wide variety of patterns, was introduced in the last months before "The Great War."

World War I brought an end to the ragtime era dance craze in 1914-15. Dance floors thinned as men in Europe and then America left for war. Vernon Castle joined the Royal Flying Corps. But for a brief four years, the "modern dancing" craze redefined social dancing for the new 20th century, while also changing prototypes for personal relationships, both on and off the dance floor...



Tuesday, April 16, 2019

FORGOTTEN ONES: EVELYN NESBIT

One of the real life people that was portrayed in the musical Ragtime was vaudeville star Evelyn Nesbit. Not many people at all remember her and what she brought to the Ragtime era. Known as "the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing", her husband, Harry Kendall Thaw, killed her lover, noted New York Architect Stanford White, and the story was made into a movie, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955), with actress Joan Collins playing her role.

Her life was considered typical of the excesses of the Gilded Age before World War I. Born Florence Evelyn Nesbit, in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, she was the daughter and oldest child of a moderately wealthy and influential lawyer, Winfield Scott Nesbit. When her father died in 1893, leaving large debts, the family suddenly became destitute, and for years, the family lived in poverty. In 1900, when Evelyn turned 16, her copper colored hair and adolescent beauty became noticed by local artists, and she earned money for the family by posing as a model, soon becoming the family's sole breadwinner. To earn more money, in 1901 the family moved to New York City, where she would pose for noted artists of the time, including painters Charles Dana Gibson and Frederick Church, and photographer Rudolf Eickemeyer.

Gibson supposedly used her to illustrate his famous Gibson Girl paintings. That same year, she caught the attention of acclaimed architect Stanford White, who although married, was a notorious womanizer who had numerous affairs. In 1901, White was America's leading architect, considered the principle designer and arbiter of what was taste in architecture. He had founded several elite clubs, made large donations to charity and promoted several New York civic institutions.


White also had a dark side, specializing in sex with young teenaged girls, and despite his sexual appetite, he would also take care of them financially while he was courting them. In his private penthouse apartment at Madison Square Gardens which he had furnished with wall and ceiling mirrors, and a red velvet swing for his young girls to ride in, he would seduce the young girls. He supposedly took Evelyn's virginity and had a short affair with her, before moving on to other lovers. A few months later, when she became pregnant by young actor John Barrymore, White arranged for her to be sent away to a New Jersey boarding school, where she had an abortion disguised as an operation for appendicitis. Returning to New York City, Evelyn became lovers with Harry Thaw, lazy and wealthy son of a coal and railroad baron. Thaw was spoiled, living off his parents largesse at the tune of $80,000 a year, had a hot temper, and was considered a sexual sadist among the showgirls he courted; despite these less than desirable qualities, she eventually married him on April 4, 1905, at the age of 20. They would have one child, a son, Russell William Thaw (1910-1984). Harry Thaw was extremely jealous of her previous lovers, and when they ran into Stanford White twice on the evening of June 25, 1906, once at a dinner restaurant and later at the performance of the play "Mam'zelle Champagne" at the Madison Square Garden Theater, Thaw suddenly produced a pistol and shot White three times in the face, killing him instantly, while shouting "You'll never see that woman again."


Thaw was tried twice for murder, the first trial was deadlocked, and the second trial found him guilty of temporary insanity after Evelyn testified that White had raped her (while White had seduced her, there is some question about whether it was rape; different stories exist). Thaw spent several years in the Mattawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and in 1915 was declared legally sane and released. Following his release, Thaw divorced Nesbit, and she returned to vaudeville to earn a living, later becoming a silent film actress and dancer. In 1916, she briefly married her dancing partner, Jack Clifford, who abandoned her two years later, and she spent much of the remainder of her life living quietly with her son in Northfield, NJ. She would struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction, and move around a lot, struggling to make ends meet. Occasionally, her ex-husband Thaw would help her with some money, but never for very long. When Thaw died in 1947, he remembered Evelyn with $10,000 in his will (his estate was worth over $1 million). In her later years, she would teach ceramics to earn money, and died at the age of 82 in a nursing home in Santa Monica, California..



SOURCE

Sunday, April 14, 2019

HELEN FORREST: TOMBSTONE FUND

Many people have asked me how we can go about getting a cemetery marker for big band singer Helen Forrest. There is now a go fund me page for getting that stone for legendary singer Helen Forrest. The link is here...

Helen Forrest was one of the most popular female singers in the United States in the 1940's. She was known as "the voice of the name bands" and was the girl singer for the bands of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. She is regarded by some as the best female vocalist of the swing era.

July 11, 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of her passing. She is interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, in Los Angeles. Her only surviving son, Michael, passed away on May 1, 2014. At her plot right now is this pitiful twenty-year-old temporary marker.

This needs to change this year.

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I have consulted the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery and am working to get Ms. Forrest the marker she deserves. I could use the support of her fans to solidify her memory in a granite stone. I was quoted at approximately $1,500.00 for the cost of the stone with her name, years of life, and perhaps a tasteful epitaph. Please feel free to share a potential inscription and consider making a monetary donation in honor of her memory! I hope to have this project completed by July 11, 2019.

About Me: My name is Donald Romano. I am host of the radio program Don's American Songbook, where I feature, among other singers of the 1940's, Helen Forrest's music. My mission is to keep this music and these legacies alive...

SOURCE

Monday, April 8, 2019

RECENTLY VIEWED: DUMBO

We are four months into 2019, and I just saw my first movie in a theater this past weekend! I am much more of a movie viewer in the comfort of my own home now than going to an overpriced theater. However, I went to see the live action version of the beloved classic Dumbo, and I really enjoyed the film. Dumbo is a 2019 American fantasy adventure film directed by Tim Burton, with a screenplay written by Ehren Kruger. The film is inspired by Walt Disney's 1941 animated film of the same name, based on the novel by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. The film stars Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, and Alan Arkin, and follows a family that works at a failing traveling circus as they encounter a baby elephant with extremely large ears who is capable of flying.

Plans for a live-action film adaption of Dumbo were announced in 2014 and Burton was confirmed as director in March 2015. Much of the cast signed on in March 2017 and principal photography began in July of that year in England, lasting until November. It is the first of four live-action re-imaginings that Disney is planning to release in 2019 along with Aladdin, The Lion King, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

In 1919, equestrian performer and World War I amputee Holt Farrier returns after the war to the Medici Brothers' Circus, run by Max Medici. The circus has run into financial troubles and Medici has been forced to sell the circus's horses after Holt's wife and co-performer, Annie, passed away, so Medici reassigns Holt as the caretaker for the circus's pregnant elephant, Mrs. Jumbo. Mrs. Jumbo gives birth to a calf with unusually large ears and Medici orders Holt to hide the ears before allowing the public to see the calf. However, the calf accidentally reveals his ears in his debut performance and the crowd mockingly names the calf Dumbo while pelting him with peanuts and other objects. Mrs. Jumbo is distressed by her son's mistreatment and rampages into the ring, causing extensive damage and accidentally killing an abusive handler.


Afterwards, to prevent a public relations problem, Medici results to selling Mrs. Jumbo. Holt's son and daughter, Joe and Milly Farrier, comfort Dumbo and realize he can fly by flapping his ears. The children also discover that feathers are the key to Dumbo's willingness to fly. In another performance, Dumbo plays the role of a firefighter clown to put out a fire with water sprayed from his trunk, but the performance goes wrong and Dumbo is trapped on a high platform surrounded by flames. Milly risks her life to deliver a feather to Dumbo, giving him the confidence to fly. The audience is astounded when Dumbo flying and word of his talent begins to spread. V. A. Vandevere, the owner of Dreamland, a bohemian amusement park, approaches Medici and proposes a collaboration; Medici would become Vandevere's partner and the Medici Brothers' Circus's troupe would be employed to perform at Dreamland. Later, Vandevere demands that Dumbo should fly with French trapeze artist, Colette Marchant. Colette and Dumbo's debut performance at Dreamland goes wrong with Dumbo nearly falling off a high platform leading to him trumpeting in alarm since no net has been added to avoid possible injuries and fatalities. Dumbo hears his mother's call in response and realizes that his mother is an exhibit elsewhere in Dreamland.


Dumbo flies out of the circus ring, reuniting with his mother. Fearing that Dumbo's mother may become a distraction to him, Vandevere orders Mrs. Jumbo to be taken away and killed. Vandevere also fires all of the Medici performers from Dreamland. When Holt and the rest of the Medici troupe learn Vandevere intends to kill Dumbo's mother, they resolve to set both her and Dumbo free. The circus performers utilize their various talents to break Mrs. Jumbo out of her enclosure while Holt and Colette guide Dumbo to fly out of the circus. Vandevere attempts to stop them, but accidentally starts a fire triggered by mismanagement of Dreamland's electricity system which spreads and destroys the park. After Dumbo saves Holt and his family from the fire, Holt, Colette, the children, and the troupe bring Dumbo and his mother to the harbor, where they board a ship back to their native home. Afterwards, the renamed Medici circus is re-established (while it is implied that Vandevere is tried for arson through misconduct) and flourishes with Colette as the newest troupe member. Meanwhile, Dumbo and his mother reunite with a herd of wild elephants in the jungle.


This Disney movie is not making as much money as 2017's live action Beauty And The Beast, but it is an enjoyable film. Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito both worked with director Tim Burton in 1993's Batman Returns, and in the movie Dumbo, Keaton's character comments to DeVito's character, "It feels like I know you". The movie is darker than some Disney productions, and at first my daughter was upset at Colin Farrell missing an arm, but once Dumbo hit the screen she loved it. It is a cute movie. Was it the best Disney movie? No. Was it the best Tim Burton movie? No. What you get in the movie is a fun story about an elephant that could fly, and a lesson that everyone is different and that it is okay to be different...

MY RATING: 8 OUT OF 10


RAGTIME: THE FORGOTTEN MUSICAL

Way back in 1996 I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite musicals when I saw a production of Ragtime in Toronto for its world premiere. I forgot about the show until this past year when I rediscovered the music of this show all over again. Since our culture forgets its history often, I think the Ragtime era is a time in America that is sadly forgotten. This production captured that bygone era. Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime tells the story of three groups in the United States in the early 20th century: African Americans, represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem musician; upper-class suburbanites, represented by Mother, the matriarch of a white upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York; and Eastern European immigrants, represented by Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia.

Historical figures including Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Stanford White, Harry Kendall Thaw, Admiral Peary, Matthew Henson, and Emma Goldman are represented in the stories.


The musical had its world premiere in Toronto, where it opened at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts (later renamed the Toronto Centre for the Arts) on December 8, 1996,  produced by Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky and his Livent Inc., the Toronto-production company he headed. The US premiere was at the Shubert Theatre, Los Angeles in June 1997.The musical opened on Broadway on January 18, 1998 as the first production in the newly opened Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Directed by Frank Galati and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, Ragtime closed on January 16, 2000 after 834 performances and 27 previews. The original cast included Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Peter Friedman and Audra McDonald, who were all nominated for Tony Awards, and also included Judy Kaye, Mark Jacoby and Lea Michele. The production was conducted by David Loud.


The production received mixed reviews, with critics noting that the dazzling physical production (with a $10 million budget, including fireworks and a working Model T automobile) overshadowed problems in the script. Ben Brantley's review in The New York Times was headlined "A diorama with nostalgia rampant." It led the 1998 Tony Awards with thirteen Tony Award nominations, but Disney's The Lion King won as Best Musical. The musical won awards for Best Featured Actress (McDonald), Original Score, Book, and Orchestrations. According to The New York Times, "The chief competition for The Lion King was Ragtime, a lavish musical."The New York Times also noted that "The season was an artistic success as well, creating one of the most competitive Tony contests in years, with a battle in almost every category capped by the titanic struggle for the best musical award between Ragtime with 13 nominations and The Lion King with 11." The Broadway production was not financially successful, and some Broadway insiders consider its lavish production to have been the financial "undoing" of Livent.

The music is outstanding and catchy - and each song is woven together into the fabric of the plot that it is seemless. The show is still being performed regionally, but I wish the show would be revived. It would make an excellent movie musical. I'm not sure Hollywood things the story is important enough, but the story of racism, the class system, and other things that plague our country are still a factor in 2019 as much as it was in 1909. The soundtrack to Ragtime is a fullfilling soundtrack to get but it does not match seeing the show in person...


Thursday, April 4, 2019

45 MOVIES YOU HAVE TO SEE

I hate to admit it, but I am getting older! Today I turn 45 years old. I sometimes forget and tell people I am 42 or 44, but I was born on April 4, 1974! On my birthday now, I want to list 45 movies you have to see! They are not the best movies, like The Godfather did not make the list, but they are simply 45 movies you really should see...




GET OUT (2017)
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)
KONG - SKULL ISLAND (2017)
WONDER WOMAN (2017)
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)
JURASSIC WORLD (2015)
CLOVERFIELD (2008)
STEP BROTHERS (2008)
THE HAPPENING (2008)
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER (2007)
ELF (2003)
MAN IN THE MOON (1999)
FORREST GUMP (1994)
ED WOOD (1994)


THE SANDLOT (1993)
CHAPLIN (1992)
GOODFELLAS (1990)
NOTHING IN COMMON (1986)
BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
ANNIE (1982)
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
THE JERK (1979)
THE OMEN (1976)
JAWS (1975)
BLAZING SADDLES (1974)
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)
A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN (1969)
THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1964)
GIGOT (1962)


THE MUSIC MAN (1962)
BELLS ARE RINGING (1960)
HIGH SOCIETY (1956)
A STAR IS BORN (1954)
THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954)
LIMELIGHT (1952)
THE BOY WITH THE GREEN HAIR (1949)
WHITE HEAT (1949)
GOOD NEWS (1947)
HOLIDAY INN (1942)
ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1941)
THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK (1941)
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
KING KONG (1933)
FREAKS (1932)
CITY LIGHTS (1931)