Sunday, May 31, 2020

HISTORY OF A SONG: RHAPSODY IN BLUE

I have a lot of favorite songs since music plays such an important part in my life. Currently, the instrumental song Rhapsody In Blue is my favorite song. I have had a lot of favorite songs like Pennies From Heaven, Someone To Watch Over Me, and Smile, but this is the first time I have picked a strictly instrumental song as one of my favorites. Rhapsody in Blue is a 1924 musical composition by American composer George Gershwin for solo piano and jazz band, which combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects.

The composition was commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman. It was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé several times, including the original 1924 scoring, the 1926 "theater orchestra" setting, and the 1942 symphony orchestra scoring, though completed earlier. The piece received its premiere in the concert, An Experiment in Modern Music, which was held on February 12, 1924, in Aeolian Hall, New York, by Whiteman and his band with Gershwin playing the piano.

The editors of the Cambridge Music Handbooks opined that "The Rhapsody in Blue (1924) established Gershwin's reputation as a serious composer and has since become one of the most popular of all American concert works."

Rhapsody in Blue premiered in an afternoon concert on Tuesday, February 12, 1924, held by Paul Whiteman and his band, the Palais Royal Orchestra, titled An Experiment in Modern Music, which took place in Aeolian Hall in New York City. Many important and influential musicians of the time were present, including Sergei Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, John Philip Sousa, and Willie "The Lion" Smith. The event has since become historic specifically because of its premiere of the Rhapsody.


The purpose of the experiment, as told by Whiteman in a pre-concert lecture in front of many classical music critics and highbrows, was "to be purely educational". It would "at least provide a stepping stone which will make it very simple for the masses to understand, and therefore, enjoy symphony and opera". The program was long, including 26 separate musical movements, divided into 2 parts and 11 sections, bearing titles such as "True form of jazz" and "Contrast: legitimate scoring vs. jazzing". Gershwin's latest composition was the second to last piece (before Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1). Many of the numbers sounded similar and the ventilation system in the concert hall was broken. People in the audience were losing their patience, until the clarinet glissando that opened Rhapsody in Blue was heard.

The Rhapsody was performed by Whiteman's band, with an added section of string players, and George Gershwin on piano. Gershwin decided to keep his options open as to when Whiteman would bring in the orchestra and he did not write down one of the pages for solo piano, with only the words "Wait for nod" scrawled by Grofé on the band score. Gershwin improvised some of what he was playing, and he did not write out the piano part until after the performance, so it is unknown exactly how the original Rhapsody sounded.


The opening clarinet glissando came into being during rehearsal when; "... as a joke on Gershwin, [Ross] Gorman (Whiteman's virtuoso clarinettist) played the opening measure with a noticeable glissando, adding what he considered a humorous touch to the passage. Reacting favourably to Gorman's whimsy, Gershwin asked him to perform the opening measure that way at the concert and to add as much of a 'wail' as possible.

One of my favorite versions of this masterpiece is by Leonard Bernstein, but nothing captures the emotion of 1920s America more than Rhapsody In Blue...



Saturday, May 23, 2020

BORN ON THIS DAY: ARTIE SHAW

I love big band music, and one of the giants of that era was Artie Shaw. Shaw was such a tortured soul in his life, and he sabotaged a lot of his career. He was like the Marlon Brando of jazz. Artie was born on this day in 1910. Born in New York City, Arthur Jacob Arshawsky was the son of Sarah (née Strauss) and Harry Arshawsky, a dressmaker and photographer. The family was Jewish; his father was from Russia, his mother from Austria. Shaw grew up in New Haven, Connecticut where his natural introversion was deepened by local antisemitism. Shaw bought a saxophone by working in a grocery store and began learning the saxophone at 13. At 16, he switched to the clarinet and left home to tour with a band.

Returning to New York, he became a session musician through the early 1930s. From 1925–36, Shaw performed with many bands and orchestras; from 1926 to 1929, he worked in Cleveland and established a lasting reputation as music director and arranger for an orchestra led by the violinist Austin Wylie. In 1929 and 1930, he played with Irving Aaronson's Commanders, where he was exposed to symphonic music, which he would later incorporate in his arrangements. In 1932, Shaw joined the Roger Wolfe Kahn Orchestra and made several recordings with the outfit including "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and "Fit as a Fiddle".


In 1935, he first gained attention with his "Interlude in B-flat" at a swing concert at the Imperial Theater in New York. During the swing era, his big bands were popular with hits like "Begin the Beguine" (1938), "Stardust" (with a trumpet solo by Billy Butterfield), "Back Bay Shuffle", "Moonglow", "Rosalie" and "Frenesi". The show was well received, but forced to dissolve in 1937 because his band's sound was not commercial. Shaw valued experimental and innovative music rather over dancing and love songs.

He was an innovator in the big band idiom, using unusual instrumentation; "Interlude in B-flat", where he was backed with only a rhythm section and a string quartet, was one of the earliest examples of what would be later dubbed Third Stream. His incorporation of stringed instruments could be attributed to the influence of classical composer Igor Stravinsky.

In addition to hiring Buddy Rich, he signed Billie Holiday as his band's vocalist in 1938, becoming the first white band leader to hire a full-time black female singer to tour the segregated Southern U.S. However, after recording "Any Old Time", Holiday left the band due to hostility from audiences in the South, as well as from music company executives who wanted a more "mainstream" singer.

After creating and disbanding many orchestras in the 1940s and 1950s, Shaw quit performing in 1954. He recreated his band in 1983, but he did not perform. He would just make appearances with the orchestra. Artie Shaw died in 2004 at the advanced age of 94...



Sunday, May 17, 2020

FORGOTTEN ONES: MAIDIE NORMAN

Maidie Norman is not an name that many people remember. However, at a time when African American actors and actresses were used to just playing servants in movies, Maidie fought for a better portrayal of her race in the entertainment industry. Born in Georgia in 1912 to Louis and Lila Gamble, she appeared in more than 200 Hollywood films. Her father was an engineer and her mother was a homemaker. Norman received a B.A. in Literature and Theatre Arts from Bennett College in North Carolina and later obtained an M.A. in Theater Arts from Columbia University in New York. While in New York, she met and married real estate broker McHenry Norman and the couple relocated to Los Angeles, where Norman began training at the Actors Laboratory in Hollywood.

Early in a career that spanned more than four decades, Norman appeared on several radio shows, including The Jack Benny Show and Amos n’ Andy, before gaining a bit role in the film The Burning Cross (1948). Shortly after her debut, Norman was regularly cast as a domestic in several film roles, but refused to deliver her lines using stereotypical speech patterns. Instead, she brought her background in theatricality to the studios where directors often empowered her to rewrite her film lines, infusing the character with more dignity and less broken English.


During the era of the 1950s when black women were subjected to portraying maids, Norman transitioned into more pivotal roles in films such as the psychological drama The Well (1951) and the 1962 cult classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Ms. Norman refused to play the maid as a doltish, stereotypical character.

''I'd say, 'You know, this is not the way we talk these days. This is old slavery-time talk,' '' Ms. Norman recalled in 1995.

She eventually maneuvered into sitcoms, television movies, and daytime soap operas. She also focused on her theatrical interests, performing in plays by William Shakespeare and Jean-Paul Sartre.


After semi-retiring from acting, Norman taught drama at Texas College in Tyler, Texas during the summers of 1955 and 1956. In 1963 and 1964, Norman joined fellow actresses Joan Caulfield, Ruth Hussey, Yvonne De Carlo, Marie Windsor, Laraine Day, and Virginia Mayo, in making appearances on behalf of U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the Republican nominee in the campaign against U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. From 1968 to 1969, she served as artist-in-residence at Stanford University where she became a pioneer of directing plays by black authors. She also became instrumental in establishing one of the first courses on the history of blacks in American theater at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She taught at UCLA until retiring in 1977, though she continued to promote Afro-American arts and education at universities across the country.

Maidie retired from movies and television in 1988 after an appearance on the television series :"Simon & Simon". Norman succumbed to lung cancer on May 2, 1998 at the age of 85 in San Jose, California...


Saturday, May 16, 2020

RIP: FRED WILLARD

Beloved film star Fred Willard has died. He was 86.

The comedic star, whose numerous credits include Best in Show, This Is Spinal Tap, Everybody Loves Raymond and Modern Family, died of natural causes.

"My father passed away very peacefully last night at the fantastic age of 86 years old. He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end," his daughter Hope tells the Associated Press in a statement. "We loved him so very much!"

His death comes less than two years after his wife Mary died at 71. The pair had been married since 1968 and had one daughter.

Willard's death also came months after the character he played on Modern Family, Phil Dunphy's father Frank, died of old age.


Willard played Frank for 14 episodes across all 11 seasons. In 2010, the role garnered Willard an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series.

Born in Ohio, the four-time Emmy nominee started off his career in sketch comedy, and began working for the Second City in 1965.

After several years of bit roles, his big break came in 1977, when he joined the cast of Fernwood 2 Night a parody talk show that was a summer replacement for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. The following summer, he also repressed his role playing talk show sidekick Jerry Hubbard in America 2-Night.

Another life-changing career moment came when he started working with Guest, starting with the filmmaker’s directorial debut, Waiting for Guffman.

"That started to change everything," Willard told The Hollywood Reporter last year. "I was thrilled to be working with people I worked with — Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy — I was such a fan of theirs, and Christopher Guest. I'd see him on Saturday Night Live, and I'd met him socially a few times, but it was just so much fun. It was like a party every day, or a picnic, doing those scenes. You never think it’s going to be seen in a theater audience. You were just doing it to try and get this story told, get in a joke or two, and when it came out, it did quite well."


Since then, Willard has gone on to star in many of Guest’s films, including Best in Show, For Your Consideration and A Mighty Wind. He also made scene-stealing performances in This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004).

He was nominated for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series for three consecutive years from 2003-2005 for his work on Everybody Loves Raymond, playing Hank MacDougall. His fourth and final nomination came for Modern Family in 2010.

He will also star alongside Steve Carell in the upcoming Netflix series Space Force, which will begin streaming on May 29...


Friday, May 15, 2020

COMING SOON: ROBERTA SHERWOOD - I GOTTA A RIGHT TO SING

I just recently discovered the talents of Roberta Sherwood, and I encourage everyone to buy this great new CD from Jasmine Records...


Roberta Sherwood, one of the most unique torch singers of all-time, is heard at the peak of her powers in this new 2CD collection

Contains three complete albums 'I Gotta Right To Sing', 'My Golden Favorites' & 'Live Performance!' on CD for the very first time. Also included are 25 rare single sides, also new to CD.

A must for fans and collectors, but also a terrific way for new listeners to discover her unique voice and vocal style, that's never been matched by any other performer.

You can buy the CD on Amazon or other marketplaces that specialize in great music!



Disc 1
1. I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES
2. WHO DID YOU FOOL AFTER ALL
3. AVALON
4. GEORGIA ON MY MIND
5. THE KISS WALTZ
6. BABY FACE
7. FAREWELL TO ARMS
8. JUST IN TIME (from the musical 'Bells are Ringing')
9. I REALLY DON'T WANT TO KNOW
10. MISSISSIPPI MUD
11. SOONER OR LATER (Your Heart Will Cry I Want You)
12. CHEATIN' ON ME
13. (Prayer is the Key to Heaven) FAITH UNLOCKS THE DOOR
14. MY HEART IS A CHAPEL
15 SHOULD I TRY AGAIN
16. MARY LOU
17. WHAT DOES IT MATTER?
18. THE SHAM ROCK
19. WHERE'S MY SWEETIE HIDING?
20. WHO'S GONNA BE MY SUNSHINE
21. THERE'S A GHOST AT YOUR WEDDING
22. BLUE MOON OF KENTUCKY
23. LOVE IS A-BREAKIN' OUT
24. DICKIE, DICKIE BLUEBIRD
25. I'M FOLLOWING YOU
26. I SAY HELLO
27. MY SONG
28. I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO
29. YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE
30. I'M GONNA CHANGE EVERYTHING

Disc 2
1. YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE
2. MY LOVE
3. HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN (How High is the Sky)
4. WITH MY EYES WIDE OPEN, I'M DREAMING
5. MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME
6. OH, BUT I DO!
7. THAT'S ALL
8. YOU'D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO
9. MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY
10. I SEE YOUR FACE BEFORE ME
11. THESE FOOLISH THINGS (Remind Me of You)
12. YOU HAVE TAKEN MY HEART
13. STORMY WEATHER (Keeps Rainin' All the Time)
14. WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME
15. LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING
16. AVALON
17. TOGETHER WHEREVER WE GO
18. TAKE ME ALONG
19. SMALL WORLD/YOU'LL NEVER GET AWAY FROM ME
20. I USED TO LOVE YOU (But It's All Over Now)
21. YOUR CHEATIN' HEART
22. WRECK OF THE OLD 97
23. LAZY RIVER
24. ACE IN THE HOLE
25. SOMEDAY (You'll Want Me to Want You) / IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER / I REMEMBER YOU
26. OL' MAN RIVER
27. YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG
28. STAYING YOUNG
29. YOU'RE NOBODY 'TIL SOMEBODY LOVES YOU
30. BILL BAILEY, WON'T YOU PLEASE COME HOME


Thursday, May 14, 2020

A TRIBUTE TO TIM CONWAY - ONE YEAR LATER

It has been one year since we lost comedic genius Tim Conway (1933-2019). The world is less funny since Tim is gone...





Monday, May 11, 2020

RIP: JERRY STILLER

Jerry Stiller, a classically trained actor who became a comedy star twice — in the 1960s in partnership with his wife, Anne Meara, and in the 1990s with a memorable recurring role on “Seinfeld” — has died. He was 92.

His death was confirmed on Monday by his son, the actor Ben Stiller, in a tweet, who said his father had died of natural causes.

Mr. Stiller’s accomplishments as an actor were considerable. He appeared on Broadway in Terrence McNally’s frantic farce “The Ritz” in 1975 and David Rabe’s dark drama “Hurlyburly” in 1984. Off Broadway, he was in “The Threepenny Opera”; in Central Park, he played Shakespearean clowns for Joseph Papp; onscreen, he was seen as, among other things, a police detective in “The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three” (1974) and Divine’s husband in John Waters’s “Hairspray” (1988). But he was best known as a comedian.

The team of Stiller and Meara was for many years a familiar presence in nightclubs, on television variety and talk shows, and in radio and television commercials, most memorably for Blue Nun wine and Amalgamated Bank.


Years after the act broke up, Mr. Stiller captured a new generation of fans as Frank Costanza, the short-tempered and not entirely sane father of Jason Alexander’s George, on the NBC series “Seinfeld,” one of the most successful television comedies of all time.

Mr. Stiller was in fewer than 30 of the 180 episodes of “Seinfeld,” whose nine seasons began in 1989, and he did not make his first appearance until the fifth season. (Another actor appeared as Frank in one episode of Season 4, although his scenes were later reshot with Mr. Stiller for the syndicated reruns.) But he was an essential part of the show’s enduring appeal.


Just a few months after the final episode of “Seinfeld” (in which Frank had one last moment in the spotlight and, of course, spent most of it yelling), broadcast on May 14, 1998, Mr. Stiller was back on television playing another off-kilter father — a marginally more restrained version of Frank Costanza — on another sitcom, “The King of Queens,” which made its debut that fall on CBS. A regular this time, he played Arthur Spooner, the excitable father of the wife (Leah Remini) of the working-slob central character (Kevin James), for the show’s entire nine-season run.

Mr. Stiller and Ms. Meara met in 1953, when they were both struggling actors, and married shortly afterward. They worked together in 1959 with the Compass Players, an improvisational theater group that later evolved into the Second City. They began performing as a duo in New York nightclubs in 1961 and soon made the first of about three dozen appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The comedy partnership of Mr. Stiller and Ms. Meara flourished for more than a decade and found a new outlet when they began doing commercials. But they eventually went their separate ways professionally — although they remained happily married and continued to perform together from time to time. Ms. Meara died in 2015.


Mr. Stiller worked steadily into the early 1990s but was less active than Ms. Meara, who had recurring roles on several television shows. Then came the call from “Seinfeld,” and his career resurgence began.

That same year, he played a group-therapy patient in the independent film “Excuse Me for Living.” In 2014, he provided the voice for the title character in an unorthodox animated television special, “How Murray Saved Christmas.”

In 2016, he reprised the role of the agent Maury Ballstein in “Zoolander 2,” the sequel to the hit 2001 comedy about a male model, starring and directed by his son, Ben Stiller.

“I’ve never thought of stopping,” Mr. Stiller told The Daily News of New York in 2012. “The only time you ever stop working is when they don’t call you.”



Sunday, May 10, 2020

MINNIE MARX AND THE MARX BROTHERS

Behind every great man is a great woman. So I wanted to take a look at the woman behind the greatest comedy team of all-time The Marx Brothers. The fifth of Levy Schönberg and Fanny Sophie Salomons's nine children, Minnie Marx was born in Dornum, Germany on November 9, 1865 and grew up in a family of entertainers. Her father was a ventriloquist and magician, her mother was a harpist, and according to family lore they and their children wandered all around Germany in a covered wagon, going from town to town putting on shows and entertaining people. In the 1870s, the family began coming to America. In 1879, Miene, by then called Minna (and soon to have her name changed to Minnie Schoenberg), came with the third wave of family immigration and settled in the Lower East Side.

On January 18, 1885 she married Samuel Marx (né Simon Marrix), although they later pushed back the date of their marriage to 1884 when they took in her sister Hänne (Hannah)'s illegitimate daughter Pauline, who was born in January of 1885, and began passing her off as their own. Many people believe that due to the death of her firstborn child, Manfred, at seven months of age in July of 1886, she pushed her five living sons into show business and took a very large role in doing so. To help her sons along when they were just getting started in vaudeville, she moved the family to Chicago in 1909 to be closer to a number of important vaudeville houses, and also because she felt she could do a better job at organizing their careers in this central hub city, as opposed to in the vaudeville scene back on the East Coast. 


Shortly after moving to Chicago, she also began billing herself as Minnie Palmer, which happened to be the same name as a woman who had also been involved in the entertainment industry. The original Minnie Palmer was out of the country at the time Minnie Marx began using her name. Seeing as how she was still living and eventually returned to the United States and successfully restarted her performing career, this caused understandable confusion and mix-ups in the press. However, whether or not she adopted this new name because she knew it already had a famous bearer, she didn't mind people assuming they were one and the same, since it meant good press for her sons. In Chicago she put her all into hobnobbing with booking agents for vaudeville houses, promoting her sons' act, and for a time was also in their act, along with her sister Hannah. She also became the only female producer in Chicago at the time, producing not only her sons but a number of other acts as well. Some of her acts were so successful they were booked on tours that took them not only around Chicago but also to more distant places in the United States. She became very good at working the press to her and her acts' advantage. After the United States entered World War I, she found out that farmers were exempted from the draft and subsequently bought a farm in a then-undeveloped region of Illinois so that her sons could be kept at home. 



However, her second-youngest son, Gummo, did end up joining the Army eleven days before the Armistice, at which time she put her youngest son Zeppo into the act in his place. All of her hard work eventually paid off when her sons graduated from being popular vaudeville stars to big stars playing on the more respectable stage of Broadway. Before the opening night of their first Broadway show, 'I'll Say She Is,' in 1924, she broke her leg while being fitted for a gown and was carried into the theatre, where she was placed in a box seat in the front row. This moment was described as her personal victory, a victory that was even greater when her sons' first film, 'The Cocoanuts,' had a very successful premiere and subsequent run starting in May of 1929. On September 13 of that year, she had a seizure and slumped over while she and her husband were being driven home from the family Friday night Sabbath dinner at the home of Zeppo and his wife Marion. The chauffeur was ordered to turn around and drive back to the house, where the other members of the family were still gathered. Early the next morning, with her nearest and dearest around her, she died of a stroke at the age of sixty-four...


Thursday, May 7, 2020

HOLLYWOOD LOVE: JULIE ANDREWS AND BLAKE EDWARDS

Despite being married to her first husband from 1959 to 1967, screen legend Julie Andrews found lasting love with her 2nd husband - director Blake Edwards. Later, Andrews went on to share her meet-cute story with the late Blake Edwards, her husband of over 40 years who she first made eye contact with at an intersection in Hollywood as he sat in his Rolls-Royce. "I was trying very hard not to fall in love with him. And that was Blake Edwards," Andrews said of Edwards, the director of Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Pink Panther movies. Edwards himself once described the way they'd met as "wonderfully Hollywood."

Ten years before they actually married in 1969, Julie Andrews and director Blake Edwards met like ships passing in the night, the actress revealed in a 2015 interview with Good Morning Britain.

Andrews explained how they spoke briefly from their cars, outside of a therapist's office, during their first introduction, which she deemed "corny": "I was going one way and he was going the other, he rolled down the window after smiling a couple of times and he said, 'Are you going where I just came from?'"


Despite their rom-com-appropriate meeting, their marriage was far from easy, particularly because of Edwards's hypochondria, mood swings, and suicidal thoughts. Together, they raised Emma, Amy and Joanna (two adopted daughters), and Jennifer and Geoffrey (Edwards's children). And Andrews admitted that as the daughter of an alcoholic mother and stepfather, she may have tried to "rescue" Edwards in a way. "You have to remember, I was very used to that kind of thing, cause I was—you know—a very big codependent with my own family," she said. "And so I became that with Blake."

No matter what, Andrews told herself, "we will have harmony in this house," and made it work. Andrews and Edwards were devoted to each other from their marriage in 1969 until the director's passing in 2010, and for their 20th wedding anniversary, Andrews read him a poem, one that still remains embedded in her memory: "And darling, when I show you this poem—I know what you will say. 'What else?' You'll grin. 'What else, will you write of me today?'"


Sunday, May 3, 2020

MUSIC BREAK : BING CROSBY - HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Who else but Bing Crosby could sing "Happy Birthday" like this! By the way Der Bingle would have been 117 years old today...