Monday, January 31, 2011

Remembering John Barry

Film Composer John Barry died yesterday at the age of Seventy-seven. He composed the score to over ninety movies and won the highest awards his industry could bestow. He was best known for scoring twelve of the films in the James Bond series, but his work went far beyond that franchise. His scores for Born Free, Lion in Winter, Out of Africa & Dances With Wolves won academy awards for Best Original Score, and the title song to Born Free won him an additional Oscar for Best Original Song. Also among his work are the scores for Midnight Cowboy, Chaplin, Somewhere in Time, The Cotton Club, Peggy Sue Got Married and Enigma. Along the way he managed to write five musicals and numerous television themes. Of his prolific career he said, When I look back on it, I think, how the Hell did I do all this?

He was a master at telling a story with music. When I was an overly romantic teenager I saw Somewhere in Time over and over and over again. I went so far as to buy the soundtrack, which I then proceeded to play over and over and over again. I thought I loved the score because I loved the movie, but looking back at it now I think it was the other way around. What comes to mind is not the plot (which really was a bit silly), or the performances, but the music. It was lush and beautiful, and I love it still.

His son-in-law, Simon Jack, said he truly loved writing music as much as people enjoyed listening to it”. He saw himself as much a dramatist as a composer and his music was inextricably linked to the stories told on the screen. We will miss all the stories he had yet to tell.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Storm Warnings

I woke this morning to a grey sky and yet another storm warning. As I was going about my morning looking at what may need to be re-arranged and checking the diet coke supply in the event of yet another deluge my inner DJ was playing John Rutter's setting of William Shakespeare's Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind. I have loved this arrangement since I sang it many eons ago with my high school choir.

The lyrics come for Act II Scene VII of Shakespeare's As You Like It.

Blow, Blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude:
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! Unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most Jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! Unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Saying nature's a bitch, but people are worse is perhaps not Will's sunniest most life affirming moment, but the elgance and passion with which he says it strikes a chord. I don't think it's all bad news really. Nature is cruel but not because she choses to be, and that's an important lesson in perspective. If it is snowing again it's not because I did something to anger mother nature, it's not personal . The idea that man is worse because he choses to be cruel is a little more distressing, yet underneath that is the idea that the we can chose at all. Yes, we can chose to be unkind, but our choices are not predetermined and we can just as easily choose to be loving. We can also chose to write beautiful poetry and music as a way of dealing with the cruelty.

I couldn't decided between the Northwest Missouri State University Tower Choir's version and the Cambridge Singers version so I'm giving you both. The Barenaked Ladies version is a little bonus. I've been wishing someone would do a modern non-choir setting of this and here is one. I think there's some room though for a few more modern intrepretations so if any of you composers out there want to set it to music send it my way.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Julie, Julie, Julie

With yesterday’s forecast promising yet another overnight snow storm I decided to get while the getting was good and escape my house, desk and piano while the sun was still shining. I turned off my phone (gasp), and let myself wander aimlessly a bit. Of course, I wandered right into my favorite used bookstore. Santa brought me a Kindle for Christmas, so perhaps I was feeling some subconscious guilt for abandoning paper and ink. Wandering soon turned to browsing which turned to buying. I came away with a slightly lighter wallet and a great book called American Singers: 27 Portraits in Song by Whitney Balliett. Making a stop at the cupcake bakery I went home fortified and ready to hunker down.

Settling in with my cupcake, diet coke (I know, it makes NO sense) and book I dove into the profile of Julie Wilson. I have known Julie for many years, and it always makes me very happy when I find someone has written about her. She is a consummate performer but more than that she is a genuine and thoughtful human being. She is unfailingly supportive of singers, trekking out to see them whenever she can. I had a gig at the Metropolitan Room last winter during the worst snow storm of the year. I figured no one would possibly come out in such ridiculous weather to see me, but a small but mighty house gathered, including Miss. Julie sitting in a booth with some other friends. She has come to every show I’ve ever done in the city, and every time I see her or hear her urging me on from the audience I am touched.

When we were still living in Washington, DC Julie came to town to do a show and I had a small party for her at our condo. I had been a whirling dervish of cleaning trying to get the house ready and make sure everything was presentable and ready. Everything that was in the way or couldn't be dealt with neatly was hidden away in my bedroom with my two cats. At some point during the evening I mentioned the cats and Julie’s ears perked right up. She just had to see the cats. I stood there for a minute thinking of the state of my bedroom and wondering how fast I could make it as perfect as the rest of the apartment, but Julie would not wait. Within minutes one of the most elegant women I have ever met was on her hands and knees under my unmade bed trying to coax my kitties to come out and see her. Of course, they did, who could refuse her? We bonded over our mutual love of animals and family. Whenever I see Julie she always asks about my cats, my husband and son.

In Balliett’s profile Julie tells the story of being fired from a night club in Miami Beach because the producer wanted his girlfriend to have Julie’s place in the show. She said I was only twenty-three, but I had already learned that it’s not so much what is done to you as the way it is done-that people should have the guts to be square with you. This is the Julie Wilson I know. She speaks honestly but tempers it with kindness and grace. She has a great gift for making you feel like you’re the most important person in the room. A pretty neat trick if you’ve ever seen her perform for a packed house of people, all of whom feel she’s singing directly to them.

She told Mr. Balliett that the only singer who ever influenced her was Billie Holiday. She wears a Gardenia in her hair whenever she performs to honor Holiday’s memory. She says I used to listen to her on Fifty-second Street when I was with Johnny Long’s band, and I finally met her and had dinner with her just a year before she died. No singer has ever moved me so much. No one has ever had such pain and emotion in her singing. There have been many better singers, but none as moving. She taught me that when you sing a song like Irving Berlin’s Supper Time, which has to do with a woman whose husband has just been lynched, you picture him hanging, you think of what must be going through her mind, you think of her children and what she can possibly say to them. You keep all that in your mind while you’re singing and it will come out in the words, in your voice, in your face – and people will listen. This is a lesson she mastered, few performers can match Julie’s grasp of the subtext of a song, you can see every moment of the story in her face.

She told me that she really didn’t start out to be a singer she wanted to be a serious actress and it shows. She approaches every song as an actor approaches a script, but loses none of the musicality. You always believe what Julie Wilson is singing to you.

She continues to be an example of grace and perseverance to me. To watch her on-stage is a master class in inhabiting a lyric. She will always be one of my heroes.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby

Today is Spouse's birthday. Being married to me the man puts up with a lot, we Redheads are a temperamental lot to say the least, but he seems to enjoy it. Even though we've been married about a hundred and five years he's still happy to come home to me at the end of the day. I am a very lucky girl!

According to This Day in Music The Monkee's I'm a Believer was the number one song in the USA on the day he was born. Somehow this seems appropriate. Happy birthday, my love!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Miss Laurel & JaLaLa

Miss Laurel and her trio JaLaLa will be at the Cornelia Street Cafe this coming Tuesday. Click on this link for all the details!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Girl on Film

A few weeks ago I shared the "Tale of the Photo Session" all about the cover shoot for my soon to be released EP Breathing. While I had lots of details at the time, I didn't have any actual shots. happily, I now have in my hot little hands (or computer as the case may be) a few behind the scenes shots of the day in question which I am tickled to share with you.

It takes a village of highly trained specialists with a whole lot of product to get one redhead ready for her close-up.

Edwin Peterson, who masterminded the hair and make-up look for the session applies another layer of product assisted by Tommie.

Make-up artiste, Jay Milian, gives me an ultra smoky smoky eye. By the way, when the black eyeliner is coming straight at your eyeball it's best not to laugh, no matter how amusing the joke!

Did I mention how much Edwin REALLY loves product?

Having sufficiently shellacked me Jay and Edwin cross their fingers, give me a kiss for luck, and send me out into the tempest.

Having Conquered the elements my intrepid photographer Issac Bailey and I end our session slightly damper and crazier than before but with some really cool options for a cover. What will we choose? You'll have to stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Did You Hear What I Heard?

At the crack of dawn on the day after Christmas Spouse and I caught one of the last flights out of Newark before the blizzard shut it down, and headed off to his niece’s wedding in Portland, OR. We escaped the snow and ice but not precipitation. It rained and rained and rained the entire time we were there. There was serious discussion of ark building amongst the East Coast contingent. In spite of the moisture it was a terrific week with seven of the ten siblings in spouse’s family together for the first time in many years. Yes, Spouse comes from a family of ten. It’s sort of like marrying into a small country.

At the reception as we were all bopping about to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, my sister –in-law, Heather heard her children (the utterly adorable Elijah and Charlotte) loudly singing

Billie Jean is not my lover she’s just a girl who claims that I am the one…but the cheerleaders took my son.

Thanks guys for providing me with one of our favorite mondegreens EVER! Shine on you crazy blind men.