Post by William L. Rupp on Dec 23, 2014 15:52:49 GMT -5
Though not as famous or successful in an economic sense as Crosby, Sinatra, Bennett, Mathis, or a number of other American singers, Mel Tormé nevertheless was one of the greatest voices in popular music during the 20th Century. I don't totally agree with everything the author of the piece linked below says, but the article is nevertheless a valuable portrait of the man who had so many talents.
If nothing else, this article will be instructive to anyone who asks the question, "Who is Mel Tormé?"
I suggest you find a copy of Mel's recordings with the Artie Shaw orchestra (Musicraft Records, 1946). Of special interest are those cuts with Mel's singing group, the MelTones. Probably the most advanced singing group of the 1940s.
Post by William L. Rupp on Mar 10, 2014 20:57:58 GMT -5
There once was a movie publicized with this pithy tag line. . . “If you liked World War II, you’ll love Hannibal Brooks.” Well, I can’t guarantee that if you liked World War II you will for sure love The Monuments Men, but I do not hesitate to recommend it to you.
We’ve all seen many, perhaps scores, of movies dealing with World War II. Some are based on actual incidents (The Longest Day), others are wholly fictional (The Guns of Navaronne). The Monuments Men is in the first category, a story of men assigned to rescue thousands of works of art stolen by the Nazis. The subject matter is unique among war movies, and therein lies its charm.
Now, if you are familiar with people such as Herman Goering, you will probably realize that many of them considered themselves to be connoisseurs of the arts. And, since the Third Reich was riding high, and furthermore, since their ethics were deficient, they saw no reason not to grab as many pieces of art as possible from subjugated populations, especially Jews.
Before seeing this movie I did know that art had been stolen by the Nazis. However, I did not realize that there was an organized effort by the western allies to track down and recover as many art objects as possible as the war was drawing to a close. Those men were, literally, known as The Monuments Men. This film makes it look as if there were only about 6 or 7 such persons assigned to the task. In reality over 300 men participated in the effort, mostly in Europe.
The Monuments Men was directed by and co-starred George Clooney. I have been somewhat lukewarm about him as an actor in the past, but he does a great job here. His fellow actors were also excellent, including, among others, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and Cate Blanchet. If you have seen Downton Abbey, you will recognize Hugh Bonneville.
These art hunters were, according to this movie, at least, a varied lot. There were too old to fight in regular army roles, but their knowledge of art made them excellent choices for this project.
The story is episodic, opening with the recruitment of the team and its basic training. There is some humor there. We then follow the journeys of several groups of art hunters as they follow the advancing Allied forces across Europe in 1944 and 1945. But they don’t always exactly follow the U.S. and UK forces. In fact, they get a bit too close to the front, as you will see. And not without casualties.
Despite its episodic nature, the film will hold your attention. That is true especially near the end when the Monuments Men must beat the Soviets to a cache of stolen art. The Soviets were as eager to grab art treasures not their own as had been the Nazis earlier in the war.
If I were a history teacher, I could easily use this movie as the jumping off point for class discussions and projects dealing with many aspects of World War Two. On the other hand, if you are a mere movie-goer intent on enjoying a couple of hours, I think you will not be disappointed by The Monuments Men.
PS: A friend of mine, also a retired teacher, has read the book on which the movie was based. He saw the movie and liked it, declaring that it did a pretty good job of telling this little-known story from World War Two.
Post by William L. Rupp on Feb 16, 2011 2:02:20 GMT -5
Audio Drama: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Part One
We have no idea when or where mankind's first dramatic presentation took place. We can be sure of one thing, however; no electronic devices were involved. Instead, some long ago human, perhaps sitting around a campfire, told a story to his fellow clan members. Were his listeners . . . noting the use of the word listener . . . pleased? Did they ask him to tell another story, or was the story teller invited to leave camp quickly or face a barrage of rocks, sticks, and animal bones? We will never know.
However, we do know two things about the history of story telling. First, it was oral. Repeat, oral. One person spoke, others listened. Remember the emphasis I put on the work “listener”? That was the essence of camp fire story telling. No visuals. No props. Just the spoken word.
Second, we know that the medium of oral story telling caught on big time. Who wouldn’t want to relax and hear an exciting tale after a hard day of chasing wooly mammoths or gathering berries and firewood? For millennia, there was no writing. That came much later. In the meantime, the oral tradition was passed down from generation to generation. No doubt that type of story telling came to be an important part of pre-historic cultures.
Much later, the story telling became more elaborate, with more than one person being involved, each one taking a different role. By the time of the Greeks, drama had become highly developed. The modern stage play was well on its way. One thing remained the same throughout the course of all those centuries; the use of the human voice to tell a story.
That brings us to the radio drama, or, as I prefer to say, the audio drama. Commercial radio in the U.S. began with KDKA in Pittsburg in 1920. It wasn’t too long before dramas were being broadcast there and elsewhere around the country. At first, existing plays were condensed to fit radio time slots. Later, original radio scripts were written and performed. Music and sound effects became important parts of the presentation.
By the mid-1930s, radio drama was well established. In the daytime, one could listen to soap-operas or kids shows. At night there was a variety of programs, many of which presented original scripts, while others (e.g., Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater on the Air) adapted short stories by famous authors. Some of the most successful and well-produced shows were the Lux Radio Theater and Suspense. Both lasted two decades on the air, even continuing after TV became successful. Some programs, notably the Lux Radio Theater, Academy Award, and one or two others, featured on-air versions of famous motion picutres.
For my money the later programs were, by and large, the best of all. That’s really pretty logical. Most products get better over time. For example, few of us would prefer to drive 1940 cars on a regular basis instead of 2011 models. I have already mentioned Suspense and the Lux Radio Theater. The Whistler, Inner Sanctum, Escape, all presented exciting stories.
Other excellent programs that began near the end of the radio era or even after TV was going strong are Dragnet, Nightbeat, Tales of the Texas Rangers, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Dimension X, and X Minus One. Special note should be made of the Six Shooter. That program, which ran for just one season (1953-54) was one of the best, both for its excellent writing and the actor who portrayed the title character, Academy Award winner James Stewart.
There have been a few serious attempts to revive interest in audio drama since 1960, especially the CBS Mystery Theater of the 1970s. By and large, however, audio drama has has had only a small, though loyal, following. There are plenty of collectors, of course. Tens of thousands of hours of old radio shows are readily available. Just go to EBay and enter OTR and you will see how much can be had for practically nothing.
Keep in mind that the major networks spent thousands of dollars on their popular programs. Major stars and writers, plus teams of sound effects people and musicians were all involved. And people listened with great interest week after week, year after year. In many cases, it was a great thrill to actually be a member of the audiences that were allowed to watch as the cast and crew of a major radio drama went through their paces.
In the next part of this series I will talk about some of the shows I remember listening to as a kid, plus the basic techniques of audio drama.
Post by William L. Rupp on Jan 26, 2011 0:38:13 GMT -5
The Spirit is Willing: Glenn Miller and his orchestra. Jazz Heritage: 514058W Total time: 69 minutes, 45 seconds.
Alton Glenn Miller, better known simply as Glenn Miller, led the most popular dance band of the 20th Century. It’s true that men such as Henderson, Ellington, Basie, and Goodman were more influential in the development of big band music. When it comes to public acceptance, however, no one could match Miller. Since his active career as a leader spanned only the eight years from 1937 to 1944, that’s rather remarkable. If anything, the popularity of his orchestra has actually increased since the small transport plane in which he was a passenger disappeared over the English Channel in December, 1944.
With respect to Glenn Miller’s music, the verdict of the masses has been overwhelmingly positive. The reaction of jazz musicians and critics, on the other hand, has been far less favorable. A typical complaint ones hears is that Miller’s band was so disciplined that it lacked that spark of creativity and spontaneity that characterizes all great jazz groups. His reputation among the knowledgeable was also not helped any by the great number of trivial pop songs Miller recorded for Bluebird/Victor records.
That brings us to the subject of this review. It is "The Spirit is Willing," a CD released in 1995. (It’s readily available today; just Google the title along with Miller’s name.) This set includes only instrumentals by the Miller band, and less well-known ones, at that. You will not find “Little Brown Jug”, “String of Pearls”, “In the Mood”, or any other of the well known Miller instrumentals. This is in effect a concept album. The stated purpose is to convince the big band listener that Miller actually had a pretty good group that could, at least when it wanted to, give the Kings of Swing a run for their money.
The format of these recordings is similar to that of the best jazz-oriented bands of the Swing Era. Miller’s crew included an eight man brass section (four trumpets and four trombones, with Miller himself playing in the latter), five saxophones, and a four man rhythm section. You will hear many unison passages, but also the typical “call and response” structure, in which one of the horn sections (reeds or brass) plays a passage (the call) followed by a contrasting passage by the other section (the response) A good example of this is heard in “Glen Island Special.” There are also numerous improvised solos, a feature which has always been standard practice in all jazz bands, large or small. (An added bonus is that, with no vocals included, you will not have to endure the syrupy singing of Ray Eberle, a young man who is almost universally considered to have been just about the biggest weakness of the Miller organization.)
In my opinion, the author of the CD’s notes (Loren Schoenberg) has not quite made his case. Nothing here will make the knowledgeable jazz fan turn away from Basie, Goodman, Ellington, etc. Still, the music contained herein is certainly worth listening to. The arranging is good and the solos, though not necessarily up to the standard of the Basie or Ellington orchestras, is not bad at all. And with any Miller unit, the musicianship is first rate.
The album offers plenty of information that anyone in the least interested in big band music will appreciate. The notes are extensive, with information about each song, when it was recorded, who wrote the arrangement, the lineup of musicians for each session, etc. Of, yes; the soloists in each case are identified.
One thing that is especially worthwhile is that the listener can hear the evolution of the band from the first track, “King Porter Stomp”, recorded in 1938) to the last, “Rhapsody in Blue” (recorded in mid-1942). On the former, the band sounds little different from the average swing band of 1935. On the later, the band sounds much more polished, self-assured, and up-to-date. (Speaking of that last point, notice how often one hears the baritone saxophone anchoring the reed section in the more up-tempo recordings.
The bari sax really started to come into its own about 1939 or 1940, meaning that most bands now had five saxes instead of just four. That fifth sax, the baritone, really made a difference. With just four horns, two altos and two tenors, sax sections had a lighter, higher pitched sound. With the deeper range of the baritone added in, five member sections sounded much more robust. You will hear this in numbers such as “Long Tall Mama”, and “Keep ‘Em Flying.”)
There are some interesting surprises here. One is “My Blue Heaven,” played at a very fast tempo rather than as a medium tempo number. Another, perhaps the most noteworthy track of all, is Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” (Yes, Duke’s band recorded it, but Sweet Pea was the composer!) Of the many versions of this classic recorded by various bands, this is the only one that treats the “Train” as a romantic ballad. Glenn Miller, besides being a competent trombone player and a very good arranger, had the invaluable ability to sense what the music listening public wanted in a song. It’s anybody’s guess why he decided to buck the trend and turn “Take the A Train” into the kind of song that couples with romantic thoughts wanted to dance to late in the evening. Whatever his reasons, the thing works, making the Glenn Miller version of the Duke’s theme song remarkable. (I should add that the success Miller had in reworking Strayhorn’s classic is also a testament to the quality of the composition.)
As I indicated earlier, Glenn Miller’s band could not match the swing produced by the great bands of the late 30’s and early 40’s. However, neither was the Miller band just a well-rehearsed and somewhat less corny member of the Mickey Mouse school of big bandom. It really could swing more than what the critics were willing to admit, as the later recordings on the CD prove. (For more evidence of the direction in which Miller was headed, take a listen to some of the things his Army Air Force band of ’43 to ’45 was playing!)
If you are building a big band record collection and have no Miller records, this one would not be your logical first acquisition. Instead, get one of the many records that include the band’s biggest hits, such as “Moonlight Serenade,” “In the Mood,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “String of Pearls,” and “Jukebox Saturday Night.” Once you have such a record, however, “The Spirit is Willing” would make a great second addition.
1. King Porter Stomp (3:26) 2. Slip Horn Jive (3:13) 3. Pagan Love Song (3:12) 4. Glen Island Special (2:58) 5. I Want To Be Happy (3:03) 6. Farewell Blues (3:09) 7. Johnson Rag (2:54) 8. Rug Cutter’s Swing (2:59) 9. Slow Freight (3:09) 10. Bugle Call Rag (2:54) 11. My Blue Heaven (3:11) 12. I Dreamt I Dwelt in Harlem (3:37) 13. Sun Valley Jump (2:57) 14. The Spirit Is Willing (3:32) 15. Boulder Buff (3:27) 16. Take The “A” Train (3:24) 17. Long Tall Mama (3:01) 18. Keep ‘Em Flying (2:59) 19. Caribbean Clipper (2:39) 20. Here We Go Again (2:58) 21. Rainbow Rhapsody (3:17) 22. Rhapsody In Blue (3:01)
Post by William L. Rupp on Jan 13, 2010 16:26:52 GMT -5
In 1966 James Stewart and an outstanding cast appeared in an adventure film about the survivors of the crash of an ancient transport plane in the middle of the Arabian desert. The film was a great success; arguably Stewart's greatest movie success of the 1960s. I well remember enjoying this film during its first release.
When the remake of Flight of the Phoenix came out about 5 years ago I chose not to see it for the simple reason that I believe almost all remakes are not worth the time and money it takes to produce them. (There are a few exceptions; The Maltese Falcon of 1941 was the . . . can you believe it!. . . THIRD version of that movie released by Warner Brothers)
Recently, however, my wife and ordered it from NetFlix and saw it last night. I must say that I was favorably impressed by the film. Dennis Quaid is no Jimmy Stewart (duh!), but he did reasonably well in his part, I thought. (My wife remarked that Quid is a near look-alike of Harrison Ford, by the way.) I don't say that it was as good as the 1966 version, and certainly not better. But the production was quite good and the performances pretty decent over all. The photography and scenery were excellent.
This morning, when I looked up this new version at Internet Movies Data Base I was somewhat surprised to see that it was scorched by reviewer after reviewer. Furthermore, the film's rating was a paltry 6.0. Not very impressive. Many of the complaints were well taken, I have to admit. How this weakened band of survivors could have dug the original plane and then the remade plane out of the sand is a bit hard to swallow.
I would have given the film a rating 7 our of 10 rather than the 6.0 it now "enjoys." Still, why not just polish up the 1966 version (enhanced graphics, sound, etc.) and release it again. The cost of doing so would have been trivial when compared with the cost of making the 2005 version. After all, Gone With the Wind was re-released several times in theaters and it did great business.
But, NO, somebody with more money than brains thought the original could be improved on. The new film is enjoyable, but is NOT an improvement.
I would be interested to hear how other movie lovers compare the two films.