Tuesday, February 15, 2011

He Was One Of A Kind

The Quintet
That's what his press agent said when it was disclosed that George Shearing had passed away yesterday at the overly-ripe age of ninety-one.  I concur.

George and John
And I bought just about everything he ever made. He was a class act, with deep warmth, humor and a sense of purpose that rang clearly in all his music.

With his quintet (guitar, vibraphone, bass and drums) he recorded clean gems of proper jazz. Dig his reading of "September in the Rain" that was released in the late 1940"s. The melody becomes a laughing stream of poured piano keys rippling in the mid-day autumn sun. Low on the horizon and  flecked with red and orange leaves. I love that song.

Today, Jonathan Schwartz, a superb recontour and music historian who I listen to on Siriusly Sinatra (Sirius Radio) featured the music of this gentleman; playing a song from every album he ever made with another performer.

Thank you, Jonathan.

He began with a wondereful rendition of a Shearing standard, "Lullaby In Birdland" caught on tape live with Mel Torme (my man). George actually sings the beginning and then Mel slips up to the microphone to bracket the words with scat and charm.

George accompanied so many fine performers, among them the aforementioned Mel and also other folks such as Nancy Wilson, Nat Cole, Joe Williams and recently, John Pizzarelli.

His ease at the keyboard was something to be marveled at and his arrangements of standards were beyond belief. Listen to Pizzarelli singing "Indian Summer" and then as Shearing layers the melody with "Song of India". written by the classical composer Rimsky-Korsakov. How perfect.

George and Nat
And his humor? Though born in England and blind, he never leaned upon his blindness for pity but found laughter in many things. There is a great live recording in which George muses out loud to the audience how different might love songs be if we inserted the word "lunch" rather then "love".  We would get, "Lunch is Just Around the Corner", or "Lunch for Sale", "I Lunch Being a Girl". Well, the list is funny and endless

We have his many Capitol recordings and others as permanent time capsules and  audio scrap books of a charming man.

You will be missed, George.

(C) 2011 George Locke

Monday, February 7, 2011

O'er The Ramparts We Watched

It is a difficult song to sing already. In the key of Q fonk (minor); most folks have a tough time keeping their larynx from jumping out of their throats. But then you add words....well, let's just say not everyone can finish it without straining their birds.

Francis Scott Key, as we know, penned the poem, "In Defence of Fort McHenry" in 1814 after witnesing the flag of our fledgling country still proudly waving in a stiff breeze off Chesapeake Bay one chilly September morning after the aforementioned fort was bombarded by British ships in the harbor.

A Capt. Armistead had instructed a woman named Mary Young Pickersgill , along with her daughter and two neices to sew an enormous American flag (30 x 42 ft) to be displayed over the fort for identification by other ships and fleets, both friendly and hostile.

The tune? Well, Key had written a song celebrating our young navies victory over Barbary pirates in Tripoli and used the melody to a song called "The Anacreontic Song", a mouthful in itself and a drinking ditty penned not by him, but, by some young fop for a club composed of wealthy amatuer musicians in London.  He fingured..."Hey. I've already got a tune and it fits." And so, a song to inspire and a tune to shriek was born.

Incidently, this tune ("The Anacreontic Song") was first published in America in Portsmouth NH way back in 1804. I knew we could find a connection somewhere.

Who could forget Roseanne Barr at the San Diego Padres game in 1990; scratching her crotch and spitting after she mutilated the song?

Far more meaning full was Jimmy and the "rockets" and "bombs" dropped from his Strat. Or Marvin Gaye with a soulful rendition at an NBA all star game.

And you should hear Brother Ray's version of "Oh Beautiful For Spacious Skies (America the Beautiful)". Now that is some singing.

I've always felt that song should be our national anthem.

But even yours truly, mike gripped tightly in hand, gave a try at the beginning of a "Fisher Cats" AA baseball game in Manchester NH a few years ago. Until you have several thousand people staring at you as you stand all alone on home plate, you have not felt fear.

So Christine goofed. Let it go. She missed a line or two, but she gracefully looped around it and finished. The only problem I have is the ululations and note warbles that so many diva's dwell upon; as if to remind us that they can sing. My advice. We all know you can sing. You wouldn't have been invited, otherwise.

And, unless you're Marvin Gaye or Jimmy Hendrix, leave the thing alone.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

This Man Will Attend My Funeral

Jackie O'Shea
Do you have a list of things you would like to have at your funeral?  It's not as ghoulish as it may seem. And it doesn't hurt to prepare..

John Barry
One of the characters in "Waking Ned Devine", Jackie O'shea , played with warmth and believability by Ian Bannon, speaks at a 'mock funeral' for Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly), who, by the way, is part of one of the funniest scenes in any movie. Just imagine an almost naked old man ( he is wearing a helmet, after all) on a motor bike.

At the church, where all are gathered, he mentions how wonderful it might be if you could attend your own funeral and listen to what folks said about you and perhaps get up and say a word or two yourself.

To be able to listen to the music sung or played, to play the guitar or banjo and sing a verse or two from "The Parting Glass". Ah. It would be grand, would it not?

My funeral request list would include a large slice of music.

 Live musicians and some recorded stuff.

The recorded items would include Vaughn William's "Variantions on a Theme by Thomas Tallas", and the sound track from "Dances With Wolves" (1990) by John Barry.
Barry passed away yesterday. He was 77 and one of the most prolific composers for movies who ever stepped gracefully from the British isles.
His themes are so glorious that at times they bring tears to my eyes. That is one of the prerequisetes for any music. I must be moved. Ralph Vaughn Williams does this. Beethoven, Tchycovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bernstein, Richard Rogers and Copeland all fill me with joy and passion.

And John Barry, perhaps most of all. One only has to listen to a few bars of  John Dunbars Theme and a whole panalopy of images are opened. The sweep of prarie-land flows like a river of greens and yellows.  It is vast, and sprawls before you as a lone wagon crawls to the horizon, leaving behind crushed grass wakes.

In Zulu (1964) we see Michael Caine for the first time in a starring role as he saunters on horseback into camp, his heavy lidded eyes displaying class conflict. Barrys music, deep with horns and cymbals, leads him into Rourkes Drift, where, on January 22nd, 1879, he, along with 150 regular soldiers and colonials from the 24th Regiment of Foot succesfully defend an attack by approximently 4000 Zulu warriors.

"Rather then 'talkie-talkie' things, I've always like movies with excitement and adventure" he was qouted in an article for the "London Guardian". And adventure aplenty.

 Barry was born in John Barry Pendergast in Northern England where his father owned a chain of movie theaters and became immersed in the Hollywood genre from a very early age. He studied to be a classical pianist, but also picked up the trumpet and founded a jazz group, The John Barry Seven in 1957.

Shaken Not Stirred
 Seven seemed the number to follow him through out his life, as he also scored many of the James Bond films, starting with "Dr. No". Did he compose the famous guitar riff we hear at the begining of this decades old franchise? Well, there was a law-suit brought by another musician, Monty Norman,(by the way the song the famous signature riff came from is called "Good Sign, Bad Sign". Try that piece of trivia on a Bond buff sometime) and Barry paid him several thousand dollars to settle it. But in my book......well, I can't think of Bond without putting Barry in the mix.

 Besides the Bond Batch, he composed music for "Born Free" (1966) for which he received 2 of his many Academy Awards, "The Lion in Winter" (1968), and "Out of Africa"(1985) were nominated along with the soundtrack to "Midnight Cowboy" (I didn't know that!)  "Body Heat", "Somewhere In Time", "Peggy Sue Got Married" "The Cotton Club" and, yes, other then Jar Jar Binks, George Lucas' greatest bomb of all time, "Howard the Duck".

He had a knack for pulling emotion out of a movie that enhances the image beyond the natural visual experience. John Barry used an orchestra and his uncanny skill to bring you through the film and into the story.

In my mind he stands on solid ground beside Korngold, Newman, Ifukube, Bernard Herrmann, Mancini, John Williams and Max Stiener; to name just a very few of the men I consider giants in a field that holds few who could claim such a title.

Here is a link to a wonderful Youtube film quilt of great composers. Enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIo9b48UUy0

He leaves a wife, four children, and five grandchildren and an insulating blanket of music behind.

I wonder what his "funeral list" might have included? Several hours of wonderful music would not suffice. Lets make it an all week affair. Heck, Bond will take several days.

(C) 2011 George Locke