He left Brooklyn many years ago but Brooklyn never left him. His childhood was a rich gumbo of passions: the Dodgers, radio shows, comic books, 78 rpm records, stickball, punchball, movies, and of course the Dodgers. From these ingredients his life's main interests were formed: jazz, classical music, writing, and (still) baseball. Brooklyn also gave him Brooklyn Girl, who has been his best friend for more than half a century. One lucky kid.
Today, four days after Jackie Robinson
Day, I had a conversation that transported me back sixty-six years.
I was doing my post-swim shaving at the
JCC when I noticed that Arnold had returned, after about four months
of sightseeing in faraway lands. I was glad to see Arnold again,
especially since he still owed me five dollars from a bet we'd made
on the U.S. presidential election. (Why didn't I make it a hundred?)
He paid his debt manfully, and I, ever the gentleman, didn't even
charge him interest.
But Arnold couldn't leave it at that;
he had to get in a face-saving dig. "You may have won the bet,"
he said, "but you have to admit Obama's been a failure as
I registered my disagreement in the
strongest terms, and the ensuing conversation went something like
ARNOLD: Tell me one thing Obama has
ME: He passed the most important
health-care legislation since Medicare.
ARNOLD: Feh [or something that sounded
like "Feh"]. (This, mind you, from a Canadian who has
always enjoyed single-payer health care, and has never had to live in
the U.S. without coverage.) Come on, tell me one thing he's done.
ME: He got Osama bin-Laden.
ARNOLD: Are you kidding? Come on, what
has he done?
ME: He inherited an economy on the
verge of collapse, hemorrhaging jobs, and put it on the right course.
ARNOLD: Oh, please. Tell me one thing
ME: He saved the U.S. auto industry.
ARNOLD: Feh. [That word again.]
By this time, it was clear that nothing
I could say to this fellow would earn Obama any credit. Suddenly it
was 1947 again, I was eight years old and listening to Bob Feller
and certain New York tabloid sportswriters disparaging Jackie
Robinson's abilities, claiming he wasn't really of
major-league calibre; and I realized (not for the first time) that Obama, like Jackie, would
have to be twice as good as everybody else to get the same
amount of respect.
I will spend Arnold's five dollars with
[The music, appropriate to the situation, is from the CD shown below: Becky Kilgore, vocal; Dan Barrett, trombone; Eddie
Erickson, guitar; Joel Forbes, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.]
the late 1960s-early 70s when we were living on Eastern Parkway and
Brooklyn Baby really was a baby, I used to listen to a classical disc
jockey known simply as Watson. It was Watson who introduced me to the
glories of the tragically short-lived tenor Fritz Wunderlich. If I
remember correctly, Watson's program on WNCN ran from 10 or 11 p.m.
to 6 a.m., so it wasn't unusual to hear him just before going to
sleep, then again during breakfast the next morning before catching
the subway to work. As "dessert," Watson would often end
the program with a memorial tribute to Wunderlich, who'd been killed
in 1966, age 36, in a fall from a stairway in a friend's hunting
lodge. Nearly half a century after Watson's early-morning "desserts," Wunderlich continues to enrich my musical life.
Wunderlich repertoire, ranging from the 17th century to the 20th, was
not that of your typical superstar tenor. He sang Bach, Gluck, and Handel, Schubert and Schumann lieder,
Mahler, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg. Above all, he was the greatest Mozart tenor I've
celebrity is not usually the reward of the Mozart tenor, even a great
one. In an aria such as Tamino's Dies
Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön from
The Magic Flute, you can't hide behind emotive vocal
gimmicks, or dazzle with elaborate ornamentation, or bring down the
house with a succession of high C's. The unadorned melodic line fully
exposes the singer's control, lyrical technique, and purity of tone.
When sung at its indicated tempo, andante sostenuto, Don Ottavio's "simple" aria Dalla sua pace from Mozart's Don Giovanni is a fiendishly difficult challenge -- and a thankless one, as its emotional climax requires the tenor to nail extraordinarily low notes (from 3:45 on). (Pavarotti rarely ventured into Mozart. When he recorded this aria, the tempo was a bit fast, ignoring the sostenuto part, thus slighting the sheer nobility of the melody.)
Wunderlich was also the definitive interpreter of lighter, more popular European fare, including operetta favorites by Lehár and Kálmán. Here, mit schmaltz, is a beautiful example: Leo Irwin's Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame.
Leo Fall's O Rose von Stambul.
Now if you're wearing socks, grip them tightly lest they be knocked off by the Wunderlich version of Agustin Lara's Granada.
The Canadian government has eliminated the penny. From now on, all prices will be rounded up or down to the nearest nickel. Since it costs 1.6 cents to manufacture each penny, this sounds like an eminently sensible step to take. I won't miss the coin. When pennies accumulate in your pocket -- and they do -- the results are unsightly and unwieldy; they bulge, weigh a lot, and make more meaningful coins more difficult to find. Eventually the pennies get transferred to a desk drawer, where with the passing years the collection grows ever larger. When the penny's demise was announced, Brooklyn Girl and I lugged our weighty sack of coins of the realm to a supermarket, where we dumped them into a huge penny-counting machine and wound up with about forty bucks. I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from us. I was right. Now I can shop with a light heart, and pockets to match. I wonder what you benighted, penny-laden souls south of the border -- you with the holes in your pockets -- think of this development. A nickel for your thoughts.
(The music: Nat King Cole, piano and vocal; Oscar Moore, guitar; Johnny Miller, bass; 1943.)
Because of Brooklyn Baby's love of guitar wizardry (which on this blog constitutes "overwhelming popular demand") it's time to revisit Oscar Alemán, last showcased here. The producers of this excellent two-CD set have included in the booklet the above transcription of Alemán's solo on Sweet Sue, recorded in 1938 -- your chance to read along or play along or, if you're Annie Ross, sing along with Oscar. As interesting as it is to see the shape of his improvisation, a transcription conveys just a fraction of a great jazz performance. What you won't see in black-and-white is that wondrous Alemán sound, vibrato, and sense of swing.
playmates on this occasion were Svend
Asmussen, violin; Henry Hageman, tenor sax; Helge Jacobsen, rhythm
guitar; Alfred Rasmussen, bass; Bibi Miranda, drums. If ever
there was proof that jazz is the quintessentially American music,
this is it: an Argentinian guitarist, Danish violinist, Brazilian
drummer, plus four other musicians of Scandinavian origin, recorded
The Boswell Sisters: Helvetia ("Vet"), Martha, and Connie.
were still living on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn when I bought my
first Boswell Sisters LP, so my love affair with them goes back at
least forty years. The Boswells recorded in the early
1930s, but age cannot wither, nor custom stale their infinite variety
(as some fellow once said). The Boswells didn't just sing songs; they
interpreted, reinterpreted, and audaciously reinvented them, usually accompanied by the likes of the Dorsey
brothers (then young, unknown studio musicians), Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Bunny Berigan, and Manny Klein. Each Boswell performance is a musical adventure, a
suite in miniature with changes of tempo and mood, soulful solos by the incomparable Connie, shifts from major to minor and back
again, and unexpected forays into the blues, all presented with
unfailing musicianship and swing.
decades many fans and historians, obsessed with categories like
"pop" and "jazz," didn't know quite what to say
about the unclassifiable Boswells - and not knowing what to say, they
said very little. Happily, this situation, customarily known as
"shameful neglect," has been changing for the better. Devoting seven insightful pages to them, Richard Sudhalter is the
first jazz historian I've read to give the Boswells their just due.
More heartening news: in a lovely interview, here, with Vet's
granddaughter Kyla Titus, we learn that a Boswell Sisters documentary
and book are coming. I can hardly wait.
renewed interest in the Boswells would be meaningless, solely the
domain of specialists and nostalgists, if their music didn't still
have the power to charm and thrill and delight us. To me the most moving testimony to the Boswell Sisters' enduring appeal
can be found in the spontaneous comments from viewers -- most of
them Boswell newbies -- accompanying this YouTube clip of Crazy People from the 1932 movie The Big Broadcast.
really love that music... i don't
why, I'm 15 years old!"
This is good. I'm 13 years and i think
music industry sucks. If i ever be a singer, which i hope, then i
would like to be like the boswell sisters or andrews sisters. Not
like todays talentless singers."
one can pull off something like this today as there is TOO much
'affectation' and trying to sound rock-ish or like soul singers with
lot's of vocal tricks. Don't get me wrong, there are amazing talents
today, but, THEY ARE ALL
It's like it's either gangster rap or pop poop. LOVE the old gems
like this where folks just got into the real music and wow'd ya! Very
this way too many times a day! :)"
wish we listened to more stuff like this... i mean this is REAL
people like me love this....thank you for the best trio
and i luv this and no one else does..."
know, rap isn't
only kind of modern music."
incredible! What ever happened to this music? Now it's about killing
people and getting high. So sad. I love the '20's and '30's music!"
"This is much sexier than the music videos they make nowadays -
because them girls who drag themselves nekked on the floor don't
nearly have as much talent,
you're not gonna feel any affection towards them"
a cute song. i'm a really new bozzies fan, i mean i just literally
got into them yesterday. i love that's how rhythm was born and the
my affection. and THIS." "Damn,
wish I was born
years earlier... incredible stuff and real musicians who can actually
sing and aren't just eye candy."
just insanely good. I'm staggered by the technicality and ease with
which they pull it off every time I watch it." "i
love this song sooooooo much and this is coming from a teenager, they
sure could rock it out for it being 1930 somethin'. But that connee
sure could belt on out"
15 years old, but I love music like this."
i listen 2 hip hop but dats
cant hold back the tears. It is sad that beautiful music like this
doesnt exist anymore.The music industry just
down hill from year to year..... I will forever love the Boswell
Sisters and the Andrews Sisters!! BTW...I aint old people. I am still
young and only 23yrs old."
in Heaven this is the greatest two minutes of my life. This humbles
all of rock n roll, it is so daamn funky. Jesus Joseph this could
beat The Devil in a
watched this video every day for the past 5 days and i still can't
get enough of it. Perfect in every
of the word." "Really
enjoy there style and I just found out about them. So many years I
didn't even know they existed!
ending was awesome! oh and they're gorgeous too" "So
to scream! They sing together like one instrument - brings tears to
Dear GOD, Why? Can`t People Sing Like
Today? So Many Times Singers Today Use Unnessary Voice Tricks, And
Have No Soul. These Girls Had IT All."
- can't get this brilliant tune outa my head! thanks so much for
sharing it - i'd never ever heard
They are SO GREAT!!! SO tight,
in tune, GREAT arrangement!"
the only comment I felt compelled to edit. One YT viewer of Crazy
People looked at the total number of "likes" (many) and
"dislikes" (one) and said:
dislike!!?? what m*************
of s*** disliked this song!!!!!!"
Finally, this plaintive request: "i
want theyr autograph." You
want? You got.
you're hearing the Boswells for the first time and find yourself
hooked, my advice is simple. Sample them on YouTube, then buy or download their
records. All of them. Read all you can about them. Your next forty years will be enriched, just as my
last forty years have been.
To get you started, here's Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia. I love the introduction led by Larry Binyon's flute. (Is this the first recorded jazz flute solo? Inquiring minds want to know.)
Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo in which Connie reinvents the second strain as a 12-bar blues.
River, Stay 'Way From My Door, with Tommy Dorsey's trombone deliciously quoting Swanee River as a counter-melody.
Finally, the Boswells' theme song, Shout, Sister, Shout.