Pretty in Pink, Promising in Jazz
May04

Pretty in Pink, Promising in Jazz

Okay, here’s the big news: Molly Ringwald is not quite a jazz singer—not if she aspires to the command and confidence of her idols, like Ella Fitzgerald, or even to the stylistic distinction of her recent interview buddy Jane Monheit. But listening to Ringwald’s new album, Except … Sometimes, and trying to nail down which classic pop singer Ringwald most resembled, I got the distinct flavor on certain high, sustained notes of a quite...

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Can Seth Save the Songbook?
Feb19

Can Seth Save the Songbook?

Update, Feb. 25. The votes are in, and not just for the Academy Awards, but also for Seth MacFarlane as host of the Oscar telecast. As predicted, MacFarlane simultaneously offended and entertained both critics and commenters to various degrees, but observers seemed surprised with his array of talents as singer and announcer, if not as comic cum host. (See links at bottom.) Several bloggers seemed to have no familiarity with MacFarlane...

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Hard Times for Easy Listeners
Jan16

Hard Times for Easy Listeners

The recent passing of Patti Page has prompted a reexamination of the curious reign of Easy Listening, the music style and radio format that devolved from jazz between the eras dominated by Big Band and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Anyone alive in the 50′s remembers the ubiquity of performers like Lawrence Welk, Liberace, Perry Como, and Dinah Shore, who led the soft parade via hit TV shows, and the 60′s (and even 70′s)...

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Digging for Gems in the Music Mines
Jun14

Digging for Gems in the Music Mines

As someone who now has an iTunes library (my second, the pre-rock one) of almost 3.000 songs, I’m finally starting to develop the mindset you expect to see with dedicated (some say rabid) music collectors. I get both excited and irritated when I run across a song I’ve never heard—or heard of—and want it for my collection. I generally stick to songs or albums that I really like or consider historically important. I’m not a completist,...

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Review: McCartney’s Kisses
Feb28

Review: McCartney’s Kisses

Hugs by Krall, Clapton, & Co.   Of all the pop stars who have issued tribute albums to American pop standards, Paul McCartney is in some ways the least likely to wind his way down the nostalgia lane. In other ways, you might wonder why it took him so long. After all, he was the Beatle who sprinkled the group’s later records with his takes on very old-school arrangements, “When I’m 64″ being probably...

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The Importance of Being Oscar
Feb28

The Importance of Being Oscar

In March, PBS will air a new documentary on one of the seminal figures of 20th-century songwriting, Oscar Hammerstein II. The film is hosted by Glee‘s Matthew Morrison, who was part of the revival cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, the award-winning production that played Lincoln Center from 2008–2010. (Morrison sang “Younger Than Springtime” and “You’ve Got to be Carefully...

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The Astaires: Life Before Ginger
Feb02

The Astaires: Life Before Ginger

A new biography shines light on one of the great forgotten stars of American show business, Adele Astaire, who left show business after a 20-plus-year partnership with her younger brother Fred, and watched him go on to become one of the most revered stars in the history of American musicals and movies. In The Astaires, Australian researcher Kathleen Riley reminds us that Adele was the unquestioned star of the dancing act the young...

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Frank Loesser’s Centennial Roll
Mar26

Frank Loesser’s Centennial Roll

Frank Loesser’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opens March 27 with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role. See scenes from the new production here and click on this link to buy tickets. Frank Loesser, like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, was one of the few creators of great American musicals who wrote both music and lyrics. He began his career as a lyricist, but it became clear that his melodies—sometimes...

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An Appreciation: Hugh Martin
Mar14

An Appreciation: Hugh Martin

Update: March 15, 2011: A great, great retrospective of Hugh Martin‘s and Ralph Blane‘s interviews and performances through the years with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross of NPR is here. Into his 90′s Martin’s Southern charm was intact. Another legend of the American Songbook has passed from the scene. Hugh Martin, writer of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” died in early March at the age of...

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Frank: A Man and His Videos
Mar11

Frank: A Man and His Videos

Shout Factory, one of the classiest repackagers of classic pop material, has released the Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music TV specials in a new DVD set. These performances are well known to songbook video fans.  Three of the shows represent the Chairman of the Board in the mid sixties with his powers  intact and his collaboration with Nelson Riddle still in peak form. The fourth show is an early-80′s finale to the series with...

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Video: Songbook and Ads—BFFs

Update, Feb. 19: Winner and new champion: Royal Caribbean’s commercial featuring Hal Kemp’s “It’s Winter Again,” with vocals by Skinnay Ennis. See the commercial and hear the full original track (as posted on YouTube) at bottom of this post. Even taking into account a wealth of recordings, DVDs, and concerts of music from the American songbook, these days people probably get their most frequent exposure...

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Nat’s TV Show on iTunes!
Feb25

Nat’s TV Show on iTunes!

The classic Nat ‘King’ Cole television show, which aired in 1956 and 1957, has found new life in a surprising place other than broadcast museums and YouTube—the iTunes store. Of 64 episodes that Cole hosted and on which he performed with some of the greatest names in pop and jazz, fewer than three dozen have survived, and iTunes is making about 30 of them available in the coming weeks—four episodes at a time. The Cole...

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Whither Wainwright?
Feb24

Whither Wainwright?

Update, February 27, 2011: Rufus Wainwright’s opera Prima Donna will be staged by the New York City Opera in spring of 2012, the company announced. Here is the page from Wainwright’s website, with a brief video. Below is a consideration of Wainwright’s 2006 recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert, a seminal event in pop-music history. (The comment about Christina Aguilera takes on new meaning...

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“Christmas” in August

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” (and you thought Mel Brooks was the first composer to command that his name be placed above the title) is coming to Broadway for a limited run during the holidays. The stage version of “White Christmas” has been playing in various towns around the country for years, but apparently, as a limited-run show, never made sense economically for New York. One can only hope the show provides a fraction of the...

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One Enchanted Evening (Mostly)

Update, December, 2010 I  hope that those who didn’t see this show in person caught the hi-def telecast on Live from Lincoln Center this past fall—definitely a gem for your permanent collection. July, 2008—It’s been a very good year for anyone in New York who loves or studies the American Songbook and its foundation in the Broadway musicals of the pre-rock era. There’s been a concert production of Kern and Hammerstein’s...

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