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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

ELLA and SATCHMO

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

My two favorite singers of the Jazz era were Ella and Satchmo, who often sang duets. Here are some short bios about them.

Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. During her wonderful career she became known as the “First Lady of Song” and queen of jazz. Her smooth voice and technical skill remain unmatched in the jazz world now decades after her death.

Fitzgerald got her start at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem when she was just 17 years old. She had intended to dance during her performance, but a prior dancing act intimidated her so much that she decided to sing instead. She won first prize for the night.

Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the pleasure of working with Ella). She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in common –––– they all loved her.

 

Personally, I, too loved every song she sang with, or without, accompaniment. However, my really most favorite songs were those she sang with Louis Armstrong.

She won 13 Grammy Awards over the course of her life, including one at the inaugural show in 1958. She also received the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement.

 

Louis Armstrong , the great jazz musician was born on August 5, 1901, in New Orleans. He earned the nickname “Dippermouth” as a boy singing for pennies on the streets of New Orleans. He would scoop up the coins and stuff them in his mouth so the bigger boys couldn’t steal them. Later, his effusive style of playing, in particular the way he blew high C’s on his trumpet, would earn him the name “Satchelmouth,” later shortened to “Satchmo.”

Armstrong was born in Storyville, the poorest neighborhood of New Orleans. He worked for a family of Russian Jews delivering coal to prostitute’s rooms. The Karnovsky’s were kind to him, helping him buy a tin trumpet. Because of them, he wore a Star of David pendant for the rest of his life.

As a teenager, he honed his skills playing dances, funeral marches, and riverboats. He met jazz greats like Bix Beiderbecke, Sidney Bechet, and King Oliver, who welcomed him to Chicago in 1924. From 1925 to 1928, he and his band, Louis Armstrong and The Hot Five, made more than 60 records, which influenced everyone from Wynton Marsalis to The Beatles, whom he displaced in 1964, when his rendition of “Hello, Dolly!” knocked them off the number-one spot on the Billboard Charts.

 

The records by Louis Armstrong and His Five–and later, Hot Seven–are the most influential in jazz. Armstrong’s improvised solos transformed jazz from an ensemble-based music into a soloist’s art, while his expressive vocals incorporated innovative bursts of scat singing and an underlying swing feel. By the end of the decade, the popularity of the Hot Fives and Sevens was enough to send Armstrong back to New York, where he appeared in the popular Broadway revue, “Hot Chocolates.” He soon began touring and never really stopped until his death in 1971.

The 1930s also found Armstrong achieving great popularity on radio, in films, and with his recordings. He performed in Europe for the first time in 1932 and returned in 1933, staying for over a year because of a damaged lip. Back in America in 1935, Armstrong hired Joe Glaser as his manager and began fronting a big band, recording pop songs for Decca, and appearing regularly in movies. He began touring the country in the 1940s.

In 1947, the waning popularity of the big bands forced Armstrong to begin fronting a small group, Louis Armstrong and His All Stars. Personnel changed over the years but this remained Armstrong’s main performing vehicle for the rest of his career. He had a string of pop hits beginning in 1949 and started making regular overseas tours, where his popularity was so great, he was dubbed “Ambassador Satch.”

In America, Armstrong had been a great Civil Rights pioneer for his race, breaking down numerous barriers as a young man. In the 1950s, he was sometimes criticized for his onstage persona and called an “Uncle Tom” but he silenced critics by speaking out against the government’s handling of the “Little Rock Nine” high school integration crisis in 1957.

Armstrong continued touring the world and making records with songs like “Blueberry Hill” (1949), “Mack the Knife” (1955) and “Hello, Dolly! (1964),” the latter knocking the Beatles off the top of the pop charts at the height of Beatlemania.

The many years of constant touring eventually wore down Armstrong, who had his first heart attack in 1959 and returned to intensive care at Beth Israel Hospital for heart and kidney trouble in 1968. Doctors advised him not to play but Armstrong continued to practice every day in his Corona, Queens home, where he had lived with his fourth wife, Lucille, since 1943. He returned to performing in 1970 but it was too much, too soon and he passed away in his sleep on July 6, 1971, a few months after his final engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

He made many records with other singers, but his very best of these

Handel’s Largo

Monday, April 16th, 2018

A few years back, when RCA records issued a boxed set of 100 favorite Boston Pops recordings made by Arthur Fiedler, they included Handel’s celebrated “Largo.” Over a hundred years earlier, the Theodore Thomas Orchestra had established this melody as a favorite with 19th century American audiences. Back then, Handel was best-known for his sacred oratorios, and his “Largo” acquired a kind of honorary “halo” by association. Also, the Italian text for the melody began “Ombra mai fui,” and since “ombra” meant shade, many music lovers probably assumed it had something to do with the dear departed shade or spirit of a loved one—hence its melancholic solemnity. In fact, this melody originated in a decidedly secular, downright whimsical context: as the opening aria of an opera by Handel that premiered in London on today’s date, April 15, in 1738. The opera was entitled “Xerxes,” and dealt with the real-life Persian King who invaded ancient Greece. In the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes is depicted as an all-powerful despot, whose every whim became law. As evidence of the irrational effect of absolute power, Herodotus tells of Xerxes’ fondness for a certain plain tree that he ordered decorated with gold ornaments and put under perpetual military guard as a sign of royal favor. In Handel’s opera, the famous “Largo” is actually Xerxes’s dreamy song to this famous tree—and the “shade” referred to is the sort to be found

Mozart and Constanza/A lovely Tale

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Mozart at his happiest? A little tale whose truth we will never know. But, whether it is true or not, it IS a lovely story.

If Mozart’s widow, Constanza, is to be believed, the happiest days of Mozart’s life occurred in 1780, when he was 24 years old and writing the music for “Idomeneo,” an opera that had its premiere performance in Munich on today’s date in 1781. Mozart had good reason to be happy. For starters, the best orchestra in Europe, the Mannheim Court Orchestra, had relocated to Munich, and that orchestra would be the pit band for his new opera. The lead role was being written for Anton Raff, a famous tenor of his day, and, even better than that, there were some exceptionally talented—and exceptionally good-looking—young sopranos in the cast as well. Mozart promptly fell in love with one of them, a strikingly beautiful diva named Aloysia Weber, but ended up marrying her sister Constanza instead. By contemporary accounts, Aloysia, with her high cheekbones and magnificent carriage, was close to the ideal beauty of the day. But Mozart came to appreciate Constanza’s more sympathetic personality, not to mention, in his own words, her “two little black eyes and pretty figure.” Mozart had written several operas already, but music historians are right when they say the canon of truly great Mozart operas begins with “Idomeneo,” an opera that must have been, literally and figuratively, a labor of love.

Song Writer, Hoagy Carmichael

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

November 22nd is the birthday of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, born Hoagland Howard Carmichael in 1899 in Bloomington, Indiana. Hoagy got his nickname from a circus performer who once lived with his family. Carmichael’s parents were a horse-and-buggy driver and a piano player for silent film, and his mother got him started playing the piano when he was six years old. Carmichael joined the Army one day before the end of World War I, then came home to Bloomington to play piano for high school dances.

On visits to Chicago, Carmichael got acquainted with speakeasy jazz and was a fan of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. The speakeasy scene set him up with a gig smuggling champagne, and he used the money to put himself through law school. Though his parents were supportive of his musical talents, Carmichael was eager to leave his poor roots, especially after his sister died from diphtheria — a “victim of poverty,” Carmichael said.

Law degree in hand, Carmichael barely got the chance to practice. He formed a band, began to write music, and by 1926 had penned his first hit, “Riverboat Shuffle.” After that, Hoagy dove into music full-time. His career took him to New York and eventually to Hollywood, where he wrote for soundtracks and appeared in many films.

His 1929 hit “Star Dust” quickly became a standard. By 1963, “Star Dust” had been recorded more than 500 times — the century’s most recorded song — and its lyrics had been translated into 40 languages. “Star Dust” was named by a friend, who said of the song: “That one’s all the girls, the university, the family, the old golden oak, all the good things gone, all wrapped up in a melody.”

Carmichael wrote “Star Dust” during a nostalgic visit to his alma mater, Indiana University, while recalling an old girlfriend. He said: “This melody was bigger than I. It didn’t seem a part of me. Maybe I hadn’t written it at all […] I wanted to shout back at it. ‘Maybe I didn’t write you, but I found you.’”

Handel Advertises His Wares

Monday, October 30th, 2017

An interesting tidbit from the 18th Century. From my friend, Dan Garshman.

Handel Advertises His Wares

On October 29 in 1739, Mr. George Frideric Handel took out an advertisement, announcing that he was now accepting subscriptions for his new set of 12 Grand Concertos for strings. He had, in fact, finished the first concerto one month before, on September 29th, and spent the next five weeks polishing off the other 11 at the rate of one every two or three days. Handel’s publisher was John Walsh, Jr, who had a shop in London at the sign of the harp and oboe in Catherine Street on the Strand. In addition to being a music publisher, Walsh also billed himself as “instrument maker to his Majesty.” One hundred twenty-two copies of the music were to be printed and sold at a pre-publication price of two guineas each. His Royal Majesty, George II, and the Prince of Wales were not among the initial 100 subscribers, but the list did include three royal princesses and the Duke of Cumberland, and two copies each were sold to the Academy of Music in Dublin and a certain Mr. Charles Jennens. It was Mr. Jennens who was to provide the text for Handel’s next major oratorio, “Messiah,” and the city of Dublin the venue for its famous premiere. So, in 1739, just as today, it pays to advertise!


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