Posted on April 27th, 2011 13 comments
I wish I lived in Hollywood. Hollywood CA, not FL…where I work…because there’s no one in the movie biz that does anything in Hollywood, FL. I’ve had a theater company, wrote a dozen plays, and have had a few really good ideas for flicks…but not a damned connection anywhere.
So here’s my beef: Hollywood has been churning out some really good flicks lately, but most of them are either re-hashes of old ideas (Avatar) or out-right remakes (Gone in 60 Seconds), plus a couple sequels made 20 years too late (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull Thingy, Tron II). All good movies, but not really very original. Well, maybe the Crystal Skull movie. Maybe that one was a little too original.
Anyway, it seems that new ideas are at an all time low, except for those wonderful film makers who are lucky enough to get their indy films produced…and we all know 99% of the time, they (unfortunately) go no where. If only I had the ear of a big-shot movie producer (with some brains) for just a few minutes…
Ella Fitzgerald: Girl Singer
This wouldn’t be a documentary. This would be the story of how Ella first got hired by Chick Webb, back when she was just a kid. Web’s band was starting to lose popularity (his was the in-house orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom in NYC), and he sent out word for a “pretty girl singer” to front the band. This was a fairly desperate plea, considering the kat was extremely ill, knew he didn’t have long to live, and didn’t want to buy the farm as a failed bandleader.
His manager, I think, found Ella singing in a talent show. Supposedly she had never sung in public before, and floored this guy. He brought her right over to Web, who proceeded to throw a fit (Ella was not the prettiest kid on the block…in fact, her looks were kind of…well, he didn’t dig her). But the other guy talked him into letting Ella audition, and Webb realized they had struck gold. And they did…in fact, Ella became the star that Webb never could on his own, and he died (at the young age of 30), from what I’ve read, pretty happy with his girl singer. Hell, the guy even adopted the 17 year old girl singer! Ella actually took over Web’s band, and had it for years before the turn of times forced her to go solo.
Along side this story you have the story of Benny Goodman, Chick Web’s nemesis. Goodman, being a well-to-do white guy, found it (relatively) easy to gain exposure and popularity compared to Webb…and get this…using the same charts by Fletcher Henderson that Webb used. Exactly the same. You could do that back then. Goodman favorites like Stompin’ at the Savoy, Don’t Be That Way and Blue Lou were first done by Webb’s orchestra, same arrangements, but with a somewhat different swing. That’s Jazz, baby. Anyway, Goodman’s band was the first that Billie Holiday recorded with (in 1933), produced by probably the major name of the big band era (that no one has ever heard of), John Hammond. You’ve got to remember what a big deal it was for a “white” band to play “black” music in 1933, let alone have a black woman record with them. Those records were banned in a lot of places in the South. And Goodman’s band refused to play anywhere that wouldn’t welcome his black sidemen, such as Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and of course Holiday. Kats like Goodman did more to advance civil rights in the 30s than most people can imagine. Oh, and Peggy Lee was also singing with Goodman in the ’30s…a lot of people don’t know that, huh?
You see this movie taking shape? Paths cross…Ella, Goodman, Webb, Holiday, Hammond, Wilson, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw…and sidemen like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, Gene Krupa and Roy Elridge, Charlie Parker and Ray Anthony who went on to define the styles of Jazz, laying the groundwork for swingin’ kats like Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. Man, I’d pay for popcorn and a ticket to watch that flick! Wouldn’t you?
So if there are any big-shot movie producers out there who read Tiki Lounge Talk, please let me know if you dig the idea. We’ll draw up the standard ‘rich and famous’ contract.
-Tiki Chris P., reporting from the writer’s lounge
PS: I riff on the licorice stick, so I’ll be happy to play Benny Goodman. Call my agent. We’ll do lunch. And stuff.
Posted on April 25th, 2011 1 comment
Since it’s nearly the end of Jazz Appreciation Month, I thought it would be kool to spotlight one of the swingin’ kats that helped make Jazz (and Big Band music) as popular as it is today. See, when most people think of Jazz today, they think of the small combo bands of the 50s like The Modern Jazz Quintet or Dave Brubeck’s band. They think of Bop players like Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker, or smooth Jazzers like Stan Getz or modern swingers like Wynton Marsallis. Many people forget that these Jazz greats built on the styles that were created by early Jazz musicians including Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong…and that Jazz, as it evolved into the sounds of the Big Bands, was really made popular by the more commercial yet still fantastic legends of the era…Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller… So, here are both of Miller’s movies, with plenty of 40s Jazz in its original Big Band form:
Orchestra wives is a funny little movie about…you guessed it…the wives of the guys in the band, and how they travel around with their musician husbands. The chicks are catty as hell, the music is hot and jokes are typical of the time, that is to say they’re good. The real actors include George Montgomery, Anne Rutherford, Harry Morgan and Cesar Romero. Songs include the original version of At Last, I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo, Serenade in Blue and Bugle Call Rag, among others. The plot is actually not bad for a movie made to showcase a band, and the added entertainment of The Modernaires and The Nicholas Brothers makes it a lot of fun to watch. What’s kind of funny is watching poor old Glenn Miller (his character’s name is Gene Morrison) try to act. He’s as stiff as a double bourbon.
Sun Valley Serenade was the first of his two movies. This one features ice skater supreme Sonja Henie, John Payne and Milton Berle. The plot has something to do with the band taking on a Norwegian refugee as a publicity stunt…blah blah, watch it for the incredible music and fantastic dancing by Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers. In fact, this flick has the longest, swinginest ever performance of Chattanooga ever. In fact, it was this movie that song was written for…and became so popular it received the first Gold Record ever awarded. Additional songs include Sun Valley Jump, I Know Why and So Do You, and a very swingin’ version (better than the original in my opinion) of In the Mood.
What’s also great about these flicks is that all the music…for the first time for the Miller orchestra…was recorded on magnetic tape, not wax. So the sound is fantastic, full and vibrant, and all the songs from the movies are available on CD, sounding like they were recorded yesterday.
Miller’s band was a big, swingin’, hard-hitting Jazz band that was almost never referred to as a Jazz band. His charts were made for dancing, and even sounded a little corny at times (on purpose…songs like “I want a hat with cherries”). But the real purpose of the band was to swing, and to do it in a very tight, very professional way, with plenty of open areas for soloists to show off their true Jazz chops.
Glenn Miller’s orchestra became, and remains, the most popular and well-loved band of the entire big band era. It’s Miller’s music you hear in any movie that harkens to the 1940s. Songs like In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Chattanooga Choo Choo (The world’s first million-selling gold record) and I’ve Got A Gal in Kalamazoo remain some of the most recognizable songs of the last 100 years.
Riding that wave of popularity, Glenn Miller was asked to do some movies in Hollywood, as was the custom at the time. Miller was able to make two full-length features before he signed up for military duty in World War Two. Unfortunately, his disappearance prevented any more movies with the Miller band to ever be made.
Here’s the full segment of Chattanooga Choo Choo, including the entire orchestra, Tex Beneke on vocals and solos sax, the Modernaires, plus Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers. A side note: It’s a credit to the movie’s producers and Miller that they had no problem with black and white performers in the same scene in a movie made in 1941. A number of southern states refused to show the film because of this, and only showed it after editing out the dance sequence themselves. Man, we’ve come a long way.
Posted on April 23rd, 2011 2 comments
Since it’s Easter weekend, I wanted to give you kids a drink recipe with an Easter theme. I originally wanted to do a recipe for an Easter Island cocktail. Funny enough, after searching my library of Tiki drinks books and the vastness of Teh Interwebs, I found NONE. That’s right, it’s 2011 and still, apparently, no one has used the name Easter Island for a cocktail. So…all you Tiki-lovin’ bartenders out there, now’s your chance to make one up!
Anyway, the second idea was for something with a bunny. And what better bunny to celebrate than the Playboy Bunny. Sure, the Easter Bunny is great. But let’s face it, Peter Cottontail has about as much to do with the Easter Holiday as Marylin Monroe (the first Playboy Bunny, of course). Think about it…they’re both bunnies. They both have sweet candy that give away. One is covered in fur, one likes to wear fur coats. Both always looked stoned. And neither has anything to do with the religious aspects of the holiday..so, without further possibility of ticking off both religious people and those who love the Easter rabbit, here’s your drink recipe!
2 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Tequila
1 oz. Margarita Mix
1 oz. Orange Juice
1/2 oz. Pink Lemonade
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
1 tsp. Falernum (to taste…less if you don’t want it as sweet)
Yeah, it’s a big drink. Pour everything into a shaker and shake it up with ice. Serve in a margarita glass with a sugared rim, and garnish with a pink bunny peep. The drink should be a nice pinkish-red color. If it starts to look muddy, add some red food coloring!
Hoppy Easter from the sub tropics!
-Tiki Chris reporting from the Playboy Club, next to Pirate’s Cove Tiki Bar on Tiki Island
Oh, by the way…
Posted on April 18th, 2011 2 comments
Vintage Roadside, the hep cats who bring you lots of fun photos and vintage-style T-shirts from around the country, will present The Story of Aquarama at this year’s Hulilau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida!
From their invitation:
Please join us, along with very special guest Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, as we present “Beautiful Girls that Live like Fish: The Story of Aquarama” at the 10th Annual Hukilau!
We’ve spent years researching the history of the Aquarama and have created a presentation that includes original home movies, audio narration from the actual shows, promotional photographs, souvenirs from the gift shop, and memories from over 35 former Aquarama performers. We’ve also got a few surprises in store that we can’t wait to share.
Tickets can be purchased at the Hukilau website here:
This is going to be a swingin’ time, and I hope to see a lot of you kats & kittens there!
-Tiki Chris, reporting from the pool.
Posted on April 15th, 2011 3 comments
With Jazz Appreciation Month in full swing, I thought I’d feature a drink that sounded like it would be at home both in a dark mid-century Tiki Bar and a boppin’ basement Jazz club. Found this one in Shag’s Tiki Drinks Deck, a fun little pack of 52 drink cards with groovy Tiki art by Shag. With a name like
…how could it miss?
1 Shot Dark Rum
1 Shot Light/Silver Rum
1 Shot Vanilla Rum (Note: if you don’t have Vanilla Rum, try experimenting with Vanilla Vodka, Spiced Rum, or a few shots of pure vanilla extract at a time to get the desired taste. Desired taste is kind of vanilla-y.
1 Tsp. Marashino Liqueur (or cherry juice, or Grenadine)
3-4 Shots Mango Juice
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add all ingredients and shake it up well. Pour into a chilled Collins glass and garnish with a marachino cherry. Niiiiice.
Tiki Chris P. reporting from the Tiki Bar!
Happy Weekend, Kids!