Posted on January 24th, 2017 No comments
“La La Land”, Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle. Released Summer, 2016
It was announced today that “La La Land” has been nominated for an astounding 14 Oscar awards, including best directing, best picture and best original screenplay. Stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling both received best acting nominations. Oh, and don’t forget the seven Gold Globes the movie won.
If you haven’t seen it, you’re probably thinking, “So what’s all the fuss about?”
Answer: Beautiful cinematography, great story, fantastic acting and direction, incredible music; From the moody jazz clubs to the brightly-costumed dance numbers, everything about this movie screams the things we love. Fred and Ginger would have been right at home making this picture.
As my title says, this is a story set in modern-day LA, but is really a 1940s-1950s style musical, complete with traditional-sounding show tunes, dancing, and vintage décor. The music is incredible, featuring big band sounds, traditional jazz and modern influences blended together like a perfect musical cocktail.
Then there is the cinematography. Oh, how beautifully and carefully this atmospheric movie is filmed, each shot creating a specific mood while maintaining the vintage-esque feel throughout. Dreamy and cool, there’s a touch of magic…just as a 1940s musical should have. (For example, they say every jazz piece tells a story; in this movie, the jazz piano piece literally tells a story. Very cool.)
Beyond the music, the acting and the story are fantastic. Stone and Gosling effortlessly take characters who should be un-relatable to most people (an aspiring young actress and a bohemian jazz musician) and make them warm and inviting, even with their faults. The blossoming romance is real, corny, and magical all at the same time.
For people who dig vintage and mid-century fun, this a movie that is right up your alley.
The film has an overall Art Deco, Vintage & Mid-Century look and feel. Sets and locations are all about the past, including the Angels Flight Funicular Railway, The Colorado Street Bridge, and the very famous Griffith Observatory (the Planetarium in “Rebel Without A Cause”).
The tap dancing and jazz numbers (Gosling learned jazz piano for this role) take you back to the decades of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, perfectly choreographed and played for this vintage musical style. The music was scored for a 90-piece orchestra on the same stage as “Singin’ in the Rain”.
Gosling’s character, Sebastian, is a jazz transplant from the late 1950s, right down to his thin ties and choice of classic style cars (an early 1980s Rivera convertible at first, a 1980 Cadillac Eldorado convertible near the end). He is the symbol of tradition, of the past, to a fault – his career as a jazz musician is hampered by his unwillingness to change with the times. Once he begrudgingly evolves musically, opportunities begin to open for him.
Stone’s character, Mia, is a modern woman who seems at odds in the modern world (even though she doesn’t realize it). She has problems with modern electronics and doesn’t do well in scenes that involve her Prius. Yet she seems most at home in the vintage settings she discovers (the jazz clubs, period piece performances) and with the vintage-style man she keeps running into. It’s only when she embraces the past that she becomes successful.
Together, these marvelous characters both sing and dance though life in the style that made Fred and Ginger famous.
Personally, I think Fred and Ginger would love it.
And I think you will too.
-Tiki Chris reporting from the screening room at Tiki Lounge Talk
Posted on January 31st, 2014 2 comments
Swing back to a rehearsal hall in New York City, 1943. Those words, or something close to them were very probably spoken by the young bandleader as he coaxed his musicians into playing the lilting, modulating melody with a silky smooth finesse that would become part of the band’s signature style. The tune: Eager Beaver. The band: Artistry in Rhythm. The leader: Stan Kenton.
“Eager Beaver” was a sophisticated, swinging “riff tune” that featured Kenton on solo piano, engulfed in a true jazz orchestration that set the band apart from the traditional big band sounds of Miller, Dorsey, Shaw and Goodman. It was a hit – Kenton’s first big one – with growling tenor sax solo by Red Dorris and a crazy, loud and high-reaching trumpet section. The song would become so popular that it would be part of the Kenton songbook until his death in 1979. A sleeker, cleaner, definitive version was recorded in 1956 featuring Maynard Ferguson leading those high trumpet notes, and Vido Musso laying down the swingin’ tenor solo.
“Eager Beaver” laid the roots for Kenton’s “Progressive Jazz” style. Kenton and the band’s style was influential among musicians in the modern jazz, bop, west coast jazz and other styles that were forming in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. While Kenton’s style and sound progressed, Eager Beaver remained an important and steady chart in the Kenton library.
One of the things that always intrigued me about this tune was how flawlessly the arrangement combines the sounds of the saxes, trumpets and bones against a solid rhythm section. But the big things for me are 1) the tenor solo, and 2) the modulating ending.
The tenor sax solo was kick-ass before the term kick-ass was coined. The 1943 tenor sax solo had a growling, modern sound that was at least 10 years ahead of its time, forming the basics of what would become the Rhythm & Blues – and then Rock ’n’ Roll sounds of the 1950s sax players. The 1956 version by Vido Musso went a step further, being cleaner, more sophisticated and unique in tone and composition.
Now, the ending, that’s another thing altogether. As a young musician I tried desperately to get a copy of the arrangement to see how the modulations were written. But this was back in the 1980s, before the world was laid at our fingertips with the World Wide Web. I tried like hell to figure it out by ear, but it was beyond my ability.
A few weeks ago, on a whim, out of the blue, I typed “Stan Kenton Eager Beaver” into the eBay search box. Hot damn, Sam…this arrangement featured here came up for sale, cheap. I got it, of course.
Those of you who can read music can check out the Tenor and Alto sheets below. You can see how each verse at the end steps up, integrating with the next verse in such a fantabulous way that that the listener doesn’t even realize what is happening…they just know they are hearing something cool.
For those of you who don’t follow sticks (notes), the best way I can explain what’s happening is that at the end, the melody “steps up” a note each verse, but in such a way that the last note of the first verse becomes blends in with the second, stepped up verse so you don’t even realize there’s been a modulation. Crazy, sophisticated jazz, man.
Below are two videos of the riff. The first is a “soundy” from the early 1940s, giving you an idea of the original version of the song (it sounds like it’s been sped up a little in the video.) The second is the 1956 version, clean and cool, much closer to the way Kenton would have sounded live.
The 1956 version of Eager Beaver
Below here are the sheet music pages from the 1944 Robins Music arrangement. Follow along with the saxes at the end to dig the modulation.
You can see that his sheet music was well used; someone even added their own section at the tenor sax solo (underneath are the chord progressions for the tenor solo).
This sheet music is also great because it features several ads to buy more sheet music. Talk about a captive audience!
There seems to be a cocktail recipe for every song title ever recorded. Eager Beaver has not been spared, but the recipe is kind of dull compared to the complexity of the song (It’s also probable that the cocktail was invented independently of the song, and refers to the person eager to complete a task, or a chick who is hot to trot, which no doubt is whom the song is named after.)
– 2 oz rum
– 3 oz coffee liqueur
– 1 oz orange liqueur
Mix everything together in a shaker with ice; shake and pour over cubes in a highball glass. To “jazz it up” a bit, use spiced rum, and garnish with an orange slice and cherry. Good stuff.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this jazzy trip down a road that doesn’t get nearly as much travel as it should. I hope I opened some of you up to a cool tune that was recorded at the very start of the modern jazz era, and that it will inspire you to check out more by the master musician, Stan Kenton.
-Tiki Chris reporting from the listening room at Tiki Lounge Talk
Posted on June 4th, 2013 9 comments
Fans of MAD MEN know that music plays a fairly important role in the series, but when it comes to individual characters, music generally takes a backseat.
So, I was wondering what kind of albums the character of Don Draper might have on hand. We’ve heard him play classical music at a dinner party; we know he doesn’t dig the Beatles. But that’s about it.
So what kind of music does Don Draper dig?
I think, in order to answer that question, first we need to answer, “What kind of music does Don NOT like?”
Well, lets take a look at his past: He grew up in the 30s & 40s, when big bands played the most popular music in the country. There were swing bands and sweet bands, and they dominated the music scene. It’s safe to say that big band swing and jazz were probably what Don heard most as he was growing up, along with more “localized” music that probably included country/western and folk. Since he considers his childhood a complete bust, I’m going to lay my chips on big band, jazz vocals, folk and country/western as being the kind of music that Don Draper (well, Dick Whitman, actually) hates with a passion. Hell, he might even go into a cationic fit whenever he hears “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” for all we know.
It’s also a safe bet that Don wouldn’t be into Rock ‘n’ Roll. Let’s face it – Rock ‘n’ Roll was considered “kids music” back in the 1950s, and had a very small adult following. Don was already an adult (in his 20s) when he was in Korea (somewhere between 1951 and 1953), so like most men of the era, he probably dismissed RnR as kiddie pop.
Don has never showed us a side of him where he sits and listens to sophisticated music, whether it be jazz or classical, for the pleasure of it. He sits in front of the tube a lot, but we never see him play an album (except for the Beatles song, which he completely dismissed). So it’s probably safe to say that he has never really bought a record for the enjoyment of the music. Unlike Meghan, who’s life revolves around music and acting, for his character, it’s just not that big of a deal.
Posted on August 21st, 2011 No commentsOne of the most prolific and influential bands to come out of the big band era was that of Count Basie, a Kansas City outfit that could swing harder and jazzier than any of the big name bands that came before it. The Count’s band had some of the best sidemen in the jazz world riffing along, and led by Basie, those men and that band went on to become the quintessential full-sized swingin’ jazz band. From his most famous hit April in Paris to playing live at the Sands Casino with Frank Sinatra, there are few other jazzers that had such a long and exciting career as Count Basie.
So on the Occasion of Count Bill Basie’s Birthday, here’s a few videos of the great Count Basie Band.
One O’Clock Jump
April in Paris
I’ve Got You Under My Skin, with Frank Sinatra
And my personal favorite, Corner Pocket, written by the infamous Basie band guitarist Freddy Green, a guy who never played a chord the same way twice. Listen to the execution, the perfect swinging groove these cats laid down back in 1962. The cool and swingin’ solos. The way the sections play together perfectly as to sound like a single, swingin’ horn. This one is also my favorite because I was lucky enough to have played lead tenor and tenor sax solo on this same arrangement in my college big band, 20 years ago. We, of course, were no where near as good as Basie’s band. But it felt good playing his music anyway.
-Chris “Zoot” Pinto swingin’ from the music studio at Tiki Lounge Talk
Posted on July 26th, 2011 1 comment
A little known and underrated movie for sure, Delovely is the almost fantasy-like tale of the flamboyant (and very private) life of one of the most beloved songwriters to ever grace us with his insurmountable talent, Cole Porter.
With an outstanding performance by Kevin Kline, you’ll believe your actually seeing and hearing Porter himself from first few seconds of the opening scene. An incredible supporting cast includes Ashley Judd, Johnathon Pryce, and a stage-full of cameos by some of the “Biggest Names in Showbiz” including Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole…the list goes on.
A portrait of Cole Porter’s life, the story is presented as a fantasy musical biographical stage-show being produced at the end of Porter’s life. He leads “the director” through flashbacks of his colorful life, and we learn about Porter’s previously very secret lifestyle through these scenes…filled, of course, with Porter’s songs woven into the story. The “Show” scenes are very noir, dark, often sad. The “Flashback” scenes are generally uplifting and jubilant. Great juxtaposition adds to the charm.
I don’t want to give anything away…it’s fun discovering things about this incredible man and his accomplishments and contributions, his marriage to the love of his life, and the hidden meaning behind some of his very risque lyrics (Let’s just say I’ll never think of “Your the top” and “Blow, Gabriel Blow” the same way again.)
The movie is a perfect little time capsule of 1920s-1950s America and Europe, with exquisite sets, costumes, and storyline that any vintage music lover will instantly love. Unfortunately the movie was not a hit; the box office was disappointing, critics and audiences are split down the middle on whether it’s a masterpiece or a long-winded semi-musical bomb. Who is right? Well, if you’re like me…and if you read this blog you are…then you’ll get it, and you’ll love Delovely.
My only complaint about this flick is that (probably for time constraints) some of the best songs are cut off, or just grace the background of a scene. But don’t worry, the soundtrack is available on Amazon.com.
Sit back with a bottle of champagne, a dinner of Chateaubriand, and if you’re the emotional type, a box of tissues, and enjoy this truly incredible movie.
Here’s the original trailer:
-Tiki Chris, reporting from the sound stage at Star Dust Studios, Florida