R is for jazz violinist Regina Carter. Regina started taking piano lessons at age 2 but she switched to violin at 4. As a teenager she played with the Youth Division of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She began studying jazz in college and, upon graduation, she began working with some of the top names in pop and jazz music. She released her first solo album in 1995. In 2006 she was awarded the MacArthur Fellows Program grant for her outstanding work. Here’s a video of Regina performing “Lady Be Good” (Gershwin, Gershwin 1924).
Back when I wrote a post about Victor Borge, who also claims to have started taking lessons at 2, I called “no way.” But since two musicians now claim toddler tutelage, I decided to check into it. Sure enough, You Tube has at least one video of a two year old playing at a piano recital. I guess I just have to eat my words (which is okay because my words are quite chocolatey and delicious.)
O is for guitarist Mary Osborne. Mary’s started learning to play piano and violin at age 5 but she was given her first guitar at age 9 and immediately knew that was the instrument she wanted to play. She got her first professional gig when she was still a child, performing on a local radio show. She was paid in Hershey bars. By her teens she was playing with a jazz trio and by her 20s she moved to New York City. Mary worked with several jazz and R&B artists through the 40s, 50s, and 60s. In the 70s, she and her husband started a company that sold guitars and amplifiers and she also taught at Cal State and the local school for the blind. She also managed to record a few more albums in the 70s and she continued to perform live periodically through the 1990s. Here is Mary in 1958 with Coleman Hawkins performing on “Art Ford’s Jazz Party.”
A friend of mine posted an article about another O related topic on Facebook the other day. It seems University of Oregon football fans are making an ‘O’ shaped hand gesture to show their team spirit. It looks like this.
Some Helpful Hannah in the blogosphere pointed out that this hand gesture is also American Sign Language for that most intimate part of the female anatomy. I’d like to add that the tongue out facial expression that this young lady is displaying and that I saw on other photos of fans adds a new dimension of meaning to the sign as I’m sure you can imagine.
The funny thing is that, because this is such an easy sign to make, it’s apparently used quite often with young children. The first time I saw it was my daughter’s “Books and Babies” class where the teacher had the toddlers sign it as they sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Then it turned up again when I watched 30 kindergartners use it while singing the praises of Christmas trees. I, of course, did what any concerned and conscientious parent who is fluent in American Sign Language would do. I sat there and quietly giggled into my fist like a 12-year old until it was over.
PS- I did actually have a quiet word with both teachers after the performances were over. But honestly, as long as no one in the audience knows sign, then no harm done as far as I’m concerned.
M is for trombonist/arranger/ composer Melba Liston. She got her first professional gig in 1943 working in a big band with Gerald Wilson. She went on to work with Dizzy Gilespe, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and an amazing list of other bebop dignitaries. In the 1960s, she began collaborating with Randy Weston. Their working relationship continued through the 90s. It was with Weston that Melba created some of her most celebrated work as a jazz arranger. She also spent some time in Jamaica as professor of music at the University Of Jamaica. Here’s Melba performing “My Reverie” with Quincy Jones’ band.
And now it’s time for another episode of “Attention Deficit Theater” in color! I wondered whether Melba Liston was related to boxer Sonny Liston so I looked it up. They aren’t related. But my search to uncover that fact led me to a list of famous Listons. It turns out Listons, on the whole, are a pious bunch. Most of them are ministers. It made me curious about famous people with my last name. It turns out we are mainly musical but there is a mass murderer in the mix so that’s a point of pride for us. The killer in the mix made me curious about what last name bred the most murderers. (By the way, don’t to that search unless you really love reading incredibly bigoted and narrow minded commentary.) I couldn’t find info on the last name but the most common first names are Earl and Duane/Wayne. Lucky we have names like Wayne Shorter and Earl Hines to balance out the unpleasantness. Wait, where was I? Oh yeah, Melba Liston is awesome!
I is for Ivie Anderson. Ivie is best known for her work with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. But she also appeared in several musical shorts and a few feature films including the Marx Brothers “A Day At The Races.” Ivie developed chronic athsma in 1942 which cut her career and her life tragically short but she did leave a decade’s worth of fantastic music. Here’s a Duke Ellington soundie featuring Ivie singing “I’ve Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good.”
When Ivie contracted athsma, she quit singing and opened a chicken restaurant. I noticed that quite a few women on this list opened small businesses after WWII when the demand for female musicians fell sharply. I learned, in order to encourage women to leave factory jobs, there was quite a push in some states for women to open small businesses that capitalized on their “domestic skills.” This is just one more example of why it’s good I wasn’t born in the olden days. My domestic skills would have been way too advanced for the so-called “greatest generation.” For example, my “Complaining While Bilious” business plan is clearly more suited for the Facebook age. Please contribute generously to my Kickstart page.
C is for Clora Bryant. Clora is a vocalist and a trumpet player. She started out as a singer but she took up the trumpet in 1941 when her brother left his behind when he went to fight in WWII. She landed her first professional gig in 1944. By 1948 she was touring with the Sweethearts of Rhythm (we’ll see them again). She was the only female musician ever to perform with Charlie Parker and she was first American female jazz musician to perform in the Soviet Union where she was invited by Mikhail Gorbachev himself. She released her one and only album “Gal With A Horn” in 1956. Shortly thereafter she took time off to raise her 4 children.
As of last year, Clora was still appearing annually at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival. She can no longer play the trumpet but she still sings and presides over a jazz history panel. Here’s a cut from Clora’s album, “This Can’t Be Love” (Rogers and Hart 1938).
I watched a film of Clora at the 2010 jazz festival and I think am a little bit in love with her now. Despite all the obstacles she must have faced as a female musician of color in the post WWII era, she seems to recount only fond memories of the time. I think perhaps the true secret of longevity is being able to wade through the sea of crap life often throws us to find the golden moments then hold those most dear. At least I hope that’s the secret of long life because if it really is eat right and exercise I am totally screwed!
Hello blog reading world! Here’s a nifty version of “Whistle While You Work.” The song was written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey for the 1937 movie “Snow White.” This version is performed by Satchmo so how can you go wrong?
I have said it a million times before but, since I love to hear the sound of my own typing, I’ll say it again. I love the *movie* “Snow White” but I do not like the *character* Snow White. That’s why I decided that I wanted to rework the story to give the girl half a brain. I’m on day 70 of my 100 day novel writing project and its going quite well. I like the story a lot. The writing is decidedly “first drafty” but hopefully that’ll get better when I edit.
My “Snow White” still ends up living with little dudes and talking to animals. She also gets a Prince Charming (though his role is almost as minor as his movie couterpart). Other than that, she’s pretty different from movie Snow White who is a freakin’ princess about to rule a kingdom. Maybe she should know better than to take food from an “old lady” with a “heart condition” who shows up in the middle of the nowhere with no visible means of transportation to “sell apples” in a completely unpopulated area. Especially when she knows there’s a magical person somewhere out there trying to kill her! Okay I know, it’s just a movie, I should really just relax, but c’mon!
PS- Writing a book is fun. I’m just dropping a line here to tell anyone who’s listening that I haven’t forgotten this blog.
“You Must Believe In Spring” is a pop song written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand. I wasn’t able to find out much more about it except that it’s been recorded by several other artists. It is a beautiful sentiment for the day.
It’s been 10 years since 9/11. People all over the country are commemorating the event in whatever way they feel is appropriate. Some are displaying flags and watching the footage while others find the rehashing of events hollow. I think all the ways people choose to process this tragedy are valid and right.
I started the morning discussing it with my daughter who wasn’t born at the time. She learned about it at school and she had some questions. I answered her as best I could because I believe that education is the best way to fight terrorism. I also tried to play this song of hope for her. But she thought the music was too sad plus it has the word “kiss” in it (Ew Mom!) She turned up her nose at the whole affair then skipped out to play in the sun (which, thankfully, continues to shine even 10 years later). Personally, I think that might be the most fitting commemoration of all!