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.)
P is for composer Rachel Portman. Rachel has written scores for television and stage but she is best known for her work in film. She is the first woman to win the Richard Kirk Award for composers who have made a significant contribution to film or television. She is also the first woman to win an Oscar in the category of “Best Original Film Score” for her work on “The Cider House Rules.” (1999) Here’s the lovely theme from “The Cider House Rules” with pretty but unrelated pictures of nature.
I had a passage planned about how today’s video is a doggie paradise (trees plus critters to chase), but I just got a call from my mom. One of my aunts passed away suddenly and unexpectedly today. I think I will just listen to this beautiful piece of music and remember her. RIP Aunt Dee.
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!
K is for Katherine Dunham. Yes, she is also a dancer but I stand by this selection because she is awesome! Katherine became interested in dance at a very young age. She opened her first dance school when she was 15. She studied dance and anthropology at the University of Chicago. Katherine was a pioneer in the field of dance anthropology and she founded the first African-American dance troupe in the country which she ran for 30 years. She disbanded the group when President Johnson made her a cultural ambassador to Senegal. She stayed active in politics and dance education until her passing in 2006 at the age of 96. Here is a spectacular clip of Katherine with her dance troupe from the movie “Stormy Weather” (1943).
I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but it seems to me that most people who achieve true greatness develop a passion for their craft at a very young age. It makes me wonder what’s in store for my Beautiful Girl. Almost as soon as she could talk she has been saying that she plans to be “famous” when she grows up. When she was 4 I put her in pee wee soccer and I knew right then that my girl was destined for… something that wasn’t soccer. While a dozen other preschoolers chased up and down the field after the (adorably tiny) ball, my baby was working the crowd! She waved at the grandmas, she danced and twirled and modeled her uniform for the parents on the sidelines and she proudly read the letters and numbers on her jersey to anyone who would listen. “What care I for your silly soccer skills” my girl’s antics seemed to say “I am a STAR!” She’s still not sure exactly what she’s going to be famous for but in the age of Kardashians, I really don’t think it matters. Whatever happens she’ll know that I, her number one fan, will be sitting in the stands enjoying the show.
PS- Also, I hope her standard 8-week celebrity marriage nets me some grandchildren!
Actor Sid Melton passed away November 2. He was 94. His career spanned nearly 6 decades and he worked on some of the best known, best loved television shows of all time. He worked in several feature films, two of which were featured on the show Mystery Science Theater 3000. There are plenty of clips on You Tube which feature the comedic talent of Sid Melton but few of them also feature music which is, after all, the purpose of this blog. I did manage to find this clip with the opening theme song for “Captain Midnight” which was Sid’s first television role. The music was composed by Don Ferris and Irving Friedman. The clip also shows the beginning of the episode which features Sid as Ichabod “Ikky” Mudd, the captain’s faithful and wacky sidekick.
RIP Mr. Melton
Check out this heaping helping of awesome that I found on the Cartoon Brew website. Many people say this is the very first 3D animated film ever made. It was made in 1972 by Pixar founder Ed Catmull and his collegues at the University of Utah. Portions of the film were used in the 1976 film “Future World.” It was digitized posted to Vimeo by Robby Ingebretsen, son of one of the men who helped make this film. You can read the story of the film’s discovery here. I know it’s a rogue and maverick opinion, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that I, for one, LOVE Pixar films!
The song is “Stardust,” performed by Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond (1953).
Nowadays animators have all sorts of fancy programs to help them render 3D movies and games but this is where it all started. It boggles my mind to think that this brilliant bit of hard work, innovation and ingenuity led to so much sloth, indolence, and underachievement in the nerd community. I’d love to talk more about it but there’s no time. I’m leaving work early to get home and join a Warcraft raiding party. Those giant zombie toddlers aren’t going to firebomb themselves!
PS- No sick days were harmed in the making of this post.