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Tag Archives: Great American Songbook

A Return to Earth and Johnny Hartman

After having dropped off the face of the blogging earth, so to speak, I am feeling rather giddy to have returned. I’ve missed writing and reading about movies and books and hope everyone is doing well and having a lovely fall. It’s been a beautiful autumn where I live. How about your autumn?

I’ve actually stacked up a lot of different things I would like to write about: Japanese cinema, Jo Stafford, a new book about jazz and pop singers that is dangerously addictive to read, a few movie reviews of film noirs, some observations about American hard-boiled writing. But perhaps the best place to begin is with Johnny Hartman.

Johnny Hartman never achieved the success he deserved during his own lifetime and even now is not as well known as he should be. He has a meltingly lovely voice. When the word mellifluous was created, surely that person had Johnny Hartman in mind.

He was primarily a singer of ballads, which was part of his difficulty, because he was singing ballads at a time when rock and roll had stormed in. Perhaps if he had been singing a decade earlier, he would have been better known.

He inadvertently became known as a jazz singer when he collaborated with John Coltrane on their brilliant album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, though he was also a pop singer. Will Friedwald, in the dangerously addictive book I mentioned called A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, wrote that “The basic sound of a Johnny Hartman performance touches on all three sources: jazz, adult pop, and cabaret.”

He was also, according to Friedwald (and it’s difficult to argue), “one of the greatest of all interpreters of love songs.”

It wasn’t just a question of a deep, sensual voice, which he surely had: it was his romantic attitude. ‘There was a sentimentality to him,’ his longtime accompanist Tony Monte put it. ‘He was in love with the idea of being in love, and he [continually] expressed that idea. He would sing about it, and he would speak about in his patter. He would look out wistfully in the audience and say he was going to dedicate the rest of the show to the beautiful women out there and to the men who brought them, and who were paying such great attention to them. And it wasn’t just a little piece of theater, he meant what he was saying.’

In honor of Autumn, which is coming to a close, here is Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane’s rendition of “Autumn Serenade.”

And “The Nearness of You,” written by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington. This song can just about melt a person.

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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in Music

 

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Girl Crazy (1943)

Songs by George and Ira Gershwin, a dance choreographed by Busby Berkeley, an appearance by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, an early appearance from June Allyson, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland doing what they do best? Who could ask for anything more!

George and Ira Gershwin’s 1931 musical “Girl Crazy” is transformed plot-wise, but many of the songs are kept, most notably “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” Fascinating Rhythm,” and “But Not For Me,” all songs that have become standards.

Danny Churchill (Mickey Rooney) is the playboy son of a wealthy publisher who is sent out west to an all boys agricultural and mining school (not that we see much agriculture, mining, or school…just horse-riding and singing). There is, however, one girl present. The granddaughter of the dean (Guy Kibbee). She is Ginger Gray (Judy Garland), who is in charge of the school’s mail and drives the rickety car.

She is not, however, impressed by the east coast playboy, though he is more than impressed with her. He has to prove his love and prove that he’s not a quitter at the school and save the school from closing down by attracting applicants…by staging a musical rodeo. They thus manage to get the “let’s-put-on-a-show” plot line into the story.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were amazing and seem to be able to do pretty much anything. Mickey Rooney sings and dances and plays the piano with Tommy Dorsey and does physical comedy and is a wonder to behold. He also has a sweet chemistry with Judy Garland. It seems like in so many of Judy Garland’s movies, she is pining away for her wayward man, it is nice to see things reversed with Rooney trying to win her.

Judy Garland was twenty-one in Girl Crazy and she looks fresh, alive and lovely. She had a hard life and in many of her later movies you can see it on her face, but in Girl Crazy she still looks as if she has the whole world before her as she enters womanhood. She just about glows.

She also could seemingly do anything: comedy, drama, sing, dance, etc. She always had a good sense of comedic timing, but could then turn around and rip your heart out with a song. In Girl Crazy, the song is “But Not For Me.”

The musical “Girl Crazy” in 1931 is the musical that made Ethel Merman a Broadway star. Judy Garland’s role was played by Ginger Rogers, but Ethel Merman introduced “I Got Rhythm”and blew everyone away. In the movie, the song becomes a Busby Berkeley choreographed western extravaganza with Garland, Rooney, Tommy Dorsey and many others. It’s a rousing way to end a film.

I’m always rather in awe of Judy Garland’s dancing. It’s not that she’s Cyd Charisse or even Eleanor Powell, but she always gives the appearance of total ease and rightness. It’s a joy to watch her dance and she always makes it look good. So often, now, I feel like singing and dancing is all about making it look like the performer is working hard, but Judy Garland looked as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

My sister and I have often talked about how comedians and people with good physical comedic timing often seem to be able to dance. It’s not that they are the most technically proficient, but that they have a physical lightness and adroitness that translates well to dance. Judy Garland has that same ability. For me, not only could she never sing too many songs, but she could never dance to much.

This is my contribution to “The Judy Garland Blogathon,” hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. To see all the posts for this blogathon, click here.

Judy Garland breaks one’s heart.

Mickey Rooney fails to make an impression on Judy Garland.

 
17 Comments

Posted by on June 10, 2017 in Movies

 

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“My Funny Valentine”

My Funny Valentine” was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the musical “Babes in Arms” in 1937. Oddly enough, the song did not make it into the 1938 film adaptation with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney (they passed up having Judy Garland sing that song!), but has since become a standard. And since today is Valentine’s Day, here are a number of interpretations of this lovely song.

Ella Fitzgerald

Barbra Streisand

Chet Baker

Miles Davis

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Movies

 

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