Welcome to the latest phase!
Friday, May 13, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Today being April 28, my wedding anniversary, I glanced at the Wikipedia almanac page to see what other momentous events occurred on this day. What caught my eye immediately is that this is Blossom Dearie's birthday. She was born April 28, 1924. And I defy anyone to think of Blossom Dearie without smiling.
For the uninitiated, Blossom Dearie was a wonderful bop-style jazz pianist (her first solo LP, “Blossom Dearie Plays 'April In Paris,'” was all instrumental), but she was most famous for her distinctive, little girl voice. Depending on the mood of the song, it could be playful, heartbreaking or hilarious. You could practically hear her famous platinum blondness in her helium-high vocals.
If you don't know her, I'm sad for you, but not surprised. She passed away two years ago in her Greenwich Village apartment, and despite making many highly-regarded recordings, Blossom remained the ultimate Manhattan cult act. She could never fill an arena in Sheboygan like Lady Gaga, but her acolytes were just as slavishly devoted as Gaga's little monsters are to her. Blossom may have played small cabarets and clubs, but only she had the juice to insist that her shows start at 5:30 pm so she could get home early, and her audiences would actually show up at 5:30! She was also reportedly the first act ever to insist that the audience not smoke when she was on stage. And because she was Blossom Dearie, they snuffed out their butts. If you came of age during the non-smoking era, you have no idea how revolutionary a change that was. Most nightclubs used to be smokey enough to cure hams in.
For you poor deprived souls who've never experienced Blossom, here is a link to her rendition of one of my favorite songs, Gershwin's “Little Jazz Bird.” I hope you enjoy it as much as my houseful of rescued parrots do, and that it encourages you to seek out more of her recordings and YouTube videos. And if you'd like to hear some funny personal stories about her that never could've made it into her obituaries, click here and here for a remembrance by my favorite contemporary singer, the dazzling Mary Cleere Haran. We also lost her very recently, but that's another tragic story that I don't want to think about when I'm celebrating my anniversary and Blossom Dearie's birthday.
How about you? Are you a Blossom fan, or have you become one after checking out some of these links?
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Monday, April 25, is the most sacred of holidays to a singer like me: it is the late Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday.
I grew up worshiping Ella Fitzgerald, which was not typical of most kids in the rock era. My school friends probably had, at most, a vague notion of who she was. But I was lucky to be born into the household of a renowned Big Band sax/clarinet player, and my musical horizons had expanded far out of the pop mainstream. A precocious jazzman, my dad Bill Ainsworth played for Tommy Dorsey while still in his teens and ended up backing the fledgling Frank Sinatra. Thus it is that, years later, I grew up hearing Frank, Peggy Lee, Nat “King” Cole, Mel Torme, Jack Jones, and, of course, Ella Fitzgerald. My dad not only played their records, he actually played with many of them.
To me, Ella was the absolute greatest of them all. Though she could scat and soar with an inventiveness and sophistication that shames today’s over-the-top pop artists, I came to love her most for the rich, pure, perfectly-pitched voice that blended deep chest tones with a headier resonance as she advanced far up the scale. (She could have trained as an operatic mezzo-soprano with unbelievable results). She had such a natural way with the lyrics, too. When the beauty of that voice was placed with the most wonderful songs ever written and simply gorgeous arrangements, nothing could touch the results. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I am able to sing her songs in her exact keys and produce notes in the same range with similar vocal technique. She really did help teach me how to sing! That’s why my debut CD, “Keep It To Yourself,” includes the classic, “Midnight Sun.” I wanted to include my own take on one of Ella’s songs that I’ve studied the most to help me develop as an artist.
I saw Ella perform live with my dad only once. She was performing at the legendary Fairmont Hotel Venetian Room, and my mom and I got in on “comp night” for band members’ families. She was very old by then, with choppier phrasing and a little rasp to her voice, and coping with serious health problems. But she was still fabulous. Years later, I asked my dad for some little “inside” story about her that no one else knew. He said she’d spent her entire stay quietly in her hotel room, watching her favorite soap operas. Apparently, Ella in her later years grew to be quite a soap opera addict. She’d watch soaps all afternoon, come down and wow her adoring crowds, then head straight back up in the elevator to her beloved TV.
I wonder if Ella, if she were starting out today, would even get anywhere in the modern music marketing machine. She had enough trouble in her day conforming to the glamorous image stars were supposed to have. And I contend that looks are more important now than ever. She’d probably have to win a contest, as Susan Boyle did, to get a record contract. Of course, they’d make fun of her on national TV for being frumpy. Then they’d insist she lose 50 pounds, give her an extreme makeover and PhotoShop her like crazy.
If we hadn’t lost Ella in 1996, she would be turning 94 on Monday, and probably still sound better than most modern singers. In her honor, I plan to listen to her version of Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Just think – if she’d been born a century earlier, before the miracle of recorded sound, that voice would’ve been lost to the ages. But we’re lucky; we get to enjoy her voice forever. As her famous commercial for audiotape used to note, it may not be live, but thank God it’s on Memorex.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
He does both gorgeous ballads and hilarious comedy songs, and he'll be with Roy Zimmerman, whose satirical songs have been praised by the god himself, Tom Lehrer. This is a rare chance to see one of the top New York cabaret stars in Dallas. It's Mon. Feb. 22. Tickets are just $15. Phone 214-821-1860. You can also go to www.pocketsandwich.com and visit DC's website to learn more about him and hear his music. Hope to see you all there!
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Another thing I've been very busy with is recording my first album. I have found some fantastic songs, some quite surprising, that hopscotch genres and eras from the 1920s to today. There are serious ballads, gorgeous standards, and a few things that are obscure and hilarious. I took the songs to my partner, the jazz pianist other jazz pianists worship as a god, Brian Piper, with my ideas for how I wanted them to sound. He turned them into brilliant arrangements; played keyboards and sang backup vocals; and brought in some of the greatest jazz musicians in Texas for the sessions at Crystal Clear Studio. The players said they had more fun than on any other session they've played this year, and I think you can tell that from their playing. We're in the mixing stages now, and it should be out by late spring/summer. When it's ready, we want to throw a CD release party, so I hope you'll join my Facebook fan page to get on the invitation list!
Turning to the news, Newsweek offers something near and dear to my heart: examples of the most egregious uses of PhotoShop in recent years. I hope they're wrong about the Dove campaign doing retouching on those women. If the campaign for real beauty gals had to be PhotoShopped to look presentable, then what hope do any of us have?
Finally, I just discovered an artist I have to learn more about. Rachel Hovnanian creates artworks inspired by contemporary aspects of beauty, from pageants to bottles of anti-aging creams. Her work is on exhibit at the Dallas Art Fair this week. I went to a great panel discussion Tuesday afternoon and got a chance to meet her. I'm really looking forward to going back and seeing more. Mark your calendars!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Today, two things: Interesting quote about Botox and plastic surgery from Mary Louise Parker in the new More magazine:
"Somebody told me that they'd read that I had all this work done and showed me a picture, and it was totally airbrushed...It made me so mad. I don't like what that says to other women. I'm 44, and I look OK for 44. I'm not trying to look 34."
Of course, in Hollywood, looking 34 could be the kiss of death for an actress. Heck, looking 24 is the kiss of death for a model. But she makes a good point: don't believe any photos you see in fashion or celebrity magazines. These days, a good PhotoShop artist can not only make anyone look like a movie star, they can make it appear that you're sitting in Abe Lincoln's lap, and for good measure, erase Lincoln's unsightly mole.
And here's a little something I wrote for our radio service, the Comedy Wire. I really love Susan Boyle and her whole story, but it was annoying to me that these TV singing contests keep getting judges who seem to know nothing about singing (David Hasselhoff is going to judge someone's singing? Really?) and never say anything remotely useful. So after Susan made her second appearance on "Britain's Got Talent," singing "Memory" from "Cats," I decided that if nobody else was going to say anything constructive, I would. So here it is:
When a voice breaks the way Susan's did at the very beginning, it's often because the pitch is in the singer's passaggio, or transition area. (A passaggio is sort of like a car shifting gears.) Different singers have different passaggios; for instance, one of mine is around C#-D above concert A.
Singing through it requires breath and volume control. Susan's song was probably pitched so it would be in her "glory spot" for the end; unfortunately, that gave her a more difficult note to start on. My guess is that she had a little stage fright - how could she not? - which caused her first breath to be too shallow. It's challenging to control volume on a first note, too, because you haven't heard yourself yet. She probably tried to sing that note at a higher volume than her breath could support. Result:CRACK!
Susan seemed to sense the problem; did you notice that she touched her diaphragm? Very soon, everything evened out and she sounded wonderful.
Okay, that's it, and I promise it won't be so long before I post again.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
A terrific documentary called "America The Beautiful" is playing right now at the Mockingbird Lane Angelika Theater. We saw it last night and met the director, a very nice man named Darryl Roberts. If you enjoyed the satire of beauty obsession I do in "My Ship Has Sailed," then you'll really appreciate this film, which examines the unrelenting pressure to meet an artificial standard of physical perfection. It covers everything from fashion magazines to anorexia to cosmetics to plastic surgeons who aren't really plastic surgeons (but they play them on reality shows) to some outrageous comments on women from a group of toxic bachelors, all tied together by the story of the rise and fall of a wannabe sexpot supermodel who is all of 12 years old. It's funny, informative, inspiring, heartbreaking and occasionally bone-chilling.
The director said that if the film pulls good audiences this weekend, the theater will hold it through the week, and that in turn will encourage other theaters to show it. If not, it's gone by Monday, which would be tragic. He urged people to tell their friends to see it this weekend. So I am telling you, and I hope you'll pass it along to everyone on your e-mail lists as well, to please get out and see this film before Sunday!
To learn more and see the trailer, click here.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Come travel back through time with us to the '20s, '30s and '40s, to the days of glamorous penthouse soirees and chic Broadway opening nights, with such great songs as "Night & Day," "D'Lovely," "Let's Do It," "Love For Sale," and many more, including some hilarious rarities you've probably never heard, like "The Physician" and "The Tale of the Oyster." You won't think you're in Cow Town anymore, Toto!
Tickets are available through Bass Hall at 817-212-4280 or click here to get them online. You can click on the "Tell Me More" tab to learn more or go here to see video. Hope you can join us! It'll be swelligant!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Two Beverly Hills plastic surgeons recently surveyed colleagues to find the most requested celebrity body parts, and the Star tabloid figured that if you combined them all, it should create the perfect face. To find out, they pieced together a photo of a woman with Katie Holmes' eyes, Katherine Heigl's nose, Keira Knightley's cheeks, Jessica Simpson's long blonde hair and Angelina Jolie's lips; and a photo of a young man with Daniel Craig's blue eyes, Leonardo DiCaprio's nose and Matt Damon's lips.
To be perfectly frank (or perfectly Frankenstein), the woman just looks to me like a lot of women who’ve had too much plastic surgery, and the result of stitching all those perfect young male parts together is a face that looks surprisingly like a young Jay Leno with a smaller chin. I guess this means Jay Leno is just one chin surgery away from perfection.
Ironically, if Jay Leno went to a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, he’d probably come out looking exactly like a young Jay Leno with a smaller chin.
I suppose if a woman didn't want to have all that done to her face, she could just get Dolly Parton's breasts. Then she'd never have to worry about any man ever looking her in the face again.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Monday, February 25, 2008
But in order to maintain that essential illusion, Hollywood actresses will each spend untold thousands on designer gowns, hair color and extensions, weeks of intensive personal workouts, radical “cleansing” diets, diamond-particle “signature” facials, fat injections, wrinkle fillers such as Radiesse, subtle “one-stitch” facelifts for 30-something actresses, “spot” lipo to smooth every molecule of bulge, foot surgery to help them stand in stilettos, dental bleaching, and even calming doses of anti-anxiety drugs. If the Hollywood economy lost billions of dollars during the writers stike, the money spent on looking beautiful for Oscar night should make up for it.
Jeez, if I had this much pressure on me to look fabulous, I’d probably be popping Xanax, too.
I haven’t even mentioned Botox yet. Goodness, movie stars photographed outdoors in the afternoon sun can’t look squinty, so virtually every one of them will be Botoxed on the forehead and between the eyes. Of course, some Hollywood stars will come close to mainlining Botox. A few will look very pointedly paralyzed. Botox is also injected into the armpits to keep stars from perspiring on the Red Carpet or while waiting nervously for that possible Academy Award. Finally (this is something I just learned about, in a more detailed article in the London Daily Mail), Botox is now used to RAISE THE CLEAVAGE and make breasts look more youthful. (With all the breast implants in Hollywood, I would hope the dermatologist would take extreme care using needles around breasts!) There’s even a special cleavage “facial” that’s essential for anyone wearing a low-cut dress.
Oh, and here’s a newly popular but squirrely idea: false eyelashes made of mink or squirrel fur! They cost thousands of dollars a pair, but it you take good care of them, they’ll last five to seven wearings. Madonna got some that were made of mink and diamonds.
If all this isn’t enough to make the actresses look drop-dead gorgeous, they’ll also be dripping with diamonds and other precious stones. Many will have every square inch of skin airbrushed the perfect glowy color. They’ll strut in Jimmy Choo shoes -- and if their feet don’t look perfect in them, there are anti-inflammatary injections. Also, did you know that celebrity makeup artists can charge several thousand dollars for creating just one Oscar-caliber makeup? Appointments are booked many months in advance.
Sometimes an actress can do all this and still be savaged by the snarky TV and tabloid critics. So I understand why stars want to look as lovely as possible. At the same time, we out here have to keep all their efforts in perspective. There is so much we can do to take care of ourselves and look like real, relaxed, healthy, beautiful women without obsessing about our looks the way narcissistic movie stars do. Really, who do you think would make the more interesting dinner companion – you, or a perfectly-manicured J-Lo in hair extensions and mink eyelashes?
Of course, it's possible the mink might be a better conversationalist than J-Lo.