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thejazzmonger Cited in Ms. Magazine

Ms. Magazine, in its online edition of Feb. 23, 2012, offers an excellent article on the struggle of black actresses to find suitable roles in Hollywood films, from the very beginning to the present day.

The discussion is prompted by the current nominations of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscars, respectively. Should Davis or Spencer win, there will be much discussion of the fact that the first black person (of either sex) to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel. She won the  Academy Award in 1939 as Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind. The issue at hand is that McDaniel, Davis and Spencer are all cited for playing characters who are maids.
Author Janell Hobson writes about the struggles of the extraordinarily beautiful and talented Lena Horne to avoid being recast as an “exotic” (read “Latin”) instead of as a black woman. To her ultimate credit, Horne flatly refused and saw her film career wither.

Young Lena Horne

Beautiful, Supremely Talented - Lena Horne

Hobson discusses “Soundies,” musical performances by singers like Lena Horne and, especially, Big Bands such as the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra.When Hobson mentions “Soundies” she does it as a link to our story of June, 2009. (Link here: thejazzmonger on “Soundies”)

It is very gratifying to have an eminent publication such as Ms. cite our work.

Turning to the current controversy about film roles, let me say that I think it is a mistake to criticize, or otherwise demean, the roles and excellent performances presented by both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. The story told in The Help, book and movie both, is a good one. Their two characters are strong, vividly-drawn and, without doubt, women who are far more than their occupations. We should not be seeking to eliminate the existence of maids in films that depict an earlier time. What we need are stories, scripts and films that give life to people and stories of women who are not maids.

American-made movies have always had a dearth of strong roles for women, all women, really, but for black women, in particular. For a short period in American film history, there was a coterie of dominant actresses (Joan Crawford, Betty Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner) who “carried” films. IT was their name and, often, their name only that was above the title. The entire film was the story of the character, a woman, being portrayed by one of these preeminent actresses.

Consider just a couple of films from these four giants of an earlier era:

Barbara Stanwyck: The Lady Eve  &  Double Indemnity

Betty Davis:  Now, Voyager  &  Dark Victory

Lana Turner:  The Postman Always Rings Twice  &  Imitation of Life

Joan Crawford:  Mildred Pierce  &  The Women

Isak Denisen aka Karen Blixen

Kren Blixen (aka Isak Denisen)

What happened? Why did great stories and meaty roles disappear, for the most part, from American films? Sure, Meryl Streep is nominated every three or four years, and wins about as often. But too often she is getting the Best Actress nomination for films like Postcards from the Edge, Music of the Heart or The Devil Wears Prada. It was all the way back in 1985, in Out of Africa, that we last saw her stretch in a role that carried the entire film. I f an actress of Meryl Streep’s talent and stature can’t find a truly outstanding role in more than 25 years, what hope does a raft of talented but relatively unknown actresses have?

The problem, my friends, is  the lack of books & scripts about women. Isak Denisen’s book, Out of Africa, was published in 1937. Denisen (real name Karen Blixen) was a marvelous story-teller with a unique and intriguing personal history on which to draw.

One has to think that there are good stories about women, and women’s lives, that are just being passed over by Hollywood brass in favor of cartoon boys, remakes about CIA operatives

and Vampires. Nowadays, when Hollywood does give us a film dominated by females, it’s just a group of women making a female installment (Bridesmaids) of The Hangover.

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Jazz Clarinetist Walt Levinsky

You may not know him, but you have heard him.

Walt Levinsky (b. April 18, 1929 / d. Dec. 14, 1999) was a terrifically talented musician whose genius escaped the glare and hubbub of the “fame machine” by his own choice. A standout talent on the clarinet, alto saxophone &  flute, Walt was dubbed “the most talented musician that ever came to this school,” by the Woodwind instructor at the Music Conservatory where he trained in Anville, PA. [wikipedia]

Even before becoming a full-time professional, Walt started right near the top, with the Les Elgart Orchestra. His first full-time position was replacing the  noted Buddy De Franco in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He left Dorsey to enlist in the U.S. Air Force during The Korean War and played with the renowned Airmen of Note.

Walt with Airmen of Note

Walt settled in the New York City area in 1954, upon mustering out of the  Air Force. In 1956, Benny Goodman added Walt to his orchestra for a set of appearances at The Waldorf Astoria. Walt was the lead saxophone player but was also tapped by Goodman as his backup player on clarinet solos. If Benny couldn’t play, he trusted Walt to deliver the “Goodman sound.”  Walt toured, briefly, with Benny Goodman‘s orchestra but he hated all the flying. Strange for an Air Force guy, huh?

Eschewing the life “on-the-road,” Walt began a life-long involvement as a session musician on the highest of high-end recordings. He worked with pretty much all of the best: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, often contributing arrangements in addition to his playing.

Walt was always in demand by the best in the industry for recordings and major appearances.  He is credited over-and-over on recordings by the best of the reed-men like Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan. From his work with Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Walt became a fixture on recordings in the Bossa Nova and Samba styles. A master of his instrument as well as all styles of music, he played on a number of Cal Tjader‘s tracks and ventured into Acid and Fusion Jazz.

Levinsky joined the NBC staff orchestra and in 1962 became a member of Skitch Henderson‘s Tonight Show Band. Enjoying the regular work so close to home, with talented musicians, Walt stayed with the band when Doc Severinson took over as leader, and appears on most of Severinson’s recordings. In the 60s, Walt left NBC join MBA Music, a producer of theme show music and commercial jingles. This gave him an opportunity to really utilitze his composing and arranging talents. Among his many compositions for television is the theme music for The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.

Perhaps the highest professional accolade any clarinetist could ever earn came to Walt Levinsky in 1962. Artie Shaw, the noted perfectionist, was recreating his all-star 1938 Orchestra and needed someone to be Artie Shaw. Artie went straight to Walt Levinsky and there are some who say that Walt played Artie better than Artie did.

Although Walt played in some 5,000 recording sessions, he only produced one album as the headliner: Walt Levinsky and his Great American Swing Band (featuring Lynn Roberts). On the Kenzo Records label, it is a terrific CD and it really swings. The production values are top-notch and the band he has assembled is just terrific. Here are two tracks from the CD, which do not sound nearly as good on Youtube as they do on the original source material:

#1 – Let’s Dance + Bugle Call Rag

#2 – Wang Wang Blues

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Jazz Online – Listen While You Work

There are a number of excellent online, or web-radio, sources of good Jazz. What better way to work, blog, email or whatever, than to have some good jazz bangin’ in your ear? get yourself a nice set of sound isolating earplugs or, even better, headphones and let the cool notes flow over you.

I have all but quit carrying around CDs of my favorite compilations, and shoving them in-and-out of the DVD drive. Why bother, when you can find all the best waiting for you in streaming broadcasts over the web? Some broadcasts feature excellent dj input, with solid background and commentary to supplement the music. Others are solid music, one track after another. It seems that you can have your internet radio any way you want it.

Everyone who reads thejazzmonger already knows I am a big fan of Kevin Kneistedt’s Groove Notes blog. His page is always worth reading and ought to be in your bookmarks. Kevin also hosts a live streaming broadcast on Jazz24. I recommend it.

Of course, the queen of all jazz broadcasters, the incomparable Marian McPartland, has been holding forth on NPR for many years. You can find her excellent show, with a collection of podcasts at Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz. This incredible talent knows everybody who has ever been in the music business, every song that has ever been recorded. Her insights, stories, and love of music make every moment a delight. Down through the years, McPartland has hosted the both famous and the obscure of jazz with equal joy. And she can hit the keys and play a duet of any song, on a moment’s notice. Startling. the show is fun, and educational and not to be missed.

Pizzarelli Hackensack 05

Jazz performer John Pizzarelli

I have written, in the past, about John Pizzarelli. I am a fan, particularly of his work keeping the Great American Songbook alive and active. I saw John and his wife, the talented Jessica Molaskey, perform live earlier this year (see original post) and was thoroughly entertained. John and Jessica produce Radio DeLuxe from their “deluxe living room.” They host guest and friends from the music business, chat, reminisce and play excellent music, introduced with the performer’s special insight.

Southern California‘s KTWV-FM radio aka 94.7 The Wave broadcasts Smooth Jazz over one of the cleanest, clearest signals on the web. you can crank this up to drown out a noisy Starbuck’s and get nothing but crystal clear notes.

My newest favorite is AccuJazz.com. This incredible site features 45 channels (at my last count. Forty-five! And they have them organized all kinds of great ways. You can go for genre (Cool, BeBop, Modern Mainstream, Fusion, Old School, New School, Latin, Avant-Garde, New Stream, you get the idea). They have channels that bracket eras (pre-1940, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s). You can go for featured instrument (trumpet, sax, guitar, piano, organ, bass, trombone, drum, vocal).  They even have a set of channels organized around regional specialties (Chicago, New Orleans, Europe, New York, Modern West Coast). Are you getting the idea that this site is a terrific resource? This is not juts an entertainment site, it is marvellously educational. Check it out and enjoy. Tell them thejazzmonger sent you!

This is far from a comprehensive sample of all the streaming jazz available on the net. These are just my current favorites. Check the most popular jazz links on Delicious.com and find your own.

To make it easy, here is a list of all the links buried within this post:

Jazz24 Live

Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz

John Pizzarelli’s Radio DeLuxe

94.7 The Wave FM

AccuJazz.com

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