WBGO Blog
  • Bourne Goes Hollywood

    February 20, 2008. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    This Sunday's telecast will be the 80th annual awarding of the Oscars. This Sunday's Singers Unlimited (10AM-2PM) will celebrate with songs from the movies. Most of the standards of the American Popular Songbook, songs of Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins et al, came from Broadway or Hollywood musicals. Most of the Broadway songs also came to the screen. I'll spotlight songs from the movies of Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, even Humphrey Bogart. I'll celebrate the birthday next week (and upcoming gig at Birdland) of Oscar-winning composer (and jazz pianist) Michel Legrand. I'll feature highlights from jazz and blues movies, also Oscar-winning songs performed by the likes of Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra -- although I won't be playing all of the Oscar-winning songs. "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" is not really in our groove on WBGO ...I started reviewing movies in 1967, and I've seen a thousand or two. I started going to the movies with my grandfather when I was 2. I don't remember any of those movies with him, but once in a while I'll be watching an old western and I'll have deja vu. I can't always remember what I was doing yesterday, but I can still name all the actors on The Late Show.

    I rarely go to the movies nowadays. I get in cheaper as a senior, but most of the new movies aren't worth whatever the cost. I'd rather wait and rent newer movies -- although I'm much more often watching older movies on TV.

    Herewith my all-time favorite movies:

    1 THE SEVEN SAMURAI, the masterpiece of director Akira Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune is downright feral on screen as one of the seven swordfighters who protect a farming village from bandits. My favorite of countless great moments: the little smile on the face of Daisuke Kato when his old comrade recruits him but tells him this time they might not survive, also the grace and power of Takashi Shimura drawing and shooting arrows during the climactic battle in the rain.

    2 CASABLANCA, the first movie I bought on DVD. My favorite moment is any moment Claude Rains is on the screen.

    3 THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, photographed in often painterly black and white by (should've-won-an-Oscar visual genius) Gregg Toland. It's the story of three men returning home after WWII, each of them struggling with who they used to be and who they've become, each of them getting a dramatic moment of redemption. Fredric March as a banker turns drunken babble at a banquet into a passionate hope for the future. Dana Andrews as an ex-officer who can't get a job walks through a field of broken airplanes and realizes that he's also junk. Harold Russell (who actually lost both hands in the war) shows Cathy O'Donnell as his girl next door what he looks like when he pulls off his hooks, but, rather than being horrified, she matter-of-factly picks up his hooks as if she's putting aside his slippers. It's the most deeply intimate scene I've ever seen.

    4 YOU'RE TELLING ME, I think the funniest comedy of the funniest comedian, W.C. Fields. He's especially graceful doing his physical gags, and, for someone always thought grumpy, Fields is also very sweet, especially when he talks to a princess when he thinks that she's trying to kill herself. I think the funniest scene ever filmed is in another Fields comedy, when he's trying to sleep on the back porch and keeps being bothered by noise and neighbors in IT'S A GIFT.

    5 BOSSA NOVA, the romantic comedy I've watched every birthday since 2000, about a lawyer (Antonio Fagundes) who falls in love with an English teacher (Amy Irving) in Rio, dedicated to (and featuring songs of) Antonio Carlos Jobim.

    My all-time favorite music for a movie was the all-star jam that happens throughout Robert Altman's KANSAS CITY. Being there when some of the music scenes were filmed was one of the best jazz experiences of my life, especially the tenor battle of Joshua Redman as Lester Young with Craig Handy as Coleman Hawkins. They filmed way more music than was needed, music that was so great that an all-music version was created, called Robert Altman's JAZZ '34. Bob asked me to write the opening scene-setter that Harry Belafonte reads on the soundtrack -- my first and only time ever actually working on a movie.

    -- MBourne

  • The Owl

    January 31, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    I'm not sure what genome sequence has been altered in the Ellis family. Saxophonist John Ellis is enough of a character. But his brother wins the prize. Watch the video below, and I think you'll agree.

     

    -Josh Jackson

  • Yo, Johan!

    January 30, 2008

    With a little less than three weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the Mets made the move we Mets fans have been hoping for, getting lefty Johan Santana from the Twins for relatively cheap. Pending finalization of the plan (which we all expect shortly) the Mets will have solidified the team's pitching and made several of us here at Jazz 88 very (VERY!) happy.

    On Day 1 of our Jazz with Heart Fund Drive it's good to know that someone's got cash to spare. And while we're not asking you to pledge a Johan Santana-like amount, we do hope that you'll do your share to keep this great music alive on the radio 24/7. Did you know that Johan Santana is from Venezuela? He is. And we just happen to have a great Latin Package that features "A Taste of Cacao: Latin Jazz with a Venezuelan Flavor." It's available, along with "Putumayo Presents Latin Jazz" for a pledge of $125. That makes you a part of the family, which you will come to appreciate immediately. Now, repita por favor: Let's Go Mets! Let's Go Mets! - David Cruz

  • The elegance of Eliane Elias

    January 18, 2008

    Something For You CoverI rarely work the morning shift around here. 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. newscasts are Doug Doyle territory and for good reason. It takes a special man to get up at 3:30 a.m. and get here in time to deliver the news at 6 a.m., sharp. Frankly, I ain't that special, man. Those of you who've heard me at that time in the morning, know what I'm talking about.Still, when Doug's out, I get the call. One recent morning, however, I was sitting at my desk, staring blankly at my computer monitor, the written word failing me, when all of a sudden, dripping from the speakers behind me, like honey on a nubile neck, comes Eliane Elias singing Jobim's "Photograph (Fotografia)."

    The vocal, so lush and silken, insinuated itself into my soft gray matter and swirled around like the café in my café con leche. I closed my eyes and drank deeply, Eliane inside my brain. MMM. It's just about the only thing that went right that morning.

    Eliane Elias is just smooth, man, (as both a singer and a pianist) so if you get a chance, I urge you to join us (yes, I'll be there) tomorrow at J&R Music's Park Row store (23 Park Row, NYC, Second Floor) for a FREE live performance and broadcast of some of the material from her new release "Something For You: Eliane Elias Sings and Plays Bill Evans."

    The performance starts at 4 p.m. and, even if you're in Rio, Brasil, you can hear it live. - David Cruz

  • When comedy and jazz particles collide

    January 18, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

    And Now for Something Completely Different ...
    Since we're headlong into the New Year, and the 2007 listmania has ended - Best Of, Top Ten, Bottom Eleven etc. - permit me to right an historic wrong among jazz critics. Since I'm not one of them.
    There's no debating that jazz has become an international phenomenon. However, the stale argument about who's moving the music forward still rages. While Americans can clearly take ownership of our national treasure, it's foreign-born artists like the Austrian pianist, Hans Groiner, who are finding ways to bring improvisation and art music back into the mainstream. Without any further discussion, bear witness to the Most Overlooked Artist, two years running:

     

    If you'd like to hear The Shape of Jazz to Come, check out Hans Groiner Plays Monk on MySpace.
    - Josh Jackson