This was fun.
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.
I haven't seen Denzel Washington's film, The Great Debaters. But I'm already hooked on the soundtrack with Sharon Jones, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Among others, they collaborate on the opening track, a ring shout called "My Soul is a Witness."
A ring shout is one of the most infectious and powerful types of music you'll ever hear. It's basically a religious song using traditional African dance patterns, with a counter-rhythm that can start easy but get extremely complex, depending on how intensely the performers get possessed by the spirit. Shouts were common ritual during slavery, and you might even find traces of the style in rural church services in the South, the Georgia coastal islands and the Tidewater region of Maryland and Delaware.
For The Great Debaters, "My Soul is a Witness" is recreated from the original field recording by Alan Lomax. In 1934, Lomax spent six weeks in Louisiana. In one of the Acadian (Cajun) towns, Lomax recorded a series of ring shouts by Austin Coleman, with Joe Washington Brown and Samson Brown.
Hear the original version of "My Soul is a Witness," as performed by Austin Coleman.
I spoke with G. Marq Roswell, the Music Supervisor for The Great Debaters, about the music he selected music for the movie. You can hear that on The WBGO Journal. Or listen below. - Josh
We had a great session with Now vs. Now.
You'll have to wait next month for the complete results, but here's a teaser.