Tag Archives: jazz

Lame Adventure 421: My First Love

This isn’t the tale about the fetching ten-year-old blue-eyed blonde haired Latina vixen waiting to kick my ass in the schoolyard, encouraged by a devious sixth grader who claimed that I was sweet on her boyfriend, a guy with as much appeal to me as a dented hubcap. Vixen perched on the flagpole’s concrete base eating her breakfast: Fritos. When I entered the playground she called me over by my last name. I sensed danger; she was the type that reeked attitude. She also didn’t talk to innocuous kids like me. Even though I was a year older, she towered over me, a whippet thin and pasty white comic-bookworm. I kept my cool, walked over and groused, “Yeah, what?” My lack of intimidation threw her off her tough girl game. I might have been small but I was feisty, confident that I could talk my way out of this predicament. She got nervous and stammered, “You, you, you like Richie! I don’t like that!” I looked her straight in the eyes and said in a definitive tone, “You’re mistaken. I don’t like him.” Even though her complexion was dark olive, her face flushed crimson. I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my eleven years. She was flummoxed, unsure of what to do next. It was a standoff. I wondered if I was about to say ‘adios’ to my teeth. Instead, she offered me her Fritos. We also shared chemistry and she ditched Richie. Decades later, I’m still finding same sex love in the most unlikely places, but to reiterate, this tale is not about that, it’s about another of my life long passions: animation.

When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco, I had a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons with my favorites being any fare pumped out by Warner Brothers — Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. When I reached my teens in the Seventies I caught a screening of Disney’s Fantasia at the Larkin, a movie house that seemed determined to play the re-release of this masterpiece in perpetuity. It featured the early work of the animator John Hubley. He participated on “The Rite of Spring” segment. At that time I was enrolled in the Teenage Animation Workshop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Not only did kids get hands on experience animating their own films, the instructors enlightened us about the pioneers of the craft, including Hubley, whose frequent collaborator was his wife, Faith.

Hubley left Disney in 1941 during the animators’ strike. Next, he joined United Productions of America where he created Mr. Magoo, based on an uncle. Due to the blacklist, he was forced to leave UPA because he refused to name names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Next, he founded his own company, Storyboard Studios. There, he made animated TV commercials, including the Maypo cereal ads.

With Faith, he continued to direct his own independent animated films, films that resonated with me. They often featured soundtracks with jazz greats. My favorite Hubley film is a timeless six-minute impressionistic love story made in 1958 called The Tender Game. The soundtrack features the Oscar Peterson Trio with Ella Fitzgerald delivering a satin smooth vocal on the song, Tenderly.

When I first saw this film about forty years ago, I was certain I wanted to be an animator. When I informed my mother about my goal, her reaction was comparable to what a mom of today might think if her daughter announced that she aspired to be a pole dancer. 1974 was decades before the arrival of Pixar. Animation, particularly the independent style of animation, was a guaranteed one-way ticket to the poorhouse. My mother feared that she and my father would be stuck supporting me forever. In college, I shifted gears and earned my degree in live action filmmaking. I worked for almost ten years in TV commercial film production. Eventually, I lost interest in making films on my own, preferring to write unmarketable screenplays.

In honor of the centennial of John Hubley’s birth, Manhattan’s Film Forum is holding two tribute screenings of his work. The first screening, this past Tuesday, included The Tender Game.

Ray Hubley delivering an introduction about his father before the screening.

Ray Hubley delivering an introduction about his father before the screening.

I attended with my colleague, Godsend. It was a delight to see this classic short in a pristine 35 mm color print.

When an event is shown for one screening it doesn't make the marquee.

Film Forum under blue skies.

Considering that this weekend starts summer, and all the promises that come during the warm weather months, embedded below is a crummy quality YouTube video of The Tender Game. The story is set in the fall, but falling in love is not seasonal, unless I missed that memo. Even though the characters are abstract the emotion is familiar, and the overall effect is quite charming.

 

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Lame Adventure 226: Summertime Sax

Now that Labor Day weekend has arrived and the ending credits are beginning to roll on summer 2011, my sidekick, Greg, and I have taken it upon ourselves to once again collaborate on a music video where he does the playing, I try not to let my delirium tremors get in the way of holding the camcorder steady, and we both do our best to ignore the stench of stale urine on Staple Street, where we recently shot this video in TriBeCa.

The tune we have chosen is Summertime from the folk opera Porgy and Bess, with music by George Gershwin, book by DuBose Heywood and lyrics by Heywood and Ira Gershwin.  According to Summertime Connection, a web site completely devoted to this one song, for the past seven years eleven guys from all over the world have been collecting as much data as possible about how many times this song has been recorded and performed.  According to this site:

“At May 1st 2011 at 00.01 GMT we know of at least 41,915 public performances, of which 33,345 have been recorded.  Of these we have 25,998 full recordings in our collection.”

This treasure trove of information impresses me much more than the state-side guys that are walking encyclopedias about Abbott and Costello. The guys at Summertime Connection have concluded that Summertime is one of the most covered songs in music history, so Lame Adventures is joining the herd in time for the upcoming revival on Broadway of Porgy and Bess, now re-titled The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (yes Heywood, the writer, is neglected title-wise).

In a scathing letter to The New York Times directed at the creative team that’s reviving this show, music-theater legend Stephen Sondheim vents his spleen, and almost every other organ in his being, at the liberties they (Suzan Lori-Parks, Diane Paulus, and Diedre Murray) have taken including the renaming of this masterwork.  Had I been subject to the intensity of his wrath, I would have either hidden under the covers of my bed for the remainder of the year, or made the humiliation easy on myself and simply blown out my brains.

Fortunately, the creative team forged ahead and their revival is currently in out of town tryouts at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts before it transitions to Broadway this winter.  The initial review by Ben Brantley, top theater critic at The New York Times, gave the star, Audra McDonald, who plays Bess, a rave, and the overall show an endorsement, so the creative forces behind this revival must be breathing a huge sigh of relief.  Possibly, after he sees it, even Stephen Sondheim might give it an upward digit.  Naturally, I’m thinking about his thumb but he might choose to stick with his middle finger.

Check out Greg contributing to the almost 42,000 public performances of Summertime as summer slips away.

Lame Adventure 187: While pondering litigation in front of a crackhouse-style doorway …

Not far from where I work in Tribeca is Staple Street, two short blocks west of Hudson Street sandwiched between Duane, Jay, and Harrison Streets.  Staple Street is one of those impossible to find places in this giant metropolis, but I’m familiar with it since I’m drawn to the impossible like metal to magnet.  I also knew that this was the ideal location for my sidekick, Greg, and I to shoot a video birthday card for our friend, Albee, provided we managed to avoid arrest for disturbing the peace. We did, but by our third take, every dog in Tribeca was barking and someone was too shy to scream:

Silent Screamer:  Shut the hell up!

That someone was compelled to hammer lead pipes with religious fervor instead.

Picturesque pedestrian bridge on Staple Street that does not appear in our video.

Although Albee was not expecting a gift from either of us, which was a sane expectation since Greg and I both work get-rich-slow jobs, Greg is a musician and I am just a spewing fountain of creativity.  Therefore, I felt we had to do something, but what?  Then, I had a brainstorm.  I would shoot a video of Greg on my obsolete first generation Flip video camcorder playing Happy Birthday on his saxophone in front of this graffiti-covered doorway on Staple Street.

This must be the place doorway on Staple Street.

When I initially ran this stroke of genius by Greg, he did not do the Toyota jump.  He stood paralyzed holding a tile label and looked rather expressionless.

Greg (mulling): I’ve never played Happy Birthday on my sax before.

Me:  Then play it on your sitar.

Greg:  No, I’m not going to bring my sitar into work.

Me:  Okay, play it on your harp, your xylophone, your castanets …

Greg is massively musical.  He thought more about it and decided that playing it on the sax was the way to go.  Then, he told me something interesting:

Greg:  You know, Happy Birthday’s not in the public domain.

I did not know that.  Greg is right, but luckily for us, we don’t make a dime off Lame Adventures, and we’re both inclined to live on the edge.

The origins of Happy Birthday is as follows, in 1893 two sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill published the melody, Good Morning to All, which scored a big hit with the children Patty taught in her kindergarten class in Kentucky.  Mildred was a pianist and composer.  The kids were so taken with that song they began to sing it at birthday parties where they changed the lyrics Patty wrote from:

Good morning to you,

Good morning to you,

Good morning, dear children,

Good morning to all.

To:

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday dear (insert name here)

Happy birthday to you.

Fast forward 118 years to today where the Time-Warner Corporation now owns the rights to this traditional song, especially the lyrics.  They’re like the mob; if you sing it in a restaurant and they find out, they’ll come around trying to extort a chunk of change.  In 2008, they collected $5,000 a day from the singing of this song, or $2 million per year.  Strike up the theme to The Sopranos.  Better not for that surely is not in the public domain.

Many legal minds that tower over mine intellectually, or just anyone that did better in math, think (not necessarily in these words) that this is a steaming pile of crap.  Many logical thinkers, including Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, believe that this song with it’s long history of problems over authorship (think about it, anonymous five-year-olds essentially revised the lyrics from Good Morning to All to Happy Birthday), and problems with the notice and renewal of copyright, makes it no longer under copyright.  That means it does belong in the public domain, and should not be a cash cow for a media conglomerate that charges sky-high for Internet and cable.

Yet, to play it safe, my inner weasel is compelled to declare here and now that what Greg actually played for Albee in front of that crackhouse-style doorway on Staple Street was a free jazz version of Good Morning to All – and that coincidentally happens to be in the public domain.

Give jazz-man Greg a listen: