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April 30, 2015

Song of the Day #1247

Song of the Day: The Charleston, composed by stride pianist James P. Johnson, with lyrics by Cecil Mack, was featured in the all-black Broadway musical comedy "Runnin' Wild," which debuted at the New Colonial Theatre on October 29, 1923. One of the most famous recordings of this jazz age standard was recorded in France on April 21,1937 by the Quintette du Hot Club de France, featuring violinist extraordinaire Stephane Grappelli, the immortal jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, guitar sidemen Pierre Ferret and Marcel Bianchi, and bassist Louis Vola. Established far away from the American soil that originated the art form, the Quintette contributed to the rise of jazz as a genuine global cultural contribution. And subsequently, the group had a huge impact on American jazz musicians. Indeed, Reinhardt alone is credited as one of the most influential guitarists in jazz history. As Bill Dahl put it: "Despite two fingers on his fretting hand being substantially paralyzed due to injuries suffered in a fire before he hit the bigtime, Reinhardt made more mesmerizing magic on his axe without those digits than the vast majority of fretsmen do with the standard allotment of five. Les Paul, Chet Atkins, B. B. King, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass [whose "For Django" album remains one of the milestones in the evolution of the jazz guitar -- ed.], George Benson, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson, Jeff Beck, and Jerry Garcia have all reverently sung his praises over the years." Check out the Quintette recording on YouTube. Today is International Jazz Day, so named by UNESCO in 2011, followed by a UN festival kick-off in 2012 on this date and celebrated annually ever since. This year's festival takes place in Paris, France and kicks off today. Vive Le Jazz Hot!

April 23, 2015

Song of the Day #1246

Song of the Day: Uptown Funk features the words and music of Jeff Bhasker, Philip Lawrence, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, whose vocals are delivered with flair on Ronson's recording, a selection from his album, Uptown Special. The song just ended its 14-week reign atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Its got a great throwback groove, with a touch of The Time and early Prince. Check out the hilarious official video on YouTube along with a live performance on SNL.

April 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1245

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("The Pieta"/"The Sepulcher"/"Resurrection") [YouTube link], composed by the great Miklos Rozsa for the 1961 film of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, marks the moment of his death, burial, and resurrection, which today is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians. The film, directed by Nicholas Ray, who was known for his work in "Rebel without a Cause" (starring James Dean), acts as a prelude to the tumultuous 1960s. In that decade, revolutionaries of many faiths forged a civil rights movement by means both violent and nonviolent. Indeed, change "by any means necessary," a Sartrean phrase extolled by Malcolm X, echoes Ray's characterization of the Judean rebel Barabbas (played by Harry Guardino) who opposed Roman aggression with violence. The character says he wants "freedom," but he differs from Jesus only in the means by which to achieve it. By contrast, Jesus is portrayed by Ray as a nonviolent revolutionary, echoing the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., a rebel with cause who died violently as the Christ he worshipped. To all of my friends and family who are celebrating today (my maternal grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos was, after all, the founder of the first Greek Orthoodox Church in Brooklyn, the Three Hierarchs Church on Avenue P and East 18th Street), I say: Christos Anesti! It comes at a time that for believers and pagans alike is a season of rebirth: Hope Springs Eternal.

April 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1244

Song of the Day: What a Little Moonlight Can Do, words and music by Harry M. Woods, appears as the first track on "The Centennial Collection," marking, today, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, whose repertoire ran from swing to blues, and whose voice captured the depth of struggles both personal and societal. A life cut short by the long-term tragic effects of substance abuse, she was a trailblazer for so many singers who followed, from Frank Sinatra (whose centennial we celebrate later this year) to Janis Joplin to Cassandra Wilson (who issues a tribute album of her own this week). And for those who haven't seen the underappreciated, heart-wrenching 1972 bio-pic, "Lady Sings the Blues," do check out the Oscar-nominated performance of Diana Ross. I picked this tune (first performed by Violet Loraine in the 1934 film, "Road House"), for, despite her personal agony, Holiday could swing through the sadness. Listen to her on YouTube [music link] in 1935 with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra, in a recording that also features the King of Swing, Benny Goodman. Long Live Lady Day!

April 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1243

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("Jesus Enters Jerusalem"/"A Tempest in Judea"/"Defeat"/"False") [YouTube link], composed by Maestro Miklos Rozsa, is featured as the cue in this 1961 Biblical epic, when Jesus of Nazareth (played by Jeffrey Hunter) enters the city of Jerusalem during the season of the Passover on what has become known as "Palm Sunday" in Christianity. It is at once triumphal, while also providing an undercurrent of unrest among a populace dominated by the forces of Rome. For those who celebrate Easter in Western Christianity and Passover in Judaism, I extend my good wishes for the season. Next Sunday is the Eastern Orthodox Easter, which will be marked by another Song of the Day tribute.

April 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1242

Song of the Day: The Fool on the Hill, credited to Lennon and McCartney (though written by Paul alone), was recorded in 1967 and included on The Beatles's "Magical Mystery Tour" album and film. It's a great song for an April Fool's Day; check out the original version by the Beatles, and also a really nice bossa-tinged rendition recorded by Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66 [YouTube links].