REVIEW: EURIPIDES' ANDROMACHE

Pretty often, actually, somebody or other tells me I should Be A Reviewer! So y'all know how I am ... I aim to please, me.  Anyhoo, I was out getting some culture recently and saw this show the other week.  I had a few thoughts:

 

Always a Bridesmaid:
Euripides’ Women Take Center Stage

Andromache
American Thymele Theatre at The Glicker-Milstein Theatre
New York City
August 2, 2014

NEW YORK –The audience entered the Glicker-Milstein theater to the strains of music, evocative of ancient Greece but newly composed for the occasion, and waited for the action to begin in the company of the supremely still Goddess Thetis holding court on a sparsely set stage.  Meanwhile, program notes revealed that the American Thymele Theatre’s production of EuripidesAndromache was an ambitious choice, given the Greek Drama’s reputation as the Also-est Also-Ran in the canon.

Starring Leanne Gonzalez-Singer (Andromache), Allison Anderegg (Hermione) and Mike Newman (Menelaus), the performance featured a number of interesting cameo artists, who gave well-constructed (and typically Euripidean) speeches which, in their turn, excoriated prideful women, gossiping women, lecherous women, excessively garrulous women, disloyal women... basically all kinds of women.

The Feminine was illuminated not just by the example of Andromache and Hermione, but also by a Greek Chorus comprised of women of Phthia.  The Chorus were a welcome peanut-gallery; Sarah Hysjulien, Elizabeth Claflin, Carla Duval, Kayla Weinerman, Essica Dickson and Paula Fredin made the most of their heckling, snarking and unsolicited commentary, their brilliantly careless venom and gleefully unkind bon mots aaaaalmost stealing the show. Somewhat heroically, they made sense of many, if not all, of multitudinous unnecessary and arbitrary crosses of the stage, but they should have lolled more and wandered less – the totality of their work was undercut by unconsidered movement.  The crosses, I speculate, were a directorial choice designed to alleviate what the staff worried would be (but wasn’t) a monotonous landscape of back-to-back speeches. Stage director Stephen Diacrussi and choreographer Sarah Hysjulien should have trusted the frenemies more, says me. The more frankly choreographed passages in the latter scenes worked just fine; perhaps arbitrary is more successful when accomplished via lightly rhythmic unison.

In terms of excoriation, the men got off light, except for men desirous of possessing more than one woman at a time – they got an earful from our playwright, who also missed no opportunity to point out the morally bankrupt, intellectually inferior and just generally odious characters found among the people of Sparta.  I mean, ugh, Spartans, amirite?  Euripides’ Andromache had its first performance on or about 428 B.C., and imagines Andromache’s life as a slave in post-Trojan War Sparta.  Sexually victimized and in great peril, she is degraded and insulted by the wife of her rapist and, at that wife’s behest, threatened with murder by the tyrannical King of Sparta.

Baffling, to me, at least, is that the piece is criticized for its lack of a strong central character to dominate the action.  One supposes that the term “character” must be code for “male character”, because indeed, with momentary exceptions, the men are reactionary, or provide a catalyst for the speeches of the women. Andromache tells the story of women; here we have a female victim, a female victimizer, a bevy of female analysts providing ‘color commentary’ from an entirely feminine perspective and all eyes, ultimately, are on a female god, the entire cast of characters in her thrall and invested in her verdict.

In the title role, Leanne Gonzalez-Singer ably filled any imagined void left by the lack of a strong central male character by bringing a charismatic presence, emotional commitment and surefooted negotiation of the text to the stage.  She easily sketched a proud and angry (albeit desperately frightened) Andromache.  Her opening speech…

“City of Thebe, Asia's ornament, from you I once came, my dowry rich in gold and luxuries, to Priam's royal hearth, given to Hector as wife, to bear his children. Andromache was someone to envy, then, But now: if any woman is unhappy, I am. I saw my husband Hector killed and the son I bore ... thrown from the steep city walls after the Greeks had taken the land of Troy. From a house most free, I came to Greece a slave, given to Achilles' son, Neoptolemus, to be his spear's reward, a choice selection from the Trojan loot.”

…was delivered in clear tones, with a beautifully produced and nicely pitched contralto voice. The petite actress was a study in disgust and outraged virtue, heated by terror and regret.  Although her fears for herself and her child were palpable, she never permitted them to mar her precise delivery of Euripides’ lovely old words: 

“...my master married Hermione the Spartan... I am driven by her evil cruelties. She says that by the use of secret drugs I make her childless, hateful to her husband; that I wish to occupy this house myself in her place, forcing her out of the marriage bed, a thing I first accepted against my will...Great Zeus should know it was against my will I shared that bed. But I can't persuade her, and she wants to kill me, and Menelaus helps his daughter in this.”

As a counterpoint, her nemesis, Hermione, entered:

“The luxurious gold diadem I wear, the many-colored fabric of my robe: I didn't bring them here as offerings from the house of Achilles or of Peleus. No: they are from Sparta, the Laconian land. Menelaus my father gave these gifts to me with an ample dowry, so I am free to speak.”

Money talks indeed and Anderegg, as handily as Gonzalez-Singer, used her speaking voice to draw Hermione's portrait. A spiteful, vapid and childish woman (reasonably) consumed with rage at her husband’s betrayal and (unreasonably) determined to make Andromache the author of that betrayal, Anderegg pitched her voice more than half an octave atop Gonzalez-Singer’s, and mixed a pathological level of vengefulness with a rising hysteria in her very effective shrilling.

“You are a slave, a woman won by the spear, who wants to keep this home and throw me out. Your drugs have made me hateful to my husband, and because of you my ruined womb is barren. The minds of Asian women are terribly clever at things like this. ....let go your former prosperous pride to cower in humility, fall at my knee...Learn what land you're in. Hector's not here, nor Priam with his gold: this city is Greek.”

Suggesting brittleness with her tensed, willowy frame, Anderegg grew increasingly (and convincingly) unhinged:

“Are you so ignorant, you wretched creature, that you can bear to go to bed with a man whose father killed your husband, and to have the killer's children? Barbarians are all like that: father has sex with daughter, son with mother, girl with brother, the nearest relatives murder each other, and no law holds them back.”

As Menelaus, Mike Newman was a wonderful villain.  Appropriately vile, when standing still he struck poses and cut a handsome figure, but in motion his gait alternated between a scuttle and a peacock strut. He managed to simultaneously appear both violent and craven as he threatened and postured, forcing Andromache to choose death for either herself or her child.  In the end, he is vanquished and taunted by Peleus:

“...get away from this place at once along with your childless daughter...Barren heifer that she is, she can't tolerate others giving birth, while she has no young herself. Just because your daughter is unlucky with children, does she have to deprive us of our own offspring too?”

Menelaus replies to this insult by beating a retreat he vainly attempts to characterize as strategic, blathering:  

“You are too prone to abuse. But since I came to Phthia because I had to, I will neither commit nor suffer any shabby treatment. And now—since I don't have plenty of time to spare—There is a city, not far from Sparta, which used to be our friend and now is hostile. I mean to lead my army against it...When I've arranged things there as I judge best, I'll return, and face-to-face my son-in-law and I will have a candid exchange of words...As for your talk, it doesn't bother me. You stand here like a shadow with a voice, incapable of anything save speech.”

Yes, yes, Menelaus -- you go conquer that city and then come back and give us nine kinds of hell, riiight. Newman pulled the character back from the keen edge of unintended comedy, but his disgraced exit did seem to call for at least golf-clap level of applause.

Standing out among the smaller roles was John Calvanico as Peleus, who spoke his lines in the most natural of voices.  Sporting a warm, biggish and husky baritone, he is obviously a lifelong resident of our fair city -- possibly Brooklyn? Staten Island? Calvanico’s work made me think of a film called “Looking for Richard”, which featured Al Pacino giving an unaccented version of the “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech -- at least unaccented from Mr. Pacino’s perspective.  In that film, Pacino gives Richard III his own mother tongue, native New Yorker that he is, proving once and for all that one isn’t, actually, required to don a British accent to declaim classical theater.  Similarly, it was a pleasant experience to hear the ancient text of Euripides made so thoroughly Mr. Calvanico’s own, and treated so personally.

At the last, the audience received the verdict they’d been waiting for. After sitting ab.so.lute.ly. motionless (which had to be exhausting) for the entire duration of the piece, Jessica Bonder rose, all elegance. She declared, in a remarkably relaxed and musical voice, the Goddess Thetis' verdict:

“Peleus, because I once was married to you, I, Thetis, have come here... And first I advise you not to take too hard your present evil fortunes. Even I who never should have shed tears for my children— since I am a goddess and my father is a god— I lost the swift-footed son I had from you,  Achilles, born to be the first in Greece. I will tell you why I came; listen to my words. ... Andromache must join with Helenus in marriage and settle in Molossia, old man, along with this child, the only one remaining of Aeacus' line. His descendants will pass their lives as kings of Molossia, in prosperity. Your race and mine, old man, is not to be so utterly uprooted, nor is that of Troy. The gods do care for her although she fell by Athena's eager wish. As for you...I'll free you from the troubles mortals are heir to, and make you immortal, a god who never fades. Then, for the future, you will live with me in Nereus' home, a god beside a goddess. And with dry foot you will travel out of the sea to see your dearest child, and mine, Achilles: he lives in his island home, along the shore of Leuke in the inhospitable strait.”

In the end, a good time was had by all.  The relative lack of financial resources, the fairly dire lack of production values, and the moving between three stages (two of which were outdoors) during the run were all challenges the cast met with apparent ease.  The American Thymele Theatre produces Hellenic theater each season -- information about their next outings will be disseminated at their website.

***************************************

ATT at the Naumburg Bandshell

About the Company:

The American Thymele Theatre was founded in 1993, initially to promote and disseminate Hellenic culture in America by producing plays with Greek themes. It has since presented a variety of works (including some in their original 19th century Greek). In new York City, ATT has played the Kraine Theater, the Frederick Loewe Theater, the Olympic Theatre, the East River Park Amphitheatre, the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, Theatre Seven Seventy, the Marilyn Monroe Theatre and the New York Public Library, as well as tours of New Jersey and Connecticut and appearances in Boston, Phoenix and Philadelphia. A non-profit organization, ATT dedicated to bringing quality theater, along with rarities never before staged in America, to audiences of all ages. It is chartered by the State of New York and all of its productions are approved by Actors’ Equity Association, the national union of professional actors and stage managers.

This particular production was extended into the following season, with daytime performances for the New York City public schools. ... In 2009, ATT started its New York City Euripides Summer Festival with Euripides’ “Rhesus” at the East River Park Amphitheatre, followed by “Alcestis” in 2010 at the same amphitheater. "Hippolytus", in 2013, marked the company's 20th anniversary, and was intended for outdoor stages, using traditional sets, costumes, masks, and original music to rave reviews, free of charge to the public, just like in antiquity.

 

Fiona T. Cattington, 1998-2014

(Ed note: Translated from the Cattish by Thunder Gonzalez-Singer, Ph.C, Dean of the School of Hoomish - Cattish Studies, New York Cattiversary.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dear Hooms,

I suppose you're all wondering why I gathered you here (I always wanted to say that). If you’re reading this, I have left the building. The following is the obituary I prepared in advance – I obviously couldn’t trust the Hooms I live(d) with to get it right -- I got my buddy Thunder to translate it into Hoomish and instructed my First Hoom to post it here because I like a nice layout, and Facebook just doesn't have the capability. Probably a Hoom made that Facething up, amirite? So Stupid. Anyhow.

Peace out.

******************

May 24, 2014

Pookie (L), Ugly (C) and Jones (R)

New Jersey native Fiona T. Cattington, lately of Manhattan, passed away on Friday, May 23. Miss Cattington was born on the Ides of March, 1998 and is survived by Kathryn Allyn, who is not her real mom and can’t tell her what to do, and Samuel Lloyd Kinsey, who served as adopted father and Alternate Food Guy, as well as her babies, Pookie, Ugly and Pulmonary Jones.

Assumption-All Saints Parish, Jersey City

Miss Cattington was the most intelligent and adventurous of her clan. Mere days after her birth under the derelict school bus in the side yard of Assumption-All Saints Parish Church on Jersey City's Pacific Avenue, she understood that the life of a feral colonist was no life for her and, indeed, was total bullcrap.  She made her way to the street where, admittedly cold and hungry but in no way reduced in circumstances, she was noticed by passer-by Kathryn Allyn.  That chilly April morning, Cattington first deployed what would become her social signature: her charms. Powerless before pink lips, green eyes and ridiculously over-long whiskers, Allyn would serve as a loyal and useful minion, particularly when it was cold, or loud and scary outside. Cattington lived (exhibiting heroic patience) with Allyn in Jersey City until their move to Manhattan in 2006 to live with Mr. Kinsey, who’s ok. 

Cattington, appalled by the wallpaper, in April 1998

Many will remember Cattington for her sparkling wit and provocative artworks. Her bon mots and short works of prose earned her the moniker The Oscar Wildecat of the Hoomternet, while her sculptures in hairball are widely admired and represent the bulk of a prolific output. It’s nevertheless true, however, that most noteworthy among her works is the series “Mouse, Deconstructed” (I-VI; 1999-2013).  Utilizing both audio and visual components with the artist’s process accomplished in real time, the pieces are ultimately presented in relief.  What her public may not know is that Cattington was a noted philanthropist. Her charitable efforts, in addition to recycling area vermin for use in her art, included sharing her bed with the Hooms and allowing them to provide her with warms, as well as helping them to identify and remove the weak threads in the furniture.

No. V in the Series: "Mouse Deconstructed" (2012)

Like many of the greats who came before, her artistry and philanthropy went unappreciated during her lifetime; she often was heard to remark that the Hooms would be sorry when she was gone.  Judging by the outpouring of grief on the hoomternet, the tolling of church bells in New York City, the nation’s flags at half-mast and CNN and Al-Jazeera reports of world-wide garment-rending, it would seem that she was correct. Again.

 

Right again, Hooms. Right again.  Like I always said, You can kiss my tail. Yeah...not that end. See you on the other side -- I'll keep a bite waiting for you.

Ed. note: Nobody ever called her The Oscar Wildecat of the Hoomternet.
She tried to make that a Thing, but. Didn't happen.

Philanthropy

We'll pay for this on the other side...

irresistable

photo: Sandy Rosin

And art thou gone, associate of my youth?
Snatch'd from a faithful friend that lov'd thee well?
Nought could avail thy goodness nor thy truth,
Thou pattern for good cats, alas! farewell!

-Edward Gardner, 1798

Fiona T. Cattington, 1998-2014

 

Performing February 8: Playing Hard to Get

Frank and I are performing our set Playing Hard To Get (a set of obscure -- but wonderfully accessible and entertaining -- swing and blues from 1933-1955) at:

The New York Sheet Music Society (Local 802 - Musicians’ Hall, 322 West 48th Street, NYC). 

Regarding the NYSMS....I have to say that NYC continually amazes me; the range of interesting and surprising clubs never ceases to astound!

From their site:

The New York Sheet Music Society was established in 1980. It began with a small but dedicated group of collectors, who, through the courtesy of the late Sammy Cahn, president of the Songwriters' Hall of Fame, met at One Times Square to exchange sheet music and stories about songwriters, singers, and songs. Now a thriving non-profit corporation, the Society has over 400 members spread across the nation.

 WINNERS OF THE 2013 MAC AWARD UNDER THE CATEGORY
"SPECIAL PRODUCTION/VARIETY PRODUCTION/RECURRING SERIES"

From the start, NYSMS meetings were lively affairs, and they continue to be. Celebrity drop-ins quickly became one of the Society's attractions. Many of America's great songwriters have discussed their careers, their collaborators, and their work methods. To hear them perform their hits and tell the stories behind the songs is spellbinding. We also invite the cream of today's biographers and historians to share their insights. These exciting programs are preserved on videotape in our archives.

For my part...

The proceedings begin at 12:30pm, if you're interested in sheet music, or you can arrive for the show which starts at 2pm (runs a bit over an hour). I do encourage lovers of old bookstores and printed music to consider coming for the shopping; there are just boxes, upon boxes, upon boxes! of a huge range of styles of antique sheet music to examine, admire and buy!

Feel free to pass an invite along to friends who are free of a Saturday afternoon, who enjoy musical arcana and (some pretty naughty, actually) 40's era songs. As always, Frank will kill it, and we'll have a good time!

My advert....

Saturday, February 8
12:30pm
(Show 2:00 TO 3:00pm)
New York Sheet Music Society
Local 802, NYC, 322 W. 48th Street
$10 for non-members

Kathryn Allyn and Frank Ponzio: 
Playing Hard to Get

Over the years, on NPR, public tv and at sundry online locales, I heard songs which surprised me and lingered in my memory. Too often, I tried to put my hands on sheet music only to find it unavailable; my favorites were inevitably out of print. Having accumulated a list of orphaned songs and unaware of the New York Sheet Music Society (which could doubtless have saved me some effort), I took them down with my ear from the recordings and arranged them myself.  With a  huge arranging assist and much coaching by Frank --and after a yeoman's work-- we have a set of the unknown, neglected gems of Jo Stafford, Julia Lee, Billy Holiday and Betty Hutton. 
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Today in Non Sequitur: Cotton Tail

Once upon a time, a cat called Jon added lyrics to an instrumental piece by a fellow called Duke. But here's the thing: Jon didn't add lyrics to the version on paper, nope. 

One day in 1940, Duke's band stepped onto the stage and played a number, and everyone took their solo, as was their wont. As you might imagine, all kinds of improvisatory shit happened. A million twee notes were showered onto the happy ears of the audience, and they went by fast.  So our friend Jon? Laid his lyric onto those particular solos, from that particular day.

Now, per usual, complete sheet music did not reveal itself. I found a lead sheet of the A Section, but no more. So I tried to take it down from the wonderful Maude Hixon recording. But my ear just wasn't up to it, in part because Jon, not for nothing, employed virtually zero use of melisma. Almost every one of those tiny little sax (or whichever) solo notes gets its own word.  The sad truth is that my grades in Ear Training and Dictation for Singers in college were not stellar. Plus it's been a few days since I was in class, so. And this is what we're dealing with:

I find a score for sale online that purports to be an orchestral score -- a transcription of the day's performance, but it's 55 British bucks (I hate finding the "symbols" menu). And there's no preview. I don't know everything, but I know that spending ...what is the exchange rate?....sight unseen is not going end well. If I do that, it's assured that what I need won't be there. Guaranteed.

But!

Now I have a date at the Third Floor of the Lincoln Center library (who nicely dredged it up from  the bowels of "Offsite"), to examine this marvel, this thing that purports to be the transcribed orchestral score from that particular day. I'm led to believe that the solos were transcribed as well, and will be contained therein. If so, I will officially be, as the kids say, cooking with gas. If not...well, let's not borrow trouble.

 

A more aggressive search of the innerwebs did reveal a couple of transcriptions of the first of the solos....the Ben Webster Sax solo. So that's good, now I'm partway there. But I still have fully half the number to chart.

I suppose the kids don't really say that anymore. Anyhow, off to the library, where I hope/choose to believe the needed solos will be revealed, and I can start the next step: charting a tune with 681 words, not a single one repeated.

Here begins the tale (tail?) of Duke Ellington and Jon Hendricks' Cotton Tail. I will prevail. More to come.

PS I'd like to stipulate for the record that I am going to the library in the gusting winds and freezing rain of a January weekend on, it should be noted, a day when I'd hoped to have decent hair in the evening. You can't say I'm not committed to the project.

Jazz Project In Development: Along Came Benny

When I decided to sing pop styles seriously -- to Do Cabaret -- the first challenge was to avoid bleed-over of the operatic tone on which I'd spent so many years and taken such pains to develop. With one notable exception*, my experience of hearing opera singers do standards, torch songs or, really, any sort of pop style, has been...well.  I mean, could somebody please speak to Renee?  Out of love and genuine admiration, that whole situation needs an intervention.  How can someone who has the taste to do this, ever do this? She is a singer for the ages; an icon for good reason.  But my question is always, "Why is that ok?" It's clear that there's no effort to modify the tone to suit the genre.  Zero amount.  And it seems disrespectful to me, somehow -- as if pop styles aren't entitled to their own priorities in terms of tone. I dunno. Anyhoo, I was bedeviled by this point, and warned Coach to call me out if (let's face it: when) he heard it happen. Because hell no. 

I was doing ok, I'd gotten a section in the lower middle voice to behave, was stretching the edges -- expanding my approved-for-pop-styles range by half steps every so often -- and listening to good role models. All this while simultaneously trying to learn something about Actual Jazz, which is obviously down the road a ways, hello, that's a whole new skill set entire.  But fine. Ok.  Then one fateful day, Coach says...GO TO THE POST

Slutty Witches, Naughty Mummies and Lascivious Ghosts; Plus? Bulgarians and a River of Vodka

So here is something new for me....I've been assigned a Kay Starr song and instructed to procure a slutty witch costume. After a visit to the Tramps-R-Us near my job, I'm all sorted out and ready to go.  Consider joining us at The Salon's Halloween Stomp. It will be good music, plenty booze, major cleavage and epic people-watching.

The event is produced by renaissance man Patrick Soluri's Prohibition Productions  (seriously, everything from the Fringe Festival to Forth Worth Opera to retro-themed dance parties on the hotel terraces of New York City -- check him out) and writer, critic, curator and general smartypants Will Friedwald's new Album of the Month Club. The spectacle will occur at Mehanta, the lower east side's Bulgarian bar (which is already so Halloween it could just put a cobweb over the door and call it good).  The event will be, as the kids say, the bees' knees. A pip.  I have my doubts that anyone will listen to me sing, but my song is cool.

Singing Fancy Music Too...

I will be performing two new English-language art songs at a concert of new works presented by The New York Composers Circle. I’ll be singing composer Memrie Innerarity’s settings of two poems of Romanian poet, composer, journalist and film critic Nina Cassian:
“Memories”
“Greed”

 LeFrak Concert Hall at Queens College
(66-30 Kissena Boulevard in Queens)
Sunday, November 10
2pm

For more information about the concert and the New york Composer's Circle...GO TO THE POST

Today in Non Sequitur: Regarding That Whole Miss Kansas Situation

Because I'm aggravated all the way down to my stem cells by Miss Kansas' decision to use Puccini's iconic, litmus test of an aria for lyrico spinto tenore as a graceless Plan B for an amateur soubrette, I've decided to embark upon the following rant.

Fort Riley, Kansas: The atomic cannon was a huge piece of ordnance built by the US in the mid-1950s to hurl nuclear shells far enough that they wouldn't kill the people who fired them.  That thing has decorated a bluff outside my home town my whole life. I periodically dreamily wonder, when reading the political press, if I could work it.

 

It's also true, though that my desire to either run down or defend Kansas' young archer stands at exactly zero amount.  She's not the focus of my aggravation.  At most, she's the lens through which I'm currently peering at some aggravating shit.  As a native of Kansas and having spent my childhood under the watchful eye of Fort Riley's Atomic Canon, I'd have been pleased for Sergeant Vail to win. As a woman and a friend of women, I think the pageant should have figured out an OSHA-approved workaround to let her shoot arrows, as her Maker clearly constructed her to do. But she needs nothing from me; she's on her way to the life of her dreams, whether clad  in a Miss America sash or not. Opera, on the other hand...well. Let's just say she's felt better in her life.  So, here then, is my defense  of my (cruel and ungrateful, by the way) erstwhile mistress. GO TO THE POST



A couple cuts from the last show

My Superpower is that I can really hire a great band. Well, and also I've never had a cavity, nor orthodontia of any kind -- which is a totally D-list superpower, but whatchagonnado. These guys are so good it's a little upsetting; it speaks to the world we live in that I can (sort of almost) afford them.

Y'might have to turn it up. It's not as loud as I might wish.  Plus both these cuts start soft anyhow and then grow ....I'm not so expert at the soundfile doohickey. Yet.  That's Today in Baby Steps; check it out!

Upcoming Performance - August 13

Kaye Allyn and Frank Ponzio in:

Every Song I Know Because No Chat &
They Want 80 Minutes

(Hm. Do we think the title is too long?) 

Seriously, it's my first real-jazz-joint (as opposed to sequin-ey cabaret theater gigs), so that's neat.  And the food looks like fun. And um I'm working for tips, so. Come on out, have a booze and a nosh and stick a dollar in my... Tell you what: I'll put out a jar.

Tomi Jazz
August 13 | 8pm - 9:20pm

No cover | $5 minimum

239 E. 53rd Street, Lower Level (Betw 2nd-3rd Ave) | 646-497-1254

fyi, the menu

Kaye & Frank at Tomi

PROJECT V IS FOR VICTORY DISC: DOING IT FOR DEFENSE

Update:

Last performance (for the time being -- Ima try to get some more tries at this one in a couple few months) is tonight!  Get your tickets here...

****** 

I built this set because a record arrived in the mail -- a 6-cd box set of Jo Stafford recordings, arranged in a scholarly ordering of her career phases.  One of the six discs Dad sent was titled 'Wartime "V" Discs...'  I wondered, “hello, what’s that, please?” and began a journey to understand a fascinating footnote in American popular music history. The resultant set's first performances are scheduled for July 25 and August 1.  Over the next couple of months, I will be working with Frank Ponzio and the band on arrangements of a collection that includes many of the standards we love, along with a number of rarities awaiting excavation.

VICTORY DISCS... IT'S A GREAT STORY

In 1942, Robert Vincent was assigned to the Army’s Morale Branch, Radio Section. He was a friend of the son of Thomas Edison, would be known as a pioneer in sound recording, help to establish Armed Forces Radio and, later, serve as a sound engineer on the Nürnberg Trials.  The Army had been sending entertainment to overseas personnel since the establishment of the Morale Branch in 1940, but in 1942, two major musicians unions, engaged in a strike against all four U.S. record companies, imposed a recording ban that was to last until 1944.  In pretty short order, the supply of music available to send to the soldiers dried up and shipments slowed to a crawl. Our hero, Lt. Vincent, visited the Pentagon ... SEE MORE

 

PROJECT PLAYING HARD TO GET

Over the years, on public radio, public television and sundry online locales, I heard great singers singing songs which surprised me and lingered in my memory. Too often, I went looking for sheet music only to find it unavailable; my favorites were inevitably out of print. Having accumulated a list of orphan songs, I decided to take them down from the recordings and arrange them -- getting help early and often from friends and, after the charts were made, turning to the band for advice and expertise. In many cases, significant reductions were needed; many of the songs had to be entirely re-conceived. But after a yeoman's work, we had a set of the unknown jewels and neglected gems of Jo Stafford, Julia Lee, Billy Holiday and Betty Hutton, all arranged for single voice and trio. Hence the name of the set; Playing Hard to Get -- a sheet music joke.  SEE MORE

On DIRTY BLUES

Julia Lee

Julia Lee has been my mother's earworm all my life, leaving mom helpless, singing ad (sorry, Mom) nauseam, “I didn't like it the first time, but ooooooooh, how it grew on meeeeee!” under her breath.  Periodically, she’d nudge, “You should do the Spinach Song!”  The tune was a favorite of her parents; my grandparents were known to roll up the rug in the living room and dance the night away. I gave in, took a look at it and ...

The Spinach Song, or “I Didn’t Like it the First Time” turns out to be an example of a whole sub-genre of Blues: There were dozens of these “Dirty Blues”, which typically performed live or heard on jukeboxes; they were mostly banned from radio (admittedly, for cause). Dirty Blues would have first been heard as Hokum, in the context of Minstrel Shows...SEE MORE

 

DOING IT FOR DEFENSE: Increasingly real; Advert ready!

The postcard-advert one scatters to the four winds (all hail Vistaprint) is done!

Also, and this bit is key: Stage72 will offer a discounted ticket for early buyers (for a couple weeks and while supplies last) of $15, if you buy online (can't just "reserve", must pull trigger). Go to Brown Paper Tickets and enter discount code Victory15.

Front...

Back... 

Man, I have great instrumentalists. Seriously.

I added a sax this time around...the new boy is

Hayes Greenfield


The short version is Hayes can play his actual head off and is nice to children.
And has the best. horn player. name. ever.

Check out video and sounds here.  The long version is...

Hayes Greenfield, saxophone

Hayes Greenfield, saxophone

Hayes' Bio:

Hayes Greenfield – producer, composer, saxophonist, filmmaker, bandleader, and educator – has been active on the New York City jazz scene since the late ‘70s. As sideman, he has built enduring associations with such notable artists as Jaki Byard, Rashied Ali, Paul Bley, Barry Altschul, and Richie Havens. As bandleader, Hayes has recorded and produced a number of critically acclaimed CDs and played throughout the U.S. and Canada, headlining in such popular New York City clubs as the Blue Note, Birdland, the Knitting Factory, and CBGB’s. European tours have taken him and his bands to Vienna, the Aalen Jazz Festival in Germany, Brighton Jazz Festival in the U.K., the Albi, Coutances, Bordeaux, Amiens, Hyeres, and Avignon Jazz Festivals in France, and the Aarhus Jazz Festival in Denmark.

Hayes’ jazz CD for children, Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz, features vocalists Richie Havens and Miles Griffith and was produced by the artist Roy Lichtenstein and his wife Dorothy. This CD was honored with the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio "Gold Award," Child Magazine’s “Best of the Year” award, the Publishers Weekly “Listen Up” award, the Parents’ Choice Foundation "Silver Honor Award," and the American Library Association "Notable Children’s Recording Award."

As an educator, from 1993 to 2000, Hayes ran the music department at The Door, an enrichment center for inner-city youth in New York City. He developed the music component for an entrepreneurial program funded by The Gap, designed the recording/rehearsal studio and MIDI workstation production facility, taught music, and produced The Door’s first CD of young people’s music. For several of those years, Hayes also mentored young men at Friends of Island Academy, an organization providing services to those making the transition from incarceration back to the community.

Hayes' residencies include teaching jazz improvisation on both coasts to both elementary and high school students, designing and teaching an intensive recorder program for 5th graders, and helping to develop a Literacy Through Jazz curriculum for the New Jersey Chamber Society that is currently being taught in New Jersey private and public schools.

As a film composer, Hayes has scored more than 60 films, documentaries, commercials, and TV specials, many of which have received awards, including the prestigious Emmy. In 2002, Hayes scored the feature documentary American Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero, which aired on PBS as part of its 9/11 memorial programming. Berlin Metamorphoses, another feature documentary, premiered in Berlin at the 2002 World Congress of History Producers. Other notable subjects for which Hayes has composed scores include films on the Berlin Airlift; Russia facing the future in the new millennium; luminary figures such as General George Marshall; artists Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and James Rosenquist; architect Philip Johnson; poet laureate Billy Collins; and photographers Elliot Porter and Jan Groover.

Hayes Greenfield is both a Yamaha and Vandoren performing artist, and proudly plays a Yamaha Custom Z alto saxophone, and Vandoren mouthpieces and reeds on all his horns.

Today in Non Sequitur: Arrangements are Hard

While working on an upcoming piece on the subject of Jo Stafford's singing, I noticed that she recorded a number of songs more than once, with some years in between.  I was struck by how different the aural experience of the given song when treated with a new arrangement. To wit:

I will be arguing (brilliantly, I'm sure) that while the aural experience of the two versions is quite different, the technical singing is substantively the same. But off that topic, while listening I began to consider my upcoming set. Doing It For Defense will consist of about half standards, which present a particular challenge -- one has to ask, when singing tunes as oft-recorded as That Old Black Magic, The Nearness of You and You Go To My Head, what can I bring? Why should people come to hear my versions, when Frank, Ella, Peggy, Dinah and Jo, and so many others, have done the artistic heavy lifting, and brought the songs to such heights?

sammy-davis-jr-that-old-black-magic-brunswick.jpg

For the first set Frank Ponzio and I did together -- Playing Hard to Get, we faced this precise problem with a pair of Billie Holiday songs.  The songs I came to love because of Billie's performances were also recorded by other truly great artists (including Carmen McRae and Anita O’Day). The Moon Looks Down and Laughs is a gorgeous Bert Kalmar song, and If the Moon Turns Green a lovely example of the great bandleader and composer Paul Whiteman’s style. Emotional, evocative and graceful, the versions offered by Billie, Carmen and Anita tower over me. 

In the shadow of the greats, I required an expert, and left it to Frank to take on the arranging job for the two songs.  Listening to his work, I'm very pleased. He found something that is our own, and suitable for a trio.

Billie Holiday If the Moon 78 rpm front.jpg
In an early rehearsal, Frank commented that it's too easy for a singer -- particularly one with an academic bent and a rules-following, 'come scritto', classical viewpoint -- to simply "sing the  record".  He countered the tendency by, for example, altering the time signature or playing a traditional ballad as a rumba. And then putting it back. Unnerving in the extreme, but interesting.


As I work on the (in some cases, ruthlessly) standard selections I will sing in July, I'm finding that I can begin to contribute to the arrangement conversation, and that I'm increasingly interested in doing to. Who knows if I can add anything to the songs, but I do think I've found a way in.


Today in Non Sequitur: Trial by Debussy

I spent the weekend working on Les Chanson de Bilitis of Claude Debussy, who set three of the Sapphic erotica of Pierre Louÿs. They're hard -- delicate, exposed, fragile things, and beautiful.  I was introduced to the songs by pianist Mark Cogley some time ago (Mark is something of a Debussy expert -- check out his wonderful recording The Young Debussy, with Tenor Darren Chase).   They are a work in progress for me; I keep coming back to them, sort of poking at them with a stick.  So far, I'm (reasonably) happy with No. 1: La flûte de Pan...

The poem:

The Pan Pipes
For the festival of Hyacinthus
he gave me a syrinx,
a set of pipes
made from well-cut reeds
joined with the white wax that is sweet to my lips like honey.
He is teaching me to play,
as I sit on his knees;
but I tremble a little.
He plays it after me,
so softly that I can scarcely hear it.
We are so close that we have nothing to say to one another;
but our songs want to converse,
and our mouths are joined as they take turns on the pipes.
It is late: here comes the chant of the green frogs,
which begins at dusk.
My mother will never believe I spent so long
searching for my lost waistband.

Nos. 2 and 3, La Chevelure and Le Tombeau des Naïades require more work on my part before I can post my versions... For now, take a listen to the role models: Regine Crespin (with John Wustman) and Irene Joachim (with Jane Bathori) show me how it's done.

The Story:

"Les Chansons de Bilitis is a collection of erotic poetry by Pierre Louÿs published in Paris in 1894,The sensual poems are in the manner of Sappho; the introduction claims they were found on the walls of a tomb in Cyprus, written by a woman of Ancient Greece called Bilitis, a courtesan and contemporary of Sappho. On publication, the volume deceived even the most expert of scholars. Though the poems were actually clever fabulations, authored by Louÿs himself, they are still considered important literature. Although for the most part The Songs of Bilitis is original work, many of the poems in the collection were reworked epigrams from the Palatine Anthology, and Louÿs even borrowed some verses from Sappho herself. The poems themselves are a blend of mellow sensuality and polished style in the manner of the Parnassian school, but underneath run subtle Gallic undertones which Louÿs could never escape. The poems were eventually exposed as a literary fraud. This did little to taint their literary value in the eyes of the readers, however, and Louÿs' open and sympathetic celebration of lesbian sexuality earned him sensation and historic significance." (wikipedia.org)