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...

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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)

On Dirty Blues' Granddaddy

When I decided to sing Dirty Blues, the required reading took me directly into the rich vein of history that is the Minstrel Show.  

Those blackface variety shows, looked upon by modern audiences with horror, are simultaneously revolting, mysterious and frightening. The reading is, however, worth the effort.  Go down the rabbit hole of links to essays, books, articles -- plus God only knows how much stuff.  You may, as I did, realize you missed lunch entirely and, actually, you just missed your train not looking up. Who knows when another B will come, argh.

Hans Nathan; “Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy”; 1977; (Mungo, a character in The Padlock ); commons.wikipedia.org

Art is always either derivative or reactionary, usually both, and in any event, everything comes from somewhere. All things have been drawn from a well. Many times, deciding upon the impetus or knowing what was adapted, conflated or turned on its head to make something "new", is not so difficult.  But when something has an aspect that is arguably unique, one follows a less direct line looking for its parent. To say, as I was told, that "minstrelsy is the United States’ first indigenous musical theater performance art", brings with it a challenge.  What happened that this flowered? Why this, particularly? Why then? Context, as always, is everything.  SEE MORE