Cantara, 1980

The producer of my last movie took this on his patio near the jacuzzi. Sorry, but he kept the nude shots.

Cantara, 1981.jpg

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The Story So Far, with Conductor John Wilson

Cantara, former ASCAP solfeggist and 70s porn actress turned screenplay writer, has fallen hopelessly in love with a man on the other side of the world, an English, middle-ranking orchestra conductor—who plays, on the side, Golden Age of Hollywood music and The Great American Songbook—by the name of John Wilson.

John Wilson 2013

Not because he’s a fellow creator (he doesn’t create, but reconstructs, orchestrates and arranges the music of others)—not because of his looks (he’s peaky, scrawny, blinky; his gray-green eyes lack luster; he’s got a facial tic, lousy posture, enormous feet, and the hands of a hod carrier; his nose is an equilateral triangle; his famous cleft chin, supposedly his best feature, always looks slightly askew; his ultra-short mousy hair can’t conceal the fact he’s already going gray; his jawline is getting a wee bit soft; he sweats like a stevedore on the podium; and for the past few years he’s taken to wearing geek glasses)—and certainly not for his intellect (his fatuous pronouncement about the needlessness of lyrics in The Great American Songbook makes me want to smack the back of his head like the whippersnapper he is and send him home with a note).

So what is it about him? I’ve only been aware of his existence since 30 April and in love with him since 4 May; since then my feelings have been an insane mixture of compassion, gratitude, annoyance, and lust. The compassion I can understand—I’m at the end of middle age, he’s at the beginning… As far as gratitude, read my post below about Conrad Salinger. Even the raging lust I get.

But whenever John gets himself in the way of the music it drives me nuts. It’s crystal clear to me the times he does this because I’m in love with him, dammit, and because when I’m in love with a musician I pay attention to his music. Truth to tell though, the only times John really gets himself in the way are when he’s conducting his own hand-picked group which is dedicated mostly to music from The Great American Songbook, and cunningly named the John Wilson Orchestra.

Whether he gets himself in the way indeliberately or on purpose I cannot entirely tell, but I’m starting to. With a little patience he isn’t that hard to read, my bonny John Wilson. After countless times listening to his recordings; pouring over his interviews; watching him conduct (in video clips, mainly from the annual BBC Proms); watching him conduct other orchestras besides his own; and learning to separate the showman from the musician, I’m starting to understand his type of intelligence and his musical capability, which is actually pretty sizable. His ear (the way he hears things, not his perfect pitch) is intriguing and his industriousness is admirable. I am definitely not buying into the PR excess—he is not, God help us, “charismatic” or “legendary” (at 46!?). But his musicianship at times is kiiind of brilliant.

The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits

Anyway, like a good Dr Watson I have compiled a list:

JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS

John Wilson Rosza 2 copy

Knowledge of/affinity for/talent with:

  • English Light Music – Affinity natural; knowledge vast; repopularized Angela Morley, Malcolm Arnold, Arnold Bax, Edward Elgar, Edward German, Eric Coates, Robert Farnum, etc etc; recorded over a dozen albums of English light music with Naxos, etc
  • English Light Music, Gilbert & Sullivan Division – Creditably conducted Ruddigore (my favorite G&S, as “Basingstoke” was the safeword my boyfriend and I used during bondage games); slated to conduct Trial by Jury spring 2019
  • Classical Repertoire – Affinity for Rachmaninoff, Fauré (?), Copland (prissy music, who cares?)
  • Classical Repertoire, English Romantics Division – Deep affinity for Vaughan Williams, possibly Frederick Delius
  • Opera – Creditably conducted Madame Butterfly (in English) with English National Opera; slated to conduct Porgy and Bess (again, in English) fall 2018 at ENO
  • Opera in Languages Other Than English – I don’t know if John’s school, the Royal College of Music, has a foreign language proficiency requirement; so many music schools since I attended have dropped this requirement
  • Film Music – Creditably conducted “British Film Music” for the 2007 Proms; transcribed by ear complete MGM “lost” movie musical scores including The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ In the Rain, resulting in 200+ pieces of programmable (eg the Proms) material—many of which indeed are now part of the John Wilson Orchestra repertoire, of course—while the complete scores are now available to orchestras worldwide for symphonic and live-to-screen concerts
  • Big Band/Big Swing – Starting in his early 20s John cut his teeth on this type of music, starting with his stint at London’s fancy-shmancy Grosvenor Hotel; recorded 8 albums for Vocalion; nominated for Grammy for the soundtrack of the biopic Beyond the Sea (which is really the first time I heard the JWO but didn’t know it)
  • Jazz – John has absolutely no idea what jazz is, yet he recorded an album called Orchestral Jazz. Let me put it this way: John has as much idea of jazz as Shostakovich did.
  • Broadway and the Great American Songbook – DON’T get me started here. I’m going to be blogging about this.

All the rest is just Cantara trying to sort out where bonny John fits into her inner life. Which as it turns out is in every nook, every cranny…

Lessons in Love, an Album of Songs by Lance Ellington, Played by the JWO and Conducted by John Wilson

Between 2000 and 2005 John recorded 8 albums for the venerable jazz/swing/dance band label Vocalion, and I now have 6 of them (whereas 4 months ago I had none). I have that awful Orchestral Jazz he did with Richard Rodney Bennett; his 2 albums of Angela Morley’s work; his Paul Weston and his Geraldo (see my post “Geraldo Among the Filipinos” below); and I just ordered Dance Date.

There are two more albums I haven’t gotten yet: One is with a pleasant but unimaginative crooner named Gary Williams (who I suspect was the guy who enabled John to increase the size of his orchestra—”He just turned up one day at my door with a pot of money and said, ‘Will you put together a great big orchestra for me to sing to?’ And that was the start of it,” said my blinky winsome John in a 2011 interview—and somebody, bear me out on this story) but it doesn’t sound interesting enough to drop fifteen bucks on.

But this one, Lessons In Love, sounds perfectly gorgeous, the little I heard—it’s classic Songbook stuff—and I’m dying to have it. It’s Lance Ellington’s strong clear vocals and fundamental John Wilson Orchestra through and through. Trouble is, it apparently went through a limited pressing so available copies run from 115 American bucks upward. How can a record only 13 years old be a collector’s item already???

Anyway, Lance Ellington is the son of English bandleader/singer Ray Ellington, who I know only as that weird singer on The Goon Show who mangled my beloved Charles Trenet’s song “Boum”, even though I yelled at him not to do it through my computer screen. Lance is great, though. He teamed up with John and Orchestra for their 2014 Cole Porter album doing the song “Now You Has Jazz” and that album won the Echo Klassik Music Without Borders Prize.

Lance Ellington

The Earworm That is Knightsbridge, Conducted by John Wilson

You’ve heard this piece a lot if you, like me, have regularly tuned in to the BBC over the years. (It was the signature song for the twice-a-day radio program Music While You Work during World War 2, my mother’s time.) This is a sprightly “march” with a grand ending that doesn’t sound deserved—which is why I can’t get it out of my head—unless you know that this is actually the final movement of an entire 17-minute suite.

Performed by the BBC Symphony for the program “British Light Music” at the 2500-seat Royal Festival Hall in London, 2011.

I thoroughly enjoy watching John conduct the works of Eric Coates as he seems to have taken a personal delight in this particular composer—check out the very grand “Dambusters” below (starting at 6:05; endearing look of satisfaction unclouded by thought at 9:10).

Johh Wilson 2007 1

Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate at the 2014 BBC Proms, Played by the JWO and Conducted by John Wilson

John and his orchestra don’t always perform “semi-staged” musicals badly at the BBC Proms—their 2012 My Fair Lady was pretty much all right, no shenanigans there (although The Guardian wrote, “John Wilson’s adapted score—which borrows from Andre Previn‘s movie arrangements—adds a sparkle to even the most drearily expository songs: the flutes somehow sound cheekier, the brass ruder, the strings zingier”); and their 2014 Kiss Me Kate was big, sexy and playful, as it was meant to be. Winsome John even gets a speaking part!

The entire production is available to watch here.

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