Cantara, 1980

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

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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 at the other end 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.

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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, the limbs of a stick insect 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 going a wee bit soft and pasta goes right to his chops; 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, 2018; since then my feelings have been an insane mixture of sympathy, gratitude, annoyance, and lust. The sympathy I can understand: I’m at the height of my maturity, he’s at the beginning of his… As far as gratitude, read my post below about “The Trolley Song”. 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 acute attention to the 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 cannily 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 and broadcasts; pouring over his interviews; watching him conduct (in video clips, mainly from the annual BBC Proms); watching him conduct other orchestras besides his own—from material taken at random from 2007 to the present—and, MOST IMPORTANT, 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 purported perfect pitch) is intriguing and his industriousness is admirable. I am definitely not buying into the PR excess—he is not “a superstar”, “charismatic” or, God help us, “legendary” (at 46!?). But his musicianship at times is kiiind of brilliant.

Part Two below or here.

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

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

JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS

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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, Hubert Parry, etc etc etc; recorded over a dozen albums of English light music with Naxos, Chandos etc
  • English Light Music, Gilbert & Sullivan Division – Creditably conducted Yeoman of the Guard in 2009 and Ruddigore in 2010 (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 – Special affinity for Rachmaninoff, Respighi, Copland (besides “Fanfare” who cares?) etc. Creditably conducted Beethoven’s Pastoral as well as Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the RTE Orchestra in Dublin. Will follow my beloved in years to come to see if/how he does with Schoenberg (who was the most discussed composer when I was in music school), Szymanowski, Scriabin, Shostakovich, etc etc etc
  • Classical Repertoire, English Romantics Division – Creditably conducted Walton, Delius, Britten; deep affinity for Ralph Vaughan Williams (it’s that Sehnsucht, baby)
  • Opera – Creditably conducted Madame Butterfly for the 2016 Glyndebourne tour; creditably conducted Porgy and Bess fall 2018 at the English National Opera; slated to conduct Massenet’s La Cendrillon at Glyndebourne summer 2019
  • 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, Meet Me In St Louis and Singin’ In the Rain, resulting in 350+ pieces of programmable material (for the Proms, for example)—many of which are now of course part of The John Wilson Orchestra repertoire—while the complete scores are now available to orchestras worldwide for symphonic and live-to-screen concerts
  • Big Band/Big Swing – In his early 20s John cut his teeth on this type of music, starting with his stints conducting his Royal College/Royal Academy colleagues in the afternoon tea dance at London’s famed-for-its-tea-dances hotels, the Grosvenor House and Royal Park (Times music critic Clive Davis gave the young students a “golden”—John’s word—review), plus The Boatyard, a trendy restaurant in Essex; recorded 8 albums for Vocalion; nominated for Grammy 2005 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 recorded a thoroughly awful and dishonest album entitled Orchestral Jazz
  • 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…

John Coltrane Plays “My Favorite Things”

My Favorite Things is the seventh studio album by jazz great John Coltrane, released in 1961 on Atlantic Records. It was the first album to feature Coltrane playing soprano saxophone.

The famous track is a modal rendition of the Rodgers & Hammerstein song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. The melody is heard numerous times throughout, but instead of playing solos over the written chord changes, both pianist McCoy Tyner and Coltrane take extended solos over vamps of the two tonic chords, E minor and E major, played in waltz time.

Also on this album: “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”/Cole Porter 13:42; “Summertime”/George & Ira Gershwin 19:25; “But Not for Me”/George & Ira Gershwin 31:00

In the documentary The World According to John Coltrane, narrator Ed Wheeler remarks on the impact that this song’s popularity had on Coltrane’s career:

In 1960, Coltrane left Miles Davis and formed his own quartet to further explore modal playing, freer directions, and a growing Indian influence. They transformed ‘My Favorite Things’, the cheerful populist song from The Sound of Music, into a hypnotic eastern dervish dance. The recording was a hit and became Coltrane’s most requested tune—and a bridge to broad public acceptance.”

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Yes this place exists. Church of St John Coltrane, 2097 Turk Street, San Francisco. Sound meditation every Sunday at noon.

The Gang at Cheers Sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to Their Despondent Pregnant Barmaid

Season 1, episode 15. 1982. Said Donna Bowman of the A.V. Club: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” [in the episode] took me totally aback. I can’t think of very many sitcom moments that hit that exact tone. I kept waiting for the punchline, and there’s no doubt that we’re intended to smile at the parade of patrons mumbling along under Diane’s leadership, but Carla’s reception of the gesture transforms it into the sincere expression of support that was intended. When we see her continue up the stairs, the camera following her through the window, it’s a moment that reassures the audience in a very specific way. We know Carla’s children’s welfare is actually really important, the moment says. Carla’s, too. These people are trying to do a good thing. We’re going to let them do it. You can imagine a million jokes that would undercut that message for the sake of a laugh. But they don’t come. It’s like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for our emotions: “Invest with confidence.”

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The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, Directed by Billy Wilder, 1970

I have a lot of toasty warm affection for this underrated movie (which I saw second-run in Minneapolis the summer before I started music school), not least because of Hungarian-born Miklos Rozsa‘s score, which he based on his Violin Concerto op. 24, and on which I’ve based my story, The Rosza Concerto.

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Robert Stephens as the great detective and Genevieve Page as his latest client. Yes, that’s Sherlock Holmes embracing a beautiful, nude, warm and willing woman while attempting to keep his cool.

This is Austrian-born Wilder and Romanian-born Diamond at their best, examining—through impish Hollywood eyes, of course—that weird combination of emotional reticence and superciliousness that makes English men just sooo attractive. Their great detective, however, turns out in the end (not to give anything away) to be a lonely man, unsophisticated, profoundly vulnerable, and something of a loser. Stephens’ highly original performance makes this my favorite Holmes of all.

Here’s the trailer from the latest theatrical re-release of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It’s also now on Amazon Prime in entirety.

William Walton Conducts His Viola Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra, Frederick Riddle, 1937

The Viola Concerto by William Walton was written in 1929 for the violist Lionel Tertis at the suggestion of Sir Thomas Beecham; Tertis however rejected the piece, and composer/violist/teacher Paul Hindemith gave the first performance. The work was greeted with enthusiasm and brought Lancashire-born Walton to the forefront of British classical music.

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In February 2017 my beloved John Wilson conducted the London-based Philharmonia Orchestra in a rendition of the Concert with Canadian-born violist Lawrence Power. 

Paris Trout with Dennis Hopper and Barbara Hershey, Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, 1991

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Search the term “bottle+rape+scene+dennis+hopper” and you’ll likely be sent to this film, Steve’s second feature directorial effort (at 42, he’s 69 now) and Hopper’s purportedly favorite role. Bottle rape at 42:00. There’s a creepy, dreamy, nasty edge in almost all the sex scenes of Steve’s movies… If we were still talking I would probably bring it up, but as his mind is gone—shockingly, dismayingly gone—it’d be pretty pointless.