Cantara, 1980

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

Cantara, 1980.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 going 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 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; 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 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.

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

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, Hubert Parry, 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 (besides “Fanfare”, who cares?)
  • Classical Repertoire, English Romantics Division – Deep affinity for Vaughan Williams, possibly Frederick Delius
  • Opera – Creditably conducted Madame Butterfly at Glyndebourne in 2016 (The Guardian: “John Wilson…conducts his first opera as one born to it, with bags of passion and a wonderfully instinctive feel for the ebb and flow of the score”); creditably conducted Porgy and Bess fall 2018 at the English National Opera
  • 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 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 – 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 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 an album entitled 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…

Fanfares, an Album by Onyx Brass, Conducted by John Wilson

Release date 8 March 2018 from Chandos. I know nothing about the English brass tradition so maybe this isn’t the right album for me to be assessing musically. Still, I will follow (almost) anywhere my beloved leads me, so here we are.

The only fanfares I know at present are Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (here performed and riffed on by Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and—like any red-blooded American—the fanfare that begins Alexander Courage’s “Star Trek Theme” (repeated here); but I also remember from my girlhood a wonderful, very English fanfare that provided the theme for the 1967 BBC series The Forsyte Saga, which I found out only recently is from the first movement entitled “Halcyon Days” from the suite The Three Elizabeths written by Eric Coates.

John Wilson Onyx 4

Said MusicWeb International of Fanfares: “John Wilson proves himself to be a deft and intelligent interpreter of this music which he allows to push on in flamboyant display or swagger with burnished grandeur as the mood demands. The playing of the expanded Onyx brass is of exactly the right kind of easy virtuosity and blazing brilliance.” Check back for my comments after I’ve heard in entirety every one of these 58 freakin cuts.

Carol Burnett in CBS’s Broadcast of the Sammy Fain/Paul Francis Webster Musical Calamity Jane, November 1963

First on CBS (Carol’s network) 12 November 1963, now available in its entirety on YouTube here. Saw this when I was eight—and note the date: This was 10 days before President Kennedy was assassinated. Some bleak Thanksgiving weekend, that.

Carol duos “Secret Love” with big handsome Art Lund starting at 1:22:30. Lund had a swoony hit a few years earlier with Leroy Anderson’s “Serenata” (which I heard in my bassinette and still adore); and people forget Carol Burnett started as a legit Broadway singer with an invigorating presence and great legs. A surprising amount of sexual energy makes it to the small screen here.

Carol Burnett Calamity Jane.jpg

Webster and Fain rearranged the music from the Doris Day MGM musical for this stage version and a new book was brought in by TV writer Paul Shuken, so it sounds nothing like the film version which—of course, my bonny John Wilson being involved—gave the Proms its version.

Mamoulian, The Drunken Woman in the Other Room, and Laura by David Raksin Conducted by John Wilson

This is what I mean when I say that John Wilson has invaded every nook and cranny of my inner life. I hadn’t thought of Mamoulian in years until I recently came upon an excerpt of a concert conducted by John in Glasgow, September 2011. The program was “Music to be Murdered By” with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

John Wilson BBSO 2011 copy.jpg

“You know I directed Laura,” said Mr Mamoulian to me matter-of-factly one day as we sat in his alcove-cum-study.

Now, I had seen the movie Laura several times—on TV and in the art house—and I remembered practically all the credits, which included one for Otto Preminger, Director…but no Mamoulian. But here was The Old Man sitting knee to knee with me, announcing right out that he was (what’s the Variety word?) the helmer of that glamorous but nutsy picture with Gene Tierney.

So what did I do? I was twenty-three. I was on a job. I nodded.

He sat back, took a couple of puffs from that awful cigar of his and smiled wistfully. “You know, Gene introduced me to my wife.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” I said. That would be Azadia, who Mamoulian called Zayde (a giggle, because zayde means grandfather in Yiddish); she was a woman I never saw except once. She was always in the Other Room.

More later.

John Wilson Discourses Upon Leonard Bernstein at Birmingham Symphony Hall

Really, I’m going to have to start collecting these pronouncements.

John Wilson on Berstein
Stephen Maddock, CEO of the City of Birmingham Symphony and John, 24 January 2018.

The music is of such importance it actually unlocks some of the questions as to what people are meant to be doing and thinking on stage. I’ve done West Side Story a lot, I’ve done a few complete productions of it and whenever you are unsure of how to turn something dramatically you look in the score and the subito or the hairpin will actually give you the direction of what’s happening on the stage in every bar.

John honey, there are these things called lyrics and librettos

We’ll have to have a talk over a bot’le a Broon one of these days, my stunt.

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. Whereas four months ago I had none, I now have 6 of them. 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 “Geraldo Among the Filipinos, 1963” 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???

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 favorite Charles Trenet 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