On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and the First Porn Movie I Ever Did

Just so you don’t go on thinking this is some kind of fanblog (it’s not, because I’m not a fan*, just crazy in love with the bloke) I thought I’d spend a posting to tell you all how I got my first gig in pictures…

John Wilson.jpegImmaculate white full dress shirt with detachable wing collar, white dickey, white bow tie, white waistcoat, studs, cufflinks, and a spare tailcoat in the dressing room—my bonny lad is set

This happened in San Francisco—in the 70s a paradise for the sexually adventurous—and coming after the time I worked as Rouben Mamoulian‘s amanuensis, which was after the time I posed nude for a blind sculptor in St-Paul-de-Vence, which was after the time I danced topless in a mob-run bar in Red Hook, which was after the time I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP

So anyway. One lovely summer evening about six weeks after I hit the city I went with a (legit) actress friend to a house party up on Potrero Hill, mostly because she enticed me with the information that the party would be featuring a hot tub. (Am such a sucker for hot tubs.) Well, at the party there was this cute but obvious older guy from London (trimmed ginger beard, open shirt, bead bracelet—no one goes California like the English) named Peter, who owned the house and who invited me seulement for a session of coke+quaaludes and a nice soak later, after all the other guests have left. Then he gave me his card. (This was the first time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex, but it wouldn’t be the last)…

[to be continued, fixing dinner now]

*No, really, I’m in love with John but he plows through Gershwin like a bull moose and treats Bernstein like Bernstein’s Saruman and he’s Frodo. How could any red-blooded American woman countenance such effrontery to her national pride?**

**He does, however, conduct Elgar and Vaughan Williams like an angel.

My Bonny John Wilson and His Eponymous Orchestra to Present The Warner Brothers Story at the BBC Proms on 9 August 2019

From The JWO website 12 May, 2018: “John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra present The Warner Brothers Story, an evening of sumptuous Technicoloured scores from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. Friday 9 August 2019 3.00pm & 7.30pm at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Tickets go on sale at 9am for Prom 29 and 30 on Saturday 11 May. Royal Albert Hall Box Office: 020 7589 8212.” I think they’re all sold out by now. “The evening show will be broadcast live on BBC Four TV, live on BBC Radio 3 and recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 2.” So there’s hope for me.

Bugs as Leopold.jpgLeopold! Leopold!

But “Technicolored”—sheesh. (Do you write your own copy, my love? I truly hope you don’t.) At any rate, here’s the program listed on my darling’s management’s website:

  • “Blues in the Night” / Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer
  • The Constant Nymph (excerpts) / Erich Korngold
  • The Sea Hawk / Erich Korngold
  • My Fair Lady (excerpts) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner
  • Camelot (excerpts) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (excerpts) / Alex North
  • Now, Voyager(!!!) (excerpts) / Max Steiner
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (excerpts) / Max Steiner
  • Romance on the High Seas (excerpts) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn

Ah, Cahn, that altekocker. I rode up in an elevator with him and cartoonist Robert Clampett once and had nothing to say to him; at the time Cahn was siding with management and against us ASCAP solfeggists when we wanted to unionize. So I just stood there quietly, listening to the both of them natter on to each other about their respective accomplishments. “And I wrote that Jackie Gleason song!” exclaimed Cahn, while Clampett was adamantly proud of Tweety Bird, and rightly so.

John Wilson Conducts The JWO in a Big Band Swingin’ Symphonic Medley, BBC2, Christmas Day 2010

Shimmy alert at 6:26. Whoever would stifle that shimmy in years to come, my bonny, would stifle your spirit.

John Wilson Big Band

Excerpts by composer and band: “Skyliner” – Barnet / Charlie Barnet; “Take the A Train” – Billy Strayhorn and vocalist Joya Sherrill / Duke Ellington; “Let’s Dance” – Gregory Stone (based on von Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance”, orchestrated by Hector Berlioz) / Benny Goodman; “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” – Irving Berlin / Ray Noble; “Begin the Beguine” – Cole Porter / Artie Shaw; “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” – Ned Washington and George Bassman / Tommy Dorsey; “Midnight Sun” – Hampton and Sonny Burke / Lionel Hampton; “You Made Me Love You” – Monaco and McCarthy / Harry James; “Moonlight Serenade” – Miller / Glenn Miller; “Peanut Vendor” – Moisés Simons / Stan Kenton; “Woodchoppers Ball” – Joe Bishop / Woody Herman; “One O’Clock Jump” – Count Basie / Count Basie. Orchestral arrangement by composer Andrew Cottee.

Once again, my ASCAP training comes to the fore…

The MGM Jubilee Overture Arranged by Johnny Green, Reconstructed and Conducted by John Wilson, and Played by The John Wilson Orchestra

MGM’s best-known music director arranged this piece in 1954 in commemoration of the studio’s 30th birthday. And since 2004, when my beloved John Wilson and his eponymous orchestra first played this reconstituted medley at the 2,900-seat Royal Festival Hall, it has gone on to become sort of their signature piece, which they’ve played all over the world from Sydney to Berlin. I can’t imagine how John was able to reconstruct the score directly from hearing this lusterless film short, but my darling has the gift of patience and commitment.

John Wilson MGM Berlin
One of those rare moments when John conducted without his baton, which fell out of his grasp but was retrieved seconds later by an alert string player. Berlin, 2016.

Now….right. Because this is turning out to be the second most clicked-on post on my blog (the first most clicked-on being the one about Noli Me Tangere, the Filipino opera based on Jose Rizal’s classic novel) I’ve decided finally to take a few minutes to come back to this posting and add the names of the composers and lyricists as I promised—and bear in mind, I’m doing this pretty much from memory. (I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP, remember?): “Singin’ In the Rain” / Nacio Herb Brown; “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” / Cole Porter; “Broadway Rhythm” / Nacio Herb Brown; “The Last Time I Saw Paris” / Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II; “Temptation” (shades of Tony Martin!) / Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed; “Be My Love” (shades of Mario Lanza!) Nicholas Brodzsky / Sammy Cahn; “The Trolley Song” (with the Judy sound) / Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane; “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (more Judy sound) / Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer; “Donkey Serenade” / Herbert Stothart, based on Rudolph Friml; and “Over the Rainbow” (the Judy sound of all Judy sounds) / Harold Arlen, EY Harburg.

The last two numbers, “Donkey” and “Rainbow” were obvious tributes to Green’s late predecessor as music director, Oscar winner (for The Wizard of Oz score, which John reconstructed by ear), Herbert Stothart.

Deleted: 2 bars plus “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” / Frank Loesser and John, I’d really like having a little chinwag with you re your fellow musical reconstructor Philip Lane’s comments etc one of these days.

 

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.

John Wilson Proms.jpeg
Apollo smiles on you, John. I have it on good authority.

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 posts 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 whenever I’m in love with a musician I pay attention to the music. (This has happened only once before in my life, actually.) Truth to tell, 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 (ditto); 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”, “a guru(!!!)”, “charismatic”, “legendary” or, God help us, as proclaimed by Brass Bands Monthly, a “conducting icon” (at 46!?). But his musicianship at times is kiiind of brilliant.

Part Two below or here.

“I Have Confidence”

And right around the time in history James “Smiling Cobra” Aubrey was turning MGM’s historical music scores into LA landfill and baby John was home in Gateshead falling out of his high chair in excitement over the brand-new BBC news theme, forty-five years ago today—even down to the day of the week—I fled Minneapolis for New York (on the pretense of auditioning at Juilliard) and took a shared room at Sage House, a genteel women-only boarding house on 49 West 9th Street in Greenwich Village.

With 2 meals a day included it came out to $33 a week. You read that right. A place in Greenwich Village, breakfast and dinner, for thirty-three dollars a week. Try to imagine the mischief I got into with all the money I had left over from my weekly paycheck from my first job as a solfeggist at ASCAP, that it’s summer in NYC, it’s 1973, I’m eighteen, cute as a button and old enough to drink, and gorgeous men are everywhere. And imagine too that I’m singing a song (in my heart and sometimes while bounding down the street) that every American girl of my generation inspired by Julie Andrews sang:

I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see I have con-fi-dence in meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Sage House NYC

“With the Wind and the Rain in Your Hair” and “Long Ago and Far Away” Sung by Dennis Day on Two Wartime Jack Benny Programs

Benny Day Livingston Wilson
Announcer Don Wilson, Mary Livingston, Jack Benny, and Irish Tenor Dennis Day

Fellow Minnesotan Clara Edwards (1880-1974) began her career as a composer and songwriter in the 1920s, joining the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1925. Edwards composed over 100 works and published over 60 songs. Her songs were “quickly taken up by publishers” (her words), and many famous singers performed them, including soprano Lily Pons and baritone Ezio Pinza. Her most successful song was “With the Wind and the Rain In Your Hair”, with lyrics by Jack Lawrence.

With the Wind and the Rain In Your Hair” (05:08)
Dennis Day and the Phil Harris Orchestra
The Jack Benny Program 01 July 1940

“Long Ago and Far Away” is a popular song from the Columbia Pictures 1944 Technicolor film musical Cover Girl starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. The music was written by Jerome Kern and the lyrics were written by Ira Gershwin. Along with the Blane/Martin Judy classic “The Trolley Song“, “Long Ago…” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1944 but both lost out to Bing Crosby’s hit “Swinging on a Star”. Sixty years later it finished #92 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

This is the song that clinched for me that solfeggist job at ASCAP.

Long Ago and Far Away” (07:00)
Dennis Day and the Phil Harris Orchestra
The Jack Benny Program 04 September 1944