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.

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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