A Great American Songbook Song for My Beloved John Wilson, Conductor: “Where Or When” by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart from Babes In Arms (1937)

When you’re awake
The things you think
Come from the dreams you dream
Thought has wings
And lots of things
Are seldom what they seem

Where or When

Another love song to you, John Wilson my darling, my bonny, my Tyneside lad. In Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Warner Bros 1974), Scorsese’s fourth feature, my favorite actress in the world Ellen Burstyn plays Alice Hyatt, a New Mexico housewife suddenly widowed and left without means of support, who decides to try to return to her childhood home of Monterey, California and make a go of it again as a professional singer.

Weak and breathy as her voice is, she keeps the tune and the beat throughout the entire song—Scorsese has her sing the entire song, with intro—and something about the way Edna Rae (Burstyn’s original name) sings appeals to me so much I come back to this scene again and again. Maybe it’s that her through-line is surprisingly strong. By the way, you do notice the sheet music for Oklahoma! on the piano…

Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: “Isn’t It Romantic?” by Rodgers & Hart, Ultimately Sung by Jeanette MacDonald in Love Me Tonight, Paramount 1932

The most audacious musical film sequence ever directed. If I had seen Love Me Tonight (here available in its entirety) before I went to work for The Old Man I would’ve been more patient with him.

Isn’t it romantic
Music in the night, a dream that can be heard
Isn’t it romantic
Moving shadows write the oldest magic word

Love Me Tonight.jpgAnd dig that not-too-obvious Eros aiming his love arrow at Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier.

The Lower East Side, 1976

And tell me what street
Compares with Mott Street in July

Here in the same neighborhood on 13 Essex Street was my second apartment in New York; fourth floor walkup, one bedroom, tub in kitchen, $85 a month.

“Manhattan”
music by Richard Rodgers
lyrics by Lorenz Hart

13 Essex Street

This picture’s from the 90s. When I lived here in the 70s, the boutique was a kosher grocery that stayed open till 11pm.

From the 1925 revue Garrick Gaieties. The song was introduced by Sterling Holloway (of Fractured Fairy Tales fame) and June Cochran.

“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” by Richard Rodgers, Orchestrated by Don Walker: John Wilson Conducting The John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Proms 2012

Before I go into more of my bonny’s musical missteps that have done their part to annoy the hell out of me, I think it’s only fair to share the best clips available of John Wilson’s own 24-year-old orchestra—cannily named, as I have mentioned, The John Wilson Orchestra—which, out of over 200(!) on YouTube in nine years, come down to about 3, maybe 4 of these “best clips” spread out through 2009-2017.

So in no particular order: This is from their 2012 show The Broadway Sound at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London, which seats 5200, with standing room for 1300 on the ground floor (tickets for which go for only 6L and for which people camp out overnight at the box office like it was freakin Winterland). This is pertinent, because it seems like The JWO only does its best work when it can blast the roof off a barn.

John Wilson Slaughter.jpgJohn my love, if conducting this incredibly hot number didn’t get you laid that night, I worry about your generation.

I had the old Ben Bagley recording and the 1983 Broadway revival recording (conducted by John Mauceri) of the Rodgers & Hart show On Your Toes—which of course includes the climactic ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”—but both producer Bagley as well as musical theater preservationist Mauceri put on disc the 1936 Robert Russell Bennett orchestration rather than the 1954 one by Don Walker. Our John, being John (I’m starting to get into his “ear”), chose the Walker score to play in the Royal Albertwhich of course makes the most of those two “false” endingsand for once he was entirely correct.

“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

No Strings, a Broadway Musical with Words and Music by Richard Rodgers, 1962

No Strings
Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley are the American lovers in Richard Rodgers’s No Strings, 1962.

No Strings opened on Broadway in 1962 and ran for 580 performances. Rodgers got the idea for casting a black actress in the star role after seeing model-turned-actress Diahann Carroll on The Tonight Show, feeling that the casting spoke for itself and any specific references to race in the play were unnecessary. “Rather than shrinking from the issue of race,” said Rodgers, “such an approach would demonstrate our respect for the audience’s ability to accept our theme free from rhetoric or sermons.” The script was by Samuel A. Taylor, who wrote the play Sabrina Fair and adapted the book D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac for the Hitchcock film, Vertigo.

Considered too risky by Broadway investors, the first production was almost entirely financed by Rodgers himself. Following out-of-town engagements in Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland and New Haven, No Strings finally opened at the 54th Street Theater on 15 March 1962. It was generally welcomed by the New York critics; at season’s end, it was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning three: for Joe Layton as choreographer, for Diahann Carroll as Best Actress in a Musical, and for Rodgers for his score.

Upon seeing the 2003 No Strings revival at Encores! The New York Times‘s Ben Brantley wrote: “The revelation of No Strings is that one of songwriting’s greatest collaborators had it in him to fly high on his own. And fly high he did. No Strings deserves to be better known than it is. The music is youthful and jazzy, almost a throwback to the Rodgers of Rodgers & Hart. The lyrics range, frankly, from serviceable to as good as they get. The relationship between the two leading characters at the heart of this musical is in the fine tradition of the attracting opposites found in all the Rodgers & Hammerstein shows, and the emotional stakes are as real today as they were in 1962.”

As the title hints, there’s no string section in this pit. In fact there’s no pit: The musicians are all on stage, playing and occasionally making appearances in the story. The orchestrator Ralph Burns eventually did record an orchestration with strings for his own band, but I haven’t heard it.

“The Sweetest Sounds”, Words and Music by Richard Rodgers, Sung by Paolo Montalban and Brandy, Interpolated Into ABC-TV’s Version of Cinderella, 1997

The sweetest sounds I’ll ever hear
Are still inside my head
The kindest words I’ll ever know
Are waiting to be said

Not my favorite version of all the R&H Cinderellas (this is my favorite version—I mean come on, it’s Julie Andrews) but this one boasts, as I mentioned, the gorgeous Paolo Montalban as well as the Queen of Broadway, Bernadette Peters, singing great another interpolated Rodgers song, “Falling in Love with Love“. Exceptional orchestration by Doug Besterman.

Cinderrella 1997