Back in October, on extremely short notice, my brilliant, bonny John Wilson substitute-conducted the state-run radio orchestra of Ireland, RTE, in a program of Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor, and Dvořák’s quite listenable Symphony No. 8 in G major.
Pinch-hitting for a sick colleague in Glasgow a month later, John conducted Brahms’s Haydn Variations, as well as Dvořák’s crowd-pleasing Symphonic Variations.
But it’s John’s performance of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings that really made me sit up. Written by Benjamin Britten for his live-in sweetie Peter Pears—who sang it in 1943—Serenade, with its unlikely musical combination, is a remarkably rich work, just the kind of music that John should be involved in at this point in his career. Of course he conducted it splendidly in Glasgow. BBC Radio 3 is streaming the program for the next couple of weeks.
An incredibly hot, hot sexy song, and I can’t believe that Day’s son Terry Melcher (the Manson Family’s original target) co-wrote it for her. If this doesn’t get you hankering for the one person you want to go to bed with you’re earless.
Music and lyrics by Joe Lubin, Hal Kanter and Terry Melcher; arranged by composer Jack Nitzsche (of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fame). Sung by Doris Day and chorus with West Coast session singers The Blossoms, featuring Darlene Love(!!!), Fanita James, and Jean King.
Three years after Man of La Mancha was a major hit on Broadway, Belgian music legend Jacques Brel licensed the staging rights, adapted the book, translated the lyrics, directed the production, and starred as Don Quixote with the original Dulcinea herself, Joan Diener.
Telle est ma quête
Peu m’importent mes chances
Peu m’importe le temps
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 other albums I haven’t gotten yet: One is with a pleasant but unimaginative crooner named Gary Williams (who I suspect was the chap 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) 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 the 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. (John’s big smile at 4:23.)
Fast forward through World War II to Al Williams’ Papagayo Room in the Fairmont Hotel. It’s 2 a.m. Al’s place is the hangout on the late shift. Mexican food in the middle of the night? We were young and indestructible. Frank was on his own now and headlining at (again) the Golden Gate. The critics weren’t impressed with “Frankie,” as they called him, to his disgust, but the schoolgirls were cutting classes to catch his shows and I was giving him sincere plugs. At the Papagayo Room on his closing night, a burly broken-nosed guy in a polo coat came to my table and said, “You Caen?” When I nodded warily, he slipped me a small package, said, “Frank says t’anks” and disappeared. The package contained a solid gold Dunhill lighter. It was the first but not the last time I would be reminded of Sinatra’s penchant for extravagant gifts…
I’m a pot of joy for a hungry boy, Baby, I’m cookin’ with gas. Oh, I’m a gumdrop, A sweet lollipop, A brook trout right out of the brook, And what’s more, baby, I can cook!
The Queen of Broadway Bernadette Peters entices conductor John Mauceri with her many, many assets, courtesy of Leonard Bernstein and the great lyric team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden. “I Can Cook, Too” from On the Town. Fun starts Fun starts here at 4:45.