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, and I now have 6 of them (whereas 4 months ago I had none). 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 my post “Geraldo Among the Filipinos” 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???

Anyway, 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 beloved Charles Trenet’s 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

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Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, 11 June 1962, Directed by Joe Hamilton, Written by Mike Nichols

This nine-minute medley sung by Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, called “History of Musical Comedy”, is a variety-show tour de force enough for the first six minutes; then at 6:00 it rises to high art in the most affecting soprano duet in the repertoire of American opera. Happy birthday, Mr B.

Julie and Carol at Caarnegie Hall 2.jpeg

“Changing My Tune” from The Shocking Miss Pilgrim by George & Ira Gershwin, Sung by Betty Grable

Castles were crumbling
And daydreams were tumbling
December was battling with June
But on this bright afternoon
Guess I’ll be changing my tune

We can thank composer/arranger Kay Swift, Gershwin’s secret lover, for making sure this song found its perfect setting in this 1947 20th Century Fox musical after Gershwin’s untimely death ten years earlier.

“Secret Love” by Sammy Fain and Paul Webster from Calamity Jane, Sung by Claire Teal, BBC Proms 2011

Clare Teal is great and gorgeous. She’s a wonderful musician and a fine singer, in fact one of the best singers the JWO’s ever worked with, and her choice of material on her records and in her own shows is impeccable. At the time Teal sang in the 2011 Proms she was a little more popular than John and his orchestra; the Beeb seems to have been worked like the old Hollywood studio system in getting two of their stars—one established, the other rising—together in one show.

Calamity Jane (here seen in its entirety as a much-beloved 1963 TV version with Carol Burnett) was one of those films shown by the Gay & Lesbian Arts Alliance of San Francisco in their “Forbidden Hollywood!” series back in the early 90s, the movie print lent to them by none other than Doris Day herself. Took the Bograt to see it when he was 12. Not one of his favorite movies, he preferred Deanna Durbin.

“Chanson de Maxence” from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort by Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand, Sung by Anne Sofie von Otter

Je l’ai cherchée partout j’ai fait le tour du monde
De Venise à Java de Manille à Angkor
De Jeanne à Victoria de Vénus en Joconde
Je ne l’ai pas trouvée et je la cherche encore

Je ne connais rien de lui et pourtant je le vois
J’ai inventé son nom j’ai entendu sa voix
J’ai dessiné son corps et j’ai peint son visage
Son portrait et l’amour ne font plus qu’une image

Cleansing my aural memory of John Wilson’s 2000 recording of Legrand’s “Chanson de Maxence” (in English clumsily rendered as “You Must Believe in Spring” or some such). Bonny John conducts his eponymous orchestra in an arrangement by Richard Rodney Bennett, who had absolutely no feel for this song. With such a strong melody (reminiscent of Fauré) and strong lyrics, all it needs is a strong emotive singer and a backup piano. I note with some distress John himself did some other arrangements in this album, particularly for “Miss Otis Regrets”. With no lyrics! What the hell good is such a hilarious song without the words???

John and the JWO are okay, but just okay. I suppose when he was 28 my bonny boy’s loftiest ambition was to be the next Ray Noble.

“I Have Confidence”

And right around the time 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 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

Monty Python and Invasion of the Charioteers, Conducted by John Wilson at the 2013 BBC Proms of Course

Nice going Leopold, you really shot your wad (7:33). But what an overblown piece of music, worthy of its parodic use by Monty Python (“Knightsbridge” and “Dambusters” being other pieces of grand music parodied by the Pythons).

John Wilson Rosza 4.jpg

Don’t get me wrong, I adore most of Miklos Rosza. But it seems to be so typical of the JWO to end their show —”Hollywood Rhapsody” they called it—with another barn blaster. Still, you get to hear the Grand Organ.

Actually I’d like to have heard the other pieces on the program, particularly David Raksin’s quietly nuanced “Laura”. I did manage to find a clip of the JWO doing their rendition of Bernard Herrmann’s aria from the fictional opera “Salammbo” in Citizen Kane that introduced the incredible Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva (she hits that high D) to western audiences. So that’s good.