The Mighty Wurlitzer at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco

San Francisco, open your Golden Gate
You’ll let no stranger wait outside your door
San Francisco, here is your wanderin’ one
Saying I’ll wander no more

The Castro Theatre was our neighborhood picture palace back in San Francisco. Went to dozens of movies there, sometimes with Mister Grumble (this is when he still could see), sometimes with the Bograt, sometimes with both: King Kong, Casablanca, The Garden of Allah, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, that movie Steve’s son was in called Brokeback Mountain, etc etc etc. But the organ was always the best part.

David Hegarty at the 389-rank Harrah Symphonic Organ - YouTube.png

Here‘s David Hagerty between evening shows giving the best of The Mighty Wurlitzer and ending (starting at 8:17), as he always does at every performance, with an inspiring rendition of the official anthem of my spiritual birthplace, “San Francisco” (Bronislaw Kaper and Walter Jurmann, lyrics by Gus Kahn, 1936).

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“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, George Gershwin’s secret lover, for making sure this song found its perfect setting in this 1947 20th Century Fox musical after his untimely death ten years earlier.

Betty Grable.jpg

John, if you were going to choose one song from the film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim for your Gershwin in Hollywood album, what made you choose that boring Dick Haymes-led duet “For You, for Me, for Evermore” rather than the much more melodic and clever “Changing My Tune”?

“Hooray for Hollywood Overture” Orchestrated by John Wilson, Conducted by John Wilson, and Played by the John Wilson Orchestra, So There

For their show at the 2011 BBC Proms, inconveniently called Hooray for Hollywood, John and the JWO performed an overall satisfying medley of tunes from the pictures, tunes chosen and orchestrated by my self-satisfied darling himself. Starting with John’s ripoff of Ray Heinsdorf’s execrable arrangement (that hard downbeat!) of the Gershwin brothers’ 1919 “Swanee” (Jolson turning in his grave), it does get better: “Lullaby of Broadway” by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, very nifty and swingy; Rudy Friml and Herb Stothart’s 1924 “Indian Love Call”, a lot more lyrical and moving (he included the birds and the waterfall!) than you remember it (especially when leader Andrew Haveron takes the soulful melody); Jerry Kern and Yip Harburg’s glorious 1944 “Can’t Help Singing” (written for Deanna Durbin); Kern and Ira Gershwin’s 1944 “Long Ago and Far Away” (Howard McGill on tenor sax and Matthew Regan on piano—I’ve never heard it played any lovelier): Frank Loesser’s 1950 “Guys and Dolls” done in Big Swing style; then, in a weird leap, “Chim-Chim-Cheree” by the Sherman brothers 1963 (for which our John rips off Shostakovich’s Jazz Waltz no.2); and ending with “Hooray for Hollywood” from 1937 by Richard Whiting (who wrote “On the Good Ship Lollipop”) and Johnny Mercer.

Hooray for Hollywood,
Where you’re terrific if you’re even good
Where anyone at all from Shirley Temple to Aimee Semple
Is equally understood
Go out and try your luck, you might be Donald Duck
Hooray for Hollywood

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(Dates are of composition, not the date of the movie.)

Rating this clip, I’d say because it contains John’s own actually-pretty-good arrangement it’s one of the better clips of the JWO. Extra points for 7:40, where my self-satisfied darling shimmies like a brazen hussy yet again.

“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 recording of Legrand’s “Chanson de Maxence” (in English clumsily rendered as “You Must Believe in Spring” or some such) in his awful 2000 album, Orchestral Jazz, with Anne Sofie van Otter‘s version. 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???

Anne Sofie von Otter

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

“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

Get-a-Room Sexy with Bernadette Peters and Conductor John Mauceri

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 here at 4:45.

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All the Things You Are by Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II, Conducted by John McGlinn

You are the promised kiss of springtime
That makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.

You are the angel glow that lights a star,
The dearest things I know are what you are.

All the Things You Are

High culture and nothing less. The most beautiful song ever written (at 49:28), sung in the classiest concert in the world, conducted by the sweetest musical theater restorer/preservationist who ever lived (John McGlinn, who died too young at 55), hosted by the most glamorous hostess in New York, Kitty Carlisle Hart. Orchestration of this Jerome Kern classic by Robert Russell Bennett. Milton Babbitt, that champion of musical theater and Stephen Sondheim’s teacher, wrote an analysis of this song having to do with tritones and inverted fifths which I was never able to entirely grasp, but you’re welcome to take a crack at it here.