Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: Love Me Tonight (Paramount, 1932) Just for My Beloved Conductor John Wilson

That snooty critic fart Andrew Sarris once mock-praised my old boss Rouben Mamoulian for his early cinema innovations that never quite caught on. Hah! When’s the last time you were so proud of your old boss’s work you wanted to make sure the world never forgot it? So—here’s the most audacious musical film sequence ever directed, which magically links up the movie’s two singing stars Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald:

“Isn’t It Romantic?”
from Love Me Tonight
Rouben Mamoulian, director
Nat Finston, music director-arranger
Songs by Rodgers & Hart

Isn't It Romantic.jpgAbove the music master and Ruritanian soldiers: Ella Fitzgerald sings this Richard Rodgers+Lorenz Hart perennial, which was scaled down from its operetta length for inclusion in The Great American Songbook.

And if you’re still in doubt about Mamoulian’s genius, check out this opening scene which I uploaded especially for my bonny John Wilson for the beat:

“City Wakes”
from Love Me Tonight
Rouben Mamoulian, director
Nat Finston, music director-arranger

If I had seen Love Me Tonight before I went to work for The Old Man I would’ve been more patient with him. But I was only 23.


The entire film Love Me Tonight is available on my YT channel here.



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My First Music: In Praise of My First Record Stash—6 Great American Songbook Songs Co-written by Billy Rose (1899-1966)

I got my first record collection when I was 3 1/2. We had just moved into a little bungalow in Northeast Minneapolis and the previous owners had left a stack of old, old 45s and 78s—Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Nelson Eddy, Rudy Vallee etc etc. which my mother, God bless her, let me keep for myself to play on my kiddie record player! This, mes amis, was my first true introduction to The Great American Songbook. But wasn’t until I started working at ASCAP (at 18) where I had to learn the names of the melody and lyric writers the name “Billy Rose” came popping up (year is date of recording):

Rudy Vallee Would You Like to Take a WalkAbove: Would You Like to Take a Walk? by Harry Warren, Mort Dixon, and Billy Rose, sung by Rudy Vallee.


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Claire Teal, Sarah Fox, Caroline O’Connor and Charles Castronovo at the 2011 BBC Proms with My Beloved John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra

There were some particularly strong singers in the BBC Proms concert at the Royal Albert back in 2011 I take pleasure in remembering, on this gray Monday two days before The Inauguration. On va voir. “Serenade” from The Student Prince was one of my mother’s favorite numbers, she just thrilled to it, especially when Mario Lanza was singing. “Can’t Help Singing” was in my Deanna Durbin Songbook when I was a teenager. “The Man That Got Away” was sung at my friend’s funeral—the friend who left me all his Andre Previn records—by his grieving lover. And then there’s “Secret Love”.

John you cad, we all witnessed this nifty bit of scene building. But I already knew anyway, that’s where your true love lies now and forever.


COMPLETE downloadable audio of the BBC Proms 2011 concert John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra “Hooray for Hollywood” here / complete video on YT here.



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Conductor John Wilson and His Eponymous Orchestra Take Their Show Hooray for Hollywood to Glasgow, 2011

From GlasgowTheatreBlog.com, 2011: Hooray for Hollywood follows on from the phenomenally successful appearances at the last two BBC Prom seasons and a festive season TV special. It was a whirlwind chronology of the golden age of movie musicals from the 1930s to the end of the studio musicals in the 1960s. Below, the program:

PART ONE OF HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD

PART TWO OF HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD


COMPLETE downloadable audio of the BBC Proms 2011 concert John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra Hooray for Hollywood here / complete video on YT here.


JOHN MY BELOVED SPEAKS!

“During my childhood in the 1970s and 1980s the BBC would regularly screen the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film musicals on a Saturday afternoon. I was instantly attracted to the sound of the MGM Studio Orchestra and, even then, knew that one day I must conduct an orchestra like that! As my musical experience broadened, I was able to analyse what made that special sound. That the Hollywood studio orchestras had vast string sections is a popular myth—the epic soundtrack for Gone with the Wind was recorded with only eight first violins.) It was this sound that I had in my mind when, in 1994, I formed the John Wilson Orchestra for a Concert at the Bloomsbury Theatre. In 2000 our debut performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall paid tribute to the great American composers and arrangers of the past century—Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Johnny Mandel, Paul Weston and others. This led to an invitation to play next door at the Royal Festival Hall and—as part of a concert devoted to the screen composers of Hollywood’s Golden Age—I included a handful of well known songs from the MGM musical films.

“I knew that MGM had been taken over by Turner Classic Movies which had, in turn, been acquired by Warner Bros. I’d read that Warner Bros presided over meticulously preserved archives and that every note of music for their films survived intact. So I wrote informing them of my forthcoming concert, asking if I might have access to some of the MGM scores. I received a reply by return informing me that, while all of the available music materials for Warner films were preserved in the archives of the University of Southern California, the full scores and orchestral parts for all of the MGM productions were destroyed in 1969—for no reason other than that they took up too much space and a new car park was needed. Every note of music for every MGM film was gone—used as landfill for a Californian golf course.

“Well, not quite. For copyright reasons, MGM was obliged to hang on to some sort of musical documentation—a record of who composed what, so that royalties could be apportioned correctly. So it was with great excitement that I travelled to Hollywood to spend a week inspecting what the USC archives call The MGM Conductor Books. For every production—musical or otherwise—a short score, or “piano-conductor” score, would be prepared, from which the music director could conduct. These were condensed versions of the full scores and contained most of the information necessary for recording purposes and for fitting the music to the picture. Full scores seem to have been considered too unwieldy: too many page turns that could be picked up by the microphones.

“The MGM conductor books exist in varying degrees of completeness; for example, The Wizard of Oz is sketched mainly on two staves with scant indication of harmony (and virtually no instrumentation), whereas Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is laid out over six staves like a miniature full score. Easter Parade and Gigi are all but lost—only a third of each score survives; High Society is 95 percent complete and has the most lucid sketches. In general, the piano-conductor scores for the later musicals seem to contain more information than their earlier counterparts; a state of affairs brought about by Johnny Green, who was appointed Head of Music Department in 1950 and who insisted on the highest standards of music copying and preparation.

“The conductor books are all beautifully copied by a handful of top-class copyists who must have been on permanent contract at MGM for at least 20 years. While these documents have provided the basis for my reconstructions, most of the real work is done by listening over and over again to the soundtracks. I once spent an entire Sunday reconstructing four seconds of music from the cyclone scene in The Wizard of Oz. There are many things the conductor doesn’t give you, inner parts buried deep in the orchestra—also, only rarely did the vocal or choral parts make it into the conductor books.

“Reconstructing these scores is a chore, but a joyous one. The songs are all in the top class, written by the greatest tunesmiths of the day. The arrangements are, in my opinion, the finest ever made in the field of musical comedy. The performances on the original soundtracks are just about the best you’ll ever hear. The unbeatable playing of the musicians in the MGM Studio Orchestra is a constant inspiration, not only to me, but also to the musicians of my own orchestra.”


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Marquess of the Gardens of Aranjuez, His Finest Work in the 1995 UK Film, Brassed Off

As I once pledged, I will go almost anywhere my beloved conductor John Wilson leads me; and so it was a remark of his that led me to this movie, which in the mid-90s was an estimable hit in the UK, though not so much here in the States. When asked by The Telegraph about his early musical influences, said John, “Brass bands. Coming from a working-class background, the tradition of amateur music-making was important to me…”

brassed-off.jpegIn this scene where the ensemble plays the famous Adagio of the Concierto, Tara Fitzgerald shows the lads her superior proficiency on the flugelhorn, inspiring their conductor, played by Lancashire-born Peter Postlethwaite, to consider taking the band on a competition tour and win some desperately needed prize money for their out-of-work members. Above: Joaquin Rodrigo’s entire Concierto de Aranjuez (1939), Richard Gallen, guitar, Moscow 2012.

There’ve been a couple of other, better known (in the US) British films, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, which also address the economic/unemployment crisis in Britain that, back in the 80s, did its part to whittle away at arts education throughout the country, particularly in the north. Like I said, my beloved conductor’s remarks in recent interviews about his early influences started me thinking not only about his musical but general education growing up in Gateshead in the 80s. I’ll take this on in an upcoming post. The contrasts / similarities between his musical influences and school training—as a northern Brit through most of the 80s—and mine—as a midwestern American through the mid 60s-early 70s—I find worth examining, and not just because I’m hopelessly in love with the bloke.

For now, this is what I take away from anecdotal evidence like Brassed Off and John’s childhood memories: The British, in general, seem to be more used to the sound of brass ensembles than Americans. Now, we like to think we know all about brass ensemble music because, being Americans, military marches and Sousa seem to stalk us everywhere we go in this great land of ours. But really, it’s not the same kind of music. I’ll discuss this in my review.

But let me just say this here: I will try to cut John a little more slack when it comes to his choices in orchestration for The Great American Songbook. I mean, if that’s really the way he hears it in his head…


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An Open Letter to My Beloved Conductor John Wilson Re His Wretched Misassumption and My Blinkeredness; Plus Cendrillon, Ella Singing “All the Things You Are”, and Vic Mizzy’s Harpsichord

John! John! I FINALLY figured out why you blocked me on Facebook a year ago, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I saw you in your undershirt.

No, it’s because in that review I wrote on Amazon of your chum’s book (and it was an 800-word, favorable, 4-star review, let’s not forget) I made a casual reference to that classical music site, SlippedDisc. That was it, wasn’t it?

Okay, I’ll cop to the poor joke. Not to my valid assertion, but to the poor joke.

But honey, I got it. Your misunderstanding was entirely my fault. And I want to apologize—like I say, I finally realized that whiff of “scandal sheet” might have put you off. You see, about 12 years ago, after a certain personal relationship of mine had been exposed (never found out the rat) and cunningly misinterpreted by the burgeoning so-called i-press, besides having to deal with the fallout in actual life, I also got decorticated for 4 DAYS RUNNING (four horrible, horrible days) on that notorious site Gawker, which in its heyday was pretty much the NY/Hollywood equivalent of SlippedDisc—only cruder, crueler and much more damaging—so I know what it’s like to be ducked in the swamp, so to speak. Would not wish that muck on my worst enemy.

But, my bonny, by the time you found out I had discovered your markedly public FB page, I had already fallen hopelessly in love with you and had already been blogging about you in, I think, the most charming and respectful terms for over a year (except for the times I occasionally, rightly, flailed you out of nationalistic and/or womanly pride). I am going to bet, though, you weren’t even aware of that when you decided to block me back in July 2019. You cowardy custard. You could’ve just looked me up. There are places in the cyberworld where your name and mine are inextricably entwined like Boswell and Johnson.

John Wilson at the Sage 2011Above John: “Marches des princesses” from Act IV of Massenet’s comic opera.

But really, here’s how I know about SlippedDisc: About a year before I fell in love with you I had been following the story of the outrageously dishonorable firing of English, Oxford-trained conductor Matthew Halls up in the boonies in Eugene, Oregon, once a small mellow city where I had had a pleasant experience producing a San Francisco-based cabaret show, but has since fallen into disrepair and racially-underlined civic unrest. I was interested because I recognized Halls’s name from my album of the Goldberg Variations (Halls is also a world-class harpsichordist, and my ears have always perked up to the sound of an interesting harpsichord ever since Vic Mizzy first played his own instrument in his own famous composition) and became fascinated and disgusted. Don’t want to go into the whole story here, but it broke on SlippedDisc and that’s why that site was the first thing which came to mind when I wanted to make a punch line.

Anyway John my love, just wanted to clear that up. I’m looking forward to your first online concert and will try to send you another psychic energy shot [UPDATE: Done 11 Jul 2020 23:30 UK time] before you video record. Meanwhile, Ella will tell you how I really feel about you.

“All the Things You Are”
The Jerome Kern Songbook
Oscar Hammerstein II, LYRICIST
Ella Fitzgerald, vocalist
Nelson Riddle, conductor-arranger
Verve, 1963


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John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra at the BBC Proms, the Royal Albert Hall, 26 August 2013: The Complete Concert of Hollywood Rhapsody Including “Casablanca”

Disappointing to hear that John won’t be doing Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at Wilton’s Music Hall in London this month. So, to cheer everybody up, here’s the full 2-hour program of my John and The John Wilson Orchestra at the Proms, 2013. That’s Jane Monheit, John, and Matt Ford below.


DAMN! UPDATE 16 JAN 21: Both DailyMotion and BiliBili have DELETED this video of the complete 2013 BBC concert! If I find it again I’ll reinstate the link. (Links to selections available on YT are in red.)


As a compensation, here are ALL the other, complete JOHN WILSON AT THE BBC PROMS available on my blog:


John Wilson Orchestra BBC Proms 2011 (Monheit, Ford)

The full program of 2013 (with remarks as they come to me):


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A Great American Songbook Song for My Beloved John Wilson, Conductor: “Long Ago and Far Away” by Kern-Gershwin; Plus the “Hooray for Hollywood” Overture from the 2011 Proms Arranged by John

John, I know you know this song because you arranged it for your 2011 BBC Proms “Hooray for Hollywood” Overturethe loveliest orchestral version of this tune I’ve ever heard, by the way. If I hadn’t been in love with you before, my love, this would’ve clinched it.

“Long Ago (and Far Away)” is a popular, Oscar-nominated song with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Ira Gershwin from the Technicolor film musical Cover Girl starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly (Columbia, 1944). Charting versions were recorded almost simultaneously by Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Jo Stafford.

John Wilson 'Hooray for Hollywood' Overture.jpgAbove: The Jo Stafford recording was released by Capitol Records; the record first reached the Billboard magazine charts on 4 May, 1944 and lasted 12 weeks on the chart, peaking at #6.


COMPLETE downloadable audio of the BBC Proms 2011 concert John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra “Hooray for Hollywood” here / complete video on YT here


EXTRA! As long as we’re on the topic of wartime warblers, here’s Ginny Simms with the Kay Kyser Orchestra in my favorite rendition of “With the Wind and the Rain In Your Hair” (Clara Edwards, 1935).



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Conductor John Wilson and Rodgers & Hammerstein; Sting Sings His Newcastle United Football Anthem, “Bringing the Pride Back Home”

I started collecting these Moments after getting right annoyed, not when I first heard my beloved Geordie lad John Wilson cheerfully dismissing Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics as being “needless”, not after the 2010 BBC Proms (an R+H tribute) or even the 2017 BBC Proms (Oklahoma! for God’s sake), but later on when I read about John in Brighton trying to conduct a sing-along with his concert audience in “You’ll Never Walk Alone” the way Liverpool soccer club fans like to sing it when they’re winning—a song cue I HATE HATE HATE and would like to strangle the group responsible, Gerry and the Pacemakers, for.

John Wilson Crush SunderlandCrush Sunderland! Above John: Sting sings his 1998 song for Newcastle United, “Bringing the Pride Back Home” Now tell me, why is the whole world staring? / Must be the shirt I’m wearing / Black and white army…


The rule for bringing up a Rodgers & Hammerstein song in a Moment is simple: You sing it spontaneously—knowing the words and understanding and conveying its sentimental message—at the right moment. You have to read the moment, John. In the Jack Benny scene the humor is clear because everybody knows the words to “Getting to Know You” and everybody knows about Jack’s musical vanity vs his excessive courtliness toward pretty talented women; in the Cheers scene, Diane’s song cue is truly meant to comfort and inspire, and so makes for a genuine moment for characters and audience together; in 3rd Rock, well, “Oklahoma!” is just the ultimate rouser. You don’t even have to sing it well. (So a much better sing-along song actually.)

So it kind of heartens me, John, that you won’t be going back to mangling The Great American Songbook for awhile. Here’s hoping you take a long vacation in Bermuda, my Tyneside darling. Get a tan, get laid. And when you come back, commit yourself to the orchestral repertoire you do best.


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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 (imitating Peggy Lee above) 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…


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