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…

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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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 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 Glyndebourne 1Above John making namaste at the premiere of Cendrillon at Glyndebourne, 2019: “Marches des princesses” from Act I of Massenet’s comic opera and the most John-Wilsonish piece in the whole score.

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

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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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.

John Wilson Orchestra BBC Proms 2011 (Monheit, Ford)


The entire 2013 BBC Proms concert Hollywood Rhapsody with The John Wilson Orchestra is available here.


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

  • 20th Century Fox Fanfare (from the studio, 1933) / Alfred Newman
  • Street Scene (from the 1931 film; Sam Goldwyn/United Artists) / Alfred Newman
  • “Confetti” (from Forever, Darling; MGM, 1956) / Bronislaw Kaper Just wish that this really delightful period piece weren’t associated with the stupidest cinematic use of James Mason (a fine English actor and fellow cat-loving chum of my old boss, Mamoulian) ever concocted and omigod—is this one of the pieces you reconstructed, John? Pleeease tell me, whenever you and I keep that date at the Metropole.
  • Laura (suite; from the 1944 film; 20th Century Fox, 1944) / David Raksin
  • Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra (from the 1960 film; Paramount) / Bernard Herrmann
  • Salammbo’s Aria (from Citizen Kane; RKO, 1941) / Bernard Herrmann (with Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (from the 1938 film; Warner Bros) / Erich Korngold
  • 25-MINUTE INTERVAL In which my beloved John, at 41 years back in 2013, pours out his hopes and dreams.
  • The Big Country (from the 1958 film; United Artists) / Jerome Moross
  • Casablanca (suite from the film; Warner Bros, 1942) / Max Steiner, Schneckenburger, Wilhelm, de Lisle, Herman Hupfeld
  • SONG MEDLEY:
    – “An Affair to Remember” (from the 1957 film; 20th Century Fox) / Harry Warren, Leo McCarey (the film’s director), Harold Damson
    – “Something’s Gotta Give” (from Daddy Long Legs; 20th Century Fox, 1955) / Johnny Mercer
    – “Young at Heart” (from the 1955 film; Warner Bros) / Johnny Richards, Carolyn Leigh
    – “It’s Magic” (from Romance On the High Seas; Warner Bros, 1948) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn
    – “The Tender Trap” (from the 1955 film; MGM) / Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn
    – “My Foolish Heart” (from the 1949 film; Samuel Goldwyn/RKO) / Ned Washington, Victor Young
    – “Three Coins in the Fountain” (from the 1954 film; 20th Century Fox) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn
    – “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” (from the 1955 film; 20th Century Fox) / Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster
    – “That’s Amore” (from The Caddy; Paramount, 1953) / Harry Warren, Jack Brooks
    – “Que Sera, Sera” (from The Man Who Knew Too Much; Paramount, 1956  / Jay Livingston, Ray Evans
    – “All the Way” (from The Joker is Wild, 1957; Paramount) / Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn
  • A Place In the Sun (suite from the 1951 film; Paramount) / Franz Waxman
  • Tom and Jerry (from the MGM cartoons; 1940-58) / Scott Bradley
  • Ben-Hur (suite from the film; MGM, 1959) / Miklós Rózsa

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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John Wilson and Rodgers & Hammerstein

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!

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 everybody; 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.

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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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…

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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A Great American Songbook Song for My Beloved John Wilson, Conductor: “All the Things You Are” by Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II from Very Warm for May (1939)

Everything I want to sing to you, John Wilson, Conductor, flame of my heart, my bonny, my love. The most beautiful song ever written (at 49:28), sung in the classiest concert of The Great American Songbook ever televised, Broadway Originals (PBS, 1993), played by the Boston Pops and conducted by the sweetest musical theater restorer-preservationist who ever lived, John McGlinn, who discovered Kern’s “lost” score and died far too young at 55. Hosted by the most glamorous hostess on the Eastern Seaboard, 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 illuminating analysis of this song; find it here.

All the Things You AreAbove the cast of Broadway Originals: “All the Things You Are” sung by all. And here’s the complete audio recording of this concert.

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

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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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 and you should watch it when you hear it. 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. That’s the great Ella Fitzgerald singing above the lovers.


Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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A Great American Songbook Song for My Beloved John Wilson, Conductor: “Begin the Beguine” by Cole Porter from Jubilee (1935)

BBC’s resident singer/interviewer Claire Teal welcomes Proms stalwart and all-around “shouty scary” (her description) conductor John Wilson to the studio to talk about his new CD album Cole Porter in Hollywood and his orchestra’s 2014 tour, as well as spin a few swing platters, none of which we hear in entirety. Toward the end of the interview John’s orchestra mate and drummer, Matt Skelton, rips through “Begin the Beguine”.

John and ClaireClaire Teal and Conductor John Wilson, 28 September 2014. Above John and Claire: Pete Townshend sings “Begin the Beguine“.

“Begin the Beguine” is a song written by Cole Porter (a song is music with WORDS John, you know?) who composed it at the piano in the bar of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. The beguine comes from the Caribbean; it’s a combination of French ballroom dance and Latin folk dance and was popular in Paris at the time Porter was writing.

The song is notable for its 108-measure length, departing drastically from the conventional thirty-two-bar form. Where a typical standard popular song of its time was written in a fairly strict 32-measure form consisting of two or three eight-measure subjects generally arranged in the form A-A-B-A or A-B-A-C, “Begin the Beguine” employs the form A-A-B-A-C1-C2 with each phrase being sixteen measures in length rather than the usual eight. The final C2 section is stretched beyond its 16 measures an additional twelve bars for a total of 28 measures, with the twelve additional measures providing a sense of finality to the long form. The slight differences in each of the A sections, along with the song’s long phrases and final elongated C2 section at the end, give it unique character and complexity. The fact that the song’s individual parts hold up melodically and harmonically over such a long form also attests to Porter’s talent and ability as a songwriter.

Porter reportedly once said of the song, “I can never remember it—if I want to play I need to see the music in front of me!” Alec Wilder described it in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950 as “a maverick, an unprecedented experiment and one which, to this day, after hearing it hundreds of times, I cannot sing or whistle or play from start to finish without the printed music”.

Pete Townshend
Begin the Beguine
Cole Porter, words+music
Another Scoop (1987)
Pete Townshend Catalog

When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender
It brings back a night of tropical splendor
It brings back a memory ever green

I’m with you once more under the stars
And down by the shore an orchestra’s playing
And even the palms seem to be swaying
When they begin the beguine

To live it again is past all endeavor
Except when that tune clutches my heart
And there we are, swearing to love forever
And promising never, never to part

What moments divine, what rapture serene
Til clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted
And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted
I know but too well what they mean

So don’t let them begin the beguine
Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember
Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember
When they begin the beguine

Oh yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play
‘Til the stars that were there before return above you
‘Til you whisper to me once more
Darling, I love you

And we suddenly know what heaven we’re in
When they begin the beguine
When they begin the beguine

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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Silly Sexy Love Songs: Doris Day (1922 – 2019) Sings “Move Over, Darling”

An incredibly hot, hot sexy song, and incredible that Day’s own 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 just not paying attention.

Doris Day.jpg

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.


Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth’s Deep-Tongue Kiss at the 2010 Tonys and the Songs of Burt Bacharach

You all remember the flap behind this. But that kiss at the Tonys (starts at :40) was awfully convincing. Hey, my hormones percolated…

kristen-chenoweth-sean-hayes.jpgAbove that hot kiss Sean Hayes sings the title song. No Jerry Ohrbach, but the kid’s got pipes.

But to get on with this posting. One of the nominees at the 64th Tony Awards was the revival of Promises, Promises with a score by Burt Bacharach, including some of his interpolated standards (like “A House is Not a Home” and “I Say a Little Prayer”, neither of which were in the original production), so I’m thinking that this bootleg vidcomp from an actual performance would be a good introduction to the work of this (as my beloved John Wilson, Conductor might deem him) “top-drawer American tunesmith”. The connection to my posting on Milhaud above? Bacharach was a student of Darius Milhaud, and you can hear what he retained from the modernist master in his distinctive, almost Latin, rhythms—think of Eddy Mitchell’s “Always Something There to Remind Me” or Dusty Springfield’s “Twenty-four Hours from Tulsa”.


Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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