John’s pop fans in Britain have nothing to worry about—all the goodness of The John Wilson Orchestra (1994-2019) is now squeezed into his new/old/new group, the Sinfonia of London. Thank Kennedy Street Productions, who brought Barry Manilow and Gladys Knight to UK’s shores, for this shrewd spectacular run aimed at the 2023 Holiday Season. Now we’ll hear the rest of the movie music John’s been transcribing all these years.
More info to come as I find it. I understand as of 2 December 2022 tickets are already flying off the box office shelves.
Meanwhile here’s The John Wilson Orchestra‘s “signature” tune, the MGM Overture composed by Johnny Green; more info on that medley here.
With singers Anna-Jane Casey, Seth MacFarlane, and Curtis Stigers. Mike Lovatt solos on the trumpet. Plus brazen hussy shimmy alert. Whoever would stifle that shimmy in years to come, my bonny, would stifle your spirit.
For the Big Band medley: “Skyliner” – Barnet / Charlie Barnet; “Take the A Train” – Billy Strayhorn and vocalist Joya Sherrill / Duke Ellington; “Let’s Dance” – Gregory Stone (based on von Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance”, orchestrated by Hector Berlioz) / Benny Goodman; “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” – Irving Berlin / Ray Noble; “Begin the Beguine” – Cole Porter / Artie Shaw; “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” – Ned Washington and George Bassman / Tommy Dorsey; “Midnight Sun” – Hampton and Sonny Burke / Lionel Hampton; “You Made Me Love You” – Monaco and McCarthy / Harry James; “Moonlight Serenade” – Miller / Glenn Miller; “Peanut Vendor” – Moisés Simons / Stan Kenton; “Woodchoppers Ball” – Joe Bishop / Woody Herman; “One O’Clock Jump” – Count Basie / Count Basie.
This is the kind of music ID-ing I used to do when I was 18 and a night solfeggist at ASCAP, John.
The flick Holly Does Hollywood is fictional, of course, a fictional movie in the world of a real movie called Body Double, which was conceived and executed by the man who in an ideal world would be king of Hollywood, Brian De Palma.
De Palma’s affectionately knowing, utterly non-patronizing visit to pornland is a bit of a fantasy, of course. No flick I ever did or saw had a budget big enough to afford a mirror ball, let alone an MGM-sized dance floor (though Damiano’s later movies came close). But scale aside, De Palma understood the thing that kept nearly all of us, cast and crew, jazzed while we were being pushed to get out product, and that is: When you are making a porn movie, you are making a movie.
Now, every so often I’d remember this. I’d be in the middle of a take, and like a klieg wash switching on I’d suddenly become very aware of everything around me: the lights, the mikes, the crew, the director, the luxuriously gorgeous surroundings (half my films were done in those sumptuous private homes in Marin County), the smooth-skinned, sweet-smelling people touching me, the amused audience (most of the homeowners would hang around watching us film)—and the realization would thrill me so perceptibly I would be open to the moment and I’d like to think it showed up in my performance.
Which is the same jazzed-up open-to-the-momentness I thought I saw in John Wilsonone evening when I was trawling online for classic show tunes and stumbled onto my bonny in a 2012 BBC-TV clip, commanding the podium in the middle of the Royal Albert, surrounded by an orchestra of eighty and an audience of 6,000, conducting a hot piece of Jule Styne and shimmying like a brazen hussy. And when I say shimmying like a brazen hussy, understand: I’m the brazen hussy he was shimmying like. I fell in love with him because I recognized him. I got his number. Or so it felt like…
Above my crew: The Liverpool group Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who made their initial splash in 1984 (dig it) with the best stroke song ever written, “Relax”. Of course it was banned by the BBC.
I don’t mean to read a lot into this, maybe he did have a migraine or a toothache at the start. But I think more probably he’s thinking differently (that is, more “seriously”) about things nowadays. Eight years have passed between those two appearances, after all, and I’m sure he’s gone through scads of internal changes during that time and made some interesting decisions we’ll all find out about, sooner or later. It’d be sad if it’s John himself who thinks it’s now “unseemly” for him to shimmy in public anymore (I’m way not the only one to have noticed his gorgeous limey shimmy); but it would be a sadder thing if John’s taking the nudge-nudge hints and advice of others to heart.
It actually would hurt me, John Wilson my beloved, if you ever believed I think of you the way MacFarlane thinks of you—as more or less part of his gig rather than as who you are, which is to say John Wilson. Something I’d like to throttle him for but’ll probably go on watching the pre-2013 Family Guy anyway. Nothing personal against your chum.
No, I lie, it’s personal.
About 13, 14 years ago the best friend of the son of my (now ex-) friend died unexpectedly in New York, and it was a shock to everyone. My own son, who was the same age, was a big, big fan of his—more than a fan, in fact, he practically worshipped this young actor—and was in tears that day. I texted my friend and we shared our shock and grief. Daniel Day-Lewis stopped an interview, sobbing, “I didn’t know him, I have a strong impression I would have liked him very much…and so looked forward to the work he would do in the future.” I’d so like to have witnessed this young man’s progress on screen and stage through the years myself. He was the new Brando—better than Brando, in fact, as he not only acted and directed but wrote as well. And he wasn’t even thirty. He was handsome and vigorous, he had a beautiful speaking voice. He was the most committed actor I’d seen on screen since Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces.
So there he was dead in NY. On the streets of Beverly Hills, some roving celebrity reporter from one of the gossip shows was out and about getting sound bits for his show, and came across Rob Lowe and MacFarlane. After some genial exchange of bullshit the rover blurted, Did you hear the news from New York? and without a pause went right into giving them the news. Lowe dropped his mask, truly stunned for a moment, and turned human, while MacFarlane drawled almost offhandedly, “We-ell, this is disconcerting…” And at that moment I started to genuinely dislike the calculating little creep. MacFarlane’s an almost supernaturally gifted dealmaker, Stewie’s a pretty inspired animated character, and the guy seems to have a genuine fondness for the old styles…but that just isn’t enough for my scorecard. If you could say that there’s such a thing as a Seth MacFarlane Tolerance Level, mine’s pretty low I guess.
Anyway, I’m less ironical and more earnest than one would assume at first. And I tend to take things like that hard. Not exactly an asset around here.
Anthony Burgess, my Number One Language Guy, was on Dick Cavett’s talk show late one evening during my first year at music school. The host had brought up the oft-told story of how Burgess, when in his 40s, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and told he would be dead in a year; consequently he returned home to England (he’d been in the civil service in Brunei) and was seized by a mania of writing that resulted in his completing a half dozen intriguing novels, all of which are still in print. Oh, and he didn’t die in a year. Referring to his name at birth—he was christened John Wilson, Anthony being his Catholic confirmation name and Burgess being his mother’s maiden name—Burgess commented, “We John Wilsons, we can be busy little beavers when we need to be.”
John and O don’t always perform semi-staged fully-voiced musicals badly at their BBC Proms appearances at the Royal Albert Hall—their 2012 My Fair Lady was pretty much all right, no shenanigans there (pronounced The Guardian, “John Wilson’s adapted score—which borrows from Andre Previn’s movie arrangement—adds a sparkle to even the most drearily expository songs: the flutes somehow sound cheekier, the brass ruder, the strings zingier”). And in fact their 2014 Kiss Me Kate was as it was meant to be: big, sexy and playful. Winsome John even gets a speaking part!
Now, we all know about “Too Darn Hot” with its descriptions of nice normal congress (“I’d like to sup with my baby tonight / Play the pup with my baby tonight”) and “Tom, Dick or Harry” with its lyrics “I’m a maid mad to marry and would take double quick / Any Tom, Dick or Harry, any Tom, Harry or Dick” and the lilting refrain “A-dick-a-dick dick dick, a-dick-a-dick dick dick”…
But did you ever stop to think about the song “Always True to You in My Fashion”? Which was one of my party pieces years and years ago (alternating with “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma). I’ve given it some thought and what I worked out is this: Lois isn’t just your ordinary sex supplier—no, she specializes in those extra-special somethings that make a man (well, certain men) happy and willing to pay top dollar for them. Not to mention that in every verse she pretty much announces her rates for rough stuff, plus a type of sex play I could never get into:
There’s a madman known as Mac
Who is planning to attack
If his mad attack means a Cadillac, okay!…
I would never curl my lip
To a dazzling diamond clip
If a clip meant “Let ‘er rip!”
I’d not say nay…
There’s an oilman known as Tex
Who is keen to give me checks
And his checks I fear
Means that sex is here to stay…
…ending always with the last line, “But I’m always true to you darling in my fashion / Yes I’m always true to you darling in my way.” Which to me is the number-one indication she keeps it hot with her boyfriend because with him it’s, like I said, nice normal congress. You know, vanilla. But with her clients? As you may recall I was in The Business, where scenarios abound. (Remember Basingstoke?) All this to say it amuses me to no end to watch Lois size up within two seconds The Conductor, cunningly portrayed by my beloved John Wilson. Because I know exactly what’s going on in her head, in descending order:
There are 3 naked ladies in this blog. This is one of them.
“I’m not given to displays of emotion, but when Maria and I met up again [to record the R+H album] we had tears in our eyes. She’s so exotic!” enthused my bonny conductor about this Detroit-born soprano. “I love her—as a person!” Yes, John. I’d love to hear more.
About the DVD recording of Salome, says Toronto blogger John Gilks in Opera Ramblings: “The production is really pretty conventional… Almost all the visual interest revolves around Ewing’s Salome though Michael Devlin’s scantily clad and palely made up Jochanaan is quite arresting too. Narraboth (Robin Legate) is an unremarkable actor and Herod (Kenneth Riegel) and Herodias (Gillian Knight) look uncomfortably like a couple of drag queens… The recording, directed by Derek Bailey, is about what one would expect from a 1992 BBC TV broadcast… This is probably worth having a look at as a record of an iconic performance by Ewing but I can’t imagine anyone would choose it as the definitive Salome.”
Here’s another exotic nude, just for my beloved John Wilson.
About 15 or so years ago, I was somebody’s plus-one on an industry pass to go to a preview of the showbiz biopic Beyond the Sea, which was being shown in a really good theater with an above-average sound system. I wasn’t a particular fan of Bobby Darin or even of Kevin Spacey (for all that he is the definitive Jamie Tyrone of our generation and frankly I don’t care about anything else); actually I just wanted to find out how cheesy the production could get. Well honestly, it did start off pretty cheesily, every element that should’ve contributed some genuine worth—like, you know, the lead acting, the directing, design, (makeup! prosthesis!) etc—was utter bad-phony, not good-phony, bullcrap…and then they struck up the soundtrack orchestra…
If I could’ve exclaimed “Holy mackerel!” out loud the moment that gorgeous snap hit my ears I would’ve exclaimed it out loud, but you don’t do that at an industry screening, so I exclaimed it in my mind. I hadn’t heard a commitment like that coming from a track orchestra in a very long time. This was no session, no pick-up crew, this was one tight unit, and they were hitting the musical values like nobody’s business. I vowed to remember the name of this bright new conductor-arranger—which of course I promptly forgot (There are a lot of John Wilsons in the world, as Anthony Burgess would be the first to tell you) and didn’t remember again until last May. Recorded by my darling and his O for the Warner Bros film at Pinewood Studios, 2003. A 2006 Grammy nominee in the Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media category (composers Charles Trenet-Jack Lawrence, arranger Dick Behrke, producer Phil Ramone). Available on Rhino Records, that notorious niche label, and I really must find out who at Warners moved it to that catalog.
Before we get to what I think will be a nice and fair assessment of John Wilson’s 2020 recording, a word to some people.
I have always been aware of the tacit agreement that exists between my screen persona Simona Wing and her fans, but let me now take this apt opportunity to state my position clearly: You all have my blessing to do whatever you want with me in your fantasies.
Because whatever you want to do with me in your fantasies is nothing compared to what I want to do withJohn Wilsonin mine. So, go for it.
Now on to Korngold.
I didn’t realize this was still a thing in the music world, but apparently opinions continue to be strongly divided as to whether Erich Wolfgang Korngold—a true heir, by the way, to The Great Mittel European Romantic Tradition—deserves inclusion in the canon some snooty farts call the Classic Repertoire. You know, the one that has Bach and Beethoven and all those other cats. It’s no secret that when you mention the name Korngold, the average music lover’s first thought is of upmarket movie soundtracks (Anthony Adverse—The Adventures of Robin Hood—The Sea Hawk—Captain Blood) and likely never gets around to the fact that Korngold wrote, among other things, the most luscious symbolist opera of the 20th century, Die Tote Stadt, in 1920, and a hell of a gorgeous violin concerto 25 years later:
So it seems like every generation there has to be one nut who comes along and says, Let’s run Korngold past the hoi-polloi again and see if he’ll fly—and if you think I’m talking about you, John Wilson, you’ve got a swelled head. Because the nut I’m talking about is the nut in the CIA. The anonymous nut who got The Company to fund an enterprise back in the early 70s called “The Golden Age of Hollywood Music” and hence to elevate Korngold to the status of Hollywood Royalty—but through his film scores and his film scores only.
But that story later.
We’re here right now not just to size up a new Korngold recording, but to honor the decades-long musical relationship of Andrew Haveron, violinist, former Leader of The John Wilson Orchestra, current Leader of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and conductor John Wilson, whose career in orchestra building started at the age of 22 and hasn’t stopped since.
Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D, their latest Chandos release, was going to get my attention with or without the Winsome Lad of Low Fell anyway, as I’m a sucker for this particular style and era of music. But I was glad to learn about their actual friendship as well; for me it explains why the perfect communication that’s so evident here between Haveron and my John (and through him, to the estimable RTE Orchestra) has some of the magic of Barenboim+du Pré, back in the brief days when those two were cooking hot with Elgar.
This is soloist Haveron’s star turn: a warm, fresh, intimate—revelatory even—rendition of a piece that, let’s face it, is kind of like the “Nessun Dorma” of violin concertos. But this is John’s success too. So much of my bonny’s gift for conducting Korngold, as we know, has to do with his insistence on a technique his PR people call “shimmer” but is actually wrist vibrato on strings, a technique in fingering I learned about and taught myself when I was 14 because I liked the sound it made, although when the orchestra teacher put it down for sounding cheap and sloppy I quit it.
But I know the sound of shimmer and you do too. The John Wilson Orchestra practically patented it. John himself still calls for it whenever he conducts Tchaikovsky. It’s in all the high-toned movies of the 1930s (examples above). It’s also in Rouben Mamoulian’s classic film musical Love Me Tonight (complete film here) courtesy of Paramount’s musical director Nat Finston, who understood what he was talking about when, in a certain musical scene, he said he wanted “crying violins”. I could tell what he was talking about when he told me this story 46 years later.
Gimadieva made her UK debut at the Proms with John and the John Wilson Orchestra in their program Hollywood Rhapsody, which included pieces by my favorite screen composer Bernard Herrmann. I’ve been a fairly knowledgeable fan of Herrmann since my teen years, but somehow I never got around to hearing the entire aria until—yes! yes! are you getting bored hearing this again?—I fell in love totally and completely with English conductor John Wilson and craved to hear all the music that he is part of. To my delight, he backed this brilliant singer well.
Above my bonny John making nicey-nice with a soprano for once: “O cruel!” (Salammbo’s aria) from the film Citizen Kane. Herrmann planned to write an entire opera based on this scandalous Flaubert novel but, daunted by the task, as Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff before him, never got around to it.
And for good measure, here’s Gimadieva doing Donizetti’s “O luce di quest anima” with The Hallé the way I’d like to have sounded in my last trimester jury at music school.
Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, it makes me happy to be in your audience and I don’t require you at all to be in mine—mostly because, as Mister Grumble just pointed out, my flicks would probably give you a heart attack. It also makes me happy that you’re going to be concentrating more on the Classic Repertoire this season, although it means leaving your faithful John Wilson Orchestra fans for a time—and only because when you’re not playing American film music, you’re not on the podium making the kind of quasi-witty comments that would make even me wince, and I used to be Arthur Godfrey’s gag man back in the fifties.
Now, Voyager (1942): Bette Davis as brave Charlotte Vale and Paul Henreid as her handsome weenie of a lover in this BBC2 Saturday Afternoon Movie I’ll bet John saw once upon a rainy day when he was a kid and couldn’t make head nor tail of, except for the music. Above: That’s my beloved John conducting the Sinfonia of London in this Max Steiner score, including the Warners Bros studio theme, which Steiner also wrote. Orchestration by Hugo Wilhelm Friedhofer.
On that note, I just want to let all of you know that I realize it’s not hard to find me. Really. I’m in the IMDb. I don’t even have to fill you in on what my screen name is because IMDb seems to have switched pretty much every one of my credits back to my legal name anyway, so it would be kind of pointless… All right. It’s Simona Wing. My castmates in my first movie, Dork & Sindy aka Playthings, gave it to me, and I consider it quite a lagniappe. Mister Grumble used it for my character’s name in his first novel (Tales from the Last Resort, Brave New Books, 2002) and no one has been able to get better use out of it since.
I have pleasant memories of that shoot. For one thing, it was shot in Marin County. In Sausalito! In a house overlooking the Bay. Do you see in that pic (click Sausalito) those houses up in the hills? The white house above the red roof, that’s where we shot.
For another thing, Craft Services was fantastic. You could graze all day.
And it was a friendly, clean shoot. Does anyone here who saw the flick remember what I was wearing before the guy in sunglasses stripped me naked, threw me into the hot tub and started chewing on my behind? That white blouse, that long black skirt, those pumps? That was my secretarial outfit, the one I wore a few months earlier in Beverly Hills when I worked for Rouben Mamoulian. Practically every day, I was that poor (took Sunset bus to foot of Schuyler Road, got off, wearing sneakers climbed hill, at Mamoulian’s door removed sneakers, put on pumps which I carried in my handbag). I remember I had one line which has since been coming back to me regularly, because whenever I run into an occasional fan, he (and it’s always a he) tends to quote it to me:
Now, you have to be a real Saturday Night Live geek to recognize that line, and I’m not going to decipher it for you. But I suppose this showed people I could do voices, because I got a lot of work from this film, almost all of it involving fakey foreign-sounding accents. Like Fatima, woman of Borneo, in the softcore version of Sadie Thompson aka Rain by Somerset Maugham. I’m not kidding.