Jan 31, 2015

Judy's Touch, Anita In '76, Plus Exotic Adventures And A Feathered Freak Secret Song!

Does anyone still wear a hat? I don't (except when I'm having a super bad hair day and then I put on my "Taylor Dayne: Satisfied!" baseball cap). Judy, however, stills wears a hat, and no, it's not wearing her, though I would say that if a hat is significantly taller than your head, it's probably a good time to rethink things. But Judy? Pshh. She can wear whatever she likes (including that dress below which looks like a collection of baby eels are ready to strangle her) (look out Judy!).

Speaking of Judy, Capital records released "The Garland Touch" in 1962, the very last LP of studio songs released in her lifetime. A few of them were pulled from previous records, like "More Than You Know," but the majority are gathered from a quickie 1960 London recording session. Whatever the source, this is prime Garland. For example, when she sings the lyric, "Live! Live! Live! C'mon and live for today!", boy, do you believe her. Plus, her roof-raising version of "San Francisco" is still unequaled. I can't think of a single modern crooner (like Buble or Connick, Jr.,) who's even tried it. They know better.

Hot-cha! The Jezebel Of Jazz is back with another Cheerful Exclusive! just for you.

I'm not sure when the pictures (above and below) were taken, but I had to share them with you because they're in color - which is mighty rare for Anita beyond her LP covers. She looks relaxed, a li'l sassy, a bit over it, and I'm inclined to think a bit uncomfortable, too, since she normally loathed wearing dresses. And not, as some have theorized, because she was a lesbian (she wasn't) (sorry ladies).

In actuality, she was firmly convinced that jazz musicians (and the jazz press) wouldn't take her seriously if she wore a dress. Given the era, I don't doubt this, and so she performed in blouse and pants for most of her career, a notable exception being her appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival where she famously swiped a dress, hat and gloves from a Salvation Army outlet just minutes before the show. Others claim that she grabbed the hat, specifically, from an unnamed drag queen friend. Either story makes me happy.

As for "Here Is Anita," it was recorded live in Japan in 1976 - almost ten years after she'd kicked heroin for good (without medical help) - and it's notable for the number of slow ballads she tackles, which she rarely did, like "I Cover The Waterfront" and "Stardust," and for her surprisingly gentle, insinuating delivery. "Yesterday Yesterdays," however, has her beginning in a slow mode, then jacking it up whiplash-fast with her band. The precision is thrilling. There's also tracks like "Just The Way You Look" in which she and the band seem to fuse into one celebratory instrument. The LP goes out with a bang with a combo of "You Are My Sunshine" and "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life." Leave it to Anita (again) to take tired, overplayed tunes, rip them apart, and then re-assemble them into six minutes of off-rhythm, wholly improvised, syncopated bliss.

Swerving into an entirely different musical lane - hold on! - we arrive at a place where "exotic" means Japanese kotos, primitive shrieks, melodic bird calls, African gongs and, yes, savage beauties.

It's hard to beat the exotica music genre from the 1950s, because it's the only one that's both kitsch and lusciously beautiful - and all at once. I had a friend from New York who used to play exotica round the clock by the pool at his summer home. The water, the music, the free-flowing drugs intoxicants; it was perfect. I learned a lot about exotica over those many summers, and became familiar with its premiere practitioner, composer Martin Denny, who first popularized his music in Honolulu (of course).

It wasn't too long after when seemingly every adult backyard party was a hip-swaying mix of Martin's exotica and equally exotic cocktails. Sex on the Beach! Sidecars! Agro Dolces! Martin once called his life's work "window dressing, background music" - and it is, but in the very best sense. Anything you're doing seems better with his music bubbling beneath you. Below, one of my favorite Denny LPs, plus an embarrassment of riches from a 2-CD "Best Of" of compilation.

The Secret Song File is always exotic, thankyouverymuch, even at a boxing match while (1) wearing her smarty-glasses, (2) ignoring her boyfriend-du-jour and (3) consulting with her financial advisor about some off-shore something-or-other. She was multi-tasking long before anyone! And multitasking is the best way to describe a certain Icelandic singer who sings, writes songs, plays multiple instruments and once wore a swan - a swan! - to the Academy Awards.

Yes, you know who it is, and it's heartening to listen to her spanking new CD and realize that she's just as adventurous, just as surprising and definitely just as out there as we've come to expect (dull is one thing she'll never be). What? Is it that flower you see blooming? In vespertine? Why, yes, I think it is.

Did you know bats - bats! - pollinate night-blooming flowers? Mangoes depend on them.

Bloom all over the comments, if you like (just don't be messy about it).

Jan 18, 2015

Linda's Easy, Margie's By Herself, Plus Mucho Cha-Cha, Two Colours And A Secret Song!

I promised you more exclusives in 2015 - and here are three! Let's start with Linda Lawson, someone you probably know if you've watched TV shows like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" or "Bonanza." She guest-starred on everything. Or maybe you know her from the fabulously weird, carnival freak-show movie "Night Tide" (with a very young Dennis Hopper). She was the original "long cool woman." And, yes, she was a singer, too.

She even had a bit of success with her first LP, 1960's "Introducing Linda Lawson" (which has since been re-issued with bonus tracks as "Easy To Love"), which was recorded almost as an afterthought. Years previous, she was a struggling aspiring singer in Vegas, but there were barely any bites. She found more immediate success as an actor, and so nearly a decade later, it took jazz producer and band leader Marty Paich to convince her to lay down some tracks.

Sadly, "Introducing Linda Lawson" was her only LP. Critics at the time dismissed her voice as "limited." I'll agree to disagree with them and say they were - what? Stupid? Ate paint chips as kids? Clueless? She may not have had the widest vocal range, but she had a wonderfully expressive, smooth-as-silk voice for jazz. I love her casually rhythmic take on "Like Young," and her cooing, sultry tones are just right for "Mood Indigo."

Let's move on to another unjustly ignored singer. Believe it or not, that teensy picture below is the best I could find for the one and only Margie Rayburn (it almost looks like some high school girl's slightly-slutty-but-not-really yearbook picture) (which means I like it). I'm not sure why she's been forgotten, or at least by Google Image Search, because she had quite a few Top 20 radio hits in the 50s.

Her lone LP, "Margie," recorded in 1959, has been a sought-after collector's item for some time, and you'll know why when you hear the first track, "Blues In the Night," which she knocks out of the park. She's brassy, she's sassy - even on "Body And Soul" and "The Man I Love." And let's just say that she puts the moves on when she performs "Come Rain Or Come Shine." You'd never guess that she started out in rockabilly. She sounds more like a seasoned, old-school Broadway belter (I mean that as high praise) (of course) (but you knew that). Sadly, when the LP didn't hit it big, Margie said "Get stuffed, show business," then moved to Los Angeles and married banjo player Norman Milkin. I wish she'd done more. This kind of sass and class is hard to come by.

Latinos are so-o-o-o trending right now. And I'm not just talking about everyone's favorite Latin drag queen, either. Or even the most beautiful Latino blossom ever to grace our world. They're all over the place; on TV, in the movies, and, of course, in music. Speaking of Latino blossoms, I've always had a special place in my heart for golden-age Mexican movie queen Maria Felix, even though I've never had a chance to watch any of her movies (if you know of a good one, by all means let me know). Look at her below. Just daring you not to be dazzled, wowed and, yes, maybe a wee bit frightened.

And look at her movie posters. The colors! The passion! They promise. Ev. Re. Thing.

Even when she got older, she still had it - that certain sumthin-sumthin that said, without words, "You love me? I know. Most people do." So in honor of our beloved Santa Maria, let's enjoy some old-school "South Of The Border" tunes, as interpreted by the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr., The De Castro Sisters, Julie London, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee (doing an embarrassing Mexican accent) (nice try, Peg!), and more. Perfect for any occasion, or just for eating chips 'n' salsa around the house.

Remember before? When we talked about paint chips? People do crazy things with paint. Like our dearly departed Farrah (cross yourself) Fawcett, who got naked...

...poured paint all over her body, then writhed around on various canvases. And not just in gold paint, like below, but lots of different colors. If you saw her subsequent pay-per-view Playboy special, "All Of Me," and were ready to ogle and smirk at her so-called "naked art," as I was, then you were probably surprised; what she did was kinda cool. Was it art? Probably not. But it sure looked like fun. And who else but Farrah (cross yourself) Fawcett would do it? And with such gusto?

I'll say this, it's a whole lot better than eating paint chips. I just hope and pray that you, dear reader, never ate paint as a kid. Please tell you didn't! Maybe all you did was appreciate the many colors on your street corner - and for no good reason walked around naked and stood in front of a spray-painted wall. I'll bet you met lots of new friends that way.

I hope you still like colors as an adult, or "colours," as they say, especially in your music. Why? (you knew this was going somewhere, didn't you?) Because you're about to get another dose of colour - a double-dose! The "Colour" series has proved pretty darn popular on the Cheerful, so here's more mesmerizing house music tracks you've likely never heard before. They're like little dirty bombs of fun. No, really.

The Secret Song File has never painted naked and doesn't plan to start any time soon, so don't ask. She does, however, enjoy getting together with her gal pals for post-hippie, semi-nude dance parties. "Post-hippie," you say? Why, of course. That's why she's listening to the latest CD from a certain post-hippie Scottish indie group (Arab straps and all) (*cough*cough*).

Despite her good time parties, nasty peepers have been known to ruin the fun by looking through her window - which is so not cool, you guys, so knock it off. Don't make her go from hippie to flippy, 'cause you know she will. She want peace this time (*cough*cough*). And, really, don't we all?

Think of Farrah this week. Rub up against a painting or two! 

Or doodle in the comments, if you like!

Jan 11, 2015

A Trio Of Divas - Aya, Monique & Catherine - Plus A Big (B)ass Secret Song!

Remember the early 2000s (or the early aughts, as some like to call them)? Right about that time, "nu jazz" - which blended jazz, funk, soul and electronica - reached its creative peak. The heyday didn't last long. Hip-hop all but obliterated niche genres, and while I have no special feeling for hip-hop or rap one way or another (other than I'm not into most of it), it's a shame that nu jazz fell by the wayside. There was an intelligence at work with nu jazz, which often took existing jazz standards and souped them up to sometimes startling effect - the Saint Germaine electro-jazz series being a prime example - and, at its very best, created fresh, original material.

For me, nu jazz at its best remains Blue Six's 2002 classic (and I'm not using that term loosely) "Beautiful Tomorrow," a slinky-cool collection of original deep house tunes masterminded by producer/songwriter Jay Denes and a group of dreamy-sounding female vocalists, including Monique Bingham and Catherine Russell, who perform on two of the CDs most noteworthy tracks, "Close To Home" and "Music And Wine." It's just gorgeous.

The CD got me to thinking. Who were the uncredited singers of Blue Six? A few of them I knew, but some, like Aya (pictured below), I hadn't heard of before.

Not surprisingly, this British-born singer and actress has collaborated countless times with Jay Denes and his Naked Music label. A member of the Sade-produced band Sweetback, she also played a supporting role in "Loving Jezebel" (a movie I haven't seen, but which sounds like fun). In 2004, based on the success of "Blue Six," Naked Music released Aya's solo effort. It's in the same vein as "Beautiful Tomorrow," which means it's just as creamy-delicious, while Aya's voice, which is barely above a whispery murmur, is just right.

As for Monique Bingham - she's the vocalist on "Close To Home" - no party is complete without her.

Why Monique hasn't yet done a solo CD is a great mystery. Over the last few decades, she's has been the diva to call for producers of sleek, soulful jazz-dance tunes, her resume of collaborators reading like a Who's Who of house music's best: Blue Six, Abstract Truth, Ralph Gum, Okada Taxi. Below is a Cheerfully Exclusive! collection of her most popular tunes, including the irresistible "Little West 12th Street" and "You. Me. World," both of which highlight her dazzling ability to seemingly free-float above and around the melody line, as if she were taking you into every hidden corner of a song. And, yes, she's just as good live, in case you were wondering:

If you're familiar with any of the vocalists on "Beautiful Tomorrow," it's probably jazz chanteuse Catherine Russell (who's been featured on the Cheerful before). 

You'll absolutely j'adore, as they say, "Strictly Romancin'" a stylish collection of jazz standards (and Catherine's best to date, I think). You can't go wrong with her pure, crystalline voice. She's the real deal, a modern jazz vocalist who can run the entire gamut from traditional to cutting edge (I guess we shouldn't be surprised that she's the daughter of Louis Armstrong's long-time musical director, or that her mother was a pioneering female jazz vocalist). Just listen to her on the track "Romance In The Dark" and you'll be sold.

The Secret Song File is a fan of all divas, young and old, though recently, when a certain young diva celebrated her full-figured "bass" with a repetitive, mind-numbing single, it made her feel as if she were being attacked (and not in a good way). "Shut that goddamn fucking darn song off," she screams, because it's being played everywhere; the grocery store, elevators, the dentist. Make it stop!

But lo, when she got hold of the full CD (from her bestie, Senor Cuban Luvuh), she was shocked - shocked, I tell you - because the rest of the songs on her CD are a blast of pop fun. For reals. Which is where the iTunes' "un-check song" function comes in handy, because now when she plays the CD, it automatically skip-to-me-Lou's right over the keister song in question. Hooray!

Ain't technology grand?

Comment, if you like, but ain't nobody wanna hear 'bout your mangy ol' whoopie cakes!

Jan 1, 2015

Happy New Years With Rita And Her Tiger, La Vergne's Absinthe, Plus Dancing Gwen, A Classical Himbo And A Whippity-Jazzy Secret Song!

Whoopee! It's the New Year! Do you have any resolutions? I do. To offer you, loyal reader, more and more exclusives. Let's start out with two, count 'em, two! They're a bit off the beaten path, as they say - so much so that I had trouble finding pictures for both and for one, I couldn't even find a proper biography. What to do, what to do.

Case in point is Rita Moss, a jazz-pop vocalist whose "Talk To Me Tiger" is a thrilling, one-of-a-kind LP. Known for her four-octave range, Rita, or "Queen Moss," as her fans dubbed her, only recorded three full-length records (that I can find). She's often compared to Yma Sumac, but I think of her more as a precursor to Minnie Riperton, what with her eerily floating, way-up-high soprano and ersatz instrumentations. The title track is actually the LP's most ordinary, likely shoe-horned in by a record exec hoping for a radio hit, but otherwise, Rita's anything but ordinary. For reals.

Perhaps even more obscure, but just as fantastic, is the cooler-than-cool La Vergne:

La Vergne was a jazz singing pianist and a beloved part of New Orleans nightlife in the French Quarter from the 1940s through the late 1950s, proving particularly popular at "Old Absinthe House," a Bourbon Street hotspot with a storied 200 year history. Though she recorded a few LPs, she remains largely unknown to jazz aficionados, and those who do know of her tend to write her off as "just another bar singer." That's a shame, I think, since her feather-like phrasing sneaks up on you, as if a friend or lover were whispering their most intimate thoughts just within earshot. Perhaps if she'd been more showboat-ish, her reputation might be more conspicuous. But I like her just the way she is. Elegant, light and above all stylish. If you happen to have a pounding hangover this morning - and I know some of you do - then La Vergne is the perfect antidote. 

But then, many of you may be continuing the party as we speak - and why not? It's Thursday, which as everyone knows, is the New Friday, so why not keep partying, just like everyone's fav Broadway redhead, Gwen Verdon?

Gwen lit up the stage, as you might know, in "Redhead," a 1959 musical she agreed to do - but on the condition that Bob Fosse come on board to direct and choreograph (smart gal). It wasn't the biggest hit of either of their careers, but it did have a good run and a jaunty song score by Albert Hague and Dorothy Fields. Yes, there was an original cast recording, but there was also a finger-snappin' Big Band version by Meyer Davis, the renown bandleader who got his start in 1915 and was still kickin' in the late 1950s. So pour another cocktail and light another bowl of legally-authorized, all-natural greenery. The New Year is just starting!

But what if you're not still partying? Or not hungover? Maybe you had a perfectly pleasant evening last night - with friends, family or by yourself - and now just want to musically cleanse the air about you for the coming year. Not to worry. The Happy Himbo of Classical Music is here to help.

Yes, our old friend JBell, whose swooning fans are legion, is here to pluck at your heartstrings with a collection of Bach concertos - because, as you probably know, in addition to being the reigning Slice of the Sinfonietta, he's also an unrivaled violin virtuoso ("Oh, right, that," say his fans). It's a magnificent CD. Thrill to his wild emotion, his poignant subtlety, as he gives that Bach what for!

And, no, I have no idea what he's doing with the engorged-seeming violin scroll tip, or what it's meant to suggest, but I suppose we can all take a guess:

The Secret Song File is thrilled by this year already, her 29th - and, yes, she's been 29 for some time now, but. What. Ev. Er. As she was telling her therapist the other day, each new year is like a drum roll...which kind of reminded her of that new-ish indie movie with a terrific jazz soundtrack (and a blink-or-you'll-miss-it cameo by the Classical Himbo himself) (no, really). The movie itself? Imagine Debbie Allen with a baton and you'll get the idea. In other words, it's a lot of fun and frequently silly to boot (in a good way).

But silliness aside, the soundtrack is a winner, and it warms my heart (which I keep buried in the backyard) that a jazz movie was even made, much less an accompanying soundtrack. Given that, who knows what 2015 will bring? Another movie studio hack (with better leaked movies than "Annie")? A cure for stupid? Deep thinking politicians? Anything is possible.

Happy New Year's to you and yours. I actually mean that.

Tell us all the resolutions you'll break in the comments, if you like!