It's almost time for Halloween, but really, there's enough horror in America's ongoing Presidential election, don't you think? I need jazz. I need to swing. I need Miss Maxine Sullivan.
Maxine, as you may know, was in it for the long haul. She never stopped performing - from the 1930s to the 80s, to be exact - beginning with her uncle's band "The Red Hot Peppers," and concluding with a Tony nomination and participation in her own film biography. Go, Maxine, go. Oh, and she also married four times - because why not?
When she wasn't performing live all over tarnation or getting married (mostly to musicians), she found time to cut a few albums. Her 1956 LP, "A Tribute To Andy Razaf" - a Maximum Maxine Cheerful Exclusive! - is probably her sweetest. It's a big kiss to poet, composer and lyricist Andy Razaf, who wrote the words for scads of classics, like "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose," to name just two. Trust me, you'll marvel at Maxine's buoyant vocal delivery. "I couldn't sing straight," she once said. "I had to swing."
And now, let's all accept a warm embrace from Susannah McCorkle.
And let's shed a tear, too, because her chronic depression must have been awful. How awful? She jumped to her death from her 16th floor apartment balcony in 2001. Tragic? Of course. But like any shooting star who burns too fast, it takes nothing away from the joyous intensity of her jazz vocals, which catapulted her to nightclub fame the world over in the 1970s and 80s.
She was something of a smarty-pants, too, being conversant in several languages, which led her to translate countless lyrics into English, creating new English-language jazz standards in the process. In this live 1996 concert - a Sizzling Susannah Cheerful Exclusive! - she's at the height of her powers.
Have you seen Merchant-Ivory's Shakespeare Wallah? I haven't, and I really should get around to it, since I've heard it's wonderful - with a delightfully bitchy performance by Madhur Jaffrey as an arrogant movie queen (Madhur's also a celebrated chef, dont'cha know).
Years ago, I heard the some of "Shakespeare Wallah's" score on a compilation CD and almost immediately sought out the composer. To my surprise, it was Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest movie makers of the 20th century, and I am not saying that lightly (rent "Pather Panchali;" you'll thank me).
As if being a moviemaker and composer weren't enough, he was also a best-selling novelist, graphic designer, and, yes, a font/typeface designer (no, really). He must be the only moviemaker whom I first discovered because of his music, and in a fun bit of kismet (for me, at least), it turns out that his immersion in music preceded his interest in moviemaking.
In this luscious CD, nearly every bit of movie music composed by Satyajit is included, and while the technical quality may be a bit rough for the first few tracks, stay with it. It's just plain beautiful, a trance-like blend of Western and Indian sensibilities, which is no surprise in hindsight. As a child, he scoured the music shops of Calcutta for Mozart and Beethoven records, while being steeped in Bengali songs and hymns in his daily life. The seeming simplicity of his music is beguiling, and, I think, singular.
The Secret Song is busy this weekend making Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Bark. For Halloween, you ask? For the kids? Pff. She's keeping it all for herself. She'll (maybe) toss them a few candy corn (if they're lucky). Why give the good stuff away? All of which has nothing to do with the bubbly (*cough*hint*) new CD she's been listening to, one by a throwback-type of male crooner.
Is it good? Absolutely. Are their missteps? A few, like the tracks which were obviously fashioned for Top 40 radio play (which they so won't get). So overall, not as creamy-juicy as Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Bark, but close. And that's pretty good.
Keep the best candy for yourself!
And drop some sugary goodness in the comments, if you like.