Amoeblog

(In which we consider some swinging, singing sisters.)

Posted by Job O Brother, May 16, 2011 01:26pm | Post a Comment

boswell sisters  andrews sisters
WAR!
The Boswell Sisters vs. The Andrews Sisters


Last blog, we took a long, almost invasive and menacing look at one of my favorite harmonizing groups, The Ravens. This time, let’s meditate on two groups and the epic chaos that emerged from their earth-shattering battle for supremacy. Yes, we’re going to focus on the blood-thirsty Boswell Sisters and those daughters of doomsday, The Andrews Sisters. (This blog is not for the squeamish and will include death, destruction, and delightfully catchy melodies.)

Many people are already familiar with The Andrews Sisters, and because you, dear reader, are a person, I am including you in this assessment. What these same many people often don’t realize is that The Andrews Sisters actually based their act on another trio of singing siblings, The Boswell Sisters.

boswells

The Boswell Sisters were born in the first decade of the twentieth century and, in a show of musical savvy, they chose to be raised in New Orleans, the American music Mecca. By their teens, Martha, Connee, and Helvetia (they were given individual names to make communication in the house more efficient) began singing in movie theatres and on local radio shows, cultivating small celebrity and earning free popcorn.

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Happy Birthday Arthur Tatum Jr., October 13th, 1909

Posted by Whitmore, October 13, 2009 12:25pm | Post a Comment
 
Art Tatum is acknowledged by anyone who knows anything as one of the greatest and most influential jazz pianists of all time. A child prodigy born with perfect pitch, Tatum was picking up church hymns and tunes off the radio by ear at the age of three. As a teenager, the nearly blind Tatum started at the Columbus School for the Blind where he studied music and learned Braille. His first musical heroes were his contemporaries like the stride pianists James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Earl Hines. Within a few years he was playing in New York settling at the Onyx Club where he recorded his first sides for Brunswick. Tatum developed an incredibly fast improvisational style, and though he rarely ventured far from the original melodic lines of a song, his technique and ideas are a direct line to the bebop revolution of the late 1940’s. One of Tatum’s great quotes was “There is no such thing as a wrong note.”
 
Though I’m often dubious of many opinions laid out by jazz critic Leonard Feather, I have to more or less agree with him when he called Tatum "the greatest soloist in jazz history, regardless of instrument." Legendary French writer and artist Jean Cocteau called Tatum "a crazed Chopin." Count Basie called him the eighth wonder of the world. Classical composer Sergei Rachmaninoff once said, "he has better technique than any other living pianist, and may be the greatest ever." Dizzy Gillespie said, "First you speak of Art Tatum, then take a long deep breath, and you speak of the other pianists." Charlie Parker, who briefly worked as a dishwasher at Jimmie's Chicken Shack in Manhattan, where Tatum regularly performed, once said, “I wish I could play like Tatum’s right hand!” One of the most famous quotes about Art Tatum was by Fats Waller, whose introduction one night announced, "I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house." Waller also once said, "When that man turns on the powerhouse, don't no one play him down. He sounds like a brass band."
 
Art Tatum died in Los Angeles on March 12, 1955 at Queen of Angels Medical Center from the complications of kidney failure. He was originally interred at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, but in 1991 he was moved to the Great Mausoleum of Glendale's Forest Lawn Cemetery.



The Nicholas Brothers

Posted by Whitmore, February 26, 2009 07:09pm | Post a Comment

Back in the hey day of the Hollywood Musical, during the 1930’s and 40’s, there was a plethora of extremely talented high flying family dance troupes, starting with the ballroom sophistication of Fred and Adele Astaire to the lightning fast feet of the Condos Brothers to the tap dancing brilliance of Four Step Brothers to the over the top athleticism of the Berry Brothers. But the best, most explosive, and daringly innovative were the Nicholas Brothers, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000). With their highly acrobatic "flash dancing" tap style and spectacular choreography, they are considered by many to be greatest dance team not only of the era, but of all time.
 
Growing up in Philadelphia, Fayard and Harold were the sons of vaudevillian musicians-- a pianist mother and drummer father who led their own band working the circuit. In 1932, when Harold was 11 years of age and Fayard 18, they became the featured act at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club. That same year they shot their first film, a short subject musical called Pie, Pie, Blackbird.
 
The Nicholas Brothers made their Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1936, directed by Vincente Minnelli and choreographed by George Balanchine, they performed alongside stars such as Fannie Brice, Bob Hope, and Josephine Baker. Two years later in a packed Cotton Club, Fayard and Harold reigned supreme in the legendary dance-off against the other leading tap dancing family of the day, the Berry Brothers. By some accounts the Berry Brothers trio showed perhaps more bravado, but the Nicholas Brothers brought down the house with sheer finesse and artistry.   
 
Shortly thereafter, Fayard and Harold found themselves in Hollywood starring in a series of short subject films and guesting in several big budget musicals, like Down Argentine Way and Tin Pan Alley. In 1941 the duo appeared in both Glenn Miller movies, Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives. The former included the definitive version of “Chattanooga Choo Choo;” the brothers' dance number also included Harold’s future first wife, the incomparably beautiful Dorothy Dandridge.
 
In 1943 the Nicholas Brothers filmed what Fred Astaire has called the greatest dance sequence ever put to celluloid. In an amazing display of strength, agility and timing, they danced to Cab Calloway’s hard swinging “Jumpin' Jive” in the classic film Stormy Weather. The routine included Harold and Fayard hopping from table to table and over music stands, bounding between musicians in the orchestra and finally leap-frogging over each other down a flight of stairs, landing a complete split each time. Mikhail Baryshnikov called them the most amazing dancers he’d ever seen.
 
They’ve received numerous awards and accolades. In 1948 The Nicholas brothers gave a royal command performance for the King of England at the London Palladium and over the years they danced for nine different Presidents. Retrospectives of the Nicholas Brothers' work in film include a special presentation at the 1981 Academy Awards and a Kennedy Center Honors in 1991. They were awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard University where they taught master classes in tap dance as teachers-in-residence. In 1994 they received a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7083 Hollywood Blvd and were inducted into the first class of the Apollo Theater's Hall of Fame and the Black Filmmaker's Hall of Fame. The Nicholas Brothers were also recipients of the 1998 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in Modern Dance.
 
I once met Fayard and Harold back in the 1980’s while I was attending LACC. They were invited to give a talk about their careers and incredible lives. Both of them still looked pretty damned fit, but unfortunately neither danced. I wanted to ask a question about life with Dorothy Dandridge, but I figured the conversation might take a gloomy turn, so I just kept my mouth shut; I suspect it might have been the right decision. Her life ended prematurely and tragically. Somewhere in my pile of papers I still have the program signed by both brothers.  
 
Harold died July 3, 2000 of a heart attack following minor surgery. Fayard died January 24, 2006 of pneumonia -- a complication from a stroke.
 
Check out the footage below-- some of the dance routines are simply mind blowing.





Raymond Scott

Posted by Whitmore, September 10, 2008 02:07pm | Post a Comment


One hundred years ago today the weirdly brilliant American composer and one of the pioneers of contemporary experimental and electronic music, Raymond Scott, was born. While his name may not be instantly recognizable, his musical compositions are, and though Scott never actually composed music specifically for cartoons, most anybody -- any age, anywhere -- who ever watched an old Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny cartoon or a Ren & Stimpy episode or even the Simpsons or Animaniacs would recognize some of Scott’s extraordinary pieces like “Powerhouse” and “The Toy Trumpet.”

He was born Harry Warnow in Brooklyn, New York, September 10, 1908. After graduating from The Institute of Musical Art (later renamed Juilliard) in 1931, Scott was hired as a staff pianist with the CBS Radio network orchestra conducted by his brother Mark Warnow; he took the name Raymond Scott specifically to avoid talk of nepotism. Scott soon began presenting his own bizarre and quirky compositions like “Confusion Among a Fleet of Taxicabs Upon Meeting with a Fare.” By the mid 1930’s these unexpected eccentricities started creeping into the CBS Radio broadcasts and the American subconscious. For the next four decades he would go on to record for several major labels including Brunswick, Columbia, Decca, MGM, Coral, Everest, and Top Rank. He always managed to sell records, even with such Duchampian-like song titles such as "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals", "Reckless Night on Board an Oceanliner", "New Year's Eve in a Haunted House", "Bumpy Weather Over Newark", "Celebration on the Planet Mars", and "Siberian Sleighride".

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Man Ray

Posted by Whitmore, August 27, 2008 11:55am | Post a Comment


Often cited as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Man Ray, was born Emmanuel Radnitzky on this day, August 27, 1890 in Philadelphia. He significantly contributed to the Dada, Surrealist and Avant-Garde movements of the 20th century and was a significant voice in the Parisian art world after The Great War. Though he mostly considered himself a painter, it’s as a photographer and film maker he is best remembered, not only for his experimental photography and films of the 1920’s and 30’s but for his fashion and portraiture work also.

A side note, during the Second World War, Man Ray returned to America, settling in Hollywood from about 1940 until 1951 at 1245 Vine Street-- the Villa Elaine apartments, across the street from the old Hollywood Ranch Market, right around the corner from present day Amoeba Records in Hollywood.




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