From the archives. This week's contestant is Joe Sorenson, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Happily, I was able to get the hidden composer -- in fact, the hidden song had so much in common at the start with one of the composer's most famous pieces that at first I thought that that was the hidden song. It wasn't, just the composer style. (And in fact, the hidden song turns out to quote a different piece by the composer. Ah, well, at least I got the composer right, whatever the reasoning.) As for the hidden song, it's nicely-hidden, but as I listened on, I felt comfortable with my guess. And was right about that, too. So, a full victory all around! Huzzah.
From the archive. This week's contestant is Mirabai Knight from New York, New York. At first, I thought I knew the hidden song right off, but then it went off into a different direction. And in fact, the contestant had the same guess. But then halfway through I figured it out right and got it. And the contestant's guess on composer style was mine, too -- and wrong. But close. In fact, the correct answer was my first thought. So...yep, I should have stuck with my instinct. Especially since it quotes a well-known piece.
Well, more an old one. Here's a blast from the past from Randy Rainbow. It's a song parody from a while back, but still a treat. Fairly basic production values, but effective and fun. Bill O' Reilly, gone but not forgotten...
As readers of these pages know, I'm a huge fan of Ella Fitzgerald (who I even got to meet briefly backstage of a concert I attended as a kid in 1968 at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. I still have my trip diary which she signed, and think I posted it here a while back.) So it's a treat to have this video of her Kennedy Center Honor in 1979.
Honestly, I'd have been fine if they did away with their usual format for this and just let her come down on stage and sing for 15 minutes. But at least they have a good amount of her singing in the film tribute -- and there's a great scat passage moment at 8:30 with Duke Ellington at the piano. Happily, though, they have some darn good performers honoring her, at least.
The video opens on the other honoree that night, and her segment doesn't begin until 3:30. But this is one of those times when it's probably best NOT to jump forward, and instead just watch. That's because this is quite a spectacular group of artists being honored. And no, I don't think this is a case of snarking, "Oh, you young whippersnappers today, you think the people they're honoring this year are Greats. No, sirree, Bob, They're not Great, they're just successful stars. These are Greats." I say that because these are not "Greats." These are historical legends.
The five people being honored in this one year alone are (are you ready?) -- Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Tennessee Williams, Aaron Copland and Martha Graham. Yes, really, That, folks, is YIPES!!!!!!!! And was likely some incredible TV show to watch. If you put together a list of the Top Three American jazz singers, movie actors, playwrights, classical composers and ballet choreographers, there's a reasonable chance some lists would have all these artists on them.
It turns out that, no, Emily Sioma did not win Miss America this year. That went to Nia Franklin of New York. Clearly, the pageant has dropped from the peak of its popularity, but my note earlier got me thinking to a story from about 30 years ago.
I don't remember the exact occasion, I think it might have been a dinner to break the fast after Thanksiving, when I was invited to the parents' house of my friend Andy Marx. It was a notable occasion because of two of the guests. One was his aunt, Grace Kahn -- wife of the legendary songwriter Gus Kahn, who wrote such songs as "It Had to Be You," "I'll See You in My Dreams," "Toot Toot Tootsie," "5-foot 2, Eyes of Blue," "San Francisco" (Open Your Golden Gates), "Makin' Whopee" and countless more. At one point in the evening, she sang "Makin' Whoopee," and it was the best, most sensual, sly, funny rendition I've ever heard, even in her 90s. She was a songwriter herself, and among her least-well-known songs, she and her husband wrote the camp song, "Thanks for the Pines," for my summer camp, Camp Nebagamon -- which just celebrated its 90th anniversary with a big reunion a couple weeks ago. (I told the story here about the writing of the song, and singing it to her that evening.)
But also at the dinner, one of the other guests was another songwriter, Bernie Wayne. Among his many songs, he wrote "Blue Velvet." But though not his best-selling song, perhaps his most known at the time was -- "There She Is, Miss America." Which he sat at the piano and played that night.
The song comes from another era, but I thought it would be nice to hear it again. There's a slight context for the performance. I think this version comes from 1990. Bert Parks had bee the host of the show for many years, and always sang the song during the broadcast. But one year, the pageant directors decided he was too old to host and replaced him. There was an outcry, and he was later invited back -- not to host, I don't think, but at least to sing the song. I don't know for certain if this is that next year, I don't think so, but I believe it was the last time they had him on the show to sing the song, and it looks like he's surrounded by all the past Miss America's.
Side note: he did sing the song again, with slightly adapted lyrics, in a very funny performance in the movie, The Freshman, with Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando. Also, it's not well-remembered but Bert Parks actually played the role of Prof. Harold Hill on Broadway in The Music Man, as one of the replacements of Robert Preston, and by all accounts was wonderful.
But here is for the last "official" time singing the song.
From the archives. This week's contestant is composer Paul Hanna of Tallahassee, Florida. The hidden song has a tricky twist, and I'm pleased to say that I got it -- fairly early on, I must say, though I didn't have full confidence in being right, since it did have that tricky twist, after all. But eventually, I felt sure enough to officially make it my guess. Alas, I didn't get the composer style, an annoyance since it's someone I quite like.
From the archives. This week's contestant is Lorelei Costa from Southern Shores, North Carolina. The hidden song was exceedingly easy, gettable within seconds. The composer style is one of those where there are three of four names I overlap. I got it wrong. But what's funny is that the contestant was a little stumped, too, but said she knows that on "Piano Puzzler" that always say when it doubt, go with your gut, so she did and got it -- and oddly enough, that had been my first thought, too, so if I'd "gone with my gut," I'd have guessed it, as well. But it was a composer I just don't know well, and decided not to go with a composer I didn't know well. Wrong choice..
This was unexpected -- and most-especially appropriate. The Mystery Guest on this episode of What's My Line? is Aretha Franklin, almost 44 years ago to the day. It comes from a later incarnation of the show, done in 1974 in color with Larry Blyden as the host, and the panelists aren't remotely as good as those on the original show. Still, it's fun to see one of the original panelists, Arlene Francis, there, and another is Jerry Orbach. Another is Soupy Sales, though I can tell who the fourth is. The questioning is pretty lame -- but fun is that afterwards they have a much longer interview with Aretha Franklin than would usually happen on the original version of the show.
Her segment starts around the 12:20 mark, in case you want to jump to it.
Here's the latest from Randy Rainbow. The whole production is pretty straightforward -- but -- though not splashy, the interview that precedes the song is SO fun (and well-edited) that you almost wish it would go on and don't need the song parody. But then the song is so sweet and adorable that it's a treat.
I figured that I really should have a bit of Leonard Bernstein's own music on the 100th anniversary of his birth yesterday. So, here's a successful, but lesser-known piece of his work, Fancy Free. This was a ballet that ended up being the basis for a longer work, the musical On the Town, about three sailors on shore leave in New York City. (Later made into a movie.)
This is the full ballet, written in 1944 and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. performed here by the New York City Ballet in 1986,
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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