Goodnight everyone, and have a perfectly arranged weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

*THE FOLLOWING IS A SPECIAL EXTENDED EDITION OF GOODNIGHT EVERYONE*

America recently lost a musical treasure.

Johnny Mandel, arranger, composer and film scorer died at his home in Ojai, California, in late June at the age of 94. His resume in quite impressive. We’ll explore, though we could go on and on and on, Mandel as that good.

Let’s get started as we dive deep into the “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To” file.

When Frank Sinatra left Capitol Records in the 1960s for his own label, Reprise, Johnny Mandel arranged the singer’s jazzy first Reprise album, “Ring-a-Ding-Ding!” The recording “epitomizes the jaunty, insouciant, verge-of-overbearing Sinatra,” one critic said of the album.

Patrice Wymore and Frank Sinatra in the 1960 Rat Pack classic “Ocean’s 11.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

No surprise, the 1960 Sinatra album arranged by Mandel reached #4 on Billboard’s album chart.

This next album was released in 2004. Mandel loved working with this vocalist. Imagine that. And yes, Mandel arranged this album.

Next, the song Mandel is most famously remembered for.

“The Shadow of Your Smile” was written by Johnny Mandel alongside lyricist Paul Francis Webster to be used in the 1965 film “The Sandpiper.” The initial version of the song won both the Grammy Award for “Song of the Year” and the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” as well.

Saxman Dave Koz performs with an icon.

“If Johnny Mandel had just composed ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’ – one of the most beautiful songs I have been honored to record – it would have been enough to earn his standing as one of the finest composers of our time. His legacy of Oscar and Grammy-winning music has been extraordinary and he was a dear and wonderful friend who I will deeply miss.”
Tony Bennett

Now let’s move to 1980. Mandel composed and/or arranged music for lots of films, including one about an exclusive golf course that has to deal with a brash new member and a destructive dancing gopher.

The most viewed television finale of all time got an incredible 60.3 rating and 77 share, luring well over 100 million viewers. A whopping 105.9 million people watched on average over the two-and-a-half hours, with that number peaking at 121.6 million in the final six minutes.

Yes, Johnny Mandel’s arranging talents were put to use. He does the intro here.

Johnny Mandel, thank you for your melodies. And for one in particular that’s engraved in our hearts.”
M*A*S*H* actor Alan Alda

The next time you see a rerun watch for Johnny Mandel in the closing credits.

A few weeks ago many people around the world celebrated Christmas in July. This is one of the most beautiful Christmas songs that doesn’t get enough attention, if at all on the radio.

Mandel arranged this outstanding album.

“The wonderful thing about Johnny’s songs is that they are great as instrumentals and, with beautiful lyrics, they become wonderful vehicles for singers,” Ruth Price, a singer and the longtime artistic director of the Jazz Bakery, told the Los Angeles Times in 1996.

That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have a great weekend!

Mandel arranged several tracks including this one on Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable” album, which won the album of the year Grammy in 1991.

 

Goodnight everyone, and have an easy-on-the-ears weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

This week, pleasant, soothing, melodic music from some fairly recent recordings. Let’s get started!

Hard to believe that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Herb Alpert is 85. But the legendary trumpeter is still going strong.

What a resume: Five #1 hits, nine GRAMMY® Awards,  fifteen Gold albums, fourteen Platinum albums. Alpert has sold more than 72 million records.  In 1966, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass simultaneously had four albums in the Top 10– and five in the Top 20 at the very same time. No one’s done it since. Herb Alpert also has the distinction of being the only artist who has had a #1 instrumental and a #1 vocal single.

“You know my story — I started playing when I was 8, so I’m hooked on music,” Alpert says on his official website. “I’m seduced by the whole idea of recording. And I met some great mentors in my day.

“When I started playing trumpet, I was inspired by Harry James, Louis Armstrong and Clifford Brown. But when I met Sam Cooke, he was a mentor — and he didn’t know it — by example. He came out of the gospel field and had this soulful quality that was infectious. He said: ‘Herbie, people are listening to a cold piece of wax; it either makes it or it don’t.’

“I’m not kicking back; I’m kicking it forward! I wake up each morning, excited about painting and sculpting and playing my horn. Doing concerts gives me a lot of energy and pleasure. I know I can make a lot of people happy with my music, and I will do that as long as I can. I’ve been very blessed, beyond my dreams.”

His album “Music: Volume 1” features many covers, including a Nat King Cole classic that has an entirely different sound than the original.

Alpert and songwriter Lou Adler met Sonny Bono in the late 1950’s. The aspiring artists were on a mission to gain support from record company executives in Los Angeles. At Specialty Records Bono was the head the record label’s artists and repertory department. Bono was succinct.

“You guys ought to get out of the business,” he told them, “because you don’t have it.”

On Billboard’s chart of the 125 greatest artists of all-time Herb Alpert comes in at #21.

Our next artist has been a musician since the age of five, playing the piano, the violin, and the drums before she settled on the flute.

Reviewer Ronald Jackson says, “Flautist Ragan Whiteside’s star continues to shine brightly with this latest release Treblemaker. Hers is always a refreshing, lilting, and sweet sound, giving life to each and every note on each and every track. The flute is such an especially appealing instrument to me, bringing with it its own sparkling light and soothing texture, and Whiteside firmly embraces its musical majesty.”

Whiteside wrote this happy tune along with keyboardist Bob Baldwin.

Baldwin describeds Ragan by saying, “She not only has THE silkiest and sweetest flute tone in the business, but her tenacity and desire to be recognized in Urban, New-Soul AND smooth jazz genres makes her a musical-force to be reckoned with — mark my words!”

Guitarist Chuck Loeb who composed more than 250 published songs, network television show themes and scores. He wrote music for, performed on albums by, and produced recordings for Bob James, Carly Simon, Dave Grusin, Bob Dylan, Art Garfunkel, Johnny Mathis, Gato Barbieri, Spyro Gyra, Astrud Gilberto, David Benoit, Randy Brecker, Grover Washington, Jr., and many others.

In 2001 the NY Times called Loeb “The Clark Kent of jazz guitar.”

Loeb died in 2017 of cancer at the age of 61.

In the 1960’s the Jazz Crusaders was influenced by hard bop, their sound marked by a familiar tenor sax/trombone combination. Jazz fans liked them, but so did folks outside the jazz community.

So as not to be pigeonholed the group dropped “Jazz” from their title and adopted a fusion style.  Because they enjoyed crossover success they secured gigs opening for acts like The Rolling Stones.

“Put It Where You Want It” became a signature piece for the group in 1972.

Guitarist Paul Brown covers that classic in his album “One Way Back.” Brown’s take is energetic, bold, fiery, and bluesy.

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That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have a great weekend.

Go out and by a CD!

We close with another remake of a hit, this one with a Wisconsin angle that’s definitely raw compared to the previous tracks and our theme this week.

Chi (pronounced “shy”) Coltrane was born in Racine in 1948. She was one of seven children born to a Canadian mother and a German violinist father. As a child she studied a number of instruments and gave her first piano recital at the age of 12. In 1970, she formed Chicago Coltrane, playing blues, funk and gospel in local clubs and bars.

Columbia Records signed her in 1972 and her first album was released that year. Coltrane’s first single, “Thunder and Lightning” reached number 17.

Here’s a short clip.

During the 70’s and 80’s in America, Chi was called “The First Lady of Rock” and in Europe she was dubbed “The Queen of Rock” where she was also voted “Top Female Artist” for two consecutive years, and held the #1 position in the Musik Express Popularity Poll in Western Europe.

Keyboardist Kirk Fischer brings a high-energy performance to Coltrane’s big hit. Fischer’s version was arranged by Greg Adams, formerly of Tower of Power, and features a driving saxophone by Greg Vail.

“I loved this song the first time I heard it,” said Fischer. “I revved up the B3, laid down the groove, and got out of the way.”

Kirk

Goodnight everyone, and have a Christmas in July 2020 weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

Christmas in July reportedly began on July 24th and 25th in 1933 at a girl’s camp called Keystone Camp in Brevard, North Carolina.  There was a Christmas tree, snow made from cotton, laundry bags used as makeshift stockings, and even Santa Claus.

Or did the tradition start at Yellowstone Park when a stagecoach ran into a freak summer blizzard. Stranded in the Rocky Mountains at the Old Faithful Inn, the riders refused to be distraught, and celebrated Christmas.

C’mon Kev. Who are you tryin’ to kid? Obviously some marketing team on Madison Avenue dreamed up this summertime opportunity.

If not them, had to be Hallmark, or the Hallmark Channel.

No one knows for sure, but it’s a thing now.

This week, we’ve got Christmas music that is definitely Christmas music that doesn’t really or immediately sound like Christmas.

Admit it. You’re curious. What do we have up our sleeve to pull this off?

Well, let’s get started with the biggest seller of Christmas music ever and an appropriate intro. 

Chip Davis, the founder of Mannheim Steamroller, was told by people in the music industry not to do a Christmas album because that would signal the end of his career. Their first Christmas album sold five million copies. Mannheim Steamroller is the #1 Christmas music artist of all times, selling more than 31 million albums. The second highest Christmas artist is Elvis Presley with 17 million albums.

Next up, a French carol that was first published in 1862. One English translation goes like this:

He is born, the Heav’nly Child,
Oboes play; set bagpipes sounding.
He is born, the Heav’nly Child,
Let all sing His nativity.

‘Tis four thousand years and more,
Prophets have foretold His coming.
‘Tis four thousand years and more,
Have we waited this happy hour. 

Ah, how lovely, Ah, how fair,
What perfection is His graces.
Ah, how lovely, Ah, how fair,
Child divine, so gentle there.

The group is called “WordHarmonic.”

From biblegateway.com:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

We now move on to an original piece from 1999 that takes a traditional British carol and turns it into smooth jazz. The group is Fourplay:

  • Bob James – piano, keyboards
  • Lee Ritenour – guitar
  • Nathan East – bass guitar
  • Harvey Mason – drums

Bob James who wrote wrote “Angela”, the theme song for the TV show “Taxi” is the writer here.

Now that was creative. Jazz works that way.

Let’s stick with that holly berries theme.

Way back in 1922 Rev. Bates G. Burt started a wonderful Christmas tradition. He began writing annual Christmas carols, the words and the music. The whole shootin’ match. Burt did so to send as Christmas cards to his parishioners in Marquette, Michigan, and again when he moved on to Pontiac, Michigan. Nineteen of his carols were published.

The task was then passed on to Bates’ son Alfred in 1942. While the Rev. Burt was a self-taught musician hos son was a jazz trumpeter with music degree from the University of Michigan. Alfred Burt wrote and composed 15 carols until his death in 1954. He was only 33. One of his carols from 1950: “Bright Bright the Holly Berries.”

Bright, bright the holly berries
in the wreath upon the door,
Bright, bright the happy faces
with the thoughts of joys in store.
White, white the snowy meadow
wrapped in slumber deep and sweet
White, white the mistletoe
‘neath which two lovers meet.
This is Christmas,
this is Christmas,
This is Christmas-time.

Here’s the Grammy Award-winning Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band with a selection from a modern film adaption of “A Christmas Carol” where Daffy Duck, in an Ebenezer Scrooge role, is visited by three Christmas Ghosts.

Yes, “Christmas” is in the title. But you’d never know it’s a Christmas melody just by listening, unless you knew the song.

Guaranteed you won’t hear this on the radio this December.

Now did we mention this would be Christmas music that didn’t exactly sound like Christmas music? That makes it for perfect for Christmas in July.

Guitarist Jonathan Butler and  saxophonist Gerald Albright combine for this short number.

That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

And let us be the first to wish you Merry Christmas.

We could use the extra spirit this year.

Our close is from music producer Michael Broening.

Goodnight everyone, and have a superstar weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

Hard to believe, but Linda Ronstadt turned 74 this week.

During the 1970’s Linda Ronstadt became known as The Queen of Rock and also The Queen of Country Rock. She’s had a phenomenal career with worldwide album sales of over 50 million, at least 31 gold and platinum records, 10 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, an honor by the Kennedy Center and membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This week quite possibly the greatest female singer of the rock era. Let’s get started.

While studying at the University of Arizona, Ronstadt met guitarist Bob Kimmel. The two moved to LA and along with guitarist/songwriter Kenny Edwards formed the Stone Poneys. Their second album included a top 20 hit, “Different Drum,” that was written by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees.

Do you remember?

One more Stone Poneys album and Ronstadt left to go solo.

Her first few albums had a clear country sound, but by the mid-70’s the versatile singer switched gears to rock. This next song was first recorded by the Cricketts in 1958 and written by Buddy Holly. Ronstadt covered it in 1977.

Did I mention Ronstadt was incredibly diverse in her ability to do all kinds of musical genres? If not, please forgive me.

July 4, 1984.

Milwaukee Summerfest.

Playing on the Main Stage that night was Ronstadt and the magnificent Nelson Riddle Orchestra. The summer of 1984.

I wasn’t at that show. But I did speak with some people who were or happened to be outside the seating area. They told me that there was, of course, a huge crowd  assembled. But after about 10-15 minutes a noticeable amount of  fans hurried to the exits in dismay.

Ronstadt followers expected to see her braless, in skirt, dress, or jeans singing all her greatest hits. Instead Ronstadt hit the stage in a long evening gown with fancy gloves up to her elbows.

Just the year before Ronstadt and Riddle released “What’s New,” their first of three albums dedicated to popular old standards, the kind everybody’s been doing for awhile. A few months after the Summerfest appearance a second album was planned, so the Milwaukee stop was meant to help with promotion. Apparently some in the audience were unaware or couldn’t figure that out.

The third album of the jazz trilogy as it was referred to was released in 1986.

“I just felt that I needed to expand as a singer, and I wasn’t going to be able to unless I had music that would go where my voice would go. Those songs were so beautiful. They’re exquisite. They’re so multilayered. I think what the United States gave to the world at large culturally in the 20th century was the popular song. They were the best of the best popular songs, layered with irony and sentiment and social commentary.”

Nelson Riddle died during the production of “For Sentimental Reasons.”

After a long string of major hits when she decided to do some Spanish-speaking albums and perform mariachi concerts in full costume, the complete change in style came as a huge surprise to the music industry.  Ronstadt, who is part Mexican, really didn’t care.

“I’ve decided that I’ll do whatever I want to do and I’ve always tried not to have commercial considerations, but they were considered for me even more than I might have done on my own … I wasn’t always real satisfied with the music I made.”

This song was originally done by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra in 1940.

Some time ago
I wandered down into old Mexico
While I was there
I felt romance everywhere
Moon was shining bright
And I could hear laughing voices in the night
Everyone was gay
This was the start of their holiday
It was fiesta down in Mexico
And so I stopped a while to see the show
I knew that frenesí meant “Please love me”
And I could say frenesí
A lovely señorita caught my eye
I stood enchanted as she wandered by
And never knowing that it come from me
I gently sighed frenesí
She stopped and raised her eyes to mine
Her lips just pleaded to be kissed
Her eyes were soft as candle-shine
So how was I to resist?
And now without a heart to call my own
A greater happiness I’ve never known
Because her kisses are for me alone
Who wouldn’t say frenesí?

That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have a great weekend.

In 2000 this superstar found herself struggling to sing.

“I couldn’t hear the top end of my voice. I couldn’t hear the part that I used to get in tune,” she told CNN. “My throat would clutch up. It would just be like I had a cramp or something.”

Ronstadt learned she had a rare condition called progressive supranuclear palsy, similar to Parkinson’s disease. There is no known cure.

“I was expecting [the doctor] was going to say I had a pinched nerve and they could fix it. And he said, ‘Well, I think you might have Parkinson’s disease,’ and I was totally shocked. It took him about a year after that to come to the diagnosis and then took a little bit longer to come to supranuclear palsy.

“Everything becomes a challenge. Brushing your teeth, taking a shower.”

Symptoms include difficulty maintaining balance, controlling speech, eye movement and mood. There’s a progressive loss of mobility causing frequent falls.

Ronstadt retired in 2009.

Here’s a short clip from one of the greatest American movies of all time, “The Searchers” in 1956.

John Wayne mentioned the phrase “That’ll be the day” several times in that film.

Buddy Holly saw the movie with some of his bandmates and they were inspired by the Duke. So they used the term as the title for their very first hit record in 1957.

Image result for buddy holly, image, photo, picture

Holly died in a plane crash in an Iowa field on Feb. 3, 1959. He was 22.

Ronstadt did a version that was a track on a Grammy winning album in 1976.

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The single went to #11 on the Billboard chart and clearly moved Ronstadt away from country rock.

Goodnight everyone, and have a sizzling weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

It’s been hot this week. Future forecasts indicate most of the rest of July looks the same.

If the weather “experts” are to be trusted, next week the heat will move north and east, spreading 100-degree temperatures across the Ohio Valley and into the Mid-Atlantic.

Get this.

The National Weather Service is forecasting 75 or more record-high temperatures to be approached or broken from Friday to Tuesday alone, and that number is likely to grow significantly into next week. Early next week a few cities in the Plains states may even flirt with their all-time record highs. However, when all is said and done, the bigger story will likely be how long this heat wave lasts. Jeff Masters, Ph.D., founder of the popular site Weather Underground and a regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections says “The heat wave will be very long-lived, lasting multiple weeks in some areas with only a few days of near-normal temperatures during that span.

Well, it is summer after all, and no shoveling is required.

Let’s beat the heat with some appropriate music and we start with Fattburger. The San Diego-based band blends funk, blues and Latin jazz in what is often called, “The San Diego Sound.”

It’s an impressive group. Various band members have backed up Barry White, Stevie Wonder, Cannonball Adderly,  Herbie Mann, Dave Valentin, Clark Terry,  Eddie Harris, Freddie Hubbard, Al Di Miola and Luis Miguel.

Drummer Kevin Koch hails from Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Turn up those speakers. From 2003, listen to Fattburger perform, “Sizzlin.”

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Sunlight has many benefits that some experts feel outweigh the risk of skin cancer.

When sunlight hits your skin, your body forms nitric oxide and releases it into your blood vessels. This compound can help lower blood pressure.

When natural sunlight hits the skin it triggers the body’s production of vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D can cause heart disease, prostate cancer and dementia. The “sunshine vitamin” protects against inflammation, helps muscles, improves brain function, and may even protect against cancer.

So we need the sun. We want the sun, right?

Super hot weather makes me think of tropical places and their distinctive musical styles. Our next artist captures that warm spirit and feeling very well.

She sings and also plays the sax. Her debut album, “Tequila Moon” in the previous decade helped her be named Radio and Records “Debut Artist of The Year.” The title track was honored as contemporary jazz song of the year by R&R and Billboard.

Born in Portland and raised in Hemet, California, she started playing piano at the age of four. Her home often hosted festive parties featuring Latin music. Growing up, she was influenced by Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane. After graduation from USC with a degree in jazz studies, she recorded sessions with Michael Buble and toured with the Temptations and Jessica Simpson.

In 2004, this artist joined the cast of the off-Broadway show Blast!  During her travels with the show, she decided she wanted to do more on her own. Friend and drummer Jamie Tate got her to see his gig with saxophonist Mindi Abair at the Newport Jazz Festival. The concert inspired her to record her own CD.

Her name is Jessy J.

Next up, a performer with a long and impressive resume.

Master guitarist Earl Klugh has been recording for more than three decades, has 22 Top Ten Billboard Jazz Chart albums (four of them No. 1), and 11 Grammy nominations.

Klugh studied piano at the age of 3, guitar when he was 10. As a youngster, Klugh was in awe at the sight of Chet Atkins play on Perry Como’s TV show.

“He was the first person I saw playing the melody on guitar, without singing. I had never heard the guitar being played like that,” says Klugh.

Like all successful musicians, Klugh had his many influences: George Benson, his first mentor, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Wes Montgomery, Sergio Mendes, Burt Bacharach and the Beatles.

He has been seen on The Tonight Show, Late Night featuring David Letterman, The Today Show, and Good Morning America.

This selection will have you dreaming of tropical breezes and pina coladas.

And now one of the best instrumentals ever that eventually added lyrics.

Here’s the explanation.

At the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival the late saxophonist Hugh Masekela performed alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.

One year later, his instrumental single went all the way to #1 on the American pop charts and was a worldwide smash.

In 1968, Harry Elston, Floyd Butler, Jessica Cleaves and Barbara Love formed “The Friends of Distinction.”

Elston had been working warming up for Ray Charles as part of the group the “Hi-Fi’s.” They broke up, and members Marilyn McCoo and Lamont McLemore co-founded “The Fifth of Dimension.”

Elston co-founded “The Friends of Distinction” that sounded a lot like “The Fifth Dimension,” so much so that the two groups were often confused for one another.

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Football star Jim Brown managed “The Friends” who signed a contract with RCA Records.

They decided to add vocals to Masekela’s chart topper and Elston wrote the lyrics.

“We’d be on the road, touring, and that meant riding the bus for hours at a time,” Elston told REBEAST magazine.

“We’d drive past pastures, cotton fields, cornfields. I’d always see these cows, just grazing, so peaceful, and I’d think to myself, ‘You know, they have it made. They just graze and s***!’

“Well, I first called it ‘Flaking in the Grass’ because I didn’t know I could use the same title as the instrumental since I was changing the song and adding lyrics. But everybody was like, ‘Get out of here!’ so I came back with the same music and title and they loved it.”

In 1969 their Masekela re-make stayed on the pop charts for 16 straight weeks and went gold, topping at #3.

It’s been redone and here’s a great rendition from trumpeter/flugelhorn player Rick Braun.

That’s it for tonight.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have an AC weekend.

We close with a group that I’ve featured before on This Just In…

Their cover of this oldie certainly fits tonight’s en fuego theme. From “Dancing with the Stars”…

Goodnight everyone, and have a terrific, tremendous, America is still awesome weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

“For all our faults, past and present, the United States is the greatest champion of liberty and equality in the history of the world.”
John Davidson is an editor at The Federalist

And that’s why as much as the fun has been totally drained from this year’s Independence Day festivities we can’t dismiss the significance of this holiday.

This week our annual Independence Day musical tribute along with excerpts from a 2006 report written by Dinesh D’Souza that still rings true today: “What’s Great About America.” Let’s get started.

Having studied the criticisms of America with care, my conclusion is that the critics have a narrow and distorted understanding of America. They exaggerate American faults, and they ignore what is good and even great about America.

The immigrant is in a good position to evaluate American society because he is able to apply a comparative perspective. While I take seriously the issues raised by the critics of America, I have also developed an understanding of what makes America great, and I have seen the greatness of America reflected in my life. Unlike many of America’s homegrown dissidents, I am also acutely conscious of the daily blessings that I enjoy in America.

America provides an amazingly good life for the ordinary guy. Rich people live well everywhere, but what distinguishes America is that it provides a remarkably high standard of living for the “common man.” A country is not judged by how it treats its most affluent citizens but by how it treats the average citizen.

In America, the immigrant immediately recognizes that things are different. The newcomer who sees America for the first time typically experiences emotions that alternate between wonder and delight. Here is a country where everything works: The roads are clean and paper-smooth; the highway signs are clear and accurate; the public toilets function properly; when you pick up the telephone, you get a dial tone; you can even buy things from the store and then take them back. For the Third World visitor, the American supermarket is a thing to behold: endless aisles of every imaginable product, 50 different types of cereal, and multiple flavors of ice cream. The place is full of countless unappreciated inventions: quilted toilet paper, fabric softener, cordless telephones, disposable diapers, roll-on luggage, deodorant. Some countries, even today, lack these conveniences.

Critics of America complain about the scandal of persistent poverty in a nation of plenty, but the immigrant cannot help noticing that the United States is a country where the poor live comparatively well. This fact was dramatized in the 1980s when CBS television broadcast “People Like Us,” which was intended to show the miseries of the poor during an American recession. The Soviet Union also broadcast the documentary, probably with a view to embarrassing the Reagan Administration. But by the testimony of former Soviet leaders, it had the opposite effect. Ordinary people across the Soviet Union saw that the poorest Americans have television sets and microwave ovens and cars. They arrived at the same perception of America as a friend of mine from Mumbai who has been trying unsuccessfully to move to the United States for nearly a decade. Finally, I asked him, “Why are you so eager to come to America?” His reply: “Because I really want to move to a country where the poor people are fat.”

Few people in America have to wonder where their next meal is coming from. Emergency medical care is available to everyone, even those without proper insurance. Every child has access to an education, and many have the chance to go to college.

We live in a country where construction workers regularly pay $4 for a nonfat latte, where maids drive rather nice cars, where plumbers and postal workers take their families on vacation in Europe or the Caribbean.

People live longer, fuller lives in America.  n 1900, for example, the rich person lived to 60 while the poor person died at 45. Today, the life expectancy of an affluent person in America is 78 years while that of the poor person is around 74. Thus, in one of the most important indicators of human well-being, the rich have advanced in America but the poor have advanced even more.
Dinesh D’Souza

Success stories of people who have risen up from nothing are so common that they are unremarkable. Nobody bothers to notice that in the same family, one brother is a gas station attendant and the other is a vice president at Oracle. “Old money” carries no prestige in America-it is as likely to mean that a grandparent was a bootlegger or a robber baron. Rather, as the best-selling book The Millionaire Next Door documents, more than 80 percent of American millionaires are self-made.

Indeed, America is the only country that has created a population of “self-made tycoons.” More than 50 percent of the Americans on the Forbes 400 “rich list” got there through their own efforts. Only in America could Pierre Omidyar, whose parents are Iranian and who grew up in Paris, have started a company like eBay. Only in America could Vinod Khosla, the son of an Indian army officer, become a leading venture capitalist, a shaper of the technology industry, and a billionaire to boot.

The critics complain that equal opportunity is a myth in America, but there is more opportunity in this country than anywhere else in the world. European countries may have better mass transit systems and more comprehensive health care coverage, but nowhere does the ordinary citizen have a better chance to climb up the ladder and to achieve success than in the United States.

What this means is that in America, destiny is not given but created.

In America you get to write your own script. When American parents ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the question is not merely rhetorical, for it is you who supplies the answer. The parents offer advice or try to influence your decision: “Have you considered law school?” “Why not become the first doctor in the family?” It would be very improper, however, for them to try to force their decision on you. Indeed, American parents typically send their children away to college, where they can live on their own and learn to be independent. This is part of the process of developing your mind, deciding your field of interest, and forming your identity. What to be, where to live, whom to love, whom to marry, what to believe, what religion to practice-these are decisions that Americans make for themselves.

In America, your destiny is not prescribed; it is constructed. Your life is like a blank sheet of paper, and you are the artist. The freedom to be the architect of your own destiny is the force behind America’s worldwide appeal.
Dinesh D’Souza

Next, you probably recognize this theme but may not know the title.

The tune “Colonel Bogey” was made famous in the British film “Bridge on the River Kwai.”

It was written by the bandmaster FJ Ricketts, who often wrote march tunes under the name of Kenneth Alford.  Ricketts was the son of a Cockney coal merchant in Shadwell, in London’s East End, and when his parents died he was put into the army as a boy soldier and sent out to India.

When it became quite evident Ricketts possessed musical talent he was sent to the Army School of Music at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, and soon became bandmaster for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The story goes that he wrote “Colonel Bogey” after playing golf with the colonel of his regiment at Fort St George in Scotland. Instead of shouting “Fore!”, his commanding officer would loudly whistle two notes to those playing ahead. Ricketts added more notes for the final tune. The title is a humorous reference to his colonel’s inability to score par on the golf course.

“Colonel Bogey” has been adopted by former POWs of the Japanese as a theme song.

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Let us concede at the outset that, in a free society, freedom will frequently be used badly. Freedom, by definition, includes freedom to do good or do evil, to act nobly or basely. Thus, we should not be surprised that there is a considerable amount of vice, licentiousness, and vulgarity in a free society. Given the warped timber of humanity, freedom is simply an expression of human flaws and weaknesses. The American Founders knew this.

But if freedom brings out the worst in people, it also brings out the best. The millions of Americans who live decent, praiseworthy lives deserve our highest admiration because they have opted for the good when the good is not the only available option. Even amid the temptations that a rich and free society offers, they have remained on the straight path. Their virtue has special luster because it is freely chosen. The free society does not guarantee virtue any more than it guarantees happiness. But it allows for the pursuit of both, a pursuit rendered all the more meaningful and profound because success is not guaranteed; it has to be won through personal striving.
Dinesh D’Souza

So what about slavery? What is distinctively Western is not slavery but the movement to end slavery.  Never in the history of the world, outside of the West, has a group of people eligible to be slave owners mobilized against slavery.

But what about racism? Racism continues to exist in America, but it exists in a very different way than it did in the past. Previously, racism was comprehensive or systematic; now it is more episodic. In a recent debate with the Reverend Jesse Jackson at Stanford University, I asked him to show me how racism today is potent enough to prevent his children or mine from achieving the American dream. “Where is that kind of racism?” I said. “Show it to me.” Jackson fired off a few of his famous rhyming sequences-“I may be well-dressed, but I’m still oppressed,” and so on-but conceded that he could not meet my challenge. He noted that just because there was no evidence of systematic racism, he could not conclude that it did not exist. Rather, he insisted, racism has gone underground; it is no longer overt but covert, and it continues to thwart African Americans and other minorities from claiming their share of the American dream.

In my view, this is complete nonsense. As a nonwhite immigrant, I am grateful to the activists of the civil rights movement for their efforts to open up doors that would otherwise have remained closed. But at the same time, I am struck by the ease with which Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement won its victories, and by the magnitude of white goodwill in this country. In a single decade, from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties, America radically overhauled its laws through a series of landmark decisions: Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act. Through such measures, America established equality of rights under the law. Of course, the need to enforce nondiscrimination provisions continues, but for nearly half a century, blacks and other minorities have enjoyed the same legal rights as whites.
Dinesh D’Souza

George Gershwin is one of the greatest American composers. He dropped out of school so he could start playing piano professionally at the age of 15. The young man was immensely talented, composing jazz, opera, and popular stage and screen songs. His piano teacher, Charles Hambitzer, who also had a respected reputation, wrote in a letter to his sister about Gershwin: “I have a new pupil who will make his mark if anybody will. The boy is a genius.”

Gershwin’s finest work came together quickly, because it had to. The composer had no choice.

On the night of January 3, 1924, Gershwin, his older brother Ira, and songwriter Buddy DeSylva were playing billiards in a parlor in New York. Ira saw a notice in a section of the New York Tribune that mentioned a concert of new American music to be given by Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Band at Aeolian Hall on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12.

“George Gershwin is at work on a jazz concerto. Irving Berlin is writing a syncopated tone poem,” the article stated.

George was stunned, knowing absolutely nothing about it. His musical comedy, Sweet Little Devil, was set to open in just three weeks. Suddenly, he reads that in addition he must come up with a jazz concerto.

Aware of the ambitious schedule, the popular bandleader Whiteman reassured Gershwin that he could pull it off by simply focusing on a piano score, and did he ever. Whiteman’s arranger would build the orchestration around Gershwin’s contribution.

In just a few days Gershwin managed to provide a landmark in American music, “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Here’s an edited performance by the Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner with soloist Adrian Brendle.

There’s no telling how far Gershwin’s talents could have reached. He died of a brain tumor at the age of 38.

My conclusion is that America is the greatest, freest, and most decent society in existence. It is an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism. This country, once an experiment unique in the world, is now the last best hope for the world. By making sacrifices for America and by our willingness to die for her, we bind ourselves by invisible cords to those great patriots who fought at Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima, and we prove ourselves worthy of the blessings of freedom. By defeating the terrorist threat posed by Islamic radicalism, we can protect the American way of life while once again redeeming humanity from a global menace. History will view America as a great gift to the world, a gift that Americans today must preserve and cherish.
Dinesh D’Souza

That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have a great weekend.

Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” tells the story about Russia’s defeat of Napoleon’s invading army. And yet the lengthy piece has become a staple in America’s birthday celebration.

Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops explains.

“People love the pomp and circumstance of it, and I think they love the bombast. And who doesn’t like a great orchestral composition where you get to blow things up in the middle of it?”

Here are the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and the Boston Crusaders conducted by Keith Lockhart from the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, July 4, 2015, and Tchaikovsky’s  1812 Overture.

Dinesh D’Souza’s “What’s Great About America”

Goodnight everyone, and have a drive-in, park, and ACTION weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

Has anything positive come out of the pandemic that hit America? Not much, though there have been a been a few exceptions (very few). Consider drive-in movies.

New York-based reporter Bryan Reesman says:

“At a time when few people can patronize traditional indoor theaters, they are serving a useful function by providing a communal experience that people crave right now. Accordingly, many indoor theaters are converting their parking lots to drive-ins. But this shouldn’t be just a move of desperation: The drive-in has many reasons to recommend itself, pandemic or not. People have space to spread out and aren’t on top of one another, and thanks to FM and Bluetooth transmission, they could easily have stereo sound sent into their car speakers. It also really lends itself to dates (wink-wink), which was a big draw for young people back in the day. And many of the big screens tower over cineplexes with smaller, chopped-up spaces. High-quality HD movies will look fantastic projected on giant screens.”

Just this week Tribeca Enterprises, IMAX and AT&T  announced the initial lineup for its summer series of films, comedy and football, running every weekend from July 2 through Aug. 2 in cities like Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Miami and Seattle. Venues will include beaches (Nickerson Beach in Nassau County, New York, and Orchard Beach in the Bronx), stadiums (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas and the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California) as well as conventional drive-in locations.

Drive-ins have already started popping up all over the country, not just in these big cities.  This week we feature a few of the films and their music that drive-ins will be offering.

Let’s get started.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, from 1978, a cinema favorite that has a memorable scene that takes place at a drive-in!


Question. Can you guess which of the Grease stars I interviewed back in the mid-1980’s when I worked in public radio? Wasn’t Travolta or Newton-John.  I’ll have the answer later.

It was 87 years ago this month the first drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey. The cost: a whopping 25 cents per car, 25 cents per person, $1 for 3 or more persons. In 1958 there were 4,063 drive-ins in the United States.

I never get tired of this classic from the summer of 1975.

Jaws director Steven Spielberg said the music gets the credit for “half of the success’’ of the movie.

“You can’t really think about the movie without the music,’’ said Jack Freeman, professor of film scoring at Berklee College of Music. “It’s about as simple a theme as you can think of, but it’s primitive and it’s driving and it really captures the essence of the shark.’’

NEXT!

The 3rd James Bond movie was the best. Auric Goldfinger, who is out to rob Fort Knox,  was named the forty-ninth greatest movie villain. Gert Fröbe played the part. His dialogue was dubbed by Michael Collins, since Fröbe was not a native English speaker.

There are some interesting gadgets, and Bond is faced with squirming his way out of some dangerous traps.

The vocal version of the movie’s theme song hit #8 on the Billboard chart in 1964.

Actress Shirley Eaton underwent two hours of make-up application that involved being gild painted to become a gold painted corpse. A doctor was on set at all times in fear of possible skin suffocation, and her stomach left bare for the same reason. Her shots lasted less than five minutes in the finished film and the filming of them was shot quickly, wrapped in a morning’s work. Then she was scrubbed down by the wardrobe mistress and the make-up girl, and sweated off the remaining gold in a number of Turkish baths. After the film was released, rumors circulated that she had actually died on set, owing to the misconception that the gold paint caused asphyxiation.

WOW! Pretty exciting stuff so far. I think you could use a  short break.

We’re back!

Time to go back to 1985 and that year’s highest grossing film. Yep. 1985. Or was it 1955?

Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson were among the key people who took part in a “Back to the Future” cast remote reunion in May.  Are there plans for a another film in the series. Not really. But if there could be Thompson said, “I’d like it to go back to, like, January where they could warn us about the coronavirus” in a line that drew laughter.

That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have a great weekend.

To answer the question about Grease from earlier. What star did I interview and cover in the mid-1980’s when I worked in public radio?

Didi Conn who played Frenchy.

Conn visited Milwaukee to, if memory is correct, advocate on the issue of children and hunger. Since 2008 she has also become a spokesperson for autism.

Drive-ins this summer promise to have something for everyone, even the kids. But I think we all can relate to this scene.

Here are some drive-in locations in Wisconsin. We recommend the one here in Franklin.

Goodnight everyone, and have a weekend with bonding!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

From history.com:

The nation’s first Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910, in the state of Washington. However, it was not until 1972, 58 years after President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day official, that the day honoring fathers became a nationwide holiday in the United States.

Many men, however, continued to disdain the day. As one historian writes, they “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products–often paid for by the father himself.”

During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether in favor of a single holiday, Parents’ Day.

However, the Great Depression derailed this effort to combine and de-commercialize the holidays. Struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men, promoting goods such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and greeting cards.

In 1972, in the middle of a hard-fought presidential re-election campaign, Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday at last.

We have a tradition around this time of year of dipping into my father’s record collection for some interesting selections I hope you’ll enjoy. Not that difficult because I have his collection! Let’s get started.

Back in the late 1960’s Tom Jones had a TV variety show. So did Engelbert Humperdinck.

Dad liked Tom Jones, but not as much as Engelbert. Dad said Jones, unlike Humperdinck, “screamed.”

Dad never bought a Tom Jones album, but he bought this one that featured a song he really loved.

We need a grand opening.

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Yes, Dad loved the song. The song. The song.

Humperdinck is now 84. Earlier this year he did an interview with the Guardian.

I get up at at 6.30am. I watch a little TV – usually the news – to wake up my mind, and then I do exercises, followed by breakfast.

My life has changed since my wife, Patricia, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that terrible disease. So now when I go downstairs, I usually just sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee and do my crosswords. The first people I talk to are the live-in carers who help me look after her. I’m pleased to say that Patricia is making some progress. She’s starting to talk a little. She said ‘Good morning’ to me this morning, which was rather lovely.

I spend time playing golf, at a course two miles from our Beverly Hills home, where I’ll grab some lunch and a nice glass of wine in the clubhouse. If I really want to let my hair down I’ll ride my Harley-Davidson around the Hollywood Hills. Sometimes I’ll get to the lights, pull up my visor, and see people next to me do a double take: ’Oh my God, it’s Engelbert Humperdinck.’ I don’t mind. Recognition is one of the greatest compliments you can have.

Dad loved the piano. So it’s not surprising his collection had a few albums by Roger Williams. The artist began playing piano at the age of three. Later his father urged Williams to take up boxing. When Williams suffered more than one broken nose in the ring he returned to his true love, music. Very good move.

A Williams recording from 1955 was the only piano instrumental to reach #1 on the Billboard charts and sold two million copies. And yes, that is the Lawrence Welk orchestra that Dad and family watched religiously each and every Saturday night.

“The biggest thing I have to offer,” Williams told Time magazine in 1968, “is emotion. I think I play with more feeling than any other pop pianist.”

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Williams died in 2011 of pancreatic cancer. He was 87.

My father served in the Army during WWII. He nearly had his legs blown off in Australia. Dad and the legs, though severely burned, survived.

Not surprisingly, given the era, Dad was a fan of the big bands.

In 1961 a cast of all-star studio musicians released an album of standards and classics.

They were sponsored by the Four Roses Distillers Co.

Here the band performs their version of “Love,” a song  written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin that was first released by Judy Garland with Victor Young and His Orchestra in 1946.

Yes, I can imagine that album of Dad’s playing in the background of a cocktail party.

I was blessed to have wonderful caring, supportive parents…who were also cool.

Mom was cool.

Dad was cool.

Dad had the album you’ll see below. Cool.

But Mom bought it for him. Even cooler.

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The album sold more than 6 million copies.

Dolores Erickson is the model. She wore a bikini with the shoulder straps pushed down and hidden, and that’s mostly shaving cream she’s wearing.  Real whipped cream would run and be too smelly under the hot lights used by the photographer.  Erickson is wearing the real stuff on her head and on the index finger she touched to her lips. She was three months pregnant at the time. This September she’ll turn 85.

That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have a great weekend.

Did I mention my dad was cool?

I will always think so, even if he and the family would gather around the TV on Saturday nights and watch the Lawrence Welk Show.

Welk’s orchestra and singers often did versions of contemporary recordings. Another album in my father’s collection…

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Hard to imagine Welk and his champagne music makers doing Sonny and Cher.

Here are the original artists of one of those tunes on the above LP.  The group is from Australia. The song is from a 1966 movie of the same name and was nominated for an Academy Award. The single made history when the group became the first Australians ever to reach the No.1 spot in the USA.

Lovely Judith Durham is the lead singer.

The TV performance is a broadcast from Montreal’s Expo ’67.

Wait.

Wait.

Wait.

I can’t end like this.

Kevin’s conscience: Yes, you can, Kev.

I know what you’re thinking.

Don’t do it.

I have to, for Dad.

Kevin’s conscience: But c’mon!

Twice in the same blog?

Really?

Uh huh.

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Goodnight everyone, and have an OOH LA LA weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

Our daughter Kyla turned 11 in March. We celebrated then, of course, but have always planned a larger party in May or June when the weather is more cooperative.

There’s always a theme my wife Jennifer works on meticulously, almost the entire year.

Last year…

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Harry Potter.

This year…

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Kyla is fascinated with…

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So, there will be French food, decorations, and music. And that’s our theme tonight as well.

Let’s get started on a French musical journey.

The 1958 movie musical “Gigi” told the story of GASP a teenage girl from a family of courtesans marrying an older man. Leslie Caron played the 14-year old Gigi. Caron was really 25 in the movie that was filmed entirely in Paris.

Vanessa Hudgens, Corey Cott, Victoria Clark and the cast of the 2015 Broadway revival of the GIGI perform live on Good Morning America. Whenever possible we like to begin with a rousing number and this definitely fits the bill.

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Oh, and remember. It may look and fizz and smell and taste like Champagne, but sparking wine isn’t the real thing.

Only sparkling wines grown and produced in the region of Champagne in France can truly be called “champagne.”

Our next artist was born in Marseille, France. Noted composer, conductor and arranger Paul Mauriat gave us one of the most famous instrumentals in 1968.

Mauriat was an international star. “Love is Blue” hit #1 around the world. In the US the single was #1 for five straight weeks.

This story also takes place in France. The very popular “Beauty and the Beast” from Disney had a few compositions nominated for Oscar’s Best Song. The following didn’t win, but it sure was “entertaining.”

The late Jerry Orbach performs at the Oscars in 1992.

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The Oscar went to the song “Beauty and the Beast.”

Orbach achieved great popularity for his role as Detective Lenny Briscoe on “Law and Order.” He died in December of 2004 from prostate cancer at the age of 69.

Now stay with me as I connect some dots leading into the next selection, one of the greatest French songs of all-time.

Here’s a picture of my dear sweet cousin Claire McKenzie with Kyla just a couple of years ago. Claire is an artist. Kyla is holding one of her creations and there’s another on the wall just over Claire’s shoulder.

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The two people in the painting are Claire’s parents, my Uncle Claude and Aunt Rose. Using a technique taught to her by two California artists, Claire took a photo of her father and a photo of her mother.  Then she photocopied the two and put them together into one picture. She outlined the photocopy and placed it behind a special semi-transparent canvas, and painted over the image.

Here’s the result, showing my Aunt and Uncle in their mid to late 20’s.

Claire Painting

You’ll notice Claire’s signature and the date showing the painting was made in 2002.

Earlier in this blog you saw Paul Mauriat leading his orchestra. Like Mauriat my lovely Aunt Rose was born in Marseille, a port city in southern France.

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Aunt Rose came to the United States when she was 8 years old.  We miss her and Uncle Claude so, so much.

Beautiful job on that painting, Claire! She and her sister, Claudia are both very artistic, a trait they inherited from their father.

Oh, this gentleman paints, too.

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The amazing Tony Bennett will turn 94 in August. He’s still performing and recording and winning Grammy Awards.

Over the years Bennett has done duets with all kinds of singers, some you wouldn’t expect.

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This next song was released for the first time in 1947 and means “Life in rosy hues.” French singer Edith Piaf made it her signature song, with joyful lyrics about finding true love.

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That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have a great weekend.

In 1981 Louis Clark conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a series of medleys. Clark took lengthy symphonies, movements, marches and concertos and whittled them down to mere seconds. The first “Hooked on Classics” single and album were international smashes. The conductor makes a return appearance to the blog.

The following medley contains:

Orpheus in the Underworld, Infernal Galop (Can-Can) /  Jacques Offenbach

Unter Donner und Blitz (Thunder and Lightning) Polka, Op. 324 / Johann Strauss II

Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor / Brahms

Tritsch Tratsch Polka, Op. 214/ Johann Strauss II

La Vie Parisienne Overture / Offenbach

La Gioconda, Act 3, Dance of the Hours/ Ponchielli

Csardas/ Vittorio Monti

La Vie Parisienne Overture / Offenbach

Poet and Peasant Overture / Suppé

In short, “Hooked on a Can-Can.”

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Goodnight everyone, and have a California-style weekend!

Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.

A two-part documentary series, Laurel Canyon, premiered last Sunday on the premium television network EPIX.  The film explores the lives and evolution of  musicians who in the 60’s and 70’s would gather in a Los Angeles mountainside neighborhood (The second part airs this Sunday). Director Alison Ellwood put together a collection of previously unseen film clips, home movies and television appearances for the series.

This week, some of the artists and stories from chapter of pop music culture history.

Let’s get rollin’.

There are plenty of interview clips in the documentary of Michelle Phillips, the only surviving member of The Mamas and Papas who lived in Laurel Canyon along with Mama Cass Elliot.

“Cass had an open-door policy – anybody could swing by her place any time,” Phillips said. “They’d smoke a joint, drink some wine and play their guitars. She saw herself as a hip Barbra Streisand. Her house was at the center of everything, open twenty four hours a day [with] a very wide circle of friends.”

Holly Michelle Gilliam met and married John Phillips in 1962 and they would form the Mamas and the Papas in 1965.

“I would never have become a singer if it hadn’t been for John,” Phillips said. “Really, all I wanted to do was dress up in a cute cocktail dress, put my hair up, drink a Brandy Alexander, have a Marlboro, and be the bandleader’s girlfriend. That’s what I thought I had in front of me.”

BTW, ” California Dreamin”… it’s ‘pretend to pray’ it’s not ‘began’.

“A lot of people make that mistake, said Phillips. “About eight months after we recorded it, it was a big hit. We were doing a soundcheck before a concert in some town. We starting doing California Dreaming and Cass came up to me and asked why I sang ‘pretend to pray.’ I told her that was the lyric, and she said she thought it was ‘began.’ She said ‘That’s the way I sang it on the record.’ So when people come up and say “Oh, I thought you said it was ‘began’ to pray’ I tell them ‘Well, you’re right, too’ since Cass sang it that way’.”

The group was the subject of a PBS special in 2016, 50 years after they hit stardom.

Things weren’t always harmonious with the group. In a 2000 interview with the NY Times, Denny Doherty said ”it was an untenable situation. Cass wanted me, I wanted Michelle, John wanted Michelle, Michelle wanted me, she wanted her freedom.”

John Phillips died from heart failure in 2001. Doherty died from kidney failure in 2007. Cass Elliot passed away at the age of 32 from a heart attack in 1974. Many believed she choked to death on a ham sandwich, because there allegedly was one found next to her bed at the time of her death.

”What is a Jewish girl eating ham for anyway?” Doherty said. ”It didn’t happen. Her poor old heart just quit.”

When she moved to Los Angeles in 1968, Joni Mitchell discovered a book at a flea market that mentioned, “Ask anyone in Los Angeles where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they’ll say Laurel Canyon. And ask anyone in Laurel Canyon where the craziest people live and they’ll say Lookout Mountain.”

Joni Mitchell bought her Laurel Canyon home at 8217 Lookout Mountain Avenue in the spring of 1968 and it became a popular place for musicians to hang out.

“There was a friendliness to it, no one locked their doors,” Mitchell said. That is, until the Charles Manson murders that shocked LA.

Mitchell said there was music everywhere. “In the afternoon there was just a cacophony of young bands rehearsing.

“Like Paris was to the Impressionists and to the PostImpressionists, LA back then was the hotbed of all musical activity,” she said. “The greatest musicians in the world either live here or pass through here regularly. I think that a lot of beautiful music came from it, and a lot of beautiful times came through that mutual understanding. A lot of pain came from it too, because inevitably different relationships broke up and it gets complicated.”

This was a big hit for Judy Collins, written by Mitchell.

Joni Mitchell in her Laurel Canyon home in 1969

Joni Mitchell in her Laurel Canyon home in 1970.

Mitchell began dating David Crosby of The Byrds around 1967 and he produced her debut album. Music journalist David Browne shared in his book “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup,” that Crosby would reportedly “revel in presenting her to his friends, treating her like a prized, talented possession.”

“David Crosby and I were never a couple,” said Mitchell. “We spent time together in Florida and he was off drugs and very enjoyable company at that time. We rode bicycles through Coconut Grove and went boating. But David’s appetites were for young harem girls who would wait on him. I would not be a servant girl. I had a child-like quality that made me attractive to him and my talent made me attractive. But we weren’t an item; I guess you could call it a brief summer romance in Florida.”

The relationship began to unravel and Crosby reportedly took up with an old girlfriend. That was the end of that love affair, paving the way for Mitchell to hook up with another musician.

Graham Nash, then with the Hollies, tells the story about the band playing a show in Ottawa in late 1966 or early 1967.

“And after the show the promoter throws the usual party where you’re standing there with a plastic glass of awful wine, and you’re trying to, you know, smile at everybody,” said Nash. “I saw this blonde in the corner, and she was incredibly attractive. And my manager was nattering in my ear about whatever it was, you know, promoter and his wife’s name and say hello to Georgie and all that kind of stuff.

“And I say, look, stop talking to me, I’m trying to attract this woman. And he said, well, if you’ll just listen, I was trying to tell you that her name is Joni Mitchell and she wants to meet you. And that’s how I met Jon.”

During one of those impromptu parties at Mama Cass’ house Elliot saw and heard Crosby singing…by himself. And Stephen Stills singing…by himself. And Nash singing…by himself.

Michelle Phillips remembers Elliot heard them all singing separately and said, ‘You guys should sing together.’ A new band was born.

The documentary also focuses on the second wave of Laurel Canyon musicians, including Linda Ronstadt.

“Frank Sinatra never wrote any songs. Elvis Presley never wrote any songs. Neither did Linda,” said acclaimed rock photographer Henry Diltz. “But she had the knack for picking out, instinctively, what songs were going to be good for her.”

In 1969 Hugh Hefner engaged in a 26-week TV series called “Playboy After Dark.”

Hefner had done previous TV programs. This one continued an atmosphere of a televised party, set in a $35,000 bachelor pad with a den, sunken living room, and curvaceous bar.

Guest were impressive. Marvin Gaye,  Janis Ian, The Byrds, Buddy Greco, Shari Lewis, Pat Henry, and others.

Hugh Hefner said this in 1969 about “Playboy After Dark”: “It’s better than the Johnny Carson show or the Joey Bishop show and I do a better job hosting than Ed Sullivan does.”

This clip of Ronstadt singing a Bob Dylan song is in the Laurel Canyon documentary.

Ronstadt was all of 23 in that performance.

Some of the best and highly detailed recollections in the documentary come from Johnny Echols who sang and played guitar in the group Love.

“So the places in Laurel Canyon were really cheap. I got a house for $70 a month. Then I paid $160 a month for a four-bedroom house that is now in the $3 million (price) range to buy,” Echols said. “Musicians gravitated to places that were inexpensive and then their friends gravitated there. Pretty soon, no one but musicians lived there. And the police didn’t bother you when you had your music up really loud, because your neighbors did, too. It felt like ‘Oz.’ We were living in this magical little enclave and we were safe from the outside world.”

The Laurel Canyon communal magic, of course, couldn’t last forever.

“Before 1969, my memories were nothing but fun and excitement and shooting to the top of the charts and loving every minute of it,” said Michelle Phillips.

“The Manson murders [in the summer of 1969] ruined the L.A. music scene. That was the nail in the coffin of the freewheeling, let’s get high, everybody’s welcome, come on in, sit right down. Everyone was terrified. I carried a gun in my purse. And I never invited anybody over to my house again.”

That’s it for this week.

Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Have a great week-end.

“‘Hippie’ was like a young person just burgeoning, just opening, just blossoming, somebody who’s getting hip,”said Jackson Browne, a Laurel Canyon second-waver.

“There was a way of living your life out in the open, being a freak and being unapologetic about who you were.”