Thursday, March 11, 2010

Addena to Swing Set by David Rickert

In my last post I promised to provide additional material on each of the musicians behind the anthems - here it is:

Benny Goodman - For entertainment value, the 1956 movie, Benny Goodman Story, is a fun-to-watch flick with appearances by Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, Ben Pollack, Kid Ory, Harry James, and Sammy Davis Sr. While the historical accuracy is compromised by the Hollywood treatment, the music is excellent and it does give an approximate thumbnail of Goodman in a flattering light. For the serious fan, Swing, Swing, Swing by Ross Firestone is a highly regarded biography. Of course, as a drummer I am compelled to cite a few Gene Krupa resources as well. First, the movie, Gene Krupa Story. While this film takes a lot of liberties regarding chronology and other facts, it is plain fun. Sal Mineo does an amazing job of portraying Krupa. Although the actual soundtrack was made by Krupa himself, Mineo's movements mimic identically what is being played (with one exception, where his movements are not synchronized to what is being played during the "Cherokee" scene.) For more accurate information on Krupa's life I highly recommend Gene Krupa: Swing, Swing, Swing. Bruce Klauber took great pains to put together an accurate biography, which includes interviews with Gene, as well as some musical performances. I loved both versions of Dark Eyes he played on this DVD, as well as when he played Caravan. Another excellent DVD is Gene Krupa Jazz Legend, which is more performance-oriented.

Count Basie - My favorite video that focuses on Basie and the Kansas City scene during his era is The Last of the Blue Devils - The Kansas City Jazz Story. This movie goes well beyond Basie, covering other bands of the era (Jumping Jay McShann for example), and many of the musicians associated with the scene. There is a lot of reminiscing in this 1979 reunion of the Basie alumni, which provides insights and anecdotes that are priceless. There are also clips of some amazing performances. The Real Kansas City is an excellent companion CD to the movie, as is the book, Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop--A History. Zeroing in on Basie, his autobiography, Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie is must reading for the die hard Basie fan, although it is disappointingly short on many details. A book that fills in those gaps, as well as covers Basie's musicians, is Stanley Dance's The World Of Count Basie There is also a 56 minute movie that has not been released (I pre-ordered a copy) titled Masters of American Music: Count Basie - Swingin' the Blues that intrigues me. I'll post a review after I receive it.

Duke Ellington - The Duke is amply covered in Ken Burns' Jazz, and according to some critics disproportionately so. For more about that 10-DVD set see my 25 February post. A more focused video biography is A Duke Named Ellington, which any Ellington fan will enjoy. Ellington's autobiography, Music is My Mistress is excellent reading. Two other biographies I like are Stanley Dance's The World Of Duke Ellington and Mark Tucker's The Duke Ellington Reader. In the former, Dance (who gave Ellington's eulogy at his funeral) interviews many musicians who were associated with and played for Ellington, weaving a rich tapestry, while Tucker delves deeply into Ellington's life. Between these two books you will get a complete picture of Ellington. Of course, no picture is complete without closely examining Billy Strayhorn in detail because he and Duke were tied in some ineffable way that made them appear to share the same soul. Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn digs deeply into Billy's life, although a more detailed book that goes as deeply into the music this genius co-created with Ellington is Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn.

Artie Shaw - Nobody ever did a biopic of Artie, but he shows up in a number of documentaries, including an expected cameo in Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns, and in some unexpected places, such as the biopic, Willie Smith - Willie the Lion who Shaw met and learned from at an early age. Shaw walked away from music when he was on top, then channeled much of his creative energies into writing. His autobiography, The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of Identity, not only gives frank insights into Shaw the man, but clearly shows him to be a talented writer as well. Looking at Shaw from the outside, Ferdie Pacheco did a remarkable job of capturing the essence of Shaw in Who Is Artie Shaw...and why is he following me? - and managed to do that in 128 pages! John White also did a remarkable job in his book, Artie Shaw: His Life and Music, and at a mere 223 pages it's still a quick read that is packed with details. Yet to be released, but available for pre-order, is Three Chords for Beauty's Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw. I'm going to take a wait and see stance before jumping on it. If you are a hard core Shaw fan, though, it is probably worth taking a chance.

Tommy Dorsey - The Hollywood treatment of Tommy (and brother Jimmy) in this 1947 movie titled, Fabulous Dorseys, is interesting for a few reasons. First, Tommy and Jimmy star as themselves in the movie, and second, it was surprisingly frank with respect the the infighting between the two. It gets high marks for entertainment value, but also has some excellent music (especially the great jam session scene with Art Tatum, Charlie Barnet, Ziggy Elman and Ray Bauduc.) Paul Whiteman also plays himself. Like all Hollywood movies, there are factual liberties taken. Focusing on Tommy, Peter J. Levinson's Tommy Dorsey: Livin' in a Great Big Way, A Biography is a detailed biography, while Herb Sanford does an excellent job covering both brothers in Tommy and Jimmy: The Dorsey Years .

Lionel Hampton - Hudson Music's Jazz Legend: King of the Vibes is a reasonable biographic DVD about Hamp, but does not begin to cover his many accomplishments. Still, I recommend it; indeed, I find myself watching my copy every few months. Fortunately, there is a plethora of video performances with Hamp on the web and on various performance and compilation videos, so it's easy to track down representative performances of him as a band leader or as an integral member of bands like Goodman's. Less known is what a great drummer as well as vibe player Hamp was, and [fortunately] that is covered in Jazz Legend: King of the Vibes. While Hamp: An Autobiography is essential reading, Flying Home: Lionel Hampton - Celebrating 100 Years of Good Vibes fills in a few gaps that Hamp left in his book. Leonard Feather also covers Hamp throughout The Jazz Years, which I believe deserves bookshelf space for those who truly love swing and big band music.

Glenn Miller - One Amazon reviewer aptly characterized The Glenn Miller Story as a rags-to-rags-to-riches story, and the Hollywood version is just that. Bear in mind that this is a circa 1954 movie that portrays Miller in the most sympathetic way. There is a lot of fact woven into the Hollywood treatment, and excellent music throughout, making it enjoyable. For a more factual examination of Miller I recommend Richard Grudens' Chattanooga Choo Choo: The Life and Times of the World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra, as well as Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (written by Miller's close friend, George Simon.) If you are into conspiracy theories you'll find some fodder in The Glenn Miller Conspiracy: The Never-Before-Told Story of His Life -- and Death. I personally don't buy into it, but the book is a fun read for a rainy afternoon.

If you are interested in the above musicians, and their peers, I strongly recommend a visit to Swing Music Net, which contains biographies, and additional content from what I consider to be the golden age in American music.

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