Monday, October 29, 2012

Dennis and Jim do it again

I have just spent a couple of days at the Falcetti Music Company's annual Fall Extravaganza.   Falcetti Music is a family  business in it's second generation of ownership.  The elder Falcetti's came to the event as honored guests, and I am thinking as long as they live they will always do that.   Sam shared with me that in his retirement  he is now working with Roland Accordian students and has 60 of them.  Sam is a small man (shorter than my 5'3") sharp and tidy, and he played his accordian for us during a social hour.
Mrs. Falcetti (senioritis has caught me and I can't bring her first name to mind) is just as sharp and even shorter than Sam.    With her carefully coiffed snow what hair and cheerful smile, she thanked everyone for coming and for supporting the company and told us she has nothing to do with the extravaganza anymore, that her boys, Tony and Michael do it all.  But as I went to sign up for next year's event, there she was driving Michael crazy with directions to put the registrations in order and be sure the checks were attached to them, and that everyone had put in all the information.   Michael looked at me and rolled his eyes and said patiently, "Yes, Mom.  I  have it all."   She turned to me and said, "I've trained him well."  and I agreed.

After dinner Friday night, Jim Weider entertained us with a few stories and an hour or so of wonderful music.   He opened with a tribute to Glenn Campbell which included about twelve of Campbell's best known songs.    I guess I should have written down what  he played because the only  specific ones I can remember are  Rhinestone Cowboy and Witchitaw Lineman   He played the Carpenters' Sing, Sing a Song and invited everyone to joing in the "la-la  la  la-la chorus",   and closed with one of his inspiring patriotic medleys. 

Saturday morning we had breakfast, of course, and then a workshop with Dennis.    He was supposed to give us a lesson in playing the Addams Family and Munster theme songs, but chose instead to talk to us about styling, expression and ways to make our music "bounce" .    Dennis told us about his heart surgery last year and shared some of his usual humor about an event that was not at all funny and very nearly took his life.  HE credits the skill of a doctor from Massachusetts, one of only six in the country who perform the surgery, for "super gluing" his heart back together after a post-op set back.   It's not my place to give details, but I will tell you,  it is a medical miracle,and maybe more than a little bit of the Hand of God, that we still have this remarkable performer with us.

After lunch on Saturday we had a second workshop with Jim Weider.   I have been to Jim's workshops a few times and always find them to be worthwhile.   He is organized and knows the organ inside out, in fact, he is now part of the "product development team" for Lowrey.    And yes, they are still thinking up things to put in future "virtual orchestras."   (Dennis says "It still looks like an organ to me!)   Jim's workshop was on modifying pre-arranged rhythms to represent other band sounds.  For instance, by modifying a Gospel rhythm and using piano sounds, you can get a great "bar room rinky-tink".   Jim makes playing fun and interesting. Jim explains that "the little lady who played the hymns in church on Sunday spent Saturday night entertaining  in the local saloon." 

Saturday night dinner was some of the best roast beef I have ever eaten, at least since I left home.   Of course, we don't go for the food, but there's no doubt, it doesn't discourage us to have such great meals.   All through the meals and social times, student players provided background music.   It was interesting to hear what others people were doing with their music.   There were two organs on stage, the newest "Sterling" and the older Stardust, still a great organ.   I got to play the Sterling and think I could get used to it, but another organ is not in my future.  Dennis, a Falcetti salesman and I got together early Sunday morning for a personal, very detailed demonstration by Dennis, and a pretty aggressive pitch by Ron the salesman.   Yes, if I had the money, I would have succumbed.    Then Tony Falcetti, a handsome second generation family member, spent about ten minutes telling me how I could work it with a credit company which deals only in music sales.  He also told me I could change my mind and buy at any time and the price he  quoted would still be good, and he would send Ritchie Mitnick to my home to teach me to play, and Dennis would also come to my home to spend a day with me.  Now, let me tell you, a day with Dennis almost sold me!  But I kept seeing my kids looking at each other with disbelief, which kept me strong.

Saturday night Dennis did a concert for us with a medley of familiar oldies for us.    Going from beautiful waltzes to clever two-steps, polkas and fox-trots, his favorite Hawaiian melodies and some Latin pieces with smooth transitions that you hardly notice until you realize you are hearing a different song.    He played for more than 45 minutes.  He told a few little side stories about his personal connections to the performers of yesteryear like Connie Francis, (he played for her first recording),  Harry James, the Dorseys, Bert Kempfert and Lenny Dee.   And a nice story about being with Rosa Rio just before her death.   He also told us that shortly after his heart surgery, to fulfill  a contract he had made before the event, he got the doctor to medicate him sufficiently to perform the organ music for a Phantom of The Opera DVD.  He said he was so drugged, he had no pain, felt like a youngster, and all his music came back so that he was mentally "one note ahead at all times."    And then he went home and crashed.

Following Dennis' concert Sam Falcetti, Ritchie Mitnick and a guitarist whose name I did not get, but I know he is from the Falcetti Music Company, played dance music.

Sunday a.m. Dennis was on again.    He is amazing in his energy.  He told me someone said he is a relic and the last thing he wants is to be performing past his time.  To me and to others who love the music we grew up listening to, and are playing as amatuers, he is not a relic but a treasure.  He confided in me that he fears looking old and not performing well and not realizing it.    He has an amazing memory and no matter what is going on in his life, when he is on he "is on" all the way.   He played Big Band music, beginning with Harry James sounds and going on with The Three Sons, The Dorseys, and such tunes as Sunrise Serenade, You Made Me Love You (which he told me last year is his favorite song), Twilight Time, and on and on.   The Sterling "Virtual Orchestra" does sound amazingly like the solo instruments of those bands.    And, of course, the talented Lowrey artists do get the best out of them.    There are things I really like about the new organ (ooops! VO) that I think I would enjoy.   Some new rhythms  like a really lovely waltz with less "thump";  the piano and guitar rhythms which are far beyond what is in the Prestige; and a greater variety of solo instrument choices.  But getting a bigger, newer fancier organ does not make one a better player.   So .........

Ron and I both signed up for next year's event.   God willing and barring any unforseen incidences, we will be there and so will Dennis and Jim.   And my friends Joyce and Corliss, and The Falcetti's elder and younger, the couple celebrating their 54th anniversary and all the rest of the wonderful organ-izers.

If you have a chance to attend a music store event with Lowrey organ artists, please do take advantage of it.

Keep music in your life, share it with others, and encourage the young to find a place for it in their lives.   IF I were younger and could take on a new challenge, it would be to get more kids into music.  Instrumental, vocal, or appreciation - it lasts a lifetime.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The "Rest of the Story"

As promised,  ~ the rest of the story.   Steve Lawrence.
I noticed it has been more than two weeks since I posted the bit about Eydie Gorme.   There is something about age and time - the days go by much more quickly the older I get.   As they say " little time, so much to do."

Sidney Liebowitz, who will be referred to as Steve Lawrence from here on, was born in 1935 in Brooklyn to Max,  a Jewish cantor who also was a house painter, and  Anna Gelb Liebowitz.  He and his brother both sang in synagogue with their father.    Steve once commented, "My parents were so poor they were thinking of moving in with Eydie's parents!" 

When Steve's voice began to change he stopped singing for several years, but continued in music to play piano for his brother, Bernie.  Early in the '50's Bernie was drafted which prompted Steve to take up singing again.
After several auditions for Godfrey's Talent Scouts (TV Show) he finally made it, and won.  He prize was a weeks of appearances on Godfrey's show.  Borrowing suits from friends, he performed and got the attention he was seeking form Syd Nathan of King Records (known mostly for its "race" recordings, R&B and "hillbilly" music).   He recorded a very emotional "Poinciana" which became an instant hit.   Steve still had high school to finish, so balancing it with scheduling gigs recording for Decca Records was a challenge.  

According to some accounts, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were introduced Bob Manning, who was a Dick Haymes sound-alike.  Their paths crossed randomly for awhile, and they both made short music videos for the same company.  One reference states Steve looked so young in these he could be singing at his own bar mitzvah. 

Then, as I wrote in my previous blog on Eydie, they were booked as individuals for the Steve Allen Tonight Show, and later as summer replacements for Steve Allen's own show.   There are conflicting accounts of their ages, but all place Eydie at least five years Steve's senior.   Yup, he married an older woman.  And lucky for him because they became a great team. 

I probably should have done this duo as a double entry, but there seemed to be so much written about both I was a little stumped how to do them both justice.   Now I am stumped again because from here on their lives are intertwined and I don't want to repeat what I have already written. 

The Lawrence/Gorme team charmed their audiences with an easy chatter between them, often becoming personal and sharp witted, but always affectionate, even if a bit bawdy.   Their success as entertainers did not isolate them from tragedy.  They had two sons, David (who is a composer) and Michael, who died suddenly in 1986 at the age of 23.   Michael had a history of a slight arrhythmia but his ventricular fibrillation had not been caught.   He was an assistant editor of a television show at the time.  (A side note:  they had performed and were in Atlanta at time their son's death.   Frank Sinatra, hearing of it, sent his private plane to pick them so they could get to their other son who was in school.)   

Following their son's death, Steve and Eydie took a year off with no professional public appearances.   

In the early 2000's they announced they would be cutting back on appearances,   and began their "One More For The Road" tour in 2002.   Eydie retired in 2009, but Steve (remember? he's still "just a kid")
is still touring as a single. 

In 1980 Lawrence appeared in The Blues Brothers as Maury Sline. ANd in He played Mark McCormick's father Sonny Daye in two episodes of Hardcastle and McCormick; and in 1999 was Morty Fine in The Nanny.
He won awards for his performance of Sammy Glick in What Makes Sammy Run, and two Emmys  for his contributions to Steve & Eydie celebrate Irving Berlin. 

As a couple, Steve and Eydie took the Las Vegas Entertainment Award for Musical Variety four times; and honored with life time achievement awards from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Ella Lifetime Axhievement Award from the Society of Singers, a non-profit which aids and counsels professional singers.

Ihave to say, this is just a thumbnail of information on this very well known  couple.   They have been devoted to each other; they have experienced the ups and downs of  life just like the rest of us and they have done it gracefully. 

I am  leaving tomorrow to spend a bit of time with other music lovers and I am going to go right now and practice  "What DId I Have That I Don't Have?" on my Lowrey Prestige organ.  No, I won't kill it by singing along.    

SO, until Terpsichore (muse of song and dance) visits me again, keep a song in your heart, and share it with others.

Ref: A Biographical Gide to the Great Jazxz and Pop SIngers , Fiedwald
       The Big Band Almac


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sephardi Jews

A little lesson in history:   Sephardi Jews are, generally speaking, the result of the blending of Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the Iberian Peninsula before 1492.  Descendants of these exiled people follow the Sephardic Halakha in their traditons, customs and religion.  

August 16, 1931, Edith Gormezano was born in the Bronx of New York City, the youngest of three children.  Her father was a tailor from Sicily, her mother was from Turkey, and they were Sephardic Jews.  By the age of three Edith had made her radio debut; in high school she sang with a band organized by her friend Ken Greengrass.   After high school she took a job as a Spanish interpreter with Theatrical Supply Export Company while studying at City College night school.    Her desire to continue a singing career led her back to Greengrass who agreed to become her manager.   You would hardly go professional with the name Edith Gormezano no matter how proud you might be of your parents.   Thus:   Eydie Gorme.

During her early career Eydie sang with Tommy Tucker in his touring band; then with Tex Beneke.   She went solo 1952 recording a series of singles with Coral Record. Steve Allen, the host of the Tonight Show, which at the time only aired in New York, brought her in as regular guest.  Steve Lawrence was a regular on the Tonight Show also.

The program went national in 1954 on NBC.  Lawrence and Gorme made a single recording as a duo, "Make Yourself Comfortable" on one side and "I've Gotta Crow" on the flip.
(The latter from the hit musical Peter Pan)

In 1956 Gorme got a job at the Copacabana Club in NY. She was now recording for ABC-Paramont ("Too Close for Comfort",  "Mama, Teach Me To Dance", "Love Me Forever") .   SHe  had two LP"s in the Top 20:  "Eydie Gorme" and Eydie Sings the Blues".
In 1957 Steve Allen left the Tonight Show and was hosting a prime time series, Steve Allen Presents.     Eydie and Steve, now married, took over as summer replacement hosts.
Eydie did not score another US hit (she did have a Top Ten hit in the UK,  "Yes, My Darling Daughter" in 1962.  But in 1963 she recorded "Blame It On The Bossa Nova" and not only hit the charts in the Top Ten, but earned a nomination for  Grammy for "Best Female Vocal Performance.  She continued to record, sometimes with Steve Lawrence, sometimes solo, and placed several more tunes in the high numbers on the charts.  BUT -  along came the British invasion.  Like many performers of "easy listening" style music, her popularity faded.

Eydie teamed up with TRIO LOS PANCHOS, a Spanish language album.  They recorded "Amor" amd "More Amor" both successful efforts.   At the same time she began trying her hand, or more appropriately, her voice, at some show tunes: "Do I Hear A Waltz", "What Did I Have That I Don't Have", and "If He Walked Into My Life" which gave her another TopTen easy listening hit, and she earned her first solo award - Best Female Vocal Performer Grammy.  (what does a Grammy look like?  I know what an Oscor looks like, it 's clearly a man.  Is a Grammy and little old lady in a rocking chair? Just wondering.)

Meanwhile, Eydie and Steve Lawrence were working on their ambitions as a couple.   Together they starred in "Golden Rainbow, which was a stage adaptation of Frank Sinatra's " A Hole In The Head", a movie which was first a Broadway play. They  opened in February 1968 and ran until January of 1969.   Into the 1970's Gorme and Lawrence were "out of  the charts"  in their careers.  Music changed and their easy listening was not grabbing the attention of the young set.  However, their reputations as entertainers kept them in the club scene.  Gorme made a solo album, "It Was A Good TIme" and together they made "We Can Make It" which featured the Osmonds.  Eydie made other Spanish language recordings with Danny Rivera, and Gorme and Lawrence had a TV special in 1975.  "Our Love Is Here To Stay" was their tribute to Gershwin which won and Emmy Award.  

I dropped in on my beloved sister-in-law Esther one day and caught her doing a little dance and singing along with Steve and Eydie's "Hallelulah".  She told me it was her favorite song of all time.   SHe said she heard it on the radio and called  the station to see if she could get a recording.  The told her they did not sell tapes, but would pass the request on.   She got her tape, directly from Steve and Eydie.  Unfortunately, she did not save the nice little note they put in it, but I have that tape.   It's just a cheerful little piece that grows on you.   Steve and Eydie recorded that under the name
"Parker and Penny."  

There's more to the Gorme Lawrence story.   Check back in a week or so for the "rest of the story."

Keep the music playing; hum along, whistle and dance if you can.

Ref:  A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers
         Sephardi Jews: Wikipedia
         Yahoo Music & Wikipedia