Archive for the ‘Ella Fitzgerald’ Category


Drummer Viola Smith died a couple of days ago at the age of 107.  ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN (a month shy of 108). That’s pretty fascinating in itself.  But even more fascinating is that she was an amazing drummer at a time when women didn’t play drums.  And not “amazing for a woman” or anything patronizing like that, check out the video of her playing “Snake Charmer.”

Check out her drum kit, check out the speed, check out the power.  Check out the arial toms and the way she hits them without it even seeming like she is. Wow, I wish I’d heard of her sooner.

Here’s some relevant quotes from an obituary in The Guardian

Smith took up drumming as a teenager in Wisconsin, when her father assembled the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra with his eight daughters. Her showcase was “The Snake Charmer,” a jazzy arabesque with explosive drum-fills.

Because she was the sixth daughter in the family, she said, her older sisters got the strings and brass.  “My dad said, ‘Now, we need a drummer!’ Thank God, I was it.”

In 1938, Smith formed another all-female orchestra, The Coquettes, with her bass playing sister Mildred. The band moved to New York in 1942, where Smith studied under the legendary snare-drum innovator Billy Gladstone.

In the same year, as men were being drafted to war and women taking their place in factories, Viola wrote a now-famous article for Down Beat magazine, arguing for the inclusion of women in the big bands of the day.

“Many of the star instrumentalists of the big name bands are being drafted,” she wrote, under the title Give Girl Musicians A Break! “Instead of replacing them with what may be mediocre talent, why not let some of the great girl musicians of the country take their places?

“We girls have as much stamina as men. There are many girl trumpet players, girl saxophonists and girl drummers who can stand the grind of long tours and exacting one-night stands. The girls of today are not the helpless creatures of an earlier generations.

Smith found it difficult to lead the orchestra from behind the drums, so she turned over those duties to Frances Carroll.  But at the height of her success, Smith performed with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb, as well as at the second inauguration for the 33rd president, Harry Truman, in 1949.

I haven’t even mentioned how good The Coquettes are.  They swing big time and this song is really fun.  The only thing worse than hearing about a great musician after they have died is realizing that there are almost no recordings of her playing.

Here’s another page from The Future Heart with lots of videos and interviews with Viola.

[READ: October 26, 2020] “Nettle”

I really enjoyed the way this story opened.  It is about Willie, who, as the story opens, is a young boy.  Willie’s teacher told the class that she would be guarding them and that “not one of them would be lost, except the one who was destined to be lost.”

When the boy told his mother what Miss Rita said, his mother replied,

That happens to be from the Bible… When people take words from the Bible and repeat them to young children, or to anyone, for that matter, they’re nuts.  Don’t pay any attention to her.”

She says that maybe when he’s older he can leave that school and go to the one his daddy went to.

He would visit his daddy often in his room. His daddy was always playing the same piece to music.  He told his daddy about a book he was reading in class. His daddy replied that he had read that same book when he was younger: rewrite the whole thing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VERVE-Remixed Christmas (2008).

One of my favorite Christmas CDs is the Christmas Remixed discS (1 and 2) which adds some fun beats and loops to some old standards.  Generally speaking I don’t love remixes.  They are usually just longer with louder, danceable drums.  Although remixing old songs does tend to modernize them, which I do like.

I was pretty excited to see that Verve records has made one as well, using their back catalog.  I assumed it would be just as wild and fun.  But it turns out either Verve has very few Christmas songs in its back catalog or the remixers are kind of low on ideas.

I’m also fairly surprised at just how few actual Christmas songs are here.

1. Count Basie “Good Morning Blues” (Real Tuesday Weld Clerkenwell Remix)
This is probably my favorite track on the disc.  It’s got a fun looping piano melody which is added to by a trumpet and some strange sound effects. This is in fact a Christmas song, I wonder why it’s not sung more.
2. Louis Armstrong-“Zat You, Santa Claus?” (The Heavy Remix).
There’s heavy winds blowing which may be in the original.  Overall it feels like there’s not that much remixing going on.  Still a fun song.
3. Ella Fitzgerald-“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” (Magini Vs. Pallin Mix).
It starts distant and muffled then bursts through via harps.  The music is definitely different, but not crazy or anything. I’m assuming the only remixed element is the bigger drums that come in.  It’s a fine version, but nothing especially fun.
4. Billie Holiday-“I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” (Yesking Remix).
There’s a Jamaican element to this song, including a guy with a heavy accent shouting.  That whole reggae element is an interesting twist.
5. Louis Armstrong-“What A Wonderful World” (The Orb Remix) 
The intro is looped.  After several loops complete with shushing sounds, an electronic bass comes in with loud drums in a regular loop.  But the vocals are  pretty much the same.  This is of course not a Christmas song by any stretch of the definition.
6. Shirley Horn “Winter Wonderland” (Christian Prommer Remix)
This is made bouncy with a slightly funky bass line and kind of sultry drums. Slowed down with a funky slightly bass line. Vocals are slow and trippy.  The vocals sort of don;t work either–they feel like more of an afterthought.
7. Jimmy Smith “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Oh No Remix)
This is the most radical song on the disc.  The bass is crazy, the tone is crazy.  The whole thing has a kind of sinister feel.  I love the whole thing.  There’s some keyboard soloing, some menacing horns riffs and no vocals.  It’s wonderful how much this doesn’t sound like the song and yet you can tell that what it originally was.
8. Nina Simone “I Am Blessed” (Wax Tailor Remix) 
This opens with vinyl crackling.  A funky drum is added, but otherwise I don’t think much has been modified.  It’s a pretty song and the drums add to it, but it is not a Christmas song.
9. Dinah Washington “Silent Night” (Brazilian Girls Remix)
This is a full on dance song with a kind of conga rhythm.  Dinah is mostly just repeating “silent night, holy night” with no other vocals.  Normally I don’t like messing with this song, because it is so beautiful.  But Brazilian Girls has deconstructed the song so much that I now rather like it,
10 Mel Tormé “The Christmas Song” (Sonny J Remix)
The Velvet Fog is accompanied by some electronic and techno beats.  His voice is reduced to a loop of “know how to fly” for much of the song although his other verses do come through from time to time.  They manipulate his voice in interesting ways too.  I rather like this one.
11. Nina Simone “Chilly Winds” (Fink Remix) 
Quiet looping of piano and repeats of “chilly winds don’t blow.”   This is also not a Christmas song and seems the largest stretch, except that the winds are cold.

So there are certainly some fun songs here, but overall, it’s far less successful than the other remixes.

= Not a Christmas song.

[READ: December 11, 2018] “Mister Elephant”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I enjoyed this story for a number of reasons.  Primarily, I think because the narrator is so inadvertently unreliable (which in the interview, Jessica doesn’t really mention).

It begins with this line: “My former friend is an elephant trainer.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRISTMAS All-Time Greatest Records (1990).

This is one of those Christmas compilations that S. or I buy every year.  This one came from S.’s stockpile.

This one is meant to be on the traditional side, with a few surprises thrown in.  Amazingly there are songs on this compilation that we don;t have on other ones.  I mean, how many different versions of these songs are there (Answer: quite a lot).  This collection is almost entirely unique in that there are about ten songs that don’t appear on any of our other collections.  Cool.

BING CROSBY-“White Christmas” is a classic, but man, it’s kind of a downer.  It’s not nearly as much of a downer as…

“I’ll be Home for Christmas” which is a truly lovely song and everyone loves singing it.  And yet, lyrically, wow, it’s a bummer.  “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  It was written for soldiers overseas during WWII.  This version is by GLEN CAMPBELL it’s quite slow and somber.  His voice is quite nice too.  When I listened to it I had no idea it was him.

NAT “KING” COLE-The Christmas Song is one of my favorites.  It’s great to hear it every year.

LENA HORNE-“Winter Wonderland”  I have a bunch of Christmas songs by Lena Horne, but again, not this one.  This collection really is rather unique.  Lena puts a fun zing in most of her Christmas songs.  Maybe its time to get a collection of just her.

THE BEACH BOYS-“Little Saint Nick” is much more fun now that I’ve seen it live.

LOU RAWLS-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” this has a swinging side (even if the tempo is slow).  Rawls’ voice is pretty great I must say.

ELLA FITZGERALD-“Silent Night” I love this song and I love Ella, but I don’t love this version of this song for some reason.

TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD-“The Star Carol”  One of these things is not like the others. I actually never heard of this song before.  And Ford’s voice is crazy operatic.  I hadn’t realized the slight country angle on this disc until this song which sounds not-country, but with that name.  It’s a weird song to have amid these others for sure.

BING CROSBY-“Do You Hear What I Hear” Bing is back.  I love this song, it’s a lot of fun to sing, and Bing makes everything better.

MERLE HAGGARD-“Silver Bells”  This country addition is also weird.  It doesn’t sound like a country song, but Merle still has that accent.

DEAN MARTIN-“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Eight years ago I said this was one of my most-hated Christmas song versions.  I don’t really feel that way now, although the things that bugged me then are still weird to me:

I guess it’s supposed to be funny or cute, but I don’t understand why he starts messing around with the song and sings: “Rudy, the red beaked reindeer” or why he suddenly busts out the pseudo-German: “Rudolph mit your nose so bright/Won’t you guide mein sleigh tonight?”  It’s just weird.

Was it cool to make Santa German in 1959?  Were we over the war by then?

And I hate the way the backing guys all chant “Rudolph” like it’s some kind of threat.

Of all the classic crooners, Dean is my least favorite, but maybe I just need to embrace the possibility that all Dean Martin songs are Drunk Dean Martin songs.

BING CROSBY & THE ANDREWS SISTERS-“Jingle Bells”  Bing is a little over-represented in this collection, but The Andrews Sisters are always under-represented.  This has a manic piano opening and some over the top horns, but the Andrews Sisters are always a hoot.  This is a marvelous ending to the collection and again, one more song that I don’t have anywhere else.

[READ: December 6, 2018] “The Glamour of the Snow”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the story of Hibbert who was normally conscious of two worlds but who, while visiting a mountain town in the Alps became conscious of a third.  (more…)

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I loved the first one of these CDs and this disc is only slightly less exciting than the first.  The songs continue in the same vein: most of the songs remain faithful to the original with just an upbeat drum track underneath the vocals.  I know many of these originals even less well than the last disc, so I’m sure many parts are manipulated in different ways.  But it’s all in good fun and really gets these songs moving, tastefully.

Joe Williams-“Jingle Bells” (Bombay Dub Orchestra Remix)
I love the wah-wah guitars that propel this song along.   The mephasis on the way he say o’er also makes me smile

Jimmy McGriff–“The Christmas Song” (Tonal Remix)
This is primarily a surf guitar melody with big horns thrown in as needed.  The beat rocks along wonderfully.  Therre’s even a groovy organ solo in this instrumental

Bing Crosby & Ella Fitzgerald-“Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (John Beltran Remix)
I really need to hear the original of this.  Bing and Ella have a blast together.  There’s some really fun backing vocals too.  All the remix seems to do is add some swinging drums and it sounds great.

Charlie Parker-“White Christmas” (King Kooba Remix)
This instrumental features some long-winded solos from Parker that kind of take us way from the main theme.  It’s a bit of a wandering song, but still ok.

Rosemary Clooney-“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (MNO Remix)
There’s a great beat throughout this song.  Rosemary’s vocals are a little spare compared to everything else.  There’s more music than singing, but maybe the remix just spreads out the few words more.

Patti Page-“Frosty The Snowman” (Rondo Brothers Remix)
This moves along quickly with the children’s choir interspersed as needed.

CSSR State Philharmonic-“Good King Wenceslas” (Patrick Krouchian Remix)
This song has a lot of loops, with the opening riff repeated a lot.  The main thing about this instrumental is the way it gets compressed and then gets loud again.  There’s not much to it, but it’s fun.

Charles Brown–“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (Ohmega Watts Remix)
This song is particularly oidd because it sounds like  70s song with the synth and guitar.  I actually thoughtit was Stevie Winder.  I guess not all of the songs are classic.  There’s not much to it and it’s not the classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” either.

Bing Crosby-“White Christmas” (Kaskade Remix)
The original is slow and sentimental.  This version makes it dancey but it doesn’t lose any of Bing’s vocal stylings.  Simply putting drums on it changes everything.

The Berlin Symphony Orchestra-“Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy” (Red Baron Remix)
I love this song, the way the drums are used, the way the strings are re-purposed.  It’s terrific.

Vic Damone-“Winter Wonderland” (Future Loop Foundation Remix)
This song is fast with lots of washes of music.  I’m not really sure what the original sounds like, but this version is chopped up to make it all much faster.  It’s a cool remix.

Mahalia Jackson-“Silent Night” (46bliss Remix)
Once again, by putting a drum beat to this song it changes the tone completely.  I’m not sure that this is the best song to remix, but it sounds good this way.

It has been over ten years since this disc came out.  I assume there won’t be any more, which is a real shame as there’s so many more songs to play with.

[READ: December 16, 2017] “Tremendous Machine”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the first (and possibly only) story I’d read before (from Harper’s in 2015).  I liked it then and enjoyed it this time.  Here’s what I said then (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: OMARA PORTUONDO-Tiny Desk Concert #50 (March 8, 2010).

omaraThe only thing I know about Omara Portuondo is what I’ve read in the NPR blurb about her.  She was part of the musical scene in Cuba in the 1950s–a scene full of innovators and pioneers.  And while she is certainly an elder statesperson, she still sounds great.

She sings two boleros: “Duerme Negrita” and “Dos Gardenias.”  She has a classic voice (in the vein of Ella Fitzgerald).  She really holds the final note of “Dos Gardenias” for quite a while.

The keyboards are dreamy. I know that the first song is about dreams (she seems to be cradling a baby as she sings) and the second is titled about a flower (although it doesn’t sound like she’s singing about a flower).  The songs are tender and sweet.

It really does feel like you are transported to another time.

[READ: May 7, 2015] “Peacetime”

I have never read anything by Mogelson before.  This story is an interesting one both for setting (which is unusual in itself) and for the characters.

The story is told by a guy known as Papadopoulos.  He is living in the armory on Lexington Avenue in New York City.  He was given the keys by First Sergeant Diaz.  (The story about Diaz’ limp and how he uses it to pick up women is quite funny).  He assumed it would be for a couple of weeks (his wife kicked him out), but as months have gone by, he is still there.  He sleeps in the medical supply closet.  This means that when he gets drunk at night he can hook himself up to an IV drip and never wake up hungover.

Papadopoulos was in the National Guard.  But since it is peacetime (more or less), he works as a paramedic for a hospital in Queens.  His partner, Karen, has just taken the civil service exam and is on her way to becoming a police officer.  This makes Papadopoulos nervous because he has a habit of taking a “souvenir” from every emergency visit that he goes on.  And she has been giving him the eye recently.

His souvenirs are never big or important things–a spoon or a refrigerator magnet or something like that–but he can’t stop himself. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MITCHMATIC-“Ella MPC” and “Joplin MPC” (2010).

I haven’t quite figured out what the MPC stands for, but I really like these two short songs.

In “Ella MPC” Mitchmatic takes some Ella Fitzgerald scatting (I don’t know the source) and makes a new song out of it.  After 30 seconds or so, he throws a simple drumbeat over the whole thing and off it goes. I love that he even makes different “parts” of the song with different scatting sections.  It’s very clever.

In “Joplin MPC” he takes a Scott Joplin rag (I can’t tell which one, but there’s a plunger-trumpet on it) and loops it around on itself.  It creates an entirely new song that sounds nothing like a Joplin rag.  Indeed, if it weren’t  titled that way, it may not even be obvious that that’s where  the music is originally from.  It’s also very clever.  Especially when the drumbeats turn it into a much faster dance song in the middle.

Both of these songs come from the Two Weeks Off album, and frankly I should have just reviewed the whole thing by now, but these two songs really stand out as a cool experiment.

[UPDATE: Mitchmatic just left a comment on my About me page (cool!) and he gives me the answer to the mysterious MPC question–it’s the name of an AKAI sampler.  I’m including this video where you can watch him play “Joplin MPC” live.  It blew my mind]

[READ: December 31, 2011] “We’re not in Redmond Any More, Toto”

This post is all about Barry’s switch from Microsoft Windows to Gentoo Linux.  He explains that it was “a lot like moving to another country, both in the sense that I didn’t know where anything was or understand the local language.”  But Barry is not looking back.

He makes eight statements contrasting Linux and Microsoft.  I’ve never used Linux so I can’t really chime in, but I will say that this blog post had the most comments of any one of his by a huge margin.  (34!–Computer geeks are passionate, man).

1. Linux is a religion.
And practitioners have a born-again look in their eyes.

2. Windows thinks you’re an idiot; Linux thinks you’re a genius.
I agree with the first half, although I do like that you just hit ENTER to install stuff.  While I like to do my own tech repair, letting the machine do the obvious stuff is nice. (more…)

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