Movie – This is the award-winning documentary about the life of the great jazz vocalist Anita O’Day (born Anita Belle Colton in Chicago). Anita provides reflections and candid recollections on her life and music, and the documentary is packed with interviews and performances. Her career was long and eventful, spanning seven decades; her last album recorded when she was 84. She left an unhappy home at age 14 and toured the Midwest “Walk-a- thons” as a marathon dancer and singer. Then, she started singing in little clubs around Chicago from 1936 to 1939 – clubs in Uptown, such as the Ball of Fire, the Vialago, the Planet Mars, the Off-Beat and the Three Deuces. At the Off-Beat she met Gene Krupa, and in 1941 he asked her to start touring and recording with his band. That year, Down Beat named her “New Star of the Year.” She sang with the Woody Herman band in 1943, and then joined the Stan Kenton band in 1944, where she recorded several hit songs and rose to fame. Subsequently, she became a solo artist. Many placed her in the same category of such jazz vocalists as Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, saying her talents matched theirs. She toured Japan for three decades with a big band and was hugely successful. Along with Mel Torme, she is often grouped with the West Coast cool school of jazz, and her skills in improvisation of rhythm and melody put her squarely among the pioneers of bebop.
Music – This is the new 2014 collaboration album by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. It consists of jazz standards by famous jazz composers like George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. Cheek to Cheek was inspired by the desire of Bennett and Gaga to introduce the songs to a younger generation. It debuted at number one on Billboard and earned Gaga her third consecutive number-one album, and it extended Bennett’s record as the oldest person, at 88, to achieve number-one status on the charts. Of course, Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) is one of the bestselling vocalists of all time, and has five Grammy Awards and 13 MTV Video Music Awards. Although her Pop albums – The Fame, The Fame Monster, and Born This Way – brought her great success, she now plans to do one jazz album per year. The legendary Tony Bennett (Anthony Dominick Benedetto) has 17 Grammy Awards and has sold over 50 million records worldwide. Cheek to Cheek is one of the best jazz vocal albums to come out in years, and it features scintillating big band arrangements and famous jazz musicians with the band. Every song is a delight, but I especially liked “Lush Life,” (by Billy Strayhorn), “Nature Boy,” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” This is a stunningly excellent CD, and it will keep your heart pounding. It also has a generous fold out photo montage, with candid photos of the performers.
Movie – This 2014 advocacy documentary was produced by journalist and TV personality Katie Couric, who narrates it. According to this movie, the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other serious conditions is due to the high-sugar diet consumed by millions of Americans, especially children. Fed Up blows the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and exercise, and exposes the hidden truths contributing to our serious health crises. The film features interviews with the country’s leading diet experts, as well as former President Bill Clinton, who is now a vegan. Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, “pure” cane sugar, and similar sweeteners are found in countless products, which are constantly marketed to small children. The fast food industry is pushing these products on all of us in the same way that the tobacco industry used to glamorize cancer-causing cigarettes. It shows why ‘calories in, calories out’ is a useless model for explaining why we’re growing around the waist as a society. The basic premise of the documentary is that sugar is the primary culprit in our diet, and that the big sugar lobby in Washington mitigates against efforts to challenge this problem. We need to improve education and get consumers to demand products that have less sugar. Similarly, the documentary posits that a return to cooking real food in our school cafeterias, and in our homes, instead of buying processed food, would result in healthier kids, and save money. Fed Up accurately highlights the multiple factors which directly interfere with getting to the truth about obesity.
Music – This is the new 2014 double album from Julio Iglesias, with 37 songs including duets with other famous singers. It has been said that “it’s Julio Iglesias’ world, and the rest of us just make love in it.” Julio is a Spanish singer and songwriter from Madrid. He has sold more than 300 million records worldwide in 14 languages and released more than 80 albums, with more than 2,600 gold and platinum records. He is the best-selling Latin music artist in history and one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. Julio was an excellent soccer player, but after a serious car accident (he couldn’t walk for two years), a nurse gave him a guitar and he discovered his musical talent. After earning a law degree, in 1979 he moved to Miami, Florida and started moving up to great musical achievements, singing in different languages such as English, French, Portuguese, German and others. Julio is married to the Dutch model, Miranda Rijnsburger, and they live in the Dominican Republic, with their five children. Dream through a romantic day and night with all of these wonderful songs – sure to melt your heart. I loved all of the songs on The Essential Julio Iglesias especially “Fragile” (a duet with Sting), “The Summer Wind” (a duet with Frank Sinatra, thanks to the magic of technology), and “Amor.” Take this album along on your next date night.
Music – This is the cuddle by the fireside with someone you love album. Diana Krall is the great torch singer of our time, and this album features her signature throaty, sexy, husky style on sultry romances wafted on light Latin beats. The tone of the album falls within the spirit and the letter of bossa nova, and it deals with adult emotions specifically the ups and downs of love. It features the lush orchestrations of the legendary composer Claus Ogerman, with the London Symphony Orchestra and also the Los Angeles Session Orchestra. The album topped the Billboard charts and went to quintuple platinum in Canada, the first by a Canadian artist to do so. A native of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Diana has sold more than 15 million albums worldwide, won five Grammy Awards with nine gold, three platinum and seven multi-platinum albums. She is one of the top female jazz vocalists and bestselling artists of our time. I loved all of these gorgeous love songs, especially “The Look of Love,” “S’Wonderful,” and “Dancing in the Dark.” She is married to the iconic British rock musician Elvis Costello, and they have twin sons. Her new album Wallflower will not be released until February 3, 2015. She has canceled all of her fall tour dates due to chronic pneumonia, as she needs to regain her strength and good health.
Movie – This is an interesting documentary of a time period, after the death of Brian Jones, when Mick Taylor became the fifth Rolling Stone. If you look at the overall history of the Rolling Stones, the depth of musicianship in the late 1960s (post Brian Jones) to the mid-1970s (pre-Ron Wood) was unmatched, and they were arguably the best live band around. At that time, a young Mick Taylor was regarded as the best guitarist in the UK, and bringing in his talent to the band was a great move. Taylor’s brilliant guitar virtuosity greatly complimented the tough blues guitar riffs of Keith Richards. Mick Taylor’s presence on guitar gave the Stones a depth that allowed them to tighten up, explore different musical genres, and produced the Stones two most wholly realized albums: Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers. The documentary uses penetrating interviews with noted rock music critics, remarkable behind the scenes film footage, and discussions of the group’s problems with finances, drugs and girlfriends. The Rolling Stones are ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as fourth on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and their estimated album sales are above 250 million. They have released 29 studio albums, 18 live albums and numerous compilations. Sticky Fingers (1971), for example, was the first of eight consecutive number one studio albums in the US. This documentary is not as good as Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones (1974), but it is certainly a must see.
Music – Yanni’s new 2014 album presents his instrumental hits sung by the finest operatic voices. The lyrics were written by Placido Domingo, Jr., son of the legendary Placido Domingo. The younger Domingo has put words to some of the most beautiful and famous compositions of Yanni. The album’s featured vocal artists include Renee Fleming, Nathan Pacheco, Lauren Jelencovich, Rolando Villazon and others. Yanni (Yiannis Chryssomallis) grew up in Greece, but moved to the U.S. when he was 18. His New Age music blends jazz, classical, soft rock and world music, and he uses Middle Eastern and Oriental scales, mixed meters and a variety of exotic instruments. The album is influenced by his encounters with cultures around the world and is said to reflect his “one world, one people” philosophy. You may remember his PBS production Acropolis, which is the second best-selling music video of all time, seen in 65 countries by half a billion people. The song lyrics created for Inspirato are sung in Italian, English, Spanish and other languages, and they are amazingly beautiful, enchanting and relaxing. I liked “Ode alla Grecia,” “Amare di Nuovo,” and “Incanto,” but all 13 songs are simply fascinating. At least fourteen of Yanni’s albums have peaked at No. 1 in Billboard’s New Age category, as well as Inspirato. Yanni has performed in more than 20 countries around the world and has accumulated more than 35 platinum and gold albums. It is also interesting to note that Yanni set a Greek national record in the 50-meter freestyle swimming competition at age 14.
Movie – This is the definitive documentary about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. Mozart lived from 1756 to 1791, and during those short 35 years, he composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. He was born in Salzburg, Austria, and by age five showed prodigious musical ability and could play piano and violin and compose. Without resorting to docu-drama, In Search of Mozart traces the composer’s life through his music and extensive correspondence. Over 80 musical excerpts are featured in chronological order, fitting his life around the music. It dispels the common myths about his genius, health, relationships, death and character, quite unlike the glossy lies disseminated by the movie Amadeus. For example, Mozart did not die a pauper. The documentary weaves musical performances with authoritative interviews with musicians, historians, and world-famous scholars. After Mozart moved to Vienna, he established himself as the finest keyboard player in that city, but also composed his most famous and beloved operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute. He lived at the center of the Viennese musical world and had many friends. He enjoyed billiards, dancing and pets; he kept a canary, a starling, a dog and a horse for recreational riding. In Search of Mozart is a remarkable achievement, original, accurate, endearing and wonderfully entertaining.
Movie – Listen Up is the documentary that provides an intimate look at the life of multifaceted music icon Quincy Jones, who shaped four generations of American sound. In an unusual, kaleidoscopic way, this movie takes you on a journey from Quincy’s early life of poverty on Chicago’s south side, to his move to an all-white environment in Seattle, and his life on-the-road as a trumpeter with Lionel Hampton. It follows him as he leads his own big band, and moves into production, arranging and film composing. Filmmaker Ellen Wiesbrod gets very close to Quincy, capturing many moods and remembrances. There are many comments from the great stars that he worked with, i.e. Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Oprah Winfrey, Dizzy Gillespie, Steven Spielberg, Miles Davis, and many others including Jones’ family. Listen Up is a fascinating summation of his career in jazz, pop, R&B, hip-hop and other styles, and his film composing (In the Heat of the Night, Roots, In Cold Blood, The Color Purple and many more). He was the 1st black to write movie scores and the 1st black VP of A&R for a major record label. He produced Off the Wall and Thriller, the two albums that launched Michael Jackson into the pop stratosphere, and was the musical mastermind behind We Are the World. Only Sir Georg Solti has more Grammy Awards than Quincy Jones, who has 27. Listen Up is like a fine jazz number, layered and intricate with rhythm, flow and nuance.
Music – This is a truly remarkable album featuring the voice of Helen Forrest, who is known as the best of the big band singers from the 30’s and 40’s (the WWII generation). At the peak of her career, she was the most popular female singer in the United States. This album showcases her work with three famous bandleaders: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. She was the classiest of all the big band singers, with impeccable phrasing and unparalleled range and breath control, which made it easy to be heard over a 17-piece orchestra. Helen’s understated vocal style was sensual, feminine, controlled and simple; it suggested poetic images and brokenhearted reverie. Helen was often ill as a child and had to overcome a hearing loss in one of her ears. She was raised by her mother and a stepfather (who she hated) mainly in a brothel in Brooklyn. She dropped out of high school and started her rise to fame when Artie Shaw hired her in 1938. Subsequently, she became a national favorite, and in 1942 and 1943 she was voted the best female vocalist in the U.S. in the Down Beat poll. In the course of her career, she recorded more than 500 songs! I like all of the old songs, but especially “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” “Skylark,” and “Comes Love.” Of course, the music is enhanced by the fabulous clarinet playing of both Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, as well as Harry James’ flawless trumpet.