Posts filed under “Friday Night Jazz”
Oh, goody, yet another list. How f$%&ing original!
For some silly reason, there seems to be all this hoo-haa about the silly Vanity Fair article on the top Movie Soundtracks of all time.
These people are wankers for many reasons: 1) The VF weenies press released to death; b) the article is not even available on line; iii) the editors chose Purple Rain as the greatest film soundtrack of all time.
I remain convinced that the purveyors of these annoying lists select a controversial top pick to generate buzz (tho’ you would think this would might encourage online posting).
Regardless, let’s not play into their hand. Rather than waste too much time telling you how clueless VF’s music editors are, or giving them any linklove, I would rather — in the spirit of Friday Night Jazz — compile a worthwhile list of films and soundtracks for your perusal.
A few ground rules:
• We are looking for outstanding soundtracks to outstanding films. (Merely o.k. doesn’t cut it).
• Groundbreaking films, soundtracks and performances get bonus points. (Mediocre performances get cut).
• Better non-film versions take points away from the movie soundtrack — where there are superior versions such as the Broadway soundtrack (i.e., Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, etc.) than those flicks don ‘t make the cut.
• Pure adaptations of Broadway shows also get cut. In my mind, Cabaret, Chicago, Chorus Line are more filmed stage productions, rather than pure movies. (as forewarned, totally subjective).
Hence, several films that I love failed to make the cut: Apocalypse Now is fantastic in the way it uses music (especially The Doors’ The End, and Wagner’s The Ride Of The Valkyries), but its not great as a standalone soundtrack; the wonderful My Fair Lady, with Rex Harrison’s mediocre voice, and the dubbing of Audrey Hepburn’s voice, also doesn’t make the cut.
These things are totally subjective, and are rarely based exclusively on mere merits. Pink Floyd The Wall was a great album so overplayed when I was in
college, that I simply couldn’t pull the trigger on it (the film is a bit
ponderous to boot). Again, these things are very subjective.
Alternatively, the film can’t suck. The greatest
soundtrack in the world becomes irrelevant if its attached to a film
like, say, Hedwig and the Angry Inch — a play that sucked two hours out of my life that I will never get back, and will literally regret on my death bed.
We can certainly debate the order of any list, or the contents, and we probably will (thats what the comments are for).
Here’s my subjective top ~20:
1. A Hard Day’s Night: A brilliant film and album that both remain as energetic and fresh today as they were in 1964. The Beatles personalities were perfectly suited to the medium, so much so that its hard to imagine a better film/soundtrack combo.
2. Stop Making Sense:
Quite simply, the best concert film ever made. Yes, some of you will
declare The Last Waltz, (with a few stragglers nominating Woodstock)
but there is simply nothing else that ha the combination of
showmanship, musical innovation — and the big suit — like this film
3. Blade Runner: Forget the ponderous and boring Chariots of Fire, THIS is Vangelis Masterpiece. Not only is the music hauntingly beautiful, but it fits the filmscape so perfectly, making it even better than it originally was. We’ve already spilled so many words about BR, that the less said the better. "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."
4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show:
I could try to explain this, but I couldn’t do it justice. Find a
theater where this is playing at the midnight show, and go with someone
who’s gone before. Repeat.
5. The Graduate:
Not only is this a seminal, groundbreaking film, but the soundtrack is
phenomenal. The way the various songs are interwoven into the action,
mood, psyches of the players is amazing (listen as Benjamin’s Alpha Romeo Spider runs out of gas).
I don’t know if Mike Nichols is
a genius, or just got incredibly lucky. Either way, its a great
soundtrack and a great movie.
6. Harold and Maude:
One of the most subversive, outrageously amusing black comedies ever made — hysterically funny to boot. Cat Stevens (before he became Yusaf)
created a wonderful collection of songs that enhance the story line’s mood and emotions. This is, quite bluntly, one of the
funniest films ever made.
7. Garden State:
My "surprise" entry. A charming little film with a soundtrack that simply
refuses to stop delighting you with its lovely tunes and ballads, nearly all of which are by bands that
prior to this soundtrack were relatively unknown. This disc was played constantly in the car in 2004/05.
Perhaps its my age showing, but I have always found each of these to be tremendous films and soundtracks. The Zep concert film was utterly ground breaking, and I must have seen it a zillion times after they broke up; The Who film was a fantastic documentary.
10. Fantasia: Music by Tchaikovsky, Moussorgsky, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Ponchielli, Bach, Dukas, and Schubert. ’nuff said.
The film was groundbreaking in many ways, including the innovative
use of animation and stereophonic sound — but its the overall approach
that has been so enduring: Allow the Disney animators tointerpret Classical music. The results are both playful and surreal. Its amazing how well this has held up after 60 years . . .
11. Pulp Fiction: The film does so many things so well — but the way the music is integrated into the actual plot is simply terrific. Plus, Travolta and Uma can each dance.
12. West Side Story:
Leonard Bernstein’s musical update of Romeo and Juliet. The combination
of Stephen Sondheim brilliant lyrics, the kinetic choreography and the
bravura camera work made for a fantastic wide screen film. The
soundtrack created the perfect counterpoint to the dance and action.
Sure, its a bit dated (hence, #10), but it remains an all time great.
13. Purple Rain: There is no doubt that the purple one can sign, dance, play guitar — but Acting? Not so much.
Regardless, his sheer overwhelming talent is why this manages to get onto my top 15.
True Story: I saw this in the theaters in college, and my remark was "He’s going to be bigger than Michael Jackson" — who was huge at the time.
Its a toss up how right that call was, but the general concept was dead on . . .
14. Little Shop Of Horrors: A fantabulous musical/horror/comedy. It’s all a whole lot of fun, and the musical styles range from honky-tonk to doo-wop to straightforward rock n’ roll. The strength of the film carries what otherwise might have been a mere Broadway adaption into an entire different level.
15. Koyaanisqatsi: A quasi-documentary, this film has been described as "visual concert of images" or a "filmic landscape." The reason its here is the hauntingly beautiful music of Phillip Glass. A classic college flick . . .
16. Saturday Night Fever: One of those seminal films that tremendously influenced the culture.
My choice in music was rock-n-roll, and I had little interest in blow-dried hair, white polyester suits, or cruising discos looking to pick Staten Island bimbos.
The music works as well on its own, but it also works as a classic piece of pop history. (And John Travolta makes the list twice!)
17. The Tao of Steve: Another charming little film that surprises with its wonderful songs. A fun amusing, philosophically oriented film, with a soundtrack to match. For you Outdoor Types.
18. All That Jazz: The Oscar winning soundtrack by Ralph Burns includes jazz, classical, pop, and Broadway standards. Its a marvelous mix that works to great effect in the film.
Can you imagine anyone other Director making so self-critical autobiographical film other than Bob Fosse? While some have criticized the film as a rip-off of Fellini’s 8 1/2, my favored descriptions of All That Jazz is "the musical version of Apocalypse Now." If you can imagine that, you have a better sense of what the film itself is like.
All that work. All that glitter. All that pain. All that love. All that crazy rhythm. All that jazz.
19. The Big Chill:
The Motown dominated score was one of the most artistically skillful –
and commercially successful — uses of pop ever set to a film.
More than merely setting a time and place, the soundtrack has a
wispy nostalgia for a prior period in the players’ lives. Subsequent
attempts by other movies have been less successful of creating a look
back from a specific time to another one; e.g., I think of the Forrest
Gump soundtrack as Big Chill 2.
20. South Park – Bigger, Longer & Uncut: You will laugh until you piss yourself. This one squeaks in at #20 because the soundtrack is so very, very funny.
Thats my top list; A few Honorable Mentions are after the jump . . .
Tonite’s guest host for FNJ is a music insider. Although he is known better for many of the newer acts he represents, he is, surprisngly enough, a closet jazz aficionado, and therefore must remain anonymous.
Here’s his take on the O-man:
Oscar Peterson has been recording and performing for over half a century. He may also be the most recorded of all piano players. (And he’s from Canada).
Oscar bridged the swing and bop eras, rooting himself in a style that was at the same time stunningly complex yet elegant and soulful. Nobody used more notes to swing! Oscar is sometimes dismissed because he wasn’t groundbreaking in the way that many of his contemporaries were. But the range of expression he achieved on the piano, and his technical prowess, is hardly rivaled in mainstream jazz.
Many consider his solo recordings of the late 60s and early 70s to be his most outstanding work, but I was always partial to his trio recordings both with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen and later with Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson. The live album "The Trio" from 1973 (not to be confused with a Verve release of the same title) is a great recording of Oscar with Pass and Pederson and shows Oscar at his most virtuosic. Check out the Brown Thigpen work live here.
compendium of his 60s work in both trio and solo settings, the
excellent box set "Exclusively for My Friends" will keep you
entertained for years. Of course, there are the standard "songbook"
albums (George Gershwin, Cole Porter, etc.) and the duets with greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Clark Terry and
But if I had to pick one place to start, and on a
Friday night with your favorite Bordeaux, it would be the 1962 album "Night Train" with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen
It showcases Oscar at his best on both ballads and uptempo numbers and he really shows his blues chops. In particular, note the title track, Bags’ Groove (one the great jazz classics), Moten Swing and Elllington’s great C-Jam Blues. The bonus tracks added to the reissue aren’t particularly special, but don’t diminish Peterson’s brilliance on this record.
(videos after the jump)
Pat Metheny is one of those guitarists that was always interesting, but he never really floated my boat. His style is kinda New Age-y, a bit too cold/technique focused for my preferences. I can see why some people say he is an acquired taste.
However, a friend in the music industry (with meticulous taste) had recommended his latest album with pianist Brad Mehldau (Metheny Mehldau Quartet) to me, and on his suggestion, I gave it a whirl.
It is a delightful surprise.
It is an eclectic disc, ranging from a mix of jazz fusion, acoustic, Celtic, pop, Asian-tinged (41 string guitars!) to Brazilian music. Somehow, this odd and always changing mix seems to work on nearly every track.
This is the second pairing of Metheny and Mehldau colloboration, the first being Metheny/Mehldau.
The pairing works well. Mehldau brings a degree of warmth and intimacy
often missing from more traditional Metheny recordings.
Metheny frequently returns to his earlier electric jazz guitar style, but it seems to work so much better in this quarter than any previous work I’ve heard from him. Its worth checking out.
For those interested in how this pairing came about, there is a two part interview with Metheny and Mehldau after the jump . . .
Turns out it was Gerry Mulligan‘s CD, Paraiso-Jazz Brazil. An eye opener. Clean, cool recording of lovely Latin melodies, all the while overlaid with this dry, reedy saxophone that infused the music with a flavorful sophistication.
That was Gerry Mulligan’s sound. NPR radio observed that Mulligan was "the most influential baritone saxophonist in jazz." But Mulligan was more than that — he was a
commanding composer, an innovative musician, someone who pushed boundaries, yet remained accessible and enjoyable to listen to.
Mulligan’s light and airy baritone saxophone was the epitome of the the "cool" jazz sound. Yet its amazing how easily he could interact with many other musical styles: Ben Webster’s blustery tenor (the epitome of a "warm" sound); Monk’s percussive, fractured piano rhythms and dissonant tunes; the sweet, subtle tension between Mulligan and Chet Baker.
You can pretty much grab any random Mulligan album (I put up a decent selection here) and not be disappointed. You will see scattered around a broad selection of different styles, eras, and musical cohorts.
Are you a Brubeck fan? Monk? Chet Baker? Webster? Desmond? Grab anything, sit back and enjoy.
Mulligan became known for his writing and arranging skills in his teens. He wrote for Johnny Warrington’s radio band in 1944, and for Gene Krupa’s band two years later.
Mulligan hit the big time when he became known for his work (writing, arranging, and soloing) on Miles Davis’ defining album, "Birth of the Cool." Gerry’s compositions for this album included "Jeru," "Godchild," and "Venus de Milo," all songs that would remain in his repertoire long after the initial success of the album had died down. (This album launched and aided several careers of important jazz figures).
Mulligan’s last record came out as one of his most beautiful. Lovely tunes, clever arrangements, and understated fabulous players mark his last recording (John Scofield and
Grover Washington, Jr. play on this).
Mulligan Discography (massive PDF)
Another guest musical director for FNJ this week: Eddie Elfenbein of Crossing Wall Street on Artie Shaw. Take it away, Eddie:
Artie Shaw was cool. Not Elvis cool or Sinatra cool, but a darker, more subdued cool.
What Shaw did was make things look easy. Check out this clip and notice how, even after six decades, his music hasn’t aged a bit. It’s still fresh and smooth. It’s just…cool. (You gotta love Shaw’s reply to the compliments: “Yeah, yeah. Glass of water.” Pure cool.)
Artie Shaw was the very last of the big bandleaders. He died a year ago at age 94 and fifty years after his last performance. He wound up outliving all the greats—Goodman, Herman, Miller. Those names may loom larger today, but back then, Shaw’s star was the brightest. He was making $60,000 a week—not bad for the Depression. With America poised to enter World War II, Time magazine reported that Germans’ vision of America was “skyscrapers, Clark Gable and Artie Shaw.”
Fascists, apparently, have issues with tall buildings.
When Shaw hired Billie Holiday, he became the first white bandleader to hire a full-time black singer. But Shaw detested the limelight. In fact, Shaw hated the words “jazz” and “swing.” No, he considered himself a musician. He hated the audience. He hated the singers. He hated the dancers. He hated other bandleaders (“Benny Goodman played clarinet. I played music.”)
By 1951, Shaw walked away from music altogether and became—what else?—a dairy farmer. Crazy, maybe, but cool in its own way. Duke Ellington told him, “Man, you got more guts than any of us.”
So what did Shaw like? Women. Lots and lots of them. He was married eight times. He nabbed Betty Grable which would have pleased most men. Not Shaw. While they were engaged, he ran off with Lana Turner. (Whoa, Duke was right!) Shaw had an affair with Rita Hayworth. He dumped Judy Garland. He married Ava Gardner before Sinatra. How in earth did he have time enough time for music?
Ah, the music. Brilliant. Here’s an example: In 1938, Shaw took an obscure and forgotten Cole Porter song and made it a jazz classic. Have a listen to “Begin the Beguine.”
If you’re keeping score, that’s a Jewish bandleader playing Negro music written by a homosexual.
Exceedingly trivial trivia: “Begin the Beguine” has been performed a gazillion times since. In the movie, The Rocketeer, it’s performed by Melora Hardin, who’s better known as Jan in The Office. (Told you it was trivial.)
If you’ve never heard of Shaw and want to get your feet wet, I’d recommend: The Very Best of Artie Shaw
That pretty much has it all. Personally, I love “Star Dust” and “Deep Purple.” Wonderful stuff.
BR adds: Thanks Eddy — nicely done. There is a terrific recording of Shaw over at NPR: Performance by Shaw of Shaw’s 1940 Concerto for Clarinet
videos after the jump . .