NEW YORK CITY MUSICAL HISTORY: GREAT PERFORMERS and PERFORMANCES

Interested in the musical history of New York City? Then you might like the site I’ve created at Facebook, called “The Musical History of New York City.”  Have a look by CLICKING HERE

Pictured here, counter-clockwise from upper left: Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Dion and the Belmonts, the Chantels, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin and Gene Kelly, Lena Horne and Cole Porter. 

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NEW YORK’S 1939 WORLD’S FAIR and NYLON STOCKINGS

The 1939 World’s Fair sat on the brink of disaster… WWII was right around the corner and the attractions were a delightful distraction. People were obsessed with the future:
Trylon and Perisphere.
And there was color photography, something many hadn’t seen.
And a transparent car…a Pontiac Deluxe Six, clad in Plexiglas
And a parachute Jump….that ended up at Coney Island.
And Elektor the robot who could toss insults and smoke cigarettes.
But the big news….Nylon Stockings! Following a low key public demonstration at the Golden Gate Expo in San Francisco February 18th 1939, DuPont went all out at the New York Worlds Fair in April in April, touting Nylon as a new wonder synthetic fiber made of “carbon, water and air.” The Nylon stockings show caused a sensation!
Women loved them right away but once the U.S. entered the war nylon had to be saved for the war effort. By 1942, Nylon stockings were in short supply; however, when American servicemen arrived in Britain, their kit bags were filled with Nylon hosiery. Many an English girls heart was won over by a pair of nylon stockings.
Here’s a quiz. Can you name the NYC based group that sang a song called “Nylon Stockings“? 

 

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THE MUSIC, IMAGES and STORIES of WAR

I saw WWII through the eyes and ears of my mother and father’s generation. The images…the flag raising at Iwo Jima, the soldier and nurse in Times Square…and my parents’ stories and music—In the Mood and Moonlight Serenade on the jukebox of Popp’s Ice Cream Parlor in Woodhaven Queens. The music, images and stories painted a vivid picture of their experiences.

That was very different from the way I viewed my generation’s war. The images were far from uplifting–the young girl running and covered with napalm, the police captain putting a bullet in a young man’s head and body bags arriving at airports are the symbols I remember. And the songs that Americans connected to the images were decidedly “anti-war.” Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” The Doors, “Unknown Soldier,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and many others filled the airwaves. And there were no heroic welcomings– fifteen of my local high school friends died in Vietnam.

The soldiers had their favorite songs too: Aretha Franklin’s, “Chain of Fools” and Marvin Gaye’s, “What’s Goin On?” but I believe the most popular song among the fighting forces was a song that tells of the misery of living and working in an urban environment. But within the context of serving in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home, knowing that any moment might be your last, the words, “We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do,” took on an entirely different meaning: CLICK HERE FOR SONG

You can follow my “Musical History of New York City” HERE

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NEW YORK CITY TOP TIER TALENT: WALTER PARKS and NICOLE ZURAITIS

 

Those of you who know me well know I attend lots of events in NYC. This past Friday night I attended back-to-back performances in Greenwich Village: Walter Parks at Cafe Bohemia and Nicole Zuraitis at 55 Bar. Stunning performances, each. And talk about value for your buck….incredible. Occasionally, and it’s become very occasionally, I’ll attend a Broadway musical–at about five to ten times the price–and more often than not, I leave awfully disappointed. Moral of the story…support local artists…they deserve your support. They may not be as brilliant as Walter and Nicole but I know how hard these artists ply their crafts. Bravo, brava to all my artistic friends.

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NYC: ASHCAN ART, EDWARD HOPPER and MY GRANDFATHER


When I began researching my family history I discovered that there were few mementos from the past. There were no letters, only a few old photos—one may have been taken in the 1890’s, and only a few before 1930–a 1913 funeral receipt and an oil painting. The painting captures a nighttime ritual, three FDNY firemen from Engine Co. 14, including my grandfather, (right), sitting around a table, playing poker.

The painting hung on a wall in my grandparents’ NYC apartment and other than Grandpa Charlie using it as a prop for one of his riotous tales, I didn’t know much. I knew that a fireman, Edward Brady, painted it but I never gave much thought to the history of the painting.

As I searched for links to the past–events that would elucidate my ancestors’ space and time–I began considering the painting. I imagined, given my grandfather’s appearance, that it was completed in the nineteen-forties. Once I learned that Edward Brady was a fireman at Engine 14 during the early forties, I was confident in my dating of the painting. As I studied, what I call “Firemen Playing Cards” and American art and artists of that period, I also learned the history behind the style in which Brady painted. It was a school of painting, very different than a generation earlier, and a style that enabled Brady to capture that singular moment in my grandfather’s life.

At the turn of the 20th century American Artists and photographers rebelled against the predominating art of aristocratic portraiture. A new style of painting developed, which was loose and impressionistic, and based on a new subject matter: modern life. Artists developed an interest in human elements: every day subjects in dramatic light. Art became a revelation of life’s experience, both the exciting and the mundane. This school of painting became known as Ashcan Art and included artists such as Robert Henri, John Sloan and George Bellows. Two artists who were greatly influenced by this style of painting, both of whom were associated with New York schools of art during the developmental period of this style, were Edward Hopper and Guy Pene du Bois.

As I studied “Firemen Playing Cards” in greater detail, I noticed that there was a similarity in style or at least a suggestion of Edward Hopper’s painting, “Nighthawks.” Deliberate and spare, each painting captures a singular New York moment in which three New Yorkers seem lost in their thoughts, anonymous and uncommunicative. The diner’s harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, as does the softer light emanating from the hanging lamp over the poker table. 

Brooklyn born, Guy Pene du Bois who, like his good friend Hopper, depicted narratives of inaction and themes of emotional disengagement, differed in style. While Hopper was interested in capturing moments of solitude, using bold, simplified forms to infuse his scenes with drama, du Bois used smooth curves striking a balance between abstraction and realism. And while at first glance there appears to be no similarity in Brady and du Bois’s work, there is one commonality: the hands.

I’d always believed that Fireman Brady could not paint a pair of human hands. The firemen’s hands are nothing like I’d expect them to be, strong, large and rugged, but rather they look childlike and small.

But then I look at the style in which du Bois painted hands and I wonder if Brady was familiar with du Bois? The hands are almost identical. Was Brady familiar with the school of painters who had studios on 14th St. and Union Square, a few blocks from Engine Co. 14, which is located on 18th Street. Did he take lessons at any of these art leagues?

I don’t remember hearing Edward Brady’s name when I was a child. I noticed his name on the painting after his art was bequeathed to me a number of years ago.  Looking through old firehouse logs of Engine 14 I was able to determine that Brady and my grandfather were fellow firefighters. And now I stare at the painting every morning, grateful that my grandfather’s friend, a man with whom he risked his life fighting fires, captured this singular moment in my grandfather’s life.

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JIMMY GRASHOW on CREATIVITY, JETHRO TULL and ART


If you’re a fan of Sixties’ music you might recall Jethro Tull’s album “Stand Up.” Remember that wonderful album cover? The person who created the woodcut for the cover is one of the most passionate and creative people I have ever known. His name is Jimmy Grashow.

Jimmy and I were sitting at his kitchen table not long ago, sharing a pot of coffee, when the Jethro Tull album cover came up. “How did you get the Jethro Tull gig, Jimmy?” I asked. (Off the album” “Living in the Past.”)

“I knew someone.  Simple as that. I did a bunch of album covers through Columbia records, The Yardbirds, Tom Rush, Ramsey Lewis and a number of classical music covers, as well.”

The conversation quickly veered.  If you know Jimmy, you know that he often returns to one of his favorite subjects, passion.  “Why, in your opinion, do some talented artists succeed while others don’t?” 

“Talent is part of the quotient, Charlie, but I don’t think it’s the biggest piece.  In order to be what I consider a successful artist there must be  passion and process.  Those are the two big pieces,” Jimmy said.

Jimmy talked about his passion for creating. “I can sit and work on the most miniscule details for an entire day and at end of the day, I’ll think, ‘What am I, freakin’ crazy?’”  I immediately understood. I mentioned to Jimmy that there are times when I’ll work on a story’s sentence for hours and in the end I’ll discard it. “But that’s passion, Charlie.  The ability to have an idea and to follow that idea through, wherever it leads you.” 

Process is the other part of the success quotient that Jimmy speaks about. “Some think in terms of beginning and ends.  They’ll say, ‘I can’t wait until I’m finished,’ while an artist will get lost in the process. There’s a big difference.  Building, creating, doing,” he said. “Build it piece by piece wherever its going.  I get completely immersed in the process.  I think you must do that in order to create.”  

Jimmy’s favorite medium is cardboard. His success with cardboard is well known, and standing in his studio, surrounded by beautifully colored, cardboard peacocks, monkeys, an enormous Uncle Sam, which he’s working on for a Memorial Day Parade, and an entire cardboard city is to be surrounded by Jimmy’s life and art.  “You can tell an artist not by what he does, but by the material he uses, Charlie.  Some use stone, some use metals. I use cardboard and paper.”

One of Jimmy’s recent works, Corrugated Fountain, (see below) recalls the Trevi Fountain in Rome.   A positively brilliant work, it is the perfect expression of Jimmy’s exploration of man and mortality.  Jimmy told Art Daily, “I wanted to make something heroic in its concept and execution with full awareness of its poetic absurdity. Water and cardboard cannot exist together. I wanted to try to make something eternal out of cardboard. To work in the face of mortality is the idea that made Corrugated Fountain an irresistible project for me.” 

For some incredible photos of the Jimmy’s fountain, click here Corrugated Fountain

 

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THE MUSIC of NEW YORK CITY’S ABE MEEROPOL

One of the more interesting, but lesser known figures in the history of NYC music is Abe Meeropol. Meeropol was born to Russian born immigrants in the Bronx in 1903. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton, the City University of New York and taught high school English at Clinton for years.

Meeropol, however, is best known for writing a protest song, which became a Billy Holiday signature song, “Strange Fruit.” Holiday first performed the song in Greenwich Village at Barney Josephson’s Cafe Society in 1939. (Cafe Society and Holiday’s performances of the song are worth posts of their own….Another time.)

Meeropol, a member of the Communist party, and his wife Anne, eventually adopted two sons, none other than Michael and Robert, the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were both executed for espionage.

I was reluctant to post a link to “Strange Fruit” first thing in the morning. You can find it on YouTube if you’d like to listen to it. But there is another song that Meeropol wrote–he wrote it under the pen name Lewis Allen–that gained some fame when sung by perhaps the most famous singer of the 20th century and featured in a short film of the same name. Can you name the song/film and the performer? CLICK HERE

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MY TALENTED FRIENDS: CARNEGIE HALL PERFORMERS

Every once in a while I sit back and think, “I know some talented folks.”  And I’ve actually worked with them. What a blessing having so many talented friends. All of those pictured in the montage have performed at Carnegie Hall at least once…some more than once. Top row from left: Seunghee Lee, Ashley Bell and Clare Maloney. Second row from left: Annette Homann, Deni Bonet and David Goldman (Upcoming debut in April). Third row from left: Matt Smallcomb, Harriet Stubbs and Alicia Svigals. 

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“CLASSICALLY EXPOSED” CO-PRODUCER DAVID GOLDMAN at CARNEGIE HALL

I’m thrilled to see that my friend and one of “Classically Exposed: From Carnegie to the Cell’s” Executive Producers, David S. Goldman will be appearing at Carnegie Hall on April 22nd. David will be performing in the Indie Collaborative’s “Celebrating Earth Day in Song.”

For tickets CLICK HERE 

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IRISH TENOR JOHN MCCORMACK and “DANNY BOY”

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“Danny Boy” has been performed at Carnegie Hall 82 times; Irish tenor John McCormack performed in the Hall 53 times. So, can you imagine how many times McCormack sang “Danny Boy” at Carnegie….never. He didn’t like “Danny Boy.” He did, however, co-write a song, “Oh Mary Dear” with his pianist Harry Schneider to the tune of “Londonderry Air,” which is Danny Boy’s melody. He performed the song at Carnegie Hall in January 1933.

Here’s how it starts:

“Oh Mary dear, a cruel fate has parted us.

I’ll hide my grief, e’en though my heart should break.”

And here’s McCormack singing it: O Mary Dear 

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