Summer by the Numbers

41 different songs (plus some bits and pieces)

10 concerts

9000 people in the audiences (give or take a couple of thousand)

9 cities

96 lines of memorized patter

62 pages of script

2 duo-piano accompaniments I had to play

3 actual dressing rooms

9 gowns

2 elephants...and lions, tigers, and bears 

...Oh, My!  And here I thought I was going to have time to chalk-paint my dining room chairs this summer.  But it was a wonderful one, nonetheless, and I'm overwhelmed by gratitude for all the new people I got a chance to meet along the way and the chance to sing a lot of Garland tunes and a gaggle of new songs, too, including "Tomorrow" (proving that it's never too late for the sun to come out) in a concert with the Cleveland Pops at Playhouse Square promoting their upcoming seasons.  

Read More

Retrophonic Gershwin in the Studio

It's OUT!!!  At times over the last three and a half years, I was sure I'd never see the day when I could say this, but the album is available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and at joanellison.com. In case you missed it, here's last week's interview on WCLV 104.9 Ideastream with the ever-charming Bill O'Connell.  

And here are some (unvarnished!) pictures of Jason, Jodie, and I, along with Oberlin audio engineer Paul Eachus — Mark was the man behind the camera, as usual — tracking the album at Oberlin's Clonick Hall back in July 2012 and January 2013.

And here are a few audio clips from the album that I hadn't yet posted.  All tunes are by George & Ira Gershwin, and the styles vary widely.

The Little Song That Could

"The Man I Love" was introduced by Adele Astaire in a pre-Broadway tryout of Lady, Be Good! in 1924, but cut in Philadelphia.  Then it was cut from Strike Up the Band in 1927 and Rosalie in 1928.  As Ira wrote of the song, it was "3 Strikes and Out."  But through efforts by Lady Mountbatten, who requested a copy of the sheet music and brought it back to London for the Berkeley Square Orchestra to play, and the sheet music publisher Max Dreyfus, the song began to catch the ear of popular singers like Helen Morgan and is still filling the airwaves 91 years later!

The version we included on "Retrophonic Gershwin" is transcribed from a recording of Lena Horne and pianist Lennie Hayton.  They recorded it in October '47, and were married in Paris two months later.  I'd been performing this arrangement for several years in our single-piano Gershwin show, and for our first outing of Gershwin On the Air I did a duo-piano arrangement of a late 1920s recording by Marion Harris.  After performing it only once, however, I went back to the Horne/Hayton version.  Something about the way they perform it makes me think that the man she loves isn't ever going to come along...

So here's a clip, with Jason at the piano:  

This is the tenth — and final — post in a series about the tunes on "Retrophonic Gershwin," our soon-to-be-released album.  Part 1 is "How I Got Rhythm," part 2 is ""Probably I'll Meet Him at a Soda Fountain,"" part 3 is "Which Pianist is Playing What?," part 4 is "Silver Linings," part 5 is "Darling, Let's Take a Bow", part 6 is "A Tune with Distinct Potentialities," part 7 is "Retrophonic Gershwin out July 21st!," part 8 is "Conjuring Bing," and part 9 is "Treat Me Rough."  Available July 21, 2015 on iTunes, and here

 

"Treat Me Rough"

The Gershwins' "Treat Me Rough" is such a rollicking good time to sing that I'm always cheered by it no matter how I was feeling before I began.  It was, I believe, the very first fully duo-piano arrangement I ever attempted, using the 1943 Girl Crazy version, with June Allyson and Mickey Rooney, as a template.   The first try-out, in a room with two pianos at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, was the opposite of auspicious, but I could hear the potential.  And a couple of years later when Mark & I decided to expand our 1920s Gershwin show, Syncopated City, into the 1930s with Gershwin On the Air, we finally got to hear brought it to life with great glee by Jason Aquila & Jodie Ricci. I like to think of it as a pianistic fist fight. 

Read More

Conjuring Bing

If you have been reading the other featurettes about the tunes we’ve included on “Retrophonic Gershwin,” you’ll know that many of the piano-vocal arrangements are note-for-note transcriptions from 1920s-’30s recordings, but I took a different tack with “A Foggy Day.”  I’d read that, in 1931, Bing Crosby recorded a demo out in Hollywood of the Gershwins’ score for the movie Delicious — including “Blah, Blah, Blah,” which I would dearly love to hear.  Alas, as I understand it, that recording has been lost.  However, it got Mark and I thinking about how a late 1930s Bing might have sung “A Foggy Day” and we decided to have a go at bringing our imagined version to life.

Read More

"Retrophonic Gershwin" out July 21st!

Mark Flanders and I sat down yesterday to film a short video interview about "Retrophonic Gershwin," our album that was three years in the making and features Jason Aquila & Jodie Ricci on nine-foot Steinways (a Hamburg and a New York, for those who want to know more!), along with our vintage-style vocals. We hope you enjoy it!  

This is the seventh in a series of posts about the tunes on "Retrophonic Gershwin," our soon-to-be-released album.  Part 1 is "How I Got Rhythm," part 2 is ""Probably I'll Meet Him at a Soda Fountain,"" part 3 is "Which Pianist is Playing What?," part 4 is "Silver Linings," part 5 is "Darling, Let's Take a Bow", and part 6 is A Tune with "Distinct Potentialities." 

Getting Happy

I think it was sometime in 2011 — after I'd been performing A Date with Judy! The Songs of Young Judy Garland for a couple of years and had just done a string of highly enjoyable appearances with orchestras — that I got the idea to put the two together and create a Hollywood-era Judy Garland concert with orchestra.  I already knew that I'd have to commission arrangements, because Judy's early films were made by MGM, and MGM's pre-1970 orchestral scores and parts currently reside in a landfill by the Golden State Freeway, north of L.A.  And I already knew the arranger who had the experience, steeped-ness, and plain heart to do it: Paul Ferguson.  I'd performed one of his Gershwin charts with the Cleveland Pops on a few occasions and felt like I was singing on a '50s recording session for Capitol Records.  

Read More

A Tune with "Distinct Potentialities"

From the beginning, George Gershwin felt that a song he and Ira had just penned for the film Shall We Dance had, in his words, "distinct potentialities of going places." The song was "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and he was right: the film (starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) wasn't even released until May 7, 1937, but between March and June of that year, everybody who was anybody was already recording it: Ozzie Nelson, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Carl Fenton, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie with their respective orchestras....and, of course, Fred Astaire with Johnny Green and his Orchestra.

Read More

"Darling, Let's Take a Bow"

"They All Laughed" has long been one of my favorite Ira Gershwin lyrics, perhaps because of the sneaky way it turns out to be a love song.  I think I also connect with it because when Mark & I started specializing in vintage vocal styles and I began doing note-for-note transcriptions of the accompaniments, many people told us we were crazy.  At times, in the midst of some particularly thorny arrangement, I still do — but back to the song: it was one of the first George and Ira wrote for the 1937 RKO film, Shall We Dance. Ginger Rogers sings the verse and chorus in a chic art deco club, then she dances with Fred Astaire, at the end of which he tosses her up onto a white piano and then joins her himself.

Read More

Silver Linings

It's been an exciting week: Robert Friedrich has been mixing the tracks on our second album, "Retrophonic Gershwin" all week and just finished the final mixes last night, or rather early this morning.  The first recording session at Oberlin with the two Steinway behemoths was July 7, 2012, and getting the arrangements ready took months before that, so it's really been a long haul, with, I must say, a staggering amount of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction hurdles. The second session was January 6, 2013 but Mark had a head cold, so we had to record all of his vocals later in our home studio, which took more than two years after that and involved such adventures as learning how to replace the vacuum tubes on our Avalon preamp (thank you Keifer Wiley, who reassured me that I could really do it myself), getting all the last bits recorded at home, editing everything on ProTools, and learning audio mixing from scratch from Lynda.com videos and GearSlutz.  Let me repeat: two years of my life and goodness knows how many hours it took for me to learn how much I still didn't know about mixing.  

Read More

Before and "After You've Gone"

If you are just tuning in, Mark and I are in the middle of rewrites for Love Finds Judy Garland, our radio-style theatrical music show.  Last week’s project on my arranging desk was “After You’ve Gone,” based on a 1946 Bing Crosby recording with Eddie Condon and his Orchestra.  Our show takes place in April of ‘44, but the style is close enough — and much more in the groove than Bing’s 1929 recording of the same tune with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.  Why “After You’ve Gone”?  

Read More

Love Finds Judy Garland: Rewrite #37

It’s that time again: we are embarking on another rewrite of our Judy Garland radio-style show for an August debut, so I’m once again up to my ears in arranging the new songs and hoping we will not end up dumping them after one performance!  This will be the first outing under the new title, Love Finds Judy Garland, which is an homage/blatant rip-off of one of our favorite Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney films, Love Finds Andy Hardy.  (My husband and artistic partner, Mark Flanders, claims that he came up with the new title, but I actually remember the entire thought process by which I came up with it.  This is one of the many splendors of a long-time live-work relationship.)  

Read More

Which Pianist Is Playing What?

Well, that’s the twenty-thousand-dollar question when you are transcribing duo-piano parts note-for-note from 1920s recordings, made before stereo recording was invented.  It’s like solving a sonic Rubik’s Cube. 

When we set out to put together a fireworks-filled overture for our Gershwin show — I think it was in 2011, and the show was then titled Syncopated City (which was the original title of “Fascinating Rhythm;” yes we know, too obscure!) — I collected all kinds of marvelous recordings of duo-pianists playing Gershwin.  Listening to Ohman & Arden, Fray & Braggiotti, Fairchild & Rainger was the fun part.  

Read More

"Probably I'll Meet Him at a Soda Fountain"

That’s my favorite line in “Where’s the Boy? Here’s the Girl!,” and it comes after a big romantic swell in the music — exactly the kind of charming songwriting we’d expect from the Brothers Gershwin.  But the song never really took off, perhaps because the show it was written for, 1928’s Treasure Girl, only ran 68 performances.  

Read More

The Flip Side

Here is a behind-the-scenes video of an entire take of "You Made Me Love You."  It was the second recording session for our upcoming Gershwin release, and we'd been in the studio for nearly six hours and decided to knock off a couple of takes of this NON-Gershwin song for fun before we called it a day.  You can hear a preliminary mix on the "Listen" page, but this one is just the unplugged performance.   I got a (perverse!) kick out of singing a note-for-note transcription of a 1951 Judy Garland radio recording on a historical RCA-44 reproduction mic with my face lit not by the footlights, but by the glow of an ipad. 

The pianist is Jason Aquila, and Mark Flanders made the video.