I was in Naples, Florida for nearly a month but, to quote the character of Judy Garland in The Boy From Oz when Peter Allen comments that she must be rested after her 15-hour coma, "It wasn't a holiday!" Getting a musical up on its feet in nine rehearsals is no mean feat, so a good bit of my "off" time was spent practicing whatever choreography, blocking, or harmony parts I'd been assigned and continuing to explore my circa-1964 Judy characterization and approach to the songs in the show — which were challenging because Judy never actually sang them.Read More
If you’ve tuned-in to this blog lately, you will know that I’m preparing to play the role of “Judy Garland,” circa 1964, in The Boy From Oz at TheatreZone in Naples, Florida. You’d have to ask director Mark Danni, but I believe the rights only recently became available in the U.S. again, so this will be among the first regional productions since the 2003 Broadway smash starring Hugh Jackman as Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen.
Peter Allen, of course, became Judy’s opening act for a time in the mid-‘60s after they met in Hong Kong, and married her daughter, Liza Minelli. My role in this production is therefore very much a supporting one, as I will have passed over the rainbow before the end of Act I; Broadway veteran Larry Alexander will be doing the heavy lifting as Peter. Nonetheless, I’m finding the role preparation quite an absorbing challenge (see “Becoming Judy Garland”).Read More
The first three reviews of “Retrophonic Gershwin” have been posted just in the last two weeks — a “’S wonderful” antidote to our bleak-midwinter blues. I am doubly grateful that the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, since we are hardly old hands at the whole recording process. As I detailed in a previous blog post, the album took over three years from first recording session to the finished CDs’ arrival in a big box on our doorstep, and that doesn’t include the many months of researching and choosing, then arranging and transcribing the music, or the time spent in pre-production. I certainly learned a lot, and when I’ve recovered enough (or, like in childbirth, forgotten the pain of labor) to think about a next album, there are certainly things I’d do differently, starting with making sure that I’m isolated in a booth and not in the same room with the piano behemoths. It’s also unlikely we’ll do another CD with duo-pianos, as the logistics were very difficult here in Cleveland, from rehearsal to recording — although those Steinways in the Oberlin studio did end up sounding gorgeous, so I’m glad we did it once!
Here are a few of the highlights, with links to the full reviews:
“Though she’s no Miniver Cheevy, soprano Joan Ellison is fond of revisiting what many regard as the golden age of popular song. Her live show, “Gershwin on the Radio,” and her new CD, Retrophonic Gershwin, take her fans back to what she calls in her album notes “a more glamorous age than ours…”
Thus Retrophonic Gershwin draws on the content and vocal stylings preserved on vintage recordings, “everything from inspiration to note-for-note transcriptions,” but also enjoys the state-of-the-art studio amenities of Clonick Hall at Oberlin….
Ellison’s partners-in-time-travel are vocalist Mark Flanders and duo-pianists Jason Aquila and Jodie Ricci, who collectively channel the spirit and style of such Gershwin landmarks as “I Got Rhythm,” “A Foggy Day,” and “The Man I Love” in a twelve-track performance that’s on the short side in duration …but packs in a lot of fine singing and piano playing. The songs may be retro, but Ellison and Flanders make them sound fresh and new.”
— Daniel Hathaway, ClevelandClassical.comRead More
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 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
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
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."
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
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