There’s a television series on HBO where the action is set in Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era. I became interested in “Boardwalk Empire” because Vince Giordano is featured regularly in the show. He does fit right in because he’s a student of the sound of the era and is dedicated to its historical accuracy. Unlike “Mad Men,” I can’t say I find myself wondering “what will I do when ‘Boardwalk Empire’ isn’t on?” I never became enthralled with the series although it was interesting to watch the relationship of two of the main characters develop, “Nucky” and “Margaret.” The show is a ménage à trois with fact and fiction. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” says Nucky. “Boardwalk Empire” bedfellows with both fact and fiction, unable to stay monogamous with either. The TV series addresses a real time period and a real place with a mix of plot lines involving mostly male characters. It’s a powerful bag of crazy happenings. I’m not going to watch it before going to sleep – it gives me nightmares. Oh yes, HBO has ordered a second season of “Boardwalk Empire.” Maybe I’ll enjoy it more this time around. I do appreciate the music.
My son James Adlai always loved music. But not the kind I love. He prefers rhythm and blues. So when he says he bought the book “Life” by Keith Richards, I didn’t know who Keith Richards was and why he was taking it on his vacation. I googled and learned that Keith Richards was a legendary guitarist for the Rolling Stones. I had to read the rock star’s autobiography to understand Jim’s appreciation, In addition, my grandson David is playing the guitar and I don’t know any of the current songs he plays. Music is at the core of “Life” as it is at the core of Keith Richards. In his book, the guitarist shares his wealth of knowledge giving this reader a recipe for everything rock and roll. It’s quite an education. Personally, the Rolling Stones is for me music’s most notorious invention. I’m not converted. That music seems raucous and noisy in spite of Keith Richards’ charming, disarming, and pungent narrative. His was a drug culture behavior which you certainly wouldn’t want your kids to follow. I’m glad my son and grandson are on the outside looking in. However, these days a Rolling Stones concert is a wholesome, stadium-sized affair presented to folks who pay hundreds of dollars to attend. Chacun à son goût.
Now much more to my taste is the 786-page biography about a skinny singer who crooned and knocked the bobby socks off (if you know what bobby socks were people. In “Frank: The Voice” by James Kaplan, only Frank Sinatra’s early years are covered – and those are the years I remember well. However, I was never one of those hysterical teenage girls who cut class to go to the New York Paramount (a popular movie palace) to see “The Voice,” the thin, starved-looking kid who made musical history there. He sold a song and told a story like nobody else. The best-known entertainer of the 20th century, Sinatra endowed the songs he sang with his own personality. His journey from the streets of Hoboken included the Swing Era when he sang with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. According to this most recent biography, his was a volatile life. To quote one of his songs, “He was up and down and over and out.” “Frank: The Voice” details that he sold tens of millings of recordings, won nine Grammys and two Academy Awards, appeared in sixty films, and became alluring and powerful. It was said he could sing the telephone book and make you believe it. Called “The Voice,” it was later superseded by “The Chairman of the Board” and “Ol’ Blue Eyes.” Listening to his singing today still transports me to a realm in the neighborhood of heaven. I turn on the radio to Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC every Saturday from noon to four to listen to “Sinatra Saturday.” The singer’s long-lined phrasing and velvety timbre, with many imitators, are still unmatched.
When we learned that Pedro Almodovar’s 1988 Spanish classic comedy was being turned into a star-jammed musical, we rushed to buy tickets to the Lincoln Center Theater’s production of “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Then my friend Judy went ot see a preview and came back shaking her head in disappointment. Next my cousin Shirley said that it was a great idea that didn’t work. Part of the disappointment was focused on the play’s frantic sets always in motion that didn’t go anywhere. The story is never a coherent whole with much major musical talent squandered despite a glittering constellation of theatrical divas. With its audience left muttering expletives of disappointment, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” has its own breakdown. Suggestion: rent Almodovar’s film – one of the best films of the Eighties.
In my days (daze?) long past – of writing for “Jersey Jazz Magazine” – I was extremely fond of that now legendary guitarist Buck Pizzarelli. I can remember when his son John started to appear on the musical scene. Even at a young age, John Pizzarelli was extremely personable and extremely musical (that’s not a surprise with his genes!). He played the guitar, sang, and had a joie de vivre about him. Today he is the personification of cool, man, cool, even though his jazzy playing is hot. Just last month I was happy to see and hear this charming son of my longtime favorite guitarist. The John Pizzarelli Quartet was wowing them at “The Jazz Corner of the World,” Birdland, on West 44th Street in N.Y.C. This jazz mecca is known for offering top-flight jazz in a world-class setting. It has good sight lines (I got there early enough to sit at a ringside table) and acoustics are incomparable. I sort of expected that but what surprised me was its delicious American cuisine with a Cajun flavor (the menu even offered fresh veggies which I found myself chewing in time with the music). The atmosphere at Birdland was filled with excitement in anticipation of the appearance of the John Pizzarelli Quartet: brother Martin Pizzarelli (bass), excellent Larry Fuller (piano), and equally excellent Tony Tedesco (drums). John – can I call him that? he doesn’t know me but I feel like I know him – came on stage with his soft voice, his top-notch guitaring, and his most charming stage presence. I felt as if he was singing to me, not realizing that his sister Mary was seated at the table next to mine. It was a hugely entertaining night at Birdland. And I have more to look forward to because this Saturday (Jan. 8) at the 92nd Street Y, there’s to be a celebration for Bucky Pizzarelli’s 85th birthday. I feel so lucky because I’ll be there applauding the whole wonderful Pizzarelli clan.