My multi-talented mother worked her way through Columbia University Dental School by playing the piano to accompany silent films. I kept thinking about that when I went to Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Journal Square and saw a silent film short with live organ accompaniment. However, the very talented organist, David Peckham, was playing on a grand Wonder Morton Pipe Organ. At the Loew’s the original massive pipe organ has been restored and returned by the Garden State Organ Society. Are you wondering what a theatre pipe organ is? Well, it is referred to as a “unit orchestra” because it contains many ranks of pipes that imitate a full range of orchestral sounds. It also incorporates real percussion instruments and sound effects, all controlled and played by one person. Theatre organs can play any type of music. I attended a wonderful afternoon at the lavish Loew’s Jersey movie palace – it is quite a palace. On my Sunday visit I was also treated to music by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, an ensemble that expertly recreates “America’s Original Music.” It caused me to open my mouth in wonderment when David Peckham, the organist, joined the orchestra and the result was perfect harmony. By the way, much credit goes to the Garden State Organ Society, a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving and presenting theatre organs simply because they love organ music. My friends, Connie and Harold, active members of the GSTOS, have three organs in their home and helped repair the magnificent instrument I heard. No doubt you know that the Loew’s Jersey Theatre is right in our backyard – the Number 10 bus takes us to its door. It certainly is worth going if only to see the theatre’s enormous grand lobby and the 3,200-seat auditorium with the majestic organ that rises from the orchestra pit. This Friday and Saturday Loew’s will show “Films of the 1980s.” For titles and times, call (201) 798-6055 or www.loewsjersey.org.
A very special feeling envelopes me when sitting in Carnegie Hall. So you can imagine the extra delight when there’s a 27th birthday gala going on. The program entitled “The Best Is Yet To Come” was the N.Y. Pops celebrating the legacy of Frank Sinatra. Its newly appointed music director, Steven Reineke, on the podium, brings a theatrical flair to the Pops. The one-night-only program included a diverse array of guest artists singing the songs made famous by Frankie (one would think I knew him), long-acclaimed as the world’s greatest performer of popular music. He set the standard for all others to follow – and may tried hard to do just that. The Monday night performance included some of my favorites: John Pizzarelli, Michael Feinstein, Steve Tyrell, and special guest, Frank Sinatra, Jr. (when did he become an old guy?). It was awesome. By the way, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Well, the old answer was “practice, practice!” but I learned that you can rent the grand venue. When I win the lottery, that’s what I plan to do.
About one thousand years ago (ha!) I went to my high school prom. It was held at the venerable Hotel Astor and the music was provided by the very popular Harry James. At that time, the band leader was engaged to the pin-up goddess, Betty Grable. So I spent a lot of time staring at the beautiful actress. Harry James was one of my favorite musicians but number one for me was the swing era’s clarinetist, Artie Shaw. All of the above came to my mind as I read a new biography chronicling the passions (and there were many), whims (and there were many), contradictions (ditto), and serial romances of the devilishly handsome Shaw. Among his eight wives (yes, eight!) were Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. Among his lovers and there were many – one wonders how he found the time and where did he get the energy?) – were singer Lena Horne and yes, James’ wife Betty Grable. Artie Shaw made beautiful music – in and out of the sack I guess. Every time the Bayonne Senior Orchestra plays “Begin the Beguine” I wish I was hearing Shaw’s 1983 recording. He had many hits including “Frenisi” and “Stardust.” It’s puzzling that in spite of enjoying great success he fled the music business and spend the next fifty years doing anything except what he seemed put on earth to do. Most fine musicians have uniquely fascinating lives but don’t have long lives. Artie Shaw lived to be ninety-four – most unusual for a musician in his time. If I’ve whet your appetite for more details, the new biography is called “Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake” by Tom Nolan.