From Broadway To 52nd Street

A Little Night Music brings up the curtain of the Shubert theatre on February 2, 1973. Stephen Sondheim composed the music that spawned the jazz classic Send In The Clowns. Glynis Johns, Len Cariou, Victoria Mallory, Laurence Guittard, Hermione Gingold and Mark Lambert. Though it only ran for 600 performances it went on to get a movie made in 1978, directed by Harold Prince and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Lesley-Anne Down and Diana Rigg.

The Story: Based on the Ingmar Bergman comedy about sexual liaisons at a country mansion. Frederick falls in love with his former mistress Desiree’ and would dissolve his marriage to his child bride. Count Carl, Desiree’s lover, attempts to cool the romance. However at a dinner party given by Desiree’s mother, Frederick’s son, Henrik, runs off with his young mother-in-law, the Count returns to his wife and Frederick and Desiree’ are free to pursue their romance.

Jazz History: It’s the 1970s and jazz is in an evolutionary mode as the old guard makes way for a new sound. The jazz world has witnessed the release of fusion albums from Weather Report, Chick Corea and Return To Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Herbie Hancock records the classic jazz/funk album Head Hunters that includes “Chameleon” and “Watermelon Man” as does drummer Billy Cobham with his recording “Spectrum”  with Tony Bolin, Jan Hammer, Lee Sklar, Joe Farrell, Jimmy Owens, John Tropea, Ron Carter and Ray Barretto. In 1973 swing and bop saxophonist Ben Webster passes away on September 20th as does stride piano pioneer Willie “The Lion” Smith on October 8th. Fortunately  for the many young men who haven’t been called upon, the United States is almost completely out of Vietnam.

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Daily Dose Of Jazz…

Eurreal Wilford “Little Brother” Montgomery was born on April 18, 1906 in the sawmill town of Kentwood, Louisiana across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans where he spent much of his childhood. As a child he looked like his father, Harper Montgomery, and was called Little Brother Harper. The name evolved into Little Brother Montgomery, a nickname that stuck. He started playing piano at the age of 4, and by age 11 he was playing at various barrelhouses in Louisiana.

Montgomery, largely self-taught, was an important blues pianist with an original style; however, he was also quite versatile working in jazz bands including larger ensembles that used written arrangements. Although he did not read music, he learned band routines by ear and once through an arrangement he had it memorized. He was a singer with an immediately recognizable, rather affecting wobble: an oral historian as full of musical anecdotes as his musical influence and frequent visitor, Jelly Roll Morton.

Early on he played the Black lumber and turpentine camps in Louisiana and Mississippi, then with the bands of Clarence Desdunes and Buddy Petit. He first went to Chicago from 1928 to 1931, making his first recordings and from 1931 through 1938 he led a band in Jackson, Mississippi. By 1942 Montgomery moved back to Chicago, toured other cities and Europe with a repertoire alternating between blues and traditional jazz. During the ‘60s his fame grew and he continued to make many recordings, including on his own record label, FM Records.

Never straying too far from the blues Montgomery appeared at many blues and folk festivals during the following decade and was considered a living legend, a link to the early days of blues and New Orleans. Little Brother Montgomery passed away on September 6, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois.

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From Broadway To 52nd Street

Promises, Promises opened at the Shubert Theatre on December 1, 1968 and ran for 1281 performances, ushering it into the blockbuster hall of fame.  Composers Burt Bachrach & Hal David scored the music that rendered I’ll Never Fall In Love Again that went on to become a jazz standard. Jerry Orbach, Ken Howard and Jill O’hara star.

The Story: In this adaptation of the Jack Lemmon movie vehicle “The Apartment”, a young man (Jerry Orbach) attempts to get ahead in the world of business, climbing the corporate ladder by lending his apartment to various executives.

Broadway History: A reluctant success of Broadway is the fact that many of the plays had been turned into movies by the Hollywood film industry. When the movie studios began implementing sound technology for film screenings, musicals were some of the first productions released on the silver screen. Not only did the scripts migrate from the stage to the screen, but many actors and actresses did as well. To this day, many well-known film actors began their career on Broadway.

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Alwin Lopez Jarreau was born March 12, 1940 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to a minister/singer father and church pianist mother. He started out sing church concerts and benefits with his family and PTA meetings with his mother. He attended Ripon College where he sang with a group called the Indigos but graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and went on to earn his Masters in Vocational Rehabilitation from the University of Iowa. He then worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor in San Francisco and moonlighted with a jazz trio led by George Duke.

By 1967, Al found success with acoustic guitarist Julio Martinez and the duo became the star attraction at Gatsby’s, a small Sausalito nightclub, which ultimately guided his decision to make singing his profession. Heading south the duo hit the L.A. hotspots, appeared on Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and David Frost shows, and sang at The Improv between rising star comics like Bette Midler, Jimmie Walker and John Belushi.

Jarreau made jazz his primary occupation and in 1975 he signed with Warner Brothers dropping his critically acclaimed debut album, We Got By”, that catapulted him to international fame and was soon followed by his second release “Glow”.  He wrote and performed the Grammy-nominated theme to the 1980s television show “Moonlighting” and is also well known for his scat singing and the ability to imitate conventional guitar, bass, and percussive instrumentation.

Al was a featured vocalist on USA for Africa’s “We Are The World”, toured extensively, got his symphony program under way, performed on the Broadway production of Grease and signed with Verve. He has toured and performed with Joe Sample, Kathleen Battle, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Rick Braun and George Benson among others. The seven-time Grammy winner in jazz, pop and R&B categories received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He continues to tour, perform and record.

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Joey DeFrancesco was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania on April 10, 1971 into a family of musicians – a multi-instrumentalist grandfather and Hammond B3 player father. Joey DeFrancesco started playing the piano at the age of four, switching to the B3 shortly after. By age six, he was sitting in on his father’s gigs; by ten playing out on his own and sitting in with organ legends like Jack McDuff and Richard “Groove” Holmes. He went to high school with bassist Christian McBride, where the two were often scolded for altering their big band charts.

At seventeen years old Miles Davis asked Joey to join his band, touring Europe and recording Amandla with Davis. He became well known in the 1990s, however, through his work with John McLaughlin’s trio Free Spirits. He has also played with jazz guitarists Pat Martino, Paul Bollenback, Jimmy Bruno, Dave Stryker, Danny Gatton as well as trumpet player Big Jim Henry and many others.

DeFrancesco’s career as a leader began with his first recordings on Columbia, and later with Muse, Big Mo, and HighNote. He listened to and learned from Jimmy Smith, ultimately paying homage with his 1999 release “The Champ”. In 2000 he recorded the album Incredible! with Jimmy and finished “Legacy” shortly before Smith’s passing in 2005. He has also paid tribute to Don Patterson with “Tribute to Don Patterson: The Philadelphia Connection released in 2004.

Jazz organist, trumpeter and vocalist Joey DeFrancesco has been selected by the Down Beat Critics and Readers Poll as the top jazz organist every year since 2003. He currently plays an average of 200 nights a year on the road with various musicians.

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