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A Jazz Approach to ‘Vertigo’

A Jazz Approach to 'Vertigo'

I love listening to jazz—or what I now have to identify as “mainstream”
or “straight-ahead” jazz, to be clear—so I always look forward to a new release
from clarinet master Ken Peplowski. His new CD, Enrapture, on Capri Records offers many pleasures including a
number of tracks where he trades his mellow clarinet for an equally beautiful-sounding
tenor sax. The album features an incredibly eclectic lineup of tunes by
everyone Duke Ellington and Noel Coward to John Lennon…along with a jazz
treatment of Bernard Herrmann’s main theme from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo!

         In his liner
notes, Ken credits his wife for nudging him to record the cue officially called
“Scene D’Amour,” and explains that in his research he discovered that there was
a pop-song version of the theme adapted by Jeff Alexander with lyrics by Larry
Orenstein called “Madeleine (Love Music from Vertigo.” His nearly seven-minute
rendition incorporates both renderings of the haunting Herrmann music, with
outstanding contributions from bassist Martin Wind. (Incidentally, that’s not
the only movie-related track: Peplowski also plays “Our Love Affair,” the Harry
Warren-Leo McCarey-Harold Adamson theme from An Affair to Remember.)

         Also new to my
ears, but on the market for some months now, is Sublimities: Cy Walter Centennial Tribute from The Musical Theater
Project and Harbinger Records. These discs celebrate one of the great names
from the bygone world of New York supper clubs, the brilliant pianist Cy
Walter. I say “discs” because there are two separate volumes, each accompanied
by a thick, jam-packed program book. Digital downloads are fine but you don’t
want to miss out on this material, with contributions by Walter family members
and colleagues as well as musicologists like Michael Feinstein, Alex Hassan, and
the redoubtable Peter Mintun.

Walter’s records are practically
impossible to find, and even a British compilation CD is now out of print. Sublimities more than makes up for that
with commercial and private recordings as well as a number of radio
transcriptions, some of them teaming him with such formidable musicians as Art
Tatum, Teddy Wilson, and Stan Freeman. The excerpts from radio’s Piano Playhouse are introduced by Milton
Cross, the longtime voice of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. (What fun to
hear that familiar voice again.)

These discs are meant for
completists, so there are some undistinguished vocals of mediocre songs,
especially on Volume 2, but every morsel of Cy Walter’s dazzling keyboard work
is worth hearing at least once. You can sample tracks at Amazon before purchasing one or both
of the CDs, and learn more about The Musical Theater Project by clicking HERE.

Thanks for indulging me on this
detour into musical territory. While I’m at it, let me add a plug for a play
that just opened at the Pasadena Playhouse. I never got to see Harvey
Fierstein’s Casa Valentina on
Broadway, where it earned four Tony nominations in 2014…but I’m glad I was able
to attend a preview last week while my class was on spring break. It’s a
compelling play given a superb production by director David Lee and a simply perfect
cast. Inspired by a real place that existed in the Catskills during the 1950s
and ’60s, Casa Valentina is about an
inn where married men spend weekends with other men who share their fondness
for dressing in women’s clothes. It’s funny, sad, and definitely
thought-provoking. If you missed it in New York don’t pass up the chance to see
it now on the West Coast. For information, click HERE.

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