Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Here Comes Santa Claus, Part 11

Some thoughts on Tracks 29-31 of my latest holiday mix, Here Comes Santa Claus:

Track 31
WOR Children’s Christmas Fund Promo Spot, by E.G. Marshall (c. 1975)
E.G. Marshall
This track consists of a fundraising appeal for the WOR Children’s Christmas Fund, recorded by the late E.G. Marshall, who hosted the popular CBS Radio Mystery Theater from 1974-82. For more than 40 years, the WOR Children’s Christmas Fund purchased and distributed thousands of holiday presents to children in New York area hospitals and institutions. It was started in 1948 by Edythe Meserand, one of the first women to hold significant positions of authority in this country’s broadcasting industry. It seems she was working late one night with a colleague when the pair decided to get something from their favorite restaurant. Although the kitchen was closed, the chef agreed to cook them dinner if they’d drive him to Bellevue Hospital afterward so he could drop off some candy for the patients in the abused children’s ward. Meserand accompanied the chef inside, and she was so moved by what she saw that she persuaded WOR’s management to raise money on the air and provide gifts to the children in such institutions. She remained the driving force behind the project from its inception until shortly before her death in 1997, attracting talent like E.G. Marshall to assist with fundraising, as here. I wrote about Marshall’s work on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater last year, at which time I provided links to two entertaining Christmas-themed versions of his show. Here they are again:

Press HERE to listen to the CBSRMT version of A Christmas Carol, starring E.G. Marshall in his only appearance on the program that extended beyond his typical role as host.

Press HERE for a second Christmas-themed CBSRMT episode, A Holiday Visit, starring Lloyd Battista and Diana Kirkwood. Don't miss the frigid weather forecast that opens the broadcast, which was recorded on December 25, 1980.
(NOTE: Depending on your browser, these tracks may take up to 20-30 seconds to load. Bah! Humbug!)

Track 30
My Favourite Time of Year, by The Florin Street Band (2010)
Leigh Haggerwood
This is probably my favorite song on this year’s CD, which is just the sort of reaction London-based composer Leigh Haggerwood had in mind when he first started work on this ambitious recording project. Haggerwood loves Christmas songs, and he had become increasingly concerned about the lack of quality holiday music being produced in the English-speaking world. He’s far from alone in that opinion, of course, but Haggerwood took things to the next level by resolving to create a heart-warming new song that would capture the old-fashioned spirit of Christmas. He took his idea – and eventually this song – to the major British record labels, but none of them was interested in supporting the project, so he put things together on his own. He gathered together all of his many musical friends and called the resulting group The Florin Street Band, and by November of 2010, they not only had a fine-sounding record but a beautiful video, too:


For the full story, be sure to check out the group’s terrific website, where you’ll find some real old-fashioned Christmas magic.

Track 29
The First Noel, by Johnny “Bowtie” Barstow (2004)

When I hear ‘Over The Rainbow,’ I think of Judy Garland. When I hear ‘Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend,’ I think of Marilyn Monroe. And in the future, when I hear ‘The First Noel,’ I shall think of Bowtie. He has made it his own – and that goes for anything he sings.”
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett
Every now and then an artist emerges whose vision is so unique that it creates an entirely new musical paradigm. Stretching the realm of technique by introducing harmonic or rhythmic contexts far removed from the norm, they’re often unappreciated in their time, but the passage of years can ultimately bring recognition for their genius. Ornette Coleman was one such artist. Now we have singer Johnny "Bowtie" Barstow.
John Kelman, allaboutjazz.com

When keyboardist Larry Goldings discovered Johnny “Bowtie” Barstow performing at an open mic night in a New York City bar in the early 1990s, he knew he’d found something special. Over the course of the next two years, Goldings recorded Bowtie’s treatment of a variety of holiday songs and other standards in his home studio. The result was a 24-song album titled A Bowtie Christmas and More. I’ve featured Bowtie on nearly all of my holiday CDs – in fact, no other artist has appeared more frequently in my mixes. Fortunately, there are still a couple of holiday numbers of his that I haven't used yet, so we’ve all got something to look forward to. What is it that makes Bowtie’s style so memorable? Jazz journalist John Kelman explains the secret as follows:

Some musicians spend years on technique, working hard to hone accepted skills like pitch and time. Barstow dispenses with such limitations. His interpretive sense is so unorthodox that once you hear his renditions of classic Christmas tunes including "Joy to the World," "The First Noel," and the tongue-in-cheek "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," you’ll never see them the same way again.

Here’s a promotional piece for Bowtie’s only album to date. Let’s hope we see another before too long.



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