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America’s Greatest Music: Where or When? February 5, 2014

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Pop Culture.
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It seems we stood and talked like this before; we looked at each other the same way then;  but I can’t remember where or when.”

So go some very famous lyrics found in the Great American Songbook, the last three of which make title of the song to which they belong, “Where Or When.”

Written in 1937 by the highly adept duo of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for their musical Babes in Arms, the song became an instant hit with the buying public when prominent recording artists such as Benny Goodman (specifically his Trio) recorded the song the same year.  Within a 77-year span of time, singers and musicians across several genres have taken their stab at rendering the tune, from contemporaries of when the song was new to respected artists who primarily traffic in the Standards today.

One of the most appealing aspects to the song is that it speaks to a strong sense of déjà vu with a significant other, potential or otherwise.  Different “takes” on the song also hint at various aspects of intimacy that the song suggests as well.  Moreover, it’s a good choice to play in any number of forms when trying to recall key moments in life with one’s own significant other!

What is also very appealing about the tune is that, like many other elite tunes in the Great American Songbook (e.g., “Night And Day,” “Stardust,” “Begin The Beguine,” and so forth), it works great in standard, sung form, as well as in instrumental form.  The Benny Goodman Trio, for example, took the latter approach, and the band’s leader along with Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson do a good job of bringing out the tune’s intimacy.

A decent, semi-contemporary rendition where the lyrics were not ignored was done by Dick Haymes in the 1940s.

Perhaps the most-recognized version in this day and age, and arguably over the past five decades, is the one by Dion & the Belmonts from 1960.

But this does not even scratch the surface of the prominent artists who have recorded this fine song over the course of more than seven decades.  The laundry list of big names includes, in no particular order:  Julie Andrews, Ray Anthony, Count Basie, Shirley Bassey (yes, of “Goldfinger” fame), The Beach Boys (!), Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Perry Como, Ray Conniff, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr. (naturally!), Dennis Day (the voice of Johnny Appleseed from Disney’s 1948 feature “Melody Time”), Percy Faith (who wants to bet that was rendered instrumentally?), The Flamingos, Ralph Flanagan, The Four Lads, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Harry James, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin (he performed this song at least five times on his show), The Lettermen, Mario Lanza, Steve Lawrence, Vaughn Monroe, Red Norvo, Patti Page, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Artie Shaw, Dinah Shore, Carly Simon, Frank Sinatra (but of course!), Kay Starr, Barbara Streisand, The Supremes, Art Tatum, Jack Teagarden, Mel Tormé, and Andy Williams.

Once you take a moment to catch your breath, it is also worth pointing out that more recent names such as Barry Manilow, Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr. and Rod Stewart have also added their names to this lengthy list.

Indeed, such length of said list, to say nothing of the diversity of musical genres within it, along with the span of time that these artists cover, all add up to the strongest of testaments to the sheer timelessness of this song.

Let us not forget Ella Fitzgerald’s version of it, for she never fails to do a great song like this its proper justice.

But my personal favorite has to be Nat King Cole’s live — albeit instrumental — rendition of his during his 1960 concert at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where many a recording legend had many a great concert.

America’s Greatest Music: You’re a Sweet Little Headache September 12, 2013

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In a slight change of pace, this particular tune does not merit itself into the Great American Songbook.  Nevertheless, it is a lovely little ditty, one that a few bands recorded during the Swing Era.  The main reason we highlight this tune right now is because it was recorded on this day (Sept. 12) 75 years ago.

One thing is for certain, and that is that Benny Goodman’s “sound” certainly did the tune justice.  An uptempo “businessman’s bounce” — something at which Benny’s band excelled — this record is also a good example of the lilting tone effect heard in Goodman’s woodwind section, something he practically perfected that year.

While Benny Goodman did not have a monopoly on this song, his is arguably the definitive version, what with his aforementioned sound, combined with his gutsy style of play.  Martha Tilton’s vocals make for a very nice addition, too.  With all that said, other prominent recording stars took their stab at this song around the same time, including RCA stablemate Artie Shaw (who recorded it with Helen Forrest singing the lyrics that same year [1938])*, and even Bing Crosby lent his vocal talents to the ditty in question the following year.

A more modern pop cultural reference to this recording can be heard in the ever-popular film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” during the apartment scene in Venice, where one can hear the Elsa Schneider character play the tune on an acoustic phonograph (making the recording sound 10-15 years older than it actually was!).

So while the lyrics do not rate the song itself as highly as a good Cole Porter or Irving Berlin standard, it nevertheless merits our attention as a solid record during the golden age of American popular culture — enjoy!

*The Artie Shaw version one can briefly heard in the very underrated 1991 Disney Film “The Rocketeer,” which also takes place in 1938.

Relativity Theory no longer ‘settled science.’ September 23, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Science.
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This day and age we’re living in

Gives cause for apprehension

With speed and new inventions,

And things like Third Dimensions.

Yet, we get a trifle weary

With Mr. Einstein’s theory….

Apparently, not anymore.  Albert Einstein’s famous Theory of Relativity, introduced to the world in 1905, caused us to rethink lots of things about physics.  Part of the contention within that theory is that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, or 186,282 miles per second.  Oh, and it was within that theory that Einstein gave us the famous equation E = mc(squared), or, Energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared.  Just thinking about that alone could make one a trifle weary, as Herman Hupfield so eloquently penned 80 years ago.

Basically, it has been a pillar of the very science of physics for over a hundred years that nothing can go faster than the speed of light — Einstein’s theory helped establish that very principle.  So, for a little over a century, that principle has essentially been treated as “settled science.”

All that has been turned on its proverbial head with a very recent announcement that scientists at CERN, or the European Organization for Nuclear Research (actually, it stands for “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire,” in case you’re keeping score at home), clocked neutrinos — odd slivers of an atom — travelling a distance of 450 miles in a time 60 nanoseconds faster than light travelling that same span.  Needless to say, this announcement has turned more than a few heads in the scientific community, and has invited almost an many skeptics.

One thing that has invited scrutiny is the very nature of neutrinos themselves.  As sub-atomic particles, not everything is understood about them.  They have been baffling scientists for 80 years (read between those lines, and it’s downright amazing that scientists even knew about neutrinos in the early 1930s).  They are nearly mass-less, and the dear reader would be well-served to keep in mind that atoms themselves are mostly empty space.

Phillip Schewe, communications director at the Joint Quantum Institute in Maryland, offered some perspective on these enigmatic particles, saying that the neutrino has almost no mass, comes in three different “flavors,” may have its own antiparticle and has been seen shifting from one flavor to another while shooting out from our sun.

To complicate things further, to say nothing about the validity of these potentially ground-shifting findings, is that different levels of energy, according to some schools of thought, can affect the speed at which neutrinos can travel.  Naturally, just mentioning the term “neutrino” can cause the average reader to blink more than once, so to help create understanding about the context of these potentially game-changing scientific measurements, one can resort to Howstuffworks.com to give a rather brief explanation about neutrinos that the non-scientifically inclined can understand.  Another explanation on neutrinos on the same website can be found here.

The reason I keep labeling these as “findings” and not an outright discovery is because the very scientists who took the readings are reticent to use that term.  Like good, objectively-minded scientists, they actually invite the scrutiny, inviting other scientists to independently verify the data before using the vaunted ‘d’ word.  Scientists at the competing Fermilab in Chicago already have announced their intention to run tests to see if the readings can be duplicated.

So have the rules of the game of physics changed?  Chances are, there are about to.  But seeing things in a broader context, if the idea that nothing can exceed light speed as “settled science” is on the verge of being invalidated, what else could be rendered out of date as a theory in the years to come?  Former Vice President Algore has been — very un-scientifically — claiming that “global warming” has been “settled science” practically since he left the Blair House.  What’s more, he has denounced anybody who denies that which he claims as tantamount to racists.  Seriously.  Yet the overall lesson to be learned is, if even Mr. Einstein’s theory is no longer settled science, theoretically, nothing could be.  After all, as I myself noted in another recent post, nothing is static, as the science of physics has taught us time and again.

And that is fine.  Unbiased science requires constant questioning, not necessarily of obvious, plain-as-day fundamentals (why waste the mental energy and everyone’s time?), but certain long-standing theories could always stand some questioning.  If the theories are sufficiently valid, they shall always stand up to scrutiny.  If not, they shall go the way of phrenology and alchemy.  Plus, on an even brighter note, we could be that much closer to discovering the hidden key to warp speed!

As an aside, the opening poetic stanza is from the ever-famous, ever-timeless song “As Time Goes By,” written by Herman Hupfield in 1931.  Rudy Vallee recorded a version of that standard that same year, and to me, it remains one of the best of the countless versions rendered by countless artists over the past eight decades.  The only other version that stands above the rest is Dooley Wilson’s famous rendition from “Casablanca” in 1942.  That said, Billie Holiday’s 1944 version is not too shabby, either.