Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Record Player (1939)

Original painting by Karl Hofer (1878-1955)
Oil on canvas

An example of "degenerate art" according to the ruling party of Germany at the time. Hofer painted the above in Berlin during a period when he was officially barred from either painting or exhibiting.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Art Ford's Jazz Party (1958)

If you lived in the greater New Jersey area in 1958 and could get your self to a television at 9 PM on Thursday night, you could catch Art Ford's Jazz Party. A 90-minute program, broadcast by WNTA-TV on Channel 13, it lasted from May 8th until December 25th of that year. In an era where television was good to jazz music in general and particularly to Modern Jazz, it offered a unique mix of musicians from nearly all streams of the music - from New Orleans through Swing, plus some Modernists. Recorded sessions were reportedly conducted without rehearsals or set-lists and featured rare glimpses of both legends and obscure stylists.

A kinescope transfer of most of the September 18th broadcast is currently up on YouTube and below for your viewing pleasure. Several other clips have surfaced over the years in varying degrees of quality. What I like particularly about this episode is the appearance of guitarist Mary Osborne, who is sadly overlooked by many if not most jazz historians due in no small part to her relatively small recorded output, and perhaps more so due to the fact that she was a woman. She was one of Charlie Christian's most talented disciples and actually knew the legend during his lifetime. She definitely deserves more ink, virtual or otherwise, so in addition to reading this month's Vintage Guitar magazine, do your self a favor and search around the 'net a bit.

Guitar Geek Note: it looks to me that Mary is playing an extremely rare Stromberg G-5 made in the early-1950s in ridiculously small batches. It could be one of only a dozen of these guitars made. There are some beautiful photos of a slightly earlier, but similar, Stromberg here. Add to that the rarity (and admitted something of an oddity) of a Gibson-manufactured "finger rest pick-up" (aka the Ted McCarty Pick-up) being used to amplify the guitar, and you have quite a sight (and sound) indeed. Incidentally, Jason Lollar is making a reproduction of the McCarty Pick-up for those that might be interested. Enjoy!

Personnel Note: be sure to click through to the 'Tube for some fairly detailed personnel notes as well as some interesting comments. If you want a more concise listing of personnel, click here and scroll down to September 18, 1958.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Vogue Theater (1939)

The Vogue Theater, 1948
3920 Sacramento Street, San Francisco CA USA
Photographer Unknown

One of San Francisco's sole remaining single screen neighborhood movie theaters (the grand Castro Theater, which will soon feature the wonderful Noir City film festival, being one of other notable movie houses in this category), The Vogue Theater on Sacramento Street near Presidio Avenue has been in operation since 1910, second only to The Mission's Roxie. Opened as The Elite and briefly known as The Rex, it was rechristened The Vogue in 1939 and has remained as such ever since.

The missus and I used a early-weeknight showing of the Coen Brothers True Grit to check the theater out. It truly is a neighborhood theater in all of the best ways. Minimal (1?) staff, simple but appropriate appointments and conveniences. The theater is beautifully renovated and reflects its early 20th Century pedigree in styling and little details such as the etched glass door windows leading to the auditorium. There is a small amount of historical memorabilia on the lobby walls, well worth a few minutes of your time en route to the restroom. After reading a couple of less than favorable Yelp reviews, I had some concerns about the sound system, but it was fine. Folks don't realize that contemporary movies are over-mixed and geared towards the highest common denominator (that's why you are always riding the volume control when you watch a DVD at home). I will most likely have to rent True Grit again to catch some of the dialog, but frankly that is probably Jeff Bridges fault not the theater's.

So what differentiates the Vogue? Well, it focuses on first runs, something a of rarity with these old movie houses anywhere. The Castro has picked up on this trend and I do applaud them for that, especially as they have fairly discerning taste when it comes to programming. More and more, I've been giving more thought as to where I want to spend my money. If I am gonna fork over $10 to see a Hollywood first-run production, I want to have some control over who profits from the transaction. Think of it as a locavore's approach to commercial consumerism. The extra time and planning it took was minimal and it made for all that much more of an enjoyable evening. Support these places while they still exist!