The intoxicating world of Stan Keaton’s Orchestra

orchestra

So I recently just took the biggest step of my life and moved to New York City. After excelling in the local community theatre over the past several months, I knew I was ready to embark on my journey like all the great icons of music and American Theatre. These are the days I will look back to and thank myself for, when a decade down the road I sit in my dressing room surrounded by dozens of roses and heart shaped boxes of chocolate saying, “We Love You Ella”, drawn in a hot shade of lipstick. I’ll light up a cigarette in one of those long, formal cigarette holders and turn on my favorite records of classical jazz as I reflect on my journey as the one and only Ella James….

      Call me unoriginal, but nothing beats the sound of some authentic big band jazz music to take a trip back in time and experience the true heart of American Theatre. The likes of Stan Keaton, specifically his album The Stage Door Swings, creates a harmonious whirlwind of progressive jazzby combining the familiar noises of classic swing musicwith the creative impulse of 1950s show tunes. Listening to this album makes me appreciate the music for the music itself,and not just the catchy energy it bestows within me. Although I am young and Keaton’s album debuted well before my days of childhood, when I listen I still feel a strong sensation of nostalgia, similar to what one would feel after smelling the soap which was once the familiar scent of washing up in Grandma’s kitchen.

I particularly liked the musical styles of Stan Keaton and his contemporaries such as Pete Rugolo and Bill Holman, because of the way they commonly emphasized progressive jazz through advanced harmonics, complex charts, and powerful soloists. Needless to say, when I came across The Stage Door Swings, I found the missing piece to my puzzle of music and American Theatre.

I find these tunes which bring back memories of old time Broadway shows from what I call “the golden days”, to be relaxing and therapeutic. I like to throw on albums like Keaton’s when I cook my favoriteItalian dishes and pour myself aglass of red white to get me “in the mood”. By this I mean the mood where Ella reaches cloud nine in an aroma of butter, oil, and garlic, while cooking up an exquisite meal which I will share with myself over the next few nights, while watching classical movies of the same genre as my musical culinary inspiration.

The process becomes such tranquility that although the sounds are more than just white noise at a picnic, the progressive clashing of the musical velocity creating the perfect sounds of swing, become the peaceful music we often let our minds wander to. While engaging in a night of cooking and classical jazz, I find myself in the most heavenly place on earth. I call it the place of Mooche Music. Remember earlier I said that others describe me as being “mooche”- laid back, passive, and relaxed. Well, mooche music is just that. It is music which is laid back and relaxed, just like Ella James in the competitive world of acting. If you’re calm and live life in an aroma of Italian cuisine and spend your nights slowly nursing a bottle of “Pinot Noir”, life has no choice but to let you be at peace with Stan Keaton, Lennie Niehaus, and all the other legends of the jazz world in the late 1950s.

Some may read this and think, “This girl is old beyond her time. What does she know about the musical styles of men who peaked decades before she came to existence?” The answer to that, my friends, is that I am the one who sits calmly waiting for my audition with my heart beating to the pace of a classic show tune, whereas you are the one sitting irritably in a state of discomfort knowing there’s a chance these directors may very well choose the new kid in town; the who has the passion to take her love of theatre to the next level in the big city..

http://www.allmusic.com/album/the-stage-door-swings-mw0000210705

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Musical Anthropology and my encounter with Brian Bradley

brad
Until the concept of “musical anthropology” sparked my interest as the word “music”was attached to some branch or science or humanities I was seldom interested in, I knew very little about what anthropology even was. After doing a good old Google search, I concluded it is simply “the study of humankind, past and present, that draws and builds upon knowledge from social and biological sciences, as well as the humanities and the natural sciences” (thank you Wikipedia!)

So how did this seemingly boring topic become fascinating to a child of the world of arts and theatre, other than the word “music” of course? It was when talking to a very interesting character I met in Barcelona from New Zealand called Mr. Brian Bradley who had been a musical anthropologist for almost twenty years. I’d be lying if I said the idea of musical anthropology was what first grabbed my attention, and kept me in a three hour conversation on a train ride between Barcelona and some little artsy Spanish town which I forgot the name of. It was Brian’s charm and handsome profile that kept me listening until I sincerely became intrigued with what I am about to explain.

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Careers Beyond the Spotlight In Music and Theatre

spotlight

With a name like Ella James, it’s obviously that I am born for stardom. The letters of my name look perfect in fancy, cursive writing all lit up in bright yellow lights. But people forget that there are many rewarding jobs that happen behind the scenes too. I don’t mean just the guy who brings the pizza and for some reason wears a  headset, or the homely girl with four kids who gets shouted at for applying a shade too light of make-up. If I for some reason woke up one day and realized I had lost my talent for music and theatre, I would be a set designer for theatrical productions.

There are a few reasons why I believe a career as a set designer would be Ella  James’ second vocational calling:

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European Trip and My Calf Injury

europetripYour average aspiring theatrical performers or musicians are commonly referred to by the ignorant intellectual types as “starving artists”. As “starving artists” we are rarely associated with money, and therefore luxurious holidays would often be seen as out of the question on our “part-time café waitressing job” salaries. But a few weeks ago after saving for several months, I embarked on my own little vacation and went to Europe to scope out some famous theatrical landmarks and performances.

Overall my trip was fab-u-lous! I started out on the West End in London, England. I saw Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage at Piccadilly Theatre. The cast did a marvelous job prancing around the stage with enough energy to power the London Tube System! I also visited the Prince Edward Theatre where I saw Jersey Boys, and I took a tour of the Apollo Victorian Theatre in Westminster; the seating plan was gorgeous and the white pillars touched the auditorium with grace and elegance.

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My Favorite Classical and Jazz Musicians

musicianAs your typical yet non-typical New York Broadway starlet wannabe, I have two favorite types of music: classical and jazz. Alright, if musicals count as a genre, then the most popular records on the soundtracks of Hairspray and Mama Miawould need their own category under my list of favorites.

Vivaldi

A mooche girl who loves mooche music will not surprise you when she admits her guilty pleasure for baroque composers like Vivaldi. What better way to relax with a glass of cheap champagne and Belgium waffles on the balcony of her 14th floor New York City apartment, than to hear the sweet screeching of a violin coming from the harmonious work ofThe Four Seasons.

http://www.baroquemusic.org/bqxvivaldi.html

Edvard Grieg

A small town girl in the big city loves to awaken to the sound of Grieg’s Peer Gyntas she starts her morning with the smell of French dark roast coffee and hopes that today is the day she becomes a star. To twirl around the room of a studio apartment in a room as moldy as high school gym socks without a care that one day she will be old, washed up, and past her prime, well that my child, that is true bliss in the world of American music and theatre. The difference between this aspiring performer and a child watching Saturday morning cartoons with a bowl of Corn Pops, is that the performer recognizes the tune from the play by Henrick Ibsen, whereas the child familiarizes the piece with none other than The Bugs Bunny Show.

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Upcoming Musicals I Would Like To See

musicalsAs much as I’d like to identify myself as an individual with all aspects of my theatrical and musical life, from personal quirks to personal tastes, I’ll admit I’m a girl who likes her classics. After spending adequate time researching the biggest productions occurring in New York over the next year, I’ve come across several big names at some of the most luxurious theatres which I will make it my business to see. This year I will be nothing more than an awkward brunette with an outdated beret and knitted scarf, sitting twelve rows from the front between two pretentious couples.But, next year, or maybe the year after that, I will be up on stage seducing the crowd with my smooth dance moves and enchanting voice.

This season there a three main legendary theatresin New York City which I MUST seethe following performances at:

  1. “Chicago The Musical” at the Ambassador Theatre
    Located in the heart of the famous Broadway Theatre District, it is no surprise that a single girl in her mid-20s would become weak at the knees to see “Chicago the Musical” at this famous theatre. Every desperately single bachelorette in the world of arts and theatre has no choice but to identify with the sugar sweet housewife and mysterious killer, Roxie Hart.
    http://www.ambassadortheater.com/ambassador_theater_new_york.php

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