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.)

Sublimities-Cy Walter

Courtesy of The Musical Theater Project

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.

Casa Valentina

Casa Valentina (Courtesy of Pasadena Playhouse)

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024