Maurice White, Penguins & Single-parent Households

Three disparate items in that title, but they are connected. Trust me, they are, even if only in my convoluted mind. Bear with me or, if the weather is hot where you are, BARE with me.

Maurice White is the founder and the creative genius behind most of the work of the super-group Earth Wind & Fire. He wrote much of their music, often working together with the late Charles Stepney. He sang lead on their recordings, countered by the soaring falsetto of Philip Bailey. Maurice produced records for EWF and many other stars such as Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Cher. He was also the guiding hand behind EWF’s elaborate live performances, working with magician Doug Henning (and his young assistant David Copperfield) to develop elaborate staging and special effects. With everybody, including The Phenix Horns,  in motion, lavish costumes and pyrotechnics, Earth Wind & Fire always delivered an outstanding show, in keeping with their terrific music.

I defy you to keep all your body parts still as you experience this 1979 performance of EWF’s  Boogie Wonderland

Now that you have enjoyed that, it is time for the Penguins connection. The talented folks at Warner Bros. gave us the wonderfully entertaining animated film Happy Feet. The film won a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. It is a great movie, a heart-warming story and just jam-packed with terrific music. Not too far into the film is what I think is the best musical production number EVER in an animated film. Sit back and enjoy this:

So, now you get the connection between Maurice White, EWF and Penguins. How do we get to single-parent households? Mumble and Gloria, the two penguins you saw featured in that great musical number, are Emperor Penguins. The plot principles for the movie Happy Feet are drawn from the excellent National Geographic feature-film documentary March of the Penguins. Written and directed by Luc Jacquet and narrated by Morgan Freeman, this movie was also an Academy Award winner for Best Documentary & Best Documentary Feature. The film tells the incredible story of  the Emperor Penguins’ will to survive in the harshest environment on Earth, an area so bleak in the winter season that it supports no other wildlife. Each year, as the season heads toward winter and the sun virtually disappears, the penguins march some 60 miles, from the sea to their ancient breeding grounds.

March of the Penguins DVD

March of the Penguins DVD

Once the mothers lay their eggs, they must get back to the sea and gorge themselves to recover. The precious egg is carefully handed off to the father, a transfer that must take place in a matter of a few seconds to prevent freezing the embryo inside. The father nestles the egg on top of his feet and wraps a pouch of its lower belly, heavy with feathers and warming fat, over the egg. There, he incubates the young chick inside. Huddling together for warmth, in temperatures that reach -80 degrees and winds of up to 112 MPH, the devoted dads take turns being on the outside of the group, absorbing the worst of the icy blasts.

Needing plenty of time to replenish their body fat, and with a 60+ mile march each way, the mothers are gone for as long as NINE WEEKS!!!! For more than 60 days, these penguin fathers go without a single bite of food. Exhausted, hungry, pounded by the icy winds, they shuffle between the slightly warmer middle of the huddle, and the severely frozen exterior, keeping their baby alive.

Eventually, the eggs hatch and the youngster is quickly stuffed back into the safety of the warm belly-pouch and cradled on the father’s feet. There the dads stand, waiting, patiently, determinedly for the mother to come back with food in her belly to feed the young chick. And all that time, Dad knows that once his relief shows up he has that same 60+ mile walk to get to the sea before he can finally eat. In all, he will likely go nearly three months without a single morsel in the harshest climate imaginable.

You men know how you get much hungrier, tend to eat more, and burn it off easier in the winter? Think about going through next winter, from December 21 to March 21, on nothing.

The most recent statistics show there are about 13.6 Million single parents in the United States, raising some 21.2 Million children.  Approximately 84% are mothers, and 16% are fathers. About 1% of the mothers are widowed. In all the other cases, there is a divorced or separated husband, or some kind of a biological father, somewhere. In all too many cases, that father has little or nothing to do with the education, care and nurturing of his children. Those men (or boys) should be ashamed. Tales of mistreatment by the ex-wife, discomfort and embarrassment about their personal circumstances, too busy at work, whatever, these are nothing compared to 80-below temperatures, 112 MPH winds and starvation, true starvation,  for up to ninety days.

They ought to show March of the Penguins to every boy in America, beginning in about the fifth grade, and repeat it every year through high school. You want to talk about role models for our young men? Don’t make any babies that you are not willing to suffer and stand in the strong winds for, each and every day.

Emperor Penguin family

Emperor Penguin family

And you guys that have a child out there somewhere, never mind about trying to prove to the world that you are a MAN. Prove to me that you are AS GOOD AS A PENGUIN!

Deal with your kid(s) EVERY day. Some way, somehow. Every day!


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Some tunes from my “special mix”

Hoagy at the piano

I have made a pair of CDs as a sampler of some of my favorite performances and I have given copies to each of my brothers and a couple of friends. It is an eclectic mix of current, and some ancient, performers and tunes. You will find Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter mixed in with a tune from Earth Wind & Fire. There are multiple performances of some of my favorite songs (like Stardust).  I wanted to share with people close to me some of the music from which I draw so much pleasure, and to possibly introduce them to someone they may not have heard before.

I have decided to post my “liner notes” from these CDs to share some of my personal thoughts on music I am listening to.  Here is Disk 1:

the jazzmonger’s Jazz & Big Band Mix 3

Disk 1

1.   When I Fall In Love – Chris Botti – Edward Heymann; Victor Young        NEW

This young trumpeter is classically trained but specializes in old standards, Big Band classics and smooth jazz. He has partneredwith such talents as Sting, Paula Cole, Andrea Bocelli & Mary J. Blige to create some memorable performances. Everything this guy does is high production values and musically sound. You can’t go wrong with a Chris Botti album.

2.   They Can’t Take That Away From Me – Diana Krall – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin      NEW

Diana has become one of the few mega-stars of the jazz. For a long time she specialized in jazz classics and old standards. Since her marriage to Elvis Costello, she has put out an album of personal compositions and other all new material. All her early albums are great.

3.   ‘S Wonderful – Bill Charlap – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin             NEW

Bill Charlap performs and records mostly with a small combo. He likes very upbeat arrangements of classic standards, as you will see here in this stepped up tempo version of a classic Gershwin tune. I have seen him live and it is a great show. Never heard a bad track from this guy.

4.   At Last – Etta James – Harry Warren; Mack Gordon                        OLDIE

Try not to think of Jaguar motor cars when you hear this song. They used it in their commercials for a couple of years. It also was used to great effect in the movie Pleasantville as Bud is driving Margaret in a classic ’50s Buick convertible down a leaf-strewn road to Lover’s Lane. Nice! Etta James is one of the really terrific and powerful voices of popular music in the ’50s and ’60s. She still performs live today. Her other really big hit was Sunday Kind of Love.

5.   That’s The Way of the World – Jeff Golub – Charles Stepney; Maurice &Verdine White                 NEW

We jump to the really modern with a song made popular by Earth Wind & Fire, the exceptional music and performance machine that was primarily the product of the genius of Maurice White. EWF charted fifteen hit singles and twenty-six gold and platinum albums. In addition, they put on one of the most entertaining stage performances in the history of music. Although Maurice stopped performing with the group in 1995 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, brother Verdine White, Phillip Bailey and others still give one of the greatest shows ever. Get the original version of this great song and listen to the lyrics. “Child is born, with a heart of gold, Way of the world makes his heart grow cold…..”

6.   Stardust – Nat ‘King’ Cole – Hoagy Carmichael; Mitchell Parish          Big Band

Now we come to the greatest popular song ever written. Lyrics with a haunting message about lost love coupled with the syncopated rhythms of Hoagy Carmichael. Play this one over a couple of times in a row and just enjoy the magic of rhyming free-verse pushed through Hoagy’s unique musical phrasing. Not to mention the excellent talents of Nat ‘King’ Cole. Nat’s may very well be the definitive version of this great song. His enunciation, clear phrasing and impeccable timing make the most of Hoagy’s distinctive rhythms.. Stardust is going to show up again in this collection. One should not go too long without hearing it.

7.   Begin the Beguine – Artie Shaw – Cole Porter                    Big Band

Cole Porter, almost as good as Hoagy, may be the most popular composer of popular music. If you like clever lyrics (I do) set to the most memorable tunes (I do), the kind that really stick in your head, then Cole Porter is your man. Artie Shaw is about the only exception to my rule against buying and playing the music of people who were “jerks” in real life. I don’t play Sinatra, or Miles Davis. (Or Motley Crue, for that matter.) Artie had trouble getting along with people. He was married to Ava Gardner in her real prime and walked away, so he was obviously somewhat crazy. In fact, Artie was married eight times so he was even worse at being a husband than me. Musically, he was not only talented but a genius and an all-around good guy. He defied convention in hiring Billie Holiday and refused to take his orchestra anywhere that would not let her perform. He was the first to regularly include strings in his orchestra. He helped launch the careers of Buddy Rich, Mel Torme, Helen Forrest and Tal Farlow. Artie quit performing at the height of his career at the relatively young age of 44. His version of Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine is considered the definitive performance.

8.   You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To – Julie London  – Cole Porter                  BIG BAND

Not sure how I ended up with two Cole Porter songs back-to-back, except he was pretty prolific and the attempt to alternate instrumental with vocal sort of took preference to spacing out songwriters. This is a nice little tune, but it is in here because it so fits the style of the beautiful Julie London. Come on, guys, you remember watching Julie London every time she was on Ed Sullivan. If you don’t recall her, do yourself a favor and watch this video. You will hear her sing Sway and see a great photo montage.

. Or watch this live performance from a concert in Japan, late in her singing career, and tell me how that guy managed to keep playing the bass:

. Julie appeared on TV in the ’70s as nurse Dixie McCall in the hit series Emergency.

9.   AS – Najee – Stevie Wonder                            NEW

Here is another taste of the new. Najee is a very versatile jazz-man who specializes in the wind instruments, especially the flute. He has several excellent albums. This song is off Songs From the Key of Life which is all Stevie Wonder tunes from his album of similar name. Najee does it as a bouncy jazz tune with a sizable orchestra. Get the Stevie Wonder version and listen to the lyrics. Very thought provoking.

10. Hey There – Rosemary Clooney – Jerry Ross; Richard Adler               BIG BAND

What a great performer lovely Rosemary was. Not only was she a talented singer, and host of a popular TV show for a while, she was also a pretty good actress who was in a number of very popular films. Next time you are watching White Christmas, notice how tiny her waist was. This was one of her biggest hits. Adler & Ross wrote many top hits (Steam Heat, Hernando’s Hideaway, Whatever Lola Wants) and also successful Broadway shows (Pajama Game, Damn Yankees).

11. The Ring – Keiko Matsui – Keiko Matsui                           NEW

This is new stuff, and Keiko is usually stocked in the “New Age” section of your local music purveyor. She is a talented pianist and composes most of her own music. She tends toward complex melodies. She has whole albums that make excellent background music for reading, cocktail parties, writing, painting or any kind of artistic endeavor. If you like this tune, at all, you can’t go wrong with one of her albums. I have three.

12. Fly Me to the Moon – Peggy Lee – Bart Howard                          BIG BAND

Ah, Peggy Lee. One of the best and this is one of her really big hits. Peggy had a very rough childhood and was singing professionally from a very early age. She was central to a number of big bands, including Benny Goodman at the tender age of 21. She is considered one of the 20th Century’s major influences of singing style. No less a light than Duke Ellington said, “If I’m the Duke, then Peggy’s the Queen.” Peggy was also a very talented songwriter. Just a few of the hits on which she collaborated are: Fever, It’s a Good Day, Johnny Guitar, What’s New, He’s a Tramp and The Siamese Cat Song. The latter two from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp.

13. After Hours – Ronny Jordan – Ronny Jordan                     NEW

Ronny is one of the new jazz-men. He normally records with band rather than small combo. This tune is from the album The Antidote,which is a good album overall but this is the cream. I really like this song. His style tends toward fast, bouncy, big sound jazz.

14. I’ll Be Seeing You – Jane Monheit – Irving Kahal; Sammy Fain                      WW II

Jane Monheit is a terrific young talent. If you like this song, at all, do yourself a favor and go online or get to a store with listening stations and hear more of her work. Her version of Over the Rainbow is the only one that gets mentioned in favorable terms when compared to Judy Garland’s. The production values are always top-notch on her recordings and, when played on really good equipment, you won’t believe how clear her voice is. I have seen her live, in a small venue, and it was really terrific. She appears with a small combo of very talented musicians. She is now married to the leader who does all the arrangements. Monheit is a BIG talent. This song is one of those tunes that was popularized during World War II because of its message. Listen to it thinking about a young war bride singing it to her man who has gone off to fight. I’m not joking when I say it brings a tear to my eye.

15. Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)  – Bill Charlap – George Gershwin; Gus Khan                   BROADWAY

Bill Charlap again, and again he is stepping up the tempo. This song was the closing number of the Broadway show Show Girl, a Florenz Ziegfeld production that introduced Ruby Keeler as its star. In addition to the singing and dancing of Ruby Keeler, a real beauty, the cast included Jimmy Durante and Eddie Foy, Jr. and the orchestra was conducted by Duke Ellington. How would you like to see THAT performance live? The song also became a recording hit for Al Jolson who married Keeler shortly before the show opened and used to join the final chorus to serenade her from the audience.

16. Someone to Watch Over Me – Linda Ronstadt  – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin                     BROADWAY

Staying with Gershwin for one of my absolute favorites. Are you surprised to hear Little Linda singing this kind of song? Don’t be. This little dark-eyed doll can sing anything, from her barefoot days with the Stone Ponies, through her haunting version of Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou, to her Canciones de Mi Padre album of traditional Mexican songs, she can handle it all. Here, she is teamed with the incomparable Nelson Riddle and his full orchestra. It is a two-disk album called Round Midnight and it is terrific from start to finish. The highest production values possible and Linda shows reverence for all these old standards. The song is another one of those where the lyrics say so much. Yearning young love, this time unmistakably a girl. If you want to hear, and see, a fantastic performance of this song by a talented young lady get the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. The message of the song actually figures into the story line, and watching this young girl ‘s performance is really amazing.

17. Raise the Roof  –

18. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons – Nat King Cole – Derek Watson; William Best                     BIG BAND

Can’t beat “the real King” to close out Disk 1. I wanted something soft and smooth for the sign-off and this guy can always deliver that. Nicely backed up by a small combo, Nat’s uniquely smooth voice and clear phrasing are just nonpareil. You will note, Nat is the only male singer who made it into this collection. That is no accident.

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