Monday, December 12, 2011


Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love music inside and out.  I think about music often during my day and dream about music all the time.  An old song from my youth or a section of a symphony, a piece of jazz by Ella Fitzgerald, or a snippet of something really treacle like "Whispering Hope" in a duet with Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae (trust me there's a story here and if you listen to the aural pleasures to be gleaned by the teaming of the angelic Stafford and the golden baritone of MacRae, it's not that tacky).

But I got my first car in September. And Mona (the name I gave my car) came equipped with a six-changer CD player. Nirvana for the thousands of CDs that I own.  I remember listening to music in cars during my teenage years in California and during those top 40 days, I memorized so many of those songs because, and I didn't understand it until I finally had my own car, you're a captive audience.  So I'm like a kid in a candy store.  My 20+ CD carrier is constantly being replenished.  And it's been a blast.

I've been playing lots of opera.  Leontyne Price in her glorious early prime singing MADAMA BUTTERFLY live at the San Francisco Opera in the early 60s, before her Met debut. Has there ever been a more shimmering sound from a classical singer than Leontyne Price?  My speakers have been reverberating with the thrillingly intense singing of my buddy Christine Goerke, who sang one of the great test pieces for a dramatic soprano--ELEKTRA--in Madrid for the first time in her relatively young career in October.  I've watched the DVD endlessly, but the sheer thrill of hearing her in full throttle on my car speakers as I speed down the highway, is indescribable.  She's going to sing this role often in the next few years and it's going to be one of her calling cards.

For pop music I've been awed anew by Barbra Streisand's latest CD--"What Matters Most".  I've been listening to Streisand since 1964.  "People" is still a test record to compare against other pop singers.  Streisand's gorgeous timbre has often thrilled me, appalled me, or left me indifferent--that the risk you run throughout a 50-year career.  To be fair, only Sinatra comes close. When you listen to this new CD you are struck by how much youth she's retained in her sound and how relaxed she's become as an interpreter.  Streisand is no longer overwrought.  Everything is pared down to essentials, and with very little loss or concession to age.  Yes, the voice can sometimes sound shredded in exposed loud singing, but her soft singing is diaphanous and agile and there's intent behind every phrase

All my pop friends have been telling me about Adele, so I downloaded her sophomore effort--"21".  This is an unquestionably great pop record with one memorable tune after the other from this sensational British talent. The voice is set low in contralto range, with a touch of yodel and smokey jazz and she sings of youthful and painful love.  Adele's vulnerability and her brassiness makes you pay attention. "Turning Tables" is my favorite of her songs, but truly this CD is superb.  There's a reason it has sold 10 million copies.  Lovely artist and long may she continue to grown and give us more memorable music.

And so every day I'm feeding my car CD changer lots of new stuff:  Tony Bennet's two albums with the jazz pianist Bill Evans.  Jesus those are amazing recordings. Jamie Cullum's "20-Something" CD is such a gas and one of my favorite pop/jazz CDs.  He can take a show tune like "I Could Have Danced All Night," or a Cole Porter standard, such as "I Get A Kick Out of You," and newly mint them for today's young audiences.  Madeleine Peyroux is another young artist I love.  I'm no longer a rock 'n roller, if I ever was one.  I do like listening to Dave Matthews, and Blood Swear and Tears (old school).

A Mozart Symphony, a Schubert song, Janet Baker singing anything, Harry Connick, Jr., Ella live in Paris in the early 60s, Bobby Darrin (so cool), John Legend, Etta James, Aretha before she became the Queen of Soul, Harry Nilsson, Kristin Chenoweth, Jo Stafford, Jack Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Pink Martini, Christine Goerke singing Turandot, Ariadne, and Kundry, Keely Smith (the Sinatra CD rocks), Kenny Rankin, Jane Monheit, Joseph Calleja (a Maltese tenor with a fantastic sound), Lucia Popp and Margaret Price (beloved sopranos from the 70s and 80s), Jesse Cook (a fantastic classical and World Music guitarist), Eileen Farrel singing the Blues and Barbara Cook rockin' Broadway's song books, and so many others have been taking pins on my car CD player.

And now I've bought Adele's Albert Hall concert (a.k.a. recital) DVD and CD combo.  The CD will be on my change as of tomorrow. And wait...I have a ton of movie soundtracks that need to be getting fresh hearings.  It's a good time to be listening to music.

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