The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson, Vol. 2 (1955)

Categories: 1954, 1955, and Music.

This is another excellent set of straight forward bop from the era, featuring perhaps the greatest jazz trombonist of all time, and an excellent supporting cast. The history of this recording is somewhat confusing – released first as a 10″, then a year later as an expanded 12″, then this disc which combines the two releases. Regardless, it’s an essential companion to the earlier releases of this band and, with that record, probably sets the standard for trombone playing in bop. Read More

Blues Kingpins: Elmore James (2003)

Categories: 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, and Music.

This is a compilation of James’ recordings from the 1950s. It presents a relative variety of styles of blues and some of the music features a horn section. Listening to this, it’s easy to understand why James was dubbed “King of the Slide Guitar.” He shows off some pretty impressive traditional guitar playing as well and you can hear the reverberations of his style through so much rock and blues guitar playing since. The energy is also notable, comparable to the rock and roll and R and B of the time, which is a bit of a surprise. Because I Read More

The Definitive Collection (2008) by Billie Holiday

Categories: 1935, 1937, 1939, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1956, 1958, 2008, and Music.

Full disclosure: I do not like vocal jazz (as you know). This is a compilation of 22 tracks over the course of Holiday’s career. I have no idea how definitive it actually is, as I do not know her at all (beyond her reputation as one of the great singers of the century, and “Strange Fruit”). I also have no plans on listening to her entire oeuvre (and, given when she recorded, curation is necessary anyway, because much of her music was recorded pre-album). Read More

The Egyptian (1999) by Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, performed by Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir conducted by William T. Stromberg

Categories: 1954, 1999, and Music.

This is a weird one. Not an actual collaboration between two film composers, this is actually, essentially, two separate scores to the same movie, and one scene is scored by one man, another by the other. Newman was much more established in the film world at the time (Herrmann had just entered the film world via radio) but both were experienced conductors and composers. You have to pay attention to distinguish who did what. Herrmann is more responsible for the final score by a count of 19-11 cues. Newman’s score is a little more romantic, a little less risky, to Read More

Garden of Evil / Prince of Players (1998) by Bernard Herrmann, performed by Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg

Categories: 1954, 1955, 1998, and Music.

This disc collects the complete score of the 1954 western Garden of Evil with the suite (i.e. the highlights) of Hermann’s score to the 1955 biopic Prince of Players, both movies which have been somewhat forgotten. The Prince of Players suite is a very classic Hollywood score. It’s exactly what you would think of and so it’s pretty underwhelming. I guess it’s well done, but hardly stands out from the scores (yuk yuk yuk) of other film music of the era. Garden of Evil is a far more ominous, interesting piece of music. It’s still somewhat conventional – it lacks Read More

Lucky Jim (1954) by Kingsley Amis

Categories: 1954, Books, and Fiction.

This is a laugh-out-loud novel about what it’s like to feel like a fraud teaching at a university (something I can sort of relate to) while you hate your (sort of girlfriend), hate your boss, hate your subject matter and generally hate your life – and that hate manifests itself in you screwing everything up. There are a whole bunch of passages that made me laugh out loud and or at least chuckle, especially the ridiculous climax. Someone’s made a movie out of it and I want to see it (though I’m a little worried that, because it was made Read More

La Strada (1954, Federico Fellini)

Categories: 1954 and Movies.

This is an excellent, realistic and affecting film which appears to have been made by someone completely different than the Fellini I’m familiar with. Yes, there are some touches that are recognizable in his later work but, for the most part, this film is remarkably grounded in plausibility. For me, this is the best film he has made; certainly it is the least self-indulgent. The only thing keeping me from giving it full marks is the sound. 9/10 Read More