Daily Archives: March 18, 2013

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK? (For Adults Only)

CASTLE

I don’t know why this fragment just came to the surface, but here it is.  An older man, writing his memoirs (very possibly Leonard Garment, who began as a hopeful jazz tenor saxophonist and ended up as Richard Nixon’s legal counsel) recalled the friendly mentoring he received from Ellington tenor saxophonist Al Sears in the early Fifties.

ROCK

Our man (let us call him Leonard until corrected) asked Sears about the latter’s big hit — a funky blues called CASTLE ROCK.

“Mr. Sears, what does the title of that song mean?”

“Well, a rock is an orgasm.  And a Castle Rock is a huge orgasm.”

Long pause for imagined responses from our young questioner.  Certainly that was a definitive answer.

Years after reading this story, I now wonder if the slang Sears explained had had a long life as an in-group utterance for a hip community.

How far back did that meaning of rock go?

I know that many song titles in the Thirties had subtly naughty connotations.  JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE did not entirely refer to aerobic exercise.  SWINGIN’ AT THE DAISY CHAIN referred to erotic activities undertaken at a famous New York house of such pleasures.  Fats Waller’s VALENTINE STOMP was dedicated to Hazel Valentine, a woman who ran such an establishment.  I know that ANYBODY HERE WANT TO TRY MY CABBAGE is not exactly about a tasty bowl of cole slaw.

With this knowledge, I wonder.  And I return to rock.

Should I now hear Mildred Bailey’s record of ROCK IT FOR ME with fresh ears?  (I am leaving ROCKIN’ CHAIR aside as sacrosanct.)  Ellington’s ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM?

I invite informed polite commentary from any swing linguists in my readership.

May your happiness increase.

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CANTOR’S CELLULOID CAVALCADE IS COMING! (March 23, 2013 in San Francisco)

Mark Cantor, jazz film scholar, is one of those rare beings animated by knowledge and generosity in equal portions.  I’ve never met him in person, but I’ve been delighted by what he knows about jazz and popular musicians of the last century in their often uncredited film appearances . . . and by his willingness to share, not only data but the films themselves.  Evidence of the latter can be found right here on his YouTube channel.

On Saturday, March 23, 2013, at 8 PM, Mark will be offering another one of his famous jazz film programs — this one so rich with material it has a double title: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY / SWING, SWING, SWING.  Mark’s films will concentrate on the great bands and singers who either performed at Harlem’s famed Savoy Ballroom or who should have: Louis, Ella, Chick, the Savoy Sultans, Erskine Hawkins, Basie, Duke, BG, Bob Chester, and some rarities that can’t be seen elsewhere.  The place is the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s Kanbar Hall, 3200 California St., San Francisco, CA 94118 (415-292-1233).  For ticket information, click here or here.

The Beloved and I will be there, smiling at the screen and at Mark.  Come join us!

Just in case you’ve never heard of Mark, and wonder whether his collection is worth a trip from your apartment, I present here two of his (annotated) short films that I love.  Neither will be on the March 23 bill, which is all the more reason to share them here.

SONG SHOPPING (with Ethel Merman, Johnny Green, the bouncing ball and the usual absurdist / violent Max Fleischer cartoon antics — 1936:

THE CAPITOLIANS (directed by Walt Roesner, 1928) — a must-see for anyone who likes spectacle or hot jazz / dance music or both:

And here’s a happy review of Mark’s 2012 show.

May your happiness increase.