UNDER THE (non-alcoholic Analog) INFLUENCE

Sunday. Spent much of today in jazz-geek heaven, listening to transcriptions of old WRVR broadcasts of “Just Jazz with Ed Beech”. Beech was a New York based d.j. who made discography sound suave. Using a Shakespearean-trained actors voice (at least according to his publicity) he filled New York radio with the sounds and history of jazz from the early sixties through the mid-seventies.

I was turned onto him by my old New York friend Tom Hayes, who acquired from a few different collectors shows that Beech did on the music of Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman and Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, the last my favorite ever jazz pianist and the one whose work still inspires me spend (waste?) an hour or more a day at the keyboard.

Indeed, I just finished a solo CD of piano music inspired by Hines solo albums of the 1960’s. But more on that another day. Much more, I’m sure.

My point here, though, is non-alcoholic influences (and what better time to write about them while on my second Campari and Soda? Okay, with a DASH of Gin thrown in…). And it has occured to me of late that all of my childhood interests/obsessions etc. were fed by a remarkably unsophisticated analog society. I was born in 1964 and first became enamoured of jazz in 1969, age five. Very little radio was playing the stuff that I liked–the good, swinging early 30’s stuff that immediately captured my ear. In New York there was WRVR, or course, but little else that I remember. Then we moved to LA, where all I can recall was the local all-purpose jazz station KBCA. But on Sunday nights, there was a Dixieland show conducted by a dapper (I met him once) and wonderfully named man, Benson Curtis. Also KPFK did jazz stuff (clumsily) some of which I participated in as a so-called “prodigy” pianist–I was already playing stride, ragtime and blues before I was ten. (More on that another day. Much more…)

Best of all, though, were the LP’s that had begun to be issued in the late sixties, the RCA-Victor Vintage series. Recently I unpacked a box of long-unplayed LP’s and realized that most of the music that formed me was recorded by the above label in the thirties and early forties and smartly re-issued (with proper dates, line-ups etc.) under the “Vintage” label. The cover photo of the albums is always a photo of the artist–Hines, Waller, Morton, whomever–surrounded by an open, diamond-pattered, old-fashioned wooden wine rack.

As a child I remember wondering why the jazz musicians were always surrounded by wine bottles. Seeing no connection I finally decided to ask my mother, who said: “Because everybody drank too much back then.”

More, next time, on how one could get a remarkably full film education by watching local 1970’s LA television on a black and white Zenith–while being interrupted by Cal Worthington and his dog spot every ten (five?) minutes.

I find it remarkable that I was able to acquire as broad a background as I did in movies of the past (twenties, thirties, forties) while growing up in a non-digital universe (Los Angeles in the early to mid seventies). There wasn’t cable yet (Z channel happened around ’75, but showed only new movies at the time) and our first VCR didn’t arrive until 77 or 78. Revival theaters were around, of course, and we occasionally went to the Vagabond Theater on Wilshire Blvd. where, one stunning night, Rita Hayworth herself Norma Desmondishly dropped in–heavily accompanied of course–to take a gander at her younger self in “Gilda”. (Was she already deep into Alzheimers? Did her companions hope that seeing her old movie would spark something?) Also the Tiffany Theater on Sunset was then a revival house–it hosted the first 3D festival that I remember attending. The Vista, in Silverlake, was somehow not on our radar. And the New Beverly, if I’m not mistaken, was much more foreign-artsy-indie fare-ish, which I didn’t get into until teenager-hood. Indeed, most of my old movie education happend via the black-and-white Zenith in my parents bedroom. In LA in the 70’s, there were plenty local tv stations showing old movies–albeit of execrable print quality and mercilessly chopped up and shortened for commercials.

Cheif among them were the Ben Hunter Movie Matinee on KTTV (Ch. 11) every weekday at noon. I spent most of my summers indoors, in the air-conditioning, watching this program which was simply a different movie every day–but hosted, for some reason, by the above-named personality. He even did a little call-you-at-home gimmick called, I think, Hunter’s College of Movie Knowlege. The KTTV library was largely MGM movies and they also had a Saturday afternoon movie which was repeated that same evening at 11PM or so. This was important because I remember the odd effect of seeing a movie in the afternoon and watching it again so close to its first viewing and being able to anticipate not just the plot but the camera angles and the cutting. My first film school? Probably. Ben Hunter’s set also sticks in my mind–a faux-wood paneled den with bookshelves, leather “easy chair” and couch, none of which ever convinced me that we were anywhere but in a cheesy television studio. He interviewed people occasionally (who were they?) and use to end the show with a Laurel&Hardy short.

Then there was KTLA, Channel 5, home of Tom Hatten (and his fake projector) as well the 8PM Channel 5 movie club. This was largely the Paramount film library–or the “MCA” library. (In a fit of house-cleaning in the early sixties, Paramount stupidly sold all there pre-WW2 movies to MCA for a pittance who promptly slapped their logo on the beginning of all the best movies Paramount ever made–Marx Brothers, Mae West, W.C. Fields etc.) Comedy wise, at KTLA the Hope-Crosby axis crossed with the Goldwyn Danny Kaye movies. (In fact, I think I remember a KTLA weekend afternoon movie program called “Goldwyn Theater.”) I very definately remember seeing my first Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges movies on the Channel 5 movie club–though I rarely was able to stay awake for the ten pm finish. In fact, I didn’t see the ending to “The Lost Weekend” until a few years ago when I saw it projected at Film Forum.

And KHJ, Channel 9, had “Million Dollar Movie”. Which frankly was not usually as good as its competition on KTLA. Though they did play the “Tara Theme” (“My Own True Love”) at the beginning. Indeed, I can’t remember what studios films turned up on Million Dollar Movie.

The loser station was KCOP, Channel 13, who were stuck with the Universal Library. In other words, Ma and Pa Kettle, Francis the Talking Mule, and dramatic fare like “Mississippi Gambler” or somesuch, usually starring the pre-‘Music Man’ Robert Preston. And Abbott and Costello, of course, but I seem to remember their movies programmed on weekend mornings. Early on I figured out to avoid the A&C movies where Bud had a pencil-thin moustache and spoke an octave deeper than usual–the unfortunate post 1949 crop.

Finally: Channel 52, from Corona, of blessed memory. This strange indie station somehow controlled the Three Stooges and Our Gang (or “Little Rascals” as they were re-dubbed in their television years) movies as well as an outstanding selection of Warner Brothers 30’s movies which aired weeknights at 8 PM under the banner “Hollywood Movie Classics.” This was where I caught early Busby Berkeley, James Cagney/Pat O’Brien, the pre-Bowery Boys “Dead End Kids” and a pile of John Garfield/George Raft/Bette Davis/Ida Lupino stuff. All of it, I believe, uninterrupted. (Or was it? I can’t remember Channel 52 having any commericials–was it a case of it being simply too obscure a station to attract any advertisers?)

Actually, the one commercial I remember on Channel 52 was an ad for Larry Fine’s (of the Stooges) autobiography, “A Stroke Of Luck.” They filmed Larry at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills and, after plugging his book, he invited any kids who were watching to come out and say hi. One long forgotten day, in 1974, my sister took me out there to meet him. But that’s for another time…

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