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Ran Blake’s Halloween film and jazz performance…and Harry James, the MGM Years

Ran BlakeFrom piano-noir master Ran Blake, just in time for Halloween–New England-area readers and listeners, take note. Via the Ran Blake listserv:

Spiral Staircases

Ran’s fall student performance focuses on one of his favorite films, the psychological murder mystery Spiral Staircase. Fittingly, the show falls on Halloween.

The evening (formally titled “Spiral Staircases”) will include scenes from the film and musical and theatrical performances by New England Conservatory students and others. Directed by Robert Siodmak, the 1946 film tells the story of a mute servant girl threatened by a murderer who has a penchant for killing the handicapped. The girl, who hasn’t been able to speak since childhood, must somehow call for help before becoming the killer’s next victim. Dorothy McGuire, Ethel Barrymore, Elsa Lanchester and George Brent co-star.

The October 31 show is at 8 p.m. at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. It’s free.

Also, check out tomorrow evening’s “Jazz From the Archives” broadcast on WBGO… host Bill Kirchner will be covering big-band trumpeter Harry James’ late-1950s/early-1960s MGM recordings. As Bill writes:

Harry James (1916-1983) was one of the Swing Era’s most phenomenal
successes, both as a virtuoso trumpeter and a bandleader. But it’s perhaps
his commercial success that has led to James being shortchanged in the jazz-history
books.

Ironically, James’s peak jazz years were arguably the 1950s and ’60s, when he
led a big band modeled to some degree after Count Basie’s, though with its own
distinctive personality. His jazz playing by that time was a unique amalgam of
influences ranging from Louis Armstrong to Clifford Brown, and he was one of the
few Swing Era giants to be comfortable with bebop harmony. (He was, after all,
only a year older than Dizzy Gillespie.)

We’ll hear recordings made by James and his band for the MGM label between 1959
and 1964. Arrangements are by Ralph Burns, Neal Hefti, Thad Jones, Matty Matlock,
and Ernie Wilkins.

Sunday at 11 p.m. EST.

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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