Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: Separating the Men from the Boys. Musically.

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Young Man with a Horn” (1950):

The trumpet. The kid picks it up and blows. A sound comes out. Not a good sound but a sound. The boy doesn’t play trumpet. Yet. But he has the longing. This is the instrument for him. Oh sure, he’s picked up piano. But piano is not the instrument he’s meant for. That’s the trumpet.

And what he wants is to play that trumpet and give it a sweet sound. A sound so sweet it makes him float. But it doesn’t come out without work. Without practice. Without a teacher.
Outside a bar across from the bowling alley where he sets pins he hears the kind of music he just has to play. Inside that bar, the men are playing jazz. This isn’t a smooth jazz either. This is a jazz that separates the men from the boys. A jazz that’s got some swing.

“Young Man with a Horn” is that story. It’s also a story of how the Muse can be a real bitch when she wants too. Adapted by veteran screenwriters Carl Foreman and Edmund H. North from the novel by Dorothy Baker, it’s loosely based on the life of the early jazz great, cornetist, pianist and composer Bix Beiderbecke.

The movie is directed by Michael Curtiz.  His resume’ of 173 directorial credits includes “Virginia City” (with Errol Flynn), “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (with James Cagney), “Casablanca” (with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman), “Mildred Pierce” (with Joan Crawford), and “Life with Father” (with William Powell as Father). After “Young Man”, he would go on to direct (John Wayne in) “The Comancheros”, (Elvis Presley in) “King Creole”, “We’re No Angels” (Bogart again with Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray and Basil Rathbone), (Gary Cooper, Lauren Bacall and Patricia Neal in) “Bright Leaf, and “White Christmas” (with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney). By the time  he directs “Young Man”, this is a director who knows how to direct and get the best out of a story and a cast and crew.

And what a cast. Three young actors who are about to emerge as major stars in the fifties: Kirk Douglas is Rick Martin, the boy who shoots for the stars. Lauren Bacall is his first wife and Doris Day is the woman who won’t settle. In addition, the great Puerto Rican actor, Juano Hernandez, brings authority to the role of Art Hazard, Rick’s mentor. Giving the piece a strong music cred is the great Hollywood composer Hoagy Carmichael who knew the real Bix Beiderbecke. He is Rick Martin’s Horatio, his sidekick and the narrator of the story. Harry James plays the trumpet for the soundtrack. His horn adds authenticity to the music of the swing era and a foretaste of what jazz is about to become with the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and  Charlie “Bird” Parker.

The film’s opening scene is one of my favorites. Hoagy is doing what Hoagy did best. He’s at the piano, then he turns to the camera and begins his spiel: “My name is Willie Willoughby, but you can call me Smoke.” Smoke, what a great name for a sidekick. “I play piano in a run of the mill dance band. Kind of monotonous, but there were times when I got my kicks. Not so long ago either. Like when I palled around with Rick Martin. The famous trumpet. What a guy. We were in the thankless business of piecing together little notes and phrases of music into a mumbo jumbo that somehow turned into jazz.” That’s the authority of a musician speaking respectfully of another musician.

He continues, “Strictly off the cuff but a lot of fun. ‘Course Rick is practically a legend. People ask me about him and those times. Ordinarily I don’t talk about him. But I think a lot about him.” Perhaps with those words, Hoagy was remembering his friend, Bix, who died tragically early.

Rick Martin has a bit of Pip from “Great Expectations” in him. Like that Pip, he is an orphan, raised by his sister. Only his sister ain’t married. She dates around a lot, which leaves the kid on his own to roam through the city, trying this and that and the other. Mostly he’s attracted to music like a bear is to honey. A piano in a church. A trumpet in a  pawn shop window. Then, from that bowling alley where he sets up the pins, he hears a trumpet player. Rick knows the player is the real deal. He has the ear for all things musical. Was born with it.

The sound has a lot of Gabriel in it and a lot of swing to. Man, that music takes our Pip away from all his troubles. That horn man is Art Hazard and Art takes on Rick as a student. He has found a true soul brother. Before you know it, Rick’s all grown-up and ready to join the big boys. He goes off to New York to play big band. “No blues and no lowdown jazz,” he’s commanded.

That’s not for him. He’s got a stubborn streak in him as long as a June day. He tries to play other people’s way.  Those others play for a job. He plays because it’s his calling. Soon we’re seeing he’s going to play the way he’s going to play. Which means he’s going to aim for the stars. The Muse expects no less.

Like so many of these stories, he gets sidetracked. He marries the wrong woman. The marriage fails because he’s a little boy lost when he’s not playing music or not surrounded by music and musicians. As he tells her, “That trumpet is a part of me. The best part.”
He continues to wrestle with the angel till he’s flat on his back and can’t get up. Talent can do that to an artist if they follow their passion singleheartedly.  “You’ve got one love. That little tin baby of yours,” Doris Day tells our Pip. With Rick, he has an itch. To scratch, he has to play the way the angels play.

For much of the 20th century, jazz was the American music. Artists like Rick Martin sought to play notes that weren’t supposed to be played. Those artists were our Mozarts, our Beethovens, our Bachs. Pip doesn’t reach that note but he does push the music. Trying for that note can just about kill an artist. Sometimes the artist has to fall to pieces before he can tame that desire and make it work for their art. Life may knock Rick down but that trumpet never does. “We can’t say what we mean,” he says. “You just got to feel it.”

So why do I love this movie enough to see it a dozen or more times and want to see it again? Maybe it’s because it’s about the music and those who care about the music. I would say that is a pretty darn good reason. Wouldn’t you?

Food and Conversation

The sidewalk is crowded with restaurant tables. On a sunny day, the tables are filled with smiling faces, enjoying the great food and wine. It is a sunny day. People pass by, then they stop. They can’t resist the smell of the good food wafting out of the restaurants. They take their seats. A waiter comes out with a menu and his suggestions. My wife takes the waiter’s suggestion. I order a glass of wine, rolls and a salad. “Make sure you sprinkle it with cheese,” I urge. He gives me a smile and an “of course”. Then we put away our phones and go for some genuine conversation. Something we don’t often do. The sidewalk tables seem to demand it. To text here with this food and the lovely people would be blasphemy.

Friday’s Creator Corner: Gracie Allen

Each Friday I feature a Creative Artist on Friday’s Creator Corner. Creativity is the art of making something out of nothing. I leave the post up for a week, then replace it with another post. After taking it down, I link it to Friday’s Creator Corner Artists page.

Today’s Creator’s Corner artists is Gracie Allen.


Uncle Bardie’s Weekly Music Pick: Simple Song

It’s Thursday again. You know what that means. Uncle Bardie’s Weekly Music Pick. Uncle Bardiie gives a double thumbs up to this week’s selection. “Simple Song” by John Paul White and Southern Family:

I know this one’s a sad song. But it’s an honest sad song. No fake emotion like some of the songs you hear on the radio.

I first realized there was a new country music coming round the bend when I heard Jason Isbell, doing “Traveling Along”. For way too long, there was this country music trying to out-pop pop or out-rock rock. It even tried to out-rap rap. It was enough to make a feller want to kick that can as far as Mars. Then Ashley Munroe’s “Dixie” landed on my ears. Finally I was going to get some good old country music that knew how to country music. Something that most would call Old School Country, and what I call Just Country.

The kind of music Hank and Ferlin and George and Patsy and Merle played. The kind that could easily be called White Man’s Blues. The kind that can be located on the very country album, “Southern Family”. The first song on the album lays down something you don’t normally hear from recording artists these days.  John Paul White, formerly of Civil Wars, gives the listener this “Simple Song”. It’s more than a sad song. It’s a man losing someone to the Angel of Death. As far as I know, Andrew Bird’s “My Sister’s Tiny Hands” is one of the few others giving grieving its due.

Few artists have the courage to do what John Paul White and Andrew Bird do with these songs. Mourn. This is something we all do and yet it is not very often recognized by those who give us our music. For grieving is something our society often says we should avoid. “Get over it.” Yet most of us have lost someone and we can’t get over it. Their passing left us devastated.

So my song post for this week is “Simple Song” by John Paul White and Southern Family. It honors our grief.

Politics in America 16: All aboard the Weazel Sneeze Express

When he gave his first State of the Campaign speech on Labor Day, it was short and brief. P F Sneeze simply stepped out on the stage in front of the Statue of Liberty, took a gander at the crowd, waved and left the stage. It was so refreshing to hear a politician actually say absolutely nothing. Oh sure, politicians were used to saying absolutely nothing, and they said it with a lot of words. But this was the first time any politician had used no words to say it. The voters didn’t know what to do with themselves.

Little Twerp of the Do Evies went on for hours with his speech. With him, the voters got everything but the kitchen sink. Sometimes he even threw that in for good measure.

P F Sneeze took a train across the country. At each stop, Hunka-hunka Burning Love opened the Vegas-istc show.  He was backed up by the Weazel Sneezettes, Barbara Ann Butts and the Buttstettes who were her four daughters, Bubble, Bunnie, Patootie and Muffin Buttswith. They went on stage and sang the Campaign Theme Song:

We’re gonna-gonna-gonna have ourselves a chat
Lemme-lemme-lemme tell you where it’s at
We’re gonna-gonna-gonna get ourselves a rat
We’ll squash that Little Twerp like a gnat.

For some strange reason, this did not work. The polls were showing Little Twerp ahead by leaps and bounds. In other words, Little Twerp was ahead by a lot, and then some.

The polls had to be wrong. They just had to be wrong. Were the American people going to elect Little Twerp for President? It was beginning to look that way.

Big Al Fresco and Betty Sue Pudding put their heads together. The voters were not falling for the Andrew Jackson look. They were not falling for the log cabin bit. No matter that Barbara Ann and Buttstettes wore the skimpiest costumes in the history of election campaigns. Skimpier than the time Mary Todd Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt sang a duet on Late Night Television. The voters were neither charmed nor sexified with the Do Naughty Campaign.

Big Al and Betty Sue had to do something but fast. Finally they made up their minds. P F would appear on all the news shows. On top of that he would do the Daily Show, Saturday Night Live and Stephen Colbert. Then he would debate Little Twerp off the stage in the Presidential Debate to beat all Presidential Debates.

60 Minutes, CNN, CNBC, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, Bill Mayer all interviewed P F Sneeze so that the voters could get a real good looksee at this Man of the Peeps.

P F opened his interview with a statement. “I did not sleep with that woman.”

“What woman did you not sleep with?” the interviewer asked.

“The woman you are thinking of,” P F answered. “The woman you’ve been sleeping with.”

Well, you can imagine how the interviewer took that. He turned green at the gills. Then he ended the interviewer.

“What about China?” “60 Minutes” asked.

“We like the Chinese food. Especially chow mein. And I just love fortune cookies.”

“What about Korea?”

“What about Korea?” Candidate Sneeze answered.

“And the French?”

“I just love French fries. Especially if they are made in America.”

P F Sneeze gave all the right answers. And they were always boring. Unlike Little Twerp who tawked and tawked and tawked three hours about “that” woman. He just wouldn’t shut up about her.

For some reason the American people found sexual dalliance more to their liking than boring dalliance.

Next Week Debate Anyone?