Sunday, December 13, 2015

Two tributaries to our overlooked cultural flow, or Toshiko Akiyoshi, Cyd Charisse and Ann Landers walk into a studio to eulogize Fred Allen, and Mimi Perrin writes and performs noirish jazz lyrics in French with her sextet before turning to translating Le Carre, Erdrich and Sheckley...

The Fred Allen Show: 1945-1949  #23, "King for a Day" with Jack Benny (essentially the end of their looong-term "feud" running joke), was the first episode I heard as a kid, on a library cassette ca. that point, I wasn't aware that the insurgent Stop the Music game show had pulled Allen's CBS radio show from the #1 rated national series to cancellation (by the sponsor) by the end of the next season (Edgar Bergen's series on NBC also suffered enormously in timeslot competition with the ABC radio hit).

Ad-libbing in the sketch: Jack Benny, to Allen, while trying to retain his trousers from the stooges pulling them from him: "You haven't seen the end of me!"

Fred Allen: "Well, it can't be long now..."

1. The What's My Line? taped the day after the death of panelist Fred Allen, a giant of network radio comedy, among much else...oddly enough, as the cast of regulars, at Allen's widow Portland Hoffa's request, proceed to do a regular episode, as much as possible, with a single famous "Mystery Guest"(actor/dancer Cyd Charisse this week), the three other guests were all public figures as well, two of whom, at least, have become over the years at least as famous as Charisse: newspaper advice columnist Eppie Lederer, aka Ann Landers, only some months into her career; and jazz pianist and composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, newly matriculated at the Berklee School of Music (Steve Allen invites her to be on his The Tonight Show when the panel learns of her budding career). The first guest is Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante, at that time probably better known, if not to the panel, than all the women except Charisse.

2. Jeannine "Mimi" Perrin, 1926-2010. Having studied jazz piano and the English language in her youth, her first public career was as accompanist and backup singer for the likes of Blossom Dearie when the latter played in 1959, Perrin put together the first version of her vocalese choral sextet Les Double Six, inspired by King Pleasure and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross among others. This ran though about 1966, recording frequently with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones and on their own (the Swingle Singers was an offshoot of Les Six); she loved to write noirish lyrics for the jazz arrangements she and the Six recorded, noting that French "doesn't swing", or at least it doesn't have the same sort of bounce in that context English does ...and a recurring tuberculosis led to her giving up public singing. So, she turned to translation of literature as her primary career by 1972. Among those whose work she translated into French were Robert Sheckley, Roger Zelazny, James Blish, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Nicola Barker, Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson, Ha Jin; in the 1990s, she was the default translator of John Le Carre. She also was particularly inclined toward translating the biographies of performing artists (Nina Simone's among the less surprising examples) and related folk. 

Les Double Six: "Four Brothers"; "Moanin'"

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