NY Music Review By Peter Haas
“What is America to me?” Earl Robinson asked the question in the opening line of his song, “The House I Live In.” Answering it, in a Hollywood movie short, was the boyish, pre-Rat Pack Frank Sinatra. Other answers, in song and dance, came from Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in patriotic clips from “Holiday Inn;” from the song, “If I Had a Hammer,” performed in dance-party style by Trini Lopez, and, in another, glitzy production number, by Debbie Reynolds. Who’s that cartoon character selling War Bonds? It’s Bugs Bunny! And there’s Broadway comedian Bobby Clark, in a TV production number of “The Tennessee Waltz.” His dance partner and solo singer: a youthful Julie Wilson.
These were among the many performers featured in some 50 film and television clips assembled by jazz critic and writer Will Friedwald for his new, imaginative, delightful series, “Clip Joint.” For one night, he pulls together musical numbers around the evening’s theme. June’s motif: America. Appearing, for example, were Pete Seeger and Judy Collins, seated across a table, singing “Turn, Turn, Turn;” the Glenn Miller Orchestra performing “American Patrol;” Irving Berlin, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and singing his “God Bless America,” backed by a chorus of what must have been every Boy Scout and Girl Scout in the country. There was Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit;” a young Ethel Waters in a production number of “Underneath the Harlem Moon” (with, in the background, a silent extra named Sammy Davis, Jr.); Tony Martin, in “The Big Store,” singing “Tenement Symphony,” in praise of New York City’s multi-everything neighborhoods; in his huge back-up orchestra, Harpo and Chico Marx.
The clips, edited into one three-hour seamless show, included performances by Frankie Laine, Steve Martin, Nat King Cole, The Byrds, Spike Jones, the Beatles, and more. There was a multi-stage, large-cast production of “Ballad for Americans,” contrasted with a one-woman rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” – the woman being a thin, frail but ever-moving Judy Garland.
Will Friedwald is still experimenting with the sessions. The next one is to be a “Tribute to All Music Francais: Chansons, Opera et Le Jazz Hot,” scheduled for – appropriately — July 14, Bastille Day. He promises a trim two hours, 6:30-8:30 PM. One drink minimum; $10 cover charge
The place: Bunga’s Den, 137 West 14th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). The screening room, in the back, is small; reservations recommended. E-mail to Bob Levis, at levis4402@@yahoo.com.