Thursday, May 21, 2009
SPECTACULAR PIPE ORGAN
with Ann Leaf at the Wurlitzer
WARNER BROS. RECORDS
Theatre organ people are dedicated to a cause...theatre organs. Not little ones, but venerable, monstrous 82-story Wurlitzer pipe organs. They love em, and they love that big booming music. But where once "Dance of the Somedians" rattled your pop corn at Saturday movie intermissions, they're rattling other things in those places now. Bull-dozed are the Paramounts, the Odeons, the Bijoux. Most of these gaudy, Wagnerian behemoths are gone.
But not forgotten.
Not by Ann Leaf, anyway. Ann is about as tall--4'11"--as a top hat cymbal. She acts like the head of the ladies auxiliary of organ enthusiasts. While the male theatre organists sit around fiddling their krumets and kinuras, Ann's out it the world making big concerts at the last remaining Wurlitzers in those downtown theatres. And when she does, she fills those theatres with people who remember and who believe.
She plays as if she were 7'11". She rattles the theatre's ceilings, and those stucco statues of Dido and Jupiter up there shake and shimmy. The marble lobbies tremble to her troop of trumpets. Those flaking Grecian pillars holding up the balcony pulsate to her panorama of pipes.
It's all big, very, very big. Big like the Great White Fleet and San Juan Hill put together.
Like we said, downtown movie palaces are almost gone, or else they're playing three continuous features. So the theatre organ enthusiasts have gone out and bought up and lovingly packed up the neglected ten ton Wurlitzers and shipped them back home.
One who did just this was the late Buddy Cole, who constructed an entire studio just for his installation. Buddy did it right, not the way some men convert a basement for their electric train set. Where the pool should be, Buddy built what looks like NASA control center, and right in the center, surrounded by tape machines, control booths, and big louvre doors that open and shut so often you'd think Mack Sennett was running cops in and out of them, right there in the center sits this big, wood-and-ivory Wurlitzer, about the size of a '52 Buick. With all those flashing ivory keys laid across it looking like the finale of a minstrel show when they all smile real big.
A while back Ann Leaf climbed up to the Wurlitzer at the Cole studio. She recorded this album, mixing light classics with modern pops, just like the old days. Like the days when she used to make those musical short subjects for National Screen, like when she used to go out over national network radio for Columbia, like the time she played for FDR at the National Press Club.
The Pantanges, the RKO, the Keith-Albee may have hit the trail to dreamland. Kenny Baker, Cass Daley, and The Sons of the Pioneers may not bring em in any more. The popcorn maker may be dusty. But for those who remember, for those who like it big enough to rock the Roxy, it's here.
Produced by Lowell Frank
MADE IN U.S.A.
NOCHE CARIBE (ASCAP) 3:40
SHANGRI-LA (ASCAP) 2:27
WALTZ ON A CLOUD (ASCAP) 3:05
PORT AU PRINCE (BMI) 2:02
BLUE VIOLINS (ASCAP) 3:45
DANCE OF THE COMEDIANS (P.D.) 4:07
BALI HAI (ASCAP) 4:08
BLUSETTE (BIMI) 2:23
PEOPLE (ASCAP) 3:33
INSPIRATION (BMI) 3:03
AND THIS IS MY BELOVED (ASCAP) 4:33
Editor's note: There's a short write-up on Ann Leaf here which gives a good cursory synopsis of her career(as if I knew her career beyond this record!). To me, it's organ music and that's enough in my book to make it good listening.