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Jazz Goes to the Movies! 

Wow, have I ever been neglecting this blog! Shameful!

A few weeks back The Jason Raso Quartet performed at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener. The show featured us with four great vocalists and a fabulous tap dancer!

The theme of the show was "Jazz Goes to the Movies." The idea was for each vocalist to perform songs made famous through the movies. Mary Catherine McNinch-Pazzano, Derek Hines, Joni NehRita and Tim Louis were the vocalists. They all did such a fabulous job! Amy Lintunen was the tap dancer and she joined the band for some instrumentals and "Cheek to Cheek" with Mary Catherine.

Some of the songs featured included "My Funny Valentine" (Pal Joey), "Suicide is Painless" (MASH), "Mrs. Robinson" (The Graduate), "Two For The Road", "As Time Goes By" (Casablanca), and "The Way We Were."

The nice part is that we barely scratched the surface! So, hopefully we'll get a chance to do it again!


I recently purchased the Criterion Collection edition of On The Waterfront (1954). I am very impressed. The film is a masterpiece. I have seen it a couple of times over the years, but it really hit home this time. The bonus features are great as well. They include a wonderful interview with Martin Scorsese and an hour long documentary on director Elia Kazan.

IMDB Storyline: Terry Malloy dreams about being a prize fighter, while tending his pigeons and running errands at the docks for Johnny Friendly, the corrupt boss of the dockers union. Terry witnesses a murder by two of Johnny's thugs, and later meets the dead man's sister and feels responsible for his death. She introduces him to Father Barry, who tries to force him to provide information for the courts that will smash the dock racketeers.

Malloy is played masterfully by Marlon Brando in what might be his best performance (at least from what I've seen). The supporting is fantastic too! Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint and one of my favourites Lee J. Cobb. 

I think it's fair to say this movie was very influential and opened the door for more progressive movie makers including Scorcese and Coppola. I also believe that the Malloy character is an influence on DeNiro's Jake Lamotta in Raging Bull (1980)  and Stallone's Rocky Balboa in Rocky (1976). 

Highly recommended!!!

The Top Ten 

After some spirited debate with a friend last night I have arrived at my Top Ten Classic Film Actors and Actresses lists...

They are in no particular order - it was hard enough coming up with the lists. And, they would constantly change depending on what movie I watched last.  Not to mention, there are several other fantastic actors not on the lists! How's that for a cop out?

Top 10 Actors:

1. Humphrey Bogart
2. Cary Grant
3. Burt Lancaster
4. Peter Lorre
5. Richard Widmark
6. Tony Curtis
7. Marlon Brando
8. Fred Astaire
9. Montgomery Clift
10. Jack Lemmon

Top 10 Actresses:

1. Barbara Stanwyck
2. Grace Kelly
3. Rita Hayworth
4. Lauren Bacall
5. Ginger Rogers
6. Elizabeth Taylor
7. Shirley MacLaine
8. Marilyn Monroe
9. Mary Astor
10. Ingrid Berman

Next, I will attempt to make my Top Ten Classic Films list! God help me!

Night and the City (1950) 

Last night, I watched Night and the City (1950) again. I've only seen it a couple of times, but I have to say it's become one of my favourite Noir films. 

IMDB Synopsis:
A small-time grifter and nightclub tout takes advantage of some fortuitous circumstances and tries to become a big-time player as a wrestling promoter.

Richard Widmark is fantastic as Harry Fabian, the small-time grifter. The film also features great performances from Herbert Lom (Dreyfuss from the Pink Panther movies) and Gene Tierney.

I've talked about Richard Widmark before. I believe he is a vastly underated actor. Check out one of earlier blog entries for some more Widmark suggestions! And definitely check out Night and the City!

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943) 

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity of attending a TIFF Master Class with Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro introduced Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) then led a Q&A after the movie. Even though Guillermo was not feeling well I found him to be an absolute treasure chest of information. He brilliantly assessed the movie, gave great thought to all the questions asked of him and also displayed a great sense of humour.

Shadow of a Doubt is one of my favourite Hitchcock movies having seen it several times. I thought I knew the movie pretty well. Boy, was I wrong! Guillermo took me to school. It turns out I was missing a great deal. Small details I completely overlooked became huge talking points. I will never see the movie the same way. In fact, I plan on watching it again tonight.

If you haven't seen Shadow of a Doubt, you really should. It truly is a masterpiece!

As for Del Toro, definitely check out his work. I was a big fan of his heading into the master class and an even bigger fan heading out!

The Defiant Ones (1958) 

Wow! Am I ever behind on my blog posts? Shame on me!

Let's get back on track!

I recently watched a fantastic movie called The Defiant Ones (1958) starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.

IMDB Plot Summary:
Joker Jackson and Noah Cullen are two convicts (one black and one white) on a chain gang who hate each other. After a truck prison accident, they flee and are pursued by the police. While they're chained, the two are dependent on one another. When they eventually get rid of their chains, their hostility has been changed into fellowship and respect.

The Defiant Ones features fabulous performances by both Poitier and Curtis. Both received Oscar nominations for Best Actor, losing to David Niven in Separate Tables. The racial tension may not be as intense as No Way Out (1950), also starring Poitier, but it's certainly there. It's very interesting to watch the two convicts work their way through one racial stereotype after another, only to realize there's not much difference between them.

This is one of Tony Curtis' best performances. He is one my favourite actors. He was also great in Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Boston Strangler (1968). His autobiography is also a must read. Some classic stories!!!

Suddenly (1954) 

Frank Sinatra stars in this film noir from 1954. Sinatra plays would be assassin John Baron. Sinatra made this film just a year or so after his Academy Award winning role as Maggio in From Here To Eternity (1953). I think it was a brave choice on Sinatra's part. This is an edgy role and Sinatra's performance is quite good.

John Baron (Sinatra) is hired to assassinate the President, whose train is scheduled to stop in the small town of Suddenly. Baron and his "associates" trap the Benson family in their own home along with the local sheriff, played by Sterling Hayden.  Baron believes their hilltop home near the railroad station will make the ideal location to take his shot.

Rumour has it that Lee Harvey Oswald watched this movie a few days before the assassination of JFK. Suddenly is definitely worth a watch.

Guys and Dolls (1955) 

Confession time.

My name is Jason Raso and I love musicals. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

One of my favourites is Guys and Dolls (1955). It really is a fabulous movie. Seeing Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra together in their prime is a sight to behold. Guys and Dolls has a great cast, a great story and a great soundtrack. In addition to Brando and Sinatra, the cast included Jean Simmons, Stubby Kaye and Vivian Blaine. The soundtracks includes some fabulous songs like "Luck Be A Lady" (sung by Brando!), "If I Were a Bell" and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat" (my personal favourite).

The movie looks great too! The set and costume design is awesome. Movies like this are the reason I have such an affinity for the style of the 50's. Highly recommended!

IMDB Synopsis:

In New York, a gambler is challenged to take a cold female missionary to Havana, but they fall for each other, and the bet has a hidden motive to finance a crap game.

Grant Green 

Inspired by a recent Jazztimes article in which a musician picks 10 of his or her favourite tracks by one of their  favourite artists, I decided it was time to write about Grant Green!! Grant Green is one of  my favourite guitar players. He's certainly had the biggest influence on my guitar playing. His playing can be super funky and he can swing like hell! He's everything I want to be as a musician.

Here are my 10 tracks in no particular order...

1. My Funny Valentine - Grantstand (1961) - Grant Green was a beautiful ballad player. I've always loved this tune and hearing him play it is a real treat.

2. Cool Blues - Born to Be Blue (1962) - You can really hear Charlie Parker's influence on Green here. Green's phrasing is killer.

3. Just A Closer Walk With Thee - Feelin' The Spirit (1962) - One of my favourite Green albums. This track grooves for miles. I love the way Green delivers a melody. He makes it his own without straying too far from the original idea.

4. Joshua - Feelin' The Spirit (1962) - This is the first tune that comes to mind when I think about Grant Green. This would be the first tune I would play for someone who's never heard Green.

5. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top - Blues For Lou (1963) - I have always loved this tune. Such a great melody. I just love how Green and organ player John Patton approach the head.

6. Idle Moments - Idle Moments (1963) - Such a beautiful ballad written by pianist Duke Pearson. I love the instrumentation on this album. Green's playing on this track is beautifully melodic.

7. Django - Idle Moments (1963) - Another great tune handled deftly by Green. The rhythm section of Bob Cranshaw (b), Duke Pearson (p) and Al Harewood (d) really swings on this track.

8. I Wish You Love - Street Of Dreams (1964) - Another of my favourite Green albums. How could you go wrong a Quartet featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Larry Young on organ, Elvin Jones on drums and Green on guitar? This track is beautiful. Some of Green's finest playing, in my opinion.

9. Freedom March - Sunday Mornin' (1961) - Green's phrasing is certainly on fine display on this track.

10. Down Here On The Ground - Alive! (1970) - An anthem for funky jazz guitar players. Green kills it!