Thursday, June 18, 2009

“Heaven…I’m in Heaven…”

Howdy, folks. I’m very sorry to be so inconsistent in posting over the last few days, & I’m also sorry to be pretty sketchy on visits to others’ blogs. Life, as they say, is happening at a somewhat alarming rate, & I’m going thru a bit (or maybe a bit more than a bit) of a creative trough right now. But onward & upward, right? I’m honestly not sure whether I’ll post tomorrow or not, but I do have posts for both Saturday & Sunday in the bank. Thanks for hanging with me.

I love to watch Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire films—they’re funny & they’re elegant & they feature great songs by the likes of Gershwin & Jerome Kern & Irving Berlin, as well as (for my money) Hollywood’s greatest dance couple, who also happen to be very appealing even when they’re not on the dance floor.

There’s always a gre
at debate about what made them such a dazzling couple—Katherine Hepburn’s famous observation that “He gives her class and she gives him sex” may be seen as a bit left-handed, but it is a starting point; of course Roger Ebert's rejoinder was "They both had class and sex was never the point." This corrects one flaw in Hepburn's quip, because Kate's assessment seems to leave out the very important fact that in addition to her great beauty, Ginger Rogers was a very talented actresses—her comic gifts certainly are on display in the Astaire-Rogers films, but she’s able to portray a wide range of emotions as those who’ve seen such films as Bachelor Mother, Vivacious Lady, Stage Door or Kitty Foyle can attest. I have read commentators who’ve conjectured that Roger’s acting gifts enabled her to be the dancer she was on screen; it’s true that she didn’t have Astaire’s training, but the famous quip about her doing everything he did “backwards & in high heels” has a lot of truth to it, too. Astaire said of Rogers: “Ginger was brilliantly effective. She made everything work for her. Actually she made things very fine for both of us and she deserves most of the credit for our success.” & here’s great character actor Edward Everett Horton’s assessment: "Believe me, Ginger was great. She contributed her full fifty percent in making them such a great team. She could follow Fred as if one brain was thinking. She blended with his every step and mood immaculately. He was able to do dances on screen that would have been impossible to risk if he hadn't had a partner like Ginger - as skillful as she was attractive."

Astaire himself is always elegant—quick with a quip, & obviously a marvelous & graceful dancer. His rhythm & timing are impeccable. I also enjoy both Astaire’s & Rogers singing voices—I know there’s open debate on that subject, particularly about Astaire, but there is always a great presence & engagement in their singing. Listen to what some pretty major composers had to say about Astaire’s singing (per Wikipedia, & with footnotes):

Irving Berlin considered Astaire the equal of any male interpreter of his songs - "as good as Jolson, Crosby or Sinatra, not necessarily because of his voice, but for his conception of projecting a song." Jerome Kern considered him the supreme male interpreter of his songs and Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer also admired his unique treatment of their work.

So for your enjoyment, here’s the Alice in Wonder Band’s tribute to Fred & Ginger—our version of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” recorded at our last ever show, December 2004 at the Alpine Playhouse in McCall, ID. Line-up: Deadre Chase, vocal; Art Troutner, oboe; Bob George, clarinet; Eberle Umbach, concert bells; yours truly, baritone uke. Of course, “Cheek to Cheek” comes from what may be my favorite Astaire-Rogers film, Top Hat (tho my all-time favorite number in that film would be “Isn’t It a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain”).

& as an added bonus, following that, check out Ginger & Fred performing this number!

Hope you enjoy, & thanks again everybody!


  1. Very nice, John. Gee, I had forgotten how beautiful Ginger was. It's nice to see clips of those old movies. Enjoyed your band, too. Thanks.

  2. I agree with the assessment of Ginger Rogers' many talents. She was an asset to the team, and obviously a strong enough performer to do quite successfully on her own. Astaire, along with the athleticism of his early dancing (it takes an athlete to appear that graceful), was one of those performers whose range grew as he grew older. His voice, his acting, even his dancing, I think, improved as he aged. They both deserve a lot of credit, together and separately.

  3. Hi Linda & Jacqueline:

    Linda: Thanks! Yes, Ginger was a very beautiful woman. Glad you enjoyed this.

    Jacqueline: Thanks for pointing out the athleticism. It seems to be a bit of a cliche that Astaire was "graceful" & Gene Kelly was "athletic," but you're absolutely right about Astaire's-- & Roger's-- athleticism. You don't go flying gracefully around a dance floor (or dance on roller skates, e.g.!) without a lot of athleticism. As far as Rogers goes, she really is one of my all-time favorite actresses.

  4. Very creative arrangement. Love the bells and uke!

    Here's a great one sans Ginger, from Holiday Inn.

  5. When in a younger year, accompanied by the smiles and embrace of my dancing Dad, tap and ballroom dancing filled many a day. Thanks for smiles and dancing memories anew. Your posts are deeply appreciated.

  6. Hi K: Thanks a lot-- you definitely picked the right two instruments to single out as far as we're concerned!

    Your link doesn't seem to work, but I do like Holiday Inn. My favorite Ginger-less Astaire film is Damsel in Distress.

    Hi Rose Marie: That's cool, I've always thought tap dancing must be fun. So glad you enjoyed it.

  7. I enjoyed that version of Cheek to Cheek by your gang. Sweet sounds.

    On my playlist there's a Cheek to Cheek with Stephani Grapelli and Yehudi Menuhin you might like. (It's on the little machine and you can click on the song, or the top for a new window.)

  8. Now there's a class act - popping in to say hey, I may be disappearing for a few days. I wish I had done that, instead of just crawling into a hole and pulling it in after me.

    Thank you for the Fred Astaire. I am a Fred fan from way back.

  9. Hi folks (i.e., René & Sandra): I'm back! Sorry I haven't been able to get to your comments earlier.

    René: As you may have noticed in my comment today on YisR, I really like that version of "Cheek to Cheek" you have playing over there. Glad you liked the Alice in Wonder Band; we were a bit shaggy, but we had lots of fun & I think folks had fun at our shows.

    Sandra: Hey, we all need some time occasionally. Just glad you're ok!

  10. I love that song, and have watched that youtube video, I started to do something with it illustration-wise a while back...Time to revisit?

  11. Hi ArtSparker:

    I'd love to see what you could do with F&G dancing Cheek to Cheek.

  12. Oh! I missed the Fred Astaire post! I adore Fred Astaire. I'm just enjoying introducing my husband to some of his films. We watched Easter Parade a little while ago and Kevin just loved it. For me, personally, I could watch FA for hours on end! I heard he was a really tough task-master, but man, could he dance! I even liked his singing - it wasn't as strong as some of the others, but it was charming, wasn't it?



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