PBS Revisits America’s Civil Rights Movement With New Documentary

Courtesy: PBS

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.  That is why next month, PBS Distribution is bringing audiences what is one of so many important stories from America’s Civil Rights movement.

The Jazz Ambassadors is currently scheduled to be released on DVD on June 19.  The story centers on the so-called “Jazz Ambassadors” — jazz greats Dizzie Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck — as the group  worked with the United States government to fight the Soviet Union’s propaganda war while at the same time facing the reality of Jim Crowe laws in America.

The Jazz Ambassadors is told through archival film footage, photos, radio clips, and performance clips from the musicians and their integrated bands.  The story overall shows how the Jazz Ambassadors’ work ultimately played a key role in the Civil Rights movement at a critical moment while also serving its other purpose in foreign affairs at the same time.  A trailer for the program is streaming online now here.

The Jazz Ambassadors will retail for $24.99, but can be pre-ordered online now at a reduced price of $19.99 via PBS’ online store.  More information on The Jazz Ambassadors and other PBS programs is available online now at:

 

Website: http://www.pbs.org/

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PBS’ Richard Sherman In-Studio Concert Will Leave Audiences “Singing” Its Praises

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

John Williams. Hans Zimmer. The Sherman Brothers. One thing connects each of these names: each name is among the movie industry’s great musical minds. Each has composed some of the most well-known and beloved themes that audiences have ever heard. This past September, PBS and Public Media Distribution brought audiences a very special profile of one of those names with the release of Richard Sherman: Songs of a Lifetime. Released Sept. 5, this in-studio performance by its title figure, is a wonderful musical profile of one half of the famed Sherman Brothers creative musical team. That is due in no small part to the songs that Sherman performs for audiences. The stories that he shares along the way are just as entertaining as the songs, and in turn will be discussed later. The program’s bonus material rounds out its most important elements. Each noted element is important in its own right to the recording’s whole. All things considered, they make Richard Sherman: Songs of a Lifetime a release that will leave audiences “singing” its praises.

PBS’ recently released Richard Sherman musical documentary Songs of a Lifetime is a special new “live” recording from PBS and Public Media Distribution that is certain to leave audiences “singing” its praises. That is due in part to the recording’s songs. The songs that Sherman performs throughout the program are not limited to just his Disney compositions. Also included in this intimate setting are songs from Tom Sawyer (1973 — MGM), Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang (1968 — Pinewood Studios), Charlotte’s Web (1973 — Paramount Pictures/Hanna-Barbera Productions), Snoopy Come Home (1972 — Cinema Center Filims/Lee Mendelson Film Productions/Bill Melendez Productions/Sopwith Productions/United Features Syndicate), a Christmas tune that he composed with Joe Van Winkle titled ‘Christmas in New Orleans,’ (which was made famous by Louis Armstrong) and even his own heartfelt composition that he wrote for his wife (who is there to enjoy the song at his side) among so many others. There is even a brand new song included at the recording’s end titled ‘A Kiss Goodnight’ that is certain to move viewers of any age.

In regards to the Disney tunes featured throughout the recording, the movies featured through those songs include: Winnie The PoohMary Poppins, The Happiest Millionaire, The Jungle Book, Summer Magic, The Aristocats, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, The Parent Trap and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Needless to say, even though “only” ten movies are on that list, that is still a healthy cross-section of Sherman’s time with Walt Disney Studios. That is especially considering that some of those movies get more than one nod. Mary Poppins gets a handful of nods with the likes of ‘Feed The Birds,’ ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite,’ and ‘Through The Eyes of Love.’ Winnie The Pooh received three nods through a medley of tunes early in the performance while The Jungle Book receives its own share of representations, too. Considering the number of Disney flicks represented in this in-studio concert and the songs used to represent those movies, it goes without saying that even at “only” nine movies, the concert presents a healthy dose of Disney.

When that healthy dose of Disney is coupled with Sherman’s non-Disney compositions, the whole the recording proves quite impressive. Counting the single songs and the medleys, it is safe to say that the recording boasts at least 30 songs. Considering that the performance’s run time is roughly one hour, that is a lot of material pushed into that space, and quite well at that. Staying on that note, while the material in whole is impressive, one cannot ignore the lack of a program guide inside or outside the box printed or physical. The only program guide that does exist is in the scene selection option on the disc’s main menu. The songs are not even listed with their respective movies. Sure it seems on the surface like a not so important aesthetic element, but is in fact very important to the box’s presentation. That is especially in connection to the songs themselves. It would have been nice to have had that listing. Luckily though, as much as it detracts from the recording’s whole, it is not enough to completely ruin the program’s presentation. It just would have been nice to have had that element.

While the extensive list of songs and movies that makes up the body of Songs of a Lifetime are clearly critical to the recording’s whole, they are collectively not the DVD’s only important element. The stories that Sherman shares throughout the recording are just as important to its presentation as those songs. One of the most interesting stories that Sherman shares during his time at the keys is that of the creation of the song ‘Gold Can Buy Anything (But Love),’ which was made famous by country legend Gene Autry. Sherman tells audiences that the song came about after the Sherman brothers’ father (who was himself a well-known and respected musical mind) jokingly told his sons that the pair, even with their college degrees, “couldn’t write a song that a kid would give up his lunch money to buy.” He also notes that the song was the Sherman Brothers’ very first published song, and was written because country western music was big at the time. Another interesting anecdote that Sherman shares in the program tells the story of how Louis Prima and his band ended up as King Louie and his apes in The Jungle Book. He explains that Walt Disney himself sent Sherman and company to a Las Vegas night club where Prima and company were performing, showed them the movie and convinced them to star. There is a little more to the story here, but that will be left to viewers to discover. It goes without saying that the rest of the story (as a certain radio announcer used to say) will leave audiences laughing happily. As if that isn’t enough to get viewers interested, Sherman also shares a moving story tying the creation of the song ‘It Changes’ (from Snoopy Come Home) to how he and others felt when Walt Disney died in 1966 from lung cancer. While the story is short, it is a story that, when coupled with the emotion of the song, will deeply touch audiences as it illustrates expertly that story. When this and the stories featured throughout the concert are joined with the recording’s featured songs, the whole of that material gives audiences more than enough to appreciate here. Even with this in mind, that whole is still not all that audiences will appreciate. The program’s bonus material rounds out its most important elements.

The bonus material included in Songs of a Lifetime is so important because of what it adds to the program’s overall presentation. Audiences learn through this roughly four-minute discussion from 2015, Sherman’s thoughts on PBS’ Walt Disney profile American Experience: Walt Disney. Audiences learn that Sherman approved of that doc, even as it didn’t just sing Disney’s praises, but instead showed both sides of Walt Disney — the good and bad. He also discusses his emotion at holding the interview in Disney’s office, the very place where he, his brother and Walt Disney crafted so many hit tunes. That revelation will capture audiences just as much as anything else in his interview. Audiences also learn that the guest performers included in the recording were hand chosen for the program by Sherman himself. They weren’t just random selections by some faceless person or group. This is all just a sample of what is presented in Sherman’s bonus interview. When it is coupled with the rest of the interview’s discussions, the whole gives audiences even more to to appreciate. The behind-the-scenes photos montage adds one last touch to the whole as it couples the songs from the main feature with the noted photos for an experience that, as simple as it is, is certain to entertain audiences, too. When this is set alongside Sherman’s short but in-depth interview and the program’s main feature, the whole of those elements makes Songs of a Lifetime a presentation that will most certainly leave audiences “singing” its praises.

PBS and PBS’ Distribution’s recently released Richard Sherman “live” recording Songs of a Lifetime is a work that is certain to impress audiences. That is due in no small part to the recording’s featured songs. The songs featured in the program include not only Sherman’s work with Disney, but with other studios and even his own compositions. All in all, they paint a vivid picture of his career, showing why he remains today such a respected figure (along with his brother). The stories that Sherman shares throughout the performance add even more interest to the program’s whole. At times funny and at others emotional, Sherman’s stories are just as certain to keep viewers engaged and entertained as his songs. The bonus material included in the program puts the finishing touch on its program thanks to its own information. Each noted element is critical in its own way to the program’s whole. All things considered, they make this presentation one that will most certainly leave audiences “singing” its praise. Richard Sherman: Songs of a Lifetime is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other titles from PBS is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org

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The Spirit Of Satch Is Anything But Another Covers Album

Courtesy:  Concord Records

Courtesy: Concord Records

Covers albums, like greatest hits albums, are among the most overly used records in the music industry.  Regardless of genre, there are almost as many covers and hits albums in stores and online every year as there are albums of new music from artists across the genres.  The problem with these albums is that it’s obvious that they are nothing more than fillers used for the purpose of contractual obligations.  One listen through their track listings proves this. For all of the forgettable covers and hits albums that pollute store shelves and online outlets each year, there are thankfully those diamonds in the rough that actually stand out among the masses.  Those hidden gems show that for all of the space fillers that are out there, there are those artists that take covers albums, hits albums and tribute records with at least a certain amount of seriousness.  One of those hidden gems that has been revealed in 2014 comes from veteran performer Dr. John in the form of his Louis Armstrong covers/tribute album Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch.  This thirteen-track record is more than just a collection of covers from one of the greatest names in the industry.  The covers included on this record exhibit not only the spirit of Satchmo, but also the very creative spirit of music itself.  While the songs on this record are largely full-blown re-imaginings of Armstrong’s original works, the creativity used in each song will lead this record to grow on even the most hardline of Louis Armstrong fans.  And it all starts right off the top with Dr. John’s re-imagining of Armstrong’s greatest hit, ‘What A Wonderful World.’  Dr. John’s jazzy cover of ‘I’ve Got The World on a String’ will most certainly impress audiences as it’s one of the few songs on this record that stays close to the original work.  The addition of blues great Bonnie Raitt doesn’t hurt the song, either.  And his collaboration with the famed Dirty Dozen Brass Band on ‘When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You’ is the perfect closer for this record.  As impressive as these songs prove to be in the long run, they’re only part of what makes Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch such a rare release.  The album’s other ten tracks are worth their own listen, too.  And in hearing all thirteen tracks on this disc, any listener will agree that this record definitely stands out as one of this year’s truly rare covers/tribute albums worth hearing.

Dr. John’s new Louis Armstrong covers/tribute album Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch is one of 2014’s rare covers/tribute albums that is actually worth audiences’ attention.  And it isn’t just because it is from one of the most respected names in the music industry today.  That is proven right off the top with his cover of Armstrong’s most beloved of songs, ‘What A Wonderful World.’  Dr. John collaborated on this cover with gospel greats The Blind Boys of Alabama and fellow New Orleans native Nicholas Paton.  At first listen, the song will most certainly leave some audiences scratching their heads.  That is because it is a completely re-imagined take on the classic tune.  Rather than taking the safe route here, Dr. John and company give the song a decidedly upbeat almost gospel-style turn, making it into more of a celebratory song than the more reserved piece which audiences have come to know.  Of course that is thanks to the inclusion of The Blind Boys of Alabama on this take.  It may not grab some audiences at first.   But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  That’s because it will grow on said audiences that give the song more than one chance.  Those audiences will realize that the more celebratory tone, as different as it may be, actually works when one takes into consideration the song’s lyrics.  Armstrong once sang on this song of all of the things that make the world so, well, wonderful.   Audiences that take that into consideration will in turn appreciate this rendition for the surprisingly positive re-working that it proves to be in the long run.  And in doing so, it will lead audiences to give this album’s other songs just as much of a chance, too.

If the re-imagining of ‘What A Wonderful World’ doesn’t win over listeners, then perhaps his duet with fellow blues legend Bonnie Raitt on ‘I’ve Got The World on a String’ will.  This hybrid jazzy/bluesy cover comes as close to the original as possible without actual mirroring said song.  Raitt and John both pay proper tribute to Armstrong in this take.  Audiences that are familiar with both artists’ style will be pleasantly surprised by their ability to balance the song’s jazz roots with their own bluesy addition to the composition.  Audiences that have heard Tony Bennett and k.d. Lang’s Armstrong covers album won’t be able to ignore the comparison to their covers here.  That’s because both Raitt and John exhibit a true reverence for Armstrong’s work here more than anywhere else on the album.  That reverence will most certainly have purist Armstrong fans dancing arm in arm and *ahem* cheek to cheek (bad pun fully intended here).

Dr. John’s duet with Bonnie Raitt on his cover of ‘I’ve Got The World on a String’ is without a doubt this record’s peak moment.  Coming in a close second is the cover of ‘When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You).’  The song, which features Dr. John’s fellow New Orleans musicians in The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, closes out the album.  And such a song proves to be the perfect way to close out such an imaginative collection of covers.  The song’s run time comes in at just under three minutes.  To be exact, it clocks in at two minutes and forty-two seconds.  Dr. John takes a back seat throughout most of the song, letting the members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band have the spotlight instead.  For those audiences that are less familiar with the work of the band, this song is a wonderful first impression from its members.  Those that are more familiar with the band’s body of work will be just as impressed with the ability of the band members to mix its trademark Dixieland sound with a more Latin-tinged sound.  The end result is one more truly creative and original cover of one more of Armstrong’s most beloved works.

The collaboration with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band as the final number for Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch proves to be the perfect way to close this record.  That is because it once more exhibits Dr. John’s respect for Louis Armstrong’s legacy and Armstrong himself.  Just as with all of the songs that come before it, it pays homage to Armstrong’s legacy by balancing the song’s original sound with something of a more original arrangement.  In this case, it doesn’t stray too far from the original tune.  Because it doesn’t, it is sure to leave listeners with that warm, happy feeling of nostalgia.  And what better way to go out after such an intriguing musical ride than with that warm, happy feeling?  By the song’s end, audiences will agree that having heard it and the album’s other songs, Ske-Dat-De-Dat is anything but another run-of-the-mill covers album.  It is one of the most creative covers/tribute albums released by any artist to date.

Ske-Dat-De-Dat­: The Spirit of Satch is available now online and in stores everywhere.  Fans can order it online now direct from Dr. John’s official Facebook page and website at http://www.facebook.com/DrJohn and http://www.nitetripper.com.  Audiences can also purchase Dr. John’s new album at any of his upcoming live performances.  Fans can check out Dr. John’s tour itinerary now on both sites as well.  They can also keep up with all of the latest news and updates from the man himself on both sites.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Avi’s ‘Night Light” Is a Bright Musical Light

Courtesy:  Little Monster Records

Courtesy: Little Monster Records

Singer Zee Avi’s latest album Night Light is available today. The third album from the Malaysian born singer, it is also the first family album that she has ever released. It goes without saying that her first venture into that realm has produced what is one of the most intriguing records of the year in the realm of family and children’s music. The nine-track disc is comprised primarily of covers from some of the most well-known names in the music industry, including: Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, and Bobby McFerrin. There is also a cover of the famed ‘Rainbow Connection’ from Jim Henson’s original Muppet Movie that any Muppets fan will enjoy. And audiences will agree that her cover of the Louis Armstrong hit ‘Dream A Little Dream’ is absolutely beautiful, even if they aren’t fans of jazz. It all closes with a medley of well-known children’s songs aptly titled ‘Nightlight Medley.’ It’s a fitting closer for the album that will leave a smile on the face of any listener young and old alike. Having been left with that smile, listeners will agree that Night Light is an album that any family should hear at least once this year.

Night Light opens with what can best be described as the most intriguing cover of Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ that this critic has ever heard. Avi’s take on the song gives it a decidedly different identity than McFerrin’s original tune. She incorporates what sounds like a tabla and a rather interesting bass instrument. The combination of the two instruments set against Avi’s almost siren-like singing sets her take on McFerrin’s song completely apart from any other cover of the song currently out there. Even as she sings, listeners will note that Avi doesn’t simply try to cover McFerrin’s original work. Rather she actually makes it her own without completely losing the original altogether. It definitely is something that must be heard to be fully understood and appreciated.

Avi’s cover of ‘Don’t Worry, He Happy’ is definitely original. That goes without saying. On the other side of the proverbial coin, she sticks more to the original work when in her cover of ‘Dream a Little Dream’ The song, originally made famous by jazz legend Louis Armstrong, is made even more interesting with what sounds like a ukulele. Even with the combination of Avi’s gentle vocals and ukulele in the place of Armstrong’s famed trumpet and gravelly voice, the song is still as wonderful as ever. The true irony of Avi’s vocal style here is its similarity to that of Billie Holiday. Some might call it a stretch. But a close side by side comparison reveals the similarity. It is slight. But once listeners hear it, they will agree as to Avi’s high level of talent, being compared to such a great.

The album’s closer, ‘Nightlight Medley’ offers listeners a pair of classic children’s tunes. It is is the perfect closer for listeners. It starts with Avi’s rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’ She starts off by singing it in English before proceeding to sing the song in her native tongue. There’s something special about hearing this song known around the world in a language completely unknown to most listeners. From ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, Avi moves on to ‘Four and Twenty Black Birds Baked in a Pie.’ She gives even this song its own twist as she sings. As with the other covers included in this album, it is one that absolutely must be heard in order to understand and appreciate the new life and identity that Avi has given the song.

Night Light is available in stores and online now. It can be ordered online now via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00J566VDA/ref=s9_simh_gw_p15_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=03S45350NRFN0W5ATJBW&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1688200382&pf_rd_i=507846. Audiences can keep up with the latest from Zee Avi after ordering her CD online at http://www.facebook.com/zeeavi and http://www.zeeavi.com. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Zee Avi To Release First Ever Family Album This Spring

Courtesy:  Little Monsters Records

Courtesy: Little Monsters Records

Malaysian-American singer/musician Zee Avi will release her latest album this Spring.

Night Light, which is a collection of covers of family favorite songs, will be released Tuesday, April 15th. It is the first ever family for the artist who has also released albums via Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records. The album includes covers of Louis Armstrong’s ‘Dream a Little Dream’, Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Circle Game’, and even ‘Colors of the Wind’ from Disney’s Pocahontas among many others. It was produced by Little Monster Records head Kevin Salem at his company’s studios in Woodstock, New York and conjures thoughts of Avi’s earliest releases. Salem noted of the overall fell of Night Light, “There’s a lot of soul and great musical nourishment here.”

Zee, who is a Malaysian native, has recognized her as one of the Top 10 Malaysians. She won the International Youth Award in her home country in 2011. These honors have led to numerous speaking engagements around the world and performances at some of the world’s biggest festivals. Those festivals include: Borneo’s Rain Forest World Music Festival, Australia’s Byron Bay Festival, San Francisco’s Noise Pop Fesitval, Austin’s SXSW Festival, New York’s Mountain Jam Festival, Lilith Fair, Bonnaroo, and San Diego’s Street Scene. She was also just recently tapped to perform at the KiddieComm family music festival in Philadelphia, PA on June 28th.

More information on Zee Avi’s upcoming performances and album is available online at http://www.zeeavi.com, http://www.facebook.com/zeeavi, and http://twitter.com/ZeeAvi. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.