Hearing Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet’s New Holiday Music Album is Anything But Foolish

Courtesy: HouseKat Records

Jazz vocal group Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet is going its part to get audiences into the holiday mindset this year.  The group is doing so through its brand new holiday music record, Fools for Yule.  Released Monday through HouseKat Records, the 11-song record is a relatively good choice for a musical background for any uptown/upscale holiday party. That is proven through its combination of originals and covers.  Among the most notable of the featured covers is the record’s opener, ‘I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.’  This song will be addressed shortly.  ‘It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas’ is the most notable of the record’s originals and will be examined a little later.  Another notable original featured here is ‘Santa Dear, Where’s Mine?’ This song takes a rather unique approach to the classic story of Santa making his rounds every year.  It will also be discussed later.  Each song noted here does its own part to make Fools for Yule enjoyable.  When they are considered with the rest of the record’s featured works, the whole makes FoolsfFor Yule worth hearing at least once.

Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet’s new holiday music collection, Fools for Yule, is an interesting addition to this year’s field of new holiday music records.  It is a presentation that does well to help set the mood at most holiday parties.  That is proven in its originals and covers alike.  The most notable of the record’s featured covers is the collection’s opener, ‘I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.’  Originally composed by famed songwriter Irving Berlin (the man behind hit songs, such as ‘White Christmas,’ Puttin’ on the Ritz,’ and ‘Happy Holiday’) for the timeless 1954 musical, White Christmas, the group’s take on the song is a nice take on the song.  Given, the original composition is a full, big-band presentation.  This rendition is a pleasant small group interpretation.  The gentle, flowing time keeping alongside the equally catchy melody performed on the vibraphone makes for such a wonderfully warm musical base for the group’s cover.  Audiences can kind of sense the big band approach taken to the original composition here what with the noted instrumentation.  The vocal approach also hints at the vintage, original take.  At the same time, presented here, it also conjures thoughts of more intimate vocal style from the likes of The Andrews Sisters.  It is a nice update on a standard that despite being a standard is far less commonplace in so many holiday music collections than so many other songs.  Keeping all of that in mind, the song is its own nice addition to the record.  It is just one of the songs that makes the record worth hearing, too.  The group’s original song, ‘It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas’ is also of note.

‘It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas’ is another work that finds Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet really throwing back to the golden age of jazz.  This song sounds like it came right off of Broadway.  That is evidenced through the combination of the multi-part vocal harmony and the gentle instrumentation, the subtle bass line, drums, and piano line.  The equally gentle vibraphone line adds even more warmth to the song as it gets its own moment in the limelight.  The whole makes the song sound just as much like it belongs in some upscale jazz club as on the stages of Broadway.

The lyrical theme that accompanies the song adds to the song’s interest in its own right.  That is because a close listen reveals the song to be quite the contemplative in its lyrical content.  The song’s subject is someone who feels that even being the “best time of the year,” it just doesn’t feel that way for a variety of reasons.  The most common reason is that the song’s subject is without that figure of adoration.  There is also some rumination here about being at a certain age.  As if that is not enough, the song’s subject even sings about having put up a tree and hoping it would boost his/her spirits, but that did not work because that love interest was not there.  That’s a pretty heavy thought, to be honest.  Yet because of the upbeat nature of the song’s musical arrangement, what would have otherwise been a brooding mindset throws back, again, to the kind of wishful thinking style songs that were and are so commonplace in the old musicals of days gone by.  It gives the song in whole such a unique presentation that stands on its own merits.  Keeping that in mind, it is another addition to this record that makes the collection worth hearing, and hardly the last, too.  ‘Santa Dear, Where’s Mine?’ is yet another notable addition to the record.

‘Santa Dear, Where’s Mine?’ is so interesting because it does something that few if any other holiday songs do.  It presents Mrs. Claus as a frustrated spouse who is less than happy about her husband going out on his yearly round the world trip.  She sings in this light, swinging tune, that she understands and appreciates all that he does not only on Christmas, but year round in order to be ready for Christmas.  At the same time, she feels unappreciated because he stays so busy, asking, “Where’s mine?”  She is asking Old St. Nick, “Where is her present?”  On the surface, the song is a great, unique work on that level.  On another level though, the matter of a wife who feels like she is playing second fiddle to her husband’s work and other interests is nothing new.  That in itself is a much more common theme in so much jazz and even blues.  To that end, it makes the song that much more accessible to audiences. The addition of the noted light, swinging musical arrangement, complete with a subtle throwback to the standard, ‘Santa Claus is Coming To Town’ makes the song even more infectious and enjoyable.  That is because there is a certain irony in thinking about Santa coming to town while Mrs. Claus is left back at the North Pole.  It adds even more to the song’s impact.  All things considered, the whole of the song’s musical and lyrical content shows what makes ‘Santa Dear, Where’s Mine?’ a notable addition to Fools for Yule.  What’s more, it works with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the record’s works to leave no doubt about the record’s overall impact.  It all comes together to make Fools for Yule a holiday musical collection that is worth hearing at least once.

Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet’s brand new holiday music collection, Fools for Yule, is an interesting addition to this year’s field of new holiday music releases.  Its interest is proven through its musical and lyrical content alike in each of its songs.  That is proven through all three of the songs examined here.  When those songs are considered along with the rest of the record’s featured works, the whole makes Fools for Yule a holiday record that will fit with any holiday party this year. 

Fools for Yule is available now through HouseKat Records.  More information on the album is available along with all of the group’s latest news at:

Website: https://uptownvocaljazz.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uptownvocaljazzquartet1

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.  

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty A Surprisingly Enjoyable Story For A Reboot

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/Samuel Goldwyn Pictures

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/Samuel Goldwyn Pictures

More often than not, Hollywood’s seemingly undying hunger for prequels, sequels, and remakes has led to some of the movie industry’s worst movies in memory in recent years. However, the 2013 remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye classic The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has proven to be the rare exception to that rule. One part Death of a Salesman and one part Forrest Gump, this last movie of 2013 is also the year’s best. This is despite the fact that it is just one more on the industry’s ever-growing list of prequels, sequels, and remakes. The very first factor in the success of this updated story is its writing. Writer Steve Conrad has taken author James Thurber’s original story and updated it in a way that works even despite being changed around so much.  Also to be taken into consideration is the acting of the cast.  Veteran actress Shirley MacClaine (Downton Abbey), comedienne Kristen Wiig (SNL), and Adam Scott (Parks & Rec) each expertly carry out their roles and make the story all the richer.  The same can also be said of surprise guest stars Patton Oswalt and Sean Penn.  The last aspect of the movie to consider in its success is its cinematography.  The scenes shot in Greenland and Iceland were beautiful to say the very least.  The same can be said of so many other scenes that make up Walter’s fantasies and his real life adventures.  That aspect comes together with the cast, its acting, and the general writing to make this movie one of the biggest surprises of 2013.

Writer Steve Conrad’s adaptation of author James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not the first time that the story has been adapted to the big screen.  Its first big screen adaptation was in 1947.  Little changed from that story–penned by writers Ken Englund, Everett Freeman, and Philip Rapp–and this latest take on Thurber’s story.  The one big difference between the two stories is that the original adaptation was a rom-com.  Conrad’s update is more of a human drama that centers on overcoming the fear of life’s uncertainties and taking risks.  Typically, making such a drastic change is a formula for disaster.  But this case is a very rare exception to the rule.  Somehow, Conrad has managed to make his story work.  And he has managed to do so in so many ways.  What he offers audiences in this adaptation is the story of a man that sets out to find a photograph, but ends up finding himself in the long run.  It’s all brought on as Life magazine, the magazine he works for is preparing to release its very last print issue before it becomes an entirely online entity.  This is another aspect of Conrad’s script that makes it work so well.  That’s because it is such a real story element.

The use of Life magazine transitioning from a print outlet to an entirely online entity is a hugely useful tool to advance this story.  That’s because of its realism.  So many branches of the print media have transitioned mainly to an online presence in order to survive in the digital age.  That transition makes for a lot of uncertainty in any number of individuals’ lives including the story’s lead character.  It’s that uncertainty of the future that forces Walter to make his daydreams become reality.  And Stiller’s take on Walter as he grows through his adventures serves to make the story all the richer.

Steve Conrad’s updated take on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is surprisingly enjoyable despite being an update on one of Hollywood’s classic movies.  The human drama that makes up the story’s main plot does so much to make the story work.  The same can be said of the acting of lead Ben Stiller and his cast mates.  He makes his take on his character one that is entirely believable as Walter grows from a socially awkward wallflower type of figure to a more self-confident man.  His isn’t the only portrayal that makes the story work, either.  Surprise guest star Patton Oswalt is spot on as a tech rep with e-harmony.  He interacts with Walter solely via phone throughout most of the story.  Even over the phone, those moments make for so many laughs.  Just as funnier is the reveal of Oswalt’s character late in the movie.  His joke of what he thought Walter would look like compared to his own looks makes for one of so many classic moments throughout the story.  Adam Scott plays the story’s antagonist, Ted Hendricks, that comes in to Life as a “cleaner” of sorts responsible for downsizing the magazine’s staff.  He was just as much on spot in his role as the rest of the cast in its roles.  He is a completely cold, despicable figure that cares only about his own advancement.  He makes audiences cheer happily for Walter both when he confronts him in his daydream and for real later in the story.  That’s the sign of an actor fully grasping his character and getting the job done.  The same can be said of supporting actress Shirley MacClaine as Walter’s mom.  She is Walter’s only real source of support among everyone around him.  And one can feel the love that Walter’s mom has for him, too.  Anyone that doesn’t laugh and smile at the pair’s personal moments have no heart.  That ability of the cast to reach audiences on so many emotional levels is just as important as the script itself in this story’s success.  The story’s success doesn’t end here, either.  There is one more aspect of this movie that makes it successful.  That aspect is the movie’s cinematography.

The cinematography of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is beyond belief.  From Walter’s imaginary fight scenes with Ted to his real life adventure across Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan, the camera crews and editors went beyond the call of duty.  The contrast of Walter set against the giant magazine covers that lined the halls of Life make for their own statement.  That’s because as Walter runs past the covers, audiences see the figures on each cover turn to Walter’s face.  It makes for a statement of his dreams potentially becoming reality.  And in its own right, it is also a foreshadowing of sorts, not to reveal too much for those that haven’t yet seen.  These are just some of the examples of the expert cinematography that is exhibited throughout the course of the story.  There is much more for audiences to see for themselves.  And they will indeed find so much when they watch this story for themselves.  And together with its casting and writing, audiences will find so much to applaud in this movie; so much in fact that they will agree that despite being a reboot, it still proves to be 2013’s best new movie.

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