Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MP3-Photo Travelogue: The Windy City and All That Jazz

So last week I'm on the plane back to Vancouver working on the crossword in The Onion (HQ'd in Chicago) when I'm feel a tinge of sadness as I look at 32-down: "CN or Sears". You see the day before I landed in Chicago, this clue was invalidated when it was announced that this summer it will henceforth be known as the Willis Tower after Willis Group Holdings, a London-based Insurance broker, who are consolidating their offices there. Sigh, I guess. Apparently Sears vacated the building and moved to the suburbs in the mid-90's, though retained the naming rights until 2003.

Today we've got a fine selection of covers from the musical Chicago by John Kander & Fred Ebb sprinkled in with photos and blurbs about my trip.

Lea DeLaria - All That Jazz [originally by Kander/Ebb]
I found this great jazz cover on a "Best Of" album by Lea DeLaria that combines covers of showtunes and modern songs from her first two albums. Her 2006 album Double Standards includes swing jazz covers of Green Day, No Doubt, The Pretenders, and more. The world of Broadway covers is woefully underpopulated, so while looking up Lea DeLaria I was absolutely thrilled to stumble upon an Avenue Q Swings album of jazz covers, to which she contributed an Ella Fitzgerald-esque take on The Internet is for Porn. I'm lucky to have seen Avenue Q twice in London and Toronto, the latter instance in front row dead centre (thanks to my sister!). If you haven't seen it, you should go out of your way to check it out.

Lil' Kim, Macy Gray & Queen Latifah - Cell Block Tango [originally by Kander/Ebb]
As much as I love the music of Chicago, I don't really consider any of the songs from the film cover songs exactly... in the same way that multiple productions of plays or musicals aren't "remakes". The only exception on the film's soundtrack is this questionable rap riff on the Cell Block Tango.

Above are couple screen caps from The Untouchables and The Dark Knight, plus my own shot of LaSalle street. Honestly I don't listen to very many podcasts, but I am addicted to Filmspotting, which means alongside The AV Club and Ebert, 99% of the film criticism I pay attention to is Chicago-based. Hmmm. While in Chicago, I took the opportunity to do a little filmspotting of my own since a bunch of films I love including The Fugitive and The Untouchables were set/filmed there. I checked out Union Station, where Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness famously dropped a baby carriage down the steps in suuuuuper slooooow mooootion in the middle of a shootout. In reality, those steps are not quite as epic as I had pictured, ha ha. Strolling around downtown is a bit like walking through Gotham City since Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were recognizably filmed there. It was pretty cool to walk down LaSalle street, which pulled double duties as the site of Commissioner Loeb's funeral procession and later when the Joker's 18-wheeler flips over.

Uwe Kröger - All I Care About [originally by Kander/Ebb]
A soothing bossa nova jazz cover from German Broadway star Uwe Kröger, who you may remember from some Bond covers back in November. Spent a nice afternoon at the Chicago Art Institute, which has a bunch of famous paintings from the likes of Hopper, Seurat, and Van Gogh, though a couple other notables like American Gothic and Picasso's The Old Guitarist were on vacation. I was pretty stoked to see a small but sweet exhibition on children's author/Disney storyboarder Bill Peet. Below is an original drawing from Farewell to Shady Glade, one of my faves.

Ella Fitzgerald - Roxie [originally by Kander/Ebb]
Ella Fitzgerald - My Own Best Friend [originally by Kander/Ebb]
These two covers are a bit of a rarity from a dusty 7" inch I tracked down for about $10 since it was stunningly never re-issued in any other format. The legendary Ella Fitzgerald serves up an irresistible take on Roxie with some customized lyrics. Lots of fun. Roxie is actually the b-side to My Own Best Friend, a track from the original musical that didn't quite make it into the 2002 film adaptation. Theoretically I've seen the musical in person too, but I honestly don't recognize this one. For Chicago ethusiasts, I recently discovered a cool album on eMusic, An Evening with John Kander and Fred Ebb, a 1973 concert of the original composers performing their works including All That Jazz and Roxie two years before Chicago would even hit Broadway! Speaking of which, Chazz Palminteri brought his one-man Broadway show A Bronx Tale to Chicago and I took in a Sunday performance. You may have seen the 1993 film adaptation, which marked Robert De Niro's directorial debut. Unfortunately after a full day of trudging around downtown and the Chicago Art Institute, I was nodding off a bit at the back of the theatre. Eep.

Ben Vereen & The Muppets - Mr. Cellophane [originally by Kander/Ebb]
Joel Grey & The Muppets - Razzle Dazzle [originally by Kander/Ebb]
These two Chicago covers were both performed in the first season of The Muppet Show just a year after the musical had opened on Broadway. It was St. Patrick's Day weekend when I visited Chicago (not unplanned), so I was able to take in the dyeing of the river and parade. The river itself is already a murky shade of green, but some sort of powder with carefully guarded secret ingredients is tossed off the back of the boat to transform the water into a wonderfully nuclear green. Between the river dyeing to the site of the parade, I got a bit trapped with hundreds of lost pedestrians on Lower Wacker Drive, wandering aimlessly underground for some sort of way up to street level. Fifteen minutes later we emerged from a tunnel onto Columbus Drive to cries of "Natural light! Beautiful sunshine!" After about an hour of the parade, I had more than my fill of marching bands, curly-haired step dancers, and union workers, so I cheated and made my way backwards along the parade route to the beginning where I found a logjam of floats/entries rearing to go. At that rate, the parade was going to continue for several more hours so off I went to see Wrigley Field.

The White Stripes - Mr. Cellophane [originally by Kander/Ebb]
The Alice Russell show at Schuba's Tavern was a blast. Local funk/soul act The O'My's were an unexpected treat, dutifully warming up the room before Alice Russell and her band took to the stage. She was traveling light on this tour with her album horn section filled in by a guy playing an electric violin thing that looked like it was designed by Picasso. This made things interesting when she performed her cover of Seven Nation Army. Needless to say, I left plenty satisfied. The next night I was invited by a roommate at the hostel to go to the nearby Legends, a blues club owned by Buddy Guy. It was an offer I couldn't refuse since I wanted to go but probably wouldn't have on my own. It was nearly 5 hours straight of great blues music and I got a super rare treat when Buddy Guy himself was coaxed up from the bar to sing a song before disappearing. It was the highlight of what was an already great evening of music, not unlike Buddy Guy's appearance in last year's Rolling Stone concert flick Shine a Light, which also featured a guest appearance by Jack White. The White Stripes performed this Mr. Cellophane cover on the World Café radio show, presumably around the time Jack was dating Renee Zellweger who was nominated for an Oscar as Roxie Hart in Chicago.

Mr. President is not pleased with this shirt. Plenty of tacky souvenirs available in Chicago including a life-sized cardboard cutout of Obama on sale on the 99th floor of the Tower Formerly Known as Sears.


Jowey said...

GREAT post, Fong. Like yourself, I'm a bit of a Chicago nut, though I hail from Tennessee. Been there many times, my most recent in 2007. Here's a 7 minute video of some of my pictures from that trip, set to music.


The first track is actually a cover, Downtown, originally by the Yellowjackets, performed by the man, Kurt Elling. Track 2 is Miles Ahead, by Miles Davis.

You took great pics, do you use a fancy DSLR, or are you point and shoot? I've always said it's more about the photographer than the camera, the camera I used back in 2007 was a point and shoot Sony. But your pictures had great clarity and wonderful composition. Keep up the great work!

Fongolia said...

Nice photos yourself-- makes me want to go back to Chicago right away to do everything I missed!

I wish I had a fancy DSLR, but those were taken on a crappy Fuji p&s. When I shrink them down they look good, but most of my pics are fairly atrocious in actual size. I do plan to inherit my dad's SLR whenever he decides to upgrade (hint, hint if you're reading this). It's funny with the trend of smaller and smaller cameras, what I really want is a big honker!