March 13: 'Tugboat Annie,' a jazz trumpet twofer and Microsoft's IPO
The first major Hollywood movie filmed (partially) in Seattle — 1933
I don’t watch old black & white movies as much as I used to, but back when the Neptune Theatre in Seattle’s University District was a repertory/revival movie house with a different double feature almost every day, I saw a lot of great ones—and a few that were just kind of fun. "Fun" was the case with the 1933 comedy, Tugboat Annie, starring Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery (though I’ll bet it hasn’t aged all that well). Why do I bring this up? Well, frankly, it’s a bit of stretch…
I was cruising through some websites, boning up on Tacoma history and I came across a page that contained a Tugboat Annie illustration but didn’t provide any context for it. It just said TUGBOAT ANNIE, ARTIST—ANTON OTTO FISCHER, MARCH 13TH, 1933. Digging around elsewhere I eventually learned that the illustration was used in a Saturday Evening Post story written by a fella named Norman Reilly Raine and published on this day in ’33—the same year that MGM decided that the Tugboat Annie stories that Raine had been publishing, set in the hybrid Northwest city of "Secoma," were popular enough to put on The Big Screen.
To top it off, I learned that some of nautical exteriors of the movie were filmed in Seattle, on Lake Union and in Elliott Bay which, potentially, would give us a rare look at those bodies of water and the attendant shorelines from, let us say, a less landscaped era. It was the first Hollywood movie to feature Seattle. One of the tugs that was used (the Arthur Foss) can still be seen in Lake Union’s Historic Ships Wharf.
Jazz trumpet twofer: Blue Mitchell and Terence Blanchard
Today is the birthday of two top-shelf trumpet players— Blue Mitchell (1930-1979) and Terence Blanchard (b. 1962). Let’s start with Blue.
He was born Richard Alan Mitchell in Miami in 1930 and, for reasons unknown to me, received his ultra-cool nickname, "Blue,’' while playing in his high school band.
Michael Nastos, writing for Allmusic ,describes Mitchell’s sound wonderfully: “his sound, initially branded by the warmth of the Southeast, [was] burnished by the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, and polished by the West Coast cool school demeanor.”
Between (roughly) 1958 through ’78, he had the great good fortune to find himself among perhaps the greatest collection of groundbreakers in jazz history.
In fact, an overwhelming percentage of jazz critics cite 1959 as the greatest year in jazz history—and jazz critics are famous for not agreeing on much of anything. Miles Davis’ "Kind Of Blue," and Dave Brubeck’s "Time Out," two of the best-selling jazz albums of all time were both released in that year.
Anyway, as a band member or a band leader we always find Blue Mitchell in stellar company. From a long list of legends, Mitchell placed himself among some of the finest—including Horace Silver, George Benson, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Smith, Chick Corea, Tony Bennet and Lena Horne. All in all—and considering the fact that in 1979 Mitchell was taken from us by cancer when he was just 49 years old—he left us with a lot of uplifting, soulful music
The song I’m including here is Chick Corea’s composition, "Tones For Joan’s Bones." After Blue left the Horace Silver Quintet to lead his own band, he hired the 24-year-old piano wunderkind as his touring and recording pianist.
You’ll not only get to hear Blue’s warm, uplifting improvisations, you’ll also get a snapshot of a very young Chick Corea—workin’ it out. With Pepper Adams (baritone sax), Jerry Dodgian (flute), Junior Cook (tenor sax), Seattle’s Julian Priester (trombone), Gene Taylor (bass) and drummer Mickey Roker.
OK, so onto our other birthday trumpeter, Terence Blanchard.
As the history of jazz continues to be written, it’ll be well established that Blanchard will have had a greater impact on the broader global culture that Mitchell. The two biggest reasons?
First, Terence Blanchard is now at least 10 years older than Blue Mitchell was when he died…and still going strong. And, secondly, Terence has been composing soundtracks for films since 1992 and playing on movie soundtracks since ’89. He contributed to the soundtrack for Spike Lee's beautiful Malcolm X and Lee’s feature film debut, Do The Right Thing.
He also came out of the gate pretty hot, growing up in New Orleans with the Marsalis brothers as schoolyard friends and musical partners. Not only that, he had the Marsalis boys’ father, Ellis, as a teacher. So he had that going for him…
While still in his teens, Blanchard worked in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra. At age 20 he took Wynton Marsalis’ place as trumpeter for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and soon became the band’s music director. In the decades since, he’s continued to cast a wide musical net. He’s won two Grammy awards and been nominated for two Academy Awards and an Emmy.
The selection I’ve chosen from Blanchard’s vast catalog is his version of Gene McDaniels’ protest song, "Compared To What." It was originally done by Les McCann and Eddie Harris in 1969.
This Blanchard update is from 2015. The lead vocals are handled wonderfully by contemporary R&B singer, PJ Morton. And to top it off, Terence brought in his hip-hop/jazz group, E-Collective, to add a new instrumental flavor to an already propulsive piece of music.
In this version’s opening four seconds we hear, off in the aural distance, just a snippet of Les McCann’s vocal from the ’69 recording, but it quickly fades, making room for a new generation. Or two.
Microsoft goes public — 1986
Like many people around me and before me, I sweat the thought of retirement. It would be a great understatement to say that I haven’t planned well for it. I bring this up because I just stumbled across the fact that today is the anniversary of Microsoft going public in 1986. The stock started at $26 a share, went up to $29 and ended the day at $27.25. Just to torture myself, I then asked the software in my computer to tell me the highest price the stock ever reached. On Nov. 19, 2021, Microsoft closed at $339.89.
I was in the Northwest in ’86 and probably had three or four grand saved up. I wonder what I was doing on March 13 that kept me from sinking my nut into the local software biz? Once again using the software in my computer, I see that March 13, 1986 was a Thursday. The software in my computer also tells me that the high temperature that day was probably somewhere in the mid-50s. So, it was a workday and I was layered. I was probably thinking more about maybe renting a video player and some VHS tapes to watch on my square, vacuum tube TV that evening than I was about retiring comfortably at some misty point in the next century. Anyway, today’s one of those days when I wish for "do-overs."