Friday, 10 April 2009

The Jazz Singer and Al Jolson

Today, Thursday, I marked time on myself as during yesterday I took a decision with potentially far reaching consequences. It concerned the pursuance of the investigation into the premature and preventable death of the sister of my mother with whom I lived until I left home to go to a college. Given that I had recently written that I was not taking decision which could affect others, this serves to underline that one should pay more attention to the objective assessment of what people do and remain vigilant and most cautious about what they say they will do.

I have given the relevant authorities and interests every opportunity to investigate and achieve a fair account of what happened to my aunt, and to establish the causal relationships between different involvements. But we are now within two months of being five years since the day of events which proved fatal for her and with the recent death of my mother, it is time to bring the situation regarding my aunt also to an end, one way or another. However I feel she will not rest in peace until the available truth is established and a meaningful sense of justice experienced on her behalf. Nor will I rest, or wish to.
It was not until the evening that I decided to watch a film which as on the previous night the viewing was divided by a TV programme I wished to also watch although I missed its opening segment.

I remember seeing Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer in my childhood. The 1927 first feature length picture with synchronised dialogue and singing sequences. I have watched the film several times since then but it was not until tonight's viewing of the 1908 remake with Neil Diamond that I learnt something to the background of this misnamed musical as for the one thing that to be said at the outset is that neither film is about Jazz singing of jazz unless one wants to call Blue Skies a jazz song!

According to Wikipedia, in 1917 after seeing Al Jolson in a stage musical one Samson Raphaelson wrote a short story, The Day of Atonement based on aspects of the life of Al Jolson which he then adapted into a stage play, the Jazz Singer and following the success Warner brothers bought the rights and only turned to Jolson for the role as a third choice.

However although Al Jolson had a Jewish background, the fundamental basis of the his won story made into the two Jolson stories, and the various Jazz singer films was a lie in that his father was not a Rabbi Cantor by a slaughter man of kosher animals. The other fact which I only learnt tonight is that Jolson was born in Lithuania with the real name Asa Yoelson., so the Americanisation of the surname, which is also part of the Jazz singer films was accurate.

Back to the film in which the songs My Mammy and Toot Toot Tootsi goodbye are the most well known, along with Blue Skies, the core element of the story is that father rejects his son because of the chosen career, but is unable to perform his role as Cantor because of ill health and that after some soul searching his son sings at the Yom Kippur service and there is reconciliation between father and son and father shows his appreciation for the singing career of his son. In the first film the singer become as black faced Minstrel, which was also a feature of the live Jolson stage performances and where the Black and White Minstrel Show was a popular TV show for two decades from 1958 in the UK and I even took my mother and aunt to see the stage version at a theatre just outside Victoria Station.

I saw the 1980 remake of the Jazz singer in theatre in 1980, having failed to appreciate it was a remake of the 1927 film and being disappointed that it was not about a jazz singer, but enjoyed the film and the singing of Neil Diamond whose voice I had not appreciated until then. The two films have many similarities although blacking face is brought up to date as the Jewish lad hangs out with black musicians and singers and blacks his face on one occasion because one of the four members of the group has been arrested and someone important is to attend a performance at a black club so he steps in for them, but and this leads to a fight when the deception is recognised, and the singer's father turns up to make bail instead of the singer's wife. While father, played by Sir Lawrence Olivier, strongly disapproves of the singing it is not this which in fact leads to the "I have no son reaction" but that his son and daughter-in-law are divorcing and that the singer's manager has already moved in and they are to marry to marry. It is his wife who in fact makes a come home and be a Cantor or we go our separate ways ultimatum thus breaking comparatively new ground in the 1980's that it was alright for couples to divorce because they had developed different interests and goals, rather than because of infidelity or cruelty.

The singing at the Yom Kippur service is also the catalyst but the reconciliation is achieved because the couple have a son and which in fact has reunited him to his second wife after the effect of being rejected by his father leads the singer to take to the road and get a casual job in a roadhouse and he only returns home when a friend finds him to tell of the news of his fatherhood. The remake combines the original Jolson life story. The latter called Jolson sings again played by Larry Parkes, with the reconciliation with father coinciding with a successful professional comeback

I had intended to talk about the programme which intervened but I will leave to another occasion. For it is now Friday evening. The sun has shone and it has been pleasant on my outings and I am shortly to go out again. On the second outing if the day to the post office and the bank I noted a van stationary in the road way as I made my way down the hill with on its side U2 world or something similar, and before I could work out what it was and what it was doing a man with a clip board approached me and asked for Oceans Road, I thought Oceans Eleven. One of the electronic directional services had directed the vehicle on to the Lawe Top and a parallel road to Ocean Road where the booked accommodation was located, so I was able to explain how to get down to Ocean Road and that they had not been misdirected because parking could be difficult to impossible on the road itself and therefore they would most likely need to find a space in a side road.

OK this was not the U2 but a tribute band, and for what happened next you will have to read tomorrow.

And yes they were a tribute band. It was only after they left that I wished I had asked where they were playing as U2 us a great band and earlier in the year I watched a DVD of one of their concerts. However I made a guess where this might be and made my way after completing the reason for the second outing and this is where I am now going!

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