Soft, Slinky And Strangely Inspiring.

The writing lair doesn’t share space with a love nest, and I don’t routinely play seduction music around the house. But, I’ve discovered that some jazz compilation albums make for the best at-work listening. Writing work, that is, not day job work. When I sit down at the keyboard, I’m trying to resituate myself in Chicago’s ethnic blue-collar bungalow belt circa 1959, dodging big-finned cars to cross the street enroute to a dimly lit neighborhood cocktail lounge, where a neon martini glass sign flickers to life over a shadowy doorway. 

Downloads might be easier than pawing through used bookstores’ audio bins, particularly since some of these “jazz for lovers” compilation albums favor saucy cover art that’s certain to elicit smirks from cashiers. But it’s a dedicated vinyl and disk zone ‘round here. I’m no expert on postwar era lounge singers or pre-Beatlemania jazz combos, but the albums teleport me to my make-believe “there-and-then”, and suddenly I can hear coins dropping into jukeboxes, Zippo lighters clinking open, taffeta cocktail dresses swishing against nyloned legs and leather soled shoes shuffling across a postage stamp sized tiled dance floor. Hell, order me a Rob Roy, fire up a Viceroy, and I’m ready light up my keyboard. (Technically, it’d be a cup of coffee. I’ve never actually tasted a Rob Roy.)

I’ve only bought a couple of these goofy albums so far, but I’m still on the prowl for more. I imagine there’s a lot of duplication among the tunes, but that’s okay. I’m not paying attention. It’s only mood music. Not for soft light seduction routines, a night of romance or even some…uhm…”private time”, which I suppose is what the albums were intended for. Actually, with the volume dialed down a bit, the music is more like vintage white noise. But it works for me, sets the mood, gets the words flowing, and I can’t argue with that. 

Photo: The Pianist, by Dima Veselov

Under The Holiday Star (With A Beer)

Stella Artois Under the Holiday Star

I’m usually not that much of a beer person, though I’ve been suckered into those beer paddle samplers of four, six (or ten – Yikes!) brewer’s shots once or twice (with disastrous results).

I do like the occasional Stella, though, and enjoyed one at a day job holiday lunch this week, in fact. Might indulge in another over the holidays, especially if I had this Christmas album to listen to. I think this was from 2011, compiling mid-20th century holiday themed jazz pieces, led by composer/arranger Gordon Minette with Dan Block and Doug Wamble, vocals by Leah Siegel, Antoine Blech and Maddie Myles. I know there was a download version at one time at the Stella site, but don’t know if an actual LP was offered or if that’s just part of the retro vibe (which is pretty cool). So, let the hunt begin…

Under The Holiday Star



Listening To: Take It Off

Take it Off

No one’s practicing strip tease moves here or planning on a career in burlesque. But compilation CD’s often make for the best background music when you’re writing period noir (which I am…y’know: ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’) and Take It Off – 50 Essential Striptease Classics is ideal listening for that kind of work. Sure, there are a few cliched stripper tunes, but there’s also film and retro TV theme songs and soundtrack music from Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip and Dragnet as well as some utterly perfect smoky jazz that can easily make you imagine yourself perched at the bar in a 1950’s cocktail lounge or roadhouse, or engaging in something naughty or nefarious (or both) in a run down hot sheet hotel or roadside motor court…just close your eyes for a moment and listen. Billy Vaughn, Buddy Johnson, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein’s Studio Orchestra…man, this one’s perfect.

Listening To: Love For Sale (1959)

Love For Sale LP

Technically, not listening to, but still waiting for: Pioneer jazz pianist Cecil Taylor (1929 – 2018) and his fifth album, Love For Sale from 1959, the year I’m fixated on with my own writing work. Vinyl’s been ordered, and back-ordered since forever. Suitable background music’s a must when I’m pounding the keyboard. The Mac keyboard that is. I’m not tinkling any ivories here. Love that album cover, though. The photo could be a scene right out of ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’.


Listening To: Dido

Dido Montage

Dido (say Dai-doo): Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong (and there’s a mouthful), the UK musician/singer/songwriter is Saturday’s go-to listening-to while I schedule some blog posts for the next few days and then return to the keyboard for a weekend with no intrusions foreseen, and oodles of productivity expected. Here in the vinyl and disk-only zone, there’ll be No Angel (1999), Life For Rent (2003), Safe Trip Home (2008), Girl Who Got Away (2013) and Still On My Mind (2019).

1 - No Angel2 - Life For Rent3- Safe Trip Hime4 - Girl Who Got Away5 Still On My Mind

The Noir Chanteuse: Ute Lemper

Ute Lemper

Broadway actress and recording star, or is she really a cabaret chanteuse at heart? German singer (and so much more) Ute Lemper just seems to have a way of evoking a decadent Weimar era German basement nightclub when she’s singing or merely posing for a photo. Maybe it’s her association with roles like Lola in The Blue Angel, Velma Kelly in Chicago (publicity photo in that role below) or Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Then there’s that whole Kurt Weill songbook thing.

Ute Lemper: The Noir Chanteuse.

ute lemper as velma kelly 1998

Listening To: Ute Lemper

The Very Best Of Ute Lemper

The icy winds roared all day and night on Sunday, ‘gale force’ according to the TV news, and enough to rattle the windows, no exaggeration. But comfy behind the keyboard once back home (had to work Sunday AM, several stops on the way back), I felt like I was ensconced in some dark little Weimar era Berlin café.  The soundtrack for Sunday’s writing desk sessions: Ute Lemper on CD and vinyl, the German chanteuse and stage star’s eclectic mix of pop, cabaret, jazz and show tunes all suitably moody, some not even in English so I wouldn’t get too distracted.

Crimes Of The Heart - Ute LemperBerlin Cabaret Sngs - Ute Lemper


Listening To: Ellen Foley’s Night Out

Night Out

Listening to last night: Actor/singer Ellen Foley’s debut album Night Out, more pop than I’d typically have playing while working, but this one’s special. Most folks remember Foley not for her own solo projects, but as the incredible voice on Meat Loaf’s mega-selling Bat Out Of Hell album (though another singer toured with the Loaf, Foley doing a co-star stint on NBC’s sitcom Night Court).

Jazz Noir

jazz noir

As if there could be something better to listen to when you’re writing noir-ish crime fiction, circa 1959?

I’m a CD and vinyl person myself. Old fashioned? Maybe. The Jazz Noir 3-CD set includes 60 pieces of jazzy 1950’s film noir themes and background tracks. A couple television series themes snuck in there too, but that’s cool. Touch Of Evil, The Man With The Golden Arm, Anatomy Of A Murder, 77 Sunset Strip, The Asphalt Jungle and so much more. Pure inspirational mood music, and I swear, it makes my fingers dance across the keyboard.

Listening to…

lush life

Listening to: Might not all be period perfect, but right now at the keyboard, my head’s stuck in 1959, and I’m going with The Very Best Of Etta James, and Lush Life: Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle orchestra.

etta james

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