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Read, Watch, Listen #1


Marty Feldman, Six Feet Under, Buddy Rich

By Mike Tomano

© 2023 Fossil Entertainment Group / Michael Tomano

         Ending 2023 and entering ’24 with a new series of blogs. As I have done in the past, I will continue to review music, but have decided to add books and visual media to the mix. Hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to getting suggestions from you!

Marty Feldman's autobiography eYE Marty offers insight into the underrated comic, from his Dickensian childhood to finding his way into the arts...first as a musician, on to his pioneering work writing radio comedy with partner Barry Took, his foray into television with future Monty Python members up to his Hollywood success. Like most Americans, I became aware of Marty through his wonderful performance as Igor (“it’s pronounced Eye-gor!”) in Mel Brooks’ masterpiece Young Frankenstein. Brooks’ follow-up Silent Movie reenlisted Feldman in a film that paid homage to the silent film comedians that Marty idolized.

Marty was already a British sensation before being swallowed up by the Hollywood machine. On the success of his collaborations with Brooks, he was given a deal with Universal. His Brooksian parody, The Last Remake of Beau Geste, found him writing a script “to order” for the producers. Executive meddling with casting and shooting caused Feldman stress, but he followed through, with the hope of the film’s success granting him more freedom on future projects.

Though he was allowed the desired privilege on 1980’s In God We Trust, the film crashed and burned. To be honest, the movie was a failure, lacking cohesiveness and any true laughter-inducing moments. Even the comedy dream cast of Richard Pryor, Peter Boyle, Andy Kaufman, and Louise Lasser couldn’t spark magic in this nail-in-the-coffin of Feldman’s career. Marty would die three years later on the set of Graham Chapman’s dreadful Yellowbeard.

Geste was a success, with Python-type humor mixed with Buster Keaton inspired sequences, and experimental film collage technique that would later be employed by Steve Martin and Carl Reiner in 1981’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Woody Allen’s Zelig in ’83 and 1994’s acclaimed Forrest Gump.

Feldman’s work as a musician, radio writer, poet, actor, and architect of British Comedy is worth knowing. His influence on the Monty Python troupe is of note, as is his stretch of work prior to the troupe’s formation, first on David Frost’s At Last The 1948 Show with John Cleese and Graham Chapman, later as script advisor and consultant on Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

  Marty’s story is one of a genius born late. His roots lie in Keaton, Harpo, and Laurel. This autobiography and Robert Ross’s dry yet informative Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend, tell the tale of a unique and brilliant comedy writer and performer whose legacy stretches far beyond the work of which he is most famously associated.

Been binging Six Feet Under on Netflix. I caught it when it began its five-season run in 2001 and recently thought I’d revisit the misadventures of the Fisher family with fresh eyes. Perhaps the show’s deeply drawn characters, brought to life by exceptional actors, and rich storylines would not only affect me the same way, but be met with a renewed sense of appreciation from the decade plus since it originally aired. I enjoyed it initially and find it just as entertaining and thought-provoking this second time. I relate to the situations and characters that inhabit the world of Six Feet Under. If I haven’t been the character at some point in my life, I’ve definitely known or know them.

Six Feet Under examines our relationships with ourselves, the lies we accept for deceptive comfort to harsh truths we uncover through the cause and effect of our decisions and actions. Relationships with the living - and the dead - affect our lives. Loss, grief, redemption, and  forgiveness all play a part in our ability to survive and go on, less we succumb to soul-crushing obstacles and surrender our sanity.

Six Feet Under’s storylines are full of realistic situations, interspersed with the dreamscape visions and inner dialogue of the complex, multi-layered characters. Each member of the ensemble cast pulls their weight, giving layered portrayals full of nuanced reveals; however, Frances Conroy’s role as matriarch Ruth Fisher is a standout that should be required study for aspiring actors.

With my recent attendance at the Buddy Rich Big Band Machine’s “A Groovy Christmas” show fresh on my mind, I pulled a Buddy classic from the record shelves. Hard to pick from his voluminous catalog, as I’m a fan of all the work he did. Every recording shows his consistency and mastery, but I have a real soft-spot for his late 60s through mid-70s output, which found Buddy’s band adopting “hip” rock and pop charts to appeal to a younger audience, while introducing them to the power of big band jazz.

1970’s Keep the Customer Satisfied is a smokin’ set recorded in Las Vegas. The Band’s take on the title track, a Paul Simon composition, starts things off with an energy that doesn’t let up until the last note.

Laird’s bass slinks its way through “Long Day’s Journey,” giving a loosely felt counterpart to Buddy’s driving support.

The sweeping “Midnight Cowboy Medley” exemplifies the range of the band, with outstanding brass, and reed section solos and a spotlight for Meridith McClain’s delicate piano. The piece takes its place alongside Buddy’s famous “West Side Story Medley,” that was a staple of his performances for many years, and his equally impressive but lesser-known medley of Tommy tunes from the Big Band Machine album of 1975.

Bill Holman’s arrangement of “Winning The West” is a funky piece with an intricate and melodic drum solo by The Man. Every track on the album is soaring, with a top-notch band showing a level of complete comfort with the complex arrangements.

There’s a rock-tinge to the proceedings, with bassist Rick Laird lockin’ in with Buddy’s beats in a way that foreshadows Laird’s four-string wizardry in Mahavishnu Orchestra, which he would co-found the following year.

The pairing for me represents a great passing of the Jazz torch.  At this point, Buddy had been at the forefront of Jazz for decades and his band the paragon of virtuosic workmanship. The contemporary charts of Buddy’s late-60s and early 70s performances indicate the path of jazz and rock fusion that would see the likes of Don Ellis, Miles Davis and John McLaughlin expanding it beyond any limits.

Groove to the tunes. Marvel at the drumming. Dig that badass bass.

Keep the Customer Satisfied is a bona fide burner.

Peace, MT









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