Friday, September 28, 2012

Remembering Jazz Great – Miles Davis

One of the great legends of Jazz died on this day, September 28, 1991, twenty-one years ago.  Considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century, Miles Davis altered the direction of jazz several times with the introduction of bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz-fusion.

Davis House in Alton, Illinois
Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926 in Alton, Illinois.  His father, Miles Henry Davis, was a dentist.  His mother, Cleota Mae Henry Davis, was an accomplished blues pianist, a fact she kept hidden from her son.

Miles grew up in East St. Louis.  At the age of thirteen, his father gave him a trumpet and arranged lessons with local musician, Elwood Buchanan.  By the time Miles was 16, he was a member of the music society and was playing professionally.  He was offered a chance to play with the Tiny Bradshaw Band and tour around the country, but his mother insisted that he finish high school.  He graduated in 1944 and moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music. Within a year, he had dropped out and was playing professionally in the 52nd Street clubs in New York.

Charlie Parker & Miles Davis
Charlie Parker Album
In 1946, Davis recorded his first album with his group, the Miles Davis Sextet.  That same year he was hired to replace Dizzy Gillespie in the Charlie Parker Quintet.  He stayed with Parker for two years, until the situation became too tense. Parker was suffering from mental and physical problems due to his drug addiction, and the group began slowly falling apart.

Davis spent the rest of 1948 and 1949 developing the sounds of Cool Jazz.  His approach to this new style was to create music that sounded like the human voice through specifically arranged compositions that stressed melodic improvisations.  In 1956, Capitol Records released Birth of the Cool which was a compilation of several recording sessions from January 1949 to April 1950 by Davis’s nine-member group. This is the album that ushered in the Cool Jazz era.

Miles Davis
By 1950, Davis was experiencing problems in his personal life, and felt unappreciated by the media critics for his breakout music style.  Thus began his first major drug addiction to heroin, which would affect the rest of his life.  In 1953, his addiction began to seriously affect his ability to perform.  Although he tried several times to kick his habit, he didn’t succeed until 1954, when he went back home to his parent’s in St. Louis.

Miles Davis Backstage
But, regardless of his problems, Davis was still able to create yet another form of Jazz during this period – Hard Bop.  Hard Bop jazz was the result of slowing down the tempo, as compared to bebop music, and approaching more of a bluesy feel.  Many times performers would begin with a popular tune and improv into hard bop.

From 1955 to 1958, Davis formed his first popular quintet.  During these years, the group released five acclaimed albums; Round Midnight, Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Steamin’ with the Mile Davis Quintet, Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet.  It appeared that Davis had his groove back.  But by 1958, the quintet disbanded and Miles began experimenting with modal music.

Kind of Blue  Awards
Kind of Blue was released in 1959 and brought the modal jazz sound to the mainstream.  This album is considered to be one of the all-time greatest jazz recordings.  Kind of Blue is the best-selling jazz album of all time, having sold over 4-million copies, according to the Record Industry Association of America. And, in 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 409 – 0 to pass a resolution honoring this album as a national treasure.

Miles also helped make orchestral jazz acceptable when he and three of his former sextet members recorded a jazzy version of Porgy and Bess in 1958, and again, with Sketches of Spain in 1961. 

Miles Playing Fussion
In 1964, Davis put together his ‘second great quintet.’  Their sound became known as free bop because they improvised in a less conventional manner. Miles was now on his way to introducing Fusion Jazz.

By 1968, electric instruments were a part of Davis’s sound.  With this change, he introduced the world to jazz/rock fusion with In a Silent Way, released in 1968, and Bitches Brew in 1969. 

Miles and his Trumpet
But in July 1975, citing health issues from hip surgery, sickle-cell anemia, and depression, along with drug and alcohol addictions, Miles Davis retired from the music scene.  He stayed out of the public eye for six years. During that period, he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame.

By 1981, Miles had returned to the jazz scene.  In 1985, he released, You're Under Arrest, an album that included his jazz interpretations of current pop songs. During the 80’s, he collaborated on four movie soundtracks, Street Smart, Siesta, Hot Spot, and Dingo.   

Betty Marby Davis
Cicely Tyson & Miles Davis
Miles was married three times, first to Frances Davis from 1958 – 1968.  He was then married to Betty Mabry for a short time from 1968 to 1969.  And in 1981, he married Cicely Tyson. He credited Tyson with helping him kick his drug and alcohol dependencies, and for getting him back on the stage. They divorced in 1988.

Miles Davis
In 1990, Miles Davis received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.  Through his music, he influenced hundreds of artists and helped many rise to prominence in the industry.  Miles summed up his attitude toward life best when he said, “You should never be comfortable, man. Being comfortable fouled up a lot of musicians." 

Miles Davis
Miles Davis Grave
Miles Davis died in L.A.  on September 28, 1991 of a stroke and respiratory failure.  He was 65 years old. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

~ Joy

Friday, September 21, 2012

Telling the Story of Jane Todd Crawford – The First Survivor of Ovarian Surgery

Jane's Original Marker
Joy in the Cemetery
It was during my cemetery wanderings last year that I discovered the grave, and the incredible story, of Jane Todd Crawford. She was the first woman, the first person actually, to undergo and survive abdominal surgery. Jane underwent this operation for the removal of an ovarian tumor – a 22-pound ovarian tumor – in 1809.

Dr. Ephraim McDowell's House
First Abdominal Surgery
I wrote a blog post about her courage to be the first to undergo ovarian surgery last September.  Jane’s story has stayed with me throughout the following year.  Last autumn, I visited the house in Kentucky where the surgery took place.  The more I’ve learned about Jane and her story, the more I've felt that something must be done to make her legacy more prominent and lasting.

Jane Todd Crawford on
Jane Todd Crawford Project FB
A couple of months ago I started a Facebook group called the Jane Todd Crawford Project, I have now launched a KickStarter project for the book I’m writing about her life @  Incredibly, Jane’s story is being lost and forgotten.

Jane Todd Crawford
 It’s December 1809, Jane’s ‘pregnancy’ has gone beyond nine months - well beyond.  A country doctor diagnosis’s her with an ovarian tumor, a death sentence.  But he thinks he can operate and, maybe, save her.  He tells Jane that this surgery has never been done. But Jane has no other options; she agrees to take this chance.  

Preparing to Operate
Jane Arrives for Surgery
Jane travels 60 miles on horseback, resting the tumor on the saddle pommel. The journey takes several days, during a snowy December, to reach the doctor’s house.  Anesthesia doesn’t yet exist; Jane agrees to be held down by several strong arms.  Outside, the cries of an angry mob can be heard as they await word that Jane has died.  They plan to lynch the doctor for having the nerve to 'play God.'  The operation takes 25 grueling minutes. In the end, the country doctor, who thinks he can pull this off - does, and Jane has a second chance at life! 

McDowell Statue
Dr Ephraim McDowell
Dr. Ephraim McDowell became famous as the pioneer of abdominal surgical techniques. He performed the same operation on two more women, and published his report “Three Cases of Extirpation of Diseased Ovaria” in 1817.  He continued practicing medicine until his death, ironically, from an apparent appendicitis on June 25, 1830.  His home in Danville is now a museum and a National Historic Landmark.  The Medical Society of Kentucky in Danville erected a statue in his honor in 1879.

Jane Todd Crawford Trail
Jane's Monument
Jane Todd Crawford is remembered with a large marker at her grave, put in place in 1940.  There is also a small marker located in the backyard of the McDowell House and Museum.  And, Jane also has a country road named after her…

Crawford Cabin in Kentucky
The book I’m writing will look at Jane’s life, at a woman’s life, at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Kentucky and Indiana. The risks, the fears, the hardships endured when you have only your family, your faith, and your wits to sustain you.  In the Kentucky backwoods, in 1809, Jane risked it all – and won! And thanks to her courage, ovarian (and abdominal) surgery became accepted, and survivable.

Ovarian Cancer Stats
September is National Ovarian Cancer Month.  It’s been over 200 years since Jane underwent that fateful surgery, but ovarian cancer remains a horrifying and silent killer.  Its now the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women, and is the deadliest of gynecologic cancers. And the odds are still terrible: A woman’s lifetime risk of developing invasive ovarian cancer is 1 in 71. 
A woman’s lifetime risk of dying from invasive ovarian cancer is 1 in 95. Ovarian cancer survival rates are still much lower than other cancers that affect women.
I am launching Jane Todd Crawford @ in order to raise funds to write this book that will tell Jane’s story, and raise awareness about ovarian cancer. 

I appreciate any assistance you can give, be it a mention or share on Facebook or Twitter, a visit to the Jane Todd Crawford group page, watching the video that explains what I’m planning to accomplish in the next year, even a donation, in any amount, will help to move this project along.
I feel passionately about this project and believe that with your help, we can revive Jane's story of incredible courage, and help move the effort to eliminate ovarian cancer to new heights.
Thank you for anything you can do to help!
~ Joy

Friday, September 14, 2012

Remembering Peg Entwistle – The Hollywood Sign Girl

Peg Entwistle
Eighty years ago, on September 16, 1932, a young, aspiring Hollywood actress would end her life, and finally make a name for herself.

Although she appeared in only one film, in the end Peg Entwistle did realize her dream to become famous in L.A. Unfortunately; it was for jumping from the letter H in the Hollywoodland sign to her death. Since then she has been known as the “Hollywood Sign Girl.”

The Lights of Broadway
Born Millicent Lillian Entwistle on February 5, 1908 in Port Talbot, Wales, she was nicknamed Peg.  Peg spent her early life in London.  She moved with her father to New York City in 1913, and began working behind-the-scenes in Broadway plays when she was 17 years old.  Her father, Robert S. Entwistle, a Broadway actor, was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 1922.

Bette Davis
The Wild Duck
In 1925, Peg began getting small walk-on parts in Broadway plays including Hamlet and The Wild Duck.  Bette Davis said that Peg Entwistle inspired her to become an actress. 

Robert Keith
In April 1927, Peg married fellow actor Robert Keith in New York City. Her marriage to the older man lasted for two years.  Peg sought a divorce in 1929 on the grounds of cruelty, and the fact that her husband had not told her he’d been married before and had a six-year-old son named Brian Keith.

Peg on Broadway
Peg became a member of the New York Theatre Guild in 1926. She appeared in ten Broadway plays from 1927 – 1932, including Tommy, The Uninvited Guest, and Alice Sit-By-the-Fire.  Things looked promising for her to launch a Broadway career, but Peg decide that she wanted to move to Hollywood to become a movie actress.

Peg in Thirteen Women
By May of 1932, Peg was in L.A., performing in the play The Mad Hopes.  The show closed June 4th.  On July 23rd, 1932 Peg began filming the part of Hazel Cousins in the movie, Thirteen Women, staring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne.  After preview audiences watched the film and gave poor feedback, most of Peg’s scenes were cut. This would be her only film.

Hollywoodland Sign
Behind the H
At twenty-four, Peg was impatient and demanding.  When agents did not immediately come calling, she became depressed and began drinking heavily.  On Friday, September 16, 1932, Peg climbed up the icon of her dreams, the Holywoodland sign.  She jumped from the 50-foot H to her death.  Her body was discovered two days later but no one could identify her.

In order to discover who she was, her suicide note was published in the L.A. newspaper. It read:

“I’m afraid I’m a coward. I’m sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”
Her uncle, with whom she was living in L.A., recognized her initials on the suicide letter and realized that her two-day absence was not because she was visiting with friends.

Photo by Lisa Sinkko
Peg's funeral was held in Hollywood, her body was then cremated and sent to Ohio for burial by her father.  Her ashes were interred next to her father’s grave at Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio, near Cincinnati.  In 2010, a Facebook campaign was launched to get a gravestone for Peg and her father.  The new stone was placed at Oak Hill on September 16th, 2010, the 78th anniversary of Peg’s death.

Daisy Keith
Brian Keith
In an odd twist of fate, Peg’s stepson, actor Brian Keith, who played the part of ‘Uncle Bill’ in the 1960’s sitcom Family Affair, committed suicide in 1997.  Keith’s daughter, Peg’s step-granddaughter, Daisy, also ended her life in 1997.

Sadly, it is said that just after Peg committed suicide, a letter arrived at her home from the Beverly Hills Playhouse, offering her a lead in a stage play.  The part was that of a young woman - driven to commit suicide.

~ Joy