Sunday, December 21, 2014

a lost Christmas song by the composer of "Charlie Brown"

Used record bins turn up the most unusual items sometimes. I usually will flip through them, past the usual suspects that turn up (My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, The First Family, My Name is Barbra, Vox classical), to see if there aren't any stereo/hi-fi demonstration records from the space age bachelor pad era. Some of those have fantastic and really creative instrumental arrangements and are a lot of fun.

Some years back, I was perusing a bin and a small demonstration record caught my eye. I recognized the name of the artist, Clark Gesner, as the composer of "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown", but this was a song I'd never heard of.

This was a 45 rpm 7" demo record, and when I (carefully) played it, I discovered that this was a recording of Gesner himself playing the piano and singing "All Kinds of Christmases", a song he'd written. It's a beautiful song, and really deserves to be part of the annual holiday playlist.

And in 1977, it almost was. Here's what I learned about the song.

Clark Gesner wrote a lot of other musical theatre material and songs besides "Charlie Brown", and at some point in the mid-1970s he played and sang "All Kinds of Christmases" for a friend who was a Princeton alum and fellow classmate who offered to shop the song around, and for this purpose the demo recording was made. It made the rounds of various singers of the day, but was turned down. Until news came, in the summer of 1977, that Bing Crosby liked it and wanted to sing it on his Christmas special. Unfortunately, Crosby died that October.

"All Kinds of Christmases" has not been recorded or published since, and has not been heard except for a holiday concert in 2003 by the Albany Pro Musica chorus.

I posted the record on YouTube last year at holiday time, and am posting it here again for your entertainment. A friend of mine who was also a good friend of Gesner's has transcribed the recording into a piano/vocal lead sheet.

If you like this song, won't you help Mr. Gesner's legacy by sharing the YouTube link or this post?


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

** coming in 2015…the podcast is back! **

** coming in 2015…the podcast is back! **

A brief recap of how it came to pass that the podcast is being resuscitated for 2015

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Resuscitating My Podcast

It's the slower months when projects that have been mentally circling the airport can actually contact the tower and request permission to land. In 2014 I got a little better at this, by anticipating the space I'd have in my calendar and brain, and planning to produce my DVD releases then.

A couple months ago, someone posted something on Facebook, mentioning my podcast. Perhaps they'd actually found it and posted a link to it. (I can't remember now, and you can't search Facebook like it's Google, so you'll have to take my word for it.)
Oh, yeah, my podcast. The premiere episode posted in June of 2012, and I had grey matter in May that year to figure out how to do a podcast and get it listed on iTunes. I also had the confluence of being a guest on a Daniel Person's "Mighty Movie Podcast", and Daniel had some advice and tips on navigating the coding etc to get this going. (Click on the photo to listen to the episode of Daniel's MMP that I was on.)

Doing a podcast was one of those things I'd  thought about doing, to add to the various other facets of my online presence and as a way to connect with people who find what I do of interest, and I just needed the time to figure out the nuts and bolts of how to get episodes listed on iTunes.

Finding the wormhole between content and audience has been an interest of mine.

Once I figured out how that worked, and got through the learning curve of recording and posting the first episode, doing the podcast wasn't too too difficult.

Remembering to do episodes of it was the hard part.

Episodes 1, 2 and 3 went out in June and July of 2012, ep. 4 in Jan 2013, and ep. 5 two months after that.  And then I got busy, and the thought of doing all the steps on top of carving out the time to do them was too much. Far as I could tell, hardly anyone was listening anyway, as the online stats showed I had 15-20 subscribers when I checked.

Or so I thought.

When that Facebook post appeared this past October, I commented something about it being defunct and that I just couldn't get it together to do more episodes…to which Kendra Leonard responded that she'd be happy to help.

Kendra is a musicologist who launched the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive, an online resource to find silent era mood music, cue sheets and vintage "instruction" books on film accompaniment. I'd sent her PDFs I'd made of a few of the "PianOrgan" folios of mood cues someone had given me at a show last year, as well as a score for "The Sea Beast" that I had scanned for someone else at some point.

And so, my Silent Film Music podcast will reboot at some point in the beginning of next year, barring any tech snafus. In getting myself back into gear, I looked up the current stats on the 5 episodes I'd posted, and was surprised to see that episodes 1, 2, and 3 had been downloaded more than 400 times, with ep 4 at 215 and ep 5 around 280, with a current subscriber tally of 64. And that's with me doing nothing on the podcast for 18 months.

Perhaps there's something to this, after all.


PS - you can listen or subscribe to the podcast here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

William Perry's new suite for Ophicleide and Orch.

This past summer I got to spend a delightful chat over coffee with William Perry. When I started playing for silents back in 1981 while at NYU film school, Bill was the first person I sought out for advice. I'd been hearing his scores on the PBS series "The Silent Years", produced by Killiam Shows, for years and had attended several silents at MoMA once I came to NYC for college. I've stayed in touch with him over the years, mainly by email, but we found ourselves with a mutual window of time this past August.

For those of you who only know Bill from his silent film accompaniments on piano, you should know that one of the things he's been up to over the last several years is creating new orchestral works based on his themes for movies in "The Silent Years". A CD of this music, Music for Great Films of the Silent Era was released in 2011, and there's a second one due out next year I believe. If you remember his themes from the piano scores, you'll love the CD of his orchestral arrangements.

Bill has created a new Suite for Ophicleide and Orchestra that was recorded this year for release on CD. It premiered this past October, and if you want to hear it (and see what the heck an ophicleide is), "Brass From the Past" has been posted on YouTube, from the premiere performance at Brown University.

Here it is. Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tony Sarg designed the first balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. He also made a series of silhouette-animated cartoons in the 1920s.

Here's one. Transferred from a rare, home-use 16mm print from the 1930s.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Film of Charles Lindbergh's May 20, 1927 transatlantic flight - new DVD
40 minutes of rarely-seen vintage newsreels documenting Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight on May 20, 1927 were recently released on a new DVD from Undcercrank Productions. Available on Amazon, the DVD also features a rare Monty Banks aviation silent comedy feature "Flying Luck" (1927), inspired by Lindbergh's flight and co-starring a young Jean Arthur.

The three newsreels, made by Kinograms, Pathé News and the William J. Ganz Company, document Lindbergh's take-off, flight, landing, receptions in Europe and his triumphant return to the United States. Each newsreel covers the events from different angles or perspectives, giving the viewer or historian a full perspective of the historic events of the flight.

"Flying Luck" went before the cameras in July of 1927, and was one of the popular comedian's last films in the silent era. It was transferred from a rare, vintage 35mm nitrate print, and both the Banks feature and the newsreels feature new musical scores by Ben Model on theatre organ and piano, respectively.

From the Amazon listing description:

Monty Banks wants to be like his hero Charles Lindbergh, and will do anything to learn to fly a plane. After building his own doesn't go so well, he winds up enlisting in the Army. During basic training, Monty falls in love with the Colonel's daughter (played by a young Jean Arthur), tangles with a mean drill sergeant (Kewpie Morgan) and is mistaken for a visiting French dignitary. But eventually Monty winds up in a plane and wins the big Army-Navy air polo match!

On May 20, 1927 Charles Lindbergh successfully performed the first transatlantic solo flight, captivating the nation, if not the world. Two months later, motion picture trade papers announced that comedian Monty Banks’ next feature-length comedy would be An Ace in the Hole — which was released on December 5, 1927 as Flying Luck.  This aviation-inspired comedy was the last produced of a string of Monty Banks features made 1924-27.

Monty Banks entered films in 1916 and, after supporting other comedians for a few years, had a successful series of starring shorts from 1920 to 1924. Banks is probably best known for the climactic reels of his thrill comedy feature Play Safe (1927), which were featured in Robert Youngson's compilation movie The Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961).

Flying Luck capitalizes on the 1927 airplane craze and co-stars a young Jean Arthur (Easy Living, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Shane). This extremely rare silent film has never been available on home video, and is seen here in a transfer from a rare, vintage 35mm nitrate print.

BONUS: This DVD includes 40 minutes of newsreels covering Lucky Lindy’s infamous flight from New York to Paris from "weeklies" (newsreels) produced by Kinograms, the William J. Ganz Company and Pathé News.

100 mins, B&W, unrated; stereo.
Musical scores copyright © 2014 by Ben Model, all rights reserved.
Produced for video by Bruce Lawton & Ben Model
A DVD release from Undercrank Productions

Tuesday, April 01, 2014



Renowned Silent Film Accompanist/Historian Ben Model

Collaborates with Library of Congress to bring outrageous
1916-17 films featuring Ringling/Ziegfeld star to home video


NEW YORK, N.Y. (Tuesday, April 1, 2014) – Undercrank Productions and noted silent film accompanist/historian Ben Model announced today the DVD release of “The Mishaps of Musty Suffer”, an unjustly overlooked and forgotten series of slapstick comedies produced in 1916-17.  The release of the disc will be the first the general public has seen of these silent shorts since their initial release.  The DVD features new digital transfers of the films, which were preserved by the Library of Congress, with new musical scores by Model. The DVD will be released on April 22 and will be available exclusively through

Produced by George Kleine in studios in the Bronx, “The Mishaps of Musty Suffer” series is a cartoony and surreal series of comedy shorts chronicling the misadventures of put-upon tramp “Musty Suffer”, who lives a slapstick version of the Story of Job. Its star is the equally forgotten Harry Watson, Jr., a very popular stage clown and who had graduated from vaudeville and Ringling Brothers' Circus to become headliner of the early Ziegfeld Follies. Wildly popular during its release, the series has been oddly overlooked and neglected ever since its initial release. Fortunately the Library of Congress preserved the 24 surviving films from the Musty Suffer series.

“I’d never seen anything like these films before,” says Historian and Silent Film Composer Ben Model, “and believe me…I’ve seen a ton of silent comedy shorts. They’re so different from what Chaplin and Keystone were putting out at the time, the oddball combination of vaudeville and unintended Dada in the gags and stories is both hilarious and bizarre. Plus, they unwittingly recorded bits of circus routines in some of these. It’s the cartoon-like scenarios of the Musty Suffer films that make them so accessible and funny.”

Model funded the DVD by returning to Kickstarter, where he’d successfully funded his 2013 Accidentally Preserved vol 1 & 2 DVDs. He then arranged for new HD digital transfers of the archival master prints held the Library of Congress, and composed and recorded new musical scores for the films. The DVD contains 8 of the funniest from the series, as well as extras and an image gallery. Model is publishing a companion guide booklet to the DVD, written by film historian Steve Massa, which is sold separately and fits inside the DVD case.

The Mishaps of Musty Suffer DVD sells for $19.95, and the 55-page DVD companion booklet for $5.95; both will be available April 22, 2014 at 117 mins, B&W, produced and scored by Ben Model.

press inquiries: or visit 


Ben Model is one of the nation’s leading silent film accompanists, and has been a resident film pianist at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) since 1984.  He accompanies silent films on piano and theatre organ regularly at MoMA, the Library of Congress, the Silent Clowns Film Series (in NYC), and at many theatres and schools around the country.  His recorded scores can be heard on numerous releases from Kino Lorber and on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  He is also co-curator of MoMA’s annual “Cruel and Unusual Comedy” silent film series, and this month will be accompanying films at MoMA’s “Aesthetics of Shadow” series. Model is also the archivist for the Ernie Kovacs/Edie Adams collection and has programmed two “Ernie Kovacs Collection” DVD box sets for Shout Factory as well as MVD’s “Here’s Edie: The Edie Adams Television Shows”. He is based in New York City.  His website is


GOING UP (1916) - 12 mins - itinerant tramp stumbles upon old pal Dippy Mary, who allows him to spend the night at the home she is caring for, but a beer bath and a serenade by a German band make for a difficult night.

THE LIGHTNING BELLHOP (1916) - 13 mins - Musty gets a job in a hotel where his duties as bellhop include being the elevator's counterweight and the hotel's maintenance man.

JUST IMAGINATION (1916) - 14 mins - when the Fairy Tramp appears before Musty, he wishes for a job, but is instead treated to a series of mental experiments in one of the most surreal films in the series.

BLOW YOUR HORN (1916) - 12 mins - this "whirl" finds Musty working as a bike messenger in the wilds of either the Bronx or Fort Lee, where he delivers building supplies and lingerie items. In the final third of the film Watson recreates a routine with two mannequins that was original a circus "walkabout" gag.

WHILE YOU WAIT (1916) - 14 mins - still looking for work, Musty tries an employment office and winds up with three different jobs…all at the same time for the same employer.

LOCAL SHOWERS (1916) - 12 mins - Musty must brave a dentist's office to have an infected tooth pulled in a bizarre film that anticipates the mania of Bob Clampett's WB cartoons.

OUTS AND INS (1916) - 12 mins - Musty works at a large indoor arcade, the set-piece of which involves his culinary and strangely sadistic work on the kitchen side of an automat.

SPLICED AND ICED (1917) - 12 mins - Musty tries to finally settle down at long last, and prepared to marry the woman of his dreams, but life with wifey and her father turn out to be a nightmare after the wedding.


CAPTURING CHICAGO (1916) - 10 mins - producer George Kleine made sure to have newsreel footage taken of Watson/Musty being feted during a motion picture exposition in Chicago in July 1916, and released it as this promo film.

HOLD FAST (excerpt) (1916) - 6 mins - the second half of this Musty "whirl" is basically a reenactment of Bickel & Watson's famous boxing routine from the Follies. (Look for ensemble player Snitz Edwards in the background!)

IMAGE GALLERY – rare photographs, production stills, clippings and trade ads

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hal Roach silent comedy shorts on Sun March 23 **FREE**

On Sunday, March 23rd at 7:15pm, the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (NYC) is hosting a FREE evening of silent comedies! Wind down your week – or kick off the one that's starting – with two solid hours of belly-laugh-inducing classic comedies.  These 1920s films will be presented with live musical scores by renowned silent film accompanist Ben Model.

The line-up of Hal Roach comedy shorts is:
  • SHOULD MEN WALK HOME? (1927) wtih Mabel Normand, Creighton Hale,  Oliver Hardy
  • A PAIR OF TIGHTS (1928) with Anita Garvin, Marion Byron, Edgar Kennedy
  • PASS THE GRAVY (1928) with Max Davidson
  • MIGHTY LIKE A MOOSE (1926) with Charley Chase, dir., Leo McCarey
  • HIGH AND DIZZY (1920) with Harold Lloyd 
  • IT'S A GIFT (1923) with Snub Pollard

The film prints are courtesy of archivist Bruce Lawton, who will also project them. Ben Model will perform his original accompaniment on the St. James Chapel's 3-manual 44-rank Holtkamp pipe organ. Films will be introduced by Karl Tiedemann.

Sunday, October 20 – 7:00pm
James’ Chapel, inside the
Union Theological Seminary
enter on Broadway at 121st St 

** admission is free **

The films will be accompanied on the James Chapel's
3-manual/44-rank Holtkamp pipe organ

Union Theological Seminary entrance, on Bway nr W 121st St.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Doin' it wrong…on purpose

Working even harder this year on improving my playing/accompaniment. Last night, as an exercise, I hauled out the DVD of something I'm playing for later this month and ran it on my laptop (mute) and played for it… as wrong as possible. Song title puns, a waltz when people were doing the Charleston, dissonant music, R&B riffs, opposite moods, you name it. Anything to get me out of my "usual".

A good exercise and while nothing's come out of it yet (first time up at bat on this), it confirmed my aesthetic that while bad and incorrect music choices can be made to line up with or fit a film, they still have the overall effect of undermining the entertainment potential of the film.  At the end of playing "wrong" for the movie, my impression of it was that it was a pretty weak film.  Which it isn't.

The right choices can make a mediocre film, even a bad one, still come off well for an audience.  Ask me about the time I played for the Larry Semon Wizard Of Oz sometime.