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ROBIN WILLIAMS : IMPROV ACTOR. STANDUP. JAZZ FAN?

           IMPROV COMIC DELIVERY ONE DEGREE FROM JAZZDOM.  PROOF IN ROBIN WILLIAMS

The improv comic genius that was ROBIN WILLIAMS was never far from jazz in his roles.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Overlooked by virtually everyone who has written of his tragic departure was Williams’ affiliation albeit tangentially with jazz.   Bear with me and follow the thread.

There was a third character actor in Mork and Mindy.  Pam Dawber’s (Mindy) father was a man named Conrad Janis.  Conrad Janis was a trad (New Orleans) trombone player who habituated places such as Central Plaza and Child’s Paramount.  I saw him playing on the bar at the Metropole on Broadway, all in New York City.  He had a shaved head before it was fashionable.  The delivery of his lines was staccato and he cracked wise.  Janis was the straightman foil for Williams’ mostly ad libs as was Dawber.  Mork and Mindy was experimental in that regard.  It worked as the style suited Williams who never looked back.

In Good Morning, Vietnam Williams’ Adrian Tarnauer, a real person, used Louis Armstrong as the opening theme for Tarnauer’s offbeat Army jazz radio show.  “What A Wonderful World,” used as an ironic frontspiece for the Vietnamese War movie, reignited Armstrong’s resurgence to Number One on the charts well after his death.  Producer Bob Thiele worked the single taking credit for the lyric.  I’m presuming the strings and background voices were studio addenda.

In another based-on-a true-story movie had Williams playing the developer of the “L-Dopa” drug for catatonia treatment in Awakenings.   One of the patients in the film’s ward, located in Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre, L.I., was saxist Dexter Gordon fresh from his Academy Award nomination in “Round About Midnight.”  The Gordon character miraculously recovered sufficiently for a minute to play some riffs.

The defecting lead character in Williams’ Moscow On The Hudson was also a jazz saxophonist.  What impressed me most in that flick was when Williams exposed his very unsexy hairy bod.  I knew then that this was no Hollywood macho guy.  That he would play himself, always.

So there you have it.  Robin Williams, jazz person.  Perhaps not as strongly as pianist Clint Eastwood, or clarinetist Woody Allen, but in more subtle ways; there was always jazz surrounding his characters.

© August 2014 by arnold jay smith

 

 


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