Story By: G. H. HARDING
Philanthropist Jean Shafiroff

VAN’S THE MAN --- Van Morrison has been named the 2015 recipient of the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In naming Morrison, the organization cited such Morrison classics as “Gloria,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Moondance,” “Domino,” “Crazy Love,” “Have I Told You Lately,“ and “Wild Night,” as significant reasons for the long-overdue and deserved bestowal of the award.

On behalf of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Linda Morrison (no relation – and for what it’s worth, Doors’ singer Jim Morrison is also no relation to Van, even though it was said by late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek that the Lizard King picked up quite a bit of performance and vocal tips from Van when they both sang and jammed together at the Whiskey A Go-Go back when Van was with the group Them and The Doors were just getting started on the Sunset Strip) is quoted as saying, "We are thrilled to be honoring the songwriter who has combined Celtic fire with Rhythm & Blues in an unforgettable way. Van Morrison and his songs have been a powerful cultural force on both sides of the Atlantic for five decades."

To say Van is a long-overdue choice is an understatement. He’s been a prescient presence on the music airwaves for years. He rose to early prominence in the mid-1960s as lead singer of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he recorded the garage band classic "Gloria” (covered back in the day both by The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, and also used to fantastic effect by director Francis Ford Coppola in the opening sequence of his 1983 film of S.E. Hinton’s immortal youth novel, The Outsiders).

His solo career began under the pop-hit oriented guidance of music visionary Bert Berns with the release of the hit single, "Brown Eyed Girl," in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records bought out Van’s contract and allowed him only three sessions to record the album Astral Weeks in 1968 (still an awe-inspiring work).

Even though the album would gradually garner high praise, it was initially a poor seller. However, the next one—Moondance—swiftly established him as a major artist. Throughout the 1970s, he built on his reputation with a series of critically-acclaimed albums and live performances.

Morrison continued to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sold well and were warmly-received. He also sometimes collaborated with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains.

Much of Morrison's music is structured around the traditionally black-culture conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles "Brown Eyed Girl", "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)," "Domino," and "Wild Night."

An equal part of his music also consists of lengthy, loosely-connected, and spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz, and stream-of-consciousness narrative on his material, crystallized on albums such as Astral Weeks and his lesser-known works like Veedon Fleece and Common One.

My favorite Morrison album ever is his Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. Released in 1983, his fourteenth studio album featured the phenomenal track “Rave On, John Donne.”

Morrison said he arrived at the album title from a Shavian saying: "The idea of communicating with as little articulation as possible, at the same time being emotionally articulate, proved compelling."

As his last album for Warner Bros., he decided to do an album of mostly instrumentals. He explained the choice to the press in 1984: "Sometimes when I'm playing something, I'm just sort of humming along with it, and that's got a different vibration than an actual song. So the instrumentals just come from trying to get that form of expression, which is not the same as writing a song."

Suffice to say, Van Morrison has either unintentionally (or intentionally) crafted along the way a persona of being a difficult artist with which to work. My favorite Van story comes from way back in his Warner Bros. days. A publicist who worked for the label (we'll call him Kent, and you can trust us when we tell you that Kent was not a nice fellow!) was quoted publicly as saying, “Morrison has personality problems.” He was gone the very next day, since the label considered—and rightly so—that Van Morrison was a prestige act.

He has received, to date, six Grammy Awards; the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music; has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; and now, the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Van will receive this honor at the 46th annual induction ceremony on Thursday, June 18 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. This year's inductees also include: Bobby Braddock; Willie Dixon; Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia; Toby Keith; Cyndi Lauper; and Linda Perry.

DAREDEVIL --- This just in: Daredevil, Marvel’s acclaimed superhero drama, has received a second season order via Netflix.

But there’s a twist: Show-runner Steven S. DeKnight is stepping down from the series, and writers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez —who worked closely with DeKnight and creator Drew Goddard in the first season—will both serve as the show-runners for Season Two.

The next edition of the show will debut in 2016 as Netflix gets ready to release several other Marvel dramas: A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. And, after all four shows make their debut, Marvel plans further to team all its Netflix heroes for an Avengers-style series tentatively called The Defenders.

Daredevil debuted last week and received some of the best reviews of any superhero TV series. Critics have praised the show for bringing grown-up dramatics, a cinema worthy visual style, and a grittier and more realistic level of violence to the small-screen genre.

Its single-take hallway fight scene has already been declared an instant classic. A fair measure of the show’s creative success can doubtless be attributed to DeKnight, who said he was trying to push Marvel’s comfort zone, and therefore made many unique storytelling moves.

For instance: The show’s major villain, Wilson Fisk (essayed by the truly brilliant Vincent D’Onofrio), was originally supposed to be introduced in the first episode, but DeKnight rather boldly pushed him back to the very end of the third episode-hour to more effectively build suspense around the character . . . and boy, did that work! When he debuted on screen—looking at a painting in stark silence, no less—the energy level for this viewer was palpable!

I watched two more installments yesterday, in fact, and they do indeed get better and better. D’Onofrio gets better and better, too. There’s one scene where he, shall we say, “gets rid” of an accomplice. It is truly head-turning time. Breathtaking!

Petrie and Ramirez will hopefully not alter too many ingredients in this winning show, especially since Season One is so superb.

TAKING THE D TRAIN --- Lakeshore Records will release The D Train – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally on May 5th, and on CD May 26, 2015. The album features an original score by Grammy-winning songwriter Andrew Dost; classic tracks by bands including INXS, Foreigner, The Vapors, Quarterflash, Mr. Mister, and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD); and the original song “A Million Stars,” performed by Andy McCluskey (OMD), Rob Kroehler (Ladylike), Jack Antonoff (fun.) and Andrew Dost (fun.).

"The directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, absolutely had a clear vision,” said Dost. “They knew right away that they wanted a synthesizer-driven, John Hughes-esque score. We tried a few different ideas, anyway –a vintage Western, Ennio Morricone-style sound, for example—but when we landed back on the synthesizers, we knew it was the way to go.”

Dost is a songwriter who has recently begun shifting his focus to composing for film and television. He grew up in northern Michigan playing in concert bands, brass and percussion ensembles, punk bands, and jazz bands—learning all the while how to play any instrument he could find. He attended Central Michigan University, where he wrote a musical and began touring.

After years of traveling in Anathallo, he co-founded the band fun. fun. toured extensively on their first album, Aim and Ignite, but it was their sophomore effort, Some Nights, that finally garnered mainstream success.

The plot of the film is as follows: All his life, Dan Landsman (Jack Black) has never been the cool guy. That’s about to change if he can convince Oliver Lawless (James Marsden)—the most popular guy from his high school who’s now the face of a national Banana Boat ad campaign—to show up with him at their class reunion.

A man on a mission, Dan travels from Pittsburgh to L.A. and spins a web of lies to recruit Lawless. He gets more than he bargains for, though, as the unpredictable Lawless proceeds to take over his home, career, and entire life. Showcasing Jack Black and James Marden's most intoxicating performances to date, The D Train serves up that immortal question: How far would you go to be popular? The movie also co-stars Kathryn Hahn and Jeffrey Tambor, and is set to open on May 8.

PHILANTHROPIST NY TIMES -- New York City Icon Jean Shafiroff was written about last weekend in a great  New York Times article.

“You need to be a team leader,” said Jean Shafiroff in the story, a philanthropist who runs eight charitable galas a year in New York City and the Hamptons. “If someone has done the job, you need to give them a leadership role and give them enough autonomy to do the work.”

Ms. Shafiroff’s events range in size and scope. The summer gala for the Southampton Hospital raised a total of $5.4 million over the three years she headed the event. Others have more modest goals like the New York Women’s Foundation, which raised over $870,000 at its gala last year.

Not all events raise even that much money. Mrs. Shafiroff works endlessly year round to help her charities reach their goals.

Very interesting read on the world of fundraising for great causes.

CLOSING NOTES --- Just a quick note to let you know that ten-time international songwriting award-winner Jessi Teich (pronounced “Teach”) hit a major milestone this week in her hometown of Philadelphia when “Sunday Morning,” from the New Jersey-native’s stylish new Paris-recorded album, Twisted Soul (Madame Freak Records), landed at No. 1 this week on taste maker jazz station WRTI-FM’s (90.1) listener-voted “Jazz Hot 11 Countdown.”

“I’m really glad that someone’s doing something that’s real jazz, that’s fresh and new,” says WRTI program director Maureen Malloy. “It’s things like these that are going to get young people interested in the jazz genre.”

Tonight's Bruce Jenner/Diane Sawyer interview on ABC-TV should be quite the ratings stunner. I'm behind him 100% and applaud him . . . remember, tolerance is the word here . . .

Legendary-remix man Glenn Friscia is plotting a major industry comeback next month. Stay tuned . . .

Saw the cast of Something’s Rotten on Today earlier; my God, their second song, “Will Power” sounded like something from Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic Jesus Christ Superstar. Aren't there any original ideas anymore? …

On a very sad note, we are as stunned and saddened as everyone else upon learning that 19-year-old Sawyer Sweeten—who played one of Deborah and Ray Barone’s three children, along with his twin brother Sullivan Sweeten and older sister Madylin Sweeten, on the popular TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond—has apparently taken his own life. The tragic news is said to have devastated the entire cast from Raymond, all of which remains with us except for the late great actor Peter Boyle (who played the grandfather Frank Barone and passed away in December 2006 from heart disease at the age of 71). What a difference there is between the loss of someone who is 71 and someone who is 19. It has become almost trite at this point to say that there are no words—but there really aren’t any, other than “Rest In Peace.” We send our total condolence and sympathy to the Sweeten family; the Everybody Loves Raymond family; and to any of us whose lives have been touched by the laughter and joy that Sawyer played a part in bringing to us through the show. With thoughts of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately” in mind, we think everyone should reach out and tell someone they know that they love them. Never underestimate how much that might mean to someone, family or friend . . .


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