Below is a special piece by the gifted writer Vance Garnett describing a time where music and culture flourished in Miami and showing the role bossa nova had in it.

 

“Magic City” Show Not Cancelled for me: I Was There.
A First-hand Account of Miami’s Magic Bossa Nova Days

 

 

 

“Magic City,” the Starz cable television series, has been cancelled after its second season. This strands devoted viewers with greedy hotel owner Ike Evans in free fall; Ike’s nemesis, Ben Diamond, smirking in a hospital bed; Ike’s younger son driving out of his life forever; and Ike’s beautiful young wife idling her engine, and that of her car, outside of the building where Ike’s older son watches as she contemplates going inside for what might at the time have been called “immoral purposes.”

Creator Mitch Glazer spared no expense in recapturing the magic city of his childhood, one which he could only look up at, too young to be a part of it. Every detail of the atmosphere and ambiance provided an authentic resurrection of the times. This included the near bossa nova opening theme, as the female swimmers floated past the circular windows behind the bar. We must say “near” because the bossa nova had not yet reached the shores of the United States. The introductory  album, “Jazz Samba,” (which I talked about in an interview with BNova a couple of issues  back) would not be recorded by the Stan GetzCharlie Byrd combo until 1962.

 

Glazer captured all the nuances of this period, and the audience eagerly went along for the ride, as if in a gleaming white 1959 top-down Bonneville Pontiac. That New Year’s Eve of the opening show segued into 1960, launching a decade of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, which would provide a soundtrack for many of our lives.

Viewers enjoyed the joy-ride of the first season for its cars, clubs, and clothes, and, yes, the Godfather plot, as well. The music, both foreground and background, perpetuated the pulse of the era with songs like “Tenderly” wafting from the lounges of the grand hotel which Glazer patterned after the Eden Roc. The background was peppered with the voices of Chet Baker, Nat “King” Cole, Julie London, and other tasty vocalists of the day.

There is a Magic City soundtrack of the TV series. But don’t be fooled. It’s as if a few people in a boardroom randomly called off the names of songs and singers they heard of from the 50s.The result seems to be a mishmash of songs and artists tossed on the CD like a pair of dice on a green felt crap table.

Some, if not most, of those songs do not even appear in the show’s two seasons. while songs which can be heard, by the likes of Nat Cole are not to be found on this compilation. Most significantly, the lovely bossa nova-like opening theme is not included on this disc.

Note however: the opening theme and incidental music of the show by composer Daniele Luppi can be found on another CD titled, “Magic City (Original Score).”

The Scene

Flager Street, Miami

Flager Street, Miami

On a personal note, I remember these times, the places and the people. And to me, the Miami of that day was, indeed, a “magic city.” And I was happy to play a small part in the over-arching “showbiz” scene of what was easily “my kind of town.”

Miami was a top-drawer entertainment city. Sinatra frequently lit up the Fontainebleau Hotel, and the words “Sinatra’s in town” ricocheted across the sun-drenched sands like colorful beach balls. Right next door at the Eden Roc, his friend Sammy Davis Jr. might well be holding forth, wowing patrons with his multi-talented performances.

Jackie Gleason. a few years earlier, had hired a train and transported hundreds of his show’s personnel and cronies to what he called “the sun and fun capital of the world.”  The show aired live every Saturday night from the Miami Beach Auditorium. And it didn’t hurt that Gleason ended each show by shouting, “The Miami Beach audience is the greatest audience in the world.”

Nightclubs featured great acts, known and unknown and the Latin beat pulsated along the nightspots of Collins Avenue from groups like the Pupi Campo’s combo and wafted out across the nighttime beaches to join the pulsating moonlit waves.

In upper Miami, Ira Sullivan, who played all the saxophones, flute, and trumpet, had locked in a gig for his jazz combo at the Ranch House. This club became a draw for other entertainers who often shortened their own Saturday night acts in order to catch a set of Ira and his combo. I remember the night the whole Woody Herman Band strolled into the club, instruments in hand, and wailed several songs along with Ira and his swinging group.

During a break before the Four Freshmen launched into their last set at the  Miami Airport Hotel, baritone Bill Comstock told me he would like to catch Ira Sullivan’s last set. So I drove him there, and Bill sat in and sang his trademark song, “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” Then after closing time, Bill and I drove to Big Daddy’s, sat at the circular bar, and sang Freshmen standards like, “It’s a Blue World.”

My own singing engagements were mainly at the Desert Inn, the Deauville Hotel, the Sandpiper Supper Club. These gigs led to my agent, Van Heusen, booking me for a New Years cruise out of Miami to the Bahamas. I agreed, so long as my 10-year-old son, Nick, could come with me. Nicky came and was doted on by crew and passengers alike. Then, on the return to the Port of Miami, I was asked to sign on as singer-cruise director for the rest of the year. I couldn’t grab that pen fast enough.

The ship was the Flavia of the Costa Line. That’s why I was so thrilled when I learned, just yesterday, that the Costa Line’s wounded Concordia had been successfully up-righted off the coast of Tuscany. It had hurt me to see those trademark yellow smoke stacks with the blue “C” lying horizontal.

The repertoire of my year aboard the Flavia consisted of the Great American Songbook,  romantic Italian songs, and bossa nova greats like Luis Bonfa’s “Manha De Carnival.”(In English sung as, “A Day In the Life of a Fool”) and many others by the Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and other Brazilian artists.

These were great days, long remembered and much appreciated. Memories of a time and place that TV’s “Magic City” helped unpack each week.

Now “Magic City” is ended, the show. But we’ll always have Miami, the city. And I’ll always have those unique memories and hear the marvelous music of that era in the reruns of my mind.