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    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

The Facts on Larry Ching, and Some Unexpected Honors

Ben Fong-Torres

Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine, added record production to his credits with 'Till the End of Time' by Larry Ching. Read all about it.

AsianConnections is proud to present the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.

If all goes well, which it rarely does in the recording industry, the Larry Ching CD I produced should be available by early June.

It has been a long journey, getting Larry recorded, learning the ropes of the record biz, and getting the CD out.

As Larry and I, along with a great support crew, give birth to the recording, called Till the End of Time, I am going to let you in behind the scenes of the making of a record.

I would like to begin by giving you what I am sending to radio, TV, newspapers, magazines and Web sites. Although this is a very small project, just about everyone who has heard Larrys story wants to know more about him. So I have put together a fact sheet. With designer Kelly Low (of Treehouse Studio in San Francisco) and Web developer Jennifer Breese, I am also helping build a home page for Larry, at www.larryching.com. There, beginning in early June, you will be able to see stories about Larry and the CD, hear sample tracks, see a video of him in the studio, and learn more about Forbidden City, the all-Chinese nightclub where he came to prominence in the Forties.

Larry Ching in the Forties, flanked by admirers.

This CD was created as a tribute to a true entertainment pioneer.

This just in: The CD is available, and you can get it, at a special discount, right here!

For now, here, as written for the media, are the facts.

who: Larry Ching

what: At age 82, the Chinese Frank Sinatra, as he was billed when he was a star performer at the legendary Forbidden City night club in San Francisco in the Forties and Fifties, has made his first album. It is entitled Till the End of Time.

when: Ching, backed by his regular pianist, George Yamasaki, and by veteran bassist Dean Reilly (Vince Guaraldi, Carmen McRae) and drummer Jim Zimmerman (Cleo Laine, Dianne Schuur), recorded the album in February, 2003, with music journalist and broadcaster Ben Fong-Torres serving as producer, and with long-time audio engineer John Barsotti at the controls.

where: The session took place in the studios at San Francisco State University. Besides the 12 songs recorded there, the album includes four tracks of unknown origin. Ching recorded the songs (including the title tune, Till the End of Time ) sometime in the Forties, he says. But he does not recall exactly when, where, or with whom he made the recordings. They were found on two 78 r.p.m. acetate disks, and excerpts were first heard on Forbidden City USA, the documentary about the club by Arthur Dong.

why: Ben Fong-Torres, the music writer, broadcaster, and former Rolling Stone magazine editor, met and heard Ching sing when Fong-Torres co-MCd the world premiere of Forbidden City USA at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1989.

The two met again when Ching and Yamasaki performed at a mutual friends wedding in 1993. I loved his voice, and I was intrigued by his story, his becoming a nightclub singer in the Thirties, and the fact that he continues to sing whenever and wherever he can. I wanted to get him down on record, for his friends, his family, and whoever else might like to hear American standards the way they were sung before they became standards.

Various books, jobs and other projects kept Fong-Torres from pursuing his idea, but late in 2002, he was invited to MC an event marking the DVD release of Forbidden City USA. Once again, Ching and Yamasaki performed, and Fong-Torres was more determined than ever to get Larry Ching into a studio.

When John Barsotti, a friend and veteran record producer who teaches audio engineering and production at S.F. State, offered his services, along with studio time, Till the End of Time was finally underway.

the songs:

Im In the Mood for Love
I Only Have Eyes for You
Prisoner of Love
Once In a While
Hawaiian Wedding Song (Ke Kali Nei Au)
All of Me
Embraceable You
Blue Hawaii
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
It Had to Be You
Hawaiian Paradise
Stardust

[Bonus tracks recorded in the 1940s:]

How High the Moon
Too Young
Thats For Me
Till the End of Time

RANDOM NOTES

I seriously do not know how this could have happened, but, shortly after learning that I was being inducted into the San Francisco State University Alumni Hall of Fame, the big U called and said I was also their choice as Alumnus of the Year. When you consider that SF State was established 102 years ago, there have got to have been at least several, uh, thousands of alumni, so this is quite an honor.

The honor included addressing the Class of 2003 at the commencement exercises on May 24th, along with Peter Yarrow, who received an honorary doctorate, and Student Speaker Nelly Puiyee Lau, a top honors student in electrical engineering who earned a National Science Foundation Graduate fellowship and is headed for Stanford. She had more than a few words of wisdom to offer. Don't be limited by society's stereotypes, she advised. She recited a proverb in Mandarin, then translated: Learning is like rowing upstream. If you stop rowing, you are bound to go backwards. And, addressing a class that has weathered September 11 and the Iraq war during their time on campus, Nelly noted: Almost all intentional tragedies are a result of misunderstanding, selfishness and hatred. We must resolve conflicts in a civilized way.

It was encouraging to hear young voices like Nellys, and more seasoned voices like Peters. He mixed a passionate call for peace and compassion with a couple of songs, ending with a joyous singalong to Puff the Magic Dragon.

Thanks to the Alumni Association and to SFSU President Robert Corrigan for a wonderful weekend, one that made me more proud than ever to have attended the university.

Jennifer Simpson, a big Boz Scaggs fan, wants to know what I think of his latest CD, But Beautiful. Here, Boz breaks away from his rock and blues menu and gets into jazz and American standards. Wait a minute hes copying Larry Ching! Thing is, Boz has always traversed the great American musical landscape, from blues and soul to country and rock to jazz and pop. On Fade Into Light, a 1996 CD released in Japan, he did a gorgeous version of Harbor Lights. And in recent years, he has captivated audiences with a silky reading of My Funny Valentine. Unfortunately, that chestnut is not in this collection, but Whats New, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Sophisticated Lady, and a lucky seven others, are filtered through the singular Scaggs voice. If you have dug Boz through the years, and understand that, in a sense, he has always been a jazzer improvisational, eclectic, spare, and capable of making the voice a musical instrument, part of the ensemble, you will find the new recording a little different. But beautiful.

For more insights by Ben, visit his official website at www.benfongtorres.com