Ray Charles | Celine Dion | Richard Sylbert 

Barbra, Ray, And Quincy Face Music

Ray Charles, I can tell you, is busy making his album of duets a la Frank Sinatra. And what's more, he's picking up on Sinatra's vibe from the beyond. 

Charles, the great American singer and jazz pianist, is using Quincy Jones to produce the album. What's more, he's already lined up at least two singers to do guest spots: Barbra Streisand and Willie Nelson. My guess is we'll be hearing Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, and possibly Natalie Cole vocalizing with Ray before the recording is done. 

Remember, you also read here first back in January that director Taylor Hackford — of An Officer and a Gentleman fame and also husband of the great actress Helen Mirren — has the rights to Ray's story and is hoping to bring it to the big screen soon. It looks like late 2002 will be themed Everybody Loves Ray

Meantime, no mention of Streisand's VH-1 series about a record company. I reported that Streisand would executive produce this drama series starring husband James Brolin one year ago, but the project has evidently died on the vine. Alas, Streisand's appearance at the Oscars showed her — as well as Robert Redford — looking extremely refreshed and younger than ever. They've discovered the fountain of youth. More power to them! 

Celine’s CD Has Discount Recordings 

Celine Dion took a three year sabbatical since all the Titanic fuss. Now she has her first new CD out, called A New Day Has Come. It is, by and large, dreadful. 

Of course, Sony will see to it that this Day is a mega hit. But the reality of it is that the song choices are so desperately poor that nothing — not even Celine's incredible voice — can save them. Song after song is mediocre, and "At Last," the old Etta James hit, is just not suited to Celine's crystalline tones. If you want the real thing, check out Phoebe Snow's famous version on her recent greatest hits, or Etta herself. 

But that doesn't mean that New Day is 100 percent awful. Hidden at the end of it is one of the most beautiful recordings I have ever heard, and I am not particularly a Celine fan. Her rendition of "Nature Boy," produced by Walter Afanasieff, is so spectacular from beginning to end that it makes the rest of the CD seem almost criminal. Here is a real song, with an actual arrangement. Bravo, Celine! If only New Day featured her singing 11 other real compositions chosen for her specifically, what a difference it would be! 

One reason that Celine did not have access to great songwriters this time around: her husband Rene Angelil demands a cut of the publishing rights from the writers. Evidently the only ones he could get were this group, and he wound up with the B list. Even our old pal Diane "My songs all sound the same" Warren is MIA this time. I guess no one wanted to pony up. And you get what you pay for. 

Another Hollywood Legend Departs 

So where was Bob Evans anyway? His departure from the festivities may have been prompted by the the death of production designer Richard Sylbert late Saturday night. (Even though most everyone in Hollywood is as heartless as the types depicted in Blake Edwards' S.O.B. we'll give Bob the benefit of the doubt.) 

Sylbert was a mainstay in that town, and responsible for an amazing number of classic films including Chinatown, Shampoo, The Manchurian Candidate, The Heartbreak Kid, The Graduate, Dick Tracy, Day of the Dolphin, Frances, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Prince of Tides and, more recently, Mulholland Falls (the Lee Tamahori movie, not David Lynch), Red Corner and the upcoming Who Shot Victor Fox?

When you think of that Band-Aid across Nicholson's nose, or Beatty with his blow dryer, or Dustin banging on the doors of the church — that's all Dick Sylbert's look. Sylbert was 73 and the twin brother of another famous production designer, Paul Sylbert. Like producer Julia Phillips, he was a member of special group in movie history, the most productive and creative era so far. He will be sorely missed. 

Also missed, as noted in today's New York Times, our old pal Alfred Lane, the librarian since 1988 at the Writers' Room in Greenwich Village. Al really invented our library, and made it grow. Books were his passion, and the Writers Room was his home. He's left an important legacy, and I'm glad the Times was smart enough to cite him. 

I did promise some info on Sting for today, but space precludes my musings on him and wife Trudie Styler. You'll have to wait for tomorrow, I'm afraid. I think it will be worth the extra day. In the meantime, Happy Passover to one and all.

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