Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Falling In Love With Great Music All Over Again


This post, admittedly a departure from our normal pattern, stems from an unusual turn of events.  And it’s only fair that we tell you about it, so you won’t lie awake at night wondering.

A little more than a year ago, we decided to replace our 13 year old ‘family truckster.’  We did so with a virtual clone of the same model, 13 model years newer.

One of the goodies that came with the new truckster is a very nice, integrated audio system.  It allows Bluetooth cell phone connection for hands free use through the radio.  This is pretty cool, actually, especially since it allows voice activated call placement, like ‘call home.’  It recognizes the command, and dials the number.

It also has a USB port so you can plug in a thumb drive or other device to listen to your own music.  This feature caused us to gather up a goodly number of our favorite CD’s, combining a variety of music genres, to copy onto a very inexpensive thumb drive.  This was quite easy to do using our laptop.

Long story long, this caused us to change our listening habits on longer drives.  More specifically, we got back in touch with the “Great American Songbook.”  These are the classic tunes written by our greatest composers and typically sung by the likes of Sinatra, Bennett, Crosby, Astaire and other top entertainers, and often recorded by jazz greats like Shirley Horne, Diana Krall, and numerous others.  The great jazz instrumentalists like Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and John Coltrane have also ‘riffed on’ the melodies to stunning effect.

Beyonce?  Kanye?  Miley and her twerking?  Hip-hop?  They aren’t ‘music;’ they aren’t ‘entertainment.’  They are, in most ways, the complete opposite, and a substitute for the lack of genius that was once part of the American cultural fabric.

How sad for us.  And for our children and their children.

All of the above stimulated us to tell you about a few related items, so here you go.

“Easy to Remember”


Our fascination with the great songs led us to look for something to read about the great composers, and we found this book: Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs.  You’ll find the details here.  It’ll cost you $12 bucks or so, and is well worth it.

We devoured ours, as it covers numerous composers/lyricists in a series of very short chapters, and also gives some great insights into the craft of songwriting.  It also covered most of the great Hollywood and Broadway musical composers.

We loved the book, and highly recommend it.



This is a movie we’ve owned for a while.  You can find it here.

We absolutely love it; it has great performances, and it’s magical to watch the tunes and words of the great Cole Porter songs being created.  It also gives you some sense of the class and style of a bygone era.

Again, we highly recommend it, but with a warning.  It’s not suitable for the young, as Cole Porter was very ‘confused’ about a most important aspect of his self-identity.  We were able to overlook this because of the sheer musicality and beauty of the production.


We were fortunate to see this musical at the MSMT this summer, and it was spectacular, and among the very best we’ve seen there in more than 15 years of season tickets.  Charis Leos (hope we spelled that right) seemed born to the role, the same way Ethel Merman was in originating it on Broadway.


Rosalind Russell stars in the movie version, which is very, very good, but this is one of those shows that seeing in person is pure magic.  At least it was for us.


This is the “musicalized” version of the movie/play “Auntie Mame.”  We were fortunate to have seen Angela Lansbury perform in the role she created when the Broadway tour came to Los Angeles many, many years ago. (more than 40!)

The movie Auntie Mame, staring Rosalind Russell, is very, very good, but obviously doesn’t have the music.  Watching it, however, provides context for the original cast recording of the musical.


Listening to this recording is, for us, a revelation.  First, the melodies are beyond memorable…many are ‘ear-worms,’ just like many of the tunes from Gypsy.  Second, the lyrics are smart, witty, sophisticated, and a spectacular achievement by Jerry Herman, who also wrote the music.  We are immensely jealous of the talent on display.  How we wish we could have words and tunes like these flow from our fingertips….what a gift such composers have.

Even more, if you listen to Gypsy and Mame carefully, you can see just how important the orchestration and arrangements can be in magnifying the grand nature of the melodies and lyrics.  If you buy the latest version of the Mame CD, you’ll get bonus tracks of the composer, Jerry Herman, recording a ‘demo’ for his score, along with a talented songstress on some numbers.

It’s pure musical delight, instead of frightful music.

At least if you like delightful music.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.  And treat your kids and grandkids to it as a way of passing along the great talents and achievements of the past. 

We’re thrilled to watch our ‘grands’ develop an appreciation for the supremely ‘singable’ tunes and musical scores.  It’s great fun to sing the songs along with them, not a good voice in the crowd, but the beauty of the music overcoming those little shortcomings.

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