"More addictive than a goddam video game" - Balloon Juice

"One of my very favorite music blogs ever..." - Singer/Songwriter Emma Wallace

"Fascinating... really GREAT!!! You'll learn things about those tunes we all LOVE to play and blow on... SOD is required reading for my advanced students. It's fun, too!" - Nick Mondello of
AllAboutJazz.com

"I never let a day go by without checking it." - Bob Madison of Dinoship.com

"I had dinner the other night with some former WNEW staff members who spoke very highly of your work." - Joe Fay

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Silver Bells

By Jay Livingston & Ray Evans
1950

A warm, fuzzy Christmas classic of the post-war era, this charming chestnut was composed for the film The Lemon Drop Kid, in which it was introduced by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. A major hit recording by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards released before the film was so successful it caused the film producers to re-shoot the scene more elaborately prior to the release of the movie. Conflicting reports indicate that the inspiration for the song came either from the bell-ringing Salvation Army Santas on NYC streetcorners, or a bell that was kept on Livingston and Evans' shared office desk. Incidentally, the songwriting team of Livingston & Evans were also responsible for such post-war classics as "To Each His Own" and "Mona Lisa".

Lyrics:

Silver bells silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring a ling, hear them sing
Soon it will be Christmas day

City sidewalks busy sidewalks .
Dressed in holiday style
In the air
There's a feeling
of Christmas
Children laughing
People passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you'll hear...

Silver bells silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring a ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day

Strings of street lights
Even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush
home with their treasures
Hear the snow crunch
See the kids bunch
This is Santa's big scene
And above all this bustle
You'll hear...

Silver bells, silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day

Recorded By:

Perry Como
Dean Martin
Frank Sinatra
Martina McBride
Andy Williams

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Way

By Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux & Paul Anka
1968

Although Frank himself never considered it one of his best, we celebrate his birthday today with what is undoubtedly one of his signature records, and a song that is second only to Lennon & McCartney's "Yesterday" as the most recorded of all time. Originally a French tune by Francois and Revaux, the young Anka heard it and decided to repurpose it for an aging, disillusioned Chairman, who had all but decided to quit the business. Anka slightly altered the melody and gave it English lyrics, and presented it as a gift to Frank, whose recording would result in one the legendary singer's most massive hits. It may not be Porter, Gershwin or Mercer, but it's undeniably Frank, and a song that kept him relevant in the Beatles era. It's been attempted by everyone from Elvis to Sid Vicious, but no one made it his own to the degree that Sinatra did. For whom could those lyrics ever be more true?

Happy Birthday, Francis Albert!

Lyrics:

And now, the end is nearAnd so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and ev'ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do , I saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
And through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way,
"Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
The right to say the things he feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!


Recorded By: 

Nina Simone
Elvis Presley
Sid Vicious
Gipsy Kings
Andy Williams
Gonzo the Great
Shirley Bassey
Tom Jones
Andrea Bocelli
Patti Lupone

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Songbook's Greatest Champion Finds a Permanent Online Home

Growing up in New York, Jonathan Schwartz was a major part of my formative years, specifically when it came to the development of my musical tastes. As I've discussed before, thanks to my grandparents I was a longtime listener of the old WNEW-AM, NYC's home for American popular standards. And Mr. Schwartz was pretty much our favorite DJ on the station. But he was so much more than a DJ--he was a radio personality in the truest sense of the term, sharing in-depth stories and anecdotes that added so much more to our enjoyment of the music, and made him feel like a long-time personal friend.

After leaving AM due to the demise of WNEW (and later WQEW) in the 1990s, Jonathan found a home on WNYC-FM, New York's NPR affiliate. Here he had more freedom than ever before. And when he also became one of the premiere personalities behind the fledgling XM Satellite Radio in 2000, it was an even greater joy for fans of "our kind of music". Jonathan was given the leeway to shape his own channel, devoted 24/7 to the Great American Songbook, and his great love, Sinatra, in particular. Alternately called Frank's Place and High Standards, it was absolutely one of the musical highlights of the new platform.

But when XM merged with competitor Sirius in 2008, things began to change. The Sinatra family had their own channel on Sirius, and when it was merged with Jonathan's XM endeavor, the two were strange bedfellows, to say the least. For various reasons, Frank's kids (Nancy in particular) have never been all that high on Jonathan (hell, even Frank himself had differences with him over the years). And so the writing was on the wall: Sirius would, of course, back Nancy and company, and Jonathan's days were numbered. After being relegated to the '40s Channel for a while, his contract quietly expired earlier this year.

It seemed, just as in 1998 when WQEW left the NY AM airwaves, taking the American songbook with it, that this type of music was once again being endangered. Certainly, thanks to streaming radio there are more outlets than ever, and in particular channels like Metromedia Radio (inheritors of the WNEW legacy) do a tremendous job of keeping the torch lit. But the loss of Jonathan was a major blow.

The son of all-time great songwriter Arthur Schwartz, Jonathan is the songbook's most vocal, most eloquent and most fascinating champion. His gentle voice has entranced fans of this music, including myself, for decades, and no one gives rich context to it quite like he does, with his unforgettable and often precocious commentaries--not to mention his always-impeccable choice in material (although I can do with a little less modern Broadway and a little more smoky saloon singing, but to each his own.) It seemed Jonathan would be relegated to his weekend WNYC shows and nothing more.

That is, until the brass at WNYC woke up to the tremendous opportunity they had on their hands. With Schwartz now a free agent, the NPR affiliate was free to do more with him than ever. And earlier this month, they pulled the trigger on an exciting project that has captured the attention of fans of classic American pop like nothing has in quite a while. It's The Jonathan Channel--an online streaming radio platform that airs 24/7, and is under the complete control of Mr. Schwartz. Kind of like what his XM channel used to be, except at no charge to the listener (although donations certainly are welcome, as it is a public radio venture.)

I've been listening most days since it began, and for those of us who grew up with Jonathan's brand of standards radio, it is truly a gift. Jonathan Schwartz, available anytime, anywhere, in perpetuity. My grandfather would've loved it, even if he probably would need my help to figure out how to stream it.

The New Yorker Magazine celebrated the event with a couple of fascinating articles, including an interview with Schwartz, as well as something his fans have been clamoring for for years: Jonathan's personal list of must-have albums. Talk about Christmas list fodder! I encourage everyone to give these pieces a read.

I also encourage everyone to give The Jonathan Channel a listen. Whether you're already familiar with him or not, if you love this kind of music and appreciate it being thoughtfully and artfully presented, then Jonathan Schwartz is for you. I'll certainly be tuning in whenever I have the chance. His voice has accompanied me since childhood, and helped stir the passion that led to Standard of the Day in the first place. So here's to Jonathan, and his new permanent home. May the music go on forever.

The Jonathan Channel
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Twitter

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Let's Misbehave

By Cole Porter
1927

One of the signature, defining tunes of the Roaring '20s, and yet it almost didn't see the light of day. Porter composed this ode to free-wheeling sexuality for his first major Broadway revue, Paris, but it was substituted at the last minute with another Porter gem, "Let's Do It" (it was eventually included in the 1962 revival of Anything Goes). Nevertheless, the star of Paris, Irene Bordoni, made a recording of it that became an instant hit. It has since become a song that instantly conjures up those Jazz Age days, and thus has appeared in many films over the years. The 1928 Irving Aaronson version alone has been featured in two Woody Allen films, was danced to by Christopher Walken in Pennies from Heaven, and most recently appeared in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. Elvis Costello also performed it in the Cole Porter biopic, De-Lovely.

Lyrics:

You could have a great career,
And you should;
Yes you should.
Only one thing stops you dear:
You're too good;
Way too good!

If you want a future, darlin',
Why don't you get a past?
'Cause that fateful moment's comin' at last...

We're all alone, no chaperone
Can get our number
The world's in slumber--let's misbehave!!!

There's something wild about you child
That's so contagious
Let's be outrageous--let's misbehave!!!

When Adam won Eve's hand
He wouldn't stand for teasin'.
He didn't care about those apples out of season.

They say that Spring means just one little thing to little lovebirds
We're not above birds--let's misbehave!!!

It's getting late and while I wait
My poor heart aches on
Why keep the breaks on? Let's misbehave!!!

I feel quite sure affaire d'amour
Would be attractive
While we're still active, let's misbehave!

You know my heart is true
And you say you for me care...
Somebody's sure to tell,
But what the heck do we care?

They say that bears have love affairs
And even camels
We're men and mammals--let's misbehave!!!


Recorded By:

Irving Aaronson and His Commanders
Cole Porter
Elvis Costello
Cybill Shepherd
Ethel Merman

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Swanee

By George Gershwin & Irving Caesar
1919

Despite all his later accomplishments, this career-making hit for Gershwin would remain the biggest hit of his entire life. Written on a train ride with Caesar one New York afternoon as a parody of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home", it was introduced in the Broadway revue Demi-Tasse. But it wasn't until the legendary Al Jolson heard it played by Gershwin at a party and incorporated it into his show Sinbad that it really took off. The song wound up selling over a million copies of sheet music, and Jolson's recording was number one for nine weeks. The money Gershwin made from it allowed him to leave Tin Pan Alley and focus on an illustrious Broadway career.

Lyrics:

I've been away from you a long time
I never thought I'd miss 'ya so
Somehow I feel, your love is real
Near you I wanna be.

The Birds are singing it is songtime
The banjos strumming soft and low
I know that you yearn for me too, Swanee you're calling me

Swanee - how I love ya, how I love ya 
My dear old Swanee. 
I'd give the world to be 

Among the folks in D-I-X-I-E-ven though my mammy's waiting for me,
Praying for me down by the Swanee. 
The folks up north will see me no more, when I get to that Swanee shore!


Recorded By:

Al Jolson
Judy Garland
Rufus Wainwright
The Muppets
The Temptations

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Eydie Gorme 1928-2013

"Eydie has been my partner on stage and in life for more than 55 years. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and even more the first time I heard her sing. While my personal loss is unimaginable, the world has lost one of the greatest pop vocalists of all time."
                                                                                                     - Steve Lawrence 

Whether as a solo act, or together with her husband Steve Lawrence as the unforgettable duo of "Steve and Eydie", there is little doubt that Eydie Gorme was one of the most admired and imitated female pop vocalists of the past 60 years. Fans young and old mourned her passing in Las Vegas on August 10, just shy of her 85th birthday. And although she officially retired in 2009, her haunting music and full, rich voice will always live on. During an era in which pop music became something vastly different than what it was when she first broke into it, she maintained her class, dignity and integrity above all.

Born Edith Garmezano in the Bronx to Sephardic Jewish parents of Sicilian and Turkish origins in 1928, she would later transform her name as so many entertainers did in those days. She spoke fluent Spanish at home, and this would later serve her both in her early career as a United Nations translator, and later as a musician, when she would record a string of Latin-themed albums.

Right out of high school, she was already singing in an orchestra during these, the waning years of the Big Band craze. One of these groups, the Tommy Tucker Orchestra, would employ her as a vocalist in 1950 for her very first recordings--made when she was only 22. After a time spent as the singer for the band of former Glenn Miller tenor saxophonist Tex Beneke, she struck out solo in 1952, during a period when the solo vocalist was rapidly replacing the band as the preferred form of pop music.

She made her first TV appearance in 1953 on the original Tonight Show, hosted by Steve Allen. On that fateful day, she would meet her future husband and lifelong musical partner, Steve Lawrence--a fellow guest booked for the same taping. They would be married in 1957, and by the following year, would be teamed up on their own TV show, which ironically enough, served as a summer replacement for Allen's Tonight Show.

By that point, Gorme was already an established act on her own, having nine singles on Billboard's Hot 100 pop chart to her credit. After the marriage and thanks to the TV exposure, the duo began performing together, and before long would also be recording together as well. They became fixtures on the Las Vegas scene--a situation that would last for decades to come--and close friends of Vegas' ultimate entertainer, Frank Sinatra.

However, by the early 1960s, the pop landscape was changing, and with rock and roll becoming the music of the moment, it started getting tougher for Gorme to remain a fixture on the pop charts--instead, the majority of her future hits would be on the so-called Easy Listening or Adult Contemporary chart. However, not before she'd have her biggest pop hit of all, the infectious "Blame It on the Bossa Nova". Her only top 10 hit, it went platinum for her in 1963, mere months before the Beatles arrived and took over.


All told, Eydie, both on her own and with Steve, would land 27 singles on the AC chart during the 1960s and 1970s, and would rise to become one of music's most respected voices and forces. She won a Best Female Vocal Performance Grammy in 1967 for "If He Walked Into My Life". The "Steve and Eydie" stage act flourished, and the two became iconic for their on-stage banter and the real life affection that showed through in their appearances. In one final nod to Steve Allen, perhaps the tune most associated with the couple would be Allen's composition "This Could Be the Start of Something". They became a favorite of the older set, an aging listenership that found itself more and more alienated by the music industry's pursuit of the youth market.

Through it all, Gorme maintained a flourishing solo career, highlighted in the '60s by a series of Spanish albums she recorded with the group Trio Los Panchos. In fact, this period would introduce her to a whole new audience that would continue to hold her talents in high regard for years to come. 

Following the 1970s, Eydie and her husband chose to focus mainly on their live appearances, catering to the audience that already knew and loved them. In 1986, they were struck with tragedy when their son Michael died of a freak heart attack at age 23. After being flown out of Vegas on Sinatra's private plane to be with their family, the couple took a year off from performing in order to mourn.

Eydie Gorme continued to proudly perform into her 80s, but finally stepped away from the stage in 2009, leaving her husband to continue on his own. It's suspected that the undisclosed illness which caused her death may have been the reason. She died in Las Vegas' Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, with her lifelong love Steve at her side, along with their surviving son David and their one granddaughter.

Whether it's her famous hits, her Spanish recordings, her duets with Steve, or classic albums like 1965's definitive Don't Go to Strangers, Eydie Gorme left the world with an impressive and sometimes slightly underrated body of beautiful work. "Steve and Eydie" will forever be a touchstone of a particular generation--and although half of that touchstone is now commended to musical history, that history is made all the more decorated for it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summertime

By George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin & DuBose Heyward
1935

Often considered the finest song in the American musical theater, this is more than a song: It's an aria, composed by Gershwin using the words of original librettist Heyward to mimic the African American folk spirituals of the day. It was introduced on stage in Gershwin's operatic masterpiece Porgy & Bess by Abbie Mitchell, who also performed the first recorded version of it (with Gershwin himself on accompanying piano). Billie Holiday was the first to have a big hit with it, and it has since become a jazz standard of the highest caliber.

Lyrics:

Summertime,
And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by


Recorded By:

Janis Joplin
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Sam Cooke
John Coltrane
Nina Simone

Friday, August 2, 2013

There's No You

By Hal Hopper & Tom Adair
1944

A lush, gorgeous composition that helped catapult Jo Stafford's solo career. After leaving the Pied Pipers vocal group and becoming Capitol Records' first solo vocalist in '44, Stafford (or her arrangers) chose this beautiful song to be one of her very first recordings. Perfectly suited to her range and style, it became an instant standard thanks to her and has been recorded by numerous artists over the years since.

Lyrics:

I feel the autumn breeze, it steals 'cross my pillow
As soft as a will-o'-the-wisp and in its song
There is sadness because there's no you

The lonely autumn trees, how softly they're sighing
'Cause summer is dying, they know that in my heart
There's no gladness because there's no you

The park that we walked in, the garden we talked in
How lonesome they seem in the fall
Stormy clouds hover and falling leaves cover
Our favorite nook in the wall

In spring we'll meet again, we'll kiss and recapture
That summertime rapture we knew and from that day
Never more will I say, "There's no you"


Recorded By:

Duke Ellington
Frank Sinatra
Louis Armstrong
Coleman Hawkins
Stacey Kent

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I Get a Kick Out of You

By Cole Porter
1934

Five years ago today, I kicked off the Standard of the Day blog with Cole Porter's "Cheek to Cheek". And today, I celebrate that anniversary with another Porter song, which became a signature tune for the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra. Of course, 20 years before Frank famously recorded it for his Swing Easy album, it was introduced in the Broadway musical Anything Goes, by Ethel Merman. The song is quintessential Porter, with a soaring melody that is matched perfectly by its wry, yet poignant lyric. It's original lyrical reference to cocaine was controversial for the time, and later substituted with other lyrics (even by Merman and Sinatra themselves). Yet Porter's sophistication is so irresistible that such substitution is silly and unnecessary. This is one of the very best from possibly the best of the giants of American popular song, and thus fitting that it would become so identified with Sinatra, perhaps the greatest interpreter of popular song. And of course, it perfectly sums up what Standard of the Day is all about.

Thanks for continually supporting this labor of love, and I hope to continue to bring great music to you for many more years! I sure do get a kick out of it...

Lyrics:

My story is much to sad to be told,
But practically everything leaves me totally cold.
The only exception I know is the case
When we're out on a quiet spree,
Fighting vainly the old ennui,
And I suddenly turn and see
Your fabulous face...

I get no kick from champagne.
Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all,
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you?

Some they may go for cocaine.
I'm sure that if I took even one sniff
It would bore me terrifically too.
Yet I get a kick out of you.

I get a kick everytime I see you standing there before me.
I get a kick, though it's clear to see
You obviously don't adore me.

I get no kick in a plane.
Flying too high with some guy in the sky
Is my idea of nothing to do.
But I get a kick out of you!

Recorded By:

Tony Bennett
Charlie Parker
Artie Shaw
Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson
Dinah Washington

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ain't Misbehavin'

By Fats Waller, Harry Brooks & Andy Razaf
1929

Standard of the Day continues its fifth anniversary celebration this month with another signature tune, this time from the great Fats Waller. Fats claimed to have written the song while in prison, which partly inspired the title. He introduced it in 1929, and it was an instant hit, being recorded by several other artists in that year alone, and of course countless times over the decades since. It was the title tune for a 1978 Broadway musical based around Waller's songs, and was also performed by Leon Redbone during the first season of Saturday Night Live. It was also adopted as a theme song by comedian George Burns. More than any other, this song captured the irresistible charm and enthusiasm of the inimitable genius Fats Waller.

Lyrics:

No one to talk with, all by myself
No one to walk with, but I'm happy on the shelf
Ain't misbehavin', I'm savin' my love for you.

I know for certain the one you love
I'm through with flirtin', it's just you I'm thinkin' of
Ain't Misbehavin', I'm savin' my love for you.

Like Jack Horner in the corner
don't go nowhere, what do I care
Your kisses are worth waitin' for . . . Believe me.

I don't stay out late, don't care to go
I'm home about 8, just me and my radio
Ain't Misbehavin', I'm savin' my love for you.

Recorded By:

Billie Holiday
Ella Fitzgerald
Eartha Kitt
Django Reinhardt
Johnnie Ray

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fine and Mellow

By Billie Holiday
1939

Fifty-four years ago today, Billie Holiday, the greatest jazz singer of her time or perhaps any, died of heart failure in a hospital bed to which she had been handcuffed due to narcotics possession. But 20 years before that tragic day, she composed this sublime song--one of only a handful she wrote herself. Typical of her cynical and mournful nature, the song is a blue whose lyrics describe poor treatment at the hands of an unworthy man, who is loved nevertheless. It truly epitomizes the pain at the heart of this great artist's work. She initially recorded it in 1939, but also performed it during a 1957 TV special, The Sound of Jazz. Today Standard of the Day remembers the song, as we remember the passing of this unparalleled legend of music.

AND, with this month bringing the FIFTH anniversary of Standard of the Day on July 21, I'll be devoting the rest of the month to vocalists' signature songs, like this one. Stay tuned!

Lyrics:

My man don't love me

Treats me oh so mean
My man he don't love me
Treats me awfully
Hes the, lowest man
That Ive ever seen

He wears high trimmed pants
Stripes are really yellow
He wears high trimmed pants
Stripes are really yellow
But when he starts in to love me
Hes so fine and mellow

Love will make you drink and gamble
Make you stay out all night long repeat
Love will make you drink and gamble
Make you stay out all night long repeat
Love will make you do things
That you know is wrong

But if you treat me right baby
Ill stay home everyday
But if you treat me right baby
Ill stay home everyday
But you're so mean to me baby
I know you're gonna drive me away

Love is just like the faucet
It turns off and on
Love is just like the faucet
It turns off and on
Sometimes when you think it's on baby
It has turned off and gone.

Recorded By:

Nina Simone
Eva Cassidy
Ella Fitzgerald
Lou Rawls
Dee Dee Bridgewater

Monday, June 24, 2013

Honeysuckle Rose

By Fats Waller & Andy Razaf
1929

One of the most mainstream of all the compositions of Waller and Razaf (pictured), this song made its way into the lexicon of pop and jazz not long after its introduction by Fats' own ensemble. The infectious, syncopated melody is amongst Waller's best, and Razaf's lyric is playfully flirtatious, setting up the object of his love as a viable sugar substitute (who needs Splenda?) A joyful standard that has brought joy to music fans for generations.

Lyrics: 

Ev'ry honeybee.... fills with jealousy
When they see you out with me
I don't blame them....goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

When you're passin' by....flowers drop and sigh
And I know the reason why
You're much sweeter....goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

Don't buy sugar....you just have to touch my cup
You're my sugar....it's so sweet when you stir it up

When I'm taking sips...from your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
You're confection.....goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose.

Recorded By:

Louis Armstrong
Eva Cassidy
Jane Monheit
Anita O'Day
Lena Horne



Monday, May 20, 2013

Be Careful, It's My Heart

By Irving Berlin
1942

One of 12 original songs written by Berlin for the movie musical Holiday Inn, starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby (this is the movie that introduced "White Christmas". With songs written each with a holiday theme, this one is themed for Valentine's Day, and is introduced in the film by Crosby. Constructed as a waltz, the song nevertheless proved quite popular as a pop and even jazz standard.

Lyrics:

Sweetheart of mine, I've sent you a Valentine
Sweetheart of mine, it's more than a Valentine

Be careful, it's my heart
It's not my watch you're holding, it's my heart

It's not the note I sent you
That you quickly burned
It's not the book I lent you
That you never returned

Remember, it's my heart
The heart with which so willingly I part

It's yours to take, to keep or break
But please, before you start
Be careful, it's my heart

Recorded By:

Frank Sinatra
Tommy Dorsey
Bing Crosby
John Pizzarelli & The George Shearing Quintet
Vera Lynn

Friday, May 17, 2013

Yes Sir, That's My Baby

By Walter Donaldson & Gus Kahn
1925

An infectious tune that originated in the Roaring '20s, legend has it that the song was inspired by a visit composers Donaldson and Kahn made to the home of the immensely popular entertainer Eddie Cantor. When Cantor's daughter introduced her favorite wind-up toy, which produced a beguiling two-note melody, this led the two men to write the song based around those two notes. It was an instant hit, introduced by Ace Brigode, and has remained beloved ever since.

Lyrics:

Yes sir, that's my baby
No sir, I don't mean maybe
Yes sir, that's my baby now

Yes, ma'm, we've decided
No ma'm, we won't hide it
Yes, ma'm, you're invited now

By the way, by the way
When we meet the preacher I'll say

Yes sir, that's my baby
No sir, I don't mean maybe
Yes sir, that's my baby now


Recorded By:


Frank Sinatra
Ricky Nelson
Eddie Cantor
Lee Morse
Gene Austin

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

P.S. I Love You

By Gordon Jenkins & Johnny Mercer
1934

No, this is not the Beatles song. Years before the Fab Four were ever born, superb arranger/composer (and future Sinatra collaborator)
Jenkins and ingenious lyricist Mercer would team up to produce this utterly charming song about domestic bliss communicated over long distance. With a lyric that comprises a communication made to a significant other who is away from home, the number has a witty, quaint appeal that's easy to understand. It was introduced by none other than Rudy Vallee, but later enjoyed revivals in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Most recently, the Bobby Vinton version was featured in an episode of Mad Men.

Lyrics:

Dear, I thought I'd drop a line
The weather's cool, the folks are fine
I'm in bed each night at nine
P.S. I love you.

Yesterday we had some rain
But all in all, I can't complain
Was it dusty on the train?
P.S. I love you.

Write to the Browns just as soon as you're able
They came around to call
And I burned a hole in the dining room table
Now let me think, I guess that's all

Nothing else for me to say
And so I'll close, but by the way
Everybody's thinking of you
P.S. I love you.


Recorded By:

Billie Holiday
Frank Sinatra
Bing Crosby
The Vogues
Nancy LaMott


Monday, March 25, 2013

A Lifelong Pursuit of Beauty: Remembering Uncle Peter

Our first photo together? Circa 1975.
For some who have wondered just why it is that I have such a strong attachment to and knowledge of the music of an era that existed decades before I was even born, the answer is simple: I had the distinct privilege of a childhood in which I was surrounded by an extended family made up of some wonderful, eccentric, often outrageous and endlessly fascinating individuals who happened to have lived during that earlier era. They gave love to my sister and me, and also gave us a wealth of knowledge and experience beyond our years.

For most of my life I lived in Brooklyn, in very close proximity—walking distance—to the house where resided my grandparents, as well as my grandmother’s three siblings. It was one of those loud, massive Italian families you see in the movies (or maybe in your own life if you were as lucky as me). Recent years have been bittersweet, as we’ve begun bidding our fond farewells. First to my grandmother in 2007. In 2011, it was my grandfather, whom I remembered at length right on this site. And now, my beloved Uncle Peter, who passed away on March 7 at the age of 85.


Publicity headshot, 1981
Unfortunately, I no longer live within that close proximity, and so I was unable to be at my Uncle’s side on that fateful day, as I had been with my grandfather, who had already moved up to Connecticut. His memory lives within me, however, thanks to many years of close companionship—listening, learning, sharing and discovering. They’re all with me—it’s getting loud in there!—but no voice booms louder than that of Uncle Pete.  

My Uncle Pete was a man of great passions. A passion for good music. A passion for art. A passion for theater and film. A passion for performing. A passion for nature and animals. A passion for food and cooking. A passion for laughter and good conversation. A passion for life.  

He had such a zest for life, and he passed it along to everyone around him. He once told me that before he died, he wanted to make sure he left a good taste in everyone’s mouth, and everyone remembered him fondly. I think he accomplished that goal.  

He had a love for beauty, and he sought out beautiful things. He shared that with my sister and me. I can honestly say he helped shape the way I look at the world. More than anyone in my young life, he understood me, he nurtured my mind, and he helped me develop into the person I am today. I still remember him taking my sister and me out to help in his garden. I remember him taking me up to his room to play his opera records, and how he would get tears in his eyes listening to them.
 
Publicity shot, circa 1960
(he later came to despise smoking!)

He was the kind of person who could get emotional eating a delicious piece of cake. We’ll never forget the sound of his voice, or that unmistakable laugh. He enjoyed life to the fullest. He chased his dreams, and he made our world a happier place.  

As I’ve discussed in the past, my bond with my grandfather was the closest of all. But Uncle Pete was the one who was most like me—he “got” me in a way no one else did when I was growing up. One of the most valuable things you can do for a child is to validate them; to nourish who they are as people. My uncle did that for me. Whether it was buying me works of great literature to read before I even knew books didn’t need to have pictures; engaging me in discussions about science and humoring my little kid insights; trying to show me the inherent beauty of a Verdi aria or Rachmaninoff concerto even when I wasn’t always the most patient listener; or encouraging me to write from as soon as I showed the aptitude to do so, and always taking time to critique my work. In short, my uncle was the first person to make me feel intelligent, and to instill a confidence in my abilities that has never left.
 
As Earthquake McGoon in the Forestburgh
Summer Theater production of Lil' Abner,
late 1950s.
When it came to music and my interest in it, there can be no doubt that the two most influential people in my young life were my grandfather and my Uncle Pete. But whereas Grandpa fostered the love of classic crooners and traditional jazz stylists, Uncle Pete had a slightly different approach and set of interests. A very talented actor and singer, he had spent many years performing in summer stock productions, had appeared in the first national tour of Camelot, and even briefly on Broadway in the somewhat ill-fated 1965 musical, Pickwick. In short, he was a theater person, and so his love of music was very high-brow, centered on the great classic show tunes (in their original, non jazz-inflected forms)—Rodgers and Hammerstein, Noel Coward, Cole Porter, etc.

But more than anything, music for him meant classical and opera. As a testament to that, in his room sat shelves full of fairly valuable vintage opera LPs collected over a lifetime, which he would play at maximum volume, often to the consternation of everyone else living there. I can still remember hearing him singing along upstairs--his urgent, Mario Lanza-esque baritone filling the house; or sitting in his room and watching the windows vibrate as he described how the music made the hair on his neck stand up. If this wouldn’t give you a lifelong love of music, nothing would. As I look back now, I see someone who did everything in his power to foster a sensitivity to beauty in a young person in whom he saw that same quality he had in himself. I’m glad he succeeded.  

During our regular visits to the house, my Uncle would host what he called “Songfests”, in which my sister and I would join him at the organ singing our own renditions of classic songs. These included anything from traditional chestnuts like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and “My Wild Irish Rose”, to timeless standards like “This Is My Song” and “I’m in the Mood for Love”, and of course a wealth of Christmas carols, which I was proud to be the only kid in class to already know the words to whenever we’d cart them out in school every year. Happily, he also had the foresight to record some of these sessions, the tapes of which are now treasures in my family.  

For whatever reason, music and movies played such a strong role in my childhood, which is probably why they still play such a role today. I was lucky enough to have these people who were so involved in my young life, and who had such a love for these things. In the case of Uncle Pete, he was also talented in them himself, which might have been what made him the most downright fun to us as kids. His loss will be felt profoundly--but so will the impact of his life on us.
 
Palm Sunday 2011
Just this past weekend, my girlfriend and I attended a live performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony at the Palace Theatre in Stamford. This had been a piece which my uncle specifically had delighted in playing for me, skipping ahead to the breathtaking chorus in the final movement in his eagerness to share its power with me. Thinking back to that as the live performance played before me, it was hard not to become overwhelmed by emotion. Eventually, I gave in to it. As the piece neared its conclusion, I closed my eyes, allowing the music to wash over me. And as the Ode to Joy played out its final thrilling crescendo, voices singing in ecstasy, brass blaring triumphantly, strings frenetically filling the auditorium with sound, I thought to myself:  

“Thank you, Uncle Pete.”

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