MMG has been happening — one weekend each spring and one weekend each fall — for 25+ years at various camps around Massachusetts.
When I first started attending it was held in Becket, MA, but now we gather in the woods near Worcester from Friday night until Sunday afternoon.
At the opening circle on Friday night, someone spoke about the recent death of a beloved canine companion.
I was reminded of a wonderful song by a writer named Babbie Green called “At The Pound” (in the player at the start of this post) which I recorded with the gifted pianist Doug Hammer for a CD I did with another singer, Bobbi Carrey, called “If I Loved You.”
Although I have not had a dog in my daily life since my teenage years — when my family had a very loving and patient Corgi named Bryn — I see how invaluable they can be in the lives of my friends and family.
I love “At The Pound” because of the details Babbie includes in the song — such as “now my car’s got a permanent blanket of dog hair.”
I also love how it ends…
“And they praise me for saving her life, saying, ‘oh what a lucky dog she…’ but when I think of all I have learned about loving, it is Molly in fact who saved me.”
Bette Midler — you with the wind beneath your wings who sometimes looks at our planet from a distance — you need to record this song!
Thank you for reading and listening to my blog.
And thank you — yet again — to Pixabay for the lovely photographs.
I am not sure if I would have loved him had I had the opportunity to meet him, but I am very grateful he co-wrote so many wonderful songs.
Jerome David Kern was short and a very snappy dresser.
He loved the color green — including wearing bright green, custom-tailored trousers.
He could be quite critical and bossy — and he did not suffer fools gladly.
He was also very funny with friends.
And he knew bird calls well — and was sometimes melodically inspired by them.
Kern was the composer whom George Gershwin and Harold Arlen — and many other composers of what we now call the Great American Songbook — looked up to and strived to emulate.
He was older than they were, having been born in New York City on January 27, 1885 — the youngest of seven children (four of whom died before the age of six…)
His family moved from apartment to apartment around Manhattan before settling into a house across the river in Newark, New Jersey, which is where Jerry went to high school and where he began writing songs for musical events.
His nickname in high school was “Romie.”
Kern’s first job in the music business was doing accounts payable and accounts receivable for a music publishing company run by the uncle of a friend.
He rose to become a song plugger, eventually earning a shift at Wanamaker’s, which was one of the first — and very grandest — department stores in New York City.
He proved to be a savvy businessman, investing money he received as an inheritance in his early 20s to become a shareholder in the second music publishing company he worked for, TB Harms.
Harms started getting Jerry’s songs interpolated into musical productions.
I learned from reading various Kern biographies that in the early days of musical theater, it was very common for individual songs to be added to a show by another composer.
These interpolated songs could freshen up a show during a long run — and also provided great opportunities for unknown and up-and-coming songwriters.
Harms let him work as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway reviews and shows, which he did on and off for ten years.
Being a rehearsal pianist meant that Kern became well-acquainted with the movers and shakers in the New York theater world — and it also meant he could be on hand to help create a new number if needed.
He also was allowed to accompany singers on short tours, which provided more opportunities to incorporate Harms and/or Kern tunes into their performances as needed.
I was surprised to learn that Kern was very well acquainted with the theater world in London.
Part of the reason Jerry went to London so many times as a young man was to check on TB Harms’ publishing partners in England.
He saw all of the latest shows and schmoozed as many London theater people as possible, pitching his songs for interpolation into London shows as well.
This is when he first met the author, humorist and lyricist P. G. “Plum” Wodehouse, with whom he began collaborating on songs in 1906.
Nine years later — when Wodehouse was living in New York — Kern introduced him to librettist Guy Bolton, who became one of Kern and Wodehouse’s lifelong friends.
Kern and Bolton had worked together on a musical called Nobody Home which was presented at the intimate, 300-seat Princess Theatre. Wodehouse contributed some lyrics to their next Princess musical, Very Good Eddie, and officially joined their creative team for Oh, Boy! — which ran for 463 performances (and according to Wikipedia was one of the first American musicals to have a successful London run).
The three men collaborated upon what became a very successful series of musical comedies — most of them presented at the Princess Theatre — during and after the First World War.
These shows were inspirational to many songwriters and librettists, partly because the songs and dances and script were well integrated to advance the storyline of the show.
And no songs by other writers were arbitrarily interpolated into the plot!
In an interview following the success of Oh, Boy, Kern explained, “It is my opinion that the musical numbers should carry on the action of the play, and should be representative of the personalities of the characters who sing them….Songs must be suited to the action and mood of the play.”
Kern collaborated with a wide variety of lyricists during his long career on Broadway and in Hollywood.
One of my favorite songs, “I’m Old Fashioned” was written with lyricist Johnny Mercer for a 1942 film called You Were Never Lovelier, which paired Fred Astaire with Rita Hayworth.
Partly as a result of a dear friend’s uncle giving me a Kern songbook when I left college, I became aware of Kern’s body of work early in my singing life.
I recorded three Kern songs with jazz pianist and composer Steve Sweeting when Steve lived above an ice cream store in Brighton, MA — “I’m Old Fashioned,” The Way You Look Tonight,” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” — which I have included in this blog post.
Jerome Kern was very successful during the 1910’s and 20’s on Broadway and in London.
In fact one newspaper at the time estimated that he was earning as much as $5000 (which would be the equivalent of $63,000 in 2016) each WEEK from sheet music and ticket sales.
He created what is considered to be his masterwork, Show Boat, in 1927 in collaboration with lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II and producer Florenz Ziegfeld.
Ziegfeld had made his reputation with huge revues on Broadway filled with beautiful chorus girls, extravagant costumes, and colossal sets.
Thus many people were surprised that he agreed to produce Show Boat — which featured an integrated cast of black and white performers and dove deeply into painful human phenomena including prejudice, gambling and alcoholism (which were not the usual topics for a night’s entertainment on Broadway).
Ziegfeld, in fact, remained very doubtful about the success of Show Boat — postponing the start of production several times.
Although this was very frustrating to Jerry and Oscar, it also gave them extra time to fine-tune their songs and script before casting and rehearsals finally began.
Many of Kern’s Broadway musicals were adapted into movies, including Show Boat — which was filmed three different times — and his 1933 hit Roberta, with a book and lyrics by Otto Harbach.
The Broadway cast included many performers who went on to become stars including Fred MacMurray and Bob Hope — and Roberta also introduced the musical gem “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”
Along with many other Broadway songwriters, Kern moved with his family to California during the 1930s.
Although the Great Depression was in full swing, the movie industry was making lots of money.
Mr. Kern wrote “The Way You Look Tonight” with another favorite collaborator — lyricist/librettist Dorothy Fields — for the film Swing Time, where it was introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, who in this movie was cast as a dance instructor.
“The Way You Look Tonight” won Best Song in a Motion Picture in 1936.
Dorothy Fields later remarked, “The first time Jerry played the melody for me I went out and started to cry. The release absolutely killed me. I couldn’t stop, it was so beautiful.”
In addition to being a composer, Kern was also a collector.
He started collecting books when he first visited London in his early 20s, and ten years later had amassed a collection which — when he auctioned it off in 1929 — earned him almost two million dollars (which would be worth more than $27 million dollars in 2016).
He also collected real estate, antique silver and furniture.
The home he built in Bronxville, NY (north of New York City) was decorated with beautiful paintings, Colonial, Jacobean and Italian furniture, rare vases, lamps with Buddha bases, and books which he had bought during his travels to Europe and around the USA.
And whatever he became curious about, he would soon become an expert in.
As a small example of this, when they were living in Bronxville, Kern and his wife Eva took a trip with their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Newman, to Canada to visit an asbestos plant that Mr. Newman owned.
Jerry asked lots of questions and was particularly concerned about the large amounts of asbestos waste.
After they got home, he did some independent research and wrote a 40-page report — detailing several possible uses for the wasted asbestos — which he gave to his neighbor.
After the huge success of Show Boat in 1927, Kern developed the habit of playing “Old Man River” the last thing before he left his house on a trip and the first thing upon arriving back home.
In fact, during his final trip to New York City from California in 1945 — when he was overseeing yet another revival of Show Boat with Hammerstein and beginning work on a new show with lyricist/librettist Dorothy Fields (produced by Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers) about a sharp-shooting phenomenon named Annie Oakley — he was apparently worried because he had forgotten to play this song before he left his home in California.
Much to everyone’s shock — since he was only 60 years old — Jerome Kern collapsed from a stroke while browsing on the east side of Manhattan.
He died a few days later with his wife and Hammerstein at his hospital bedside.
I would like to end this post with something president Harry Truman said upon hearing Kern had died:
“I am among the grateful millions who have played and listened to the music of Jerome Kern. His melodies will live in our voices and warm our hearts for many years to come.”
Thank you, Jerome Kern, for your wonderful songs — and thank YOU for reading and listening to yet another blog post.
Once upon a time I co-starred in a movie called Goldenrodwhich was filmed in and around Calgary, Alberta.
It had a theatrical release in Canada (I think), and was shown in the USA on CBS-TV.
I was 14 years old.
Because of Canadian rules about airing a certain percentage of shows which have been produced in Canada, it still can be seen from time to time on Canadian TV.
One of the producers had a daughter whom I met on the set when she visited from Toronto.
Although it seemed unlikely at the time — since I lived in New York and Connecticut while she lived in Canada — Sarah James and I have remained friends ever since.
She still lives in Toronto, and like her father (and mother) she works in film and TV production.
For the past few years she’s been helping to create Canada’s version of the TV show The Amazing Race.
She and her husband — who among other things is a wonderful musician who has taught himself how to build ukuleles! — and daughter live in a sweet house with a small garden out back which ends at a garage.
Above the garage is an office/guest bedroom where I love to sleep and read and write songs when I visit them.
I started writing “Another Good Morning” a couple of springs ago.
The sun was shining.
Birds were singing.
And Sarah was making breakfast for all of us.
It is what I call a “gets-me-out-of-bed-in-the-morning” song.
I have probably mentioned this type of song before in this blog, because — in the spirit of “teach what you most want to learn” — I end up writing a lot of songs with upbeat messages.
Because I need them….to muster a little bit of optimism before I head out into the day.
As you have probably already guessed, I continue to love the photo site Pixabay.
I send a huge thank you to all the folks who have shared their lovely images there!
I do not own a cell phone or carry a camera…
But I appreciate those who do.
THANK YOU for reading and listening.
PS: The pianist on this song is the multi-gifted Doug Hammer, and we recorded it at his studio in Lynn, MA earlier this year. It is one of many we will be performing on April 30, 2016 at Third Life Studio in Somerville, MA.
When I was visiting friends on Toronto a couple of summer ago, I found a great article in Eating Well magazine profiling Jeff Leach, who is one of a growing number of human beings curious about the communities of bacteria which live in our digestive tract.
According to author Gretel H. Schueller, “most of our resident gut bacteria are real workhorses. Some aid in digestion and produce enzymes to break down foods. Others make vitamins, like B12 and K, and other vital compounds, such as the feel-good chemical serotonin. A few help keep the intestinal lining impenetrable. Some gut bacteria help regulate metabolism. And others boost immunity and fight pathogens.”
You can click here to read Gretel’s summaries of many medical studies exploring the astounding connections between the health of the bacteria in our digestive tract and the health of our other organ systems — including circulation, how we absorb nutrients, and our immune response.
I was amazed to learn that, according to Gretel, “gut bacteria produce HUNDREDS of different neurotransmitters, including up to 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a mood and sleep regulator.”
In fact many researchers have begun referring to our digestive tract as a ‘second brain’ partly because our “vagus nerve is a major communications highway which stretches from the brain to various points about the intestinal lining, and communication travels in BOTH directions.”
For example, one species of Lactobacillus bacteria “sends messages from the small intestine to the brain along this nerve. In a study led by John Cryan, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, anxious mice were dosed with a proprietary strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus.”
Gretel further explains that “these rodents then had lower stress hormone levels and an increase in brain receptors for a neurotransmitter that’s vital in curbing worry, anxiety and fear. THE EFFECTS WERE SIMILAR TO A DOSE OF VALIUM. According to a 2011 study, when mice had this bacteria in their gut, they showed less depressive behavior.”
Aside from my discomfort with human beings experimenting on other living beings, I find this an amazing idea.
Jeff Leach does a lot of HIS experimenting on himself — eating different types of foods (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) for a 10-12 day period and then analyzing the proportions of bacteria which are stimulated to grow in his digestive tract as a result of what he has been eating.
According to him, plant foods with complex chains of carbohydrate molecules — which include Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, chicory root, beans and asparagus — are particularly healthy for us to eat.
I was so inspired by Jeff’s research and Gretel’s article that I ended up writing a song (and recording it with Doug Hammer on piano at his wonderful studio in Lynn, MA) which you can hear by clicking the play button on the top left of this post.
And I find myself right back at the heart of last month’s post — musing about how interconnected all the different forms of life on planet earth are.
Antibiotics can be a blessing which wipe out colonies of life-threatening bacteria in different parts of our body.
For example, we may take some to get rid of a lingering sinus infection.
However, we may also be unintentionally upsetting the healthy balance of bacterial colonies in our guts.
This idea reminds me of why I choose to support organic agriculture when I can.
It may be true that the nutritional value of an organically grown leek (not using pesticides and fungicides and petrochemically-derived fertilizers) is similar to a conventionally grown leek (using pesticides and fungicides and petrochemically-derived fertilizers).
However, I am interested NOT ONLY in this leek’s value to my individual health BUT ALSO in the health of the honeybees and hummingbirds and earthworms and opossums and foxes and rabbits and butterflies and bats and insects which live in and/or pass through the fields in which this leek is grown.
And I am interested in the health of the fish and frogs and newts which live in the streams and rivers into which the rain (or irrigated water) will flow from these leek fields.
And I am interested in the health and balance of the astoundingly complicated communities of bacteria which live in the soil in which this leek grows.
And some of these soil bacteria will end up in my digestive tract along with the leek if I do not wash off too much of the dirt before I eat it.
And that, it turns out, is a good thing.
We are all connected via many different, extraordinary, and still-to-be-discovered strands in the web of life.
And every day we can make choices — about what we buy to eat, about what we choose to wear, about how we move from point A to point B (walk? bike? public transportation? car?) that honor our precious inter-related connections with the rest of life on planet earth.
Thank you for reading, listening, and perhaps even humming along.
ps: I found the lovely photos in this post from a site called Pixabay.
I recently spent an afternoon at Doug Hammer‘s studio, recording songs by Rodgers & Hart and then working on one of my original compositions, called “A Beating Heart,” which you can play by clicking on the left side of the bar above this paragraph.
A careful reader of this blog might recall that I included a Garageband version of this song in a post on April 9, 2014… Since then Doug and I have begun creating piano/vocal versions of many of my songs so that we can perform them at places like Third Life Studio in Union Square, Somerville.
We got a lot of positive feedback after our debut performance there in December with guest vocalist Jinny Sagorin — and we’ll be returning at the end of April to reprise that show.
With so many huge and important things happening on planet earth right now — such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity, our human over-consumption of shared resources, and even the astoundingly unlikely presidential campaign here in the US — I often wonder how my original songs fit into the larger equations of life on planet earth.
Is my desire to share them with a wider audience (“Me, me, me, me! Look at me! Listen to me!”) simply another manifestation of the grossly self-oriented human trend in behavior which is currently tipping our larger ecological feedback loops further out of balance?
To re-center myself, I think of a poster in the bathroom where I get acupuncture which features some of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom:
“Ultimately, the decision to save the environment must come from the human heart. The key point is a call for a genuine sense of universal responsibility that is based on love, compassion and clear awareness.”
He has also written:
“Today more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to all other forms of life.”
However, we human beings still tend to think and plan and speak and act with human ‘tunnel vision.’
I often listen to a radio program on Friday afternoons, and last week the host, Ira Flatow, was discussing asteroids and comets. He mentioned one which flattened 770 square miles of forest in Siberia on June 30, 1908 — adding that luckily no one was hurt.
Wikipedia uses similar language in its description of what is called the Tunguska event, saying that it “caused no known casualties.”
I would modify that to read, “no HUMAN casualties.”
770 square miles is roughly the size of the entire greater Boston area.
All sorts of living beings — trees, eagles, ants, berry bushes, wolves, beetles, moose, falcons, reindeer, elk, plants, bears, storks, robins, bees, nightingales, mushrooms, bacteria, etc. — must have been hurt and/or killed.
Why do we human beings so easily ignore or dismiss non-human death and suffering?
How can we be so deeply ignorant of the profound and crucial ways our human lives are interconnected with the lives of innumerable non-human beings here on planet earth?
The most obvious example of this is the fact that we animals breathe out what plants breathe in. And vice versa. It’s an extraordinary bond between plants (trees, shrubs, phytoplankton, algae, grass, etc.) and animals (dolphins, ants, chickens, worms, orangutans, etc.)
We human beings are also animals.
We depend upon the health of the plant world for our human health.
Healthy trees and healthy forests and healthy phytoplankton and healthy oceans are not optional.
They are vital to the health of all of us.
I agree with the Dalai Lama that we human beings need to experience and understand on an open-hearted, emotional level that our daily lives ARE deeply connected to the lives of all other beings on planet earth.
And the health of those other beings IS intricately connected with our own health and survival.
This is where I see music playing a part in the larger equations unfolding on planet earth.
I know that music — both making it and listening to it — helps me re-open my heart and get in touch with my feelings.
And I see each week in my Music Together classes how singing and dancing and playing as a group can create a community of joy and humor and respect in 45 minutes which continues to ripple — gently and positively — throughout the week in the lives of the families who attend class.
So I will take a deep breath (like a whale!) and dive through my ambivalence about self-promotion into a starboard sea full of hope, love, respect, education, playfulness, creativity, compassion, song, and dance.
And occasional blog posts.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
Thank you for reading and listening!!!
ps: I found the lovely photos in this post from a site called Pixabay.
Having recently read many biographies about Larry Hart and about Richard Rodgers, I’ve been wondering how Larry would have told his own story if he hadn’t died at age 48…
Richard Rodgers lived for 36 years after Hart’s heartbreakingly early death, and as a result he had many opportunities to share HIS memories of their often-times challenging creative collaboration.
But we have no hindsight from Larry to balance their biographical narrative.
We do, however, have the lyrics he wrote for 26 Broadway shows and several Hollywood movies.
They range from the simple and sincere — “With a Song In My Heart” — to the playfully brutal — “I Wish I Were In Love Again.”
Here’s a version of “I Wish I Were In Love Again” that Bobbi Carrey and I recorded with Doug Hammer at his great studio north of Boston (with extra musical input from Mike Callahan).
It is tempting to imagine that some clues to his life experiences are encoded into his lyrics.
For example, Larry writes at the end of “I Could Write a Book” from one of his later musicals, Pal Joey: “and the world discovers as my book ends how to make two lovers of friends.”
This lyric makes me wonder about his relationship with the actress and singer Vivienne Segal, one of the stars of Pal Joey who was also his friend and to whom he apparently proposed marriage more than once…
She respectfully declined each time — saying that she had had enough of marriage (she was divorced from a first husband). She was also well aware that Hart was an alcoholic and what we would now describe as a closeted gay man.
Yet Cole Porter, another closeted gay songwriter of the time, had a long, loving, committed marriage to divorcée and millionairess Linda Lee Thomas — while simultaneously carrying on a life-long stream of romantic and sexual liasons with other men.
Porter, like Hart, was also devoted to his mother — although Porter did not share a home with his family for almost his entire life as did Hart.
Lorenz Milton Hart was born on May 2, 1895 and grew up in a boisterous household in Harlem, NY (then a largely Jewish neighborhood) with a father who was well-connected within the Democratic Tammany Hall political establishment.
His father made a living doing a variety of business deals — for example, he was alleged to be an investor in a very popular brothel — and over the years the Hart’s family finances would ebb, when his mother’s jewelry would go to the local pawn shop, and flow, when her jewelry would come out of hock and Larry might be given a $100 bill so that he could take all of his friends out for a night on the town.
It was a tight-knit family.
Larry (or Lorry as he was called by his German-Jewish mother) shared a bedroom with his younger brother Teddy until they were both in their forties.
The Harts regularly hosted parties attended by friends, relatives, local politicians, and — as Larry’s fame mounted — an expanding cast of writers, composers, musicians, performers, stars, groupies and hangers-on.
Larry supported his family after his father died — and he was apparently hounded by people to whom his father owed money for many years afterwards.
Hart was acutely aware of his mother’s wish that he would get married like his brother Teddy, who was a performer and who finally got married in 1938.
But none of the women to whom Larry proposed said yes.
I am reminded of Hart’s lyric for the song “Glad To Be Unhappy” (which I once recorded with Doug on piano at his studio during a rehearsal).
“Fools rush in… so here I am, very glad to be unhappy. I can’t win… so here I am, more than glad to be unhappy. Unrequited love’s a bore, and I’ve got it pretty bad — but for someone you adore, it’s a pleasure to be sad.”
Hart seems to have buried or hidden much of his sadness behind a playful, generous, talkative, enthusiastic personality — as well as a thick haze of cigar smoke and LOTS of alcohol.
And Larry carried on his family’s tradition of hospitality and generosity — helping his father pay off debts and loans when he was still alive, lavishing gifts on friends, hosting endless parties, and picking up the tab when out on the town.
He was also generous with his time and creativity.
His sister-in-law Dorothy Hart claimed, “My brother-in-law wrote more lyrics without getting credit for more friends who were stumped or had songwriters’ block. He was very generous, not only with money, but also with his talents.”
About Larry’s death she says, “He was really, I think, a victim of burnout, and at the age of 48, the theater didn`t offer too much surprise for him, because he had done it all.”
I also wonder what effect the news from Europe during WWII had on his spirit.
Before his death — after Richard Rodgers had begun his new collaboration with their mutual lifelong friend Oscar Hammerstein — Larry had been working on a musical about the underground resistance movement in Paris with a composer who had recently escaped from Germany.
So he must have been very well-informed about recent developments in Germany — from which his parents had emigrated in the late 1800s and to which he had traveled as an adult — and Europe.
How did this excruciating information affect his mood? His spirit? His world view?
One of the last songs he wrote in partnership with Richard Rodgers was a witty tour de force for Vivienne Segal to sing in a 1943 revival — and updated version — of their 1927 hit show A Connecticut Yankee.
It is called “To Keep My Love Alive” and relates how the singer has remained faithful to a long list of husbands (“until death do us part”) by killing each of them in a different way.
One death occurs when the singer pushes her husband off a balcony.
Hart would surely have been aware that Richard Rodgers’ wife’s father had died a few years earlier as a result of a fall from the balcony of their NY penthouse apartment when Rodgers’ father-in-law was being treated for depression.
Might this have been a hidden — and ostensibly humorous — way for him to process some of his feelings about Rodgers having begun a new collaboration with their long-time mutual friend and colleague Oscar Hammerstein, II — the first fruits of which was the musical Oklahoma?
A way to needle Richard and his wife Dorothy under the cloak of music and rhyme?
A way for him to express how he might have felt about Vivienne’s declining to accept his marriage proposals?
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Mr Hart’s life story — and his lyrics — while I put together a program of songs and stories to perform with jazz pianist Joe Reid.
And my freely associative mind can’t help but see — or perhaps more accurately imagine — connections between Hart’s life and his work.
I am wildly grateful that he left such a rich and beautifully-crafted body of work for all of us to savor and sing for many years to come.