An Attitude Of Gratitude


Today’s song is actually a two-song medley from the musical Sweet Charity.

I included it because the first song, “I’m A Brass Band,” mentions the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which is coming up soon…

I learned online that this year there will be very little marching.

Most of the performances and activity will unfold where the parade usually ends: Herald Square — which is the intersection of Broadway, Sixth Avenue, and 34th street in Manhattan.

Some segments will be pre-recorded and some will be live.

And there will be performances by the casts of many Broadway shows — all of which have been on hiatus for months due to Covid-19.

John McMartin and Gwen Verdon

Sweet Charity was a big hit on Broadway in 1966 starring Gwen Verdon and John McMartin.

Bob Fosse and his wife/muse Gwen Verdon had seen a Fellini movie, The Nights Of Cabiria, and Fosse soon began writing a treatment about how it could become a musical.

Lyricist Dorothy Fields and composer Cy Coleman joined the creative team — and after they had written a few songs, Bob convinced his old friend Neil Simon to work on the script.

I wrote a blog post about Dorothy Fields three years ago which you can read by clicking here if you are curious.

She had an extraordinary career as a lyricist, co-writing hit songs from the late 1920s through the early 1970s.

I’m not sure why she is not a household name similar to Cole Porter or Irving Berlin — both of whom, incidentally, she worked with as a librettist (script writer).

Maybe because she was a woman?

Maybe because she didn’t hire publicists to keep her name in the papers?

When many of her friends and contemporaries like Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Richard Rodgers had become frustrated by the arrival of rock & roll on the cultural landscape, Fields teamed up with a composer almost half her age — Coleman, who was 37 years old — and experienced one of the biggest hits of her entire career when she was 61!

Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman

Her lyrics for the songs in Sweet Charity are witty and hip in a pre-summer-of-love-kinda-way.

And I love the verse for “I’m A Brass Band.”

“Somebody loves me — my heart is beating so fast. All kinds of music is pouring out of me — somebody loves me at last…”

I feel very loved — or perhaps a more understated word would be appreciated — by the WordPress community.

I am not sure why, but the average number of people visiting my site has doubled in recent weeks.

And so far in November I have already had more people visit the site than in any previous month!

The WordPress community continues to feel like a blessed parallel universe — where respect for others is still a norm.

I love reading other people’s blog posts, and I love reading the comments that each post inspires.

And I love seeing increasingly familiar names turn up in the comments section of an ever-widening variety of blog posts.

I also love when people take the time not only to read and listen to one of my blog posts but also to leave a comment.

Thank you!!!

Last Sunday I was listening to a sermon via Zoom while addressing postcards to potential voters in Georgia — encouraging them to register to vote in the upcoming senate elections.

The theme of the sermon was gratitude — and how powerful a practice it can be in our lives.

As soon as one slows down and starts looking around, most of us can find a seemingly endless stream of things to be grateful for.

And Thanksgiving IS a traditional time to count one’s blessings.

So let’s begin…

I am grateful for music and for great songwriters like Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman.

I am grateful for pianist/engineer Doug Hammer, with whom I have recorded (and mixed and mastered) many fun versions of songs over the past 20+ years — some of which I share on this blog and some of which I am starting to share via Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, etc.

I am grateful for marching bands — who do not need any electricity at all to generate a soul-stirring amount of sound and excitement.

I am grateful for friends and family.

I am grateful for food, clothing and shelter.

I am grateful for photosynthesis — which creates oxygen for all of us animals to breathe and transforms energy from a nearby star (our sun) into something we can eat and use to fuel our own lives.

I am grateful for all the folks who grow and harvest and package and deliver food for us city-dwellers to eat.

I am grateful for the two twenty-somethings who recently gave my bike a complete tune-up at a store they help to run not far from where I live.

I am grateful for electricity, my laptop computer, and the internet — which allow me to write blog posts, record songs, and share them with anyone else in the rest of the world who also has access to electricity, a computer and the internet.

I am grateful for my Music Together families — with whom I hop and clap and kick and spin and dance and sing each week (in a local park wearing lots of masks and also via Zoom).

I am grateful for the men installing new, more efficient windows in our basement today.

I am grateful to my friend, the jazz pianist and composer Steve Sweeting, who gave me the sheet music for “I’m A Brass Band” many years ago because he thought I might like to perform it some day…

I am grateful for all the folks around the world and in the USA who are actively engaged in the challenging, ever-evolving work of living in a democracy.

I am grateful to Pixabay and ye olde internet for the images in this blog post.

A happy and healthy Thanksgiving to you and yours

And, of course, I am grateful to YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts.

What are YOU feeling grateful for these days?

Home For The Holidays…

The holidays are approaching, and I am staying home.

As Covid-19 cases rise exponentially around the USA, we are being advised not to travel.

And to limit all gatherings to as few people as possible.

And to wear masks.

And to socialize outside if possible.

It’s very difficult not to spend time with loved ones, especially during the holiday season.

I’ll participate in a couple of Zoom gatherings on Thanksgiving and probably on Christmas, too.

Deep sigh…

I recorded this song by Robert Allen and Al Stillman a few years ago with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.

Composer Robert Allen and lyricist Al Stillman wrote several hits for Perry Como (Allen was his accompanist for many years) and also for Johnny Mathis — such as “It’s Not For Me To Say” and “Chances Are.”

Al Stillman also had a decades-long career as a staff writer at Radio City Music Hall.

Both of them were Jewish.

As I have written in past blog posts, a lot of my favorite holiday songs were written or co-written by Jewish songwriters — including “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks.

Most of these composers and lyricists were immigrants or the children of immigrants.

I think of these songs as valuable threads in the social fabric/history of the USA.

However, when I was mixing this particular song with Doug via Zoom earlier this month, one word in the lyrics jumped out at me in a new way.

Dixie.

This year’s activism in the USA has changed the way I hear certain words — such as “Dixie.”

According to an article I found on WRAL.com — a North Carolina TV station’s website — “historians disagree about the origins of the word ‘Dixie.'”

“Some believe it derives from the Mason-Dixon line, between Maryland and Pennsylvania (which) was drawn in 1767 to resolve a border dispute between the colonies but later became the informal border separating the South and North.”

Other historians trace the word “Dixie” back to $10 notes in Louisiana in the 1800s.

On the back of these notes was printed “dix” — which means ten in French — and the Citizens’ Bank of New Orleans issued many of these notes before the Civil War.

They became known as “Dixies.”

The word “Dixie” appears in a LOT of popular songs dating from the middle of the 19th century right through most of the 20th century.

“I Wish I Was In Dixie” a.k.a. “Dixie” was written by Daniel Decatur Emmett and published in 1859 — although some historians believe that Ohio-born Emmett appropriated/stole it from an African-American family (also from Ohio) who performed for many decades as the Snowden Family Band.

“Dixie” originally appeared in minstrel shows — a very popular form of entertainment in which white performers impersonated and made fun of black people using racist stereotypes — which Dan Emmett performed in and produced all around the USA.

Then it became a popular Confederate Army marching song and an unofficial national anthem of the Confederacy.

I was surprised to learn that it was also a favorite song of Abraham Lincoln (who was born in Kentucky) and that many different sets of lyrics for “Dixie” have been written over the years by people living north AND south of the Mason-Dixon line.

You can read a Wikipedia article about the song by clicking here.

After the Civil War, the word “Dixie” continued to turn up in popular songs — often written by northern songwriters who had never even visited the south.

It was usually used to evoke a mythical way of life full of relaxed pleasures while completely ignoring the horrific history of slavery (which happened not just in the southern states but all over the USA, including on an estate in Medford, MA, just a short bike ride away from where I live outside Boston).

This is why the musical group The Dixie Chicks (whose name I did not realize was in part a pun on a beloved album and song, “Dixie Chicken” by the rock band Little Feat) recently decided to rename themselves The Chicks.

This is also why commissioners in Florida’s Miami-Dade county voted unanimously earlier this year to rename sections of the Old Dixie Highway under their jurisdiction as the Harriet Tubman Highway in honor of the abolitionist who led many, many enslaved people to freedom.

So… as soon as Doug is comfortable hosting other human beings in his recording studio again, I am going to re-record the line in “Home For The Holidays” which mentions Dixie — singing “Georgia’s southern shore” instead of “Dixie’s southern shore.”

I will also continue to wear a face mask whenever I go outside.

And I will remain grateful to live in a state led by a governor — and a Republican at that! — who respects science and scientists.

And I will continue to light a candle for all of the folks we have lost to Covid-19 so far.

Deep breath in…

Deep breath out…

Thank you to all of the health care professionals and hospital support staff who take care of folks with Covid-19 — even the people who refuse to wear masks or respect the fact that we are living in a public health emergency.

Thank you to all of the essential workers who staff our food stores and deliver our packages.

Thank you to Al Stillman and Robert Allen for writing “Home For the Holidays.”

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his musical AND production skills.

Thank you to Pixabay for most of the beautiful images in this blog post.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

May you have safe and loving holidays this year despite our current pandemic.

Another deep breath in…

And deep breath out…

Happiness…


is a thing called Joe!

This song was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by one of his top-three collaborators, Yip Harburg.

They wrote it for the great Ethel Waters to sing in a 1943 movie version of the musical Cabin In the Sky made by the Freed unit at MGM.

Ethel Waters

The film had a rather extraordinary cast — including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Butterfly McQueen and Duke Ellington.

It was also the first movie directed by Liza Minnelli’s father, Vincente — who before that had been a successful designer and director on Broadway.

Ethel Waters had also starred in the original Broadway version of Cabin in The Sky, which was directed by the famous choreographer George Balanchine with music composed by fellow Russian Vernon Duke and lyrics by John Latouche.

I’m not sure when I first heard this song, but it was a natural to include in the very first program of music — featuring songs composed by Harold Arlen — which I put together with pianist Joe Reid.

Joe Reid

Joe had called me up and asked me if I would like to do an hour of music with him at a retirement community called Brookhaven (where his dad lives).

This was a few months after I had been laid off from a non-profit where I had worked for 16 years, and I said, “Yes, please!”

Joe has proved to be an excellent collaborator.

During the past seven years we have put together one-hour programs of music featuring songs by — and stories about — Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, the Gershwin Brothers, Oscar Hammerstein, Yip Harburg, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Jule Styne, and Harry Warren as well as one-hour programs of songs written for Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and Ethel Merman.

We also have assembled programs featuring Irish-American songs, songs in honor of Father’s Day, songs in honor of Mother’s Day, songs written for Disney movies made while Walt was still alive, and winter holiday songs written by Jewish songwriters.

Joe and Will

In addition to his agile musicality as a jazz pianist, Joe brings a reliable hybrid car and a level temperament to our collaboration.

He always shows up on time, and has only missed one gig in the past eight years due to an unusually bad cold.

He is also passionately involved with politics and recently installed solar panels on the roof of his house.

He is a musical mensch.

In addition to making music together, we have spent hundreds of hours driving to and from gigs in his Prius — discussing the current political climate, his extended family, how he transitioned from corporate lawyer to full-time pianist, and much more…

We were on track to perform over seventy five gigs together in 2020 before Covid-19 stopped us in our tracks.

In the past seven months we’ve performed together once — outside and well-masked — at one of our favorite retirement communities, Springhouse.

We watch the Covid case numbers rising again in Massachusetts and wonder when we will be able to perform together again…

This song also takes on a new resonance following the recent election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead our country for the next four years.

Joe Biden celebrating his 75th birthday

Many of us are very excited by this election.

I am also aware that there are many who are sad and angry that their candidate lost…

Deep breath out.

Deep breath in.

I remain very grateful to live in a country that holds presidential elections every four years.

I also am truly grateful to live in a country with a system of checks and balances between our president, our congress, our judicial system, and our investigative media.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

I am hopeful that our country can re-discover a sense of respect and inclusivity with different leadership in the White House.

In my Music Together classes I see on a weekly basis how strong the “monkey see, monkey do” effect is…

Not just on children, but on everyone!

One of the main ways we learn what is possible — and how to behave — is by seeing other human beings in action.

Joe Biden brings compassion and empathy — which he gained in part due to the heart-breaking losses of his first wife Neilia, baby daughter Amy, and grownup son Beau — to the White House.

He also brings a decades-long history of collaboration in the US Senate, working with Republican peers across the aisle on behalf of the residents of the USA (and also on behalf of many corporate donors and lobbyists…)

We shall see how he governs!

Joe and Jill Biden stepping off an Amtrak train…

I am also very curious to see who Joe and Kamala invite to join them as part of their cabinet and staff…

And as someone who loves to travel via trains, I like that Joe is a long-time commuter — from Washington, DC to Delaware — on Amtrak.

Thank you to Joe Reid for seven years of musical collaboration.

Thank you to all the poll workers who stepped up — some for the first time! — to run our recent national election.

Thank you to Wikimedia Commons and to Stephen Fischer for the photos in this blog post.

Thank you to pianist Doug Hammer for recording this song with me at his studio north of Boston (where I record all of my musical programs so that I have piano-only versions with which to practice…)

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.