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.

48 thoughts on “Happiness…

  1. Thanks for another wonderful post and song Will. I appreciate your passion for music, teaching, and highlighting people. I share much of your hope for the new administration, tempered by the reality of big money influence/ corruption. I believe we need major reforms to have a government that serves the people. I hope you and Joe get to perform more in 2021.

  2. Dear Will, This is so wonderfully written, it’s as if you looked into my heart, mind and soul. I feel like the 70s has come back in a different form, and we will do better now. Plus I love the choice of this song, and what an amazing, talented cast. Most people of a certain age may remember one of them playing a maid in a TV show. Was it “Beulah”. Love to you and your talented partner(s).🥰

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. I am Australian and even I breathed a big sigh of relief when Joe Biden gave his acceptance speech. Today is a good day, and I wish all my American friends an excellent future, they have endured much. Thank you for this post and the very topical song.

  4. Pingback: Happiness… — amusicalifeonplanetearth – Tao Talk

  5. Fabulous version, Will. Not that I can say much re the US side of things, because I am here and not there, but a deep breath in and a deep breath out is always a good strategy for those challenging moments.

  6. Another enjoyable song and post. Sorry your plans were portioned indefinitely by COVID—as were so many others.

    I am elated by the election results—despite the efforts to continue our national chaos. The President-elect’s response today—measured, calm, and dignified—was a soothing balm.

    When you get a chance, I hope you’ll visit my election post. It also contains a song—one that you may wish to sing.

    Breathe in, breathe out. Jan 20!can’t come soon enough!

    • I will go and read your recent election post! So odd (and at times terrifying/dangerous) to have a president addicted to chaos and drama in the White House. I am hoping/trusting that he and his family will be out of there in a couple of months…

  7. sounds like you and Joe have brought smiles to many with your musical shows, well done, thank you!

    We overseas are most relieved to see Joe and Kamala won and pray they get installed soon, the orange man needs to go … take care

  8. Great song choice! I’m so looking forward to the next four years. We are already being spared the angry headlines every morning as the media moves on. We can celebrate the goodness in humanity again.

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