Now Streaming…


Greetings!

I hope you remain well during this odd and at times terrifying time in our planet’s history.

Today’s song was written by Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith.

Ron Sexsmith

After my friends in Toronto exposed me to several of his beautiful, wise creations, I recorded “Gold In Them Hills” with the terrific pianist (and sound engineer) Doug Hammer.

I have ruminated in past blog posts about the value of music in our lives — how sometimes it seems quite disposable and unimportant, yet at other times it can feel quite meaningful and essential.

Here is some recent feedback about the value of music from folks on my e-mail list:

“Music is a great encouragement to people in hard times.”

“A song fixes memories of life events indelibly. “

“Music is a distraction from the troubles of the day.”

“Essential.”  

“Music is an easily accessible treat at a time when other treats are difficult to come by.”

“We all need it.”

“Music is a touching reminder that life is worth living.”

“Music is a balm during these stormy times.” 

“Music is part of what makes the world keep going.” 

Every time I read these ideas, I attempt to breathe them deeper into my soul.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Today I share news that my song “Another Good Morning” has finally been distributed to a bunch of digital music platforms — including Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon Music, Deezer, Napster, Tidal, and Google Play.

I found — and played!— it on Spotify, which for better (and mostly for worse) is a key market for musicians these days.

I write “and mostly for worse” because the various streaming platforms pay a tiny fraction of what a performer/songwriter used to earn from the sale of actual records/tapes/CDs. 

As you may already know, the pay rate for listening to a song via streaming  — which varies over time based on a formula which I can’t even begin to explain involving each company’s most recent amount of earnings and profit — is very low.

Here are some recent rates — ranging from a high of $.019 (almost 2 cents) by Napster to a low of $.00402 (less than half a cent) by Amazon.

  • AMAZON: $0.00402 per play.
  • SPOTIFY: $0.00437 per play.
  • YOUTUBE MUSIC (GPM): $0.00676 per play.
  • APPLE MUSIC: $0.00783 per play.
  • TIDAL: $0.0125 per play.
  • NAPSTER: $0.019 per play.

Using the Spotify numbers for example, at $0.00437 per stream, a song would need to be streamed 22,883 times to earn around $100. 

One can still buy a digital download of an individual song at places like iTunes, from which the recording artist earns $.60 – $.70 per purchase.

So it would take 142 (at 60 cents per download) to 166 (at 70 cents per download) purchases to earn around $100 for the folks who recorded it.

But how many of us are still buying digital downloads of specific songs or albums?

The current name of the game appears to be Spotify playlists. 

If one can get one’s song onto a popular playlist, one can earn hundreds of thousands of streams — which theoretically translates into a decent amount of money. 

So… if you are someone who uses Spotify, please consider listening to “Another Good Morning” by clicking here.

And maybe adding it to one of your playlists.

I found a story on NPR from last year which explores the pros and cons of streaming from the perspective of a recording artist and/or songwriter.

Here is one interesting paragraph:

According to a 2017 study from Digital Media Finland, the current payment model for digital streaming services “tend(s) to benefit the services themselves, who keep about 30% of a subscriber’s fee. The rights holders of the recordings, which include record labels, producers, and performers, split about 55 to 60% of the fee. Meanwhile, the rights holders of the song itself (the composition) — which at once includes composers, arrangers, music publishing companies and lyricists — see about 10 to 15% of that pie.”

You can read the whole article by clicking here.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

If you are someone who still buys digital downloads, please consider buying a copy of “Another Good Morning” from iTunes or Amazon or another digital music marketplace.

But I am certainly aware that lots of us have very little cash flow in our lives nowadays!

Since my gigs with jazz pianist Joe Reid have all dried up (except for one outdoor performance last month) due to prudent concerns about possible COVID transmission, I have been working each week via Zoom with Doug Hammer.

We are re-visiting and polishing strong takes of songs we’ve recorded during the past 20+ years.

And I will be distributing them via CD Baby to all of these far-flung digital platforms in the upcoming weeks and months.

THANK YOU for reading and listening to another blog post!

Thank you to Ron Sexsmith for writing great songs.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his inspired piano playing as well as his superb engineering skills.

Thank you to the photographers at Pixabay for these sublime images.

Let us all keep breathing in and out in the days ahead…

I will continue leading Music Together classes two days each week.

And riding my bike.

And walking.

And checking the latest polling data about our upcoming elections.

And donating small amounts of money to down-ballot races around the USA which could use a little help…

And wearing a blessed mask when I go outside.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

As Mr. Sexsmith reminds us:

“Don’t lose heart… give the day a chance to start!”

Fever…

“Fever”

In my last two posts, I have started explaining a little of what I’ve been learning in recent months about the music business.

My musical selection for this post is from a CD I recorded with fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer — which was then enhanced by arranger Mike Callahan as well as other local musicians.

“Fevered” might be one way to describe my current mental state as I recover from our recent — deeply disrespectful and dangerous — presidential non-debate and THEN make sense out of the news that our president and his wife and many members of his staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

At the very least, this is a stark reminder of how a virus makes its presence felt in every niche of human society — from the folks with (allegedly) daily testing and access to the best (and in the case of our political ruling class, FREE) health care to the folks who have to go to work with very little (or no) protection and very little health coverage in places like meat packing plants.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

Let us all continue — in this time of COVID-19 — to remain aware of our daily temperatures and to continue wearing our blessed face masks!

Now I will attempt to explain a little bit about performance rights organizations.

One thing a songwriter must do is affiliate with a performance rights organization (also known as a PRO).

In the USA, there are two entry-level ones — ASCAP and BMI — as well as two more — SESAC and GMR — which you can be invited to join when you are earning a fair amount of money from your songs and also a (new?) one called Pro Music Rights about which I know almost nothing.

Most other countries around the world only have one PRO.

This is just one example of how things are often done differently in the USA than in the rest of the world…

ASCAP was the first performing rights organization founded in the USA.

A group of composers, lyricists, and publishers (who were selling millions of copies of sheet music on behalf of the songwriters under contract to them) decided it was time for them to get paid for public performances of their songs — which I think was already the norm in many European countries.

It 1914 they formed a not-for-profit organization called the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

The founders included Victor Herbert — who according to an article in Irish America magazine wrote the music for “forty operettas, 23 musicals, two operas, and several Ziegfeld Follies; did musical scores for motion pictures; and composed for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra” from the 1890s through the 1920s.

Yowza!

Victor Herbert circa 1895

Herbert was himself a transplant from Europe, having been born (out of wedlock) on Guernsey island in the English Channel and raised in England and Germany.

His mother told, him, however, he had been born in Dublin, and he maintained a strong emotional connection to Ireland for his entire life (perhaps jumpstarted by his mother’s and his grandfather’s strong Irish nationalism).

Herbert was also a cellist, conductor AND long-time advocate for the rights of songwriters.

According to Wikipedia he testified before Congress and influenced the formation of the Copyright Act of 1909, which allowed composers to earn royalties from the sale of new-fangled sound recordings.

And then in 1914 he helped found ASCAP to collect money for public performances of musical works in cafes, hotel ballrooms, live-music clubs, and theaters.

Thank you, Victor Herbert, along with your fellow songwriters and political advocates!

As our technologies continued to evolve, public performances grew to include music broadcasts — live or pre-recorded — on radio and TV as well as in elevators, grocery stores, theme parks, and much more…

In 1940 there was a historical turning point.

During the 1930s ASCAP had been increasing the royalty rates they were charging to radio broadcasters for the use of their members’ songs.

So… for many months the radio broadcasters decided to STOP playing any songs affiliated with ASCAP — a period which is mentioned in the biographies of many famous songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter as a time when many potential hit songs never got airplay and consequently languished…

In 1940 the radio broadcasters took another huge step and founded a competing PRO called Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI).

BMI signed up a very different cohort of songwriters, including people from the R&B, gospel, jazz, country, folk and Latin music communities.

And some degree of competition — and diversity — was introduced into this particular segment/function of the music industry (the collection of money due to songwriters and publishers for the use of their songs…)

These days BMI remains a bit more accessible than ASCAP — because BMI is free to join while ASCAP charges $50 to join as a songwriter and another $50 to join as a publisher.

I went with ASCAP partly because my fellow songwriter Steve Sweeting had already joined BMI, and I thought it might be interesting to compare his experiences with mine over time…

There is also a man who has been at ASCAP for decades named Michael Kerker who loves the Great American Songbook and is an avid supporter of new songwriters.

I met him many years ago when I invited him to a Boston-area songwriter showcase I co-produced at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (where I worked for 16 years).

Then one of my guardian angels, Amanda McBroom — a delightful and generous songwriter whose biggest hit (so far) has been “The Rose” — recommended I reach out to him.

So very shyly, I did.

And he got back to me almost immediately.

We ended up having a long conversation on the phone — and when I had a couple of follow-up questions, he was equally prompt in replying to me.

So I am now an ASCAP member.

And on October 10th, my first recording is scheduled to be released to Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and a bunch of other online musical platforms.

I’ll be blogging more about that soon!

Now that I think about it, songs are kind of like viruses — they are not alive and cannot reproduce themselves without the assistance of a living host.

Hmmm…

I’ll also be sharing how people who do NOT write their own music collect money for the use of their unique recordings of other people’s songs.

And I will continue to give tiny amounts of money to as many political candidates who are in close races as I can.

And I will continue wearing a face mask.

And I will continue walking and riding my bike.

And leading my Music Together classes — both outside in a local park and online via Zoom.

And I will continue to be very grateful that I have a roof over my head, and electricity, and a functioning laptop, and food to eat on a daily basis.

Thank you to Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer, Mike Callahan, and the other musicians involved with our recording of “Fever” — as well as the original songwriters Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell AND Peggy Lee, who added several sets of new lyrics when she recorded her classic version in 1958.

Thank you to Pixabay for wonderful images.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another blog post!

Let us all remained engaged — and vigilant — during the upcoming days and weeks and months!

ps: Have you gotten a flu shot yet?

Questions…

Questions…

“Questions” by Steve Sweeting and Will McMillan

I mentioned in my last blog post that I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching educational videos about how the music industry works.

Today’s song — which I wrote with pianist/composer/songwriter Steve Sweeting many years ago — is perfectly themed for my current state of understanding (and lack thereof…)

In case you are the least bit curious, here’s a little of what I’ve been learning.

As a singer and songwriter, I am supposed to file for two types of copyright: sound recording (also known as the “master recording”) and song composition (of the actual song).

Song compositions generate payments to songwriters and music publishers — and sound recordings generate payments to recording artists and record labels.

So it turns out I need to learn how to wear four business hats: recording artist, record label, songwriter, and publisher.

Actually I also need to learn how to wear a publicist hat, a business manager hat, a booking agent hat, a social media/advertising hat — and the list goes on and on…

I have learned that sound recordings are given a unique ISRC code so that they can be tracked around the planet as they are downloaded, streamed, enjoyed via satellite radio, played in elevators as Muzak, etc.

In theory this tracking leads to various payment streams for the artist who recorded the song, their record company, the person (or team) who wrote the song, and their publishing company.

Also each original song composition is given a unique ISWC code for tracking purposes.

For example, Dolly Parton wrote and recorded “I Will Always Love You” when she made a very difficult decision to leave Porter Wagoner’s TV show.

This song has a unique ISWC code as a composition AND a unique ISRC code as her particular sound recording of it.

I loved reading in a 2012 interview about how Ms. Parton came to write this iconic song.

Porter and Dolly

“I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter’s show for five years. I had been there for seven. And we fought a lot. We were very much alike. We were both stubborn. We both believed that we knew what was best for us. Well, he believed he knew what was best for me, too, and I believed that I knew more what was best for me at that time. So, needless to say, there was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going.”

She continued, “I thought, ’He’s never going to listen. He’s just going to bitch every day that I go in to talk about this.’ So I thought, ’Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’ Because I knew at that time I was going to go, no matter what. So I went home and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song, ’I Will Always Love You.'”

“It’s saying, ’Just because I’m going doesn’t mean I won’t love you. I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here. And I took it in the next morning. I said, ’Sit down, Porter. I’ve written this song, and I want you to hear it.’ So I did sing it. And he was crying. He said, ’That’s the prettiest song I ever heard. And you can go, providing I get to produce that record.’ And he did, and the rest is history.”

Since then her song has been recorded by a lot of other singers — most famously by Whitney Houston.

And each recorded version has its own unique ISRC code as part of its metadata (plus Dolly’s ISWC code for writing the song) so that it can be monitored — and monetized — via unimaginably vast banks of computers keeping track of playlists, streams, downloads, broadcasts, Muzak services, etc.

Right now the music industry is in the middle of a paradigm shift which began when digital recording technology and CDs arrived in our lives.

When I was first making music as a young adult — performing with a jazz pianist, in a folk duo, and as part of an original five-person pop/rock band — I earned money from live gigs and from the sale of cassettes and CDs.

That era is over…

Music has gone from being sold on an analog object — such as a piano roll, wax cylinder, record, or cassette tape — to being sold as a long string of zeros and ones.

The zeros and ones which encoded music onto CDs allowed us to make copies of songs using our computers… and then share those copies with the rest of the world.

We could share them with our other devices (such as an iPod), with our friends and family, and eventually — via sites like Napster — with anyone else on the planet who also had a computer.

And no one got paid for any of this free file sharing!

Since then the music industry has continued to evolve — with streaming platforms such as Spotify entering our lives — but revenues for recorded music are still way down.

And now we also have COVID-19 reducing opportunities for musicians to earn money from live performances.

In fact many small music venues in the Boston area have already closed their doors…with more likely to succumb in upcoming months.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

It’s hard to know what’s coming next!

My current plan, since the wonderful Doug Hammer is not yet welcoming customers back into his recording studio in person, is to work with him remotely (using Zoom) and polish some songs we’ve recorded in past years.

And write a few more blog posts explaining what I am learning about the music industry.

And continue to wear a face mask when I leave my house.

And ride my bike and walk whenever possible.

And lead Music Together classes — both outside (wearing a new face shield + wireless headset) and inside via Zoom.

And give as much money as I can afford to various political candidates and non-profit organizations who are doing their best to prevent our country from lurching into an autocracy.

Another deep breath in.

And out.

Thank you to Pixabay for their lovely images.

Thank you to Steve Sweeting for writing songs with me and to Doug Hammer for helping us record a bunch of them.

And thank YOU for reading another blog post!

‘S Wonderful

Hello!

It’s been many months since I have shared a blog post — although I’ve continued reading blog posts by others…

When COVID-19 became serious here in the Boston area, I started leading sing-alongs each night via FaceBook Live.

So the extra time which I had previously devoted to writing blog posts became focused instead on researching and practicing 5-6 new songs each day.

And then sharing them each night at 8:oo pm.

One hundred and twenty one of these sing-alongs are queued up on my FaceBook page in case you are curious to sample any of them.

In July I went to Cape Cod to write original songs, and my focus shifted from sing-alongs to composition.

Now I’m back at home.

And very grateful that folks continued to visit my site even when I was not actively sharing new blog posts.

I am also grateful for my fellow bloggers who reached out — via email and Facebook — during the past months to see if I was OK.

I happily dedicate the Gershwin Brothers’ song in the player at the beginning of this post to YOU.

George and Ira Gershwin…

As Ira once wrote, “(it)’s wonderful, (it)’s marvelous that you should care for me…”

As those of you who have read past blog posts may remember, I am someone who loves the spring and summer.

I do not like when the days get shorter and the nights get colder — and on top of that I hear from Dr. Fauci that we will probably be wearing masks until the end of 2021…

But accept autumn I must, as I must accept the mask-wearing and the lack-of-hugs and the increased-hand-washing and the ongoing sense of anxiety and loss during this COVID era.

Deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

Thank goodness for music!

It is can be a comfort, a balm, a tonic, an inspiration…

Ira and George at work together…

“‘S Wonderful” was written by George Gershwin and his older brother Ira for a show called Funny Face starring Adele Astaire and her younger brother Fred in 1927.

The Gershwins and the Astaires had been friends for many years — ever since they first met as teenagers when George was working as a song plugger and Adele and Fred were looking for new material for their vaudeville act.

Fred and Adele performing in vaudeville…

Funny Face was originally called Smarty, and the creative birth of Smarty was not easy.

Reminiscing about the out-of-town tryout period for Smarty, Ira later recalled, “Everyone worked day and night, recasting, rewriting, rehearsing, recriminating…of rejoicing there was none.”

Program cover from London run…

He and George ended up writing 24 songs for the show, the title of Smarty changed to Funny Face, and miraculously it ended up being a hit, opening in New York City on November 22, 1927.

Adele performed “‘S Wonderful” with a Canadian actor named Allen Kearns (who Wikipedia tells us also debuted another classic Gershwin Brothers song, “Embraceable You” in their 1930 musical Girl Crazy).

As they had done with their previous Gershwin Brothers’ hit — Lady, Be Good! — the Astaires agreed to perform Funny Face in London, where it was met with even greater enthusiasm than in NYC.

The Astaires — particularly Adele who was more outgoing and spontaneous than her hard-working younger brother — were the toast of the town and became friends with members of the royal family (even being invited at one point to meet the new princess Elizabeth as a baby).

Fred and Adele Astaire with their London co-star Leslie Henson…

In fact Adele stopped performing three years later when she married the Earl of Cavendish (whom she had met on the night of their final performance in London of Funny Face) and moved to a castle in Ireland.

You can click here for a link to Adele’s Wikipedia page with many more details from her fascinating life.

In addition to leading more sing-alongs and finishing more original songs, I have decided it is time to start releasing my original songs via a company called CD Baby to Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, Napster, and a bunch of other online music platforms.

As some of you may know, this is not a simple process.

I have registered my first collection of songs with the Library of Congress, have joined a performing rights organization (ASCAP), have done a lot of reading, and have watched a lot of helpful videos to learn about how radio play, downloads, and streaming generate different kinds of income — which are collected by a bewildering combination of organizations…

I hope to share more about this process in future blog posts.

George and Ira Gershwin…

I end THIS post with gratitude for Ira and George Gershwin, who have left us an extraordinary legacy of music.

And I am grateful for pianist/producer Doug Hammer, who recorded and mixed this uptempo version of “‘S Wonderful” with me before COVID-19 entered our lives.

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

I am not sure if writing blog posts and releasing original songs is the best use of my time with the climate change crisis breathing down own necks…

The fires burning in California and Oregon and Washington are terrifying and extraordinary.

The hurricanes battering the Caribbean and Mexico and the southeastern United States are catastrophic and astounding.

Will my nieces and nephews at some point say to me, “Why weren’t you out in the street every day with signs protesting climate change while life as we know it on planet earth was irreparably being changed/altered/destroyed?”

We shall see…

I am glad to be back blogging and very grateful that folks continued to visit my site even when I have been focused elsewhere.

Let us continue to sing and dance and wear our masks and wash our hands and send money (if we can) to folks who need it and write new blog posts and record new songs and send postcards to potential voters and donate (if we can) to political candidates and remain engaged in the political process here on planet earth.

Adele and Fred Astaire…

If I Only Had A…

If I Only Had A…

WIZARD_OF_OZ_ORIGINAL_POSTER_1939

As we in Massachusetts enter the second week of staying at home due to COVID-19, I have been happy to connect with family and friends and acquaintances via their WordPress blog posts and Facebook updates.

THANK YOU to everyone for your words and images and information!

Since it’s been almost a month since my last blog post, I am finally putting my fingers to the laptop keyboard in order to share another great song by composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Yip Harburg (in photo below…)

92Y-Event-01Nov2018-672x372

Yip lived a full and passionate and creative and principled life — and wrote the lyrics for a bunch of great songs, including “Springtime in Paris,” “Old Devil Moon,” “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?”  “Down With Love,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe,” “Lydia The Tattooed Lady, and “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”

And then there are the songs he and Harold Arlen wrote for a movie inspired by the work of author L. Frank Baum and illustrator William Wallace Denslow.

Wizard_of_oz_5

These include “We’re Off To See The Wizard,” “If I Only Had A Brain,” and “Over The Rainbow” — which won the Academy award for best song in a motion picture in 1939.

TinWoodmanGoodbye

I learned from reading a biography about Yip — co-written by his son Ernie Harburg — that in addition to writing the lyrics for the songs in The Wizard Of Oz, Yip also wrote all the dialogue that sets up the songs — and he even wrote the dialogue for one of my favorite scenes near the end, when the Wizard gives medals to the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion in honor of their heart, brains and nerve.

ScarecrowGoodbye

I also learned that, in classic Hollywood fashion, eleven different screenwriters were involved with the script — with Yip serving as the final script editor, pulling the whole thing together and giving it coherence and unity. But he didn’t get any official screen credit for all of that work on the script.

CowardlyLionGoodbye

Yip is also the person responsible for including the powerful metaphor of a rainbow in the movie — which was produced partly to showcase MGM’s Technicolor prowess.

In the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, there is no mention of a rainbow.

rainbow

Yip’s son Ernie describes in an interview I found on YouTube how “Over The Rainbow” came to be written:

Yip and Harold Arlen’s contract at MGM had run out, and they still didn’t have a key song for Dorothy written.

YipAndHarold

Frank Baum writes in The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz that where Dorothy lived, “not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades.”

Yip and Harold discussed this description, and how Dorothy’s neighbor Miss Gulch had threatened to take away her beloved companion, Toto, and how Dorothy was looking for a way to escape…

arlenHarburg

At this time in their lives, both Yip and Harold were living in Beverly Hills, with lush green lawns — plus elaborate sprinkler systems to keep them green!

RainbowSprinkler

One day when his gardener turned on the sprinklers, Yip was struck by the little rainbows that appeared in the air. When he next saw Harold he said, “Dorothy wants to escape — to be on the other side of the rainbow,” and Harold went away and came back with a beautiful melody which Yip then worked on for three weeks to find words with exactly the right syllables to fit Harold’s melody.

And, thanks to Judy Garland’s beautifully poignant rendition of their song,  the rest is cinema history.

DorothySinging

“If I Only Had A Brain” (a version of which is included in the player at the beginning of this blog post) is based on a melody for a song called “I’m Hanging On To You” which Yip and Harold had written for — and then cut from — a 1937 anti-war musical called Hooray For What!

Apparently another song that Yip and Harold wrote for Hooray For What! — called “In the Shade of the New Apple Tree” — so impressed the powers-that-be at Metro Goldwyn Mayer in California that they chose Harold and Yip to write the songs for what became The Wizard of Oz.

yip-harburg

When they were working on a song to be sung by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion, Yip recalled the melody from “I’m Hanging On To You,” and fashioned an entirely new set of lyrics — including short verses (one of which I have included in my recording with pianist Doug Hammer) which were not used in the final cut of the movie.

TinWoodmanSwaying

Rainbows continued to be an important metaphor for Yip throughout his life — popping up in quite a few of his songs.

Yip once explained, “I belong to a tribe of what used to be called troubadors. Sometimes they were called minstrels. Now we’re called songwriters…we worked for, in our songs, a better world, a rainbow world… Now my generation, unfortunately, never succeeded in creating that rainbow world; so we can’t hand it down to you. But we could hand down our songs, which still hang on to hope and laughter.”

For that I am immensely grateful — to Yip and to Harold and to all of the other hard-working songwriters from the 20th century who have left us such a treasure trove of music.

Yip US Stamp

Yip differed from many of his contemporaries in that he was eager to wrestle with social and political issues in his creative projects.

I already mentioned the anti-war musical Hooray For What! in 1937 (two years before the start of WWII) and the Depression-era classic “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” which Yip wrote with one of his first collaborators, the composer Jay Gorney,  for a revue in 1932 called Americana.

Breadline

With composer Harold Arlen he wrote the songs for 1944’s Bloomer Girl, which was set in upstate NY and explored the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements in the years leading up to the Civil War while featuring an integrated cast on stage.

Three years later Yip helped create another musical classic, Finian’s Rainbow — set in a fictional region of the American South called Missitucky. Yip not only wrote lyrics, he also co-authored the script — and the integrated cast featured characters such as a leader of a union of black and white share-croppers, a leprechaun, two recent Irish immigrants, and a white racist Southern Senator who is transformed into an African-American citizen for several days as an opportunity for growth and education.

Finian’s Rainbow gave us a wide variety of songs, including “When The Idle Poor Become The Idle Rich, “Old Devil Moon,” “Look To The Rainbow,” and “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?”

It may seem a bit odd that a song like “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” was written by two Jewish songwriters (Burton Lane was the composer of Finian’s Rainbow).

But Yip was himself the child of immigrants — Orthodox Yiddish-speaking Russian Jews — and he grew up very poor on the lower east side of Manhattan.

hester-street-lantern-slide

His official name when he was born in 1896 — the youngest of four surviving children out of ten total — was Isidore Hochberg, and he was nicknamed “Yip” (from Yipsele, a Yiddish term of endearment referring to a squirrel) because he was so active as a child.

Yip was very successful in grammar school — winning prizes for his ability to recite poems and performing in many musical productions. He earned a spot at Townsend Harris — a prestigious public high school associated with City College of New York where you could earn both a high school and bachelor’s degree in seven years.

He found himself seated alphabetically next to a young fellow named Israel Gershovitz — also known as Ira Gershwin. Yip and Ira became life-long friends — sharing a deep admiration for Gilbert & Sullivan and later co-writing a humor column for the newspaper at City College.

YipQuote

I could go on and on about Yip.

Although he was not a Communist, he was blacklisted from working in the movies, TV  and radio for 12 years during the 50s and early 60s.

He kept working on Broadway, however, and even co-wrote a song which was recorded by the folk/pop trio Peter, Paul & Mary.

If you are curious to learn more about this creative and inspirational human being, you can click here to read his Wikipedia entry and/or track down the biography co-written by his son, Ernie Harburg.

YipBio

Perhaps some of his songs like “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” and “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” will take on a new resonance in the days and weeks ahead…

For the time being, I remain grateful that we in Massachusetts are still allowed to leave our homes and go for walks in our neighborhoods — as long as we maintain a healthy physical distance from other human beings we encounter along the way — so that I can continue to “while away the hours, conferring with the flowers (and) consulting with the rain.”

While COVID-19 buffets our human societies, the natural world continues — blessedly — to create a new buds, new leaves, new flowers!

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Part of the reason for the gap between my last blog post and this one is that I have begun leading half-hour singalongs at 8:00 pm each night via Facebook Live.

If you are feeling hungry for some musical camaraderie and fun, please consider joining us any night starting at 8:00 pm (Eastern Standard Time in the USA).

Previous sing-alongs also remain on my Facebook home page in case you are curious to visit at any time of the day or night.

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You can click here to visit my Facebook home page.

Thank you to Pixabay for some of the images included in this blog post.

Thank you to Giphy.com for all of the GIFs included in this blog post.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his tremendous skills as a pianist AND as an engineer.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts!

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The Moon and Sand… and Seals!

The Moon and Sand… and Seals!

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As regular readers of this blog are well aware, I love spending time on Cape Cod.

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And I am not alone in this sentiment.

In recent years the population of seals on Cape Cod has risen significantly.

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According to the web site of the Center For Coastal Studies in Provincetown, two kinds of seals — harbor and gray — live on the Cape year-round.

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Three other species — harp, hooded, and ring seals — can also be spotted on Cape Cod, although they give birth in Canada and Greenland.

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I am pretty sure it is gray seals who share the beach in North Truro with us human beings.

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Head Of The Meadow beach, near where I camp with family members each summer, is home to hundreds of seals.

You can click here to read a recent story — with great photos — about this particular community of seals.

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It confirms what we have noticed — that within the past ten years, the number of seals sharing this beach has increased substantially!

At low tide they gather in large communities on the sandbars and soak up the sun.

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Then at high tide everyone is back in the water, swimming up and down the shoreline in search of food.

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When I am learning new songs, I usually record them as accurately as possible with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio in Lynn, MA.

Then I load piano-vocal and just-piano versions onto my iPod — and walk and sing for hours, memorizing lyrics while musing about the story being told in the song…

And beaches are great places to walk and sing.

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Seals often will swim along the shore while I am walking — their heads popping up through the surface of the water at regular intervals.

Sometimes a bunch of them will gather and watch/listen if I stop and sing in one place for a while.

They are curious beings.

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On clear nights, I sometimes leave the campground and head back to the beach in order to walk and sing and revel in a truly starry sky.

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Where I live — just outside of Boston — there’s a lot of light pollution.

But on the outer Cape — away from buildings and streetlights and cars — the skies remain awe-inspiring.

And song-inspiring!

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I wrote the song (in the player at the beginning of this blog post) a couple of summer ago… and recorded it with Doug a few weeks ago at his studio north of Boston.

It was an alternative pick for a Valentine’s-themed blog post.

But since February is not quite over, I have decided to share it in this seal-themed blog post instead.

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Since I burn easily, I almost never go to the beach during peak sun hours.

My routine is to stay at the campground during the day — when almost all of the humans have gone to the beach — and write songs.

I sit in a very large tent with my ukulele and a rhyming dictionary and a little digital recorder and a laptop computer and bags of song ideas which I have jotted down over the years.

I listen to the birds and the chipmunks and the crickets and the cicadas.

And write.

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Then in the late afternoon I walk down a long path through a wonderful pine forest to the beach.

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In addition to swimming in very shallow water along the shore — because the booming seal population has also encouraged a healthy population of great white sharks to visit the outer Cape — I sometimes stretch and do a little yoga.

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As do the seals…

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While we human beings dither about climate change — and carry viruses around the world due to our obsession with international travel — and vote for political candidates who may or may not care one iota for their constituents — I am strangely reassured to think about the seals.

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And the moon.

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And the stars.

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And the sea.

Thank you to all of the photographers who share their great photos at Pixabay.

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And to the seals and other wildlife who share the Cape with us human beings.

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And to the North Of Highland Campground for staying in business year after year.

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And to my family who choose to camp together for two weeks each summer.

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And to you for reading and listening to this blog post!

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A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

A Melody Played In A Penny Arcade…

amusement-park-1045212_1280As longtime readers of my blog probably recall, when I was laid off from my day job as assistant director of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education seven years ago, I decided to devote my life to making music.

And writing songs.

And leading Music Together classes.

A few months after my lay-off, a Boston-area jazz pianist named Joe Reid reached out to see if I might like to do a gig at the retirement community where his dad lives.

I had met Joe several years earlier — when HE was in the midst of a life transition from working full-time as a lawyer to working full-time as a musician — and promptly said, “Yes!”

We needed to prepare an hour of music, and I mentioned that I had long loved many songs co-written by composer Harold Arlen — a list which includes “My  Shining Hour,” “I’ve Got The World On A String,” “Accentuate The Positive,” “Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “Blues In The Night,”  “That Old Black Magic,” “If I Only Had A Brain,”  “Over The Rainbow,” “Happiness is Just A Thing Called Joe,” “Let’s Fall In Love,” “Get Happy,” and “It’s Only A Paper Moon.”

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I had sung a few of these songs in a program of music featuring the lyrics of Johnny Mercer with singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer — because one of Mr. Arlen’s many collaborators was Mr. Mercer.

And I was familiar with others due to the movie version of The Wizard Of Oz, for which Mr. Arlen composed the music and Yip Harburg wrote lyrics (and a lot of uncredited dialogue  —  a topic I will explore in a future blog post dedicated to Yip).

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I biked over to Joe’s house — in the town next to mine — with a bunch of sheet music.

We spent about 90 minutes running through thirteen songs — picking comfortable keys and exploring tempos/feels for each of them.

And that was it for rehearsing with Joe.

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Joe (on the left) is very much a “let’s-trust-in-the-moment” kind of musician who welcomes improvisation and spontaneity.

I, too, value spontaneity — and I also appreciate structure.

So I booked time with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.

We recorded all of the Arlen songs once or twice so that I could have a set of piano-only tracks to play on my iPod as I walked around Arlington memorizing lyrics.

And some of the versions we recorded — such as the version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” included in the player at the beginning of this blog post — came out surprisingly well.

“It’s Only A Paper Moon” was written for a 1932 play (not a musical) called The Great Magoo set in Coney Island which was not a big success.

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It is credited to Arlen, Harburg, and impresario Billy Rose — who was somewhat infamous for adding his name to the songwriting credits of other people’s work after having contributed an idea or two during the creative process.

You may recognize Rose’s name because he was married for many years to the great performer Fanny Brice, and his character appears in the movie Funny Lady starring Barbra Streisand as Brice.

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Somehow this Coney Island hot dog made me think of him…

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Luckily the song was rescued from The Great Magoo and included in a movie called Take A Chance the next year — which led to successful recordings by a wide range of musicians over the past 70+ years.

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I love the metaphors and imagery used in the song — all things one might encounter at an amusement park like Coney Island.

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I also love the sentiment of the song — that if someone believes in and loves another person, their belief and love can be transformative.

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And looking at these photos, I am struck by the way an amusement park transforms from day to night…

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I would like to dedicate Doug’s and my version of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” to all of the folks who have at one time or another believed in me — including friends and acquaintances in the WordPress blog-o-sphere.

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Your positive feedback regarding my music and my blog continues to touch and inspire me every day.

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Thank you to Pixabay for the great color photographs of Coney Island and other amusement parks around the world.

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Thank you to Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg and Billy Rose for writing this wonderful song.

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And to Joe Reid for asking me to do a gig with him seven years ago.

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Since then Joe and I have done hundreds of gigs together and created twenty five different one-hour musical programs.

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Thank you to Doug Hammer for his engineering excellence and his playful virtuosity at the keyboard.

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And THANK YOU for reading and listening — and even leaving a comment or two from time to time.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

Ode To Water

Ode To Water

 

We’ve been having an unusually warm January in New England this year…

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So far we have experienced as much rain as snow…

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I prefer rain to snow because I don’t have to shovel outside the karate studio where I lead Music Together classes three mornings each week.

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Most of us burn fewer fossil fuels as a result of warmer winter temperatures — and save a little money on our heating bills.

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One weekend the temperature hit 70 degrees Farenheit (21 degrees Celsius) — an all-time high for Boston in January!

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I don’t know if any of our local turtles dug their way out of the mud thinking it was spring…

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But there was a fair amount of spring-like frolicking in the greater Boston area — although maybe not quite as enthusiastically as these folks…

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I wrote this song several years ago while camping in North Truro on Cape Cod.

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As regular readers of my blog posts already know, I LOVE spending time at the North Of Highland camping area.

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One of my favorite parts of camping there is how everyone gains — or regains — a deep appreciation for the preciousness of water.

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All of the faucets in the bathrooms shut off after a second or two to encourage us not to waste water while brushing our teeth, washing our hands, or shaving.

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And we have to carry water — for drinking and cooking and washing dishes after our meals — in big plastic jugs from centrally located cabins (which have bathrooms, showers, and outdoor spigots) down to our camp sites.

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So we become very aware of how much water we use all day long — such as boiling pasta for dinner or rinsing a soapy pot afterwards.

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We are a short walk away from the Atlantic ocean, which is another mesmerizing manifestation of water on planet earth.

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I tend to go to the beach in the late afternoon, when the sun is less powerful and the beach starts to become less crowded with other human beings.

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And then there are clouds — another form of water…

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How weird and amazing that water molecules are constantly cycling around our planet — from the sky to the earth to plants (and the animals who consume plants) and then back into the sky!

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And water is such an important substance in our bodies…

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Blood is flowing through my arteries and veins as I sit and type this blog post — and through your arteries and veins as you are reading it…

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Water is an important component of all sort of secretions which our bodies produce — and which in some cases allow for the reproduction of our species.

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And plants, bless them, create delicious fruits — containing lots of water — as part of their reproductive cycles.

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The more I explored Pixabay, the more glorious images related to water I found…

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Ocean waves…

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Cups of tea…

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Whales…

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Rainbows…

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Rivers…

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Splashing hands…

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Waterfalls…

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Water slides…

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Ponds…

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Lakes…

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Glaciers…

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Rotini…

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Thunderstorms…

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Reflections…

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Tears…

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More waterfalls…

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Aquariums…

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Raindrops…

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Leaves…

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Jelly fish…

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More glaciers…

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Mountain tops…

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Impressionistic ripples…

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Otherworldly reflections…

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Libations…

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Waves…

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Hot springs…

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And ice crystals…

Thank you to Doug Hammer for playing piano and co-producing the version of “Ode To Water” featured at the start of this blog post.

Thank you to the photographers who share their glorious images with Pixabay.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts!

Skylark…

Skylark…

As our president speaks on the radio about his recent decision to kill an Iranian general (and others) in Iraq, I thought I might share a post about love and melody and music…

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John Herndon Mercer was born on November 18, 1909 in Savannah, Georgia.

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From the 1930s to the 1960s he co-wrote a slew of hit songs including “Jeepers Creepers,” “Hooray For Hollywood,” “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road),” “Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” “Moon River,” “On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe,” “Too Marvelous For Words,” “Accentuate The Positive,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Blues In The Night,” “In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “Skylark.”

Mercer was nominated for 19 Academy Awards — winning four Oscars for best original song — and had two successful shows on Broadway.

He was also a popular recording artist AND co-founded Capitol Records!

“Skylark” was published in 1941 — when Europe was engulfed in WWII but the USA had not yet entered the fight…

The song had a long creative gestation.

According to Wikipedia, the composer Hoagy Carmichael was inspired to write the melody for what became “Skylark” by an improvisation which his old friend Bix Beiderbecke — a jazz cornet player — had once played.

Bix’s music and too-short life had already inspired a novel called YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN which Hoagy was hoping to adapt into a Broadway show (and which a decade later provided the source material for a movie of the same name starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day and Hoagy Carmichael…)

Apparently the Broadway production never gelled, and after that Hoagy shared the melody with Johnny in hopes that he might write lyrics for it.

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Different books report different versions of how long it took Johnny to write the lyrics for “Skylark.”

Most agree, however, that it was a long period of time — several months to a year — and that Hoagy had kind of forgotten that Johnny was working on lyrics for it (or at least Hoagy had stopped checking in with Johnny to ask him if he had made any progress…)

Around this time Johnny had started an on-again, off-again love affair with Judy Garland.

He was 31 years old (and married…and upset because his father had recently died) and she — fresh off her success as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ — was 19 years old.

Many writers have speculated about which of Mercer’s lyrics were inspired by his love for Judy — and “Skylark” is one of the contenders.

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Here is Judy in an MGM publicity photo from 1943 — when she was 21 years old.

Beautiful and funny and gifted and smart and hard-working and … inspirational.

Another thing which inspired Johnny was the natural world.

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His family had a summer home outside Savannah on a hill overlooking an estuary — and he spent his summers as a child fishing, swimming, sailing, picking berries, and lying very still.

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He wrote in an unpublished autobiography, “The roads were still unpaved, made of crushed oyster shell, and…they wound their way under the trees covered with Spanish moss…”

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“It was a sweet indolent background for a boy to grow up in…and as we drove out to our place in the country there (were) vistas of marsh grass and long stretches of salt water.”

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“It was 12 miles from Savannah, but it might as well have been 100…”

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“Out on (our) starlit veranda, I would lie on a hammock and — lulled by the night sounds, the cricket sounds… my eyelids would grow heavy (and I would fall sleep) — safe in the buzz of grown up talk and laughter (and) the sounds of far-off singing…”

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I started reading about Johnny Mercer when fellow singer Bobbi Carrey and pianist Doug Hammer and I put together a program of his songs that we performed at Scullers Jazz Club here in Boston.

We also were fortunate enough to perform this program of songs on Spring Island — one of the multitude of barrier islands which run along the Georgia and Carolina coast.

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Spring Island was once one of the largest cotton plantations in the southern United States.

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And echoes of plantation life remain on the island…

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Spring Island is now half wildlife sanctuary and half retirement community for folks who are very wealthy — some of whom love music enough that they would fly me and Bobbi and Doug down to perform in their lovely club house.

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Although he enjoyed living in New York and California, Johnny returned home to Georgia on a regular basis — usually via a long train trip since he did not like to fly.

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He savored the slower pace of life in his hometown as well as the beauty all around.

Having traveled to Spring Island, I have a much more vivid sense of Johnny Mercer’s roots…

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A song like “Skylark” or “Moon River” makes sense in a different way now that I have seen and smelled and tasted and heard the environment where he grew up.

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Full of streams…

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And birds…

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And mist…

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And blossoms…

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And swamps…

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And big old trees…

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And ocean…

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And flowers…

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And light…

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And sky…

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Thank you to Bix Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer for creating such a lovely song.

And to Doug Hammer for his spectacular piano playing as well as his super-competent engineering skills.

And to Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons for most of the images in this post.

And to YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!

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What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

 

I love this song written by Frank Loesser in 1947.

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Apparently it was not created for a particular movie or show.

And Mr. Loesser thought that it was fine to sing it any time of the year — because it is about someone who is in the early stages of a romantic relationship who is thinking ahead…

I recorded it with Doug Hammer when I was putting together an hour-long program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish lyricist and/or composers.

Mr. Loesser started off as a lyricist, collaborating with Jule Styne (with whom he co-wrote “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You, Baby”), and Hoagy Carmichael (with whom he co-wrote “Heart and Soul), and other composers in New York and in California.

During WWII he joined the military and helped to create original musical shows which could easily be produced with minimal costumes, props and scenery at military bases and camps all around the globe as a way to boost the morale of the troops at home and abroad.

It was during this time that he became more confident about composing the music to go with his lyrics — and one of first hit songs for which he wrote both music and lyrics was “Praise the Lord and Pass The Ammunition.”

After WWII his career as a songwriter gained momentum.

He wrote songs for the hit musical WHERE’S CHARLEY? — which gave us the standard “Once In Love With Amy” sung by Ray Bolger (who had starred as The Scarecrow in the movie version of THE WIZARD OF OZ many years earlier).

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Then he wrote songs for the musical GUYS AND DOLLS, which was a huge hit when it opened on Broadway in 1950 and which — almost seventy years later — continues to be performed all around the USA and beyond…

He expanded from writing lyrics and music to writing the libretto (script) as well for his masterwork THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, which was as much an opera as it was a Broadway show.

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His other shows include GREENWILLOW — starring a young Anthony Perkins, which was not a hit — and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT TRYING, which was a hit and won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

He also wrote songs — including “Inchworm” and “Thumbelina” for a successful movie about Hans Christian Anderson starring Danny Kaye.

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And he won an Academy award in 1949 for his song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which he had originally written as a fun duet for him and his first wife, Lynn to perform at parties.

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She was apparently very upset when he sold “their song” to MGM FOR a movie called NEPTUNE’S DAUGHTER starring Esther Williams.

In recent years this song has generated some controversy since the lyrics involve a man (called “the wolf” in the original sheet music) seducing a woman (called “the mouse” in the original sheet music) using persistence, charm, and alcohol.

Since relatively few books have been written about Mr. Loesser, his daughter Susan Loesser penned a book called A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life.

It is very candid and informative about Mr. Loesser — who does not sound like he was  the easiest or the happiest guy to work with. In fact he infamously slapped one of the original leads in GUYS AND DOLLS, Isabel Bigley, during rehearsals because he did not like the way she was interpreting one of his songs.

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However, he was extremely supportive of up-and-coming songwriters and helped nurture the careers of Meredith Willson (THE MUSIC MAN), Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (THE PAJAMA GAME and DAMN YANKEES), and even Stephen Sondheim, who received a very supportive and empathetic letter from Frank after one of Sondheim’s early musicals, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, closed after only nine performances.

Mr. Loesser was also a lifelong three-pack-a-day smoker, and died in 1969 at age 59 from lung cancer.

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Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

As another year — and another decade — draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone who has visited my blog during the past six years to read and listen.

And the wonderful photographers whose work has graced my blog posts.

Also all the folks with whom I have made music during this past year!

This next decade is a make-or-break one for human beings here on planet earth.

We have ten years — or less!!! — to change the way we consume resources before climate change will swing more and more out of balance in un-imaginable, catastrophic, and un-fixable ways.

I have no idea what a contemporary human society which consumes only sustainable/renewable amounts of food and water and fuel and natural resources would look like.

But I deeply hope we are all able to WAKE UP and STOP CONSUMING fossil fuels and plastic items and unnecessary consumer goods and air travel and vacations-to-far-away-places, and car travel, and excessive food and water so that future generations of beings — human and otherwise — can exist on this lovely planet.

Many of us have somehow been raised to feel we are entitled to consume/enjoy/waste natural resources simply because we want to consume/enjoy/waste them — with no consideration or reflection about how our choices and actions affect the larger web of sustainable life here on planet earth.

This Christmas I gave copies of several books — The Overstory by Richard Powers and The Hidden Life of Trees, The Inner Life of Animals, and The Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter Wohlleben — to various family members.

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I was slightly ambivalent to buy and give books (made from dead trees, after all…) about how amazing and wise and generous and precious trees are to life here on planet earth.

But I am hoping that sharing these books will help with the process of AWAKENING all of us human beings to the extraordinary web of life — of which we are merely one (albeit an often-times astoundingly ignorant and destructive) strand.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

I will be hanging out with family in upstate New York this New Year’s Eve.

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I learned yesterday from my older sister that the hens started laying more eggs as soon as the days started getting longer here in the northern hemisphere.

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How amazingly calibrated to subtle changes in light they are!

And I bore witness to the sheeps’ concern about getting their fair share of the grain which my sisters feed them each evening.

I learned from a television program earlier this year that a wide variety of animals — not just sheep — are very aware of what IS and is NOT equitable.

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Here we are walking the sheep to a temporary pasture area in another field.

The snow has almost all melted due to several days of non-freezing weather including rain…

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Here is one of my nephews testing fate by walking on a previously frozen stream…

Tomorrow night after evening chores are done, we will drive to the next town and cook a small feast with cousins.

Then we will play ukuleles, sing, and reflect upon the past year.

What are YOU doing New Year’s Eve?