Tonight Kish and I got back from a performance at Schiller Park — more about that later — and we decided to build a fire. When Skipper decided to turn in, I thought I would stay up for while, stoke the flames, drink a few cold beers, and listen to some American music.
But . . . what to listen to, exactly? Because when you are talking about American music genres, you have the luxury of incredible choice. Ragtime, jazz, blues, rock ‘n roll, soul — it all depends on your mood.
It’s extraordinary, when you think about it. This country has produced a series of musical forms that have tremendous, worldwide, everlasting appeal. We’ll gladly leave waltzes to Austria and opera to Italy, but we’ve cornered the market on just about everything else worth mentioning. And don’t just take my word for it. Ask people in France or Japan about Louis Armstrong or John Coltrane or Miles Davis, or listen to British lad Eric Clapton team up with Duane Allman for Derek and the Dominoes’ epic treatment of Key to the Highway, or listen to some early Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis and then hear the Beatles or the Rolling Stones cover those songs, and you realize what a fantastic wellspring of music has been tapped in the United States of America.
Tonight I felt like listening to some blues, so B.B. King and the Blind Boys of Alabama and Robert Johnson and Leadbelly and Odetta — as well as J.T. Lauritsen and Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers — helped to brighten and prolong a great evening. Just listening to it made me proud to be a citizen of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Last night Richard, Julianne, Kish and I went to the Columbus Symphony for the latest installment of the American Roots Festival series. This performance was at the Southern Theater, a beautiful, more intimate venue than the mighty Ohio Theater, and featured engaging guest conductor Donato Cabrera and wonderful pianist Thomas Lauderdale.
It was a great program and will be performed again at 8 p.m. tonight. It began with Dvorak’s delightful Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7, written when he was visiting the United States, which set the evening’s theme — American-inspired music, with jazz and ragtime influences. Highlights for me were Scott Joplin’s Overture to Treemonisha and Kurt Weill’s Little Threepenny Music, both of which I had not heard before. I also liked the recomposition of the orchestra from piece to piece as the composers added a banjos and large saxophone section, and gave the bassoonists a moment in the sun as they sought to capture an American sound.
According to the program the night was to end with Stravinsky’s Scherzo a la russe, but Maestro Cabrera announced during the performance that the order had been changed to close with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. This was a very wise decision, because it’s hard to imagine any piece following last night’s performance of Gershwin’s opus.
Last night was the first time I’ve seen the Rhapsody performed live, and I’ll never think of that music in the same way again. From the meandering wail of the clarinet that opens the piece, to the beautiful melodies that pop up unexpectedly and are tied together at the end, to the piano trills and fills that give Rhapsody in Blue its spine, the visual aspect of the performance will be forever fixed in my mind. Thomas Lauderdale is a consummate showman, and he gave his grand piano a workout that brought every bit of sound and texture from the instrument. It was, in a word, epic. See it if you have the chance!
Even though my candidate of choice didn’t prevail yesterday, voting always makes me feel good — about myself, but especially about my country. There is something deeply moving and profound, quiet but enormous, reaffirming and empowering, about going to the polls on Election Day and casting your ballot in this huge and diverse nation where we manage to settle disagreements by elections, not roadside bombs or terrorist attacks.
When I woke up this morning, I still felt good about our election. On my walk through our quiet neighborhood, I wanted to listen to music that expresses, to my mind at least, a little bit of that uplifting mixture of emotions that I feel when I vote. I donned my iPod and thumbed to my Americana playlist, which is a compilation of songs of every different category and classification, linked together only because they all — through message, or genre, or context, or something else — seem quintessentially American to me. I listened as the dogs and I strolled along this morning, savoring an eclectic mix of music that reflects the broad, sweeping nature of this land and its people, and counted myself lucky that I was born an American.
The first 20 songs on my Americana playlist are:
Ashokan Farewell (The Civil War soundtrack) Sweet Georgia Brown (Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli) Air Mail Special (Benny Goodman And His Orchestra) Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland, The Wizard Of Oz Soundtrack) Polly Wolly Doodle (Leon Redbone) Dipper Mouth Blues (Arturo Sandoval) My Girl (The Temptations ) Someone To Watch Over Me (Frank Sinatra) No More (The Blind Boys Of Alabama) Dig My Grave Both Long And Narrow (Amasong) Summertime (Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong) Blowin’ In The Wind (Bob Dylan) Goodnight Louise (Boz Scaggs) When The Saints Go Marching In (Dr. John) 50,000 Names (George Jones) Anything Goes (Helen Merrill) Calling My Children Home (Emmylou Harris) Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) (Natalie Cole, Live) They’re Red Hot (Robert Johnson) The Cascades (Scott Joplin)