Cocktail Hour

A curious phenomenon takes place in our little home, on our little island
almost every afternoon. A phenomenon that might be defined as some sort
of creeping dementia, or perhaps just a mental and emotional instability
that manifests itself as a momentary, burning desire to slip back into the past,
to temporarily recreate a better time, a better place, with music as the
beautiful bird that flies us there.

It’s weird… I’m fine, sitting in my big chair, watching the news, reading a
book, listening to music, until it’s cocktail time. Even then I’m fine, until the
middle of the second drink. Then, almost every time, i’m suddenly moved to
want to go over to the piano and play a bit. The alcohol activates something in
me that wants to play, wants to be a part of, and share some of the wonderful
old tunes I grew up with and loved as a young man. My musical memory
reaches back to the great old songs of the ’30’s and ’40’s and Betty, cozied up
on the couch across the room, can call out the name of every one! Such a
delight that we both love the same music, the same wonderful old tunes!

Some of the songs I like to play for B and me are, Where Or When, Just One
Of those Things, I Remember You, Night and Day, Do Nothing ’Til You Hear
From Me, In a Sentimental Mood, Laura, A Portrait Of Jenny, Roses And
Lollipops, If I Had You.

There are a few tunes that I play for myself, somewhat challenging pieces
(for me, anyway) that reassure me that my brain is not totally gone yet –
Tender Moments, In Your Own Sweet Way, Dolphin Dance, ‘Round Midnight,
Crystal Silence, Blue In Green, What Is There To Say, Never Let Me Go.

And it’s funny, the more I try to play like my heroes, Bill Evans, Herbie,
Keith and Wynton Kelly, the more I tend to sound like Bobby Short. I heard
Bobby in the Waldorf back in 1970. Not all that jazzy, but very classy. Now
that I think about it, I’m not very jazzy anymore, either. And in that light,
sounding like Bobby Short is probably a perfectly appropriate sound for
an evening of soft jazz and cocktails.

Bobby Short

B and I both feel that the old tunes have a heart and integrity that seem to
escape much contemporary music. Here are some lyrics that were written
in 1934. If you know the song, the music will instantly come to mind… it’s
that memorable! The Cole Porter song, I Get A Kick Out Of You.

I get no kick from Champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you

Some get a kick from cocaine
I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
That would bore me terrifIcally too
Yet I get a kick out of you

I get a kick every time I see you standing there before me
I get a kick though its clear to me you obviously don’t
Adore me

I get no kick in a plane
Flying too high with some guy in the sky
Is my idea of nothing to do
Yet I get a kick out of you

Cole Porter

Pretty clever, yes? And from 1934! Over 50 artists have performed it on
records, CDs and TV since then. Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra both had
huge hits with it. Songs like this and so many others… If I Loved You, It Only
Takes A Moment…

If I Loved You – Rodgers & Hammerstein, 1945

If I loved you,
Time and again I would try to say
All I’d want you to know.
If I loved you,
Words wouldn’t come in an easy way
Round in circles I’d go!
Longin’ to tell you,
But afraid and shy,
I’d let my golden chances pass me by!
Soon you’d leave me,
Off you would go in the mist of day,
Never, never to know how I loved you
If I loved you.

Richard Rodgers

These are Broadway show tunes that became hits back then. I’m not even
talking about the pop hits of the day, which were too many to mention. B and I
heard them all the time (because we’re old, you know) on the radio, in my
parents’ bar on the jukebox, and In my case, my folks singing them together
in the car on the drive home from Butte on those countless Saturday nights.
As you can imagine, the memories come flooding back for me…
deep memories of a time gone by that we can’t replace but can at least touch momentarily through the music.

It wasn’t just the lyrics, the songs were all beautiful and memorable. I love the
songs of Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. Many of them are complex, hard
to play pieces that offer a nice challenge to musicians. Bali Ha’i, for instance.
You musicians out there, if you’re a guitarist or a pianist, try playing that number.
Pretty cool piece of business, isn’t it? Not easy, but insanely memorable. I
play it for us once in awhile, and it’s always most satisfying, sometimes bringing
with it wet eyes. Remember, our memories are attached to so many of these
old songs, and music is the second-strongest impact on our brain and memory
system, the sense of smell being the strongest. B and I know these things,
and very much enjoy our trips down memory lane!

Of course most younger people don’t like them… they think they’re corny,
dumb, too hard to learn, can’t dance to them. I would just tell them this…
try to think of how the world was when these songs were written. Between
1910 and 1950 there were two world wars, a stock market crash and an
industrial revolution! That alone should give you at least a flicker of
understanding as to how it must have been to be alive back then, how
people thought, how they felt, what mattered to them. Music then, as now,
was an indicator of the people and the times. If young people wanted to
understand their parents better, the music of the time would easily be the
quickest and most accurate way of figuring them out! Did we dance back
then? Hell yes, all the time! Did we work hard, have struggles, find love?
Of course. And we all had our favorite songs and singers, as well. Both B
and my family’s favorite was Nat King Cole.

Nat King Cole

His silky voice and his song choices meant everything to us back then, and still does… perhaps even more now. I can hear him in my head, singing “Nature Boy”

Nature Boy – “A song was written in 1947 by eden ahbez and is partly
autobiographical. It is a tribute to Ahbez’s mentor Bill Pester, who had
originally introduced him to Naturmensch and Lebensreform philosophies,
which Ahbez practiced.” Nat Cole heard it, loved it, but it was a year or so
before he gained the rights to record it.

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

As a piano player, I’m naturally a big fan of a good melody, believing that
the emotion in a song can be told by the music alone, perhaps even to a
deeper level than the lyrics can. Yet the lyrics of these wonderful tunes
have stuck in my mind over the years to the same degree that the music
has, and I could actually sing most of these tunes… if I could sing.
Thankfully I can’t, and don’t… a definite blessing for all within earshot!
What I can do, however, for my B and for me, is to begin playing a sweet
old tune that we both know, and let my memory of that song kick in. However
that magic happens, my heart takes control of my brain and the song quickly
becomes the vessel that carries us back in time to those wonderful memories
of a simpler life, a simpler place… a place where we were young, full of energy
and hope, when the road of life seemed to stretch out endlessly before us. How
strange, yet fascinating to be nearly at the end of that road now, and to be
able to revisit it all through the music of our youth. It’s a blessing we are both
grateful for, a little piece of evening solitude that sustains us in ways we
probably don’t even realize. Which reminds me, I need to ask B what
brand of vodka she puts in our drinks…

Steve Hulse

One Reply to “Cocktail Hour”

  1. Friend Steve, those memories are about all I have. I must confess to getting something in my eyes when I hear those “oldies”. Thanks for these and “Top of The Mart” memories that are strong enough to pull me out of my bad health depressions. I’m a little-well, a lot-closer to the coda, my friend. Music is (and always was) a large part of me, I can’t begin to imagine my happy work and married life without it. I even requested that Julie see that I get a N. O. style funeral. Again, thanks my fiend! Johnny

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