February 28, 2011

Music break: Steyn's Song of the Week

Mark's Song of the Week columns are always diverting and informative, but sometimes just a bit depressing. The great Johnny Mercer was a mean drunk. Frank Loesser smoked his way to a premature death. Sadder still is the story of the lonely life of Lorenz Hart, who considered himself unlovable: 

By 1937, he’d written a hundred love songs for everyone else, and “Funny Valentine” was one for himself, the one he’d like to have had someone sing to him:

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?
But don't change a hair for me...

No one ever did sing it to him.
But this week's column on George Shearing is the opposite of sad, in spite of what one might consider some pretty hardcore early impediments to happiness:
Sir George (as Her Majesty, cutting it exceeding fine, dubbed him a couple of years back) died two weeks ago at the age of 91. Born blind (the result, he believed, of a botched attempt at abortion), he grew up to become one of the greatest pianists of our time. 
Think about that for a minute.


Wouldn't you know it -- Shearing wrote Lullaby of Birdland in ten minutes:
That evening, in the middle of eating his char-broiled steak at their home in Old Tappan, New Jersey, he suddenly jumped up from the table. "What's wrong now?" said the missus. Shearing had been known to leap from his chair when presented with a meal not to his taste. This time, though, he ran to the piano, sat down, began to play, and ten minutes later had the whole of "Lullaby Of Birdland" mapped out. At the end, he turned to Trixie: "What do you think of that?"
 
"I've been back to that butcher many times," he told me, "but I never got a steak that did the trick again."
Mark has often noted how great songs get away from their creators and take on lives of their own. Case in point:



If you'd like a different take, Amazon has 628 other versions.

Read the whole thing.


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