A very special event came to Channel 13’s “Great Performances.” At least for me it was a special event. Many months ago the two Jimmys in my life, my darling son and my attentive physical therapist, each gave me a new CD. Entitled “Kisses on the Bottom” (and I’ll explain that title later), the album is a collection of pop standards plus two original songs sung by Paul McCartney. Yes, that’s the Paul McCartney you probably know as part of the Beatles and one of the most influential figures in 20th century music. I’m assuming that anyone interested in music knows that pop and its unkempt cousin rock came along in the 1960s and swept away all that had come before. The Beatles were responsible for much of that melodic overhaul. But to get back to today, it came as a fine present for me to turn on Channel 13 and actually watch McCartney discussing the album’s creation and performing some of the works from it, at times singing in a sugared half-whisper. I was familiar with most of the songs of another time, including “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” because my mom played most of them. She enjoyed imitating the stride piano à la the jazzy Fats Waller. The “Great Performances” program explained that the playlist for “Kisses on the Bottom” was the result of Paul McCartney’s childhood too. Watching the television program delighted me so much because it also included behind-the-scenes interviews with today’s top jazz musicians, including two that I try to follow and always enjoy: Diana Kroll (she was the musical director for this one), and John Pizzarelli, who I knew when he was smaller than the guitar he plays so beautifully. It was a treat to be able to watch and hear them interpret my favorite kind of music. It’s possible that many fans of the Beatles might be hearing these older standards for the first time. Well, one thing is for sure. They won’t need sonic filters in their ears to enjoy them. Oh yes, the album’s title, “Kisses on the Bottom,” was a line from “Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” Thank you, thank you to PBS and Channel 13. I’m going to “sit right down” and send a donation.
There’s a quotation I use frequently: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and leave no doubt.” I’ve used it unaware of where it came from. Can you guess? I got the answer from reading Michael Sheldon’s “The Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years.” The biography is about Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who used the pen name Mark Twain. Of course, I’m sure you know that he’s the great American write who wrote classics such as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “Life on the Mississippi.” Born in 1835, he lived until age 75, publishing more than 30 books. His working career included being an apprentice printer, a riverboat pilot, and a miner. Here are some of his amazingly useful quotes: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t than by the things you did do.” And the next one I’m going to send to my three 20-year-old granddaughters: “Sail away from the soft harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I do so enjoy reading his sayings and thanks to this literary icon, I subscribe to many of them, especially happily to this one: “The human race has one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” Hah! Hah! Hah! Hee! Hee!
When folks refer to a bagel, it’s generally a New York bagel. In my research, a true New York bagel is “hand-shaped dough made from high-gluten flour, yeast, salt, and malt syrup that’s poached in a kettle of boiling alkalized water before being baked into a dense and chewy puck.” Well fuhgeddaboudit! I don’t think we’ll ever be fortunate enough to experience a bagel made like that again. I have tried bagels everywhere, even in Bayonne. Once more, fuhgeddaboudit, unless you enjoy bready, dry, absurdly large ones that have bagel elephantiasis (I made that word up). To my taste, the current bagels all over, no matter where, are mere rolls. Obviously I have bagel angst. Every time I try a bagel, I’m disappointed. Not a single one jumped off its plate. I suppose if you grew up in Kansas City, you might enjoy Lender’s “New York-style” pre-sliced bagels. For my palate, a begl should make a satisfying sound when bitten into. It should have a lovely dark brown color. Perhaps if I ate a bagel fresh out of the oven – although I still feel it would have to be toasted, plus a schmear – it wouldn’t hurt. Being a New York bagel snob, I still haven’t had one that reminded me of the way a bagel tasted years ago (perhaps my taste buds have changed), but here’s a hopeful news flash: Russ and Daughters (179 East Houston Street, N.Y.C.) is saying it might be happening. “Testing has begun; kettle water is boiling. Better bagels may be on their way.” It might be worth the drive if that’s really going to happen. I’m not holding my breath.
If the name Marvin Hamlisch doesn’t mean anything to you, his music surely does. Marvin Hamlisch was an American composer who won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony, and a Pulitzer Prize. Wow! Unhappily his light has gone out. He started early. He was a child prodigy. At age five he began mimicking music he heard on the radio on his piano. In 1951, at age seven, he was accepted into the Julliard School of Music, recognized as a true genius. To quote former president Bill Clinton, who delivered eulogy remarks at his funeral, “Marvin Hamlisch was a good-hearted, humble, and hilarious genius.” The prolific composer started early and ended early – at age 68 – but he changed lives. Early on, he was rehearsal pianist for Barbra Streisand (a relationship that continued throughout his life). It was his ground-breakings show “A Chorus Line” that won the Pulitzer Prize. He composed scores for over 40 movies with pizzazz and panache. In later years, the good-hearted genius became an ambassador for music. Yes, another light has gone out, but Marvin Hamlisch’s glow will continue on forever.
You can email June Sturz at firstname.lastname@example.org.