When I was growing up, I thought Myron Floren was basically from Mars. What he was playing—and what he was playing it on—just seemed nuts to me. Now I see that he was astonishingly talented and very musical, in a crazy show-biz way. The status of the accordion has changed since then. It used to be the subject of derision. Today, it seems like any alt-rock band worth its salt has an accordion in their midst, or at least sitting in once in a while. It is a great sound, and it can do so many things (though it generally will sound like an accordion doing all of those things). Being a pretty fair pianist, it was not a big stretch for me to master the right hand of the accordion, and I did this years ago. The left hand is another matter entirely. Luckily, all of the music that I play on accordion only needs the right hand anyway. We live in a great time, my friends, when accordions have taken their rightful place on the American stage…just to the left and sort of in back of the guitarist.
I would love to know where this fake book came from. Who compiled it, and who pressed it? I distinctly remember buying my first copy of this book. It was at a music store in Easton, Pennsylvania, where I went to high school. After I had bought dozens of pieces of sheet music one by one, the store owner discreetly took me aside and said, “You might be interested in one of these.” It was the blue 1000 Standard Tunes (Chicago edition). It saved my life. And in some ways made a large part of my career as a gigging musician possible.
But it was a completely illegal book! There is no publisher listed, or any information at all, for that matter. The songs are arranged by tempo and style. There are indeed a thousand of them, and nearly every one helped me along the way. “Daddy’s Little Girl” got me through hundreds of wedding receptions. And that weird E7 chord that is so perfect in “Georgia On My Mind”—how long would I have played that wrong without this trusty book? The list of songs in the table of contents is the very definition of the Great American Songbook.
Sometime in the 1970’s, I became aware of The Real Book and its many iterations thereafter. Compiled by students at the Berklee College of Music, it was supposed to be so much hipper than the grimy fake book I schlepped from gig to gig. But the reality is that the most of the songs in The Real Book are forgettable jazz numbers, and even the standards have been re-harmonized, taking all the interesting quirky changes out of the beautifully written originals. It is a pity that so many musicians are learning these songs via “Real Book changes” rather than from the original harmonies.
As a rule, I argue for all songwriters’ rights. I hate the larcenous Spotify and rail against illegal downloading. But for some reason, this little blue bit of thievery holds a warm place in my heart. Thank you to whoever put this thing together and made a world of great music available to me.
I am just now finishing the score for a PBS film for director Noel “Sonny” Izon. It is called Choc’late Soldiers from the USA, after a World War II-era Australian song. Sonny got some great interviews with African American World War II vets, who told him about the astonishing experience of serving in countries like England, where they were treated with the same hospitality—and where they had the same rights—as their white countrymen. Maybe the most interesting insight in this terrific film is the suggestion that these soldiers’ experience of equality abroad is what later sparked the Civil Rights movement at home. The score features strings and a fabulous solo trumpet performance by the very talented Vince McCool.
My jazz band, Chaise Lounge, has been on the road a lot lately, so we’re looking forward to April 17, when we’ll play a hometown show at the elegant supper club The Hamilton in Washington DC. We have just finished recording and mixing a new CD that will be called Gin Fizz Fandango. And not coincidentally, our resident mixologist, bassist Pete Ostle, has invented a “gin fizz fandango” cocktail that will be served at the Hamilton gig. Naturally, the band has scheduled a tasting of this signature drink—some purists might call it a “rehearsal” but we know better. If you’re in the area next Friday, I hope you can come out to hear our new music and sample the new drink.