Following in the footsteps of Benny Goodman
I was prepared for Winter. I was ready to hunker down, watch movies, and work on my screenplays. I just wasn’t prepared for this Winter. This February has been like Spring. I haven’t worn my Winter coat in weeks. Usually a light jacket is all I need, and I didn’t even need that half the time. I was all prepared for being snowed in, but instead we got days that are much too nice to waste sitting inside. I’m not complaining, but I was stuck for things to do. The Barnstormers don’t start playing until late April, or I would just go to ballgames. My hip is feeling much better so I can go for walks around the neighborhood, but I can only go for an hour or so before that becomes painful.
I could sit in the backyard, but there’s not really anything I can do back there. I’m not into gardening or anything like that. So, I dug out the clarinet and saxophone I bought when I first moved here. I figured I’d sit in the backyard and practice. It’s been 50 years since I played those instruments, so I wasn’t very good. That’s not true. More truthfully, I was actually god awful, and I only had one song book. So I screeched through the same songs over and over again, but at least I was getting outside in the sunshine and fresh air.
Then the library annex held a sale of “gently used books.” They normally sell used book for a couple bucks, but on this day everything was half price. For less than $20, I filled up my knapsack and a shopping bag full of books. I bought every songbook I could find, Wedding songs, Love songs, Traditional songs, and the songbook from my favorite Musical, Jekyll and Hyde. Now, I could go out in the backyard and practice until my lips were numb, and I didn’t have to repeat the same songs. I also didn’t have to worry about bothering anyone with my screeching. My backyard faces a parking garage.
So, whenever the weather is nice I head out to the backyard with one of my instruments, usually the clarinet, since that’s easier to play than the sax. Since the weather has been great, I’ve been getting quite a lot of practice. I’ve worked my way up from god awful to just plain bad. I can even play some of the easy songs fairly decently. It’s getting to the point where you could guess what song I’m playing, if you knew the song. The other day my 6-year old neighbor, Isabella, heard me playing and grabbed her plastic recorder to join me. Together we made the backyard sound like a slaughterhouse, but we had fun. She didn’t know any of the songs I was playing, and she only knows how to play a few notes on her recorder, but that didn’t stop us. I thought I might find something she knew in the traditional songbook, but a 6-year old can’t be expected to know By the Light of the Silvery Moon or Mack the Knife.
It finally dawned on me that she might know some Christmas songs. So, we tried some of the classics like Santa Claus is coming to Town. I didn’t have any sheet music for these songs, but we both stumbled our way through, figuring it out as we went along. Then we hit on Jingle Bells. There are only a few different notes in that song, and we were both able to figure out what they were on our respective instruments. Since it was the only song we could both play we did it a couple times. After the third time we heard somebody politely applauding. There was a girl on the 2nd floor of the parking garage listening to us. She stayed for one more rendition, but I guess that was enough Jingle Bells for her. She waved, got in her car, and drove away.
Today was a beauty with temperatures in the 70’s, so I got out the clarinet and headed for the backyard. After a short while ‘Bella appeared with her plastic recorder and a friend, another 6-year old named Lisa. Lisa said she was also learning how to play the recorder, but that she didn’t have it with her. “That’s okay,” I said. “You can be the drummer. Just use your hands on the table.”
I played a few classics which they didn’t know, but we had fun anyway. Then we reprised our hit single of Jingle Bells, and we were finding our groove. Then I thought of a Rock N Roll song that I thought they might know, The Tokens hit from 1962, The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Sure enough, thanks to The Lion King, they knew it. So, that became our song of the day. We even worked out an arrangement. I played the wee um ba way wee um ba way part on the clarinet and they played drums and sang the chorus. After a while I heard a third voice singing. Isabella’s mom, Rene was sitting on her balcony singing along with us.
We haven’t signed with any record label yet, but we’ll be appearing here all week, if the weather is nice. Don’t forget to tip your bartenders and waitresses.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,