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December 13, 2010


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Do you hold with Pater that all the arts aspire to the condition of music? I do (though the moralist in me finds its center in Lionel Trilling.) You describe yourself as moonlighting jazz singer. (You also mention Ella and Louis.) What would be your ideal play-list for a performance?

DL -- Gosh, great questions, and I don't know! I mean, lyric poetry obviously shares most of its DNA with music. When you get into the visual arts I am less clear on the lines between aspiration and metaphor and synesthetic flight of fancy, but it's an intriguing idea. I've certainly known myself to say, when pressed on why some work of art does or does not do it for me, that it just sings. or doesn't.

Your second question's only slightly easier. But I can tell you I carry a torch for torch songs and, perhaps as a consequence of my Irish heritage, I'm happiest when the material is sad. I've had great fun doing whole gigs devoted to one American songbook composer (Duke Ellington nights are sheer delight, and I've had fabulous times with all-Arlen sets and ones where the common denominator was Johnny Mercer.) Off the top of my head, 15 songs I absolutely love to sing:

In a Sentimental Mood
Lush Life
I Got It Bad
One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)
Angel Eyes
So In Love
I Concentrate On You
This Time The Dream's On Me
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Early Autumn
Love For Sale
Everything I've Got (Belongs To You)
I Thought About You
What'll I Do?

almost all of those are down tempo and they wouldn't make an ideal set as a consequence, but hey, she likes what she likes.

And you, DL?

Great list. Love "What'll I Do?" Almost every word is a monosyllable (except photograph). Elegant simplicity. When he retired the first time Sinatra ended the concert with "Angel Eyes" and the stage went black when he got to the last line: "Scuse me while i disappear."
As a big Mercer-Arlen fan -- I think of them as one entity: Merlin -- I'd opt for
That Old Black Magic
Come Rain or Come Shine
but also the Gershwin on your list
How Long Has This been Going On?
Someone to Watch Over Me
The Lady is a Tramp
Mountain Greenery
My Funny Valentine
Looking at You (Cole Porter)
Heat Wave
If I Could Be With You (Henry Creamer lyric)
Pick Yourself Up (Kern & Fields)
Time After Time (Styne & Cahn)
They Didn't Believe me (Kern)
Guys and Dolls title song

and jeepers creepers you get to fifteen before you know it even if you type in the first fifteen faves to occur to you!

D -- in July I heard a mindblowing talk by Bob Hass on the nature of rhythm (and many other things, this talk had the wingspan of a condor) but he used "What'll I Do?" as one of his key exemplars. it was awesome.

Sounds like we share a lot of the same preoccupations (surprised? I'm not!) and will have no trouble picking out a few duets should the need ever arise.

Amy, the next time you're in NYC we must host a sing-along. I have a fantasy of renting out a space, hiring a back-up band and handing out song sheets. You and David could take the lead. Whaddaya say?

Stacey -- hell yes, and I know the band to hire if you don't have one in mind. Let's talk. :-)

David... shall we dance? (or keep on moping?)

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
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that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.



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