Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Great Day in Music History

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Cole Porter. It may come as a surprise to a few who know me, to hear that Porter is my favorite songwriter of all time. But then, I had the pleasure of performing some of his most fun material while I was still young enough to have not been completely caught up in what was "happening", and old enough to understand most of the words (our star sang the original version)...

The first time I was introduced to Cole Porter's music, I was just beginning high school, and was suckered into the school production of "Anything Goes." I was originally supposed to have been the assistant to the director (the ass't dir), but when three cast members quit over a three-way lovers' spat, I ended up learning to tap dance and getting stuck in the center of the chorus line. At sixteen, I was tall enough and strong enough, and had a fairly flexible contralto voice, so I became a sailor singing tenor parts. We had to use about a mile of elastic bandages to make my upper torso a little less feminine. There was nothing we could do about my curvy hips, though. I just had to learn to swagger as though those hips carried something other than the familiar internal equipment.

I've had a healthy respect for men and women in uniform ever since.

But more than that, those darned songs stayed stuck in my head. I still sing them often, for no apparent reason, and they give me great pleasure.

If you'd like a sample of his stuff as done by average pop stars, rent a copy of De-Lovely, starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. The acting in that film is truly superior, and film is quite beautiful, touching, and smart... but the music is merely approachable. If you want real musical performances, look for such masters of his musical phrasing as Eartha Kitt and Peggy Lee, among others. (I know a lot of people tout Ella Fitzgerald as the-one-the-only, but to my mind, Porter wrote such magnificently concise works for a reason. Jazzy noodling about (aka scat) sort of misses the point -- or rather, dulls the brilliant edge.) Look, for example, to "Kiss Me Kate," and... ah, to heck with it, just get this dvd set for starters. Ignore the bulk of the story line and acting, just listen up!

Of course, if somebody wants to know what I'd like for Christmas...

At any rate, if you can, this evening, celebrate the genius of Cole Porter with a glass of fine wine and a whirl around the dance floor to his melodies, with whichever person you've got under your skin.

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