We got a slow start to warm weather this year in mid-Michigan. It was about 60 degrees over Memorial Day weekend, inching only into the 70s for the first half of June. But here we are mid-summer. My toes are toasty. And I’m playing songs of summer for my senior audiences.
Of course, the 1902 waltz “In the Good Old Summertime” is on my list. And “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” by Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer (who also teamed up for “I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time”). My listeners find the tune irresistible—they always sing along—and I offer them this nugget of music history: Norworth and Tilzer claimed they had never attended a baseball game until after they wrote the song.
I usually toss in “Bicycle Built for Two,” composed by Englishman Harry Dacre in 1892, a little before bicycles had really caught on in the U.S. It’s also known as “Daisy Bell,” the object of the singer’s affections. There’s a sassy rejoinder titled “Michael, Michael,” which a woman in one of my audiences sang to me many years ago:
Here is my answer true.
I’m not crazy
All for the love of you.
If you can’t afford a carriage
There won’t be any marriage.
‘Cause I’ll be switched
If I get hitched
On a bicycle built for two!
“I’m Still Without a Sweetheart with Summer Coming On” was in my June lineup. Fred Ahlert (music) and Roy Turk (words) collaborated on this and other standards, including “I Don’t Know Why” and “I’ll Get By.” In 1921, Fred Waring and his band, the Pennsylvanians, recorded “… With Summer Coming On.” It reached No.18 on the charts. (For trivia fans: Fred Waring’s musical success allowed him to provide the financial backing for the development of the electric blender that bears his name.)
The relaxed, easygoing melody of “Up a Lazy River” by Hoagy Carmichael evokes summer days the way they were meant to be. The uptempo “By the Beautiful Sea,” introduced to the vaudeville stage in 1914, then popularly revived in 1939, is a more energetic take on fun in the sun.
Perhaps the quintessential summer song is “Summertime” from the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. George Gershwin wrote the lush, sultry melody; DuBose Heyward developed the lyric from a passage in his book Porgy, on which the production was based.
At the height of the doo-wop era in the late 1950s, the song “Summertime, Summertime” appeared. It was recorded by brother and sister Tom and Serena Jameson, who called themselves The Jamies. This is a good song for baby boomers who attend my performances, but not of much interest to the over-70 crowd.
I’m also playing “The Green Leaves of Summer,” an Oscar-nominated song from the 1960 film The Alamo. The movie was historically inaccurate but immensely popular, starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett (with lines like “I want ya to listen tight”). The original recording of “The Green Leaves of Summer” featured the folk singing group The Brothers Four; the song was later covered by many other musicians, including Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. A couple of good instrumentals for the season—although they do have lyrics—are “Summer Samba” (also called “So Nice”) and the 1960 hit movie theme “Summer Place,” arranged and recorded by Percy Faith.
In 1963, when Nat King Cole was singing about the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, I was 10 years old. A lucky circumstance framed my childhood summers: my grandparents—both sets—lived within a few miles of my house in Pontiac, Michigan, and they had lake privileges. On summer weekday mornings my brother and sister and I got our chores done early, my mom packed a lunch, and we all headed to the beach for the afternoon, courtesy of my grandparents. We stayed until it was time for my mother to start working on dinner, which she served as soon as my dad got home from work at 5:15.
Fifty years later, “lazy” makes an infrequent appearance in my summers. Our 24/7 world keeps spinning, with little allowance for enjoying the fleeting warm weather. Still, I try to reserve ample time to sit on my front porch, usually with a good book. After all, I’ll be playing “Autumn Leaves” soon enough.
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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