Just when I thought I might run out of volunteer pianist stories to tell, this happened:
I was just a few minutes into my hour of playing for the residents of an independent-living community when Joel sat down in an armchair by the piano and pulled a harmonica from his pocket.
He accompanied me on “Bicycle Built for Two.” Joel had the waltz rhythm down pat. But the notes? Not so much.
Okay, I thought, maybe he’ll only play one song.
But he continued to join in on another half dozen: “The Glory of Love,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Blue Skies,” “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” …
Hey, get your own show.
After I played “It Had to Be You,” Joel said, “That was a good one. Now can you play that song about ‘a boy for you and a girl for me’?”
Amazingly, I knew what he meant! After all, I’ve been a volunteer pianist playing music from the Great American Songbook for close to 15 years now.
Joel was requesting “Tea for Two,” from the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette.
Picture you upon my knee,
Just tea for two and two for tea,
Just me for you and you for me alone.
We will raise a family
A boy for you, a girl for me,
Oh can’t you see how happy we would be?
The words are silly because they’re “dummy lyrics” written hurriedly by Irving Caesar and meant to be temporary, just to help work out the song’s metric form and rhyme scheme. Vincent Youmans, who wrote the melody, liked the lyrics so much he refused to let Caesar change them later.
So I played “Tea for Two” for Joel. He sang along. But he didn’t sing the lyrics about “a boy for you, a girl for me.”
While I played “Tea for Two,” Joel sang the words to “It Had to Be You.”
A couple of times he interrupted his singing to blow a few irrelevant notes on his harmonica, enjoying himself immensely.
I felt like I was playing that game mentioned in a recent post: “One Song to the Tune of Another.”
But Joel, man with a harmonica, sure had a good time.
Paulette Bochnig Sharkey