Hoping the economy perks up? Well, aren't we all. Waiting for the clouds to lift, it’s not always easy to see a silver lining. This week The Jim Cullum Jazz Band "chases the blues away" with a concert of 'recession-proof' tunes tailor-made to lift spirits. So take a break from the Dow, at least for an hour, and "wrap your cares in rhythm and dance your troubles away."
Americans historically have turned to music to banish 'old man trouble.' Back in the 30s we didn’t bother with big words like 'recession.' Songwriters got right to the point —"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" But a good metaphor like 'a leaky bucket' is worth a thousand words when it comes to losing money. Topsy Chapman and Vernel Bagneris join the Band and get things on the upswing with a folk tune from the streets of old New Orleans, "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It."
There’s nothing light-hearted about watching the market go down. But even in the face of unemployment and the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, Americans are able to get back to basics fast. Neighbors lend a helping hand, families plant vegetable gardens, and old-time bartering reminds us that we can make it on less. Common sense messages in vintage songs such as Johnny Mercer's "Ac-cen-tu-ate the Positive" fit right in with this 'less is more' way of thinking.
Mercer sees a sunny side to every situation in these 30s-era lyrics:
You’ve no dough? So relax.
You won’t pay an income tax.
The song "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" offers the ultimate reminder—
You can’t take your dough,
When you go, go, go.
And The Jim Cullum Jazz Band presents their swinging interpretation of Jerome Kern's all-American anthem to optimism, "Look for the Silver Lining."
Hard times bring out the dreamer in our collective American spirit, but they also bring out the schemer. One old tune said you could "make love, make mistakes, make promises," but the key to it all was "Honey, are you making any money?" And from Bessie Smith to Aretha Franklin singers have offered tried and true financial advice about how to cash in on life's most basic assets with songs like "I Got What it Takes But it Breaks my Heart to Give It Away."
Helen Humes wrote her classic "Million Dollar Secret" (performed in our version by the irrepressible Stephanie Nakasian) as a tribute to the joys of marital community property—one way to 'get over' in hard times.
There’s nothing like the 'economy blues' to fuel escapist tendencies, whether it’s getting vicarious thrills gazing at tropical beaches in travel ads or choosing flicks from the golden age of movie musicals for cozy 'cocooning' at home. From the Broadway stage to Hollywood musicals, some of the zaniest escapist entertainment of all time was produced in the Great Depression when times were really tough. Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and Gene Krupa were in the orchestra pit when the Gershwin and Gershwin stage show Girl Crazy debuted on the Great White Way. Dick Hyman joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and heats things up on stage at The Landing with the smash hit from that show, "I Got Rhythm."
At the Cotton Club up in Harlem the tap dancing Nicholas Brothers spun a different kind of magic with their highly individual style of jazz dance. By the mid 30s Harold and Fayard Nicholas had made the trip westward to lend their talents to the silver screen and stardom.
Fred Astaire once said the Nicholas Brothers scene in the movie Stormy Weather was the greatest tap sequence ever filmed.
Today's tap dance sensation Savion Glover, a traditionalist who calls himself a 'rhythmic musician,' teams up with Banu Gibson and The Jim Cullum Jazz Band with a number from the repertoire of the Nicholas Brothers that is also the title tune from our show, "Wrap Your Cares in Rhythm!" And Jim and the Band wrap it up with the Warren and Dubin classic from 42nd Street, "The Golddiggers Song" better known as "We're in the Money."
Photo credit for Home Page: 42nd Street 1933, Poster image from soundtrackcollector.com.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2009