I’ve been meaning to write this article for a couple of weeks now. I’ve spent several days thinking it out in my head, but never got a chance to put it on paper. Things kept getting in the way. Then I had the bright idea of posting a story about old houses and I spent the last two days fielding questions. (Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I was not prepared for the onslaught of questions. For the most part, it was a lot of fun.) So finally, I am just sitting down to write this on Sunday morning.
Several weeks ago, my daughter, Corliss, sang at the Episcopal Church on Fieldcrest. She was with her vocal jazz group from Emmet Belknap, and they were accompanying the Lockport Chorale group. They each performed separately, and then they did some songs together. One of the songs they sang at the very end, was very familiar to me. “Side By Side” was a song that I heard many times at my grandmother’s house.
The song was written in 1927 by Harry Woods, and made popular by Kay Starr and Brenda Lee. The version that I remember the clearest was the Ray Charles and Betty Carter duet. My grandmother adored Ray Charles. He was a piano player. She was a piano player, so I guess it was natural for her to have some Ray Charles records hanging around.
When I stayed there, she occasionally would open the console record player and put on a pile of records to play throughout the day. Inevitably, Ray Charles would be in the stack, along with Chicago, Billy Joel, and Chuck Mangione. I was introduced to some pretty darn good music as a kid. To make it even better, she sometimes would sit down at the piano and play some of her favorite songs.
I would lean on the edge of the piano watching and listening. Sometimes, she would play some songs I really liked, such as the “Woody Woodpecker Theme” or anything from the Muppets. Still, I learned to love other music by watching and listening to her play. It was how I was introduced to George Gershwin, particularly, “Rhapsody in Blue.” It is still one of my favorite classical jazz compositions.
Once in awhile, she would record us sitting at the piano, her playing and both of us singing along. One of the songs we would sing along to was her playing “Side By Side.” So, when Corliss and the vocal groups started the song, I sat up a little bit straighter. I knew the words and I sang along with them. Not loudly, though. People really don’t want to hear me sing.
Not only did I have a flashback to those halcyon days, I thought of how much grandma would have loved to hear her great grandchildren sing along to some of her favorite songs. Unfortunately for them, by the time they were old enough to appreciate it, she had mostly given up playing the piano. She did give the twins a little show of her talents when we first got our piano. They were enthralled. And they still love music to this day.
My mother gave me a box last year of some cassette tapes. They were from my grandmother’s house, and she found them while cleaning out. My grandmother kept the tapes we made when we were at the piano. I haven’t listened to them yet, but I really need to transfer them to another medium before they are lost forever. I’m almost afraid to listen to them in case they break. It’s been years since they’ve been run.
I bet the girls would have fun listening to them. Of course, they would also probably make fun of the way I sounded at seven, eight, even thirteen years old. I know I’ll either laugh or cringe. Either way, I’m glad she kept them.
It’s amazing what one song can do. The idea of music is to evoke an emotional response. The songs performed by the Emmet Belknap Choral Jazz and the Lockport Chorale definitely did that. Memories came flooding back. Memories of some great times bonding with my grandmother over music. It was a mutual love.
Craig Bacon listened to Leonard Bernstein perform “Rhapsody in Blue” with the New York Philharmonic while writing this article. He loves to write and it shows.