Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rhythm and Rhapsody in Red, White, and Blue

The percussive rhythm of fireworks is dying down across the country, East to West, as we come to the close of the 233rd anniversary of the adopting of the Declaration of Independence.

As I started out the second leg of my road-trip I saw farmers driving tractors that had been all gussied up for a parade in Ohio. The line-up of various tractors (John Deere, Massey-Ferguson and Allis Chalmers, that I could pick out) was crossing one of the overpasses along the Ohio Turnpike and each had a flag or banner draping from it. It's not an All-American 4th of July parade without tractors, Shriners, and high school marching bands. Having been in one of those high school marching bands a few years back (okay, more than a few) I can testify both to how much fun summer parades are and how hot and exhausting they can be.

While I had made a special playlist for my trip on my iPod, I still wanted to try to catch my favorite Saturday NPR shows...Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk--all the usual suspects. So as speedily made my way across Indiana (gotta love the Hoosiers for their 70mph speed limit on the Tollway!) I was scanning for NPR stations and stumbled, almost literally, on the absolute highlight of my day: a Chicago NPR station, located at 90.9FM, that was playing Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band tunes. Absolute heaven. I love Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Xavier Cugat, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, all of the Big Bands. But there's something special about the Glenn Miller songs he did with the AAF Band. They're different than the sound he had with Tex Beneke before the war. Maybe it's the size of the orchestra or the depth of each instrument, I don't know, but the songs were glorious. There's also something a little magical about driving through a city like New York or Chicago and having just the right song come on the radio, essentially the musical equivalent of the city. For me, today, having Glenn Miller streaming out of my speakers was the perfect accompaniment to Lake Shore Drive.

I feel it only fair to add here that as good as the music sounded with all the remastering and 21st century technology, it always (and I mean ALWAYS) sounds better when played as a 78 rpm record on a Victrola or other old record player. I love my Victrola, it is truly one of my favorite possessions. No electricity needed, just a few small cranks and the table is turning and ready to play whatever song you'd want to dance to. And trust me, you will want to dance to these tunes, at the very least you'll be tapping your toe. The 78s, complete with scratches and the occasional fuzziness, recreate what Big Band music must have sounded like as it emanated from old Emerson and Philco radios. A little static gives the music character--like the creases and fades in your favorite jeans or the way your favorite leather bag slouches just right. Once you've heard these rich sounds sweetly wafting from a 78 record, the crispness of digitally remastered CDs will leave you a little cold. My current favorite 78? The Tiger Rag of course, Benny Goodman's rendition.

May your weekend playlist be full of rich sounds and righteous rhythms and I wish safe travels to one and all.

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