“It’s De-Lovely” – Cole Porter in Words and Music!

THE UNCLE DAN AND SOPHIE JAM – TRIBUTE TO COLE PORTER

Tuesday, June 12th 6-8pm

With words and music, by writer Dan Wakefield and saxophonist Sophie Faught. Take a creative journey with Dan and Sophie as they tell through stories and music how they each, in different eras, became a musician, a writer. Their Jams give off the rhythm and excitement as well as the dedication/ inspiration of making artistic dreams come true.

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When author Cathy Day discovered her home town of Peru, Indiana, gave birth to more than the circus [her first novel was the highly-praised The Circus in Winter], she asked her grandmother why there was no statue or plaque or memorial of any kind to its world-famous native son, composer Cole Porter – why didn’t the town celebrate its most famous son?

At first her grandmother said “because he left” – to go to Yale, New York, Paris, and the world at large – and when further questioned, she said it was because he was “different,” meaning not a bi-sexually standardized American man of his time (circa turn of the century, coming of age in the 1920s.)

Small and thin, described as “frisky as a monkey” and “aloof,” Porter wore pink and yellow shirts with salmon ties at Yale and became a Big Man on Campus by writing the school’s  popular football songs (he was elected president of the Glee Club and a member of the legendary Whiffenpoofs.) The stolid biographer William McBrien wrote that “Porter was homosexual but not bisexual – which no doubt diminished the tensions which otherwise might have ruptured the relationship” with his wife, the wealthy socialite Linda Lee Thomas. Sometimes after their marriage she was known as “Linda Cole Porter.” A friend thought “she was not at all lesbian – she was sexless – but absolutely in love with Cole who adored her.”

Whatever the biological algebra (or calculus) of Porter’s marriage and his many male lovers, he produced some of the greatest love songs – in both words and music – of all time. Just as a sample, try these titles: “Night and Day,” “Let’s Do It,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Anything Goes,” “Begin the Beguine,”  “You’re the Top,” “All Through The Night,” “Love for Sale.” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “Just One of Those Things,” “Easy to Love,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “I  Love Paris,” “C’est Magnifique,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “In The Still of The Night,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Miss Otis Regrets,” “From Now On,” “It’s All Right With Me. . .”

Little wonder that columnist Walter Winchell called him “King Cole Porter” and TIME magazine crowned him “Man of the Year” in 1935, reporting that it was “now considered the smartest thing to know the lyric s [of his songs] by heart and rattle them off when the song is played.”

Asked what he liked, Porter said “Cats, parties, swimming, scandal, films and Peru, Indiana.”

He was often counted out but he always came back. Both his legs were crushed by a horse in a riding accident in 1937, but he endured multiple surgeries to his legs, learned to walk with canes, and wrote more Broadway musicals, Hollywood movie scores and hit songs. In WWII his music made the movie “Hollywood Canteen” a huge hit. He made Ethel Merman a star and discovered Mary Martin for the Broadway stage.

He hadn’t had a hit on Broadway for a few years and again was declared dead in the water; then in 1948 he turned Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” into his biggest hit of all, “Kiss Me Kate.”

There were more hit musicals – “Can-Can,” “Panama Hattie,” and movies “Silk Stockings,” “DuBarry Was a Lady”- studded with hit songs. He lived life to the fullest, sunning on the Riviera with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, traveling to meet the Sultan of Zanzibar, climbing Maccu Piccu, finally being honored by the state of Indiana when “Cole Porter Day” was declared in Indianapolis. This last laurel led Booth Tarkington to observe:  “Of course it’s something to be a Hoosier who became a Hollywood and Broadway celebrity; but when a New York and Broadway celebrity becomes so celebrated that he’s known in Indiana too, he has touched the mantle of fame itself.”

Porter said “if I was born twenty years earlier, I would have been an Indiana banker” – that was his father’s wish, which thankfully for the public did not come true.

What a banquet of music and story to feast on, with our star saxophonist Sophie Faught and her trio playing Porter’s songs, and novelist Cathy Day joining me to tell the story of  Linda and Cole Porter (the French called them “lecoleporteurs”) on Tuesday, June 12, at 6 pm at The Jazz Kitchen.

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The Marvel-Hero Music Man Is Coming

David Amram Cover

David Amram has done everything in music and is still doing it. He has composed and conducted symphonies and concertos, written music for Broadway plays and hit movies, plays French Horn, piano, trumpet and instruments from around the world that he carries in a bag that looks like the one hefted by Santa Claus. He has played jazz with Charlie Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Cecil Taylor, written the music for the Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg “Home movie” called “Pull My Daisy,” acted in the movie, and written about it in his book Creating With Kerouac. He started off this year (his 87th) by going to Cuba to play in a music festival, and next week he is coming to perform at The Jazz Kitchen on College Avenue, Indy.

Amram is one of my few fellow survivors of New York in the Fifties (he stars in my memoir of the same name and in Betsy Blankenbaker’s documentary based on the book.) He is a year older than I am, which makes him “beloved.” You have to be over 80 years old to be “beloved.” I am going to ask him how that feels when I interview him in a one-night revival of “Uncle Dan’s Story Hour” the night of May 10 at The Aristocrat Pub and Restaurant, which will be a lively prelude to his big concerts the next night, May 11, at The Jazz Kitchen. David will come accompanied by his percussionist, Adam Amram, his brilliant bongo-playing son. Last year after his Jazz Kitchen concert, Adam said “Dad was on fire!” The truth is, David Amram is always on fire!  He makes the energizer bunny look like a loafer.

I have just re-read Amram’s early autobiography, Vibrations, which takes him from age six when he got a bugle for his birthday and began his musical career to 1965, when he wrote an opera for ABC television and returned for a gig at The Five Spot, where I first heard him play in Greenwich Village in 1957. I am going to ask him the secret to his long life of continuous creativity and his Marvel Hero energy. I know it was not his home cooking, which featured omelets that contained – among everything else he had in the kitchen – peanut butter and spaghetti. (Don’t try this at home, kids.)

Come and see our spectacle – May 10 for the interview/conversation and Amram’s piano embellishments at The Aristocrat Pub and restaurant, and May 11 at The Jazz Kitchen for the big concerts, in which I will reprise my role from last year of reading a selection from New York in the Fifties of Kerouac-ian prose while David plays in the background, just as he did in the original jazz-poetry performances in Greenwich Village. To resurrect a slogan from the era: Be there or be square!

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Mark Vonnegut Has a Message for Us

Mark Vonnegut is coming to town to talk about art, creativity, mental illness, and “the myth of mental wellness” as part of “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” at The Jazz Kitchen on Tuesday, March 27, 6-8 pm. Tickets are $22.

Mark is the author of two absorbing memoirs, The Eden Express and Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only More So. He is a practicing pediatrician in a town outside of Boston.

“I spent two years as part of Harvard Medical School’s admissions committee, where the shorthand for artistic accomplishment was ‘extras,’” Mark said.

“The arts are about as extra as breathing,” he added.

This message is especially crucial for Indianapolis right now, as the Indianapolis Business Journal has announced it will no longer be covering the arts. To implement this plan, the IBJ has laid off Lou Harry, its longtime writer on the arts.

Are the arts not a business, as well as a form of creativity, expression, beauty, and entertainment? Don’t people buy books, paintings, sculpture, tickets for plays, symphonies, movies, comedy shows, dances, singers and bands? Don’t they go to museums, pay to hear people speak about books and the arts? Don’t they pay for classes to learn to write stories, poems, memoirs, plays, novels and movies? Does no one pay to see The Heartland Film Festival, or attend events and talks and programs at The Vonnegut Museum and Library, Conner Prairie, and The Children’s Museum? Do these events and institutions not enhance and bring prestige to a community?

The sad situation of Lou Harry’s dismissal is made even more discouraging because – as far as I know – he was the only writer who wrote a regular column reviewing books and the arts. Last year a new book of Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories, the only volume to include every short story written by this city’s most renowned native author, received only one review in any Indianapolis publication. It was by Lou Harry in The IBJ.

How important are the arts? Our state is reeling from an Opioid epidemic, ravaging towns with young peoples’ suicides and prostitution. Mark Vonnegut, doctor and author, says “The arts are both a reason and a way to get well.”

Come to hear Mark talk about the arts with me and the brilliant saxophonist Sophie Faught for “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” Tuesday, March 27, 6-8 pm at The Jazz Kitchen.

Oh – and Mark isn’t just talking; he is bringing his saxophone, too.

– Dan Wakefield

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield