Saturday, July 20, 2019

Getting Tall

My rendition of “Getting Tall” was recorded more than five years ago, but at the time, as its digital size was within the parameters of BlogSpot’s own video capabilities, I embedded it in the blog entry with their software.  This rendered it unplayable on mobile devices which are now the primary way my blog and therefore posted videos are accessed.  Thus, I’ve put it on YouTube and this can now be seen and heard in this entry.

Originally I posted it at the same time as “One Song Glory” from the musical Rent and both videos were a departure for me for reasons I explained in the former entry:

“Unlike the other videos I’ve done its close up.  This is not because I’m wild about my hands.  After all, they are, together, 142 years old! : - ).  But the sound was better with my little digital camera nearer to the piano. ‘One Song Glory’ is a genre outside my traditional classic Broadway comfort zone.  In other words, it doesn’t come naturally to me, but sometimes we have to forge into new territory.”

I continued with “the musical structure of ‘Getting Tall,’ from the musical Nine, on the other hand (no pun intended), is closer to the traditional Broadway musical, so I’m more relaxed playing this piece….’Getting Tall” is a very evocative conceit, the younger self counseling the mature version of the same person.”
Learning more, knowing less,
Simple words, tenderness part of getting tall.

Hopefully, that tenderness comes across….”

On a related matter, I received a comment on my recording of “This Funny World” which I’ll share here. I don’t get many comments as my videos are not heavily trafficked as are so many of the professional ones, but it’s always pleasing to learn that the tree is not falling in a silent forest and there are some people who come forth to express their feelings.  This one is particularly appreciated for the reasons I expressed in my reply:

From “Tom”
I was looking around for the song “This Funny World” by Rodgers and Hart; I had remembered the song from the past and thought how poignant and in many ways also how true the words seem to be.  These words as well as the music begins a chain of events causing a sharp sense of sadness, pity, and regret, and still a realization that life’s journey for everyone,-- to one degree or the other,--  have to say that this funny world has been making fun of them. But I wanted to learn the song and of course put into you-to-bee “How to play (This funny World) and this wonderful looking keyboard came up with a pair of hands on it, I thought to myself --  ok let’s see how bad this guy messes up the song, but to my surprise and delight I could sit through the entire song and drink in every beautiful note and expression, nothing added nothing subtracted it actually was what I was looking for, you have an extraordinary ear and the ability to present the song just as the writers intended.   Thank you.

My Reply:
Thank you, Tom, for your kind comments.  You touched upon both my strength and weakness as a pianist.  I do try to focus on a literal interpretation and play the song as I feel it.  I lack the musical education to render these songs with the kind of voicing and interpretation of some of my favorite pianists such as Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson.  But over the years I tried to commit some of my favorites to YouTube.  I laughed when you said that you found a pair of hands and a keyboard in your search for the song.  My recording device is a digital camera which I’ve learned that when I record a distance from the piano to get my body and all into the video, my living room becomes an echo chamber.  Better be close, very close to the piano for the best sound and, even then, it has noticeable limitations. I’ve recorded 4 CDs in a studio and these sound better, but they are not available commercially.  Also, when I do a YouTube recording, I usually write it up in my blog, and my entry on “This Funny World” is at this link:

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?

Billy Barnes is not exactly a household name in the annals of the Great American songbook but he had a successful career as a composer and lyricist.  Maybe his relative anonymity is because so much of his work was for TV rather than the stage, but one recognizable hit alone catapulted him into the company of some of the greats, "(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair."  My attraction to the song is similar to the one I have for Jerry Herman’s romantic ballad, “I Won’t Send Roses,” both bittersweet, haunting, regretful.

It takes an exceptional lyricist to make a great song so memorable.  Barnes’ song crafting created a certain kind of poignancy in this one, rendering it a classic.  One can listen to two completely different  versions on YouTube, Barbra Streisand’s highly stylized rendition recorded early in her career and Rosemary Clooney’s recorded late in hers.  Clooney has the perspective of an older woman with life’s experience to “sell” the song.  After all, it is more about a mature, “successful” woman, now alone “in a carnival city.”

My own piano recording can’t do the song justice without the words and you’ll note the ambiguity of my timing.  The song is written in 4/4 time, but the lyrics cry out for it to be played in a waltz tempo so frequently associated with the merry-go-round of the lyrics and I’m constantly drawn in and then  out of that tempo so my version is simply the way I feel it, wrong timing and all.  But I would like to add this to my YouTube library of some of my favorites.

For a full appreciation, the lyrics are necessary:

I wanted the music to play on forever
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
I wanted the clown to be constantly clever
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
I bought my blue ribbons to tie up my hair
But couldn't find anybody to care
The merry-go-round is beginning to taunt now
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
Oh mother dear, I know you're very proud
Your little girl in gingham is so far from the crowd
No daddy dear, you never could have known
That I would be successful, yet so very alone
I wanted to live in a carnival city
With laughter everywhere
I wanted my friends to be thrilling and witty
I wanted somebody to care
I found my blue ribbons all shiny and new
But now I discover them no longer blue
The merry-go-round is beginning to taunt me
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
There's nothing to win
And there's no one to want me
Have I stayed too long at the fair?

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Pitch Captures the Essence of the Game

Everything you wanted to know about pitching but were afraid to ask: Tyler Kepner’s K; A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

My hard cover collection of books is mostly by novelists and short-story writers I have admired over the years as well as hard-to-toss gems from my years as a publisher and even some reaching back into my college days. 

So, it was unusual for me to spend the 20 bucks or so for a baseball book, but I did so as it addresses the heart of the game, pitching, and as a former sandlot pitcher in my salad days, a crafty lefty as I thought of myself, using “’junk” pitches to get guys out who were accustomed to seeing only fast balls from my contemporaries, I thought this book would be ideal to feed boyhood fantasies.  Having played the game adds to the appreciation of what (I think, but I’m prejudiced) is the most perfect game invented, mirroring the game of life itself.

I liked the way Tyler Kepner describes his history, devoting “a chapter apiece to the fastball, the curveball, the sinker, the slider, the cutter, the changeup, the splitter, the screwball, the knuckleball and the spitball.”  Finally I thought to myself, here is a book about baseball from the inside, not just players recollecting about the old days, but much about strategy and the execution of these pitches. 

I threw some of them myself, although back then, and I’m talking the 1950’s, we didn’t have the variety of names for all of them and when I was throwing my fastball (which given my size was not very fast), it was with a hope I could place it accurately.  Mostly, I relied on a curve ball, slider and the little thrown and understood screwball.

Kepner does not cover the natural movement of a lefty’s fastball.  Lefty pitchers simply have more movement on their fastballs away from right handed hitters, although he does acknowledge that “because lefties are harder to find, they tend to get more chances to stick….Lefty relievers invariably need a breaking ball that moves away from a lefty hitter; once they have that to go with a fastball, there’s usually little need for a third pitch.”  Well I did need a #3 and my screwball was simply a more exaggerated variation off my fastball, at a slower speed and a bigger break.  In effect it was my changeup.  My bread and butter pitch to right-hander hitters, the big decision being when and how often in a batter’s pitch count to throw it.

One thing that adequately comes across in Kepner’s book is one of the reasons I could never move beyond high school with my pitching skills.  The bigger you are, the harder you could throw and generally the larger your hands. 

Small-in-stature pitchers were and are a rarity. No wonder my idol as a kid was 5’6” Bobby Shantz who played for a number of teams in the 50’s and 60’s, including the NY Yankees.  He pitched with guile and a great curve ball and earned the MVP award in 1952, when I started to follow him, with 24 wins.  He ended his career with a 3.38 ERA which, today, would get you a $10 million a year contract over multi years.  Bobby never saw that kind of $$ and Kepner’s book doesn’t mention him although he does address the size issue and, not surprisingly, under the screwball chapter.

Left hander Daniel Ray Herrera of the Reds “made 131 appearances from 2008 to 2011, and without the screwball, he would have made none.  He used it because he could not throw a changeup and it distinguished him just enough to give him his modest career.  Herrera’s quirky profile fit the pitch: 5 foot 6, and at the time of his debut, no pitcher had been shorter in more than 50 years,” perhaps a veiled reference to Shantz.

Of course, he can’t cover everyone, and that is not why I was slightly disappointed by this book.  Maybe I was expecting too much, an easy to follow and interesting narrative of these ten pitches, how they’re thrown, and the strategy of throwing them when they are thrown.  Kepner does address these issues, but in an encyclopedic, almost academic way.  After all he interviewed some 300 people and this book is distilled from those interviews, almost chaotically, and a little repetitiously I thought.  It was nice to hear the inside stories of so many of the pitchers I admired over the years, but this book often fails to be a coherent narrative.  Sometimes it reads more like a dissertation without the footnotes.

Nonetheless, being so familiar with the game itself, there were revelatory elements.  What especially stood out is the “hand me down” nature of throwing these pitches, how one generation passed on the skill to others.  And that is part of the mystery of pitching as well; each pitcher modifies these pitches to fit their unique hands, delivery, and to compliment their other pitches.  No pitcher throws all ten and few throw and hold the pitch the exact same way.   This is why it’s an art as much as a science.

All pitchers though in the majors need some kind of fast ball even if it is “only” in the high 80 mph range, to make their other bread and butter pitches more effective.   I used to experiment with fork balls, splitters but my hands were just too small to hold those pitches properly.  This comes through so clearly in Kepner’s account:  if you want to pitch in the big leagues, throwing hard and having large hands are clear advantages. 

There are anecdotes galore in this book, a gold mine of information, but trying to piece them altogether into the narrative I had expected was frustrating.  Still, I now have it as a reference work. Play ball!