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Archive for the ‘dancing’ Category

One year — 1961, to be specific — in the life of the Blumenau family of Stamford, Connecticut, as jointly interpreted by William H. Blumenau (calendar entries) and Charles A. Berry (text):

American history and practical math
You’re studying hard, hoping to pass

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January 23-24.

Cruising and playing the radio
With no particular place to go

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January 27.

She just don’t have the appetite
For gas somehow,
And Dad, I got four carburetors
Hooked up on it now.
I tried to hook another
To see if I’d do a little good,
But ain’t no place to put it
‘Less I perforate the hood

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February 2.

If she’s in the mood no need to break it
I got the chance and I oughta take it
If she can dance we can make it
C’mon, Queenie, let’s shake it

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February 11.

Well I looked at my watch, it was 10:05
Man, I didn’t know if I was dead or alive

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February 23.

Don’t care to hear ’em play the tango
I’m in no mood to dig a mambo

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February 25.

I go to court tomorrow morning
And I got the same judge I had before
Lord, I know he won’t have no mercy on me
‘Cause he told me not to come back no more

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April 7.

Sweet little sixteen
She’s just got to have
About half a million
Framed autographs
Her wallet filled with pictures
She gets ’em one by one

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April 9.

Nothin’ outrun my V-8 Ford

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May 1. (The new car in question really *was* a V-8 Ford, if memory serves.)

In the heat of the day down in Mobile, Alabama
Workin’ on the railroad with a steel-drivin’ hammer

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August 10.

Ring! ring! goes the bell

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September 6.

I must admit they had a rockin’ band
Man, they was blowin’ like a hurr-i-can

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September 21.

All day long you’ve been wantin’ to dance

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September 27.

Roll over, Beethoven
And tell Tchaikovsky the news

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October 2.

The engine with blood was sweaty and damp
And brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp
And imps for fuel was shoveling bones
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans

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October 31.

I was campaign shoutin’ like a Southern diplomat
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November 7.

Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks
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December 5.

It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be rock ‘n’ roll music
If you wanna dance with me
If you wanna dance with me.

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December 30.

Thanks for everything, Chuck.

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I’m having trouble saying goodbye to this year in any coherent way; a stifled retch feels most appropriate, like the sound you make when you’ve emptied your stomach but you’re not done throwing up.

(Setting aside national politics and the deaths of lots of famous people, the Hope Street universe lost a noteworthy person in 2016 — my Great-Aunt Eleanor, the last living member of my grandparents’ generation of the family. That in itself would make it a subpar year. There were other things too.)

Maybe what this year needs to close it out is a good dance. It could be something slow and mournful. Or it could be something fast, for those dancing to forget.

At least one of the Hope Street Blumenaus used to end the calendar year that way, back in the day:

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December 28, 1962.

Assuming the DJ was spinning the hits of the day, the kids at the church dance on Dec. 28, 1962, would have had pretty slim pickings. (“Pepino the Italian Mouse,” anybody?)

At the year-end 1963 dance, the young Methodists of Springdale might have heard something from a certain Liverpool band that was just sneaking onto New York radio and would shortly turn America on its ear. But in 1962, no such radical change was around the corner, and the bland musical interregnum between Chuck Berry and the Beatles was still in force.

It’s hard to anticipate any radical social or personal changes around the corner in 2017, either.

But, who knows? You never see them coming.

So turn out the lights on 2016, find a partner, and we’ll be back to see if next year is any better.

(Keep your hands where the chaperones can see them.)

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A little thematic music … but whatever you do, don’t dance.

To steal a phrase from the Mennonites, I consider myself to have been in the Eighties, but not of the Eighties.

Growing up in that decade, I spent most of it wanting to be somewhere else. Most of my cultural choices in my pre-teen and teenage years (long hair, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Saturday Night Fever and Midnight Cowboy, to name a few) evinced a desire to escape.

I couldn’t avoid the popular culture of my youth, though.

For instance, I was still listening to Top 40 radio (the late, unlamented WMJQ-92 in Rochester) when the movie Footloose hit big in 1984, dragging a whole raft of hit songs along with it.

The movie told the unlikely but apparently true story of an Oklahoma town that banned dancing, with Kevin Bacon (not yet a pop-culture in-joke) starring as the big-city drop-in who broke the elders’ grip on their children’s hips.

Sounds dopey now — and indeed, I think it was kinda dopey then — but it made its mark on People Of A Certain Age, even those who wished they were somewhere else.

I had to think of Footloose, and all the related Eighties baggage, when I saw this week’s calendar entry:

March 4, 1961.

March 4, 1961.

I dunno what was going on in the red print — something about birthday cards, gifts and Time magazine.

Instead, I concentrated on the black print, which says something about my dad the teenage musician having a gig (“Job”) but stipulating that the gig involved “no dancing.”

I found that curious for reasons having nothing to do with Kevin Bacon.

Stamford and its environs are not particularly fundamentalist, and certainly not the sort of places to prevent people from shaking their tail feathers.

Inevitably, I had to wonder: Where was this gig, and why did the musicians hired in advance know that people wouldn’t be dancing?

And what did it matter to my dad? Did his preparations for the gig somehow change, based on whether or not people would be cutting the rug? Did he have to adjust his musical phrasing to be as corny and square as possible, to discourage any would-be jivers from taking the floor?

I asked my dad, and not surprisingly, he was unable to recall this specific gig at almost 55 years’ distance. Nor did he recall why Terpsichore was not a welcome guest.

He did come up with one interesting suggestion based on the calendar entry. In those days, he sometimes brought musical “fake books” to gigs, to help him navigate unexpected and unfamiliar tunes. If he knew in advance there was not going to be any dancing, that might have been a cue to bring a different book.

In his words:

Pretty mundane, but at the very last “no dancing” would indicate a different repertoire, and therefore would probably be a clue to bring different music.

 I did occasionally play with folks I didn’t play with regularly, and brought a cardboard fold-away music stand (looked like one of those big band stands when assembled) from which I read.  Other times it was probably more a security blanket, but yeh, I brought it.

Funny how much you keep in your head at that age.  Nowadays when I write a gig on the calendar I write the time, who’s on the gig, the place, the dress, sometimes the pay (that’s usually in a contract I have in my filing system).  Can’t believe how cavalier I was about gigs then!

(Apparently, around this time, a Midwestern office of the FBI noted that “practically every professional musician in the country owns a copy of one of these fake music books.” The cultural history of the fake book would be a fascinating blog post … but, alas, this ain’t the one.)

So, who knows what the story was?

Perhaps there is some person in Stamford who recalls going to hear music but not being able to dance to it. Perhaps they were even the Dance Police, responsible for dragging rump-shakers off the floor and administering suitable punishment.

Like Footloose, it’s a long-ago memory now.

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High school prom season’s pretty well over, at least where I live. It looks like the local newspapers have squeezed out their very last prom photo galleries.

(I used to work for a chain of weekly papers in Massachusetts that considered local proms to be a big annual rite of passage and a must-cover. I escaped having to cover my town’s prom by the simple method of getting married and going on my honeymoon at the right time. Worked like a charm. I could only play that card once, of course … but by the following May, I’d gotten another job. That worked too.)

I don’t mind writing about proms, if I don’t actually have to go stand around and ask teenagers mushmouthed questions.

So this week, I’ll finally write about a prom … but from a different angle than I would have taken as a journalist.

This week, the story’s not about the kids. It’s about the grown-ups who pick up a couple bucks making their big night special.

June 2, 1962. Appropriately, this photo is No. 622 in its batch.

June 2, 1962. Yanks cruise to a win; Mets stumble to two losses.

Just a year removed from high school himself, my dad got hired to play the Darien High School prom, Darien being the town just to the east of Stamford.

The concept of live musicians at a high school prom seems alien to me. In my youth, the soundtrack to prom was provided by a DJ spinning the hits of the fortnight, just as they were heard on the radio.

(The local morning-radio jock who spun at Penfield High’s proms a quarter-century ago is apparently still on Top 40 radio in Rochester. Wonder how many proms he’s been to.)

My dad says the musical menu at Darien High was a mix of swing tunes (i.e., “Satin Doll”), standard ballads and waltzes (think “Blue Moon” or “I’m In The Mood For Love”); a few of what he calls “ethnic” Italian and Polish tunes (I’m guessing the Tarantella, but I might be wrong); and a couple of rock n’ roll instrumentals.

Now, the members of the Darien High Class of ’62 probably didn’t spend a lot of time listening to “I’m In The Mood For Love” of their own accord.

But swing and standards were seen as posh, and well-suited to a big occasion. In my dad’s words:

It doesn’t surprise me that the Darien prom committee chose standard swing and old dance music for their prom.  That was normal; although we listened to rock ’n roll 24/7 and loved it, many high school proms featured big bands covering the swing music of the 30’s – somehow that was “special.”  It does surprise me that Darien, being a good bit tonier than Stamford/Hope Street, would hire the Joe Denicola Quintet for their prom.

So who was the Joe Denicola Quintet, you might be asking?

Apparently they worked regularly around the Stamford area back in the early ’60s. The band was usually a quartet, but sometimes hired my dad when they needed a sax player.

My dad playing saxophone on TV, early 1961.

My dad playing saxophone on TV, early 1961.

Their roster, as my dad recalls it:

– Joe on bass. Joe was 2 years ahead of me at Stamford High, and we played in the jazz band together one year.  And because of my natural ear I could fit in with his band pretty readily, there being no music, ever!
        – “Shaves” on drums (perhaps he was a barber?  Dunno).  He was a very good, tasty, natural drummer who swung and kept great time.
        – A solid trombonist whose name escapes me.  He was a cobbler (shoemaker and fixer) by trade, who played basic stuff and played it well.  Iron trombone chops; great tone and endurance!
        – Rudy on amplified accordion (!!!).  Rudy was a little headstrong but did what he did well.  And sometimes played too loud.  But then again, “audible” is too loud for an accordion!

None of these guys ever went to college.  But they had played together for quite a while and did what they did well.  None of them sang; they may have hired a vocalist for a bigger gig.

I can just about see these guys in my mind — Shaves the Drummer, in particular. What a great nickname. That guy deserves a larger chapter in the history of American music than has thus far been granted him.

Also, I wonder whether any American accordionist of the past 25 years has gigged on prom night. Now that’s an anachronism, even more so than the idea of swing music and standards on prom night. It would take a prom committee with cojones of iron to hire an accordionist in the Age of Auto-Tune.

Anyway, my dad’s memory suggests that the Joe Denicola Quintet might only have been an intermission band. He thinks Darien High hired a singer and full orchestra to provide the bulk of the music, and hired these local guys just to fill in the breaks. (In his words: Smart money would say that the Joe Denicola Quintet was NOT the headliner at the prom.)

That seems to me like quite a length to go to. But Darien was (and is) a pretty well-heeled place, and if they wanted two bands at prom, they could probably have afforded it.

(I also find it droll to think my dad entertained those hardcore few who refused to stop dancing just because the orchestra wanted a break. “Not done shaking ass, kids? Here comes the Joe Denicola Quintet. No parking on the dancefloor!”)

My dad doesn’t seem to remember anything unusual, regrettable or embarrassing about the gig.

So I’m guessing the Darien High ’62 prom went as intended; the kids got all the music they could hold; and Shaves the Drummer picked up a little extra beer money.

As it should be.

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A little thematic music.

Awwwwwwright!

This is the 167th post I’ve written for this blog. And after two-plus years of writing about grandchildren, cookies and retirement, I finally get to write about some debauchery.

Well, some very well-mannered and proper debauchery. But debauchery nonetheless, by Hope Street’s buttoned-down standards.

So slip your flask in your side pocket, travel back to the end of the Summer of Love, and get ready to kick out the jams …

# # # # #

The story starts with my dad’s lifelong best friend, Louie Chiappetta.

(Faithful readers will remember Louie playing with my dad’s college band, Oedipus and the Mothers, in this earlier post, and — appropriately enough — drinking beer in this one. He’s known my dad since junior high and is still putting up with him today.)

Less than two months after my parents got married, Louie and his bride, Kathy, also tied the knot in Stamford.

Louie was such a close friend of the Blumenau family that my grandparents and great-grandma got invited to the wedding, along with my mom and dad.

And there was no question that everyone would attend. It was on the calendar, after all:

September 16, 1967.

September 16, 1967. The Yankees are three-hit by Sudden Sam McDowell.

Everything went fine until the wedding party and guests arrived at the San Souci for the reception. There, they were greeted with one of those pieces of mood-harshing news that isn’t supposed to happen on a wedding day: The reception hall chosen by the newlyweds had been double-booked and was still in use by another couple.

The managers of the San Souci, no doubt sweating furiously under their business suits, made the Chiappettas an offer they couldn’t refuse:

If the stranded wedding party and guests would be willing to wait in another, smaller room for a while, they could have all the free booze and hors d’oeuvres they could hold down. The Chiappettas and guests could move into the main room as soon as it was empty and clean.

(“As I recall this was at least an hour and a half, maybe pushing two hours,” my dad recalls.)

By my dad’s telling, the parents of the groom were understandably displeased by this snafu on their son’s special day. They quietly urged the guests to load up at the San Souci’s expense.

Many of them — including my grandpa — gladly complied.

And at the peak of the celebration, with a strolling Italian wedding band with clarinet and accordion working the room, my dad saw something he had never seen and would not see again:

My grandfather, feeling no pain, twirl-dancing with one arm around my grandma and the other around a support post in the middle of the room.

“This was the only time I ever saw your grandfather even remotely under the influence, and he was a very happy and sociable drunk,” my dad says.

It was, according to my dad, completely in keeping with the event. Nobody got pushy or obnoxious or loud on the San Souci’s booze; everyone was loose and friendly and having a good time in their own way.

By the time the formal dinner rolled around, my grandpa had sobered up, and probably felt no ill effects the next morning.

“All things considered, it was quite a successful wedding …” (my dad again) “… everyone was quite happy, there were no problems, and the establishment provided a reasonable solution to an untenable situation (double-booking weddings).”

Louie and Kathy’s wedding day worked out fine in the long run. The guests had a good time; the San Souci paid for its mistake; and the newlyweds are still married all these years later.

I wish I could have been there. It sounds like a swingin’ time.

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