In Tune with June!

He’s a film director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor, and producer. Most folks know him as the creator of broad film farces and comic parodies: “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles,” “High Anxiety” to name a few. Having read this far you probably know that I’m referring to Mel Brooks who has collected awards across the spectrum—an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. If you were fortunate enough to watch the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award program on TV, it was a star-studded special celebrating the comic legend. And here’s the kicker—I made Mel Brooks laugh! Scout’s honor! It was a Tuesday night at Sofia’s in the Edison Hotel in Manhattan. Before I took my turn at singing, Vince Giordano, the leader of a wonderful 11-piece band, came over and whispered, “Do you know who is sitting just a couple of tables away from you?” Yes, it was the comic icon himself looking relaxed in beige chinos and a sport shirt (looking great for a man in his eighties). With him was his multi-talented son, Max, his grandson, and a couple of friends. When it came my time to sing, I opened up by saying “Shall I sing ‘High Anxiety?’” I earned a smile for that. I started to sing “If I Could Be With You,” and for the first time I gave the Nighthawks the wrong key. Vince fixed that by telling the band the correct one and saying “That’s show biz, folks.” My rebuff was that it was lucky I don’t sing for a living. But I got a second smile from the sitting celebrity. He even blew me a kiss. Be still, my heart! It was another night to remember!
Who would you pick as Hollywood’s most improbable “It” girl? Yes, she’s hot because she’s Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, and Jack Black rolled into a single subversive female (yes, female) package. I first became aware of Melissa McCarthy when she was on “Gilmore Girls,” a favorite series of mine from 2000-2007. When the actress appeared in her breakout role as a raunchy loud-mouth who climbs into a bathroom sink to relieve her food poisoning in the 2011 film “Bridesmaids,” I couldn’t believe my eyes. With McCarthy’s latest comedy, “The Heat,” a female buddy flick, she’s riding a rocket. The lady (that noun doesn’t work for her) is breaking barriers with her hilarious characters. In “The Heat” she punches out bad guys, climbs through car windows, and tells off bosses and would-be swains. Melissa McCarthy is a great comic—uniquely funny, bringing insanity to her characters and an eccentric vision of humanity. McCarthy is a larger-than-life personality. She has an exceptional gift and uses her atypical size (I’m being kind) to become a trailblazer in the world of comedy. The gal will do anything to get a laugh. In my eyes, she is revolting, exceptional, and unforgettable, but I do like her dimples! I’m sure that young folks (and by young I mean under 70), see her in a different light. There’s no doubt that there will be many red carpets in the hyper-active McCarthy future. Duh!
“Summertime and the living is easy.” So says the song. Well, not always—what with the wretched, fevered summer we’ve been enduring. However, I found relief one sultry afternoon listening to hot jazz in a cool garden. Jazz is always best served in performance, and it was alive and well at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Four excellent musicians led by Jon-Erik Kellso played all my favorite songs, including “Pennies from Heaven” and “If I Could Be with You.” Sitting in the second row I was wishing I could run up to the bandstand and sing (I didn’t because I wasn’t invited). The Louis Armstrong House Museum is a living tribute to a jazz legend in the heart of Queens, New York. Louis Armstrong was a super star on radio, television, concert stage, and movie screen for more than five decades. “Satchmo” entertained kings, queens, presidents, and millions of fans. His trumpet revolutionized jazz and his smile and singing spread good will across the globe. In 1945 Louis and his wife, Lucille, settled in a working-class neighborhood in Queens. Although a simple frame house, Lucille made it a showplace of mid-twentieth-century interior design. It made me feel as if I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with the man himself. Prominently displayed was a portrait of Armstrong painted in 1970 by Tony Bennett. The Louis Armstrong House Museum serves as a backdrop to the story of the remarkable, improbable life of the man. It stands as a memorial to one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.
When my daughter, Jolie, and her family had to relocate from Maryland to the New York-New Jersey area because of her husband’s new position, she became very nostalgic. Her first house-hunting trip was to River Edge in Bergen County where she grew up. She even looked at houses on the very same street and, as a result, started to relive her early years. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing until I learned that nostalgia, long-considered a disorder, is now recognized as a largely positive emotion. It’s reassuring to know that, although one cannot keep thinking about the past, it can be rewarding. Top psychologists agree that nostalgia can make you feel that you have roots and continuity. After a decade of study, social psychologists agree that nostalgia is looking a lot better. Personally, it makes me feel good. The quickest way to induce it is though music. Listening to favorite songs makes me feel even warmer physically and many of my friends have the same reaction. Music has the power to transport people to another time and place, setting off a flood of memories. Many of the songs of Frank Sinatra frequently move me. A brief stroll down memory lane makes life seem even more worthwhile. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks who play the songs of the 20s, 30s, and 40s—songs that I clearly remember my mom playing on the piano while I sang and danced. When my family gets together I don’t miss an opportunity to build nostalgic-to-be memories. Psychologists call that anticipatory memory. If you are not neurotic or avoidant, the pundits feel that everyone can benefit by nostalgizing a couple of times a week. It can counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety—and even inspire optimism. “Play it again, Sam.”
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