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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Keeping in tune with the tops in instrumental music

I warned you (threatened you?) a week ago I might do something like this.

That is, reprint a letter from Don Miller of Eastlake, because his views on music are congruent with mine.

Bill Crosier read that comment, and asked me Monday at Rotary if Don had ever worked at the Willoughby Police Department as a dispatcher. I said not that I knew of. I said he’s probably three or four years older than you. Bill said no, that’s not the guy. But I digress.

I implied that repeating the words of someone else is a lazy way of writing a column, but let me tell you, that is not the case at all. It is a lot of work to do all that typing, because Don’s letter was hand-printed, and it requires a lot of effort to enter it into a computer.

Be that as it may, here is what Don had to say on “The Subject of ‘50s Instrumentals.”

“The Twentieth Century was a great period for American music. Every generation has had its own music. We have our favorite songs that evoke memories of the past and bring just a little more happiness to the present. At least, it used to be that way.

“The 1940s and the ’50s are my favorite musical period. The Big Band sound was in full swing in the ‘40s. And then things changed. Frank Sinatra proved a singer could go it alone when he split from Tommy Dorsey and crooned his way to stardom.

“With the advent of the fifties, less emphasis was put on the Big Band sound. The singer became the focal point of musical entertainment. And a new kind of music was coming — Rock ’n Roll.

“The advent of the sixties saw the single singer like Elvis Presley, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Ricky Nelson and Brenda Lee.

“This kind of singer dominated the charts, and then evolved as the decade progressed and the groups gradually took over.

“Yet — there was a musical genre in the ’50s that we tend to overlook but was quite extraordinary — instrumental music.

“Great songs! Great listening! Here is a trip back in ’50s musical memory — ‘50s instrumentals.
“So let’s go back once more in time and enjoy the ’50s.”

His letter was signed “Musically, Don Miller,” and he enclosed a CD of a couple dozen songs that he apparently put together himself.

However he did it, the result was wonderful.

I thought you might enjoy Don’s comments, so here are a few more he has sent me over the years. (As I have told you before, I have a tendency to accumulate things, including notes.) All of them were accompanied by CDs. For example:

“I could not resist sending you this CD. It was recorded in London — 1959. And Basie’s phenomenal instrument of a band swung even more than its great predecessors.

“But what I really noticed is that it has more Basie piano than I have heard on previous recordings, and it illustrates how music can come with so few notes. Enjoy!

“Also, for the lady of the house I cooked up a special Valentine present from you. ‘I Love You Just the Way You Are,’ five times (or more.)”

Thanks so much, Don. Much appreciated. She appreciated it also. By the way, his reference is to William (Count) Basie of Red Bank, N.J.

Want more? Here’s another letter Don wrote nearly three years ago:

“Here’s one I think you will enjoy. Oscar’s not only a great player, but a fantastic accompanist. Musical regards.”

The CD contained 11 songs recorded by Anita O’Day with the Oscar Peterson Trio. Incredible! In my view, Oscar Peterson was the greatest pianist who ever lived, and Anita was the second greatest female vocalist of all time. No. 1 was Sarah Vaughan.

I have room for one more note from Don:

“I just returned from Florida. Last Saturday night I attended a concert of the Symphonic Band of the Palm Beaches. The concert featured Dr. Bill Prince.

“Bill is a musician extraordinaire. I’m going to sound like a broken record, but here again is a CD that is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

“Dr. Prince plays every instrument on the CD. The phrase ‘jack-of-all-trades and master of none’ — well, Bill Prince is the ace-king of musical instruments and master of them all.

“I think you will enjoy this one-man show.”

I sure did. I hope you enjoyed Don’s commentaries.

And taking this route to writing a column saved me no time at all. It took me as long to type this column as it takes me any other Monday afternoon, when I’m trying to get home so I can watch Sam Rutigliano’s comments on Sunday’s Browns game that I recorded Sunday night, because he comes on after my bedtime.


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