A Hoagy is more than a sandwich -- much more

Here are some steps to follow to enjoy a perfect summer's day:

1) Place a wheatstraw firmly between your teeth.

2) Find a tree growing on the banks of a slowly flowing river.

3) Plant your backside against the trunk.

4) Don the earphones of your Walkman.

5) Spend an hour listening to the music of Hoagy Carmichael as the world passes you by.

For baby boomers, Hoagy represents a period in popular music that fascinated our parents. Many of us grew up listening to an older generation's equivalent of rock 'n' roll in the music of Hoagy Carmichael and we have a tendency to think of it as old people's music.

But now that we are becoming old people ourselves, and now that so much of what had seemed enduring to us in our own generation's music has turned out to be dross, Hoagy, like many of his generation, is worth much more than another listen.

We jazz fans sometimes forget, in our zeal for new sounds, how reliant popular songwriting is upon the sweat and teeth of craft. But Hoagy knew all about that, and he learned it like an apprentice. Starting a long recording career in 1927, he worked with the earliest of jazz greats, revered names like Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden.

His resume puts him among the first wave of jazz composers and he wore his experience well. Making use of that laborious thing called craft, Hoagy put together a canon of work perhaps unrivalled for its across-the-board appeal to jazzers and non-jazzers alike.

Not all his pieces were gems. But the ones he mined from the depths of his creativity have provided enjoyment and much improvisatory raw material for several generations of music lovers and musicians.
Has anyone attended a prom or wedding reception or jazz club and failed to hear "Stardust"? Remember all the times you laughed about the corniness as your parents hummed "Up A Lazy River" or "In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening"? As eccentric a talent as Leon Redbone saw the humor in "Lazybones" and he also discerned the natural parallel between his laconic vocal style and the piano style of the composer. In live performance, Jack Teagarden and Satchmo milked "Rocking Chair" for laughs, a good example of which can be seen in Bert Stern's classic 1959 film, "Jazz On A Summer's Day," and there are myriad treatments of that chestnut by a legion of jazz artists, so many, in fact, that it seems sometimes as if others began experimenting with Hoagy's tune as soon as the ink was dry on the lead sheets.

And, finally, the jewel in the Carmichael crown: "Georgia On My Mind." What, you say? You didn't know that was a Hoagy tune? I'm constantly surprised to realize how many jazz and blues lovers haven't discovered that fact in the decades since Ray Charles staked his claim on the song and made it his own. Now that I've let the not-very-well-concealed secret out, there'll be no more free beer for me in the inevitable trivia contests at the pub. But I can find comfort in helping give credit where credit's due.

Meantime, if the weather ever warms up again, I'm planning a little Hoagy-fest down on the bank of a stream I know that flows near here. You come, too; wheatstraws and rocking chairs optional. I'll bring the beer.