One of the more inspiring ways different generations can bond through music is described in this post. Research tells us that positive inter-generational connections are important for our well being.

Here is an exciting example of one way to create a bridge when you listen to music with someone of another generation. If each of you shares what you like about the recording, what happens?

Let us know here. Leave a comment.
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Singer, Tony Bennett, now 88, has just released a duet album, “Cheek to Cheek,” with Lady Gaga, age 28, which quickly became No. 1 on Billboard.

Drawing upon the wisdom of his long and rich experience, Bennett says of his current music-making: “I’ve learned that it’s what you leave out of a performance, not what you put into it. Less is more. It’s not because of age, but it’s the right thing to do.”

The extent of his engagement with other singers, many of them half his age and more, is nothing short of astonishing. This goes back more than ten years now and includes names like K.D. Lang, Amy Winehouse, Sheryl Crow, Andrea Bocelli, and Mariah Carey. What is even more remarkable is how these collaborations have tapped hitherto unknown abilities in singers like Lady Gaga, who in the current duet album performs against type–and does so in superb fashion.

The title track,”Cheek to Cheek,” a 1935 classic with words and music by Irving Berlin, first made famous by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, is given fresh life here by our two virtuosi. Listen to how the melodic line is developed from a simple melodic cell of adjacent notes. (If you listen carefully, by the way, you can hear a resemblance to Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53!) The word painting is such that the melody perfectly matches the intimacy suggested by the lyrics.

For your listening pleasure (share it with someone younger or older, please!):

Vital cue: Track 2, 2:04 on bottom of screen, Lady Gaga sings “Heaven, I’m in Heaven…”

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

Vital cue: 0:42 on bottom of screen for melodic cell that quite possibly inspired Irving Berlin.

Vladimir Horowitz performing Chopin Polonaise in A-flat

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From Josh: I am having a ball these days teaching a course, for mature adults, on George Gershwin for the Lifetime Learners Institute at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. The many people in my class are so engaged that they give me a special energy. In fact, we seem to energize one other.

One of the recent highlights of the class was my presenting one of Gershwin’s early hits, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” a showstopper from the George White Scandals of 1922. This was an extravaganza in the mold of The Ziegfeld Follies, with girls dressed in black patent leather strutting up a glittering staircase.

More than anything else from that show, it is this music and its lyrics –Ira Gershwin had a hand in them– that live on. The exuberant introduction to the song begins with a bold leap of an octave (“I’ll…build…”), shortly followed by a juicy, bluesy note (listen to the minor sound on the word “Para…dise”). The upward leap of an octave so often signifies great energy in music, the sense of being transported to another, better place—famously in the very first word of that classic pop song “Some…where over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. (Try singing it and you will hear what I mean.)

Listen to the catchy, bouncy rhythm of the opening verse, and the buoyant rising melodic line accompanying the words, “All you preachers who delight in panning dancing teachers….” The words that follow deliver an upbeat message to get up and move around: “It’s madness to be always sitting around in sadness, when you could be learning the steps of gladness.” Brain research these days is underscoring the importance of doing just this!

As it also underscores the importance of expanding your horizons, when the song’s chorus continues: “ I’ll build a stairway to Paradise with a new step every day.” Not only a physical step, but the openness to trying something new each day.

Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks give a rousing rendition of this old song with vocals near the beginning of the biopic The Aviator. In the plush setting of the Coconut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles the young Howard Hughes, a man of soaring ambition, is seeking backing for his aeronautic ventures to the accompaniment of Gershwin’s music—a truly vivid aural analogue to what is to be played out in the movie.

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And for a snappy, irresistible fox trot version, nothing can match the 1922 recording made by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra shortly after the premiere of the George White Scandals earlier that year. It brings back for me happy memories of listening when I was writing my book, Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz (Yale University Press, 2004). What is also worth noting is that the George White Scandals of 1922 brought George Gershwin and Paul Whiteman together and led to a commission that forever changed music history—the writing of Rhapsody in Blue, premiered on February 12, 1924.

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A Poignant Tribute

September 1, 2014

Early in the morning of Friday, August 15, 2014, less than a week after the fatal shooting the previous Saturday of African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, rapper J. Cole ( Jermaine Lamarr Cole) posted his tribute song “Be Free” to the online audio platform SoundCloud, where users can upload tracks and share them […]

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Alive Inside: Music and Memory

July 20, 2014

We recently saw a documentary film that is just opening now, so we want to call it to your attention. As you will read below, the film–Alive Inside–is quite novel and inspiring. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Memory is the measure of who we are as individuals. And much of our self-identity as human beings is defined by the pieces […]

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Building Bridges with Music

July 5, 2014

Our interviewee in this story, 57 years old,  is  a self-described “aging hippie and  music junkie.” Recovering from  substance abuse over the course of some seven years, he has found new serenity and joy, thanks to the grounding and centering power of certain music. Although he grew up listening to musicians like Bob Dylan, James […]

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