The Thrill of it All

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Looking west across Central Park from Fifth Avenue. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, August 8, 2022. Very warm in New York. Even the dogs aren’t into their ordinary outdoor exploring to see who had been there before. Which reminds me — if you have a dog or a pet, make sure they always have enough water. If they’re out walking with their tongues hanging out, they need water.

Unlike us, they have the natural good sense to want it when they need it. And if you are out bicycling or jogging, do NOT take them with you. It is very dangerous. They quickly become dehydrated and can even have a heart attack. I know it’s your dog and you can do anything you want with it, but they have their own lives too.

West Texas storm chaser Laura Rowe captured the picture of a lifetime, fantastic shot of a mature supercell thunderstorm, illuminated at varying heights from the setting sun.

Meanwhile yesterday’s temps came with a RealFeel of 100. Sunny but … the weather predicts this will continue through the week. I like to imagine possible changes, like a big heavy rainstorm that will drench us and cool off the air and the streets. In the meantime my outdoor time is limited to the going and coming for food (and drink).

So, the city is quiet. It’s out of town. The action, if there is any, is out East in the Hamptons, or up north in Newport or Cape Cod. I’ve seen enough of that to not be disappointed in my situation here in town.

I was online reading my daily favorite sites. I often read at least some of the Comments on a lot of the sites. On these big heat days, even the Comments can fall into snoozeland. However one of the Comments yesterday afternoon opened with a video of the Nicholas Brothers and Cab Calloway in a musical dance clip made for the film Stormy Weather in 1943.

The Nicholas Brothers were a little before my time but I’d heard of them, and I had seen a clip of them in another film. They are amazing (AMAZING!). Their time was the 1930s through the ‘50s. They are unique. Very talented dancers (one of the greatest tap dance acts of all time) but with the ability to take you through steps with them. Their dances are astounding (truly), and fun, and also a joy. The energy they exude is contagious.

Watching their performance I was naturally reminded of Fred Astaire and Hermes Pan, who was Fred’s longtime co-choreographer. The two men created all of the duo numbers and solos of Fred. They were both very influenced by the black dancers of the time. Hermes, whom I wrote a memoir for back in the early ‘80s, grew up in Nashville and where his black “mammy” would sometimes take him to her house at night in the area known as Black Bottom (which inspired a classic popular dance of the day) where at night there was also music and dancing in the streets, entertaining themselves.

The child was moved, inculcated with the rhythm, and when he met Astaire at age 21, it was that interest that made the lifelong relationship in creating a dance. Michael Jackson, incidentally, was a big fan of both men and at one point gave all of his awards to Fred because he felt Fred had earned them for him. (Fred returned them but he was very impressed to be honored by Michael whose work he and Pan greatly admired). Watching the Brothers yesterday I could see how Astaire would have been fascinated to creativity observing their work.

JH has a 2.5-year-old son who, I’ve learned, has seen some clips of musical performances that the child loves watching. I thought of the Nicholas Brothers because their sensational performance has elements of a child’s imagination.

Thinking of Alexander’s taste, Jeff had sent a clip of concert pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, who is Georgian-French, playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. I’ve heard the piece many many times throughout my life and have never tired of it. But yesterday afternoon, with it in front of me and thinking about how the child connected to it. I watched it as if it were the first time. It was an award-winning performance for both the artist and the composer. A perfect marriage musically.

It was profoundly effective for this non-child, and the concert artist gave it a new and of-the-moment life. Buniatishvili is beyond brilliant with her hands articulating the drama we’re listening too. She gave the material new meaning, fresh and contemporary for a piece that was written almost a century ago. Authentically about New York and even today (to this listener) — both Gershwin’s and mine. She’s amazing, and that was my afternoon.

At seven o’clock I went out to dinner with a couple I haven’t seen in more than two years because of the Covid matter. It was New York, it was a pleasure — like the afternoon with the Nicholas Brothers and finishing with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in a compelling and dramatic performance by a great concert artist. The Thrill of It All.

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