Monday, May 11, 2015

Cole and the E-Flat Chord

Several people emailed comments to me about my recent post about "Stardust." Usually I just put these away in a folder. 

But I have to share this one with you. It's from Steve Kopcha. You probably don't know the name, but Steve is one of the most creative, intuitive, dedicated ad guys I ever worked withe. He also has a sharp sense of humor, which you need to survive in advertising. Steve, who now lives in New Hampshire, was Creative Director at D'Arcy Advertising, in St. Louis, then in Detroit.  I think that was during the '60's and '70's.Steve was a major influence on Budweiser's great advertising. His presentations were effective and entertaining, even if the client didn't buy it all. After D'Arcy, he became a professor of advertising at Mizzou in Columbia. Along the way he honed his chops as a somewhat talented alto sax player. 

It's in this musical role that Steve responded to my thoughts about the old songs.

"Nice piece, and I agree with you 100 percent. Regarding the "old" composers, here's an anecdote for you:

Many years ago, I decided to teach myself to play the piano so I could play from songbooks. I was hesitant, because when I was a second-grade pupil, I just could not grasp the concept that the bass clef notes were not the same as the treble clef notes. Upside-down and backwards or something like that.

Then I had the Big Idea of my Life.

I already knew how to play the notes with my right hand---I could read them direct from the music, and hey, I could memorize the fingerings for the chords (the guitar/piano chords also in the music).

Once I did that, I could play any song as long as they had the guitar/piano chords printed. This is old stuff to you as a keyboard guy, but it was huge for this sax player. I discovered that when you fingered, say, an E-flat chord, you could fill in the holes with various arpeggios, etc. and they would mostly be right as long as you honor the key signature for sharps and flats. Your hand was already poised over all the right notes within the scale.

Then, the other big discovery:

After playing through many "Great American Songbooks" I noticed something happening, time after time.

The songs I found that had "something extra" going for them...the songs that were richer and more engaging to the mind...mostly all came from the same guy: Cole Porter.  And furthermore, many were in the key of E-flat, a nice key for piano and singer.

I became a Cole Porter fanatic, learning all i could about him. I even drove hundreds of miles from Detroit to Peru, Indiana, his home town (the chubby girl at the gas station in the middle of town thought I was from Mars, I guess, when I asked where Cole Porter's boyhood home was. "Who's he? Never heard of him," she said)  Yikes!

Anyway, when my son Mike went to Yale, I was thrilled to find out that Cole Porter, class of 1914, had written many of the Yale songs...and they still sing them today. 

Also, the Waldorf-Astoria (where Cole lived) had his piano on display in the lobby and I managed to sneak up to it one time and played an E-Flat chord, just for the magic of it. I did the same thing in Salzburg, waiting until the museum was almost empty to reach over the velvet rope and run my fingers down Mozart's clavichord. I thought I would die of rapture...touching the very same keys my idol, my adored Wolfgang Amadeus had touched.

Then I went down to the gift shop and bought some Mozart Balls...little chocolate confections about the size of a golf ball. They were good.

Thanks for the cool piece on the best composers and songs ever."

Thanks for the story, Steve. I, too, saw the Porter piano at the Waldorf many years ago, but didn't have the cajones to play a note, much less an entire chord. Beautiful piano, though.

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