Friday, July 16, 2010

Johnny Mathis and his impact on the world. And me

"Strange isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

Clarence the Angel says that to George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life and I believe it's in one of my favorite moments in the film: There's a closeup of George (Jimmy Stewart) and his face isn't centered in the shot. There's a look of horror on his face because he's finally realizing that he is seeing Bedford Falls as it would've been without him.

I've been thinking about Clarence's comment today in reference to both Gene Ludwig (see previous entry) and about Johnny Mathis, who I saw last week at Heinz Hall. Where would the world be if Mathis had decided that being a singer with a fleeting thing and that he would be much better off participating in the Olympics? No one would've heard that vibrato, "Misty" wouldn't've been as big a hit, numerous couples might not have fallen in love........ I'm overthinking the idea but it is kind of mind boggling if you think about it.

Last week, I went to Heinz Hall with my fellow Love Letters bandmate Erin and our friend Sandi to see Mr. M do his stuff. And let me tell you, he had me by the second syllable. He opened with "When I Fall in Love" which included the opening verse, which is when I knew he still had it. That vibrato, that impeccable phrasing and execution were all still there.

He didn't talk too much between songs and when he did, it seemed like his speaking voice betrayed his 74 years, and didn't sound quite as rich. So he might've been saving its strength for the music. The set really didn't disappoint. A Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer medley including "Charade," "The Days of Wine and Roses" and - of course - "Moon River." He pulled out "Wild Is the Wind," "Misty" (in the middle of the set, surprisingly, not as an encore) and "Gina" which I swear would've made anyone with that name swoon.

I take it back -there was one disappointment. I really wanted to hear "When Sunny Gets Blue," which has an amazingly beautiful set of chord changes. It is a deep cut, sort of, so I can understand why it was skipped. Sandi also made a point after the show that I didn't think about: he didn't do "Wonderful Wonderful." Oh well. I was okay without that one

Some casual readers might be surprised that I'm so into Johnny Mathis, since my tastes usually fall on the other end of the musical spectrum. But Mathis is one of the last of those consummate entertainers from a bygone era. Besides Tony Bennett (who, I'm sorry to say, is starting to lose his voice) there aren't any of these crooners left - except maybe Canonsburg's own Bobby Vinton. But I would bet that Vinton's set plays into a lounge act that caters to an audience in Branson - i.e. predictable, scripted etc. Johnny didn't do that. He really seemed to be into each individual song. Plus when he brought out his guitar player for a spotlight moment, he talked him up and didn't realize until a song later that he forgot to mention the guy's name, proving that this wasn't a show where every last step was choreographed.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra accompanied him and sounded great. But on the predictability scale, their opening set stuck with a lot of tried and true tunes that the audience would know like "The William Tell Overture" and "Hoedown" by Aaron Copland.

In closing, I for one am glad Johnny Mathis made the career choice that he did. Thank you, Mr. M. And Gene Ludwig, again I thank you too.

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