First of all, nothing is like great sex. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. But sometimes, for me at least, music can come close. It can also feel like bad, awkward sex. That’s another story for another day. Let’s concentrate on the good experiences.
I know my perspective as a musician is different from that of the non-musician listener. But I think we all share a sort of elemental, primitive relationship to the music that surrounds us. Songs evoke memories in a way that few other things in life can. Certain music has the power to transport you emotionally in a variety of ways. Music can be used to woo, to seduce, to terrify, to excite, to manipulate. And it can also be used as a tool for psychological warfare. What besides music can elicit so many different feelings? For me, as a performer, you can multiply those feelings by 1000. When something is amiss onstage, I feel it, baby. I feel it hard. In those rare cases, music can be for me like dental work without anesthesia. But, sometimes…
A couple of weeks ago I was a guest vocalist with the great George Gee Swing Orchestra, a full-size big band that has been entertaining listeners and dancers in NYC and around the country for quite a few years now. Decades, even. You might think George and I would be fierce competitors, but we are longtime friends and comrades.
Since this is 2015, the 100th year since the birth of Sinatra, I was asked to sing a few songs associated with the Great Master. Luckily, I was able to borrow several arrangements from a buddy of mine who is a very fine arranger and bandleader. Since George and his band were on a West Coast trip up until the day before the gig in question, there would be no chance to rehearse. The musicians would be reading the charts almost stone cold. Talk about working with no net. We had a quick run-through of the arrangements before the crowd arrived, and I knew this was going to be a fun night. The band was right on, and the musical director of the band, David Gibson, was really on top of the details within the different sections (brass, reeds, rhythm, etc.). They were ON. So when the gig started and the band opened up with a couple of instrumentals before bringing me out, I felt like I had sucked up a few gallons of helium and I was starting to float.
Then came the moment for which I must admit I was unprepared. As George announced me and I started walking to the microphone, Gibson counted off the tune. Perfect tempo, maybe a little on the bright side. It was a modified version of the Nelson Riddle arrangement of “Too Marvelous For Words,” the old Richard Whiting/Johnny Mercer standard from 1937. Sinatra fans would know it from the classic Songs for Swinging’ Lovers (Capitol Records, 1956). I had to quicken my step to make it to the mic before the 4-bar intro finished. The band was loping as easily as gazelle out for an afternoon run. I took a breath and started singing.
“You’re just…too marvelous…too marvelous for words… like glorious, glamorous, and that old standby amorous.”
I finished the first A-section, and started in on the second. It felt effortless, floating.
“It’s all too wonderful…I’ll never find the words…that say enough, tell enough, I mean they just aren’t swell enough.”
I have to concentrate a bit when I sing a song that I don’t sing all the time, like this one. My mind is on the lyric, making sure I don’t screw it up, trying to get inside the meaning, a bit focussed, but staying relaxed and singing naturally. On to the bridge:
“You’re much too much…and just too very, very…to ever be…to ever be in Webster’s Dictionary”
And then the third A-section comes to me pretty automatically, and my mind is starting to let go, working on pure feel now, concentrating briefly on hitting that note on birds:
“And so I’m borrowing…a love song from the birds…to tell you that you’re marvelous…too marvelous for words.”
At that point in the arrangement, the band launches into a soli section wherein the the horns trade phrases with the bass player for about 16 bars before the singer comes back in. I was just standing there listening, bouncing along, snapping my fingers along with the song, when it happened. A warm, purely pleasurable, shivering wave shook my body from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head, lingering in the chest and head. I honestly can’t remember a specific instance in my 25-plus years of singing with bands when this happened before. I really don’t want to use the obvious words to describe it, but that is what it was like! OK, I’ll say it. It was almost (and I stress the word almost) orgasmic in nature, a wave of pure, healing pleasure. Far from leaving me weak, though, it strengthened me. When those 16 bars were over I just plowed through the rest of the song, all the way to the big note at the end. Boom. Then, it was on to the next song. I didn’t really have a chance to think about it. Just keep moving forward.
But since then, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the experience a bit. I don’t have any kind of scientific explanation for it. The only other thing I can compare it to is the feeling I had when there was a morphine IV in my arm during surgery on my ankle several years back. I kept waking up and asking for more. I have had chills and been moved to tears by live music in the past, when I was in the audience seeing Stevie Wonder for the first time (1983 at Radio City), for example. But rarely do I have a feeling like that on stage. I’m usually much too caught up in what I’m doing, and thinking too much. Maybe it was because I was a hired singer, and so I felt less responsibility.
Whatever the case may be, I can only hope that all of you, dear readers, will experience something like that in your life, whether it is caused by music or something else that floats your boat. Hats off the the George Gee Orchestra. I still respect you! Has anybody else had a thing like this happen to them? Please leave a comment, and let me know! Thanks for reading.
Post script: What do you know? I found this article about the phenomenon I’m describing: