The Great American Songbook

The “Great American Songbook” is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test of time in their life and legacy. Often referred to as “American Standards”, the songs published during the Golden Age of this genre include those popular and enduring tunes from the 1920s to the 1950s that were created for Broadway theatre, musical theatre and Hollywood musical film.

As we begin fully to digest our impending departure from Hilton Head Island to return to Canada I am reflecting upon the things I love about the United States of America. The people whom we know here, whom we’ve met or with whom we’ve continued our acquaintance over the years are discernibly American.

What distinguishes one nationality from another is often romantic in nature only. My differentiation is not purely artistic. I have a strong alliance with Americans spanning years both here and in Europe where my parents lived when I was young – following our time in Washington, DC. The lineage of my maternal and paternal family includes Americans going back as far as about 1763. And to this day several of my cousins and my niece live in the United States of America. Speaking purely anecdotally some of my fondest travel memories within the past quarter-century were to New York City and Chicago –  quite apart from the decade or more we’ve wintered on Hilton Head Island, Daytona Beach Shores and Longboat Key. Getting to know Americans in these varied environments and by way of these diverse insinuations has broadened our view of Americans beyond what many characterize as their salient features. Strangely however I am not anxious to dilute the characterization to the point of advancing a saccharin response such as, “Oh well they’re just like anyone else, they’re all human, they have their good and bad.” Americans are far more identifiable and singular.  For one thing all of them have an accent of one description or another, Bostonian or New Yorker being two of the most pronounced but certainly not exceeded in singularity by the Southern or Western accents. Even those who approach the Canadian border maintain distinguishable accents.

I mention accents as an important element of nationality because I am profoundly affected by sound. I do for example play the piano by ear. The constancy of sound explains my corresponding devotion to the Great American Songbook.The music frequently amplifies the evening cocktails or whatever pre-dinner drawing room ceremony we preserve to this day. The music is unquestionably an analgesic for life’s disturbances.

Unsurprisingly our visits to the United States of America have noticeably drawn upon what is best of the culture.  It is instinctive when in “travel mode” to search and research. Our distilled acquaintance with Americans has prompted a refined view of them, including their cordiality, gastronomy, humour and literature.  Here again I am reluctant to identify the particularities of American nationality because I forever recall the adage, “If she knows why she loves him she doesn’t!” Amusing I know but critically insightful. Undeniably my inclination towards Americans is favourable; and for that reason too I don’t wish to give my American friends a “fat head” about their eligibility for elevation (deserved though it may be).

If action speaks louder than words then that establishes our admiration and preference; that is, our demonstrable admiration for what is here and active preference to do so. We have for example entertained other possibilities for wintering some of which frankly capture an economic advantage.  Nonetheless we maintain our propinquity with Americans by active choice. It certainly is not the lesser of other evils; it is the best of opportunity in our collective opinion.

This morning – to bring down this ethereal examination for a moment – we slipped into the trusty Aviator and drove to 71 Lighthouse Road not more than one kilometre to Lowcountry Produce Market and Café which pointedly is identified on the web as a “breakfast restaurant”. To my horror I realize we forgot to order the glazed donuts!  But otherwise we both agree to have had a nutritious and satisfying meal, including avocado toast (with an egg) and my usual version of the Atkins Diet (bacon, sausage, egg, cheese and sliced tomato). The bacon – of which I admittedly had two orders – is the Sacrament of Heaven!  And the sausage links are unquestionably the finest I’ve had anywhere on earth – and, trust me, I regularly eat breakfast on this planet wherever I happen to be whether at the Great Hall of St. Andrew’s College, the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Villa Luna in Sardinia, the Caribbean, the Pacific Ocean or our own kitchens! As I like to quip, “This race horse figure is no accident!”