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Fabulous Friday: "Kansas City"

The other day I had a drinks date with my good friend Susan. Of course I showed up early. Something made me remember seeing Peggy Lee on CBS This Morning when I was in high school, on the morning after Count Basie had died. She sang "Kansas City" on the show. I remember this all so clearly but of course can't really be sure it happened. You remember that whole Brian Williams scandal a few years ago - - in 2015 he told a story on the Nightly News about having been on a helicopter that was fired on in Iraq in 2003. A flight engineer on one of the three helicopters that was hit stepped forward and said that Williams had been on a different helicopter, not one of the ones that was hit. Williams lost his job as anchor of the Nightly News as a result of this. He was switched to a sweet gig at MSNBC, where I guess they have other standards. A week or so later I heard about a neurologist (or similar) being interviewed on the subject and she said that Williams wasn't really lying or making it up. That's the way he think it actually happened.


Anyway, I remember Peggy Lee so clearly on CBS This Morning. She was wearing a navy and white suit and wearing a big navy and white hat with a flat brim. It's not on YouTube, maybe I'll have to go to the Paley Center for Media on 52nd Street and see if they have it in their archives.


Here's Miss Lee singing the song in a fabulous swinging arrangement by the one and only Quincy Jones:



I listened to this song on my iPhone there on the street, waiting for Susan to arrive for our drinks date. I was curious about the song - - clearly it was a twelve-bar blues and I assumed it was one of the old blues songs from the 20s or 30s. It's not, it was written by Leiber and Stoller in 1952. Then I struck gold on Wikipedia (my source for all knowledge) on the Leiber and Stoller page. Lyricist Jerry Leiber and composer Mike Stoller were a hugely successful songwriting duo, active in the 50s through the 70s. Here's a partial list of songs they wrote:

"Hound Dog" "Jailhouse Rock"

"Yakety Yak"

"Poison Ivy"

"Love Potion #9"

"Stand By Me"

"I'm a Woman"

"On Broadway"

"Is That All There Is?"


Here's a cute story about them. Stoller and his wife took a trip to Europe in 1956. Their return to New York was on the Andrea Doria, which was rammed and sunk by a Swedish liner. Not nice! I just looked THAT up on Wikipedia: there were 1,706 people on board and only 46 died. That's 2.7%. Compare that to the Titanic: these numbers are estimates, but out of 2,224 people 1,500 died. That's 67%. Anyway, Leiber met Stoller at the dock and gave him the exciting news that Elvis had a hit record with "Hound Dog." Stoller said, "Elvis who?"


One other interesting tidbit about Leiber and Stoller, one that caught my eye. They were on *What's My Line?* but not as mystery guests! They were so under the radar that they were just normal contestants using their own names. They're very cute.




I'm full of stories today. I was going through "Kansas City" in my head this morning, making sure I was correct calling it a twelve-bar blues. I gave it what I call the Twelve-Bar Blues Batman Test. Allow me to explain.


Years ago, when I was in college, I was sitting in the lounge of the School of Music with my friend Jane Dauska. Jane was studying for the tests she needed to take to finish her master's degree. One of her professors, Susan Cook, had put together a list of study questions and Jane was annoyed by one of the questions:


JANE: Oh please. Look at this stupid question. "Describe a twelve-bar blues and its importance in 20th century music." Come on, I'm studying classical music, why do I need to know about a twelve-bar blues.

ME: Well it's a pretty major part of 20th century music, Jane.

JANE: OK then, YOU describe it.

ME: Hm... It's a sequence of twelve chords, alternating between one, four, and five. It's always the same progression of chords.


And in really and truly one of the most remarkable light bulbs to go off over my head, I perfectly articulated the chord progression for Jane.


ME: The theme from *Batman* is a twelve-bar blues. And each time they say "Batman," it's the root of the chord.


The *Batman* theme below is in the key of G. So the "one" chord (the first note of the scale) is a G, the "four chord" is a C, the "five" chord is a D.


  1. G ("Batman")

  2. G

  3. G ("Batman")

  4. G

  5. C ("Batman")

  6. C

  7. G ("Batman")

  8. G

  9. D ("Batman")

  10. C ("Batman")

  11. G ("Batman")

  12. G

I'm telling you, I need to start making money off these brilliant ideas...

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