Let’s set the mood first. I’ll explain in three minutes.
A beautiful song, no? But this post isn’t about a 1940 recording: better, it’s about music that will be made in this month, this year.
Hilary Gardner is one of the finest singers I know. This isn’t hyperbole, but the result of my listening and observing her for the past decade.
A few years ago, I admired (in print), “her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.”
Hilary has a plan, which we can witness and participate in on Tuesday, November 23, at the 55 Bar at 55 Christopher Street, 6:30 to 8:30. She’s inviting us to join her, “on the trail”:
Throughout lockdown, I felt completely disconnected from music-making. Shut up in my apartment in the silenced city, I–like many others, I’m sure–dreamed of wide open spaces and the freedom to roam. I started researching “trail songs,” like “Twilight on the Trail,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” and others, drawn to their lyrics about purple hills, silver stars, pale dawns, lonesome moons, and other evocative imagery. What heaven, to saddle up a reliable horse and wander, unworried and unhurried, under a vast, open sky…and how absurdly out of reach such an fantasy was (is, really)!
As I learned more and more of these songs, I was struck by how many of them were composed by European immigrants, versed in classical music, who went on to score films in Hollywood. Jazz and Great American Songbook composers got in on the act, too, with the likes of Benny Carter, Frank Loesser, Victor Young, and others writing songs right alongside Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
Because I grew up singing classical, jazz, and country music concurrently (my first paid gigs were in country music, singing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars in my teens), I felt deeply and immediately at home in this new repertoire, which contains elements of all three genres. And I have a longstanding fascination with the mythology of the American West, particularly the musical tradition of the “hip cowboy,” i.e. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and countless others recording swinging versions of western music.
In hindsight, I think that these songs also call to me because they ease the pain of the contentious, relentlessly politicized, complicated times we are living in right now. On the trail–at least, as far as this music is concerned–the answers to life’s big questions are simple and immediate, found in the beauty of the natural world, contemplative solitude, and the arms of a loved one.
This musical program isn’t spangles and boots, not nostalgia for the saloon’s swinging doors, nor is it ironic retro-pop. Rather, I think it comes from Hilary’s understanding that there used to be a landscape where the most prominent feature wasn’t Denny’s or the Home Depot, where one could see the horizon and the starry sky. Where there was room to breathe and no iPhone to monopolize one’s attentions. And her love of the songs that celebrate this spaciousness — both on the map and of the heart.
Hilary will be joined on the trail by Justin Poindexter, guitar; Noah Garabedian, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. The cover charge is a mere $10 and you’ll have to show proof of vaccination, pardner. But those things are easy.
I could joke about boots and saddles, but I will say only, “Don’t miss this show.”
May your happiness increase!