Music From the Greatest Generation: Count Basie and WMKV-FM

Count Basie Sign

Music enthusiasts were recipients of an energizing performance by the Count Basie Orchestra in the ballroom of Cincinnati’s Music Hall on Thursday, February 5. The uplifting experience was another in the series of concerts brought to the city by Big Band station WMKV-FM, typically three bands per calendar year.

Count Basie 020515 Count Base dance floor 020515 A

The evening’s three hours included Basie’s signature “One O’Clock Jump”, the cheery “Freckle Face”, the contemplative “In the Wee Hours of the Morning”, the late night sound of “Soft as Velvet” and Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll.”

Melba Joyce, Count Basie 020515 Melba Joyce, Count Basie 020515 A

Topping off the evening were several numbers sung by Melba Joyce throughout the concert. Her rendition of “You’ve Changed”, took the listener back to an era when vocals were truly a classy art form. Lynn Richardson of the New York Times described it perfectly when she once said, 1

“Melba Joyce, jazz singer hushed the room with a big soprano voice that was like a soft, string wind.”

That feeling was certainly repeated in the Cincinnati performance!

Melba Joyce web site

The Count Basie Orchestra and Ms. Joyce remind us that despite the overbearing weight of the Depression and World War II which followed, musicians of that time continued to fuel the optimistic spirit of their determined fellow citizens… Something we can use today!

Count Basie dance floor 020515


Glenn Miller 0514 sign Glenn Miller 0514

(the Glenn Miller Orchestra as it appeared in Cincinnati’s Music Hall, May 2014)

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“ALT” (Appreciating the Little Things): TWC and Music for “Local Weather on the 8’s”

Why  This  New   Series?

News travels so much faster because emerging technologies can “take you there” in almost an instant.  And since “news” tends to be of the tragic or negative varieties, it’s easy for anyone to get caught up in the avalanche and unwittingly begin to contribute to the negative with our own communications.

With that in mind, I have made a pre-New Year’s resolution to look for and report on some of the positives occurring in everyday life.  They don’t have to be considered major events because a bunch of little positives can add up to lift the spirits of many.  We all know that we can accomplish more good when our outlook is on the plus side, opposite to apathy or being downcast.

Kudos  to  The  Weather  Channel

This first one may seem quite trivial to most, but I want to express my thanks to The Weather Channel for settling on a very pleasant theme for their “local weather on the 8’s” or at least as they did for the Cincinnati area.

For the last couple of years, they were digressing with an ever-increasing variety of styles and extremes bordering on cacophony.  If you were in another room waiting for the periodic forecast, you couldn’t tell if they were running a commercial for a sponsor or one of their reality series.  The subject of weather was the last thing it could be.  It was as if they wanted to appeal to every age group with a tag name (Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Generations X-Y-Z-AA-BB-just kidding).  About the only group they ignored was the “Greatest Generation.”  This was unfortunate because a little Big Band would have been a great relief.  In addition, the quasi-heavy metal themes at 2AM were a shock to the peace of that hour!

But, now, they have settled on a fantastic, single music theme which goes well at any hour of the day or night.  It’s a simple, light-hearted instrumental in an optimistic key, if you’ll pardon my non-musically trained description.  And, because it’s always the same music, you know what’s coming—your local forecast, which is probably why you turned to that channel in the first place.  Thank you, Weather Channel!

P.S.  After posting this article, another thought occurred.  We are familiar with the “CTRL-ALT-Del” sequence on our p.c.’s.  Attempting to control or delete things in our lives may be a necessary evil, but conveys a negative emotion.  Thus, the “ALT” or alternative approach of this series may be a positive in its name alone.

KSO Opens 22nd Season Celebrating Verdi’s 200th Birthday

In typically creative and thematic fashion, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra founder and conductor James R. Cassidy led his orchestra, two chorales and two soloists in a wonderfully arranged concert entirely dedicated to ”Joe Green” (a/k/a Giuseppe Verdi) who was born 200 years ago this week.

The evening of October 5 became another in the 2013 series of Nature vs. Music battle of Titans.  Heavy rains attempted to drown out the performance with its own percussion on the roof of Florence Baptist Church at Mt. Zion in Florence, KY where the event was held.  Visiting soloists, soprano Amy Johnson2 and tenor Raul Melo3 joined forces with the KSO Chorale and the West Chester Chorale to neutralize the cacophony emanating from the skies.  Although Nature extracted some revenge on the audience who had to literally navigate their way home, those privileged to hear the performances will agree that Music triumphed!

Maestro Cassidy deftly wove the fifteen pieces from Verdi’s works on the program into a collage of complimentary moods.   The atmosphere ranged from the spirited “I Vespri Siciliani” overture to the ominous “Dies irae” (Day of Judgment/Wrath) from

Soprano Amy Johnson provided dignity and elegance as Elvira in the trying moments of “Ernani, involami.” It is the story of a woman betrothed to an elderly uncle, against her wishes, while in love with a young man, Ernani.  In later pieces, she makes the transition to receiving sentimental tributes of love with endearing looks of genuine affection.

Beginning with his initial entrance, tenor Raul Melo emanated pure enjoyment of his music and had an immediate rapport with the audience.  His enthusiasm was evident in everything (“Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller, “Celeste Aida” from Aida and “Di quella pira” from Il Travatore).  For those pieces involving both artists, the teamwork was very smooth and all were as one with the orchestra.

The two chorales added depth and feeling to “Va Pensiero” from Nabucco, the opera about the capture of the Israelites by Nebuchadnezzar’s army and the exile following the destruction of the Temple.  Their rendering of verses such as “speak to us of times gone by” and “bringing virtue to our suffering” brought the audience to a vicarious experience of the era of Exodus/Lamentations.  The chorales evoked a very real sense of doom innate to the previously mentioned “Dies irae.”  They reversed this feeling later with a joyful Triumphal March from Aida.

The evening was another success for the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra despite yet another attempt by stormy weather to disrupt it.  Mr. Cassidy summed it well with, “Next time you want to make sure your grass it watered, just check out the KSO schedule.”

With that in mind, the next time you want to make sure of an enjoyable evening, just check out the rest of the KSO’s 2013-14 season!4


1 – or as the program called it “Joe Green’s 200th Birthday Bash” (subtitled ”Tanti auguri Giuseppe Verdi”, which means “best wishes”)
2 – Ms. Johnson was making her fourth appearance with the KSO.   She has had over two dozen roles ranging from Donna Anna in Don Giovanni to the title role in Salome.  A few days after this performance, she was scheduled to join the Philharmonia Orchestra for an October 12 tribute to Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday.  She joined the faculty at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music this fall.
3 – Mr. Melo has performed throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia.  He has had the principal tenor roles with six opera companies in Germany along with eight in the U.S. including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Washington Opera, Seattle Opera, Dallas Opera and Cleveland Opera.  He has appeared seven times with Garrison Keillor at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater and was named Best Lyric Tenor in the 1992 Alfredo Kraus Competition.

Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Dvorak and Fryxell (Excel)lo!

The atypical Midwest monsoon season may have prevented the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra from its annual performance at Devou Park yesterday, but it did not douse the enthusiasm of the crowd which moved to Notre Dame Academy, also in Covington, KY, for an evening of “Dvorak: Living in America.”

Continuing his tradition, KSO conductor and founder J. R. Cassidy put together a beautifully cohesive program which began with the debut of a musical version of “The Pledge of Allegiance,” written by KSO member Steven Hinnenkamp.  The KSO Chorale added vocal enhancement to the piece.

The rest of the program featured music by Antonin Dvorak.  The “Slavonic Dance” was followed by “The American Flag.”  In the second work, Michael Young and Andrew Jones performed vocal solos in addition to the accompaniment of the KSO Chorale.

Remember the name, “Benjamin Fryxell.”  The 18-year old cellist with ear-catching talent gave a glimpse of his enviable future last evening.  His was the final segment prior to intermission.  A local musician, Benjamin will be going to Julliard shortly.

While the sports world debates whether race car drivers qualify as athletes, the young Fryxell could start a similar debate in the music world.  He played the finale of Dvorak’s “Concerto for ‘Cello and Orchestra” with a level of energy normally seen only in stadiums.  His invigorating performance showcased the “dazzling technique”1 he is already known for.  A team player all the way, he did not allow his concentration to make him self-absorbed.  He strained backward while playing complex sequences to listen to Mari Thomas’2 violin as the two artists complemented each other through a challenging part.  Benjamin seemed intent on ensuring that his music blended with hers note by note.

After such an impressive first half, the remainder of a concert can easily be anti-climactic.  Nevertheless, Conductor Cassidy led his orchestra to a wonderful rendition of “From the New World.”3  It brought the concert to a wonderful conclusion which personified the melting pot our nation has been for 237 years!

Thank you:  to Antonin Dvorak for being a part of our proud past, to J.R. Cassidy for the determined spirit of the present and to Benjamin Fryxell for an optimistic musical future!


1 – Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Summer 2013 program
2 – Mari Thomas, acting concertmistress for the KSO
3 – Dvorak was commissioned to compose this during the time he was director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City (1892-1895), concert notes to the audience by J.R. Cassidy

The Leahy Family Exemplifies the Joy of Music

I had the good fortune to witness another exuberant performance of the Leahy Family on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University on Monday, March 4.1  This magical group from Lakefield, Ontario brings acclaim to its Celtic heritage with every concert.  Seven of the eleven Leahy siblings are making the current tour which sees them perform eight times in six U.S. locations covering just nine days (March 2-10).  Hopefully, they will have enough reserve energy for a two-day stint in Vancouver on March 15-16!

Describing the particular genre in which their music belongs is as difficult as trying to give them the accolades they deserve.  Their web site indicates they have won these awards: “Junos for Best New Group, Best Country Group, and Best Instrumental Album, the most played folk/roots song in Canada in 2004 and the Socan award for Folk/Jazz instrumentalist the following year.”

Perhaps their music could be considered as a “non-twangy” ancestor to U.S. bluegrass because they usually play the violin as a “fiddle,” that is, until they transition into a beautiful, almost classical number from Eastern Europe.  They are predominantly instrumental,2 but when they sing, it could pass for “pop” or “easy listening.”

“Leahy” has come to mean boundless in energy and talent.  No matter what kind of a day you may be experiencing, they will never fail to lift your spirits — even if you are suffering from the Sequestration Blues.  (Maybe they should perform for our federal government.  The ensuing spirit of goodwill might make history.)

Enough of my inadequate blogging as it’s keeping you from checking out their web site (  Be sure to hear them either in one of their visits to the Lower 48 or by CD and DVD.  Your outlook will blossom even in a relentless winter!

1 – My first Leahy concert was a couple of years ago in my hometown of Cincinnati, or one hundred miles from this week’s venue.  Yes, they are worth the drive!
2 – including piano, guitar, drums, electric bass guitar and occasional banjo


It’s summer in Ingrid Fliter’s home country of Argentina and she brought the eternal hope of spring to wintery Cincinnati last evening.  This is nothing new for her as she has been wowing audiences for twenty-three years since she made her professional orchestra debut at age 16 at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.Her performance of Ravel’s Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra, with Justin Brown conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall, was no exception.

Fliter’s music was certainly representative of her 2006 Gilmore Artist Award.1  (She is the only woman among the six pianists to have received this honor,2 in addition to winning several international competitions.1)

Her enchanting dexterity on the Steinway was matched by her contagious exuberance.  One could have the sensed the composer’s approval as she brought his work to life before a revitalized crowd which had suddenly forgotten the post-holiday gloom of early January.  Her mastery of the range of emotions in the three movements was a sound to behold.

To attempt further praise would risk detracting from the wonderful experience with additional words likely to be inadequate.  For all connoisseurs of classical music, it’s not too late to add a New Year’s resolution: make a concerted effort to experience the magic of Ingrid Fliter!


1 – Biography in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 8th subscription program, 118th season (2012-13)
2 – The anonymous six-member panel of the Artistic Advisory Committee appraises the candidates over time and the candidates are unaware that they are being considered.  Their award, among the most generous in music arts, is presented every four years.  (Taken from