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My Cousin Says Lenny Bernstein was a Regular Guy


He had a stern visage and chiseled features (or was it stern features and chiseled visage?), invariably was called “Leonard” and generally was wearing a tux when us lay people saw him. This made Leonard Bernstein seemed to be a formal and standoffish figure.

This, apparently, wasn’t the case. My cousin Ellen, who is the principal oboist for the Grand Rapids Symphony, posted the above clip on Facebook and referred to Bernstein as “Lenny.” This informality surprised me. “That’s what we called him,” she wrote. Well, I had no idea that she knew “Lenny.” (Ellen, by the way, is the pretty girl in the glasses at the right side of the screen at the 1:34 mark in this video.)

It turns out that Lenny was quite a relaxed guy. That apparently came through in the Young People’s Concerts he hosted. I am too young to remember those. (It’s refreshing, by the way, to be able to say that.) Check out the video above, which presumably consists of excerpts from those presentations, to hear Bernstein run through some boogie-woogie piano and bits of songs by The Association, The Kinks, The Beatles and, as an added bonus, Tommy James & the Shondells.

Somehow, I had never thought of Leonard Bernstein and “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky” in the same sentence before.

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Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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