“Politics and taxes and people grinding axes …” 1

By Tom Quiner

Zoom zoom zoom zoom
The world is in a mess
With politics and taxes
And people grinding axes
There’s no happiness


Let us pause during this presidential campaign for the break that refreshes: a jewel of a song by the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira. I’m talking about their 1937 classic, “Slap that Bass” from the musical, “Shall We Dance?”

Ira’s lyrics are as fresh today as they were in 1937.


Zoom zoom zoom zoom
Rhythm lead your ace
The future doesn’t fret me
If I can only get me
Someone to slap that bass


These lyrics invigorate me along with George’s infectious rhythm and melody. Listen to Ella Fitzgerald’s incomparable vocals and Nelson Riddle’s always superior arrangement.

There’s something so dynamic about American politics, and the Gershwin Brothers had a special knack for lampooning it and bringing us back down to earth. Ira’s lyrics can be as sharp as they are witty. In fact, they won a pulitzer prize for their 1931 political satire, “Of Thee I Sing.”

Sometimes we need to take a breath and lighten up.

I think we need that today.

We have Gingrich beating up on Romney for his style of capitalism. We have the press digging into Gingrich’s second marriage. We have a president who refuses to let us build a pipeline that would create 20,000 jobs and make us more energy independent in order to appease a few environmental whackos activists.


Happiness is not a riddle
When I’m listening to that
Big bass fiddle


In other words, nothing beats a Gershwin song to make one appreciate the United States of America. In this typically brutal election cycle, let us remember this is who we are.

Americans are passionate people, whether it’s our politics or our music.

The Gershwin’s parents were Russian Jews who immigrated to the U.S. They represent the power of this great melting pot we call America. George and Ira, along with so many others who came to this country, helped to create a distinctly American music.

They helped to build our cities and cure our diseases. They invented things and fought for their/our country.

They didn’t view themselves as being Russian/Jewish/Americans. They called themselves Americans.

Whether you’re liberal or conservative, we can all agree that a great song can unite us for at least three minutes and twenty-three seconds! Especially if it’s a Gershwin song!


Slap that bass
Slap it till it’s dizzy
Slap that bass
Keep the rhythm busy
Zoom zoom zoom
Misery, you’ve got to go


American politics is high drama and pageantry. Tonight, we have another debate (CNN at 7PM). On a stage draped with red, white, and blue, millions will watch four remaining Republicans attempt to advance their candidacy.

For Newt Gingrich, the stakes are particularly high. If he wins, that means the first three caucuses/primaries have been split three ways. It’s anyone’s game.

If he loses to Mr. Romney, who knows, maybe the whole thing is over.

Who knows?


Slap that bass
Use it like a tonic
Slap that bass
Keep your philharmonic
Zoom zoom zoom
And the milk and honey’ll flow


South Carolina was an important state to the Gershwin Brothers, too. That’s where their masterpiece, Porgy and Bess, was set. They wrote it in South Carolina. It was a big flop in its day. Some considered its portrayal of the negro to be racist.

It only began to be appreciated as a monumental American artistic achievement a decade later after George had died.

The likes of George and Ira Gershwin remind me of why I love this country so much.

The likes of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul do too. I don’t like all these guys. Sometimes they infuriate me, but I appreciate how much they’re giving of themselves. Would you want to put yourself through what they’re putting themselves through?

They believe in something that I do, the American Dream. That’s the dream that allowed the Gershwin boys to rise to the top of their field.


Dictators would be better off
If they zoom zoom now and then
Today, you can see that the happiest men
All got rhythm


South Carolina was the setting for American’s first, and arguably, best opera, Porgy and Bess. Tonight it is the setting for American political theater at its best.

Let’s take a lesson from brother Ira: ” Today we can see that happiest men all got rhythm!”

Is this a great country, or what!

Who is the greatest American composer? Reply

By Tom Quiner

Three of my favorite American composers are George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Duke Ellington.

Today on the classical radio, I listened to Aaron Copland’s great Rodeo Ballet. The Hoe Down movement is so utterly American, so exquisitely compelling, so deliciously seductive that I felt compelled to share it with Quiner’s Diners readers.

My wife and I attend a convention in Las Vegas every year. We frequently walk past the Bellagio to take in the fountains. Then we walk across the street to Paris and have dinner at Mon Ami Gabi’s on the patio so we can keep watching. Copland’s Hoe Down is my second favorite water ballet. Enjoy.

Who is the greatest composer? I vote for Gershwin, but Copland is in the top three.


How Iowa celebrates Independence Day 1

Maestro Joseph Giunta

By Tom Quiner

What better way to celebrate this great nation’s independence than with American song and fireworks!

I attended the Yankee Doodle Pops concert at the footsteps of the Iowa Capital on July 1. The weather was perfect.  Our Capitol’s gold dome glistened with pride in the early evening sunlight.  Thousands streamed in with their blankets, folding chairs, and kids in tow.

The music was pure Americana, almost.

Simon Estes

Simon Estes

The event enjoyed added luster with the presence of Iowa’s own Simon Estes.  The 72 year old opera star showed off his timeless baritone voice in a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”  My group debated whether Irving Berlin’s classic song would make a better national anthem.  My wife and I vote yes.  Our good friend, Rebecca, votes that we stay with “The Star Spangled Banner.”

What do you think?

Here is Kate Smiths version of the song that made her famous.  It demonstrates how a great song connects us:

I think Berlin’s song is much stronger musically than our current national anthem. And it certainly holds its own lyrically:


While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.


Having said all that, Tina Haase sang a beautiful version of the Star Spangled Banner to kick off the evening.  Unfortunately, most of us ordinary folks can’t hit the high notes like Ms. Haase can.

Mr. Estes delighted us with “I Got Plenty O Nothin” from Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. Then he thrilled us with the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein Jr. classic, “Ol’ Man River.  His low notes generated cheers.

The one non-American piece was the dynamic 1812 Overture by Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky.  It was spectacular as fireworks cascaded the sky from different directions.

For one glorious evening, all was right with the world.  This is a great country.  Our thanks to Maestro Joseph Giunta, Simon Estes, and all the musicians who entertained us with such uplifting music.

Additional thanks are extended to our men and women in the armed forces.  We salute you. Our prayers are with you.

God bless America.