In my 20s, I worked in what we now call the “hospitality” business. I was a cocktail waitress for a time. One establishment had weekend entertainment: a jazz trio with a vocalist. They performed music from the Great American Songbook: show tunes and popular songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s. Those songs could also be heard from the jukebox when the combo wasn’t playing. I recognized them because, a decade prior, they were the music my mother listened to on her radio station and record player. Thanks to my immersion in this genre, I knew all the lyrics and artists who performed them. I could have been a contestant on “Name That Tune.”
Over the years, I saw Frank Sinatra perform a few times, something I’d tell Mom about, and she lapped it up: What songs did he sing? What were the ladies wearing? Fast forward a few decades, and I learned that Tony Bennett was booked for a venue near me, and I tried to get tickets. At that time, hopefuls had to punch in the phone number, which returned a busy signal, and repeat until the box office answered their call.
When I asked my mother to join me, she was thrilled. She was twice widowed, and it might have been 50 years since her last concert (one not starring one of her five children, anyway). I thought we could grab a bite before the show, but she admitted she was too excited to eat.
The drive to and from the theater became a trip down memory lane for my mother. I was astonished at her recall of people, places and things that came back to her while thinking of certain songs Tony Bennett made famous, not the least of which was singing “I Want to Be Around” as she grieved a serious love interest lost to her.
Tony Bennett’s passing had me on memory lane, thinking about how his music brought so much happiness to my mother and of our extraordinary night together. Mom has passed but comes back to me when I hear the songs of that era; I only wish she heard some of the duets he performed in later life.
Pepper Evans works as an independent-living consultant, helping older adults age in place. She is the empty-nest mother of two adult daughters and has extensive personal and professional experience as a caregiver. She has worked as a researcher and editor for authors and filmmakers. She also puts her time and resources to use in the nonprofit sector and serves on the Board of Education in Lawrence Township, NJ.