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Jazz in July

Summertime, revisited.

It’s been hot here in London, very hot. We waited and waited for the sun, and then when it came we hid from it.

While singing my baby toddler to sleep last weekend, a nightly performance I wrote about in great detail last year, an old song presented itself to me. It’s not that I’d forgotten it entirely, but I hadn’t sung it - or even listened to it - in a very long time. Not since becoming a mother.

Allow me to set the scene:

Toddler is sweaty — from the heat and the energy expended in half an hour of wriggling acrobatically in an effort to prolong the inevitable. Toddler is sticky — from the hubba-bubba scented waterproof suntan cream we swathe him in all day and fail to wash off him at bathtime each night. Toddler’s curls are dreading — from the blue baseball cap we try to balance on his head, which falls onto his eyes and pushes out his ears. Toddlers ankles are blistered — from the slightly too small sandals we bought after the first ones were slightly too big. Toddler’s knees are scraped — from the new found freedom of shorts on occasionally still wobbly legs. (Mama, my knees are naked!) Toddler’s eyes are tired - from running and rolling and climbing and chatting and laughing and learning and asserting independence and separation anxiety and the heat. Toddler is thirsty — sitting up every few minutes to glug gallons of water. Toddler is hungry. Toddler is always hungry.

Let’s try to calm down now. Let’s think about the birds in the trees, sleeping in their nests, with a breeze blowing — a breeze is a sort of gentle wind — and it’s rustling the leaves to make this sound: ssshhhhhh. [Toddler joins in with the sound effects; Mama blows on his neck like the breeze/a human air conditioner; toddler begins to calm down].

And suddenly it comes to me — comes out of me — a lullaby:

Summertime, and the living is easy.

And as I sing the words I know so well — and could sing to you in at least four different ways (Ella, Billie, Janis, The Zombies) — it sounds completely new to me. Born again. As though I am singing it — thinking it — living it — for the first time. The melody and the meaning. The mother and the baby. The nest building and protection and unconditional love and spreading of suntan cream, until that morning when they spread their wings and fly. Maybe it’s not one morning, maybe it’s every morning, one feather of freedom at a time. No mama, I do it by my own!

And maybe that is what makes for a truly great song. An aria written in 1930s New York, for an opera based on a book set in 1920s South Carolina, that somehow still finds new meaning in 2020s London. So specific, so relatable, so simple, so evocative, just so beautiful.

I’ve set myself up for failure with this build-up… Here’s a video of Summertime from Porgy and Bess, music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Dubose Heyward and Ira Gershwin, sung by all the greats, and now me, hot and bothered and more than a little emotional as breastfeeding finally comes to an end…

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p.s. The heatwave has actually ended. It’s pretty mild. I tried to edit the text to be more true to the weather but it undermined the entire premise. Whatcha gonna do.

p.p.s. Feel free to make my summer by subscribing or upgrading…

Or sharing… sharing is good too…


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Lail Arad