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Tony Curtis painting…who knew…

House of Gold by Victoria Bentley
Several years ago I attended a performance at a Jazz Fest where I had the pleasure of hearing Kenny Rankin play guitar with two other musicians. It was a Sunday afternoon concert, not the Saturday night headliner. They were three guys on a stage in a hotel ballroom enjoying themselves while they played the music they liked. In 1980, I purchased The Kenny Rankin Album, with its first cut being “House of Gold,” made famous by Hank Williams Sr. Kenny Rankin had the most perfect voice for almost any genre… he played guitar, and everything he sang was memorable. “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and the jazz standard “When Sunny Gets Blue,” were both recorded on it. There were some George Harrison and Stephen Bishop writings also recorded. But what caught my ear most, beyond Rankin’s singing, was the arranging, and it was done and led by Don Costa. So who is Don Costa? One of the greatest arrangers ever. Probably one of the most diverse musical resumes as well. A guitarist who understood strings. I think he also understood the human voice as an instrument as evidenced by his recordings with Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. His strings would sing like no other. The kind of arrangements that make you weep.This album had so impressed me I bought it for musician friends. If you wanted to hear it done right, listen to this. It was the first of at least ten Rankin recordings I bought. And Rankin is certainly in my top 10 favorites ever. He wrote songs for Peggy Lee and Mel Torme. He recorded with Bob Dylan as a very young man. He signed with Decca records in his teens. He was a musician’s musician, one who represented the Beatles when they were inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.So the concert was over and I waited by the stage door to talk to Kenny Rankin. And out he walked with his black guitar case in a black leather coat over his black clothes, a jazzman for Johnny Cash. I asked him if I could speak to him for a moment, explaining my family was waiting for me and I wouldn’t be long. I told him some of what I’ve written here; about the lushness of that recording, the perfection of his voice, the beauty of the orchestra, and that only a few times in my life had a recording affected me this way. I thanked him for all his good work citing a couple other pieces, I wished him great success in the future and that I was looking forward to whatever his next album would be. He very kindly said that few people remarked on that early album. He felt it was the finest work of his career, and oh by the way did you know we did it all in one take? Now, for those of you who’ve never played an instrument much less played an instrument with 60 other people in the same room also playing an instrument and reading charts, you know the odds of everybody doing it perfectly are pretty close to nil. But then you have an orchestra arranger and leader like Don Costa making it all swing, and just maybe you’re not so surprised. He told me he loved that recording and he hears it in his head. And with great pride and good fortune he worked with the best of the best. He thanked me for liking his record and caring enough to wait outside the stage to tell him. We wished each other well, shook hands, and he walked out the door and got into his BMW with New York plates and drove away.Very, very shortly thereafter I read that Kenny Rankin died after a three-week bout with lung cancer. Fortunately, that beautiful voice lives on in those multiple recordings lined up on my shelf and in my car. I think about that conversation frequently. I have even dreamt about it. Here’s my take away:1. If you see something good, say it. Too often we criticize and forget to praise.2. The things we create are the things that make us human. They should be created with a sense of pride in doing your best. It shows, it matters.3. Life is short. You might not ever get another chance to say something good to someone if you don’t take the opportunity right now.4. Keep love alive. It is the greatest of creative forces. A friend long ago described marriage to me as, “courtesy and commitment.” You can take out the word marriage and replace it with love or friendship if you want. It’s simple and it’s accurate, and I can’t think of anyone it doesn’t apply to.5. Learn to talk to people. Put down your damn phone. The words of encouragement you say to someone could change history. Stevie Wonder’s grade school teacher pointed out to his classmates what wonderful hearing Stevie had. His good hearing had helped find the missing pet hamster in the classroom. She didn’t remark about his blindness. She recognized he could hear the notes and then make the music. Kenny Rankin stated he sang “Oh Holy Night,” in a school Christmas play in 4th grade. Afterward his teacher patted him on the head and said, “Kenneth, that was lovely.” Rankin stated, “She set me on the path in music that I find myself on today.” (Billboard Magazine, June 8, 2009, Rankin obituary.)6. Remember when we point out the good, people really listen. Everyone wants to be heard. Start by “hearing” others, choose to become the best of listeners. You will learn so much. Try for a while to leave yourself out of the conversation.7. Never stop doing what you do best. Enjoy every moment of it and share what you can with the world.8. Recognize that others make you look good. It doesn’t take a village, it takes humility. And decent people recognize how others have helped them along their way.9. Rehearse. Practice. Show up early. That’s why it all sounds so good.10. And like the song House of Gold said, What good is gold, and silver tooWhen your heart’s not good and trueSinner hear me when I sayfall down on your knees and pray.RIP Kenny Rankin