Noon Concert Series Celebrates Hoagy Carmichael

The annual Hoagy Carmichael birthday concert is an opportunity for local musicians to perform tunes beyond the greatest hits.

hawaiian band performing for audience

Photo: Alan Burdette

The Hoagy Carmichael Room at Indiana University is packed with students, employees and community members for today's installment of the Noon Concert and Lecture Series.

Straying From The Norm

Hoagy Carmichael has been called the most talented, inventive and sophisticated tune smiths of the first half of the 20th century. Over 80 years after he wrote “Stardust,” his music still sounds fresh and alive.

“There’s a breadth to the music he’s written as well as a sort of integrity and quality to the music that allows it to be interpreted in different ways and it still holds up,” says Alan Burdette, the Director of the Archives of Traditional Music.

He says that since all the music on this installment of the Noon Concert and Lecture Series is Hoagy’s, it challenges the performers to venture away from his greatest hits, like “Georgia,” “Heart and Soul” and “Stardust.”

Rachel Caswell, a jazz singer based in Bloomington, likes the challenge of performing something new. She dug up Carmichael’s only Christmas tune for the concert, “My Christmas Song For You,” something she was pretty sure no one in attendance had heard before – including Jeremy Allen, her accompanying bass player for this performance.

“Jeremy and I have known each other since we were in high school,” she says. “I know if I give him a clear enough chart that’s cooperative and clear, he’ll know.”

musicians Rachel Caswell and Jeremy Allen

Photo: Alan Burdette

Vocalist Rachel Caswell and Jeremy Allen, bass, perform three songs by Hoagy Carmichael, including his only Christmas tune.

Island Flavors

“I’m very lucky in that just about every time I perform, I get to do whatever I want, have fun, experiment and play around with the music because I’m Kid Kazooey, god dang it!”

Kevin McDowell, aka Kid Kazooey, performs on the Hoagy birthday concert every year, and every year he does something a little bit different. This year, he fronted The Hoagy Hula-Baloos, a six-piece band made up of slide guitar, vibraphone, drums, bass, Janiece Jaffe on vocals and Kid on vocals and ukulele. They tackled three of Hoagy’s Hawaiian-inspired tunes: “Hawaii, Pearls of the Sea,” “A Hawaiian Evening Song” and “Lovers Hukailau.”

Burdette was not surprised to hear that McDowell had ventured off the beaten path of the Carmichael repertoire to find these exotic tunes. “Kevin has this tremendous love for Hoagy Carmichael’s music, and I think each year it’s clear he’s learned a little bit more about Hoagy’s career and his music,” say Burdette.

musicians Janice Jaffe and Kid Kazooey

Photo: Alan Burdette

The Hoagy Hula-Baloos include area musicians Janiece Jaffe and Kid Kazooey along with slide guitar, vibraphone, drums and bass.

And Many More

As with any birthday party, the event concluded with the singing of “Happy Birthday” and cake for everyone. The musicians offered personal wishes to Hoagy.

For Caswell, she would like Carmichael to know that his music continues to touch people 30 years after he had passed away.

“I visit his grave site,” says McDowell. “I’ll put a penny on his grave site or a guitar pick and I’ll always say, ‘Thanks for the songs, Hoagy.’ I’ll say it again for the millionth time,” says McDowell. “Thanks for the great songs, Hoagy.”

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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