Ronald Kidd - November 27, 2021

Dave Frishberg Made Me Smile

Songs can be dramatic, romantic, sublime. And that’s fine. But most days, give me funny.

Give me storyteller Randy Newman, singing “Maybe I’m Doing It Wrong.” Give me Harvard mathematics professor Tom Lehrer, doing “Poisoning the Pigeons in the Park.” And please, please give me songs by the great but sometimes overlooked Dave Frishberg.

I was sad to read that Frishberg died last week. But his witty and wonderful songs live on. I saw him years ago at Donte’s, a legendary jazz club in North Hollywood. I can still picture him, rocking back and forth on the piano bench, tossing off lyrics that would make you giggle or chuckle or just stop and think.

His musical career started in the 1950s and ’60s, when he played piano with Zoot Sims, Carmen McRae, Gerry Mulligan, Gene Krupa, and other leading jazz artists.

Soon he gravitated to songwriting and began spinning out unique and unexpected little masterpieces, such as “My Attorney Bernie,” “I’m Hip,” “Blizzard of Lies,” and my favorite, the curiously moving “Van Lingle Mungo,” whose lyrics consist entirely of old-time baseball players’ names.

Later, Frishberg wrote for the kids’ TV show Schoolhouse Rock! and produced what ironically turned out to be his most famous song, a ditty about legislation called “I’m Just a Bill.”

Here are some samples, all but the last one performed by Frishberg in his inimitable, offhand style. And the last one? It’s presented, as on Schoolhouse Rock!, by Jack Sheldon, another jazz great.

Enjoy, and pause to remember Dave Frishberg.

My Attorney Bernie

I’m Hip

Blizzard of Lies

Van Lingle Mungo

I’m Just a Bill

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