May 11, 2010

Duke Ellington Orchestera//Take the 'A' Train

I have a nine-year-old brother who is learning to play the saxophone. It’s awesome. Last week, I walked into my parents house and he was totally playing this song…and playing it really well, at that—almost flawlessly! My mom was taking him through it, making him practice it over and over. Suddenly, I had a flashback to when she would help me practice clarinet. I would always end up in tears by the end of the night. Not fun. Your turn, buddy!!!

“That sounds great,” I said. “I took the A train today.”
“You did?” he asked.
It’s true. Actually, I pretty much take the A train every day. It’s one of my trains, along with the C and the G. If you live in NYC, you will know to feel sorry for me now.

Coming home from work last night, I had to wait extra long for the A to arrive. When it finally pulled into the station, just before I angrily jammed myself into the front car with a bunch of other sardine-like commuters, I saw that white “A” encircled by that special blue on the front of the car and thought about my little bro’s practice session. Take the A train! I will, if I can just get on. Mmmmmm nothing like ending the work day by being crammed in-between a smelly guy with creepy eyes and a girl manically playing Bejeweled on her PDA.

Back to that blue hue, today, I stumbled upon this article about the colors affiliated with the subway lines. Turns out, the official name for that color is “vivid blue.” Is it vivid? I don’t know.

The song “Take the A Train” is a jazz standard that was the signature song of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. It really is about the A Train, which still runs from Northern Manhattan to Brooklyn. Apparently there are lyrics, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard them. From The W Train:

Over the years the lyrics have contained many variations, as is not unusual for songs of this era. Those below are representative only, and may not be the original Sherrill lyrics:
You must take the A Train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem
If you miss the A Train
You'll find you've missed the quickest way to Harlem
Hurry, get on, now, it's coming
Listen to those rails a-thrumming (All Aboard!)
Get on the A Train
Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem


Maybe things were different back in the 40s, but nowadays, when the conductor can’t close the doors, no one’s going anywhere very fast. Not Inwood. Not Harlem. Not Cli-Stuy. Not Rockaway Beach. My updated proposed lyrics:

You must take your bicycle to go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem.
If some petty thief stole your bicycle
You’ll find yourself very angry and not in Harlem
Hurry, get on, now, try something else
A bus will undoubtedly be much slower
If you want to a avoid a transfer or spotty late night service
I would recommend sucking it up and paying for a cab



Take the 'A' Train.mp3

Also, I assume you already know about this, but it’s pure comedy.

2 comments:

katherine said...

Your post inspired me to do deeper research, where I unexpectedly and miraculously stumbled upon my Dream Job:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/nyregion/10signage.html

g said...

Yes! What a good job for you!