Whenever I find myself struggling to write and imagining harsh scrutiny and criticism, I listen to Anita Ellis singing Anyone Can Whistle. (Click to play in a separate page while you read.)

Steven Sondheim‘s lyrics about the desire to overcome one’s limits echoes Ellis’ own story. She was a vocalist of great renown in the 40’s and 50’s whose stage-fright was so overwhelming, she rarely sang in public. Instead, she sang on radio shows where no one could see her, and was the “voice” behind non-singing stars like Rita Hayworth and Shelley Winters. And she would sing privately, often a capella, for friends.

I was lucky enough to have been at a rare concert she gave in the 1980’s when she attempted once again to overcome her paralyzing fear of performing publicly. On stage early into the first song, she froze as she looked out into the audience, the moments passing in silence. Suddenly, her brother Larry Kert rose from his seat in the orchestra and called out: “Somebody lo-v-v-v-es you!”.

As though woken from a dream, Ellis began to sing. 

Anyone can whistle, that’s what they say – easy.
Anyone can whistle, any old day – easy.
It’s all so simple.
Relax, let go, let fly.
So someone tell me, why can’t I?

I can dance a tango, I can read Greek – easy.
I can slay a dragon, any old week – easy.
What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me how to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free.
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me.

–Sally Schneider

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One thought on “anyone can whistle (via anita ellis)

  1. Connie Crothers, a reader and jazz pianist (http://www.conniecrothers.net/ you can listen to her music on her site) sent us this email:

    “I appreciate the message about Anita Ellis.

    While you inform us about the indie rock scene, which is wonderful, I don’t
    think you cover jazz enough. Jazz is America’s contribution to improvised music!
    Today, radio station WKCR is celebrating the birthday of the great giant, Max

    There is a THRIVING indie jazz scene in NYC. This will become more important
    as time goes on as it expands and more people begin to find out about it. There
    are many younger musicians coming up right now who are playing great, and coming up with something new. It’s an underground indie jazz renaissance.”

    Yeah, we hear you. We’ve mentioned Keith Jarrett and Thelonius Monk but little else specifically jazz, which is at the heart of improvisation. (We’ve been meaning to write a post for a long time about jazz improv…another thing that we lost track of.) Thanks for the call to attention.

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