Melody and Lyrics

Accentuate the Positive

April 16 at 7 pm
Palladium Theater, St Pete
Details here

. . .
Johnny Mercer’s, “Accentuate the Positive,” was a hit in 1944 and became known as a song that helped get Americans through World War II. The popular songs of the 1920s-’40s, now called the American Songbook, comforted, inspired and connected listeners then – and now.

We asked the performers sharing this weekend’s Accentuate the Positive show to share their favorite American Songbook songs, and why. The answers are beautiful.


You can sample Jazz at the Ballroom’s music here as you read.


Olivia Chindamo

How About You” – This song rhymes “motor trips” with “potato chips”, what’s not to like?

Where Or When” – This song tells the sweetest story and every time I sing it I get to watch it play out in my head like a little movie.

April In Paris” – This melody is a slam dunk and lends itself to so many different interpretations. I love the drama of the bridge, and singing about Paris will always make me happy.


Australia-native and New York-based jazz vocalist Olivia Chindamo made history in 2021 as the first jazz voice student to graduate from The Juilliard School Master of Music Program. Olivia’s natural and effortless ability to scat is well-known in Australia, jazz clubs throughout New York and increasingly, the world.


Adrian Cunningham

“Wow, how do you answer a question so broad? With a title that encompasses many hundreds of great compositions, and decades of music… I feel only daring enough to broach the subject perhaps with my favorite composer from this genre — Irving Berlin — who himself has written hundreds of tunes! Some of my favorite Berlin tunes are Let’s Face the Music and Dance (what lyrical imagery!), Remember, and because it’s this time of year — Easter Parade!”


Adrian Cunningham is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. Originally from Australia and now based in New York and Spain, the “down under sax star” (Wall Street Journal) has performed alongside luminaries such as Jon Batiste, Chris Potter and Wynton Marsalis, and appeared as soloist on some of the world’s great stages including New York’s Carnegie Hall, Blue Note (New York and Toyko), the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Sydney Opera House.


Konrad Paszkudzki

A “go to” from the Great American Songbook?? That’s a tough one, but it would have to be “Cheek to Cheek.” Either that or “As Time Goes By.” Both have wonderful lyrics and such great catchy melodies. What’s not to love about these timeless classics!?


Konrad Paszkudzki began his music career when he went to university in Perth at 15. He graduated at 18, becoming the first pianist to win the James Morrison Scholarship in 2008. After relocating to the US in 2009, Konrad received his master’s degree at the University of Miami’s Frost School, going on to play with the likes of the Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra and the Jeff Hamilton Trio, leading the house trio at New York’s 54 Below, and in 2013 joining the John Pizzarelli Quartet. Konrad is the Artistic Director of Jazz at the Ballroom, overseeing all the music programming for the nonprofit.


Jay Sawyer

The Nearness of You” – it perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being close to the ones you love.


Jay Sawyer is one of the most in-demand drummers on the New York scene, having played with Freddy Cole, John McNeil, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Stefon Harris, Donny McCaslin, Benito Gonzalez, Shai Maestro and others. Jay is also a first call drummer for many up-and-coming musicians in New York including Itamar Borochov, Caroline Davis, Tomoko Omura and John Raymond.


Dylan Shamat

It is hard to pick favorite songs, but I gravitate toward the songs of Cole Porter. Their unique harmonies make the music interesting and challenging to play for musicians and the lyrics never mean only one thing.


Dylan Shamat is a bassist, composer and educator based in NY, where he studied at the Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School. He performs regularly with Lea DeLaria, Allan Harris, Janis Siegel, Tony DeSare, Cyrille Aimee, and the Konrad Paszkudzki Trio, as well as in the off-Broadway production Sleep No More. When not in New York, Dylan performs often at pops concerts with many major North American orchestras.


Niki Haris

Niki Haris is a multi-talented singer, dancer, actress and choreographer. She is the daughter of Grammy Award-nominated jazz pianist Gene Harris. Best known as “The Big Voice” behind Madonna for over 18 years, appearing alongside her in the movie Truth or Dare and many of her videos. Her vocal collaborations reads like a Who’s Who of the music business — from working with jazz greats like Stanley Turrentine, Joe Sample and the Jazz Crusaders, to recordings with Ray Charles to Mick Jagger, and pop artists from Whitney Houston to Sheryl Crow.

“Piano Keys at 24mm” by Rich Renomeron is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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