Jim McNeely: Ernie Banks


Ernie Banks


Jim McNeely (piano)


Boneyard (Origin 82473)

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Jim McNeely (piano),

Kelly Sills (bass), Joel Spencer (drums)


Composed by Jim McNeely


Recorded: Evanston, IL, date unknown, released 2007


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Ernie Banks 1954

The title of this Jim McNeely composition brings to mind Dave Frishberg's "Van Lingle Mungo." The lyrics to Frishberg's tune are essentially a litany of names of old-time baseball players (Ernie Banks not included), set to a swaying bossa nova beat. Some clueless non-baseball fans have even thought that Frishberg is singing in Portuguese, so odd and foreign-sounding are such names as Whitey Kurowski, Frenchy Bordagaray and Sigmund Jakucki. Mungo himself was hot-tempered and mean-spirited both on and off the field, while popular Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks was known as "Mr. Sunshine," famous for his line, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame, let's play two!" Mungo once went so far as to ask Frishberg why he had not been paid for the use of his name, to which Frishberg replied that Mungo's only recourse might be to write a song titled "Dave Frishberg." It's unlikely that the good-natured Ernie Banks will ever make a similar demand of Chicago-born Cubs fan Jim McNeely.

The pianist's upbeat theme, a gliding, staccato line with a neatly descending resolution, is introduced by his resounding chords. McNeely surges through an up-tempo solo replete with bluesy phrases and jubilant extended runs that display his formidable technical skill. Sill and Spencer, with whom McNeely has played off and on for about 35 years, offer flawless and stimulating support throughout. McNeely and Spencer also engage in a series of fervent exchanges, during which the composer aptly quotes from "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Spencer then delivers an impressively executed solo of his own before McNeely's impassioned revisit of the theme. This track is a home run, much like the 512 that Ernie Banks hit in his Hall of Fame career.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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