At any given moment in Sun City tonight, it's a good bet that some nightclub act will be playing "New York, New York." Lou Ives, who has played Sun City with his wife Lou Ann, has worked up a theory on the "New York, New York" phenomenon.
"If you go in one club and a guy's playing `New York, New York,' and you can drive your car fast enough to the next club," Ives says, "a guy's liable to be playing the same tune."
Ives knows because he's filled at least a thousand requests for the song since he and Lou Ann brought their act, Nice 'n Easy, to Sun City four years ago. Before their extended gig in the Valley retirement community, they entertained on cruise ships in the San Francisco area.
"If you don't know `New York, New York,' you might as well go home," Ives says. "`New York, New York,' in all the years I was in Sun City, there was never a night when I didn't play it once, sometimes twice. Sometimes you'd get stuck with the thing, you know?"
Five other ditties could also pass the Lou Ives auto test.
"One is `Mack the Knife,'" Ives says, casting his memory back. "Two is `In the Mood.' Three is `Cab Driver.' Four is `Alley Cat.' Five is `Satin Doll.' If you know those five tunes, you can really be a roaring success. It's a degree of how loud or how soft."
Ives chuckles. "That's being very candid about it."
While Ives, who sings and plays a variety of instruments, is probably simplifying the standard Sun City song list, he's not exaggerating by much. During his time entertaining geriatric gyrators, he and Lou Ann, who sings and plays keyboards, have grown intimately familiar with the boring realities and minor triumphs of playing music in the world's best-known retirement community.
"When you work in Sun City, if you can't play a cha-cha, you may as well leave town," Ives says. "People out of the Midwest, their national anthem is `Polka Time.' If you're gonna play in Sun City, you'd better know some polkas."
The way Ives tells it, musicians would seem to be at the mercy of clubgoers whose tastes are remarkably focused. But there are ways of blowing listeners' minds. Ives recounts how Nice 'n Easy forever changed the cha-cha as Sun City had come to know it. Before the duo arrived, Ives claims, the only cha-chas ever played in Sun City were "Tea for Two" and "In a Little Spanish Town." The duo dutifully performed "Tea" and "Town" for a year, but soon felt themselves losing their minds at the prospect of continuing to drag out the old songs.
"We said, `Hey, this is ridiculous, playing "Tea for Two" all night,'" Ives remembers. "We were sick and tired of playing cha-chas that way."
Then, in a stroke of genius, he and his wife devised an improvisation that ranks them as one of the hippest bands in the Valley. They decided to take the 5th Dimension song "Workin' on a Groovy Thing" and set it to a cha-cha beat. The Sun City scenesters who'd been weaned on "Tea for Two," needless to say, were less than thrilled at first. Nice 'n Easy would play the cutting-edge cha-cha, and the dance floor would clear automatically.
"After a few nights, we looked at the thing and we said, `We've gotta do something if we're gonna make it work,'" Ives remembers.
Eventually, the Iveses discovered that "something." "What we do is set up a cha-cha rhythm with just percussion," Ives says. "Once they hear that cha-cha beat, then they seem to say, `Hey, that's a cha-cha.' Then they pay more attention to the beat, whether they're hearing `Tea for Two' or `Workin' on a Groovy Thing.'"
Or the Sade pop hit "Smooth Operator" or the Perry Como classic, "Papa Loves Mambo." "Since they don't know how to mambo," Ives says, "we put it to a cha-cha beat. It takes us out of that awful repetition of `Tea for Two' night after night after night."
Ives jokes that by reinventing "Smooth Operator" as a cha-cha, "we were able to bring ourselves into this century, at least musically. That way, it makes the job a lot more bearable. Otherwise, playing those six tunes, you go bananas."
But Ives 'n' Ives aren't afraid to travel into the 21st century--or to the Sixties, either. They're big fans of radical country crooner k.d. lang, and they perform her song "Tears Don't Care Who Cries Them." On the other hand, Nice 'n Easy is just as likely to jam out on the Santana hit "Evil Ways," "which was just a rock classic," Ives says. "Those hip enough to know how to move do very well with it."
The duo rounds out the stylistic smorgasbord with tunes by Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets, Billy Joel, the Carpenters, and yes, Blood, Sweat & Tears. In the kind of active atmosphere Sun City thrives on, rock 'n' roll can be a fountain of youth. "There are people who come in who are genuinely into that," Ives marvels. "They weren't into rock 'n' roll in the Sixties, but now that they're in Sun City, they've found it's a lot of fun.
"Probably one of the most revered tunes in Sun City is `Proud Mary.' They'll get out there and swing the hell out of it and really move. There was this eighty-year-old guy who used to come in with a gal, and the first thing he'd ask for was rock 'n' roll tunes. He wasn't kidding. He would say, `How about doing "Proud Mary"?' He'd stay out there for four hours."
But Nice 'n Easy can't rock out all night. "They're hung up on the big band sound," Ives says with a sigh about the Sun Citians, "so you have to kind of cool it that way and stick one in here, and stick one in there."
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What the Iveses seem to have learned better than anything during their Sun City stint is to pick their spots with the right material. For instance, Ives 'n' Ives have experimented with Lionel Richie and Grover Washington songs, but Sun City isn't that funky. "When you get to the Lionel Richie stuff, you're getting into a different world," Ives says. "They just don't know how to move like the younger kids do. They don't understand the beat. You've gotta cool it. Take the Grover Washington tune `Just the Two of Us.' Nice tune, but it doesn't work. They just don't get the feel for that kind of beat."
Nor do Sun City hoofers warm up to the slow stuff. "It looks like they're not too fond of doing close-together-type dancing," Ives observes. "The minute we play a ballad, everyone goes and sits down. I don't know if they don't like embracing older women, or maybe it's just that their wives don't want to embrace. I haven't figured it out. Slow tunes are kind of a no-no. In a night, we might play one or two ballads, and some nights, not even one. They just don't go over. The minute you play a ballad, they say, `Come on, let's swing it.'"
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