What do you do if you’re a jazz musician with a lot of time on your hands?
As New York City and other places enact restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, we’re sure to see myriad responses to that question. If you happen to be Benny Benack III, the trumpeter and singer probably best known as a front man for Postmodern Jukebox, the answer might involve putting a novel spin on a songbook standard.
Yesterday Benack posted a video for “Put a Mask On Your Face,” filmed in the confines of his Harlem apartment. The song, a rewrite of the classic “Put On a Happy Face” — a song introduced on Broadway 50 years ago, by Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie — finds Benack issuing cheeky advice that any public-health professional would endorse.
“Don’t be a tough guy and still go outside / (Can you believe the nerve?)” he sings, seated at a keyboard. “Above all else, self-quarantine / It will flatten the curve.”
Benack also takes a trumpet solo over the tune, comping for himself on keys. Throughout the performance, the tone is lighthearted but not flippant, with an undercurrent of solidarity.
“I spent the entirety of Day #1 of the NYC self-quarantine shutdown working on this song,” Benack explains on his YouTube page. “I hope it brings everyone some much needed smiles and laughs in the face of these dark times!”
Before posting “Put a Mask On Your Face,” Benack had publicly stated his intention to use the quarantine as a spur to practice. “Nothing to do but shed!” he wrote.