American Songbook

American Popular Song

 

By the 1950s it was clear that a great tradition of American songwriting had been established, 'The American Songbook'. Popular songs written by the creative genius of a few ordinary immigrant musicians and wordsmiths. A wonderful entertainment industry of big business which fed the insatiable demand of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, National Radio, Hollywood and a few superstar singers.

Catchy 32 bar repeated phrases with a release set to some memorable ditty. The AABA format became ubiquitous and was used estensively with the Blues and a framework for Jazz improvisations and arrangments.

A Golden Age started with 'Showboat' in 1927.

The 2nd generation musicals of the immigrant Jews

Jerome Kern (1885-1945) - the 1st & the best, thoroughly trained, an 'acedemic', comically inept at the piano. Lyrics by P G Wodehouse (1917-24), light, Gilberty), then Hammerstein (sentimental crap), Harbach, Dorothy Fields (for Astaire & Rodgers), lastly Johnny Mercer.
'They didn't Believe Me',
1914 from 'The Girl from Utah', 1st masterpiece
''till the Clouds Roll By', 'Look for the Silver Lining',
1920 from 'Sally', the rain songs
'Sunny', 'Who?'
1925 from 'Sunny'
'Ol' Man River', 'Can't Help Lovin' that Man', 'Make Believe',
1927 from 'Show Boat', the 1st great American musical
'Why was I Born'
1929 from 'Sweet Adeline'
'Smoke gets in Your Eyes', 'I won't Dance',
1933 from roberta
'A Fine Romance', 'The Way You Look Tonight', 
1936 from 'Swingtime' with Rodgers & Astaire
all the things you are,
1939 from very warm for May, 'one of the greatest'
'The Song is You',

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) - the common man, a natural, a busking bum, a singing waiter, with a lever to change key!

Sadie salome, what'll I do, heat wave, easter parade, blue skies, God bless America, play a simple melody, everybody's doing it, marie, always, how deep is the ocean,
cheek to cheek , top hat white tie & tails,
1935 from top hat
let's face the music & dance,
1936 from follow the fleet
I've got my love to keep me warm,
1937 from on the avenue
'White Christmas,'
1942 from 'Holiday Inn',
'There's No Business Like Show Business',
1946 from 'Annie get Your Gun'
1950 from 'Call me Madam'

Jimmy McHugh (1894-1969) with Dorothy Fields ...

1928 'Blackbirds of 1928', 'I can't Give You Anything but Love'
'I can't Believe You're in Love with Me', 'On the Sunny Side of the Street', 'Don't Blame Me', 'I'm in the Mood for Love', 'Exactly Like You' 
1930 successive 4ths & wide range

George Gershwin (1898-1937) - closest to jazz, played 'stride' piano, brought the American song to full flower, could have become a classical pianist but was inspired by kern & 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'. Ira wrote the lyrics.
'Swanee'
1918 - Al Jolson from 'Sinbad'
'Lady be Good', 'Fascinating Rhythm', 'The Man I Love',
1924 from lady be good
someone to watch over me
1927 from oh Kay
S'wonderful
1927 from funny face
Lisa
1928 from 'An American in Paris'
'Summertime'
1935 from 'Porgy & Bess' 1927 'Oh, Kay!'
'I got Rhythm', 'Embraceable You',
1930 from girl crazy, the jazz standard,
'A Foggy Day', 'They can't Take that Away from Me', 'Shall we Dance',
1937 from shall we dance & a damsel in distress
love is here to stay, love walked in
1938 from the Goldwyn follies

Vincent Youmans (1898-1946)

bambalina
1923 from 'Wildflower'
'Tea for Two', 'I Want to be Happy',
1924 from 'No No Nanette'
'Sometimes I'm Happy'
1927 from 'Hit the Deck'

Cole Porter (1891-1964) - the greatest who wasn't a Jew. 'Old money' rich parties, a millionaire, homosexual tastes. Lyrics by himself (as did Berlin & Noel Coward) enabled instantaneous composition of words & music.
kiss me kate, every time we say goodbye, don't fence me in, what is this thing called love
in the still of the night, let's do it
1928 from Paris
'Love for Sale'
1930 from the new yorkers
night & day
1932 from the gay divorce
I get a kick out of you, all through the night, you're the top,
1934 from anything goes
just one of those things, begin the beguine (Artie Shaw),
1935 from jubilee
I get a kick out of you, in the still of the night,
1936 from born to dance
get out of town, my heart belongs to daddy,
1938 from leave it to me
I concentrate on you,
1940 from broadway melody
you'd be so nice to come home to,
1943 from something to shout about
1948 from 'Kiss Me Kate'
1956 from 'High Society'

Richard Rodgers (1902-79) - reaped massive commercial benefit, Lorenz Hart (1918 - 43 was music) & Oscar Hammerstein (1943 - 60 was theatre) wrote the lyrics.
fly with me, blue moon, with a song in my heart (spring is here), I wish I were in love again, the song is you,
'Mountain Greenery', 'Manhattan',
1925 from the garrick gaities
'There's a Small Hotel',
1936 from on your toes
my funny valentine, the lady is a tramp, I wish I were in love again,
1937 from babe in arms
bewitched bothered & bewildered,
1940 from pal joey
oh what a beautiful morning
1943 'Oklahoma'
'You'll Never Walk Alone'
1945 carousel
1949 south pacific
1951 the king & I
1958 flower drum song

Hoagy Carmichael (1899- )
'The Nearness of You'. 'Lazy River', 'Riverboat Shuffle'
1927 originally 'freewheeling'
'Rockin' Chair'
1929, Mildred Bailey's theme
'Stardust', 'Georgia on my Mind', 'Two Sleepy People'
1929 1930 1938 with Fran Leosser

Harold Arlen (-)

'Whispering' a strong professional piece
1939 'Over the Rainbow' from the 'Wizard of Oz' with an octave jump,
'It's only a Paper Moon'
1932 a marvellous little snapper, 'That Old Black Magic'
'Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea', 'Let's Fall in Love', 'Blues in the Night'

Arthur Schwartz (1900-84) - educated as a lawyer. Lyrics by Howard Dietz.
'Dancing in the Dark', 'I guess I'll have to Change my Plan'

Vernon Duke (1903 - )
'April in Paris', 'Taking a Chance on Love'
Fritz Loewe - Alan Jay Lerner wrote the lyrics.
Brigadoon, paint your wagon, my fair lady, gigi, camelot

Frank Loesser (1910-69)
'Two Sleepy People', 'Slow Boat to China', 'Baby it's Cold Outside'.
1950 'Guys & Dolls'

Andrew Lloyd Webber

'American Popular Song: the great innovators 1900-50' by Alec Wilder, 1972.

 

back to jazz tradition