Art Tatum: “Have You Met Miss Jones?”

As the story goes, Vladimir Horowitz was once asked to name the greatest living pianist. “Art Tatum,” replied the Russian-American virtuoso without hesitation, adding, “If Art Tatum took up classical music seriously, I’d quit my job the next day.” The sentiment was echoed by Arthur Rubinstein, Arturo Toscanini, Sergei Rachmaninov, and others who flocked to Harlem clubs throughout the 1940s to experience Tatum’s unique artistry. According to one account, Horowitz worked on an …

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Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”: The Groundbreaking “Bench Scene”

Stephen Sondheim once called the “bench scene” from the first act of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical, Carousel, “the singular most important moment in the evolution of contemporary musicals.” Indeed, this extraordinary 12-minute-long love scene, anticipated in earlier Hammerstein works such as Show Boat (1927) and Oklahoma! (1943), set the stage for the late twentieth century Broadway of Sondheim. According to the scholar Thomas Hischak, the scene “is considered the most completely integrated piece of music-drama in the American …

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The Artistry of Eileen Farrell: Five Essential Recordings

Thursday marks the centennial of the birth of the legendary American soprano, Eileen Farrell (1920-2002). Hailed as possessing “one of the largest and most radiant operatic voices of the 20th century,” Farrell was a remarkably versatile artist. In a career spanning nearly 60 years, she was equally at home in the world of opera, jazz, and popular music. She hated categories, and in an interview during the final years of her life, …

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Richard Rodgers and the Waltz

At the beginning of the summer, we explored ten enduring songs that Richard Rodgers wrote with the lyricist Lorenz Hart. Today, I want to return to the effortless and seemingly inevitable melodies of Rodgers, this time with a focus on the waltz. Countless waltzes can be found among Richard Rodgers’ 900-plus songs, written for some 43 Broadway musicals. Many contain a trace of the Viennese operetta music Rodgers heard as a child, which included …

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Rodgers and Hart: Ten Enduring Songs

Last week, we celebrated the 117th anniversary of the birth of Richard Rodgers with one of the composer’s piano roll recordings. We discussed the simple, effortless perfection of Rodgers’ melodies and the way his style changed from his work with lyricist Lorenz Hart in the 1920s and 30s to his partnership with Oscar Hammerstein II in the 1940s and 50s. The latter collaboration transformed the Broadway musical from a loose collection of catchy …

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Richard Rodgers on Piano Roll

Today marks the 117th anniversary of the birth of Richard Rodgers (1902-1979). In his book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, the composer and commentator Alec Wilder wrote, Of all the writers whose songs are considered and examined in this book, those of Rodgers show the highest degree of consistent excellence, inventiveness, and sophistication … After spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed and respectful: I am astonished. Melodies seem …

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Remembering Nancy Wilson

The legendary American jazz singer Nancy Wilson passed away earlier this month on December 13. She was 81. The three-time Grammy-winning artist, who described herself as a “song stylist,” is remembered for ballads like “Guess Who I Saw Today” (1960) and “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” (1964). Over the course of a career that spanned six decades, she accepted occasional acting roles and frequently crossed over into the R&B and pop categories. Years ago, I had the …

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