Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”: Fritz Kreisler’s 1927 Recording

Irving Berlin’s timeless 1926 song, Blue Skies, was a last-minute addition to a Rodgers and Hart musical called Betsy, produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. The vaudeville singer and actress, Belle Baker, called up Berlin complaining that the show’s score didn’t contain a “Belle Baker song.” According to Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, Berlin resented the interpolation of songs by other composers into the score of his shows, but he must have been delighted at the …

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Sondheim’s “The Miller’s Son”: A Celebration of What Passes By

Stephen Sondheim turned 90 last Sunday. This year, as Broadway is scheduled to remain dark through April 12, it seems especially important to honor Sondheim’s vast and enduring contribution to American musical theater. Sondheim’s songs take us deep into the psychology of the character. Gradually, they reveal layers of meaning in a way similar to the puzzles that have been a source of lifelong fasciation for the composer and lyricist. One such song …

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Stephen Sondheim’s Ironic Twist on the Romantic Ballad

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, let’s consider the “romantic ballad.” Surely, one of the most majestic and soaring examples of this genre is the song, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” which opens the second act of the 1960 Broadway musical, Camelot. Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics befit the heroic and chivalrous Lancelot. The melody, by the Austrian-American composer Frederick Loewe, is expansive and noble. Lerner and Loewe is the team that, four years earlier, …

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Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are”: A Celebration of Modulation

Jerome Kern, one of the greatest composers of the American musical theater, was born on this date 135 years ago on January 27, 1885. Kern wrote over 700 songs, including Ol’ Man River and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) from the landmark 1927 musical, Show Boat, Long Ago (And Far Away) (lyrics by Ira Gershwin), A Fine Romance (lyrics by Dorothy Fields), and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (lyrics by Otto …

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Remembering Broadway’s Jerry Herman

The legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman passed away last Thursday at the age of 88. With hit musicals such as Hello, Dolly! (1964), Mame (1966), and La Cage aux Folles (1983), Herman was the exponent of popular and tuneful shows which continued the tradition of an earlier era. He was an unabashed defender of melody. In the 1960s, Alan Jay Lerner (the lyricist of My Fair Lady) called Herman “the Irving Berlin of this generation.” …

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“Pretty Women”: The Marian McPartland Trio Meets Sondheim

“Pretty Women” comes near the end of the first act of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. On the surface, the song appears to capture an amiable barbershop conversation—as Craig Zadan writes, “a seemingly innocent yet passionate anthem to the virtues of womanhood.” Its comfortably gliding melody soars and then falls back into contentment. In context, it becomes spine chilling. It is Sweeney Todd’s calculating way of distracting Judge …

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Saying Goodbye to Summer with Gershwin’s “Summertime”

In observance of Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer, here is a landmark recording of George Gershwin’s Summertime, featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. This is an excerpt from their 1957 jazz studio album, Porgy and Bess. The album popularized Summertime and other music from Gershwin’s 1935 opera. (Two years later, a film version of Porgy and Bess was released, starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge). Fitzgerald was a longtime friend of the Gershwins. Ira Gershwin once …

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