KERN: The Song Is You (1925-1945) (Naxos: 8.120827)
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'THE SONG IS YOU'
Songs of JEROME KERN
Original 1925-1945 Recordings
The world-renowned creator of stage-music,film scores and time-honoured melodies thatrank among the treasures of popular musicculture, Jerome David Kern was born in NewYork on 27 January 1885. His youthful talentwas fostered by his mother (who taught himpiano) and at seventeen, having enrolled at theNew York College of Music, he was steeped inthe classical idiom and had already written hisfirst songs. In 1902, during the first of manyvisits to England, he contributed extra materialto Leslie Stuart's show The Silver Slipper andfor the next few years (despite his father'sinsistence that he should help him run thefamily's New York furniture showroom)followed his instincts and opted for musicinstead. Returning to New York in 1904, heworked as a pianist and song-plugger in Tin PanAlley (in this capacity, on occasions, he playedfor various leading entertainers of the day) andalso as an editor, principally for CharlesFrohman's organisation.
Kern quickly became a familiar figure intheatrical circles in both New York andLondon, where he wrote additional material forshows and often doubled as a repetiteur. Hisown first hit, \How'd You Like To Spoon WithMe?" (written with Edward Laska) found itsway into the score of the 1905 Ivan CaryllBroadway musical The Earl And The Girl andby 1912, the year of his own first Broadwayproduction The Red Petticoat, he had alreadypenned around 100 songs, most with aforward-looking ragtime feel, tailored for showsby other writers. The Girl From Utah (1914)delighted audiences on both sides of theAtlantic and although Paul Rubens and SydneyJones were its accredited composers, its scorewas dominated by Kern's own contributions.
After an average Broadway run of 120performances it was imported to the UK andcontained, among other numbers, the oftrevivedhit They Didn't Believe Me (words byP. Herbert Reynolds), sung here by its creator,Julia Sanderson, alias Mrs. Frank Crumit.
In December 1915 his next London showVery Good Eddie opened at the PrincessTheatre. With libretto by the English-bornAmerican Guy Bolton (1884-1979) its first nightwas favourably reviewed by the Englishnovelist and man-of-letters P.G. Wodehouse(1881-1975). At once, the three men began aBroadway and London partnership whichlasted, intermittently, until 1924 and, byupdating the stale traditional forms of musicalcomedy, laid the foundations of the modernmusical. Their contributions to the EmmerichKalman operettas Miss Springtime (1916) andThe Riviera Girl (1917) and other minorBroadway shows were followed by Oh Boy(1917). Revived as Oh, Joy (1919) this later ranat the Princess for over a year and presented theworld with one lasting hit, "Till The Clouds RollBy", a song which in 1946 was chosen as thetitle for the MGM biopic starring Robert Walkerwhich featured 22 best-known Kern songs.
Prolific and durable, by the early 1920sKern already ranked among the mostinternationally respected of Broadwaycomposers. In 1920 he scored The Night Boat,Hitchy Koo Of 1920 and, most notably (withbook by Bolton and lyrics by Clifford Grey andthe New York-born Buddy G. De Sylva 1895-1950) Sally - with an initial Broadwayproduction of 570 performances and asignificant London run of 387 a year later, itwas filmed in 1929. The show's most lastingsong, Look For The Silver Lining would laterprove almost a Kern anthem (it was revived in1942, by Jessie Matthews (1907-1981), in aLondon revision by Frank Eyton and RichardHearne, re-christened Wild Rose).
The firmly established Kern wrote manyother (now forgotten) shows including, in1921, Good Morning, Dearie (Broadway) andThe Cabaret Girl (London), in 1922 The BunchAnd Judy (Broadway), in 1923 Stepping Stones(Broadway) and The Beauty Prize (London), in1924 Sitting Pretty and Dear Sir (both onBroadway), before penning his next realbenchmark Sunny. With book and lyrics byOtto Harbach (1873-1963) and OscarHammerstein II (1895-1960), this ran for 517performances at the New York Amsterdamfrom September 1925. Its cast included CliftonWebb, Cliff 'Ukelele Ike' Edwards and GeorgeOlsen and his orchestra, who had a six-weekUS No.1 hit with their commercial recordingfor Victor of Who?Kern's Broadway career continued withThe City Chap (1925) and Criss Cross (1926),but his biggest coup came in 1927 with hismasterpiece Show Boat. Based on the 1926novel by Edna Ferber and with book and lyricsby Hammerstein and a cast that included HelenMorgan as Julie and Jules Bledsoe as Joe (thepart later so associated with Paul Robeson) thismuch-acclaimed musical has remained a firmfavourite. After 572 performances at theZiegfeld Theatre, it toured for ten monthsbefore opening at Drury Lane, London, in 1928.
Frequently resurrected (lately on Broadway inthe 1994 Howard Prince revival which wonfive Tony Awards) it was filmed three times,most recently by MGM in 1951, with KathrynGrayson and Howard Keel. Its score boaststwo undisputed Jerome Kern mega-hits: Ol'Man River and the poignant Bill, sung here byits creator in a later syndicated programrecording, which was actually a revival of aWodehouse-Bolton lyric from Kern's 1918Broadway show Oh, Lady! Lady!The early 1930s saw Kern scoringBroadway successes now classifiable as'vintage': The Cat And the Fiddle (Harbach;1931 and filmed in 1934 - this playfulextravaganza contained such hits as SheDidn't Say 'Yes' and "The Night Was Made ForLove"), Music In The Air (1932, filmed in 1934;with lyrics by Hammerstein, this included "I'veTold Ev'ry Little Star" and The Song Is You)and Roberta (Harbach; 1933). This last refocusedKern's attention unequivocally towardsHollywood (barring Very Warm For May in1939, at only 59 performances a virtualBroadway flop but which included All TheThings You Are, he would write no furtherstage-musicals).
Filmed by RKO in 1935 with Irene Dunne,Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the originalshow Roberta's hits Yesterdays and SmokeGets In Your Eyes were supplemented by IWon't Dance and the Oscar-nominated LovelyTo Look At (both with lyrics by Dorothy Fieldsand Jimmy McHugh), heard here respectivelyin hit creator versions by Irene Dunne (1898-1990) and Fred Astaire (1899-1987). (Furtheradapted, Roberta was re-filmed in 1952, asLovely To Look At, by MGM). Also in 1935,Kern scored I Dream Too Much (an RKOvehicle concocted for the Metropolitan Opera'sreigning French coloratura soprano star LilyPons) and revised (for Warner Brothers) SweetAdeline (the 1929 Broadway show, in whichMorgan created Why Was I Born?, had run for234 performances). At the box office,however, both were upstaged by his 1936successes Show Boat or Swing Time. A'satisfactory but unexciting' RKO reprise of theAstaire-Rogers formula, this last produced anOscar-winner with Dorothy Fields' The WayYou Look Tonight which, along with A FineRomance became an Astaire 'No.1' hit.
For the remainder of his life Kern wasfruitfully engaged in various Hollywoodproductions. During 1937 he scored High,Wide And Handsome (for Paramount; a'disappointingly stilted period musical'(Halliwell), conceived for Dunne, about atravelling showgirl who falls for a farmer, andco-starring Randolph Scott and DorothyLamour, this offered "Can I Forget You?" andthe timelessly nostalgic The Folks Who LiveOn The Hill), while When You're In Love (inGreat Britain known as For You Alone)provided a starring vehicle for MetropolitanOpera sensation Grace Moore and the youthfulCary Grant). In 1938 came Goldwyn Follies,for MGM, followed in 1940 by One Night inThe Tropics, a comedy for Universal. In 1941Lady Be Good (a biographical musical 'withvery little connection with [Gershwin's] 1924musical') carried the interpolation The LastTime I Saw Paris. Although not specificallywritten for any particular show or film thissong, originally dedicated to No?â?½l Coward,won the fil