Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"especially your American slang"

------------------------- [excerpt, Easy To Remember, by William Zinsser] ---------------------- The stunning success of "Rhapsody in Blue" propelled George Gershwin onto the cover of Time on July 28, 1925, at the age of 26.  He was the first American-born musician to achieve that honor.  He would continue to write ambitious classical scores, including the "Concerto in F," the tone poem "An American in Paris" and the opera "Porgy and Bess." ---------------------- [stop excerpt]

"Summer - time!

and the livin' is easy.

Fish are jumpin' --

and the cotton is high..."

"Summertime" was a song in Porgy and Bess.

Many artists have recorded this song, including Janis Joplin.

("Joplin In Concert") -- if a person was going to buy one Janis album, I would recommend this one...)

George Gershwin's brother Ira wrote lyrics with him.

----------------------- [Zinsser excerpt] ---------------- Ira Gershwin soaked up everything that rhymed, keeping scrapbooks of favorite poems and studying earlier masters of playful verse, especially W.S. Gilbert.

But his best tip came from a British playwright who told him to "learn especially your American slang."  Heeding that advice, Ira Gershwin made his lyrics conversational and idiomatic. 

"Oh, lady, be good to me!" he said, and "I've got a crush on you," and "Little wow, tell me now, how long as this been going on?"  "I got rhythm," he said.  Not "I've got rhythm." ------------------ [end excerpt]

I like the parts where this author writes about songwriters writing about things they -- "knew not of," so to speak:

The lyrics to George Gershwin's "Swanee" were written by Irving Caesar, another Jewish kid who hadn't been south of Canal Street.  Such nuances of geography never troubled the bards of Tin Pan Alley or stopped their flow of songs pining for...Mammy in the South.

Later in the book, in the Hoagy Carmichael chapter, Zinsser writes about Carmichael's song, "Star Dust" which found its wide popularity once it had lyrics, which were written by Mitchell Parish.

------------------------- [excerpt] ------------------- Like Irving Berlin, Mitchell Parish grew up on New York's Lower East Side, brought there as a child by immigrant parents from Lithuania.

...Commenting on the paradox of so many astral bodies in his songs, he once said, "Growing up on the Lower East Side, we didn't see stars. 

I don't want to psychoanalyze myself, but I sometimes think that those song lyrics about the moon and the stars represented an escape.  They expressed a longing for what I couldn't see."

{Easy To Remember, by William Zinsser.  Copyright 2001, David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.}