Jazz Age Kings, Part 1


GUS KAHN (1886-1941)

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If the musical form called Jazz defies convention by definition, The Jazz Age aka The Roaring Twenties was one huge gesture of defiance, an abrupt rejection of the polite world order that preceded World War I. The planet was now smaller, more dangerous, and the general prescription was Live For Today, have fun, yield to temptation, be outrageous!

Radio, records, newsreels, film helped all this heedlessness along with their heretofore forbidden sights and sounds, now accessible to everyone. Ironically, this surge of free expression in the arts and social behavior was tempered [in name only] by the sham of Prohibition. It was Harding´s & Coolidge´s square “normalcy” superimposed with a straight face on flappers, gun molls, gold diggers, bathtub gin, speakeasies, and some of the most distinctive music, fashion, industrial design in our history.

If there is one song that captures the genesis of The Jazz Age, it´s the one asking this profound, rhetorical question: “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm, After They´ve Seen Paree?”

Nearly a century later, these songs continue to provide us with the uniquely colorful megaphone/musical backdrop that framed the era, and a pair of Fred Miller´s Lectures-in-Song purposefully seeks to explore that special Jazz Age aura.

JAZZ AGE KINGS, Part One features the lives and songs of three definitive Roaring Twenties talents: two composers (Walter Donaldson, Richard Whiting) and one lyricist (Gus Kahn). From this trio´s creative talents sprang some of the most recognizable songs of the Age:

Composer Walter Donaldson: “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm,” “Mammy,” “My Blue Heaven,” “You´re Driving Me Crazy,” “Little White Lies,” an extensive collaboration with lyricist Gus Kahn (“My Buddy,” “Carolina in the Morning,” “Yessir, That´s My Baby,” “That Certain Party,” “At Sundown,” “Makin´ Whoopee,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “My Baby Just Cares For Me”)…

Composer Richard Whiting (1890-1938): “Till We Meet Again,” “The Japanese Sandman,” “Sleepy Time Gal,” “Breezing Along with the Breeze,” “She´s Funny That Way,” “Ain´t We Got Fun” (Kahn)…

Later, On Broadway and In Hollywood during the Thirties, Whiting´s achievements had comparable staying power: “Louise,” “My Ideal,” “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” “You´re an Old Smoothie,” “Eadie Was a Lady,” “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” “Too Marvelous for Words” [Johnny Mercer].

Lyricist Gus Kahn (1886-1941) whose career began during WWI and extended into the early Forties: the aforementioned classics in collaboration with Donaldson and Whiting, “Memories,” “Pretty Baby,” “Toot Toot Tootsie,” a string of hits with composer Isham Jones (“Swinging Down the Lane,” “It Had To Be You,” “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else”), “Liza” [Gershwin], “I´m Through with Love,” “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” the film classic FLYING DOWN TO RIO with Vincent Youmans & Edward Eliscu (“Flying Down To Rio,” “The Carioca,” “Orchids in the Moonlight”); “One Night of Love,” “San Francisco,” “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” “I´ll See You in My Dreams”[Jones], the latter also the title song of the Gus Kahn Hollywood bio-pic starring Danny Thomas.

Need one say more? Who can begin to describe or imagine The Jazz Age of legend & lore without these songs and the attendant talents of Walter Donaldson, Richard Whiting and Gus Kahn?

If you would like to engage Fred Miller for one of his Lectures-in-Song, please contact him directly at any time. For a full listing of all Lectures, click here.

Fred Miller’s Lectures-In-Song comprise a series of solo programs, each an historical, anecdotal and musical profile of some great personality or important aspect of American Popular Song. These Lectures are delivered by singer/pianist/narrator Miller at the piano, and each reflects his lifetime passion and appreciation for great music. He studied classical piano in his hometown of Albuquerque from ages 7-15 but early on gave up any notion of music as a profession. At that time, Fred assumed a musical career was either one devoted to the rigid discipline of classical music or being a freewheeling rock star, and he accurately decided he had no aptitude for either. However, at age 22, upon hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing Cole Porter, he found his calling and life’s mission.

Through the Seventies and Eighties, Miller studied and absorbed in minute detail the life and times and songs of nearly all the great American composers and lyricists who thrived during Broadway & Hollywood’s Golden Age between the two World Wars. In 1987, he founded Silver Dollar Productions in order to produce operettas, dramas, musicals and small cabarets. Silver Dollar Productions required ensemble casts, props, costumes and, most significantly, the challenges of publicity and selling tickets, and for a dozen busy years, the company presented an unbroken string of varied and highly lauded performances.

In 1999, Miller was simultaneously underwritten by both his local Hunterdon County Library and the Art Alliance of Philadelphia to present a series of six solo Lectures-In-Song, each devoted to one of the premiere Broadway/Hollywood songwriters: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.

In presenting history, biography and psychology while sitting at a piano singing the superlative songs of his heroes, Miller has found a single performing medium that utilizes most of his intellectual and musical passions.The list of Lectures-In-Song that began with six in 1999 is now more than seventy(and growing!), a joyful tribute to the boundlessly rich field of American Popular Song.