Jazz Age Kings, Part 2


BUDDY De SYLVA(1895-1950)
LEW BROWN(1893-1958)
RAY HENDERSON(1896-1970)

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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 Two profiles two distinct [and distinctive] Jazz Age songwriting phenomena: the team of De Sylva, Brown & Henderson and the hugely gifted, star-crossed composer Vincent Youmans.

Buddy De Sylva (NYC-born Portuguese), Lew Brown (Russian-born Jewish) and Ray Henderson (Buffalo-born Scandinavian) were the very incarnation of the American melting pot in Popular Song, separately and together:

Buddy De Sylva: “Avalon,” “Chloe,” a number of songs in collaboration with the Gershwins (“Nobody But You,” “Stairway To Paradise,” Do It Again,” “Somebody Loves Me”); “Look For The Silver Lining” [Jerome Kern], “April Showers,” “A Kiss In The Dark” [Victor Herbert], “California, Here I Come,” “When Day Is Done,” “Wishing”…

Lew Brown: “Animal Crackers,” “I´ve Got To Pass Your House To Get To My House,” “Beer Barrel Polka”…

Ray Henderson: “That Old Gang Of Mine,” “Five Foot Two,” “I´m Sitting On Top Of The World,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Alabamy Bound (De Sylva)…

Together as De Sylva, Brown & Henderson: “Lucky Day,” “Black Bottom,” “Birth of the Blues,” the musical Good News (“Good News,” “Varsity Drag,” “Lucky In Love,” “Just Imagine,” “The Best Things In Life Are Free”), “You´re The Cream In My Coffee,” “Together,” “Button Up Your Overcoat,” “I Want To Be Bad,” “Thank Your Father,” “Sonny Boy,” “It All Depends On You,” “I´m A Dreamer, Aren´t We All?” “If I Had A Talking Picture of You,” “Sunny Side Up”…

Brown & Henderson: “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “My Song,” “Don´t Bring Lulu”…

Vincent Youmans (1898-1946), possessing an outsized talent for both melodic invention and self-destruction, was the perfect Jazz Age hero. In fact, a major character reputedly inspired by him appears in Fitzgerald´s TENDER IS THE NIGHT and Zelda Fitzgerald herself wrote repeatedly of Youmans as The One who provided the musical backdrop for the fabled expatriate fantasy world she and Scott inhabited.

Youmans´ career was brief but brilliant, yielding fewer than 100 tunes, a disproportionate percentage of them still considered standards: “Hallelujah,” “Great Day,” “More Than You Know,” “Tea For Two,” “Time On My Hands,” “Drums In My Heart,” “Through The Years,” “Without A Song,” Too Many Rings Around Rosie,” “You Can Dance With Any Girl At All,” “I Want To Be Happy,” “Sometimes I´m Happy,” “Rise ‘N Shine,” the Astaire-Rogers film classic FLYING DOWN TO RIO (lyrics by Gus Kahn: “Music Makes Me,” “The Carioca,” “Orchids In The Moonlight,” “Flying Down To Rio”); and the 1925 musical NO, NO NANETTE, revived in 1971 sparking the ongoing revival of interest in the Golden Age of Broadway and Popular Song.

Like JAZZ AGE KINGS, Part One, this Lecture-In-Song reminds us that nothing animates and illuminates history so completely as its great songs.

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.