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Claude's Concert Notes

The Great American Songbook

The Great American Songbook commonly refers to American popular music from the 1920s to the 1960s, before the arrival and success of rock'n'roll. The expression encompasses music from Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies, as well as Tin Pan Alley. This music, which can be likened to swing and big band, is often referred to as two different genres which often converge, traditional pop and vocal jazz. The term “standards” also describes the same music sometimes, despite the fact that it technically embraces a far wider set of genres than does the Songbook. 

Although many consider that the Great American Songbook died with the advent of rock 'n' roll, some American post-rock composers such as Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach—along with international composers such as Leslie Bricusse (British), Michel Legrand (French), and Antônio Carlos Jobim (Brazilian) are also an integral part of the Great American Repertoire of Song.

The collection consists of several songwriters, but nine are represented disproportionally:

Georges Gershwin

Jerome Kern

Cole Porter

Irving Berlin

Richard Rogers

Harry Warren

Harold Arlen

Jule Styne

Jimmy van Heusen


Some circles consider the first five composers represented on the list above to be truly canonical. In this videocast, we concentrate on the first three: George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.

George Gershwin (1898-1937) was born in New York and died prematurely of brain cancer in 1937. A prodigiously talented melodist, he also embarked on a quest to create a fusion of different American popular genres into concert music. This culminated in the composing of his folk opera “Porgy and Bess”; an extraordinary work still frequently performed today. In addition to an arrangement of the first aria from Porgy and Bess, “Summertime”, we are performing a medley of Broadway and single songs: “Somebody Loves Me”, “Swanee”, “The Man I Love”, and “Fascinating Rhythm”.

Jerome Kern (1885-1945) was a true New Yorker – born, bred and died in the Big Apple. His approach for the time was surprisingly modern in terms of harmonies (especially songs such as “All the Things You Are”) and had an enormous influence on future songwriters, including Gershwin. In this video, we perform a medley of Broadway favourites: “The Way You Look Tonight”, “They Didn't Believe Me” (the oldest song in this program, dating from 1914), and “Ol' Man River”.

Cole Porter (1891-1964), together with Jimmy van Heusen, stands out from the aforementioned group of nine since neither were sons of recent Jewish or Italian immigrants. Coming from an established and wealthy family in Indiana, Porter is rather unique for writing his own lyrics, which are witty, urbane and at times shockingly modern to the ears of his contemporaries. We perform a medley of three Broadway tunes: “Night and Day”, “I've Got You Under My Skin”, and “Anything Goes”.

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