Program : 
Broadway & the Movies: Vintage Songs from the 1920s & 30s

Nina Ferro. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Riverwalk Jazz radio show is a concert devoted to America’s Golden Age of Popular Song and was recorded live at The Landing in San Antonio with vocalist Nina Ferro and The Jim Cullum Jazz Band in 1997. Celebrating songs of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, collectively known as the Great American Songbook, our show features timeless compositions first popularized in Broadway shows, Harlem cabarets and Hollywood movies, and through early recordings and Tin Pan Alley sheet music of the day. This was the first era of popular song to put America on the map as a center of pop music around the world.


Many of these ‘Golden Age’ songs were written in the early days of the recording business. Hollywood was in its infancy and some of our most talented tunesmiths had left New York to try their hands at writing hits for the movies in Los Angeles. In 1930s Hollywood, you might find Hoagy Carmichael (“Star Dust”), Johnny Mercer (“Come Rain or Come Shine”) or George and Ira Gershwin (“I Got Rhythm”) sitting around the pool at the Bel Air, or hanging out at the Polo Club, between songwriting sessions. The music and lyrics of these master songwriters display a rare combination of wit, elegance and romance and their work has sustained enormous popularity through the decades.


Ethel Merman with chorus girls from her debut musical, “Girl Crazy.” Photo courtesy of pbs.

It was a time when New York theaters and nightclubs were loaded with talent. Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers dazzled theater audiences in Girl Crazy. Ethel Waters was a knockout performing “Stormy Weather” at the Cotton Club. On Broadway, Jerome Kern’s masterpiece Show Boat and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes appeared for the first time.


Keeping the flame of the Great American Songbook burning brightly on this show is the spectacular singer from Melbourne, Australia, Nina Ferro. Now based in London, Nina began her career in Australia touring with her jazz group, Hotter Than Six while studying at the Victoria College of the Arts. Following her collaborations with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band on Riverwalk Jazz, Ms. Ferro has appeared at jazz festivals in Australia, Japan, the USA, the Netherlands, and at club and concert venues throughout Europe, Scandinavia and the Americas.


Sheet music photo courtesy of musicals101.

Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek” is an Academy Award-nominated tune first introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1935 movie Top Hat.  Notable jazz covers by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.


About the music on this broadcast:


“How About You?” is from the 1941 musical film Babes on Broadway where it was introduced by Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. The songwriters were Burton Lane and lyricist Ralph Freed. Notable covers by Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.


Hoagy Carmichael’s original 1927 version of “Star Dust” was as a medium-fast dance tune. It did not catch on with the public until the songwriting bandleader Isham Jones recorded it as a ballad three years later. The record’s success launched Hoagy’s career as a songwriter. “Star Dust” went on to become one of the most-recorded and requested songs in history. Louis Armstrong, Artie Shaw and Nat Cole recorded significant jazz versions.


Portrait of young Hoagy Carmichael. Photo courtesy of Indiana University.

Hoagy Carmichael’s original title for “Skylark” was “Bix Licks,” named after Jazz Age icon and cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Hoagy and Beiderbecke became friends when Carmichael was studying law at the University of Indiana at Bloomington and he hired Bix and the Wolverines to perform at a frat party. Hoagy often said he had the sound of Bix’s cornet in his mind while composing. Jim Cullum jokes, “Hoagy actually became a lawyer, went out and practiced law for a while but decided that he really wanted to be a full-time musician and composer and pianist. This makes him the only lawyer in history who ever amounted to anything.”


The lyricist for “Skylark” was Johnny Mercer, a “perfect butterball of a Southerner,” according to Hoagy Carmichael. Mercer was famous for writing lyrics quickly, usually after taking a nap, but it took him a year to write the “Skylark” lyric.


“'Deed I Do” was composed in 1926 for the vaudeville stage by Fred Rose with lyrics by Walter Hirsch; and it was popularized by a recording by 1920s bandleader Ben Bernie. Benny Goodman made his first recording with this tune for Ben Pollack in 1926. Notable jazz covers are by Lena Horne, Ray Charles, and Ella Fitzgerald.


Alec Wilder “I'll Be Around” in 1942. Wilder said in an interview that he first came up with the melody to the title phrase, then composed the rest of the tune.  He said, “I remember it only took about 20 minutes. The lyric took much longer to write." In 1943, the Mills Brothers made a popular recording of the number.  Other notable jazz covers are by Billie Holiday, Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington.


Sheet music image courtesy of wikimedia.

George and Ira Gershwin introduced “I've Got a Crush on You” in the 1928 Broadway musical Treasure Girl, but it didn’t become popular until it appeared in the Gershwin musical Strike Up the Band two years later.  Fred Astaire debuted George and Ira’s “They Can't Take That Away From Me” in the 1937 film, Shall We Dance. The tune has been covered by almost every major jazz artist, including Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday.


“Honeysuckle Rose” was created by the songwriting team of Fats Waller and Andy Razaf for the revue Load of Coal, and was first presented in 1929 at Connie’s Inn in New York. The tune has become a favorite at jazz jam sessions, and the chord changes have been used as the underpinning for countless melodies and riffs in jazz.


Composed in 1955 by David Mann with lyrics by Bob Hilliard, “In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning” was introduced as the title track of Frank Sinatra's 1955 album titled, In the Wee Small Hours. The number was revived by Carly Simon in the 1993 hit movie Sleepless in Seattle.


Photo credit for homepage image: Nina Ferro, courtesy of the artist.