A Celebration of 3 Great American Lyricists
The Emerald City Jazz Kings 14th Season
Oct, 2009-May, 2010 - Eugene, Florence & Corvallis
Steve Stone, Music Director
Songs without words (Lieder ohne worte) were the creations of Felix Mendelssohn in the mid-19th century when the piano in the parlor was the latest rage--“What the music I love expresses to me," he argued, "is not thought too indefinite to put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.” That may have worked for Felix and his friends, but not for lovers of the great American songbook, excluding a few hard-core jazz musicians for whom a song is nothing more than a series of chord progressions. For us the music is defined and identified by the lyrics. We would suggest that this is true even for the most experimental jazz improviser. Would he really create an artistic (or not) version of “Body And Soul” if the title were “My Laundry List”?
As musicians we remember the music and identify the composer of record. But songs have titles and lyrics and that is how we call them to mind. Most of the great American songs are collaborative partnerships, but the lyricist is often short-changed. We repeat the quote attributed to Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein when someone referred to “Ol’ Man River” as a ”great Kern song.” Her reply was that “Jerome Kern did not write ‘Ol’ Man River'. Mr. Kern wrote 'dum dum dum da'; my husband wrote 'ol’ man river'.”
Yet of all this, we must confess that most of the songs on our Jazz Kings concerts over the past 13 years have been identified by composer, not lyricist. So we have decided to spend a year honoring three of the most distinguished American Songbook lyricists--Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser and Ira Gershwin—each of whom achieved a place of honor in the American Songbook by very distinctive career paths. We will begin, in October, with Johnny Mercer, whose birth 100 years ago is being widely celebrated this year. We dedicate our February concert to the great Frank Loesser. And we end with the wordsmith who, in many ways, started it all: Ira Gershwin.
It will be a great year! We hope you can join us for all of it!