In the introduction to his wonderful study of American popular song, Easy To Remember, William Zinsser writes, "My book is a celebration...and one of the miracles I'm celebrating is how powerfully these songs have become lodged in the nation's collective memory." When here at OFAM we began designing this summer's festival, we had much the same thought. Over the past 7 years especially, as we've taken on the cause of the "Great American Songbook" in earnest and have explored and enjoyed its many nooks and crannies with Steve Stong and The Emerald City Jazz Kings during the year and with Dick Hyman and a host of guest artists each summer, we have been consistently impressed by this music's richness, vitality, adaptability and overwhelming appeal.
It is true, as Bill Zinsser points out, that a large part of the power of these great songs is due to the associations that those who came of age when they were being written have with them -- that first Broadway show when you were 6, the Hoagy Carmichael song that was playing when he asked you to dance at the prom, all the songs you heard Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and the rest of them sing up on the screen. But that only explains why you find these old gems so appealing. It doesn't explain why those of us who weren't born yet when Berlin, the Gershwins, Porter, Arlen and the rest were spinning their magic. It doesn't explain why we, so many years later and in seemingly such different times, are still being caught up in their webs. It doesn't explain the surprised joy and fascination we feel as we discover the songs for ourselves for the first time. And it doesn't explain why our grandkids keep asking to see Shall We Dance and Stormy Weather over and over or burst out in that Gene Kelly classic whenever it starts raining...or why the kids who come to Borko's Magical Moombah (OFAM's Saturday morning live music variety show for kids) enjoy songs from old movies as much as any cartoon, enjoy learning the standards as much as hearing current pop.
Great art transcends time and place, and the American Songbook, in all its moods -- playful and pensive, mundane and sublime -- is filled with absolutely unequivocally, stunningly great art. We younger folk don't have our parents' associations with these songs, but we have our own...as do our children and grandchildren and as will, soon, our great-grandchildren. And the songs spun in these new webs hold us and move us just as deeply.
So OFAM 2003 too is a celebration of an art form that has become "lodged in the nation's collective memory." And the part of the miracle we want to emphasize is how much it is continuing to be so.
For the festival, we have adopted the title of Bill Zinsser's story of his "lifelong romance with American popular song" -- itself an allusion to a Rodgers & Hart classic -- and are pleased to have Mr. Zinsser with us for the duration. It will not go unnoticed to those who have read this excellent book that Dick has paid tribute to his friend by organizing the festival's concerts in much the way the author organized his chapters...loosely by composer/lyricist. We hope our effort proves as enjoyable.