Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Music for (your) pleasure, three For this third sample of my writing from Theme Time Radio Hour, I tackle the world's greatest dancer . . .


(Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields)

FRED ASTAIRE with the Oscar Peterson Group

Clef MGC 1002 (1952) 2.58

From Show 78 “Night”

To explain the exquisiteness of Fred Astaire's voice, best start with his legs. The clearest view is in The Barkleys of Broadway - he and Ginger Rogers dance in kilts. His legs are so, so thin - the stuff of chopsticks. They were that way for a reason, though: his exceptional physical balance and grace. You and I need muscles. He got by on air.
His singing was the same. Light to the point of non-existence, it was a speech-like expression of a deep, subtle understanding that the meaning of a great show tune is in the dance between tune and lyrics. And this is one of the greatest. Debuted, by Astaire, in the 1936 movie, Swing Time, it's become an untypically rueful wedding song standard. This version was cut in 1952 in Los Angeles, at loose, lengthy studio sessions with a cool jazz sextet led by Oscar Peterson. The music is by Jerome Kern, a German Jewish New Yorker who fell in love, one summer night in 1910, with the landlord's daughter at the Swan, Walton-on-Thames. They lived the happy-ever-after life of a Broadway hit. The words are by Dorothy Fields - Jewish, from New Jersey and not so lucky in real love. But an exceptional love song lyricist - notice the internal rhyme of 'warm' and 'for me'. When Kern first played her the melody, she left the room to cry. 'I couldn't stop, it was so beautiful.' Love, pain, tears. Death, too. Good or bad, every marriage ends in tears.

PS If you want to hear this song (or any of the others I've posted about), either post a comment or email and I'll send you a link.
Next up The Clash and their Chicago piano

1 comment:

Don't Call Me Dave said...


You kindly gave me a CD at the book signing yesterday at the British Library. I have one for you in return. Where shall I send it?