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Words and Music Of Irving Berlin


The second volume in our 'Words & Music' series: 22 masterpieces from 'the father of American popular song'. Includes many numbers from 'Top Hat' and 'On The Avenue'.

Carroll Gibbons: Top Hat, White Tie And Tails
The Boswell Sisters: Cheek To Cheek << sound clip
Frank Sinatra: Blue Skies
Bing Crosby: How Deep Is The Ocean?
Billie Holiday: He Ain't Got Rhythm
Fred Astaire: The Piccolino
Eddie Cantor: Mandy
Connie Boswell: All Alone
Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra: Slummin' On Park Avenue
Dick Powell: This Year's Kisses
Ambrose/Sam Browne: Soft Lights And Sweet Music
The Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra: Heat Wave
Al Bowlly: Marie
Ginger Rogers: No Strings << sound clip
Fred Astaire: Let's Face The Music And Dance
Hildegarde: A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody
Hutch: I Poured My Heart Into A Song
Dick Powell: The Girl On The Police Gazette
Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra: I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
Ted Lewis & His Band: Alexander's Ragtime Band
Rudy Vallee: Say It Isn'i So
Louis Armstrong & The Mills Brothers: The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On) << sound clip

Israel Baline may not have been born in the United States, but there is no other music on earth that sounds more American than his. He'd been born in Teemun, in Russia, but a pogrom mounted against the Jews forced the family to emigrate. They settled on the South side of New York, and the young composer was forced to earn a living on the streets, as accompanist to a blind musician, when his father died prematurely. Now renamed Irving Berlin, he embarked on his main career as a songwriter, and subsequently as his own publisher - he was to have one of the longest of all careers in the world of music. For the next hundred years and more, the name of Irving Berlin meant - as it still means - American music at its best.

For the classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film 'Top Hat' Irving Berlin came up with a zingy title tune and the caressing ballad Cheek To Cheek. For the former we offer the understated elegance and chic sophistication of the unique sound of the Savoy Hotel under the Direction of Carroll Gibbons, seated at the Piano. The latter is presented by the wonderful close harmony stylings of the first of the great girl groups - the Boswell Sisters - Helvetia (Vet), Martha and arranger Connie, the latter a victim of polio who worked from a wheelchair.

Blue Skies was originally an interpolation in a show by other hands called 'Betty', where it was sung by Belle Baker - as was the hit of the show. It was quickly taken up, and featured in the first part-talkie film 'The Jazz Singer', followed by five appearances over the next twenty or so years, culminating in one actually called 'Blue Skies' which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire - two artistes who have good reason to be grateful to this master songwriter. Here is a fine version of the song by Hoboken's gift to the world of song, Francis Albert Sinatra. In the film of 'Blue Skies' Bing Crosby recalled a number of fine Berlin masterpieces. One of them was the 1933 How Deep Is the Ocean? and he sings it here for you now.

A wonderful film with a Berlin score was the 1937 'On The Avenue'. Dick Powell, Madeleine Carroll and Alice Faye kept the audiences happy, and the Ritz Brothers made them laugh. The greatest jazz singer of all, the tragic Billie Holiday, reminds us of two of the film's major hits: the comic He Ain't Got Rhythm, and the ingratiating ballad I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.

Fred Astaire was not merely the greatest dancer to grace the screen, he also inspired the great composers to create some of their finest work for him to introduce. He sings two numbers from two separate film successes. The elaborate finale to 'Top Hat' was a new dance entitled The Piccolino originally warbled by Fred and Ginger, in an idealised Venetian setting created by the inspired art direction of Van Nest Polglase. In their nautical adventure 'Follow The Fleet', the temporary unhappy pair of Astaire and Rogers created one of their most memorable love duets in Let's Face The Music And Dance, one of Irving Berlin's finest inspirations. Mandy, forever associated with Eddie Cantor, first surfaced in 1918 and was featured in 'Yip-Yip-Yaphank' and then graced the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919. Berlin remembered it when compiling his Second World War revue 'This Is The Army'. If that wasn't enough Eddie Cantor included it in his film smash 'Kid Millions' and Bing Crosby in 'White Christmas'. A popular song indeed was Mandy.

'The Music Box Revue' of 1925 included another superb Berlin standard - All Alone, and we've chosen a definitive performance from the most versatile and talented of the Boswell sisters, Connie. Another hit from the score of 'On The Avenue' was Slumming On Park Avenue, introduced by vivacious blonde Alice Faye, and heard here in the swinging up-tempo Jimmie Lunceford arrangement. Apparently dapper leading man Dick Powell hated singing - but during the thirties he was asked to do little else - it was only after the war that he got cast as tough detectives. As one of the stars of 'On The Avenue' he got some fine songs to introduce - for example This Year's Kisses and The Girl On The Police Gazette, that he reprises for us here.

In 1932 Irving Berlin scored a Broadway success with the satirical and political musical 'Face The Music', and gave its hero a beautiful standard to sing, Soft Lights And Sweet Music, heard here in the beautifully smooth version from Ambrose with Sam Browne handling the vocal refrain. Two years later, the magnificent Ethel Waters introduced Heat Wave in the revue 'As Thousands Cheer'. It was featured in three subsequent films - 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' with Ethel Merman in charge, 'Blue Skies' and a memorable interpretation from Marilyn Monroe in 'There's No Business Like Show Business' - but you won't be disappointed by the Dorsey Brothers' exciting version we offer. 1929 was the year for Berlin's tribute to Marie that also would find its way into 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' and much later into the eerie 'The Awakening'. Al Bowlly's version is a classic. Ginger Rogers was serenaded to sleep in a soft shoe lullaby by Fred Astaire early on in the film of 'Top Hat' - and liked the song, NoStrings so much that she recorded it - it's here for you to enjoy.

The archetypical fashion parade number of all was introduced in the 'Ziegfeld Follies of 1919' when it was sung by the legendary John Steel. A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody has remained popular ever since. Milwaukee's own continental diseuse Hildegarde made a much admired recording of the song - and here it is. Grenada-born, New York educated, and British by adoption and career, Leslie Hutchinson, Hutch for short, was the doyen of pre-war piano and vocal cabaret entertainers. Here he reminds us of a song that could be a motto for its composer, the Academy Award nominated I Poured My Heart Into A Song from the film 'Second Fiddle'. The rumbustious band leader, clarinettist and singer Ted Lewis recorded a memorable version of Alexander's Ragtime Band, written in 1911, guaranteed to produce a happy mood. Rudy Vallee, one of the early crooners, gives us now a 1933 success, one of Berlin's few sad songs - Say It Isn't So. (As a talent spotter, Vallee was one of the first to discover the talent Alice Faye). Louis Armstrong, the sound of jazz in the twentieth century brings our parade of Irving Berlin hits to a close, as, accompanied by the finest of all the close harmony male groups, The Mills Brothers, he reminds us that The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On) from the long forgotten 1928 show 'Will O' The Whispers'. And the magic of Irving Berlin's music will never fade.


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