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Bits and Pieces

(The contents herein may or may not resemble actual events in my life)

We had snow here today.
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Well. SOME snow. A dusting of snow. It was pretty, and then it was gone. THE BEST KIND OF SNOW! So in honor of the best kind of snow, here is Jason Mraz singing "Winter Wonderland" by Richard B. Smith and Felix Bernard:


Video courtesy of wavester

How's that for an acoustic version?

(Yes, that's a Santa hat, and Jason mentions Chanukah, but the actual lyrics do not mention Christmas or Chanukah or any holiday at all. Just winter. It is still winter.)

I also love the Eurythmics' very cool version, and since I don't feel like choosing, let's have that, too:


Video posted by DreamsILive

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I can find very little about Richard B. Smith, the lyricist, but Wikipedia (which is never wrong) says he was Episcopalian. (He had a very short life, dying at age 34 of tuberculosis.)


However, the composer, Felix Bernard (Felix William Bernhardt), was Jewish.

[How do we--and Wikipedia--know this? Nate Bloom went and found Bernard's parents, Charles and Anna Bernhardt, in the 1920 census, and they listed their native tongue as Yiddish. Therefore, almost certainly, Jewish.]

Although Bernard was quite successful as a composer--and he also had his own band and his own, self-produced, radio program--you probably won't recognize many of his songs. He wrote primarily for vaudeville and vaudevillians, including such greats as Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Sophie Tucker, and, like his lyricist on "Winter Wonderland" he died young, at age 47. "Winter Wonderland," on the other hand, has had a long and happy life, having been recorded by over 200 artists to date. (Check out the list, it's amazing.)

As always, comments are more than welcome! (Please leave them at my new blogsite... Thank you!)
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A big storm system has dumped ice and snow over a big chunk of the country...
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...but here in New York City, although it is in fact snowing, we're just getting a pretty dusting. So, let's go on a little

"Sleigh Ride," by Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish, sung by The Ronettes:


Video from PhilSpectorVEVO

That's a 1963 recording, and a classic, but if you prefer something a little more contemporary, here's "Sleigh Ride" sung by Pentatonix (which also has the advantage of including the two verses--almost everyone else leaves them out):


Video from PTXofficial


Leroy Anderson composed "Sleigh Ride" as an orchestral piece first recorded by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops:


Video posted by luckysmusic

However, when the Boston Pops recording became a hit, Anderson got Mitchell Parish, who had already written lyrics for a number of Anderson's compositions, to fit lyrics to the melody. It's not the easiest thing in the world to fit lyrics to a melody that is already fixed in people's heads. As Leroy Anderson said, usually the lyricist gets to choose the title:

But here, he was stuck with the title, he had the title already, and that was not only the subject, but he had to get the word "Sleigh Ride" in somewhere, he had to fit that word in and he had to build the lyrics around it. And this takes a very skilled writer, a very skilled lyricist.


***


And although Leroy Anderson was not Jewish, Mitchell Parish was. Born Michael Hyman Pashelinsky in Lithuania, Parish was a mainstay of Tin Pan Alley. As did so many others, he began as a song plugger, trying to sell a publisher's songs to vaudeville acts. Over the years he wrote the lyrics for over 600 songs with at least a hundred different composers, many of which became standards, including "Star Dust" with Hoagy Carmichael, "Sophisticated Lady" with Duke Ellington, and "Moonlight Serenade" with Glenn Miller. Parish was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972.

Comments welcome! Please leave them at my new blog. :)
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It really, really is.
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"Baby, It's Cold Outside," by Frank Loesser, as sung by Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt:


Video posted by Dragon Blast

New York hasn't seen temps above freezing in almost two weeks and at this point it's cold inside, too!


Alas, it is no longer possible to play this song without addressing the controversy that has arisen around it over the years because of the "wolf" and "mouse" aspects of the song, especially the "Say, what's in that drink?" lyric. And of course, if you look at the lyrics (or listen to some of the recorded duets), it certainly sounds like a man pressuring a woman to submit to sex.

First, that line, which sounds suspiciously like it's referring to a date rape drug. TODAY. The song was written in 1944, before date rape drugs were a thing that people normally thought of, and I've definitely heard that line used (mostly by men) in several movies of that period--a slangy way of saying "I didn't mean that, that's the alcohol talking," when it's very clear to everyone in the room that it is not at all the alcohol talking...and I'm not the only person who's noted that.

Also it seems to me only fair to the songwriter to bear in mind that the song was originally written by Loesser to sing with his wife at parties as a signal that things were starting to wind down, and indeed, if a couple is singing that to each other in front of you, it does suggest that it's time to clear out. His then-wife, Lynn Garland, in fact, was not in the least bit happy when he sold the song to MGM*, Oscar or no Oscar (and it did win the Oscar for Best Original Song), since it was supposed to be "theirs."

Still, it is no longer 1944, and in the normal way of things you can hardly stop everything to explain the original context before playing the song. So despite the fact that this is another one of those songs that everyone, but EVERYONE, has covered--recent pairings include Sara Bareilles and Seth McFarland, Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé (which has a video I find more than slightly creepy), and Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker--if you are going to play it, you need to be careful with the version you choose. The one I brought here, from "Lady Gaga & The Muppet's Holiday Spectacular," I find charming. Don't they seem to be having a blast? I think that the playfulness in the video, taken together with the role reversal, helps bring the song back to the spirit in which it was meant to be heard.

***


I've spoken about Frank Loesser before, but there's more: In addition to the two Best Musical Tonys he won for Guys and Dolls and How To Succeed, he picked up another two Tony nominations (Best Musical for Most Happy Fella and Best Composer for How To Succeed), and he won a Pulitzer for How To Succeed. Neptune's Daughter, the movie in which "Baby, It's Cold Outside" appeared, was only one of the more than fifty movies he composed, wrote or co-wrote for; in addition to the Best Song Oscar he won for "Baby, It's Cold Outside, he picked up another four Oscar nominations for Best Original Song, including one for "Thumbelina" from Hans Christian Anderson, for which he wrote the score.


Video posted by Movieclips


Video posted by sawing14s

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*pp. 79-81.

Please bring comments over to my new blog! I'd really be interested to hear what you think about this song in these #MeToo days, because I'm torn.
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Not feeling it yet?
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Me, either.

"It's Just Another New Year's Eve" by Barry Manilow and Marty Panzer, sung by Barry Manilow:


Video posted by BarryManilowOfficial

Okay, okay, Murphy Brown joke, whatever. But did you listen to the song? Because it's really good. Try listening to the same song sung by Lea Salonga:


Video posted by LeaSalonga--Topic (Provided to YouTube by Sony Music Entertainment)

It's really lovely.

I've often heard it said that all Manilow's songs sound the same, but my theory is that he sings in a very stylized way and it's a strong enough style that the songs he sings sound more alike than different. Not that he doesn't have a distinctive music writing style--he does--but the songs on his albums that he didn't write sound as much like Barry Manilow as the ones he did. (This one is based on a Bach melody, even.) That's a neat trick.

Besides, right about now, I find it really nice to hear someone sing "We've come through all the rest, we'll get through this," don't you?

***


I can't find anything definitive about Marty Panzer's heritage--or really anything about him before the age of 18, when he started writing jingles with Manilow--even on his own website. So with no evidence as to whether he's Jewish, I'll just add that Panzer is regarded as a master lyricist, he collaborates often with Manilow, and has, as his website puts it, garnered "35 gold and platinum albums, four BMI million-play awards, a 3 million-play award, and record sales in excess of 70 million units."


Of course, Barry Manilow (born Barry Alan Pincus) himself is Jewish. His musical output is prodigious, having written over 400 songs, and he's a tireless performer. He's picked up two Emmys, a Grammy, three American Music Awards, and a Special Tony, as well as a 2009 Clio for his earlier work in commercials. At one point, five of his albums were simultaneously on the best-seller charts, he's had worlwide sales of over 80 million records, and both Radio & Records and Billboard have ranked him as the top Adult Contemporary chart artist of all time. His musical, Harmony, picked up 10 BroadwayWorld Awards for its 2014 Los Angeles run, and his most recent album, "My Dream Duets," picked up a 2016 Grammy nomination.


But when we're through this New Year, you'll see, we'll be just fine.


Fingers crossed!


All comments on my new blog (https://jewishstereotypesmusic.blogspot.com/2017/12/not-feeling-it-yet-me-either.html), please!
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Writing up your New Year's resolutions?
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Okay, well, me either. (I don't do that, and if I did it would have been done a few month ago.) But apropos of making changes in a new year, here are Ian Axel and Chad King (otherwise known together as A Great Big World) singing their song "This is the New Year" on stage:


Video posted by AGreatBigWorldVEVO

Or if you prefer, here's the official video, which does not feel very "official" at all:


Video posted by AGreatBigWorldVEVO

That video is just joyous, isn't it? Apparently that was the point, according to the guys in a Reddit AMA. They were at a friend's holiday party when Lief Parton (another friend) came up with the idea, so they just filmed it there and then, using the partygoers present. In their words, "[W]e just wanted to capture pure, unscripted joy."

In a 2014 Huffington Post interview, the two had this to say about the song:

In 2008 we went to the most epic New Years party ever in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. On our way back, we felt incredibly inspired by life. This song came from a place where making changes and resolutions in our lives seems to only happen once a year, and we feel like they should be and can be made every day.


***


King's birth name is Chad Vaccarino (he changed it in 2015), and I have no reason whatsoever to think he is Jewish. However, this song was originally released on Ian Axel's debut solo album (and later rereleased as an A Great Big World song), and Axel is Jewish. The two met at NYU and have been writing together ever since.

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Is it too early to ask? Or too late? These things are so complicated.
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"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" by Frank Loesser, sung by The Orioles in the original 1949 recording:


Video posted by MusicProf78

According to the Songfacts blog, this is the second most popular song for the end of the year, and it is

the kind of ballad that is usually sung in a melancholy tone because the singer instinctively knows the answer (you're probably busy).


So let's undercut the lyrics with this playful version sung by Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt:


Video by HelloGiggles/Zooey Deschanel

Maybe it's that they're clearly having so much fun, or maybe it's that it's a duet, but one way or another they clearly expect the answer to be, "Spending it with you, you idiot!"

Deschanel's note is wrong about one thing, though--the original isn't by Nancy Wilson, whose recording of the song came out in 1965. "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" was written by Frank Loesser in 1947 as a stand-alone song, and it was first recorded by The Orioles a couple of years later.

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And Frank Loesser was Jewish. Loesser (pronounced "lesser"), the son of German-Jewish parents, is probably best known for writing the songs for the Broadway musicals Guys and Dolls and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (he won Tonys for music and lyrics for both shows), but that's just the tip of the iceberg. He also wrote the scores for over 60 films, winning an Oscar for Best Music (and picking up four more nominations along the way; he also wrote or co-wrote (as lyricist) over 700 songs, including the lyrics to Hoagy Carmichael's "Heart & Soul," which you will definitely recognize even if you do not know the lyrics:


Video from MusicOverYears

Despite his successes, the members of his immediate family were far more annoyed than pleased with Frank's success--his father was a piano teacher and his older brother was a well-known pianist and music critic, and they were, as Loesser's daughter put it, "very snobbish German lovers of classical music. They thought that popular music was trash." But, she hastened to add, they loved him anyway, and he them. They just didn't think much of his career--but how lucky we are that he chose to go his own way!

(Comments on my new blog, please!)
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Although it's been said many times...
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"The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells, sung by Paul McCartney:


Video by Paul McCartney

And sung by Mel Tormé and Judy Garland, including the rarely-recorded opening verse:


Video posted by BestArtsJudy

"The Christmas Song," was written by Tormé and Wells when then were 19 and 22 respectively. According to Tormé, it was written in about 45 minutes during a heat wave, sparked by an attempt by Wells to cool off by thinking winter thoughts. (This seems to be a not-uncommon trigger for the writing of Christmas songs.)

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This is probably the best known song by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells, both of whom were Jewish.

Although Tormé is best known as a jazz singer (he was dubbed "The Velvet Fog") and for his many appearances on TV shows, he wrote or co-wrote more than 300 songs, about half of which he wrote with Wells. In his clearly abundant spare time he managed to write 5 books and to become a licensed airplane pilot.

Wells, born Robert Levinson, also wrote lyrics with many other musicians (including Duke Ellington and Henry Mancini), picking up a number of Oscar nominations, and was a scriptwriter and producer as well as a music director and soundtrack writer, winning six Emmys for his television work.


To all those celebrating,

...merry Christmas to you

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May your days be merry and bright
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I don't think this song needs much of an introduction--here's "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin, sung by Bing Crosby and Martha Mears (dubbing actress Marjorie Reynolds), in the movie Holiday Inn:

Video posted by alpineic1. (Only the first two and half minutes or so of the video are from the film.)

Or, if you prefer, a cover by Bette Midler that includes the rarely-recorded first verse:


Video posted by Bette Midler - Topic, provided to YouTube by Sony Music Entertainment


The song was written for the aforementioned Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire vehicle Holiday Inn and became an instant classic. Crosby's version of "White Christmas" is the best selling record of all time,* the single selling at least 50 million copies; when all the various covers (over 500 at current reckoning) are taken into account, the song is estimated to have sold over 150 million copies and there has even been an entire book written about it. All this despite--or perhaps because of?--the fact that it's not so much about Christmas itself as, as the lyrics tell us, a dream or fantasy of what an ideal Christmas ought to be.

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Irving Berlin has no place in American music--he is American music.

--Jerome Kern



What can one say about the famously-Jewish Irving Berlin? Starting out desperately poor, quite literally scrambling for pennies on the streets of New York, he ended up the enormously successful songwriter of 20 Broadway shows, 17 movies, and over 1500 songs, an inordinate percentage of which became part of the American musical vernacular. And all this despite the fact that he had no formal education past age eight (he left school to help support his family) and never did learn how to read or write music--he could only play piano by ear, in one key. He was a co-founder of ASCAP, founder of his own music publishing company, and, with Sam Harris, builder of Broadway's Music Box Theater. Among his many awards was the Congressional Medal of Honor for writing "God Bless America." ** George Gershwin called him "the greatest songwriter that has ever lived," and, in the Kennedy Center Tribute to Irving Berlin, Walter Cronkite said

Other nations are defined by their classical composers. America, appropriately, is defined musically by this Russian immigrant.



Video posted by Dia Reinhardt

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* Since the Crosby's single was released before singles charts were a thing, I'm going by the conclusions of the researchers at the Guiness Book of World Records.

** All profits from "God Bless America," by the way, go to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, and always have. Berlin wrote the song during WWI for an army revue, but didn't use it. When Kate Smith went to him for a song to use in 1938, he pulled it from his trunk and offered it to her (with some lyric revisions), and that's the song we know now.
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If such is your intention, you probably should already have headed out.
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"I'll Be Home for Christmas," by Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, and Buck Ram, sung by Kristin Chenoweth:


Video posted by KristinChenowethVEVO

And an informal acoustic cover of "I'll by Home for Christmas," sung by Jason and Michael Castro:


Video by Jason Castro (Yes, the 'stache is unfortunate.)

The song, wistful and haunting, was first recorded in 1943, and became an instant hit, resonating strongly with soldiers at the front during WWII as well as with their families. It still speaks to those who can't be with their loved ones during the holidays.

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As for the writers:

A few years back, Wikipedia said that lyricist Kim Gannon was Jewish; currently, however, it says Irish-American. I cannot, in fact, find any source that says he was Jewish, so I think it's safe to say he was not.

Buck Ram has co-writing credit on the song, but there's considerable controversy over whether or not he should. He certainly copyrighted a song (originally a poem) with that title, but it is not clear that Kent and Gannon saw that song before coming out with theirs, nor is any similarity--aside from the title--between the two songs. However, Ram sued and won, so the credit is his. Either way, Buck Ram...might have been Jewish. Wikipedia now says he was, but in the past it did not, and the source cited for his Jewishness says he was born and grew up in New York, while all the other sources I can find (including Wikipedia) says Chicago. AllMusic just describes his parents as "upwardly mobile," which might be code for Jewish, or it might mean, you now, upwardly mobile. So...maybe? Ram started out as a violinist and showed promise until he fractured his hand playing football. He graduated law school and passed the California bar but never practiced law; instead he went into music arranging and writing and later turned his hand (very successfully) to talent management and music production.

So we have one "no" and one "maybe" (on two counts)--but so far as I can tell, the composer of "I'll Be Home for Christmas," Walter Kent, was indeed the composer and was indeed Jewish. (He was originally named Walter Maurice Kaufman, which certainly lends credence to the claim.) I couldn't find out much online about him, but as well as writing songs, he was a composer, orchestra leader--and a practicing architect. Somehow, though, he managed to write music for a dozen movies, collecting two Oscar nominations for Best Song along the way, in addition to his stand-alone songs. Busy man!

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About "making hearts grow three sizes in one day"
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"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" by Albert Hague and Theodor Geisel, sung by Thurl Ravenscroft:


Video posted by horgemlingurinn

And here's a cover by Darius Rucker:


Video posted by Darius Rucker


To quote from Albert Hague's obituary in the The New York Times:

"When he played the song he wrote for the Grinch assignment to Theodore Geisel, Mr. Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) exclaimed, 'Any man who slides an octave on the word Grinch gets the job.'"


***


Whether you call him Dr. Seuss or Mr. Geisel, the children's book writer/lyricist was not Jewish. (Although he was actively anti-Nazi even prior to the US entering WWII, and produced many anti-Nazi political cartoons.)


The composer, however--Albert Hague--was Jewish. He was raised Lutheran, because his German Jewish parents felt that their Jewish heritage was a liability (and of course in Germany at that time it most certainly was), but as that provided no shield from the Nazis he and his mother fled Germany in 1937. He served in the US Army during WWII and began to identify as Jewish.

After the war he had a varied and busy career as a musician and performer, but is probably best known for for writing the music for the 1966 TV version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and for his role as the music teacher, Mr. Shorofsky, in both the film and television versions of Fame, shown here singing a song he himself wrote the music for:


Video posted by mark1814

That song is from the Broadway musical The Fig Leaves are Falling, which he composed, with book and lyrics by Allan Sherman. (Yes, the Allan Sherman of "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!" fame. Who was also Jewish.)

You definitely should read the entire Times' obituary quoted above, because what with one thing and another, Hague had quite an interesting life.

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