Author Archives: Darryl Hamilton

The history behind the Great American Songbook

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Great American Songbook is the book which represents the popular songs in America and it was written in the first half of the 20th century. The music publishing industry of that time hired reputable songwriter and was the one to publish the songbook. So that they may increase the sales of sheet music, such industry was plugging the music in venues where it was able to get the exposure like in dance bands, jazz, theaters and vaudevilles and afterwards, they started with film and radio. The period that started in 1900 to 1950 saw many songs written and copyrighted and this period was known as the golden age of the American popular songs and the most memorable songs were written in the 1920 to 1950.

Such songs had many attributes in common and one of these attributes was 32 measures for their length and the only exception was Harold Arlen. Other attributes were the AABA form, introduction which was in a recitative style which was called lyric or verse. The subject matter of such songs is limited and most of the time the songs were about the ballads about the love such as the love that was found, which was lost or which is being searched for. There were also the syncopated tunes that were embracing the joys of life, music or dancing. Sometime the songs were playful or witty the Cole Porter’s songs or they were elegant like the lyrics of Dorothy Fields. The composers invented the ear worm melodic that was able to stick in the earl of the listener and this increased the sales of the sheet music. The composer played with the chromatic and pentatonic creation over the harmonic subtleties and winding modulations. Such popular tunes were crafted and the same time catchy.

The roots of the great american songbook are found in the publishing firms of music that had headquarters in Manhattan. Before the year 1890, the publishers of the music were local printers, music storeowners and classical publishers. Such music was being sold in the stores or was sold by travelling salesmen. There are some of the salesmen who found out that they can make more when they write better songs and they can easily make better profits. This is how they started to write, to publish and to sell own songs. This is how publishing houses that were song-driven had started. The main goal of the publisher became selling the sheet music and this had to be achieved by making the songs that were selling out faster and which had a large audience. The publishers started to hire the songwriters’ stables and own musicians so that they can act like pluggers of their songs. This was the first job that was held by Jerome Kern. The performers in the vaudevilles, theaters and bands were being given cheap copies of newsprint of music so that they can use them within such shows. The vaudeville troops were picking up new songs from the publisher before they went to new tours and this meant greater audience and it increased the sales of the sheet music.

The attributes of the songs in the Great American Songbook

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Great American Songbook is also called the American Standards. It is a canon of the most influential and important jazz standards and popular songs from the 20th century. It has the enduring and most popular songs of 1920s to 1950s. They were created for the Hollywood musical films, musical theater and broadway theater. They were recorded and also performed by many people such as the jazz musicians, instrumental band and singers. The standard songs in the book are from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Others are Richard Rodgers, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and Jerome Kern. Even if such songs had been always popular with the jazz and traditional singers, the interest in the great american songbook started again in the 1970s. This had lead to recording of such songs by contemporary pop and rock singers.

The songs in the book are considered to be America’s classical music because they have the value that lasts forever in terms of the details of their composition, phrasing, musical content and structure. The threat that was given to these songs is when it took time when only these songs were played and there were no new songs that were being introduced.

Even if the songs had narrow ranges for its moods or topics, the songs are known to specialize in the urbane and witty lyrics and they use unexpected rhymes. Such songwriter can combine the memorable melodies that are ranged from the pentatonic, great harmonic subtlety or winding modulations.

Many songs that are found in the Great American Songbook are known to be in the form of thirty-two bar. There are many that have been composed to be played in the musicals and the original songs had a verse to act as the introductory sectional. A sectional verse in the musical is an introduction verse which normally uses free musical structure in the rhythm which is speech like and it is delivered in rubato. Such sectional verse was serving as a way of leading the people from the realist context of their surroundings to the artificial world that the song portrays. It had normally the lyrics in the characters and it was making the reference on the plot of musical in which a song had been written for.

The song itself will be a 32- bar ABAC or AABA form and the lyrics may refer to the timeless themes or situations such as love’s vicissitudes. Such universality was able to make it easier for the songs to be subtracted or even added in the show or to be revived in a new show. Some songs that had been written while using an introductory sectional verse are now performed in full together with its introduction. When a song has a sectional verse, most of the time it is dropped when the song is being performed in other context than its original setup and movies. The sectional verse can be sung or not depending on the person who sings the song and why the song is being sung. Some perform with the sectional verse while others may not because of their reasons.