The history behind the Great American Songbook

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.