Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Jazz Standards: A Guide To The Repertoire

As one comes to know and appreciate jazz, it becomes apparent that jazz musicians create their own compositions, avail themselves of other jazz compositions, or utilize familiar songs that have become known as "standards."  Standards are often songs from the Broadway stage, but can be any popular tune from the recorded era.  The standard provides a form (verse, chorus, sometimes bridge), a chord progression and a melody that is played at the beginning and end.

With his guide, The Jazz Standards, Ted Gioia provides a great service to anyone interested in exploring jazz by discussing more than 200 of the best known melodies employed in the jazz repertoire.  His entries first give some background on a melody's pre-jazz origins.  He also shares his personal response to each standard often highlighting some of his favorite renditions.  The end of each entry includes a short discography of his preferred recordings.


Despite disliking the melody and chord changes of "All The Things You Are" by Jerome Kern, the author claims it as a favorite standard of his.  He appreciates it for its "exciting set of possibilities as a springboard for jazz improvisation."  The song first appeared in the 1939 musical flop Very Warm For May , but it soon grabbed the attention of jazz musicians.  By the end of the year Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra introduced it and took it to the top of the charts.  The author spoke to saxophonist Bud Shank near the end of his 60 year career "who never felt he had exhausted the possibilities of this specific song."


Writing about "I'm In The Mood For Love," by the standard-making songwriting team of Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Field, Gioia noted that it had the misfortune to be prominently sung by the character of Alfalfa in a Little Rascals short. However, that was already a year after the song had been introduced by Frances Langford in the film Every Night At 8, released in August 5, 1935. The review in Variety magazine noted that "she reprises 'I'm in the Mood for Love' several times" but predicted other songs from the movie would get more attention from the jazz orchestras.  Variety was proven wrong when Louis Armstrong powered it to number 3 on the charts a few months later, assuring its status as a standard.


While he sort of disparages one of my favorites, Vincent Youmans' and Irving Ceasar's "Tea For Two, ("the melody is monotonous and akin to a second-rate nursery song"), Gioia illuminates the song nonetheless.  He repeats the apocryphal tale about how Harry Frazee, the backer of the song's show No, No Nanette, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance his show.  I enjoyed reading about Dmitri Shostakovich's scoring of the song for orchestra (see volume 10 of the composer's collection works - Sobranie sochineniń≠ v soroka dvukh tomakh).  Gioia is at is best when he tells of how New York's finest jazz pianists seemed to try one-up each other with more brilliant renditions of this tune.

Many of these songs are well established within the Great American Songbook making the contents of this book elide well with our Dorothy Starr Collection of sheet music. The cover illustrations above all come from the collection.  You will not find yourself always agreeing with Gioia's assessments, but he takes us on an entertaining and informative journey through this repertoire and will certainly entice you to listen to more jazz.

Art Tatum playing "Tea for two"

The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire by Ted Gioia (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories, 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music: Compiled from America's popular music charts 1890-1954 (Record Research, 1986).

Sobranie sochineniń≠ v soroka dvukh tomakh, volume 10, by D. Shostakovich (Muzyka, 1979-1987).

Variety Film Reviews, volume 5 (Garland Pub., 1983).

Sheet music:


"All The Things You Are," music by Jerome Kern (Chappell & Co. Inc., 1939).


"I'm In The Mood For Love," words and music by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields (Robbins Music Corporation, 1935).

"Tea For Two," music by Vincent Youmans (Harms Inc., 1924).



Blossom Dearie singing "Tea for two"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ballroom Dancing in the Art, Music and Recreation Center Newspaper Clipping Files

One of the tools of the old school reference librarian is the vertical file or newspaper clipping file.  Even as more information is available to be searched on the internet and through databases, the Art, Music and Recreation Center continues to maintain and add to our files.  In recent years we have been adding quite a bit less because we have stopped clipping articles from the San Francisco Chronicle (which has a strong online presence and a database that we subscribe to).  But we continue make an effort to locate material in neighborhood and weekly papers.

Browsing through these files is always a serendipitous experience.  You never know what you will find.  In this entry, we will present a small snapshot of the sort of articles one might find using the Ballroom Dancing file.

Ballroom dance is an activity that takes place away from the glare of the public  spotlight and involves amateurs and enthusiasts of all backgrounds.  Skimming through this folder of at least 100 clippings one can see ballroom dancing as a continuous current flowing through our city's cultural life.



"Allure of Swinging Attracts Fans of All Ages to Amura Ballroom Dance Studio" by Shiela Husting appeared in the Sunset Beacon in July 2007.  This article lists six dance studios in the Sunset District.  Unfortunately, the Amura Ballroom Dance Studio has since shut down, despite rave reviews online.


"Ballroom Dancing Remains on the Hill," by Christina Li appeared in The Potrero View of June 2008.  It discusses Cheryl Burke Dance taking over the space at 17th and DeHaro that was occupied for 17 years by the Metronome Ballroom.  Both of these studios represent the past of 1830 17th Street which is scheduled to be torn down so the Smuin Ballet can build a studio there.

"
"It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing!," by Karen Ahn appeared in San Francisco Downtown in July 1998.  This article discusses a swing dance revival at spaces like Bimbo's, Cafe du Nord and The Inferno Lounge.


"Tea Dancing" by Joan Hockaday appeared in the San Francisco Progress on December 2, 1979.  It describes a Friday night tea dancing event held at the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero.

"Strictly Ballroom, Dancing Classes for Kids," by Angela Neal Richardson appeared in the Nob Hill Gazette of October 1993.  This article discusses The Mid-Weeklies, a series of dance classes for 6th, 7th and 8th graders.  Dance is also taught to these children as a form of social etiquette.


"Strictly Ballroom... and Tango, Swing, Cha Cha..." by Kevin Davis appeared in The Guardsman, the student newspaper of the City College of San Francisco.  This article discusses the school's ballroom dance classes.  It includes this fascinating information: "The 2,200-strong dance community at City College is really a cult-like entity unto itself, extending out  to a wide, underground movement."

Our newspaper clipping files provide a small window into this "underground" world.  It shows that there is a devoted subculture of San Franciscans who sustain this art form.  The popularity of different dance forms may wax and wane, dance venues may come and go, but the continuous enthusiasm and activity of these dancers remains documented in our files.

We have collected information into files on all aspects of the visual and performing arts as well as sports and recreation.  We also have biographical files on visual and performing artists.  Here are links to the indexes of our vertical file collection.