The 1930s are often called the Golden Age of the Hollywood Musical. The Great Depression had taken its toll on show business in New York, shrinking employment for great Broadway and Tin Pan Alley songwriters such as Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern.
At the same time the motion picture business in Hollywood was booming. It was a time when movie tickets were cheap, and the public clamored for elaborate, lavish musicals depicting a fantasy of romance and elegance far removed from the daily reality of unemployment and hard times. Many of the songwriters heeded the call, made the move to Hollywood, and composed songs for the movies that remain golden standards of jazz repertoire to this day.
Our show this week features two well-known interpreters of classic American song: guitarist/vocalist/raconteur Marty Grosz and singer Susannah McCorkle, talks of how she developed a love of singing these gold standards.
Born Salvatore Anthony Guaragna in Brooklyn, NY in 1893, Harry Warren started out in the music business as a song plugger for a Tin Pan Alley publishing firm. After his initial success in 1922 with “Rose of the Rio Grande,” he produced a steady stream of hits, such as the now standard jam session tune “Nagasaki” and he collaborated with top lyricists Gus Kahn and Kalmar & Ruby.
1932 saw Warren’s career rise to new heights. He was asked to score the movie musical 42nd Street with lyricist Al Dubin. The phenomenal success of this movie led to a decades-long career scoring movie musicals in partnership with Dubin and other lyricists. Susannah sings "42nd Street," "Lullaby of Broadway" and another Warren masterpiece, "I Had the Craziest Dream," written for the 1942 film Springtime in the Rockies.
Other songs in this week's show that originated in motion pictures:
Marty Grosz sings the familiar standard "Jeepers Creepers," a Harry Warren collaboration with Johnny Mercer for the 1938 film Going Places. In the film Louis Armstrong sings the song to a horse by the name of Jeepers Creepers.
"How Little We Know," originally a waltz, was composed by Hoagy Carmichael for Lauren Bacall to sing in the 1942 film To Have and Have Not. In our version, Susannah swings it with the Band in 4/4 time.
'When Your Lover Has Gone," composed for the 1931 James Cagney film Blonde Crazy, was for many years the closing nightly theme of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band at The Landing in San Antonio.
"I'm Old Fashioned" was a Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer collaboration for the 1942 film You Were Never Lovelier starring Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire. Since then the tune has been recorded by jazz artists of all stripes including Susannah McCorkle, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker and John Coltrane.
"The Lady's in Love With You" comes from the 1939 film Some Like It Hot starring Bob Hope and Shirley Ross, and was composed by Burton Lane with lyrics by Frank Loesser. It was a major hit for Glenn Miller that year and is a favorite of The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and others.
Photo credit for Home Page: 42nd Street chorus line. Photo in public domain.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©1990