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The Music Of Harold Arlen This Week On Riverwalk Jazz

Published:
Jim Cullum Jr. This week on Riverwalk Jazz, in rare archival interview clips, Harold Arlen
Harold Arlen
Harold Arlen
1905 - 1986
composer/conductor
speaks about his career and how he wrote some of his most enduring songs, performed by the Jim Cullum Jr.
Jim Cullum Jr.
Jim Cullum Jr.
b.1941
cornet
Jazz Band and their guests: Nina Ferro, Dick Hyman
Dick Hyman
Dick Hyman
b.1927
piano
, Rebecca Kilgore
Rebecca Kilgore
Rebecca Kilgore
b.1949
vocalist
and Carol Woods.

The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website. You can also drop in on a continuous stream of shows at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound.

Critic Alec Wilder wrote of Harold Arlen’s gift for songwriting, “Arlen… is fully a product of American jazz, big band music, and American popular song.”

Harold Arlen might have earned his place in the history of American music by writing only “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the signature song in his score for the 1939 movie classic The Wizard of Oz, widely considered to be the number one pop song of the 20th century.

From the very early days of his career, Arlen wrote “riff" and “rhythm" tunes which proved popular with jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
and Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
. All of his work is infused with elements of blues-y melodic fragments and blue tonality—even though he was quick to point out that he didn’t really write formal 12-bar blues. Working on Harlem’s Cotton Club revues in the '20s, Arlen composed for the Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
Orchestra and vocalist Ethel Waters
Ethel Waters
Ethel Waters
1896 - 1977
vocalist
.

By the '30s, Harold Arlen had followed the migration of New York songwriters west to Hollywood where he found himself in demand as a composer of movie musical scores. It was July, 1938, when Arlen and his lyricist partner E.Y. “Yip" Harburg signed with Metro Goldwyn Mayer to write the music for The Wizard of Oz. In only two months they completed the score. Surprisingly, Arlen and producer Arthur Freed had to fight studio bosses to keep “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the movie.

After the success of Wizard, Arlen continued to write hit songs for 40 years. He composed some 400 pieces for Broadway stage shows, Harlem revues and major motion pictures. Many, including “Get Happy,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” are considered essential standards by jazz musicians today.

Guests Dick Hyman, Carol Woods, Rebecca Kilgore and Nina Ferro join The Jim Cullum Jazz Band in a concert of Arlen’s best-known songs and little-known gems, such as ”Blues in the Night,” “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” “A Sleepin' Bee," “Come Rain or Come Shine" and “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”

Despite his great critical success, Arlen never acheived the fame of other songwriters like his friends Irving Berlin or George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin
1898 - 1937
composer/conductor
. The story goes that Arlen hailed a Manhattan taxi one rainy day only to have the cab driver serenade him with “Stormy Weather.” “Do you know who wrote that?” Arlen inquired. “Sure, Irving Berlin,” answered the driver. “Try again.” “Richard Rodgers.” “Nope.” “Cole Porter?” “Actually, I wrote it.” “Who are you?” asked the skeptical driver. “Harold Arlen.” “Harold who?”


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