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Triple Crown Of Tunesmiths This Week On Riverwalk Jazz

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Jim Cullum Jr. This week on Riverwalk Jazz, it’s the music of songwriters Vincent Youmans, Johnny Green and Harry Barris
Harry Barris
b.1905
. Special guests Shelly Berg
Shelly Berg
Shelly Berg

piano
and Dick Hyman
Dick Hyman
Dick Hyman
b.1927
piano
join The Jim Cullum Jr.
Jim Cullum Jr.
Jim Cullum Jr.
b.1941
cornet
Jazz Band on piano and Topsy Chapman, Marty Grosz
Marty Grosz
Marty Grosz
b.1930
guitar
and Carol Woods handle the vocals.

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.

Jazz blossomed into a golden age in the 1920s, and three men with talent to spare left an indelible mark on its repertoire. One was a show-biz wonder with a big personality. Two wrote for Broadway. All three turned out huge hits that remain jazz standards today.

“Tea for Two”

Vincent Youmans had a high success rate when it came to writing hit songs. A fifth of the tunes he composed went on to become lasting hits, like his torchy ballads “Time on My Hands” and “More Than You Know.” As highly regarded on New York’s music scene in the 1920s as George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin
1898 - 1937
composer/conductor
, Youmans and Gershwin often competed for the same work. But Youmans was only 27 when his stage musical No, No, Nanette took him to the top, becoming the hottest musical comedy of the Jazz Age in both Europe and America. In 1933 he received an Oscar nomination for Best Song, writing ”The Carioca” for the score of the first Fred and Ginger movie musical, Flying Down to Rio.

Vincent Youmans tasted success early, but his life was short and sad. His tragic flaw appears to have been his burning desire to be respected for writing “serious" music—not just show tunes. He wasn’t content to be a composer. His efforts at becoming a producer and theater owner eventually bankrupted him. Though he was one of the least recognized of America’s Golden Age songwriters when he died at the age of 48, his songs like “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy” rose to the top of the list of popular jazz standards.

“Body and Soul,” The Gold Standard

A stylish Harvard man in the late 1920s, Johnny Green (pictured above) was writing dance arrangements for the Guy Lombardo
Guy Lombardo
1902 - 1977
composer/conductor
Orchestra when he composed his first hit, “Coquette.” A jazz standard today, it’s been recorded by a slew of jazz artists, including Bix Beiderbecke
Bix Beiderbecke
Bix Beiderbecke
1903 - 1931
cornet
and Sidney Bechet
Sidney Bechet
Sidney Bechet
1897 - 1959
sax, soprano
—and more recently, George Shearing
George Shearing
George Shearing
1919 - 2011
piano
. Another popular Johnny Green hit song is “I Cover the Waterfront,” made famous in the '30s by Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
.

Green hit a home run in 1929 when he was only 20 with his song “Body and Soul,” which became one of the most recorded jazz standards of all time. “Body and Soul” topped the charts for six weeks the first time it was recorded. Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
, Red Allen, and Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
1909 - 1986
clarinet
all made their own recordings of the tune, but it’s Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
’ 1939 record that became highly influential, especially among saxophonists.

Johnny Green went on to win five Oscars, a Grammy, a Golden Globe and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He wrote hit songs for Broadway and was the bandleader on Your Hit Parade in its heyday as the top radio series in the country. In the '40s he turned to film and became a staff composer and conductor at MGM—the hub of Hollywood musicals. In the '50s Green branched out into composing for television.

Writing Hits for Bing

Harry Barris sprang on the scene as the living stereotype of a 1920s jive-talking jazzman. Dark hair slicked back and parted in the middle, he cracked jokes and banged the lid of the piano as he sang his show-stopping novelty songs that had the audience tied in knots.

But there was more to Barris’ songs than Roaring '20s “razz-ma-tazz." Several found their way into the pantheon of jazz standards. Bix Beiderbecke was among the artists to record Barris compositions like “Wa Da Da” and “Mississippi Mud.”

Harry Barris had a big personality that sometimes got him in trouble—and at other times, got him breaks. Brought in to revive Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman
1890 - 1967
composer/conductor
’s flagging vocal group, the Rhythm Boys, Barris’ slapstick comedy combined with the voices of Al Rinker and Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby
1903 - 1977
vocalist
made the group a star attraction. When the Rhythm Boys’ love of partying got them in trouble with Whiteman, they moved on to a gig at Los Angeles’ chic nightspot Coconut Grove, where there was a broadcast hook-up. It wasn’t long before Bing Crosby’s mellow tones, fronting the Rhythm Boys, were heard across California.

Success ultimately spelled the end of the Rhythm Boys. Though Bing Crosby left to pursue stardom as a solo act, Harry Barris continued to compose songs for Bing and wrote his first big solo hit, “I Surrender, Dear.”


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