[Dixielandjazz] Harold Arlen
bhaesler at bigpond.net.au
Wed Jan 12 13:32:22 PST 2005
The following article appeared in an Australian newspaper, The Sydney
Morning Herald yesterday. it may be of interest to some of you.
'They don't write 'em any more like old what's-his-name.'
January 12, 2005
[Photo cation] Of Harold Arlen's prodigious output Peggy Lee could hardly
have asked "Is that all there is?"
Photo: The New York Times
You might not have heard of him, but you will have heard his tunes, writes
We all hope that somewhere, over the rainbow, the dreams that we dare to
dream "really do come true".
The wistful yet optimistic ballad Over the Rainbow is still one of the
world's most-loved songs, 66 years after its debut on the brink of World War
Recently voted the No.1 song of the 20th century by the American Film
Institute, the song made famous by Judy Garland was already in first place
in previous polls of popular songs taken by the United States National
Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America.
The melody comes to mind with ease, but few can recall quite so easily the
name of the composer. Next month that may change with the centenary of
Harold Arlen's birth and a host of galas and documentaries honouring the
composer, whose score for The Wizard of Oz included the almost as catchy
Follow the Yellow Brick Road, We're Off to See the Wizard and If I Only Had
The BBC will screen a four-part documentary on Arlen next month, while a
centennial celebration will be held at Carnegie Hall on February 14. Arlen
was born on February 15, 1905.
More than 80 events will mark the centenary year, including a tribute at
the Hollywood Bowl and a benefit concert at the Coliseum in London.
Arlen, who died in 1986, wrote more than 400 songs but is best known for
the The Wizard of Oz score, along with Stormy Weather, That Old Black Magic,
One For My Baby (And One More for the Road), It's Only a Paper Moon, Let's
Fall in Love, I've Got the World on a String, The Man That Got Away, Come
Rain or Come Shine, Blues in the Night, and Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive.
Born Hyman Arluck in Buffalo, in the state of New York, Arlen was the son
of a cantor who was, in Arlen's words, "the most delicious improviser I ever
As a child, Arlen sang in his father's choir before he became a singer,
pianist and orchestrator.
He worked with more than 20 lyricists, among them Johnny Mercer and E.Y.
Harburg, the lyricist for The Wizard of Oz.
The first lyricist in Arlen's life was Ted Koehler, whom he met in 1929.
The result was the hit song Get Happy and an invitation to work at the
Cotton Club in Harlem.
The composer Alec Wilder devotes a chapter to Arlen in his book American
Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950. Wilder praises Arlen's
"astonishing melodic gift" and the way in which he thought "in terms of
instruments, both aggregate and singly ... he more than any of his
contemporaries plunged himself into the heartbeat of the popular music of
his youth, the dance band."
The Sydney jazz writer John Clare says that Arlen was deeply influenced by
the music of the Cotton Club, and even the dance routines he saw there.
"His fantastic melodic gift was tied to a very strong feeling of the
rhythms of jazz and blues," Clare says. "He managed to convey the feeling of
the blues but made them [his songs] more melodically flexible.
"This took the blues feeling to an even larger audience. Stormy Weather is
not really blues, and Blues in the Night isn't really blues, but they're
drenched in blues feeling."
Arlen was less celebrated than the other great songwriters of the first
half of the 20th century, among them Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George
Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers. But he was able to laugh at his
own lack of fame.
On the official Arlen website is the following anecdote, taken from the
book Harold Arlen: Happy with the Blues, by Edward Jablonski.
One day, in a cab in Manhattan, Arlen heard the driver whistling Stormy
"Do you know who wrote that song?" he asked the driver.
"Sure. Irving Berlin."
"Wrong," Arlen told him, "but I'll give you two more guesses."
The cabbie thought hard, explaining that the name of the composer was on
the tip of his tongue.
Arlen prompted him: "Richard Rodgers?"
"That is the name I was thinking of," the driver said. "But he's not the
"How about Cole Porter?"
"No, you're wrong again," Arlen told him. "I wrote the song."
The driver, still thinking, finally asked, "Who are you?"
At this, the driver turned around in his seat and asked: "Who?"
[End of article.]
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