Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Songbook: April in Paris

I've been reading The Rise and Fall of Popular Music, by Donald Clarke, for about 6 months now (little by little). It's not a great book, but I'm interested in the social history of popular music, and it has revived my interest in Swing Era music.

Looking around for a better books on the subject, I've stumbled on the lovingly written Easy To Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs, by William Zinsser. Easy to Remember contains brief chapters on many of the great composers and lyricists of the period, and Zinsser's appreciative commentary is one part musical education, one part memoir of a life of avid listening, and a third part historical biography. All together it makes Easy to Remember a very easy to read book.

The Swing Era was an era of masterful songwriters who worked within a very strict format, but whose music was "opened up" by the great jazz performers of the era. April in Paris boasts lyrics by Yip Harberg, who wrote Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (featured here in the Friday Songbook series--and to whom I will certainly return once or twice more) and of course all the lyrics for the much-loved songs of The Wizard of Oz (listen to any of the "If I Only Had..." songs and tell me the man is not a genius!).

Anyway, April in Paris! What a mood this song creates. Of countless fine versions, I choose Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's, because it's lush and beautiful and yet gentle and restrained, lovely and perfect.

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