I should probably make my point about how a great poem can be made even greater through a sensitive musical setting with something in a language that everyone reading this blogpost can understand, so for that I’ll point you all to a fabulously creepy 1950 poem about a visit to the poet Ezra Pound in an insane asylum by the great American poet by Elizabeth Bishop called “Visits to St. Elizabeth’s.” A mere seven years later it was set to music by one of the most prolific art song composers of all time—Ned Rorem (b. 1923).Read More
The first song I want to feature here is a performance by a solo performer where music, words, singing, and instrumental accompaniment come together as a unified totality. It’s not quite as old as the Hurrian Hymn or the chivalric serenades of the Troubadours, though it’s from a few generations before the people we immediately call to mind when we think of singer-songwriters. “Sugar Baby,” recorded on March 9, 1927, was one of the earliest recordings of American country music.Read More
Listen to how Ann Murray slims that fabulous instrument of hers down to its shining kernel! This is a stunning performance by two fearless, genuine artists. I chose this song because I have learned from my husband that even in the most trying and desperate of times, one must be able to find some small particle of positivity. So, between the screeching of Trump headlines and the next letter to your senator, here’s a little something that is beautiful and timeless.Read More
Kurt Tucholsky once wrote “A country is not only what it does, but what it tolerates.”Read More
From the ultimate satirist, Tom Lehrer.
For might makes right
Until they’ve seen the light
They’ve got to be protected
All their rights respected
’Til somebody WE like can be elected.
Steve first introduced me to the music of Randy Newman with the song Dayton Ohio, 1903 in the NYFOS ‘Roadtrip’ program and I have been a huge fan ever since. This song, written in the early 70s, is one of favorites. It pulls no punches. At a 2011 concert in London, Randy said about this song: “Funny how people don’t laugh at [it] anymore. We’re not actually that crazy. Not quite.”Read More
If you haven’t yet seen the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup, do yourself a favor and watch it—it’s irreverent, hysterical and (these days) educational. The lyrics pack a particular punch right now: “If you think this country’s bad off now, just wait ’til I get through with it”… Ouch. Take a listen.Read More
William Bolcom is my musical godfather. I’ve known him since the late 1970s—Alvin Epstein introduced us after one of their Tully Hall concerts. When I met Bill’s wife Joan Morris I said, “Oh you were so wonderful this evening—but I am sure you must be tired of hearing that from everyone.” And she said, “Oh, actually…no. Try me.” We bonded instantly.Read More
I couldn’t do a week of American song blogs without featuring my friend John Musto. I first heard him at a memorial concert for Paul Jacobs, who had been my piano teacher for a little while. John was playing a duo-piano piece (Schubert, I think) that night. Both guys played beautifully, but there was something special in John’s sound and phrasing that resonated in my soul. I struck up a conversation with him at the party afterwards, and we soon became friends and colleagues. We’re both dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers, and somehow the contrasts in our personalities helped to forge a bond between us.Read More
Gabriel Kahane is one of my favorite contemporary songwriters. He sprang to prominence with an early piece, “Craigslistlieder,” a brash, hilarious, and sophisticated song cycle based on internet postings. Gabe has a unique way of melding popular and classical styles, cross-breeding German art song and 90s power ballads, Fauré and Beatles, Stravinsky and Radiohead into something uniquely his own.Read More