Anatomy of a Standard

What makes a standard a standard? How do the nuts and bolts of songwriting combine to make a jazz composition an enduring work of art? This column will explore these questions through the analysis of elements of great songs that have graduated to "standard" status. Each month I will post an analytical discussion about a selected jazz standard, examining parameters like chord progression, melody, rhyme scheme, phrase structure, text setting and form. Over time, my deconstruction of these songs will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of some timeless works of art, proffering support for why the songs have endured.

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"Time After Time" by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn

Read ""Time After Time" by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn" reviewed by Tish Oney

In 1946 Jule Styne (1905-1994) and Sammy Cahn (1913-1993) collaborated to write a song for Frank Sinatra for the film It Happened In Brooklyn. Sarah Vaughan was the first artist to record the new gem that same year, backed by the Teddy Wilson Quartet. In 1957 Sinatra finally recorded it with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. The song's timeless theme of looking backward over a life of faithful, monogamous love has resonated with fans ever since the song's debut.

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"Pick Yourself Up" by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields

Read ""Pick Yourself Up" by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields" reviewed by Tish Oney

In 1936 Jerome Kern (1885-1945) and Dorothy Fields (1904-1974) collaborated to create several songs for the movie musical, Swing Time, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. “Pick Yourself Up" served the film as the centerpiece around which a dance lesson given by Ginger to Fred yielded a remarkable “transformation" from a clumsy suitor to a technically superb dance master. Kern and Fields joined energies as a successful songwriting team for many projects yielding standards including “The Way You Look Tonight," ...

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"Charade" by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer

Read ""Charade" by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer" reviewed by Tish Oney

Ever known for his peerless and timeless musical masterpieces created for the silver screen, Henry Mancini (1924-1994) opened the 1963 motion picture, “Charade," starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, with a masterfully written theme bearing the same title. Over his storied career, Mancini won six Grammy awards plus fourteen additional nominations as well as a slew of Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and wins for his film and stage compositions, among several additional awards. His 1961 classic, “Moon River," also ...

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"It's Only a Paper Moon" by Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg and Billy Rose

Read ""It's Only a Paper Moon" by Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg and Billy Rose" reviewed by Tish Oney

One of my favorite Great American Songbook composers, Harold Arlen (nee Hyman Arluck, 1905-1986), composed music for over 500 songs during his long, successful career, even though he originally set out to become a great singer and was not particularly interested in writing songs. His tremendous success reached across Broadway stages, Hollywood film scores and Top 10 radio hits for countless singers. In 1932, Arlen collaborated with friends Yip Harburg and Billy Rose to create one of Arlen's best-known, enduring ...

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser

Read ""Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser" reviewed by Tish Oney

A host of seasonal songs may be categorized correctly as standards, and this well-known piece is no exception. “Baby, It's Cold Outside" is particularly noteworthy in that, in North America, it fits any month between mid-autumn and early spring. This makes the song particularly versatile as a seasonal favorite--I personally have performed it at Christmastime, at a St. Valentine's Day symphony concert, and this year on Thanksgiving weekend, as the months of November through February are all fair game for ...

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"Georgia On My Mind" by Hoagy Carmichael

Read ""Georgia On My Mind" by Hoagy Carmichael" reviewed by Tish Oney

Great American Songbook composer, Hoagy Carmichael, (1899-1981) penned many more standards besides the timeless “Stardust" and “Georgia On My Mind..." He also is credited with writing “The Nearness of You," “Heart and Soul," “Skylark," and “I Get Along Without You Very Well," to mention a few more classics. Carmichael starred in a couple of films as a pianist-actor, making his permanent mark in that medium as well as in recorded music and in the writing of American standards. The enduring ...

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"Close Your Eyes" by Bernice Petkere

Read ""Close Your Eyes" by Bernice Petkere" reviewed by Tish Oney

One of the major challenges of writing this column remains how to choose one song among several by a given composer that I have decided to feature. When determining to include a song by the very talented Great American Songbook composer, Bernice Petkere (1901-2000), two of my favorite songs immediately came to mind: “Close Your Eyes" and “Lullaby of the Leaves." I also marveled that both happen to be among my favorite standards written in minor keys... However, for the ...


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