Looking down the tune archive, it occurs to me that I have given Jerome Kern short shrift and so this week I’m trotting out one of my Kern favorites, Make Believe from Show Boat. (Until now, the only tune I’d done by him is I’m Old Fashioned.) Born in 1885, Kern can claim to be the patriarch of the American popular song. In the early part of the last century the Broadway musical tended either to copy European operetta, or to string together a revue of Tin Pan Alley songs only loosely tied together. Kern combined these two streams, creating plays with integrated plots and music, and yet with a musical form that was freshly American. Show Boat, from 1927, is the classic prototype.
Kern was musically trained and had a wonderfully original harmonic sense. Gershwin, who was thirteen years younger than Kern, admired his work and may be thought to have continued Kern’s trend, adding perhaps a dash more of Tin Pan Alley and jazz elements.
It is interesting that while jazz players have cherished the great songs of Broadway, many Broadway composers were appalled to have their songs, let us say, “re-interpreted”. Kern and Rodgers were sticklers for having their songs done just the way they wrote them. Changing chords, changing meters, improvising, these were sacrilege. Elaine Stritch recounted how Rodgers could not even tolerate her singing simple 8th notes as dotted 8th notes, a very minor change.
Well, as my wife says, they’ll just have to get over it. One of the great qualities of these songs is that they lend themselves to lots of approaches. (Gershwin, to his credit, was keen on jazz renditions of his stuff.) I frequently do Make Believe with Night and Day, the singers Steven Pollack and Elizabeth Knecht, and we do it as it was done in the show, a lovely duet with some incidental music in between the verses. And I love it that way. But here, I do it in a jazzier frame of mine. Click on the title in red to hear it. Pace, Jerome.
We could make believe I love you
Only make believe that you love me.
Others find peace of mind in pretending
Couldn’t you? Couldn’t I?
Make believe our lips are blending
In a phantom kiss, or two, or three?
Might as well make believe I love you,
For to tell the truth, I do.