Irving Berlin, Ragtime Alexander, Berlin discussed on Rock N Roll Archaeology
Fun to let it. Roll host Nate Wilcox today. I'm joined by James Kaplan author of Irving Berlin New York Genius James. Welcome light to be here. Thanks for having sure and this is a really nice book on a big topic. I mean Irving Berlin astrum. Kern said doesn't have a place in American music. He is American music and at least up to the nineteen fifties. That is absolutely the case. I mean this guy had a career from nineteen o nine still active all the way up to nineteen sixty six had a hit play in the early fifties an incredible random and nobody in the modern era except may be. Paul McCartney could even be comparable. Yes I draw. A lot of comparisons actually between Lennon McCartney and Irving Berlin very similar work ethics ver very similar of brilliance at constructing songs and a lot of similarities in the way that constructed songs and yet unlike. Mccartney who had never ten incredible years and and you know Lennon had another five years or so and McCartney's maybe had another ten. I mean Burland kept it up and was at the top of his game through the teens through the twenties answered the challenge of Gershwin Kern and the the modern Broadway musical that integrates his story with the songs all the way up. You know into 'em beyond World War Two. It's it's just an incredible achievement. And he's just a Roy. Likable Guy and reading. This book really brings that across. I mean this is a guy with what you call an innate moral compass and avoid the temptation of most of the temptations of fame and money to an unbelievable degree. How do you explain? It's true And but I would I would I I. I would like to be very very careful about About emphasizing is yes his his high degree of morality and ethics and Pointing out at the same time that he was in a business a business that remains extremely competitive full of sharp elbows and nobody was more competitive and sharp elbowed then Berlin. He had a keen eye for the best business opportunities. He was sharply competitive and he could be very tough. Absolutely analysis. You know found his own music company very early on in his career. I think he had maybe two or three hits by the time he finds found his own company and there was a founding member of ask cap the publishing union that you know brought all the songwriters together and collect the royalties and BMI comes along in the forties to compete with it. But essentially you know Irving Berlin found co-founded modern music publishing yes. He was really present at the creation of the American songbook. And in your book. You talk about your own personal sort of discovery of Berlin and ties in with with the The New York theme that you were working as an intern for the New Yorker I'm out of the title wrong. But you're on the junior capacity at the New Yorker. When I I used to I used to handle a now. Outmoded machine called a typewriter I. I was an editorial typist at the New Yorker and Kids today don't know what they're missing with those IBM Z. Oh and but this was one song. The first song that you bring up in the book was one. I hadn't been familiar with which was very early. Irving Berlin strong and I hadn't realized he had recorded performances. But you found a record going back to nineteen o nine of Irving Berlin Singha Sonko called. Oh how that could love what what you know. What fascinates you about that recording. Well the first thing that fascinated me about that recording was how unbelievably old it was. I didn't even know. They made records in nineteen nine anti ear. This record that despite the hisses and pops inevitably that came through in the reproduction process and let us not forget that That went phonograph. Records were first made in that very early. Nineteen hundreds there was. No such thing is elect electronic microphone. These were made Singer sang or orchestras played through the bell of a gigantic speaking horn. Beg a Cone Light Assembly. That translated the vibrations of the boys are the music To a needle that etched the vibrations into a wax disc That was then That was then converted into a SHELLAC discs. That could be played on. This new fangled instrument called a phonograph. So all of this process was necessary and yet piercing through. This process was the unbelievably light. Witty engaging voice of a kind of genius who is coming up with this very funny popular songs very funny take on the silly ethnic songs of the early nineteen hundreds. The title itself gives you a hand. How German could love was about a very curvy? German lady who is singer was infatuated with and it's such a such a beguiling performance and in the book you call it modernism on the hoof startling. Formal innovation smuggled into into a seemingly banal idiom elaborate on that a little bit. What does that mean modernisers? This twenty years twenty one year old. He's twenty one years old and I ask you or any of the listeners. To think of themselves at twenty one I think of myself at twenty one when I could just about time I shooed. This is a guy who's twenty one years old who is not only a fully engaging with the art of songwriting. But he's he is making fun of it. He is both. He is both succeeding in it and Satirizing it at the same time and so again back in the very early twentieth century you had these waves. Upon ways of immigrants arriving in America Ellis Island and as a result of that kind of in reaction to it and also paying homage to it there was a great fad for ethnic songs songs written in the voice Voices OF GERMAN AMERICANS ITALIAN AMERICANS JEWISH JEWISH AMERICANS AFRICAN AMERICANS Kind of making fun of these minorities but Celebrating them at the same time. And this was a song that was sort of done in imposs- style with an own pas band playing in the background but at the same time Mel Brooks could have written the song. It is is just hilarious. So it's Berlin not only writing ethnic song but having his way with it and showing how brilliant He promises to be. And let's hear a little bit of it. This is Irving Berlin singing German. Could WHOA got speed German at all by the Durban key? Franklin off for me getting more yet was irving Berlin himself singing Ohio that German could love very song in a very rare recording of irving Berlin as a performer. And I thought it was important to include that because frequently we start the Irving Berlin story restart talking about Irving Berlin with Alexander's ragtime band and it's notable to me that he had multiple hits notably So when my wife goes to the country and my wife has gone to the country that fit more into that sort of after the ball or sidewalks of New York era or the George Cohen. Yet Yankee doodle Dandy solid saying that he would supersede and sort of blow away with Alexander's ragtime band. Can you talk about that transition from the early Tin Pan Alley to the ragtime era and how Berlin pity is that well? I think the first thing we want to do is is say. Very carefully and emphatically that ragtime was rank. Time is a lot of controversy. About ragtime and ragtime has a lot of a number of definitions but by the definition of The great genius Scott Joplin who was kind of the The procreate the originator of ragtime Alexander's ragtime band is not a ragtime song at all. It's a rather it is a song about. Ragtime is a song about a band leader named Alexander an African American bandleader named Alexander. And it's a sort of. It's a march really. It's IT IT IS A. It is a call to participate to enjoy to sing along to dance along to ragtime and it is kind of A. It's kind of A. It has a quantum leap from anything Berlin or anybody else had written floor. It comes along at precisely the right moment. One thousand nine eleven only two years after. Oh how that German could love for. Loon is now an old man of twenty three rather than just twenty one and he has been writing songs for a few years. He is making very good money writing songs. Such grant money that he's now able to go on vacation to Florida. He's on his way to Penn Station to take the The Orange Blossom Limited down to Florida a train down to Florida. That's how you traveled in those days but he has a couple of hours before train time so he stops by the office and he has a snatch of song that's playing in his head and here. We should note that Berlin Aerobic Music in quotation marks. He didn't know how to write music or read music. He had songs in his head. He would work with a musical secretary. Somebody A man. Who would sit at piano? Berlin would stand next to him. In the -TUNI- had in mind and the guide the piano would play the notes and begin to harmonize it play chords that Berlin would either approve or disapprove of. Tell the guy that change. He went to the office and he wrote down the lyrics to a song that it had in his head and he had the musical secretary. Play it and memorialize. It many went on vacation to Florida. This whole thing. This stop by the office to write down the song to take down the notes in the words of it took maybe twenty minutes. He goes on vacation. He comes back and this song is put into sheet music and it is then recorded On the brand new technology of phonograph records. Just coming just coming in in Nineteen Oh eight. Nineteen Nine. Nineteen ten and nineteen eleven. And because of the sheet music of Alexander's ragtime band and they'd phonograph record of Alexander's ragtime band. They twenty-three-year-old Irving Berlin becomes not just a national sewa celebrity but an international.