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A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Jewish Encounters Series) Hardcover – October 6, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
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"David Lehman's A Fine Romance wittily explores the enormous contribution of Jewish writers and composers to the American musical scene. Lehman finds Jewish influence, or what he calls 'a plaintive undertow,' even in such unlikely upbeat anthems as Gershwin's 'Love Walked In.' His love-struck history is itself a major entertainment."
-- John Ashbery, author of Three Poems
"David Lehman's A Fine Romance is a spirited account and reminiscence of a time when Jewish plaintiveness and wit combined with Negro blues to give our American culture its way of singing. Everyone who hums the great old tunes will delight in this book and its wondrous lore."
--Richard Wilbur, author of Things of This World
"With brio and encyclopedic knowledge, David Lehman has penned a lovely valentine to the American songbook. Along the way, hard questions are asked, contradictions confronted and shrewd insights offered. The result is pure delight."
--Phillip Lopate, author of Two Marriages
"A wonderfully compelling and poetic analysis that re-envisions the American songbook." –Craig Morgan Teicher, Publisher's Weekly
“What a lovely book this is…Lehman is a fine writer, in full command of his subject.” –writerscast.com
“A Fine Romance is thoroughly enjoyable, right down to the short, witty, and informative chronology at the end of the book. Whether one is familiar with this music and wants to rekindle its romance, or unfamiliar and wants to ignite such a passion, this book is just the ticket.” –Rain Taxi Review of Books
“Though there’s lots of learning here, there’s no heavy-handedness: this is a chrestomathy of loved tunes and musical moments, evoked casually, but with wide authority and tact…song is for pleasure after all, if I can quote some non-Jewish jazz royalty in Duke Ellington, ‘it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.’ Lehman has that swing.” –Tikkun
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Top Customer Reviews
People will be surprised to learn that the pure American songs of the west - such as the effervescent cowboy rhythms of "The Surrey" in Oklahoma - flowed from the imagination New York Jews; that in Lehman's list of the sixteen best Depression era popular songs only two or three were composed by non-Jews; that the words of many of these songs composed by Jews and their melodies reflect the strivings and hopes of new Jewish immigrants.
This volume is part of the well-received and well-written Jewish Encounter series, which intend and succeeds in promoting Jewish literature, history, culture and ideas. All the books in the series are very good, but this volume has the most substance of those that I read, and it is filled with interesting examples. David Lehman is the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry and The Best of American Poetry, among other books, and knows the subject he is writing about.
Lehman helps us hear and understand the mysterious ingredients of jazziness and blueness, the wail, the wine and exultant notes that permeate the songs written by Jewish song writers. Many of the words in the purely American songs of are Jewish origin and many of the melodies recalls what is heard in the synagogue.Read more ›
Did you ever consider that George Gershwin thought up "It Ain't Necessarily So" with the Torah blessing as earworm? (They are identical, although Gershwin adds several different chromatic intervals into the motif.)
Such are the delicious details of this "fine" book -- and David's writing will keep you spellbound as you join him through a nostalgic trip of our parents' generation of music.
A great read, packed with David's wonderful personal anecdotes about family and the Jewish community in which he grew up -- combined with a compelling, rollicking narrative which certainly kept me -- a classically-trained musician -- stoked with stories and details which I had never known before!
I wish he had gone into the actual music part of these genuises a bit more, but that would probably preclude many non-musician readers from enjoying it as much. After all, these guys used the same 12 notes that Bach, Mozart and Beethoven used. There's a book in there somewhere, methinx ... what are the musical reasons behind the power of these great songsters to achieve such satisfactory results in a profession where yesterday's hit is quickly forgotten? Does the lyric make the song great, even if the music isn't quite as brilliant as something else?
Again -- a fantastic read! Enjoy!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Strange and wonderful read. Fascinating stories, unusual writing style. You'll want to look up melodies you can't quite recall...Published 3 months ago by Elizabeth King
This is a well-informed and breezy account of the life and works of some of the greatest songwriters ever -- Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, and many... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Jonathan Groner
This is a first-rate book. If you love the classic music of the Great American Songbook, and want to know some more about the folks who wrote that music (and those amazing lyrics),... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Harris Abrams
Some great anecdotes and a few nice insights but ultimately unevenly written and just plain self-indulgent. Read morePublished on October 27, 2013 by Qwerty49
Reading this was, for me, pure pleasure. The only thing missing was a supplemental music recording or two, so as to enjoy all the work that is covered.Published on October 2, 2013 by S. Rose
The author points out his observations regarding the melodies of the songs which are familiar to all of us the minor chords suggestive of yiddush runs of ascending notes. Read morePublished on July 25, 2013 by Barbara L. Favia
What a wonderful topic. Too bad the author had to spoil it through his cutesy, folksie style. Lots of interesting material but the writing style is totally distracting. Read morePublished on April 11, 2013 by DK
I enjoyed this book immensely. It looked at the contributions Jews made to the American songbook and made a convincing argument that the bulk of popular 20th century music echoed... Read morePublished on February 24, 2012 by G.I Gurdjieff