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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
As part of the publisher's ongoing Jewish Encounters series, Lehman, poet, anthologist (The Oxford Book of American Poetry) and critic (The Last Avant-Garde), melds dreamy personal reflections with impressive archival excavation for a thorough look at the popular early-20th-century songwriters and what made their work quintessentially Jewish. Delving into the iconic hits of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Larry Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, among selective others, Lehman ponders how these Ashkenazi Jews, mostly raised speaking Yiddish in New York as cantors' sons, melded their particular wit, melancholy and sophistication with the rhythmic richness of African-American music—a blending of blues and jazz. In their many beloved seminal hits—e.g., Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band (1911), George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (1923), Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' (1943)—these sons (Dorothy Fields being the female lyricist exception) of refugees from anti-Semitic rumblings in Europe were conducting a passionate romance with America, Lehman maintains. The author himself grew up in the Inwood section of New York City, under the warm spell of these songs; by the time he graduated from Stuyvesant High School and attended Columbia, where many of these songwriters had met, rock and roll was supplanting that old-time magic. Digressive, nostalgic and deeply moving, Lehman achieves a fine, lasting tribute to the American songbook. (Oct.)
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"Digressive, nostalgic and deeply moving, Lehman achieves a fine, lasting tribute to the American songbook."
"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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