Jerome Kern : biography
Jerome David Kern (January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945) was an American composer of musical theatre and popular music. One of the most important American theatre composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such classics as "Ol’ Man River", "Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man", "A Fine Romance", "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "All the Things You Are", "The Way You Look Tonight", "Long Ago (and Far Away)" and "Who?". He collaborated with many of the leading librettists and lyricists of his era, including George Grossmith Jr., Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin and E. Y. Harburg.
A native New Yorker, Kern created dozens of Broadway musicals and Hollywood films in a career that lasted for more than four decades. His musical innovations, such as 4/4 dance rhythms and the employment of syncopation and jazz progressions, built on, rather than rejected, earlier musical theatre tradition. He and his collaborators also employed his melodies to further the action or develop characterization to a greater extent than in the other musicals of his day, creating the model for later musicals. Although dozens of Kern’s musicals and musical films were hits, only Show Boat is now regularly revived. Songs from his other shows, however, are still frequently performed and adapted. Although Kern detested jazz arrangements of his songs, many have been adopted by jazz musicians to become standard tunes.
Kern was born in New York City, on Sutton Place, in what was then the city’s brewery district.. The New York Times, November 12, 1945 His parents were Henry Kern (1842–1908), a Jewish German immigrant, and Fannie Kern née Kakeles (1852–1907), who was an American Jew of Bohemian parentage.Slonimsky, Nicholas and Laura Kuhn (ed). . Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Volume 3 (Schirmer Reference, New York, 2001), accessed May 10, 2010 (requires subscription) At the time of Kern’s birth, his father ran a stable; later he became a successful merchant. Kern grew up on East 56th Street in Manhattan, where he attended public schools. He showed an early aptitude for music and was taught to play the piano and organ by his mother, an accomplished player and teacher.Byrnside, Ronald and Andrew Lamb. . Grove Online, Oxford Music Online, accessed May 10, 2010 (requires subscription).
In 1897, the family moved to Newark, New Jersey, where Kern attended Newark High School (which became Barringer High School in 1907). He wrote songs for the school’s first musical, a minstrel show, in 1901, and for an amateur musical adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin put on at the Newark Yacht Club in January 1902. Kern’s father insisted that his son work with him in business, instead of composing, after leaving high school before graduation in the spring of his senior year in 1902. Kern, however, failed miserably in one of his earliest tasks: he was supposed to purchase two pianos for the store, but instead he ordered 200. at GuidetoMusicalTheatre.com, accessed May 17, 2010 His father relented, and later in 1902, Kern became a student at the New York College of Music, studying the piano under Alexander Lambert and Paolo Galico, and harmony under Dr. Austin Pierce. His first published composition, a piano piece, At the Casino, appeared in the same year. Between 1903 and 1905, he continued his musical training under private tutors in Heidelberg, Germany, returning to New York via London.. Who Was Who, accessed May 10, 2010 (requires subscription)
For a time, Kern worked as a rehearsal pianist in Broadway theatres and as a song-plugger for Tin Pan Alley music publishers. While in London, he secured a contract from the American impresario Charles Frohman to provide songs for interpolation in Broadway versions of London shows. He began to provide these additions in 1904 to British scores for An English Daisy, by Seymour Hicks and Walter Slaughter, and Mr. Wix of Wickham, for which he wrote most of the songs.Bordman, Gerald and Thomas Hischak, eds. . The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, third edition, Oxford University Press 2004. Oxford Reference Online, accessed May 15, 2010 (requires subscription)