Jerome Kern

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Jerome Kern : biography

January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945

Stepping Stones (1923, with Caldwell) was a success, and in 1924 the Princess Theatre team of Bolton, Wodehouse and Kern reunited to write Sitting Pretty, but it did not recapture the popularity of the earlier collaborations.. Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Oxford Music Online, accessed May 11, 2010 (requires subscription) Its relative failure may have been partly due to Kern’s growing aversion to having individual songs from his shows performed out of context on radio, in cabaret, or on record, although his chief objection was to jazz interpretations of his songs. He called himself a "musical clothier – nothing more or less," and said, "I write music to both the situations and the lyrics in plays." When Sitting Pretty was produced, he forbade any broadcasting or recording of individual numbers from the show, which limited their chance to gain popularity.

While most Kern musicals have largely been forgotten, except for their songs, Show Boat remains well-remembered and frequently seen. It is a staple of stock productions and has been revived numerous times on Broadway and in London. A 1946 revival integrated choreography into the show, in the manner of a Rodgers and Hammerstein production, as did the 1994 Harold Prince–Susan Stroman revival, which was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning five, including best revival. It was the first musical to enter a major opera company’s repertory (New York City Opera, 1954), and the rediscovery of the 1927 score with Robert Russell Bennett’s original orchestrations led to a large-scale EMI recording in 1987 and several opera-house productions. In 1941, the conductor Artur Rodziński wished to commission a symphonic suite from the score, but Kern considered himself a songwriter and not a symphonist. He never orchestrated his own scores, leaving that to musical assistants, principally Frank Saddler (until 1921) and Russell Bennett (from 1923). In response to the commission, Kern oversaw an arrangement by Charles Miller and Emil Gerstenberger of numbers from the show into the orchestral work Scenario for Orchestra: Themes from Show Boat, premiered in 1941 by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Rodziński.

Kern’s last Broadway show in the 1920s was Sweet Adeline (1929), with a libretto by Hammerstein. It was a period piece, set in the Gay 90s, about a girl from Hoboken, New Jersey (near Kern’s childhood home), who becomes a Broadway star. Opening just before the stock market crash, it received rave reviews, but the elaborate, old-fashioned piece was a step back from the innovations in Show Boat, or even the Princess Theatre shows.Brantley, Ben. . The New York Times, February 15, 1997, accessed May 14, 2001 In January 1929, at the height of the Jazz Age, and with Show Boat still playing on Broadway, Kern made news on both sides of the Atlantic for reasons wholly unconnected with music. He sold at auction, at New York’s Anderson Galleries, the collection of English and American literature that he had been building up for more than a decade. The collection, rich in inscribed first editions and manuscript material of eighteenth and nineteenth century authors, sold for a total of $1,729,462.50 – a record for a single-owner sale that stood for over fifty years. Among the books he sold were first or early editions of poems by Robert Burns and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and works by Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding and Charles Dickens, as well as manuscripts by Alexander Pope, John Keats, Shelley, Lord Byron, Thomas Hardy and others."The Sale Room", The Times, October 20, 1928, p. 14"Obituary, Mr. Jerome Kern", The Times, February 17, 1947, p. 8

First films and later shows

In 1929 Kern made his first trip to Hollywood to supervise the 1929 film version of Sally, one of the first "all-talking" Technicolor films. The following year, he was there a second time to work on Men of the Sky, released in 1931 without his songs, and a 1930 film version of Sunny. There was a public reaction against the early glut of film musicals after the advent of film sound; Hollywood released more than 100 musical films in 1930, but only 14 in 1931.. Musicals101.com, 2003, accessed May 17, 2010 Warner Bros. bought out Kern’s contract, and he returned to the stage. He collaborated with Harbach on the Broadway musical The Cat and the Fiddle (1931), about a composer and an opera singer, featuring the songs "She Didn’t Say Yes" and "The Night Was Made for Love". It ran for 395 performances, a remarkable success for the Depression years, and transferred to London the following year.The Observer, March 6, 1932, p. 9 It was filmed in 1934 with Jeanette MacDonald.