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Afterglow Jazz and American Popular Song

Loesser Is More: a Celebration of Frank Loesser

Frank Loesser wrote or co-wrote some of the most memorable music of mid-20th-century American popular song.

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Frank Loesser American Songbook

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Whether it was World War II, Hollywood, or Broadway, Frank Loesser's songs often took center stage.

Chances are that you’ve heard Frank Loesser’s songs in one guise or anothe–maybe around the holidays, when “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” are ubiquitous, or through any survey of 20th century Broadway musicals that includes Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Any documentary about the World War II era will likely include at least a passing reference to popular tunes that Loesser wrote or co-wrote such as “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” “What Do You Do in the Infantry,” and “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You.”

From Meal-Tester to Hollywood Composer

The son of a classical music teacher and the brother of a renowned pianist and critic, Loesser himself never formally studied music and was a college drop-out. A chain-smoking workaholic, he began writing songs during the Depression while scuffling through various jobs, working for newspapers and at one point even taking on what he described as one of the best jobs you could have in those economically challenged times—actually getting paid to eat by working as a meal-tester for a string of restaurants. His nightclub and vaudeville work eventually paid off with a few songs in a Broadway show and a Hollywood contract–and it was in Hollywood that Loesser would experience his first significant success.

Gangsters, Gamblers and Showgirls

Even though Loesser had a number of hits through writing for the movies, he didn’t care for Hollywood much–he was a New York kind of guy, and he headed back to the city in the late 1940s and began writing songs for Broadway, where he scored big first with Where’s Charley, and then in 1950 with Guys and Dolls, a musical based on two Damon Runyon short stories that captures the mid-20th century New York vibe that Loesser loved. Rife with gangsters, gamblers and showgirls, the musical inspired several of Loesser’s most memorable songs and displayed both the humorous and romantic sides of his songwriting muse.

“Loesser Is More,” a centennial celebration of Frank Loesser’s songs (he was born in New York City on June 29, 1910) includes performances by the following artists:

  • Frank Sinatra
  • Helen Forrest
  • Billie Holiday
  • Johnny Mathis
  • Doris Day
  • Dinah Washington
  • Chet Baker

…and more.

Read music writer Will Friedwald’s tribute to Loesser

Watch Bette Davis’ wartime performance of Loesser’s “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5hejyCrUwA

Music Heard On This Episode

I Hear Music
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 8 (Sony, 1991)
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I Hear Music
Billie Holiday — Quintessential V. 8 (Sony, 1991)
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Never Will I Marry
Nancy Wilson — Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley (Capitol, 1962)
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Two Sleepy People
Hoagy Carmichael/Ella Logan — First of the Singer-Songwriters (JSP, 2004)
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Let's Get Lost
Chet Baker — The Best of Chet Baker Sings (Blue Note, 1989)
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Joey, Joey, Joey
Dick and Kiz Harp — Dick and Kiz Harp at the 90th Floor (90th Floor Records, 1960)

Notes: See http://www.90thfloorrecords.com/album_dick-kiz1.htm for ordering info

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Dolores
Frank Sinatra/Tommy Dorsey — The Essential Frank Sinatra With the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (RCA, 2005)
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I Don't Want to Walk Without You
Helen Forrest/Harry James — The Complete Helen Forrest With Harry James (Collector's Choice, 1999)
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Slow Boat to China
Kay Kyser — The Best of Kay Kyser and His Orchestra (Collector's Choice, 2000)
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Heart and Soul
Mark Murphy — Hip Parade/Playing the Field (DRG, 2006)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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Fugue for Tinhorns
Dick and Kiz Harp — Again! Dick and Kiz Harp at the 90th Floor (90th Floor Records, 1960)

Notes: See http://www.90thfloorrecords.com/album_dick-kiz2.htm for ordering info.

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Luck Be a Lady
Marlon Brando — Hollywood Actors Sing (Master Classics Records, 2009)
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I've Never Been in Love Before
Doris Day — Golden Girl: the Columbia Recordings 1944-1966 (Sony, 1999)
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If I Were a Bell
Dinah Washington — The Diva Series (Verve, 2003)
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Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year
Sarah Vaughan — Love Songs (Sony, 2004)
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Sand in My Shoes
The Hi-Lo's — Love Nest/All Over the Place (Collectables, 2001)
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Can't Get Out of This Mood
Johnny Mathis — American Songbook Series (Smithsonian, 1995)
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Inch Worm
Dick and Kiz Harp — Dick and Kiz Harp at the 90th Floor (90th Floor Records, 1959)

Notes: See http://www.90thfloorrecords.com/album_dick-kiz1.htm for ordering info.

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I Believe in You
Frank Sinatra/Count Basie — It Might As Well Be Swing (Reprise/WEA, 1964)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • J&D

    Poor Bette Davis even sustained an injury herself for the war effort. Notice when she exits the club she holds her right knee and looks a bit dishevelled because of the Jitterbug routine. I think she may have been off for a few days – not sure? I know she filmed back to back movies regularly as part of the film 'factory' output in those days. A great actress who I will always make time to watch.

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