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Afterglow Jazz and American Popular Song

It’s Magic: Afterglow Plays Sammy Cahn, Volume One

Sammy Cahn came out of New York City’s Lower Eastside to provide the lyrics for some of America’s best-known standards.

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Cahn songwriter

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Time after time: Cahn at work on another song.

Sammy Cahn was born on June 18, 1913, a product of New York City’s Lower East Side Jewish community. His first breakthrough as a lyricist came through his adaption of a Yiddish musical song, Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, a smash hit for the Andrews Sisters in 1938. Cahn would go on to write hits for Tommy Dorsey, Glen Gray, and Jimmie Lunceford in the swing era, and his success would extend well into the early 1970s. Songs such as “Come Fly With Me,” “Time After Time,” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily” have become a part of the canon of American popular song, propelled in particular by the recordings of Frank Sinatra, the most preeminent champion of Cahn’s work.

If Sinatra was the most prolific and valuable interpreter of Cahn’s lyrics, then Jule Styne was Sinatra’s counterpart when it came to providing Cahn with melodies. The two wrote dozens of songs together, including 15 number one hits and seven Academy Award nominees. The World War II years, which kept many couples apart, inspired some of Cahn and Styne’s most poignant songs, revolving around the theme of separation.

A Cahn lyric could conjure romance, folly, exuberance, heartbreak, anticipation, nostalgia, commitment, ambivalence about commitment–just about every nuance of love and relationships. At the heart of it all was a vitality that drew on Cahn’s exposure to early-20th-century show business. He once said that

I think a sense of vaudeville is very strong in anything I do, anything I write. They even call it ‘a vaudeville finish,’ and it comes through in many of my songs. Just sing the end of ‘All the Way’ or ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’–’Make it mine, make it mine, MAKE IT MINE!’ If you let people know they should applaud, they will applaud.

Music Heard On This Episode

Call Me Irresponsible
Steve Tyrell — It's Magic: The Songs Of Sammy Cahn (Concord, 2013)
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Call Me Irresponsible
Steve Tyrell — It's Magic: The Songs Of Sammy Cahn (Concord, 2013)
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Come Fly With Me
Frank Sinatra — Come Fly With Me (Capitol, 1998)
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It's You Or No One
Sarah Vaughan — It's You Or No One (Musicraft, 1993)
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Teach Me Tonight
Count Basie/Joe Williams — Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings (Polygram, 1993)
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Until The Real Thing Comes Along
Billie Holiday — Master Takes And Singles (Sony, 2007)
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Saturday Night Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week
Frank Sinatra — Portrait Of Sinatra (Sony, 1997)
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I'll Walk Alone
Dinah Shore — American Songbook Series: Jule Styne (Smithsonian, 1994)
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It's Been A Long, Long Time
Harry James/Kitty Kallen — American Songbook Series: Jule Styne (Smithsonian, 1994)
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Wonder Why (midpoint music bed)
Milt Jackson — Jazz Giants Play Sammy Cahn (Prestige, 1999)
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Time After Time
Chet Baker — Best Of Chet Baker Sings (Blue Note, 1989)
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I Fall In Love Too Easily
Shirley Horn — I Remember Miles (Verve, 1998)
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The Things We Did Last Summer
Dean Martin — Spotlight On Dean Martin (Capitol, 1995)
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Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry
Frank Sinatra — Portrait Of Sinatra (Sony, 1997)
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Three Coins In The Fountain
Frank Sinatra — Complete Capitol Singles (Capitol, 1996)
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It's Magic
Doris Day — American Songbook Series: Jule Styne (Smithsonian, 1994)
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The Second Time Around
Tony Bennett — American Songbook Series: James van Heusen (Smithsonian, 1996)
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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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