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Afterglow Jazz and American Popular Song

Angel Eyes: The Matt Dennis Songbook

A centennial celebration of the composer who gave us "Everything Happens To Me," "Violets For Your Furs," and other songs that ranged from wistful to winsome.

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Photo of LP cover for Matt Dennis Plays and Sings Matt Dennis.

Photo: Album cover art

Live in Hollywood: a 1950s album featuring the songwriter's nightclub performances of his own songs.

Songwriter Matt Dennis, as Afterglow founding host Dick Bishop has observed, “gave us only a handful of standards–but they were all we needed.”

Dennis was born February 11, 1914 in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in a vaudeville family. He got his professional start in California in the 1930s, working with singers and small groups, and eventually teaming up with lyricist Tom Adair, who would provide the words for several of Dennis’ most memorable songs.

Dennis and Adair got their big break with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra at the beginning of the 1940s, after singer Jo Stafford, who had listened to Dennis performing in Los Angeles nightclubs, introduced them to Dorsey. Dorsey ended up recording 14 of Dennis’ songs in a relatively short span of time. Dorsey’s singer Frank Sinatra kept several of the Dennis-Adair songs that he did with Dorsey in his repertoire for years to come.

During World War II Dennis worked for awhile with Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force band, and got into radio after the war ended, eventually returning to California and performing in nightclubs from the late 1940s on. He recorded several albums under his own name, including Matt Dennis Plays and Sings Matt Dennis, which included some lesser-known Dennis songs that displayed both his lighter and more tenderly romantic melodic tendencies.

Singer Mel Torme and songwriter Gene Lees cited Dennis as an influence on their vocal and composing styles, respectively, and singer Julius La Rosa said that “Matt Dennis had an ability to write the most beautiful and sophisticated melodies, and yet they were never hard to sing. He was also a gentle, lovely man.”

Music Heard On This Episode

Will You Still Be Mine?
Matt Dennis — Plays and Sings Matt Dennis (Universal Japan, 2011)
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Will You Still Be Mine?
Matt Dennis — Plays and Sings Matt Dennis (Universal Japan, 2011)

Notes: 8:01 p.m.

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Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World
Peggy Lee — Miss Peggy Lee (Capitol, 1998)

Notes: 8:03 p.m.

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Love Turns Winter To Spring
Four Freshmen — Complete Capitol Fifties Sessions (Mosaic Records, 2000)

Notes: 8:07 p.m.

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Violets For Your Furs
Frank Sinatra/Tommy Dorsey — The Essential Frank Sinatra With Tommy Dorsey (RCA, 2005)

Notes: 8:09 p.m.

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Spring Isn't Spring Anymore
Mary Foster Conklin — Blues For Breakfast (Rhombus Records, 2006)

Notes: 8:12 p.m.

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Let's Get Away From It All
Frank Sinatra/Tommy Dorsey — The Song Is You (RCA, 1994)

Notes: 8:18 p.m.

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Everything Happens To Me
Chet Baker — It Could Happen To You (OJC, 2013)

Notes: 8:23 p.m.

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Free For All (midpoint music bed)
Frank Sinatra/Tommy Dorsey — The Song Is You (RCA, 1994)

Notes: 8:29 p.m.

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Will You Still Be Mine?
Miles Davis — The Musings Of Miles (Prestige , 2008)

Notes: 8:30 p.m.

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Little Man With A Candy Cigar
Dave Brubeck — Angel Eyes (Sony Legacy, 2011)

Notes: 8:37 p.m.

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We Belong Together
Matt Dennis — Plays and Sings Matt Dennis (Universal Japan, 2011)

Notes: 8:41 p.m.

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Compared To You
Matt Dennis — Plays and Sings Matt Dennis (Universal Japan, 2011)

Notes: 8:44 p.m.

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That Tired Routine Called Love
Matt Dennis — Plays and Sings Matt Dennis (Universal Japan, 2011)

Notes: 8:47 p.m.

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It Wasn't The Stars That Thrilled Me
Matt Dennis — Plays and Sings Matt Dennis (Universal Japan, 2011)

Notes: 8:49 p.m.

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Angel Eyes
Four Freshmen — And Five Trombones (American Jazz Classics, 2014)

Notes: 8:52 p.m.

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The Night We Called It A Day
Frank Sinatra — Where Are You? (Capitol, 2002)

Notes: 8:55 p.m.

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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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