MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
One can argue that most songs from the American Songbook are, in essence, dance songs. When many of these songs first appeared on stage or in film, they were often accompanied by a dance number. And the Big Band era, when much of this music thrived, was as much about the steps on the dance floor as it was about the songs from the bandstand. But what about songs about dancing? That’s what we’ll explore this week. Coming up, we’ll hear “dance” songs, from “Shall We Dance” to “I Won’t Dance,” plus we’ll take a close look at two gentlemen who defined much of America’s dance songs: Irving Berlin and Fred Astaire.
It’s Come Dance With Me: Songs About Dancing, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “LET’S FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “SOMETHING MAKES ME WANT TO DANCE WITH YOU”
Two dance songs from Nat King Cole and Billy May’s Orchestra, recorded in November 1961. First in that set was the familiar Irving Berlin song “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” which also featured Cole himself playing the Hammond organ (the only session I know of where he plays organ). And just now, the much less familiar "Something Makes Me Want to Dance with You" by Colin Romoff and Danny Meehan. Both of those songs were released three years later on the 1964 album Let’s Face The Music.
MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “COME DANCE WITH ME”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. I’m calling this show “Come Dance With Me: Songs About Dancing,” as I’ll be featuring many all about burning up the dance floor. That title “Come Dance With Me,” is taken from a song written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn for their good pal Mr. Frank Sinatra in 1959. It was kind of a play on an earlier song they had written for Sinatra, “Come Fly With Me” from 1957, and just like that earlier song, it served as both the title track and inspiration for an album.
Sinatra’s 1959 album Come Dance With Me, as you might have guessed, features songs either about dancing, or songs that (according to the liner notes) have, quote, “vocals that dance.”
So let’s kick things off with two dancing songs from that album now. We’ll begin with that Van Heusen and Cahn title song that kicks off the album, a great invitation for us all.
Here is Frank Sinatra in 1959 with “Come Dance With Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “COME DANCE WITH ME”
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “I COULD HAVE DANCED ALL NIGHT”
Frank Sinatra in 1959 with two dancing songs. Just now, we heard “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical My Fair Lady, before that, the title song written specifically for that album by Sinatra’s friends Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, “Come Dance With Me.” The album Come Dance With Me was Sinatra’s first official gold record (to be fair, the official RIAA certification only became a thing in 1958). It also won album of the year at the 1960 Grammy Awards, as well as individual Grammys for Sinatra himself for Best Vocal Performance, and arranger Billy May for Best Arrangement.
Let’s stay on the dance floor for a while longer. Here’s a curious little number from songwriter Johnny Mercer, written for Capitol Records in 1944, along with bandleader Paul Weston. It features Mercer himself singing alongside Jo Stafford with an imagined conversation on the dance floor between two hip young lovers, cleverly navigating the latest dance steps while getting to know each other.
Here is Johnny Mercer and Jo Stafford in 1944 with “Conversation While Dancing,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JO STAFFORD AND JOHNNY MERCER, “CONVERSATION WHILE DANCING”
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “DANCE ONLY WITH ME”
MUSIC - SARAH VAUGHAN, “DANCING IN THE DARK”
A few more dancing songs. Just now, we heard Sarah Vaughan, live at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago in 1957 with the Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz standard “Dancing In The Dark.” Before that, Blossom Dearie from her 1959 Comden and Green album with the Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne song “Dance Only With Me.” And first in that set, Johnny Mercer and Jo Stafford singing a Mercer original in 1944 called “Conversation While Dancing.”
Many of the most popular dance songs from the American Songbook were first performed by one of the most famous hoofers 20th century: Mr. Fred Astaire. Astaire was so celebrated as a dancer that it makes sense that songwriters would be inspired to write dancing songs for him to sing. I count at least 10 songs specifically about dancing that Mr. Astaire introduced, and let’s hear two of them now. These both come from the 1993 album Steppin’ Out from singer Tony Bennett, his Fred Astaire tribute album.
This first song was actually supposed to be introduced by another famous dancer Gene Kelly in the 1948 film Easter Parade, but after Kelly broke his ankle, Astaire reliably stepped in (out of retirement, no less) to introduce the song (and dance along to it as well).
We’ll keep things slow for just a moment longer. Here is Tony Bennett with the Irving Berlin song “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “IT ONLY HAPPENS WHEN I DANCE WITH YOU”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “SHALL WE DANCE”
Tony Bennett with two dancing songs first introduced by Fred Astaire, and both written by Irving Berlin. Just now, a song all about getting dressed up to go dancing, “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails,” from the 1935 film Top Hat. Before that, the song “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” from the 1948 film Easter Parade. Those recordings both come from Bennett’s 1993 Fred Astaire tribute album Steppin’ Out.
MUSIC CLIP - FRED ASTAIRE AND OSCAR PETERSON, “(AD LIB) FAST DANCE”
We’ll have more dancing tunes in just a bit, including some more by Irving Berlin and some more from Fred Astaire himself. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - BENNY GOODMAN, “LET’S DANCE”
MUSIC CLIP - FRED ASTAIRE AND OSCAR PETERSON, “(AD LIB) MEDIUM DANCE”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring some songs about dancing this hour, and I want to turn to some dancing songs sung by one of America’s most celebrated dancers, Mr. Fred Astaire.
Whether it was on Broadway or on film, Astaire had a certain kind of beguiling grace as a dancer, especially alongside his frequent dancing partner Ginger Rogers. As a singer, his voice was thin—but it was also elegant, honest, and expressive. It’s no wonder that so many songwriters, from Cole Porter, to George Gershwin, to Jerome Kern, wrote songs for him to sing. One of his most celebrated songwriting collaborators, though, was Irving Berlin, who wrote over a dozen songs for Astaire to sing, including most of his songs about dancing.
Let’s hear two Irving Berlin dancing songs, sung by Astaire himself. These recordings come from the 1952 album The Astaire Story, which teamed Astaire up with the Oscar Peterson trio to perform some of his most famous numbers for the past.
First up, a song originally from the 1942 film Holiday Inn, this is Fred Astaire and Oscar Peterson with Irving Berlin’s “You’re Easy To Dance With,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRED ASTAIRE, “YOU’RE EASY TO DANCE WITH”
MUSIC - FRED ASTAIRE, “CHANGE PARTNERS”
Fred Astaire in 1952 from his album The Astaire Story, with two songs about dancing written by Irving Berlin. Just now, we heard “Change Partners,” first introduced by Astaire in the 1938 film Carefree. Before that, the song “You’re Easy To Dance With,” originally sung by Astaire in the 1942 film Holiday Inn.
Believe it or not, there are even more songs about dancing written by Irving Berlin and first introduced by Fred Astaire. In fact, Astaire introduced other dancing songs not by Berlin as well. And these are not forgotten gems either, they are enduring songs that have been interpreted over the years by many artists. So, let’s hear a few more of these Astaire-associated dancing songs, although by some more modern interpreters.
First up is one not by Irving Berlin, but rather by George Gershwin. This comes from jazz singer Stacey Kent’s album Let Yourself Go: Celebrating Fred Astaire from the year 2000. This is “Shall We Dance,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - STACEY KENT, “SHALL WE DANCE”
MUSIC - KURT ELLING, “THE BEST THINGS HAPPEN WHILE YOU'RE DANCING”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT AND LADY GAGA, “CHEEK TO CHEEK”
Three dancing songs, all first introduced by Fred Astaire. Just now, we heard Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga in 2014 with Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek,” before that, Kurt Elling in 1998 with Berlin’s “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” and Stacey Kent in 2000 with Gershwin’s “Shall We Dance.”
Well, our dancing show is coming to a close, so it’s now time we prepare for the last dance, that final time to move on the dance floor and, hopefully, be close to someone else significant. Luckily for us, American songwriters have captured these complex feelings of anticipation and sorrow into song. Let’s hear two such songs now. We’ll start with a 1942 song by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. This is Nat King Cole and Nelson Riddle’s orchestra in 1955 with “There Will Never Be Another You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU’
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “THE LAST DANCE”
Frank Sinatra, again from his 1959 album Come Dance With Me, with Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s “The Last Dance,” the final track from that album. Before that, another song about a last dance, “There Will Never Be Another You,” by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, sung there by Nat King Cole in 1955.
OK, I have one final dancing song for you this hour. We’ve spent so much time talking about the joys of dancing, but of course, not everyone feels comfortable on the dance floor. So to close, here’s the quintessential song about two left feet. Here is Peggy Lee in 1963 with “I Won’t Dance,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “I WON’T DANCE”
Peggy Lee in 1963 with Jerome Kern’s “I Won’t Dance,” lyrics mostly written by Dorothy Fields. And thanks for dancing, or not dancing, along with us on this edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - JIMMIE LUNCEFORD, “FOR DANCERS ONLY”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow