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.
Valentine’s Day is upon us, so this week on the show, I thought I would devote the hour to love songs from the Great American Songbook. But rather than merely talking about love, I’ll explore the much more complex, passionate, and often extravagant concept of romance. Songs of romance abound in the American songbook, and this hour, we’ll mine the depths, exploring both familiar and unfamiliar romantic songs, like “My Romance,” “This Is Romance,” and “Romance In The Dark.”
It’s Isn’t It Romantic?, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - MICHAEL FEINSTEIN, “A FINE ROMANCE”
“A Fine Romance,” a sarcastically romantic song, written by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern for the 1936 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical Swing Time, performed there by singer and pianist Michael Feinstein on his 1988 album Isn’t it Romantic?
MUSIC CLIP - ART TATUM, “ISN'T IT ROMANTIC?”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, for Valentine’s Day, we’re exploring romance in popular song.
Romantic love is usually defined as the love between two people—as opposed to the love you may have for your kid, your dog, or your favorite food. The etymology is convoluted—originally deriving from Rome, as in the city, “romance” eventually began to refer to the heroic, chivalric tales of knights. These “romances” often involved some kind of courtship, so the term “romance” began to be associated with this kind of courtly love.
Courtship and song have gone hand-in-hand for centuries, from the troubadours of old to the crooners of the twentieth-century. And it’s those crooners, specifically, and their songs of romance, specifically, that I want to turn my attention to this hour. Hundreds of songs from the American songbook concern romance, of course, but let’s look specifically at songs where romance is mentioned by name.
We’ll start with a song that perfectly captures the excitement and mystery of that oldest magic word “romantic.” This one comes from the pen of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, originally written for the 1932 Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette McDonald film Love Me Tonight. Composer Alec Wilder praised this song as being, in his words, “perfect.”
Here is Mel Tormé with that perfectly romantic song, “Isn’t It Romantic,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MEL TORME, “ISN’T IT ROMANTIC”
Mel Tormé in 1955 with the 1932 Rodgers and Hart song “Isn’t It Romantic.” We’ll hear a musical response to that song at the end of the hour.
Our next romantic song this hour also comes from the pen of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and it’s one of their most famous. It’s from a musical they wrote a few years later called Jumbo, all about a circus elephant. Not necessarily the place you’d expect to find a romantic song, but nevertheless, it’s where the song “My Romance” was born. The song is a recipe for romance to bloom, which as you’ll learn, only needs one key ingredient.
Here’s singer Carmen McRae in 1958 with Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - CARMEN MCRAE, “MY ROMANCE”
MUSIC - BEVERLY KENNEY, “A SUMMER ROMANCE”
One familiar and one less familiar romance song, both recorded in 1958. First in that set was the familiar Rodger and Hart song “My Romance,” performed there Carmen McRae. And just now, the less familiar “A Summer Romance,” by Lester Judson and Raymond Taylor, performed there by Beverly Kenney. That song is a little sad, about a romance starting to fail as the weather grows cold. If winter (and a happy ending) is more of your thing, check out the romantic song “A Winter Romance,” written by Sammy Cahn and Ken Lane wrote for Dean Martin’s holiday-themed album of the same name.
Next up on our romantic journey, I have two songs by singer June Christy. The first is a bit of a rarity—it’s an early song from songwriter Vernon Duke, written 1933, and then performed by singer Christy early in her solo career in 1946. It’s not quite as sad as “A Summer Romance,” but like that song, there is a bit of romantic pleading in this tune.
Here is June Christy with Vernon Duke and Edward Heyman’s “This Is Romance,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “THIS IS ROMANCE”
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “I’LL TAKE ROMANCE”
Two romantic songs from singer June Christy. Just now we heard the Ben Oakland and Oscar Hammerstein song “I’ll Take Romance,” written in 1937. That comes from the 1954 mono version of Christy’s marvelous LP Something Cool. Before that, we heard her in 1946, with the Vernon Duke and Edward Heyman tune “This Is Romance,” written in 1933.
Our next romantic tune this hour comes from the pen of songwriter Cole Porter. Now, when we’re talking about love, Cole Porter was obsessed with the topic: he wrote at least 20 songs specifically about love, including “I Love You,” “Do I Love You?, “I Love You So,” “So In Love,” “I Am Loved,” “I Am In Love,” “True Love,” “Goodbye My True Love,” “Easy To Love,” “Love For Sale,” and many others. As far as romance goes, however, there is only this one.
It comes from the 1932 musical Gay Divorce, and it’s a song all about the conversational peculiarities of Italians. Here’s cabaret icon Bobby Short with Cole Porter’s “How’s Your Romance?,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BOBBY SHORT, “HOW’S YOUR ROMANCE?”
New York cabaret star Bobby Short from his 1971 album Bobby Loves Cole Porter, with the tune “How’s Your Romance.”
We’ll continue our romantic journey, on this Valentine’s Day episode in just a bit, stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, “ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE”
MUSIC CLIP - MILT JACKSON QUARTET, “A BEAUTIFUL ROMANCE”
MUSIC CLIP - MARIAN MCPARTLAND, “LUSH LIFE”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. It was composer Billy Strayhorn who wrote in his song “Lush Life,” quote, “Romance is mush, stifling those who strive.” However, this hour, we’ve taken the opposite point of view, celebrating romance in all its wonder, in honor of Valentine’s Day.
Strayhorn was, perhaps, right to fear romance. It can make fools out of the strongest and wisest of us, causing us to do strange and silly things. And that’s the topic of our next romantic song, a less well-remembered one in the romantic song canon. This one comes from the pen of Jimmy Monaco and Johnny Burke, performed here by Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey in 1940.
This is Frank Sinatra with “Too Romantic,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “TOO ROMANTIC”
MUSIC - BING CROSBY, “INCURABLY ROMANTIC”
Bing Crosby in 1960 with the Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn tune “Incurably Romantic,” written for the Marilyn Monroe comedy Let’s Make Love. Bing sings this song in that film. Before that, we heard Frank Sinatra with trombonist Tommy Dorsey in 1940 with “Too Romantic,” but Jimmy Monaco and Johnny Burke.
Earlier in the hour I described the song “My Romance” by Rodgers and Hart as, essentially, a recipe for romance, albeit a recipe with only one key ingredient: you. That concept was rehashed, in a much more hokey way, in 1950 for the Marvin Fisher and Roy Alfred tune titled, “Recipe For Romance.” It’s a pop novelty song, to be sure, a common sight around this time, elevated here only slightly by the arrangement by Pete Rugolo and vocals by Mel Tormé.
Let’s hear it now. This is Mel Tormé with his 1950 Capitol single “Recipe For Romance,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MEL TORME, “RECIPE FOR ROMANCE”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “RHYTHM AND ROMANCE”
Two novelty songs about romance, both pop rarities. Just now, we heard one of the first recordings from an 18-year-old Ella Fitzgerald in October 1935, along with Chick Webb and His Orchestra. That was “Rhythm and Romance,” written by J.C. Johnson, George Whiting and Nat Burton. Before that, we heard Mel Tormé in 1950 with “Recipe For Romance,” written by Marvin Fisher and Roy Alfred.
When I was searching for romantic songs for this show, I came across two songs with the exact same title: “Romance In The Dark.” It’s not entirely uncommon for songs to have the same title; in fact, I devoted an entire episode to demystifying these kinds of “song confusions.” In this case, we have a bluesy “Romance In The Dark” written in 1940 by Big Bill Broonzy and Lil Green. And we have the less familiar, more pop-oriented “Romance In The Dark” written by Sam Coslow and Gertrude Niesen.
Let’s start with that less famous one, which is performed here (somewhat surprisingly) by the famous jazz singer Billie Holiday. Here she is in 1941 with the Sam Coslow and Gertrude Niesen song “Romance In The Dark,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, WITH EDDIE HEYWOOD & HIS ORCHESTRA, “ROMANCE IN THE DARK”
MUSIC - NANCY WILSON, “ROMANCE IN THE DARK”
Two songs with the same title “Romance In The Dark.” Just now, we heard Nancy Wilson with the blues standard “Romance In The Dark,” sometimes just referred to as “In The Dark,” written by Big Bill Broonzy and Lil Green in 1940. That comes from Wilson’s 1966 album Nancy - Naturally, arranged by Billy May. Before that, we heard Billie Holiday in 1941 with the other “Romance In The Dark,” written by Sam Coslow and Gertrude Nielsen.
I started this romance song program with the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart song “Isn’t It Romantic,” a song the team wrote for the 1932 Jeanette MacDonald film musical Love Me Tonight. And to close the hour, I’m going to play a song that was written to act as a counterpoint to “Isn’t It Romantic,” the tune “Wasn’t It Romantic,” by Hugh Martin and Marshall Barer. This song was written for an unproduced musical in the early 1960s, intended to be performed by a then-60-year-old Jeanette MacDonald, alongside her original performance from film Love Me Tonight. Unfortunately, MacDonald died before the musical could be produced. But luckily the song was uncovered by singer and song historian Michael Feinstein.
Let’s hear it now. From his 1988 album Isn’t It Romantic, here is Michael Feinstein with the Hugh Martin and Marshall Barer song “Wasn’t It Romantic,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MICHAEL FEINSTEIN, “WASN’T IT ROMANTIC”
Michael Feinstein in 1988 with “Wasn’t It Romantic,” a previously unrecorded song written in 1962 by Hugh Martin and Marshall Barer as counterpoint to the more familiar Rodgers and Hart song “Isn’t It Romantic.”
Thanks for spending a romantic hour with me on this Valentine’s Day edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET “MY ROMANCE”
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.