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The Great American Songbook

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Cafe Songbook Glossary of Terms
associated with The Great American Songbook


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

AABA Song/Refrain -- Form: Most songs in The Great American Songbook have a similar structure consisting of two basic parts: the verse, or introductory section, and the refrain, or body of the song. The standard format for refrains of songs from The Great American Songbook, though variations on this form are just about as common as the standard format, is commonly denoted as the "AABA" format, where the "A" sections (called choruses or in some cases "refrain 1, refrain 2, etc.) are melodically and structurally identical, or almost identical, being eight bars in length. The "B" section is also typically eight bars long and called, somewhat interchangeably, the "bridge," the "release" or the "middle eight." "Middle eight," is so call because it, like the choruses, is an eight bar section and sits sandwiched between the second and third "A" sections, thus making the the song thirty-two bars in length. The "B" section is sometimes called the "bridge" because it bridges the gap between the second and third "A's." For an elaboration on all these terms, see the entry for "Release." See also "Refrain" and the next entry just below.

AABA Refrain--Form Variations: The simplest, and perhaps original, song form is the European ABA where the three parts are "statement, departure and return." At the end of the nineteenth century and start of the twentieth, The American popular song form AABA emerged (See the entry just above) as the Tin Pan Alley songwriters, through trial and error, came to understand which format worked best for producing hits in America. As the century progressed and musical theater and movies caught up with and surpassed Tin Pan Alley as generators of American popular songs, many songwriters added structural variation to their compositions. One of the most common variations was changing the second or the second and third A sections so that they were not exactly like the first. Another variation was to move the bridge so that it came after the first "A" section (e.g. ABAA) instead of after the second (AABA). The form perhaps most common after the two just cited was ABAB, where the "B" section instead of acting as a bridge served to produce an alternating sequence of repeated sections. (For a fuller discussion of these variations and others see David Jenness and Don Velsey, Classic American Popular Song: The Second Half-Century, 1950-2000, New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 4-8.

Arranger/Arrangement: The person who takes what the composer has written and creates the parts for the individual instruments in the orchestra, band, etc. The overall result of the arranger's work is called called the arrangement. The arrangement written down so that each instrument's part is delineated is called the chart. The arrangements of an individual arranger usually bear a particular musical character that comes to be identified with that arranger, e.g. a Nelson Riddle arrangement of a song performed by Frank Sinatra will have a significantly different character than a Gordon Jenkins arrangement for the same singer of the same song. Consequently, fans of The Songbook are often very interested in who the arranger on a recording is. It is not uncommon for the leader of the band accompanying a vocalist also to be the arranger, although it is equally common for a leader to adopt the chart of a previous arrangement. For songs written for Broadway shows and Hollywood movies, it was typical that there would be one arranger (known in such cases as the orchestrator) for all the songs in the score. Later in the song's performance life subsequent arrangers altered the original orchestration (and sometimes radically) to stamp it with their own take on how the song should be played and sung. (Sinatra was one of the few performers, who, during live performances, would very often credit not only the composer and the lyricist but the arranger as well.)

Backstager: The term "backstager" refers to a show or movie the main plot of which involves characters who play actors or musical performers in a show or movie, but who are also involved with each other off stage or back stage, thus utilizing the time honored format of the show within a show. The dramatic force in the 'backstager" derives from the relationships in the off-stage plot. In backstagers that are musicals (and most are) the show being put on within the story is often a pretext for performing musical numbers without having to truly integrate them into the main plot. Sometimes the numbers have nothing at all to do with the story going on backstage (except that they are being performed by characters in that story) but sometimes they reflect that story in their lyrics. The Thirties in Hollywood was a particularly rich decade for backstagers. The "Gold Diggers" movies were all in this mode as was 42nd Street from 1933. On Broadway, a prototypical example is Babes in Arms a 1936 show in which a group of kids temporarily abandoned by their performer parents try to prove themselves by creating and performing their own show. More recently A Chorus Line (1975 ) is an example of a backstager.

Ballad: A term used in both music and poetry to describe a song or poem that tells a story, especially a romantic or emotionally potent one. In the realm of The Songbook, the ballad is most typically performed at a slow tempo with a romantic feel as opposed to one played and sung up-tempo in a "swinging" style.

Bar: A unit of measurement that divides a musical composition into segments, each of which contains a requisite number of notes and is separated from other segments (bars) by bar lines -- vertical lines that traverse the horizontal lines of the staff. A bar is a less formal term, used commonly by musicians, for "measure."; hence a typical Songbook song in the AABA format is thirty-two measures (or bars) in length with each of the four sections having eight bars.

Blue note: In jazz, blues and popular songs with a "blues" feel such as "Stormy Weather" and 'Blues in the Night,' a blue note is "a note sung or played at a slightly lower pitch than that of the major scale. It takes its name from its capacity to lend the composition in which it appears a bluesy feeling. Typically the alteration is a semitone or less, but this varies among performers and genres." (See Wikipedia article.) For jazz musicians, s blue note can typically be the lowered 3rd, 5th or 7th tone of the major scale. Other descriptors for a blue note include "worried note," "flattened (or flatted) note," and "bent note." In the DeSylva, Brown and Henderson song "The Birth of the Blues" the lyric goes, "From a whippoorwill / Out on a hill / They took a new note, / Pushed it through a horn / 'Til it was worn / into a blue note!" Presumably the idea is that the musician/vocalist wears the note down until it has the desired "blue" feel to it. The influence of the Blues, through its blue notes and other elements, traveled to Jazz and from there to The Songbook" so that "it is not surprising that not only did Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan bend [or wear down] notes, but so did Lee Wiley and Frank Sinatra" (Jenness and Velsey, p. 36).

Book/Book Musical: The book for a musical is the script including the story, the dialogue, the stage directions, etc., but exclusive of the the lyrics for the songs. Typically the writing credits for a musical include "Book by . . ., Music by . . . , Lyrics by . . . ." For example the credits for the musical Of Thee I Sing (1931) are book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, Music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin. (Ed.'s note: When the show was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama, there being no category for musical, the award went to the writers of the book and the writer of the lyrics but nothing to George, the writer of the music.) The term "Book Musical" was used to distinguish a musical show with a unifying story line from a revue, which consisted only of a series of unrelated sketches. The history of Book Musicals was marked by such productions as The Princess Theater shows of the second decade of the twentieth century with music by Jerome Kern, books by Guy Bolton, and lyrics most often by P. G. Wodehouse; Show Boat (1927) with music by Kern and both book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; and Oklahoma (1943) with music by Richard Rodgers and both book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, all of which were landmarks in the development of the American musical theater. The trend of the development was steadily away from the revue, dominant up through the mid-1920's, and toward the Book Musical, which became virtually the exclusive format from Oklahoma forward.

Break: During a performance, the interval when a musician, say a trumpet player, plays a solo while the singer and other musicians fade or pause (take a break, so to speak) to allow the solo to be featured.

Bridge: The section of the refrain, (most commonly the "B" section in an AABA song structure, that departs melodically from the other sections (or choruses) of the refrain producing a distinct variation in the refrain's otherwise repeating structure before returning to the concluding chorus (final "A" section"). The "B" section is most likely to be called the bridge when it is written in a way that leads the listener forward to the final "A" section, thus acting as a connector or bridge between "A" sections. See further discussion at "Release."

Cast Album: A recording of the songs and possibly other music and some dialogue closely related to the songs from a musical show. Most cast albums ("Original Cast Album" if the name is warranted) are studio albums, not recorded live. A distinction should be made between "Cast Album" and Soundtrack album.

Catalog Song: See List Song.

Character Song: In a musical, a song designed to reveal the personality or elaborate on the role of a character.

Chart: 1) The combined sheet music for an orchestra, band or other ensemble that specifies the music to be played for a particular song by each of the instruments in the ensemble, as designated by the the arranger or orchestrator. 2) A listing of recordings (artist and song) from best selling (top of the chart) down to a specific period of time that the song remained on the charts.. A chart is published periodically by an authoritative source, such as the popular music trade magazine, Billboard, and is published for multiple genres, e.g. pop chart, jazz chart, etc.

Chorus: 1) One of the sections of the refrain, other than the release, of a popular song. Each of the choruses is melodically the same or very similar to the others but varies lyrically. The chorus in a popular song is the equivalent of a stanza in a poem, a poem in which each stanza has the same structure but different words. For example, in the AABA structure, the choruses are the A sections. (See Song Form/Structure). It should be noted that some lyricists or editors of a lyricist's work use the terms "chorus" and "refrain" interchangeably. 2) a group of singers in a musical who typically back up the soloist or sing songs or sections of songs written with a choral arrangement.

Crossover: In terms of The Songbook, "crossover" usually describes a performer whose reputation is established in one area of popular music but then crosses over to perform/record material from The Songbook. Willie Nelson (country) and Rod Stewart (rock) are two well known examples. The exception to this definition is the relationship between jazz and The Songbook because jazz performers have for so long and so often used Songbook material that describing the process as "crossover" belabors the obvious. (A blog/article on "The Songbook and Jazz" is in preparation)

Cutting In: The act of taking credit for the writing of a song, most commonly for the lyrics, when the song's words were actually written by someone else. Perhaps the two "songwriters" most well known for doing this, probably to realize more money through royalties, were Irving Mills and Billy Rose, the former a music publisher, the latter an impresario and producer. No doubt each of them wrote some lyrics here and there, especially Rose, and made significant contributions to the history of popular music in America.

Dummy Lyric: a lyric written to fit the music before the real lyric has been created. The idea is to be able hear the music with words if the music came first, or to get an idea of the meter, types of rhymes that might work without having to worry about the meaning -- to make a template for the lyrics, so to speak. For example, Ira Gershwin started out with "Roly-Poly / Eating slowly / Ravioli, Better watch your diet or bust. / Lunch or Dinner / You're a Sinner / Please get thinner / Losing all that weight is a must." Eventually he came up with "I got rhythm, / I got music, / I got my man-- / who could ask for anything more?" etc.
(See Kimball, The Complete Lyrics Of Ira Gershwin (p. 165, hard-bound Ed.).

End Rhyme: See Rhyme.

F

Golden Era/Classic Pop Tradition of American Popular Song: That period of time in the history of American popular song from which the songs in The Great American Songbook come. The period is most commonly regarded as the very early through the middle twentieth century (with varying specific beginning and ending years given by different commentators). During this time popular songs were written by professional songwriters (most commonly a team of composer and lyricist) for Broadway musicals and revues, Hollywood movies or Tin Pan Alley song publishers. This tradition of songwriting stands in contrast to songs written by performers for themselves to perform, such as the singer-songwriters of the rock and folk-rock era beginning in the 1960's.

Great American Songbook (The): Briefly, a body of songs that meets the following criteria: were written between the very early part of the twentieth century (approximately 1910) and shortly after the middle of the twentieth century (approximately 1965); were written by professional songwriters, commonly, but not exclusively, a composer and a lyricist; were written for use in a Broadway musical, Hollywood movie, or for independent publication (as were the songs written for Tin Pan Alley); and have been judged by a combination of popular taste and a body of critical opinion to be excellent songs of their kind.

Hit or Hit Song: A song that achieves a high degree of popularity with the public quantified by its high ranking in sales of sheet music and/or recordings or of frequency of appearance on the charts. Most often a hit achieves such a degree of popularity shortly after its initial release. A Hit is not equivalent to a standard. A standard may or may not have been a hit at some point in time; however, most hits never become standards and some standards were never hits. For more see Standard.

Hit Parade (Your): Your Hit Parade started as a radio program first broadcast in 1935, running through 1959. It also appeared as a television program broadcast from 1950 to 1959. The central purpose of the show was to rank and perform the top selling songs (sheet music and/or recordings) of the previous week. A permanent cast, generally two male vocalists and two female vocalists and a resident orchestra, performed the numbers. The number of weeks a song was performed and the ranking it was given became an important gauge of song popularity for the general public as well as the music industry itself.

Independent Publication: A term, as used on this website, meaning publication of a song other than as part of the score of a Broadway musical or Hollywood movie or of some other larger body of work. Most commonly "Independent Publication" signifies publication by what would have originally been called a Tin Pan Alley music publisher -- a song published to be performed by singers and musicians anywhere from in ones living room, to in a nightclub, to in a concert hall, etc.

Integration and Integrated: A term used to signify the close relationship of the lyrics of a song to the plot of the show or movie for which it was written, thereby furthering the development of the plot rather than merely acting as a musical interlude during the course of the show. The Broadway show that is most often seen as the sea change that made integration of song into plot essentially mandatory was Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Oklahoma in 1943, although some argue that Jerome Kern's and Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat of 1927 was the real ground breaker in this regard. It is also worth noting that one reason why there are a significantly greater number of Rodgers and Hart songs in The Great American Songbook than by Rodgers and Hammerstein is because the integration of the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs into their stories may have made them less likely to be popular outside of their original contexts and therefore less likely to be independently performed and recorded over time -- an important criterion for being included in The Songbook.

Internal rhyme: See Rhyme.

Interpolation: The act of adding a song to a musical (show or movie) that was not part of the original score and, often, was not written by the songwriter(s) of the original score. For example, "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin was interpolated into the 1926 Rodgers and Hart show, Betsy. A slightly different type of interpolation occurred when Rodgers and Hart interpolated their own song, "My Heart Stood Still," originally written for the London revue One Dam Thing after Another into their New York show A Connecticut Yankee.

Jazz Inflected: A term used to indicate the presence of a jazz style of playing or singing in the performance of a pop song. It is created by the inclusion of jazz elements such as improvisation, scat, blue notes, or just a jazzy feeling in the performance. Performers whose main repertoire is The Songbook and who regularly include these elements are said to be jazz inflected.

K

Leader: shorthand for orchestra, band or other musical ensemble leader

Libretto / Librettist: A term more commonly used in association with opera and operetta where it means the text, including everything in the script, as opposed to the libretto of a musical, more commonly called the book, which is the script exclusive of the song lyrics. In opera the libretto is written by the librettist; for American musicals (and, earlier, operettas) the libretto is written by the book writer, occasionally referred to as the librettist. For example, for Show Boat (American musical, 1927) the writing credits are as follows: Music by Jerome Kern; Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; Book by Oscar Hammerstein II.

List Song (sometimes called a "catalog song"): A song whose overriding impression is created by a lyric that is essentially a list of examples supporting the major premise of the song. For example Cole Porter's "You're the Top" supports its title's claim that the "you" of the song is the best (top) by comparing it to a list of other bests in their respective categories: "You're the top! / You're the Coliseum. / You're the top! / You're the Louvre Museum." --ad infinitum.

Live Album/Recording/Performance/Session: a performance and/or the recording of it made at a performance venue such as a theater, cabaret, club, etc. as opposed to in a recording studio. A recording of a performance that is "live" is often regarded as more spontaneous and "alive" than a studio recording, but perhaps less polished. (See Studio Album . . .)

Lyric(s): The singular form "lyric" can refer to either a portion of the words written for a song, e.g. a specific line or phrase, or it can refer to the entire set of words for the song. Similarly, the plural "lyrics" can be used to refer to the entire set of words for a single song, but it can also refer to the words for all the songs in the score of a show, movie or other production. The writer of the lyric or lyrics is, of course, the lyricist. (Thomas S. Hischak. The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia, Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.)

Major/Minor key/scale (tone created by): For our non-technical and limited purposes here, the tonal quality of a song written in a major key usually has a light, bright feel to it, whereas a song written in a minor key is likely to sound sad, dark, forlorn, full of regret, etc. in Cole Porter's song "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" Porter evokes this distinction in tones by having the music change key from major to minor even as the lyric reveals the reason for the change in tone from happy to sad: "There's no love song finer / But how strange / The change / From major to minor / Ev'ry time we say goodbye / Ev'ry single time we say Goodbye." (For a fuller (but still comprehensible to a non-musician) discussion, read the Wikipedia article on major and minor.

Musical Comedy:

N

Operetta: Literally a little opera; more importantly for its relevance to American popular music a musical production thought of as old-fashioned, laden with sentimental songs and an overly romantic plot. The operetta had its origins in mid-19th century Europe especially in Paris (Offenbach) and Vienna (Johann Strauss II), and migrated to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with composers like Sigmund Romberg (The Desert Song) and Rudolph Friml (Rose Marie and The Vagabond King), where it is now seen as having been the precursor to the more authentically American genre of musical comedy. Jerome Kern is the composer who both harkens back to operetta with his grand melodies and breaks away from it with his openness to modern subject matter and eventually to more contemporary music. Over time the term "operetta-like" became a pejorative for that portion of the American musical theater that failed to break away from its late nineteenth and early twentieth century roots.

Orchestrator: See Arranger.

Pastiche Song: More a term used in musical comedy than The Great American Songbook, a pastiche song "echoes the style either musically or lyrically of an earlier era." Pastiche songs were usually written to elicit a comic effect by conjuring up a musical period or style far removed from the context of the show in which the song appears. "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" from Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls brilliantly achieves this by presenting a revivalist missionary style hymn with a lyric that evokes the world of the 20th century big city gangsters who sing it.

Patter Song: a very fast-paced song with a special feel for the qualities of the spoken word even as it is being sung. The effect is usually created by each syllable having a corresponding individual note. Examples include many works by Gilbert and Sullivan such as "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General." The patter song lends itself especially well to comic numbers. Its presence continues in the American musical theater in shows as diverse as My Fair Lady ("Why Can't a Woman Be Like a Man?"), The Music Man ("Trouble"), Cabaret ("The Money Song") and Company ("Getting Married Today"). For a lot of peoples' great examples look at this page at BroadwayWorld.com.

Personnel: the musicians who accompany (or back-up) a soloist or leader in a jazz or other ensemble in either a studio or live performance (also called "sidemen").

Plugger (song plugger): A person who works for a sheet music publisher with the responsibility of plugging (promoting), the songs from the publisher's catalog. Often, in the days of Tin Pan Alley, this was done by one who played and sang the publisher's songs for perspective customers, such as entertainers, retail music stores, etc. Sometimes pluggers would go out of the office to plug songs everywhere from music stores to taverns, to any place that had a piano. Many songwriters including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Harry Ruby and Harold Arlen worked as song pluggers on Tin Pan alley early in their music careers.

Premier Performance: As used on the Cafe Songbook website, this term refers to the performance, most commonly in a show or movie, for which the song was written, e.g. Alfred Drake and Joan Roberts singing "People Will Say We're in Love" in Oklahoma at the Broadway opening, May 31, 1943. Technically, they sang it in out-of-town previews first, but we are not being that technical here. Sometimes there can be a separate Premier Performance on Film, e.g. Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones singing "People Will Say We're in Love" in the 1955 movie Oklahoma. In such cases, no opening showing of the movie is considered. The premier performance on film is just MacRae and Jones singing it in the movie. And when a song was written for a film, e.g. Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" in The Wizard of Oz, that is simply the unqualified Premier Performance. Obviously it is easier to determine a premier performance for a song written for a show or movie than for one written for Independent publication, though sometimes it is possible, e.g. See the discussion of the origins of Alexander's Ragtime Band.

Q

Refrain: The main section or body of a song following the introductory verse and preceding the closing verse (if one or both verses are present). The refrain commonly contains a series of choruses, plus a release. (See the following entry.) The refrain of a song is generally its most familiar part, and in a composition that does not include a verse or verses, would constitute the entire song. Some lyricists in their nomenclature using the term "refrain" to mean the same thing other lyricists mean by "chorus," so instead of having, say, three choruses that make up the refrain, the song would be written as having three refrains. The lyrics of Lorenz Hart as notated in The Complete Lyrics Of Lorenz Hart are presented in this manner.

Release: A section of the refrain, (most commonly the "B" section in an AABA song structure, that departs melodically from the other sections (or choruses) of the refrain producing a distinct variation in the refrain's otherwise repeating structure before returning to the concluding chorus (final "A" section"). Other names for the release are the bridge and the "middle eight." David Jenness and Don Velsey in their book Classic American Popular Song (New York: Routledge, 2006) set out some differences between "release," "bridge" and "middle eight" that explain why one of the terms might more appropriately describe the "B" section of a particular song. They explain that although musicians use these three terms interchangeably, the "middle eight" usage suggests just enough variation from the choruses to bring some variety to the song, whereas the term "bridge" indicates that the structure of the "B" section introduces a variation that is "a little more venturesome" like a key change, but that it will also contain a means of "working its way back to the material that began the song" thus creating a musical bridge to the following chorus (final "A" section). They conclude that

calling 'B' a 'release' suggests something more remarkable: it suggests that the B-section is distinctively new and different, involving a radical key change, a markedly different rhythm, a new pitch zone, a greater or lesser degree of harmonic complexity, or new semantic content (Jenness and Velsey, p. 5).

Their comments indicate that the release has the effect, in accordance with its name, of releasing the listener from the entrenched pattern of the song. Jenness and Velsey go on to assert that the "B" sections of "Stormy Weather" (Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler) with its extended middle section and the "soaring" "B" section of "All the Things You Are" (Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II) are without doubt releases.

Reprise: In a musical, the repeating of all or part of a song after its initial performance; not to be confused with an encore which is a more or less spontaneous repeat of a song generated by audience enthusiasm as opposed to the planned reprise which has a dramatic or structural purpose in the show.

Revue: A show without a unifying story, consequently resulting in a series of skits, vignettes, etc. most or all of which feature a song. Some revues such as Irving Berlin's Music Box Revues of the early 1920's were all by one composer and one lyricist; others were by a series of songwriters. These revues were ubiquitous in the American musical theater of the early decades of the twentieth century but declined in number as more and more shows were book musicals created on the integrated model. Nevertheless, revues usually performed in Broadway theaters or Harlem venues such as The Cotton Club, were the source of many songs that have taken their place in The Great American Songbook, from "I've Got the World on a String" which was written for Cotton Club Parade of 1932 to "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" from the revue, The Little Show of 1929 to many, many others.

Rhyme (types of):

End Rhyme: The most common form of rhyme in lyrics and poetry-- being a rhyme in a lyric that occurs from the end of one line to the end of another -- as opposed to internal rhyme.

Internal Rhyme: A rhyme in a lyric that does not occur from the end of one line to the end of another; rather, it occurs from the end of one line to the middle of another, from the middle of one line to the middle of another, etc. The lyricist most well known as a practitioner of exotic rhyme was Lorenz Hart. For example, in "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," the refrain begins,

I'm wild again,
Beguiled again,
A simpering, whimpering child again--
(quoted from Dorothy Hart and Robert Kimball (Eds.). The Complete Lyrics Of Lorenz Hart. New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 1986, p. 272.

in which there is end rhyme in the repetition of the word "again" (exact rhyme) among lines one, two and three; internal rhyme from "wild" in the middle of line one to "guiled" in the middle of line two to "child" in the middle of line three; and again from "simpering" to " whimpering" both in the middle of line three.

(Many other Rhyme types exist. They will be added as required.)

 

Scat: A vocal solo employing spoken sounds, completely of the singers spontaneous choice, rather than the words of the lyric. The effect of scat is to allow the voice to be free to improvise in the manner of a jazz musician playing an instrument. This is accomplished by removing the restrictions placed on the singer's voice by the need to pronounce prescribed sounds -- the words. Many jazz or jazz inflected singers employ scat, the best known being Ella Fitzgerald.

Score: The assembled sheet music for a series of musical compositions which together make up a larger musical entity such as an opera, musical, etc. There are many types of scores: The conductor's score contains all the parts for the different instruments in the ensemble; A piano score contains only the piano part or possibly the piano and vocal parts; The score for a musical comedy or musical film contains all the music for the production: songs, lyrics, pieces of incidental music, etc.; The score for a non-musical film contains all the background music, etc.

Sideman/men: A musician backing up a soloist, featured player or singer, especially in a jazz, swing or blues ensemble. Often a sideman is not a regular member of the ensemble but hired (on the side) for a specific recording session or performance to support the regulars.

Soundtrack: A recording, theoretically, of all the music from a movie including songs, background music, transitional music, etc.; in other words, a recording of the the entire score. Typically, however, soundtracks are recordings that include selections from the score of a movie. It is important to note the difference between "soundtrack" and "cast album." The former is a recording of the music from a movie musical or other film including music, the latter from a stage production or a musical production written for television such as Rodgers's and Hammerstein's Cinderella.

Standard (or American Standard Song): Originally, that is, after the very early twentieth century and before Rock and other forms of popular music dominated the popular music scene, a standard was a song so well known among performers of popular music that virtually all professional musicians knew it and included it as part of their standard repertoires. Now, more accurately, it is defined as a song that has survived the generation of its composition so that it is performed by subsequent generations of singers and musicians and is known primarily independently of any association with its specific origins. In other words "My Funny Valentine" is currently known for itself not as part of the Broadway show Babes in Arms for which Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote it, and not because it was a hit for a specific performer. American standard songs that are part of The Great American Songbook, as opposed to say country and western standards or jazz standards, constitute the core of The Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook but are by no means its entire content; that is, there are many songs in The catalog that would not be classified as standards according to the definition given above but nevertheless have enough intrinsic worth to be included. For a full discussion of the term "standard" as it used in relation to American popular song and to The Great American Songbook see the Cafe Songbook blog-article, "What Is a Standard?"

Studio Album/Performance/Session: Referring to a recording made in a recording studio as opposed to in a performance venue such as a theater, cabaret, club, etc. Studio recordings are often regarded as more polished than live recordings but less spontaneous, less "alive."

Swing/Swinging: 1) Referring to a style of performing a pop song (or other composition) at a faster than usual tempo and for which the arrangement is more likely to be dominated by the brass playing the melody while other instruments, the reeds, for example, play a repeating riff. Often a swinging version of a song stands in contrast to a "ballad" version, which is typically played at a slower tempo and with a greater likelihood of strings playing a significant role. For example Mel Torme's version of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's "Hello Young Lovers" on his album Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley takes a song originally written and performed as a ballad and swings it. (For more, see Wikipedia entry for "Swing.") 2) "Swing" is also the name of the Big Band style of jazz that dominated the late thirties and early forties in American popular music.

Syncopation: An interruption in the typical pattern of the regular flow of rhythm in a song or other piece of music created by the placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur. This produces a rhythm that moves forward but with repeated, unexpected interruptions. For example Deena Rosenberg describes the rhythm of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" as "edging us along with an easy going syncopation." In American popular music the use of syncopation came to the fore in ragtime and then in jazz where it was and remains an essential feature of the character of those genres. Many songs in The Songbook are jazz inflected or rag inflected, from "Alexander's Ragtime Band" forward, making syncopation a compositional technique crucial to The Songbook's modern musical identity.

Tin Pan Alley: Originally, Twenty-eighth street in New York City between Fifth Avenue and Broadway where most of the offices of popular music publishers were located during the early twentieth century. Although perhaps the story is apocryphal, this stretch of twenty-eighth street was so called because the sounds of so many pianos being played filled the street with a cacophony resembling the sound of tin pans being banged together all the way from Fifth Avenue to Broadway. The pianos were played either by would-be songwriters plugging their songs to the publishers or pluggers. (Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Harold Arlen among other songwriters began their careers as song pluggers on Tin Pan Alley.) playing the publishers' songs for performers or other possible customers. After the publishers were no longer all located on the same stretch of the street, the term came to signify a general place of origin of American popular songs that were not originally created as parts of a score for a Broadway musical or a Hollywood movie, but written for independent publication: for performance in vaudeville or cabaret, for the waning home use as sheet music on the parlor piano, and for the emerging industries of recording and radio.

Theater Song / Theater Writer: Terms preferred by Alec Wilder the author of American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950 to signify those songs (and their writers) that were originally written for use in a Broadway show or Hollywood feature film but have emerged from their original theatrical or film settings and established an identity in popular music independent of their origins. His high regard for "theater songs" derives from a belief that such creations have a degree of originality and innovation not seen in Tin Pan Alley (See definition just above.) from which came songs with a more wholly marketplace orientation. On the other hand, Cafe Songbook, although agreeing with Wilder's general point about the quality of songs written for the theater compared to those written for Tin Pan Alley, uses the term "Theater Song" differently. We use it to distinguish songs that are so completely a part of the production for which they were written that they often do not achieve a separate life outside the theater. In such cases "Theater Songs" are not included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook.

Note: A gloss on this distinction is reflected by the song that has emerged from its theatrical context to achieve a second life in The Songbook but is returned to that theatrical context by a performer who chooses to interpret it as such. Patti Lupone does this with "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" in a concert performance before which she announces. albeit briefly, that she is singing it as the Pal Joey character, Vera Simpson, a part she played not too long before this concert took place. (See this performance on the Cafe Songbook "Bewitched" page where you can also listen to Ella Fitzgerald and others sings it independently of its life in the theater. One performance given here, however, straddles this divide. Marin Mazzie, primarily a Broadway performer, sings it live on a Broadway stage with a distinctly Broadway flavor, but does not act it out as Lupone does.

 

Trunk Song or Shelf Song: Songs written for one purpose or another but instead of being used for that purpose have been put away in the songwriter's "trunk" or on his "shelf" until another purpose came along for which they might be taken out of the trunk/off the shelf and used.

Torch Song: A song of unrequited love in which it is apparent that the singer is still "burning" for the person who will not return the love the singer offers. More generally, any song in which a burning passion is expressed.

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Verse: The verse is the introductory section of a song that precedes the refrain. Originally the verse was typically sixteen bars long, but in later years had no fixed length. It is distinctly set off from the refrain not only because it precedes it but because structurally and melodically the verse bears little or no similarity to the main body of the song. A significant number of earlier songs in The Songbook had two verses: one served as an introduction, the other as a concluding section following the refrain. Many earlier Irving Berlin songs such as "All Alone" and "All by Myself" have both opening and concluding verses. The verse is often less familiar to the listening public than the refrain both because its melody is different from the melody of the refrain, which becomes familiar as it gets repeated in each of the choruses, and because many singers over the years dropped the verse from their live performances and recordings. There are several reasons that may account for the verse so often being dropped by performers: 1) The verse, having an unfamiliar melody, might confuse the audience. 2) Having no fixed form or length, the verse is often more difficult to sing than the refrain; and 3) because it often served to tie a musical comedy song to the show's story, the lyric of the verse would be irrelevant to a general audience. For Allen Forte in his book Listening to Classic American Popular Songs, "some verses are routine and seem to have been tacked on as an afterthought. Others begin to approach the refrain in terms of musical interest and attractiveness. That is particularly true of George Gershwin's verses, which are sometimes refrain-lke. "How Long Has This been Going On?" comes to mind, but there are many others. Like most of the songwriters of his era, Gershwin composed the verse only after the refrain was completed" (p.19).

With the passage of time and changes in popular taste many songs, especially those written for independent publication, were written without any verse at all. For David Jenness and Don Velsey, in their book, Classic Classic American Popular Song, some songs achieve a certain elegance because there is a tie, either melodically or lyrically, between the verse and the refrain, and, "in such cases, the verse must be performed or the richness of association and the formal integrity [of the song] are lost." As an example they cite "A Foggy Day," in which Ira Gershwin's lyrical climax, "Suddenly I saw you there" is an example of a miracle from "the age of miracles" that is referenced in the verse-introduction. "Pleasures of the verse" such as this have caused many Songbook aficionados to prize performances that include it. (Jenness and Velsey, pp. 14-15.) Philip Furia, in his book Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist notes that for many tin-pan alley songwriters the verse became "a throwaway" because that's what so many singers did with it, omitting it from their performances. He emphasizes how the Gershwins considered the verse as crucial, writing, "Ira Gershwin devoted as much care to verses as he did to refrains. George Gershwin devoted similar attention to verses, giving the brothers' songs yet another distinction -- of all the great songwriters of their era the Gershwins were the masters of the verse" (Philip Furia, Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist ,New York, Oxford Univ. Press
1996, p. 41).

Listen to Cole Porter's comments on the verse of a song in his verse for "It's DeLovely"
sung by Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald sings "It's DeLovely" from her
Sings the Cole Porter Songbook album


album cover: Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
Ella Fitzgerald
Sings The Cole Porter Songbook

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