Great American Songbook
Jazz and Big Band
Impersonations, Improvisations, Requests
Vincent What describes a general performance repertoire focusing on the genres, songwriters, composers and pieces that have been an important part of my exploration of music, both instrumentally and vocally. Since I’m primarily an instrumentalist, much of this music works best in multi-track projects done in GarageBand, but I’ve managed to find ways of performing these pieces live, by using certain sounds on my synthesizer that work for each style of music. Scroll down for further descriptions.
Great American Songbook
These songs span roughly the early to mid 20th century and usually originated in musicals of the stage and screen. Today, with the exceptions of the songs written for the movies, these songs aren’t immediately linked to their origins, primarily known to fans of Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, Nat and Natalie Cole, the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr.), Bobby Darin, and performers of that nature. Songs of this type aren’t written today commercially, but jazz singers, the movies, the occasional new musical comedy, and nightclub acts still introduce songs written in the classic tradition. The talented composers and lyricists are many and varied, but here are just a few of their names and most well-known songs.
Hoagy Carmichael (“Stardust,” “Lazy River,” “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” “Heart and Soul,” “The Nearness of You”)
Johnny Mercer (“Something’s Gotta Give,” “Dream,” “I Remember You,” “That Old Black Magic”)
Jerome Kern (“All The Things You Are,” “Ol’ Man River,” “The Way You Look Tonight”)
George and Ira Gershwin (“I Got Rhythm,” “Someone to Watch Over Me”)
Cole Porter (“I’ve Got You Under my Skin,” “Night and Day,” “I Get a Kick out of You” and others)
Irving Berlin (“White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “God Bless America,” and too many others)
Richard Rodgers (with either Lorenz Hart or Oscar Hammerstein II) (“The Lady is a Tramp,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and others)
Many of these same songwriters also wrote entire shows, usually for Broadway, that stand the test of time, where almost every song from the score can have its own life outside the theater. These include Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate” and Richard Rodgers’ “Babes in Arms” and “South Pacific”. Here are some other musical theater composers and their most famous shows.
Meredith Willson (“The Music Man”)
Jerry Herman (“Mame”, “Mack and Mabel”, “La Cage aux Folles”, “Hello, Dolly!”)
Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) (“My Fair Lady”, “Camelot”, “Gigi”, “Paint Your Wagon”)
I will include other names in this category whose songs work for me as an instrumentalist, namely, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim. Theatrically, these types of composers don’t sit too well with me, but instrumentally, outside the theater, I’ve found ways of placing their songs melodically and harmonically within the realm of jazz piano, suitable for dinner music. Otherwise, if a song works lyrically outside the theater (they seldom do), into the act it goes!
Jazz and Big Band
These emphasize numbers popularized by jazz instrumentalists and vocalists, either covers of old show tunes and standards or originals written or co-written by the artists. This part of the repertoire includes songs made popular by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, Peter Nero, George Sheering, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, John Pizzarelli and Dave Brubeck. I also emphasize songs from the 1940s big band era, made popular by such legends as Benny Goodman, the Dorsey brothers, and Harry James. My favorite big band artist of this era is Glenn Miller, the trombonist/arranger/composer/bandleader whose hits (“In the Mood”, “String of Pearls”, “Moonlight Serenade”) will get many a listener’s feet tapping with joy.
Impersonations, Improvisations and Requests
Anything is up for grabs here. I’ve done marches, patriotic songs, country, some rock ‘n’ roll, my own improvisations based on anything at all, an instrumental cover of a show tune or two, and the celebrity impersonations of singers and actors that I picked up from the likes of Bobby Darin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Usually, these items are informal oddities done on the side, in addition to the serious emphasis on the genres previously mentioned.
This usually consists of the most famous or accessible parts of larger compositions. These might be taken from such source material as operas (Bizet’s Carmen, Rossini’s William Tell, Verdi’s Aida), ballet scores (Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Pineapple Poll), symphonies, orchestral and/or piano works, and others. Stylistically, they are either done in their original versions or updated to styles such as jazz piano (Ramsey Lewis’s version of the Habanera from Carmen, which he simply calls “Carmen”).
Operettas (i. e. Gilbert and/or Sullivan)
These are the 1800s European equivalent to musical theater. The most famous are those written by William S. Gilbert (words) and Sir Arthur Sullivan (music), including HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado. The 1951 ballet score, Pineapple Poll, was compiled and arranged for a large orchestra by conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, consisting entirely of his clever orchestral arrangements of Sullivan’s operetta tunes. Other operetta composers include, but are not limited to:
Johann Strauss II (“Die Fledermaus”)
Franz Lehar (“The Merry Widow”)
Victor Herbert (“Naughty Marietta”, “Babes in Toyland”)
Sigmund Romberg (“The Student Prince”)
Jacques Offenbach (“Orpheus in the Underworld”, “La Belle Helene”, “La Perichole”, “La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein”).
These are mainly seasonal shows, artist spotlights, and emphasis on a genre, mood or theme.
These are my proudest accomplishment: educational concerts combining instrumental and vocal selections with lecturing on the music presented in each program. I put these together starting in 2014, and first performed them for the Continuing Education Center at Rancho Bernardo (CECRB). Some of these have since been performed for other organizations and at other venues. Programs can be shortened or lengthened depending on the circumstances. Here are my descriptions, starting with the four generic presentations that started it all.
“The Melodies of Gilbert and Sullivan”
William Schwenck Gilbert was a famous dramatist who wrote many plays, poems, and lighthearted works. Arthur Sullivan was a famous classical composer who appealed to his public’s tastes while also dabbling in serious pieces for orchestras and especially voices. Together, these two Englishmen changed musical theater forever with their lighthearted, tuneful shows satirizing social class distinctions and other universal topics. This is why their shows are still so well loved more than a century after they were written. The program presents an overview of their careers, and features a sampling of some of the most tuneful, detachable melodies from all of their shows, including rarities that excite many fans. Sit back and enjoy Gilbert’s witty words, and Sullivan’s tuneful, memorable music.
“The Melodies of Glenn Miller”
Alton Glenn Miller was one of the great musicians of the 1930s and ‘40s, a trombonist, arranger and bandleader who put many listeners “In the Mood” for up-tempo dance tunes and slow, beautiful ballads. This program will include historical notes, tribute bands, what made the “Miller Sound”, and some Miller recordings, as well as my interpretations and personal mixes of some of my favorites.
“The Music of Broadway”
Whether it was one person writing both the music and the lyrics, or legendary collaborative partnerships, American musical theater gave us some of the greatest songs and shows of all time. Frank Sinatra and other performers took many of these show tunes outside the contexts of their musicals, and it’s in this way that most of us know these songs. This performance will include medleys and detachable hit songs from: George and Ira Gershwin’s “Girl Crazy” and “Funny Face”; Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot”; Rodgers and Hart’s “Babes in Arms” and “Pal Joey”; Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”; Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat”; Jerry Herman‘s “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame”; and Stephen Schwartz’s “Wicked”. (not necessarily all or in this order.)
“Music of the Rat Pack and All That Jazz”
Enjoy the songs associated with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Plus instrumentals from jazz greats like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Lionel Hampton and others. (not necessarily all or in this order.)
These are spinoffs of the four programs described above, repackaged in order to focus on different aspects of these specific topics.
“The Ballads of Gilbert and Sullivan”
Gilbert and Sullivan were famous for their fast songs and tongue-twisting lyrics in their shows. While the lighthearted aspects of the shows live on, Gilbert’s words and plot points could also be tender or dramatic, with lyrics also musing on life’s truthful absurdities. These opportunities gave Sullivan the occasional moments for his music to soar. Gilbert’s timeless words speak as eloquently as ever, and Sullivan’s beautiful music takes center stage.
“the Big Band Era”
From uptempo dance tunes to beautiful ballads, a salute to the 1930s and ‘40s bandleaders and arrangers including the Dorsey brothers, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and more. Their music puts many of us “In the Mood” for dancing. This program aims to put you in the mood for listening to the intricate, fun arrangements. Segments include musical examples from recordings, and accessible explanations of arranging, as well as live interpretations of some favorites.
From lighthearted operettas and musical comedies to serious musical plays, and even shows that are somewhat in between, the timeless stories and songs from the musical theater are still delighting listeners and audiences. The lighter side will be represented in the first half of the program by the Gershwins, Victor Herbert, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, and Jerry Herman. The second half will be devoted to musical plays of Richard Rodgers (words by either Lorenz Hart or Oscar Hammerstein II), Jerome Kern, Lerner and Loewe, Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“Old Blue Eyes and Friends”
The repertoire in the Great American Songbook generally spans from the early to mid 20th century. The songs began life on Broadway and in Hollywood, and quickly took on lives of their own when “Old Blue Eyes” and the rest of the greats performed them. In fact, Frank Sinatra did more than anyone to bring these songs to the masses. Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, and Ella Fitzgerald are just a few of the other performers who put their own stamp on this music. Many artists today are keeping the tradition alive. Enjoy songs associated with Sinatra and others of his era, including vocal renditions and jazz instrumentals.
“Rodgers and More”
A tribute to the versatility of composer Richard Rodgers, who wrote over 900 songs for 43 musicals. The program includes songs with lyrics by his main collaborators, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, plus short excerpts from his other output.
“Anything Goes: The Rat Pack Revisited”
The first half comprises the music and lyrics of Cole Porter, from Broadway to Hollywood, with operatic renditions and jazz covers. The second half is a vocal and instrumental jazz salute to Sinatra and company, who put their own stamp on stage and film songs written from the early to mid 20th century. This program has also been done as simply “Cole Porter” without the jazzed-up Rat Pack covers. I had originally intended to combine Porter and the Rat Pack because “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” are two Porter songs most commonly associated with the Rat Pack.
“The Melodies of Sir Arthur Sullivan”
Savor the delightfully uplifting and joyful melodies of this versatile musical knight. The program presents an assortment of selections from all aspects of Sullivan’s career, plus examples of Sullivan as respectfully imitated by other composers.
A new program to kick things off, plus more spotlights on great Broadway composers.
“Opera’s Greatest Melodies”
Enjoy instrumental performances of opera’s most popular selections. Composers include: Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Wagner, Bizet, Offenbach, Puccini, Gershwin, and Bernstein.
“Broadway Melodies: Celebrating Jerry Herman”
Irving Berlin lived 27 more years after writing his last stage musical in the early 1960s, not adapting well to rock ‘n’ roll. Jerry Herman continued writing in Berlin’s style, carried to another joyful level. Enjoy Herman’s optimistic words and tuneful melodies. The program includes selections from his musicals Milk and Honey, Hello Dolly, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles, Mack and Mabel, and others.
The current Broadway hit Hamilton sets early American history to the tune of rap, hip-hop and current pop music, with a dash of just about every other music genre. The show is the most nominated musical in Broadway history, with 16 Tony nominations. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s book, music and lyrics are the story of America then, as told by America now. Enjoy solo arrangements of selections from the musical that’s changing how we understand history.
“All That Jazz!”
Enjoy songs associated with favorite instrumentalists and vocalists, including Count Basie, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and others. The program was originally intended to be performed in April, honoring Jazz Appreciation Month, but can be performed at any time during the year.
“The Gershwins and Beyond”
George Gershwin’s music, spanning musical theater, jazz, classical, and popular song, has always been hard to categorize. His brother, Ira, was a brilliant lyricist who worked with other composers including Vernon Duke and Jerome Kern. Enjoy a “‘s Wonderful” tribute to this enduring legacy.
Mostly new programs, with a few repackagings of jazz and Broadway material.
“Vincent at the Pops”
Without realizing it, we all know a lot of “light classical” – the famous, tuneful excerpts of larger classical pieces – even if we don’t know the titles, their composers or their history. This music still pleases listeners more than centuries after it was written, by way of “pops” concerts, combining well known classical excerpts with traditional and modern hits from the stage, screen, and more. Enjoy some of the most recognizable music of all time.
“Let Me Entertain You” Part I
An informal program emphasizing a variety of genres, from light classics, jazz, opera, and musical theater, to some light rock ‘n’ roll (Elvis, The Beatles), and maybe a little country (Willie Nelson, Roger Miller). This is basically a typical gig.
“Let Me Entertain You” Part II
This revealing and personal program focuses primarily on the concept of musical improvisation, also including songs typically performed at jazz and blues jam sessions. I’ll also try to explain my own intuitive understanding of music.
From the World Wars and beyond, enjoy light classics, show tunes, and traditional favorites, all celebrating America’s irreplaceable musical contributions. Composers include Sousa, Copland, Berlin, and others.
“The Best Music You’ve Never Heard”
A program of obscure gems from iconic composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, with a repertoire drawn from the stage, screen, and traditional pop music.
“Broadway: Cole Porter, Lerner and Loewe, and Stephen Sondheim”
These giants of musical theater all formally studied music. Their classical background makes their music all the more suitable for interpreters to find new and intriguing ideas, while still staying true to their original intentions. Enjoy great Broadway music in renditions to please both purists and adventurous listeners.
“The Evolution of Jazz”
This American art form has evolved like no other, from Dixieland, to big band, to bebop, to the adventurous sounds from the mid 1960s onwards. Enjoy a fun, casual romp through some of jazz’s unique variations.
“Hooray for Hollywood”
A celebration of timeless songs and scores from the movies, emphasizing great American standards by Mercer, Mancini, Kern, the Gershwins, and others.