When the Great Depression dimmed the lights of Broadway, its predominantly Jewish songwriters packed their bags and headed to Hollywood which absorbed some 75 per cent of Broadway’s talent after the stock market crash of 1929.
Out west, songwriters such as George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers penned the soundtracks of classic movies made during the “Golden Age of Hollywood,” from the 1930s to the 1950s. In the 1960s, Jewish songwriters continued to make an impact in Hollywood. Burt Bacharach composed music for the hit movies What’s New Pussycat and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Jazz.FM’s Jewish Songwriters Series is presenting an evening of songs written by Jewish Americans that have helped define the sound of Hollywood on March 9.
Local singer David Wall, the radio station’s director of community outreach and education since last September, is hosting the show.
“I guarantee there’s going to be some songs from the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, which were for some reason a fount of classic songs,” Wall said, singling out Isn’t This a Lovely Day (to Be Caught in the Rain) by Berlin and They Can’t Take That Away From Me and A Foggy Day (in London Town) by Gershwin. Wall said he’ll probably perform his rendition of Goldfinger, the theme song from the 1964 James Bond movie, with lyrics co-written by Anthony Newley.
“There’s an endless possibility because there are so many Jewish composers who dabbled in film music,” Wall said, adding that what’s on the show’s song list also depends on what the guest vocalists, Sophia Perlman and John Finley, decide to sing.
Wall called jazz and R&B singer Perlman one of the most accomplished singers in Canada. “She has an instantly recognizable voice and an absolutely winning personality,” he said.
Finley is a former singer of the late-1960s rock group Rhinoceros. In the mid-1960s, he shared vocal duties in Jon and Lee and The Checkmates, a popular Toronto R&B band. Finley has “actually turned into one of the best jazz singers I’ve heard in my life,” Wall said.
Jazz.FM’s 2015/16 edition of the Jewish Songwriters Series winds down on April 6 with an evening devoted to protest songs written by Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Laura Nyro and Woody Guthrie and features vocalists Lorraine Segato, Dione Taylor and Wall. The show’s song list includes Malvina Reynolds’ Little Boxes (which you’ll also recognize as the theme song from Weeds) and Abel Meeropol’s Strange Fruit.
“We’re going to approach them as if they’re jazz standards,” Wall said, adding that jazz musicians have historically taken songs that might not necessarily be called jazz songs and reinterpreted them.
This is the second year of Jazz.FM’s Jewish Songwriters Series, the brainchild of the station’s president and CEO Ross Porter. Porter approached Wall one night two years ago at a tribute to Bacharach with the idea for the series, after hearing Wall speak about how aspects of Bacharach’s music and Hal David’s lyrics seemed intrinsically Jewish.
As a curator of the series, Wall said, “It’s not very difficult to find Jewish songwriters, especially in the history of jazz. Most of the jazz standards were written by Jewish composers. That’s just a fact.”
The Jewish Experience in Hollywood, at Hugh’s Room on March 9, 8 p.m. features vocalists Sophie Perlman and John Finley and MC/vocalist David Wall, with saxophonist Alex Dean.
We Insist! Jazz Songs of Protest, at Hugh’s Room on April 6 at 8 p.m., features vocalists Lorraine Segato and Dione Taylor and MC/vocalist Wall, with saxophonist Richard Underhill. Pianist Mark Kieswetter, drummer Davide Direnzo and bassist Daniel Fortin play at both shows.
For tickets, click here. For dinner reservations at Hugh’s Room call 416-531-6604.