Jerome Kern (1885 – 1945) was born in New York to a German Jewish immigrant father and his Bohemian-American wife. He had already written his first song when he enrolled at the New York College of Music, and at the age of seventeen, on his first visit to England he contributed material to a show there. Back in N.Y. two years later he worked as a Broadway rehearsal pianist and also provided songs for Broadway versions of London shows. His first big hit was an interpolation in The Earl And The Girl titled How’d You Like To Spoon With Me? And the best-selling recording of this 1905 song, recorded the same year, is included here– a real rarity, sung by Corinne Morgan and The Haydn Quartet which, in spite of the name, wasn’t a string quartet but a male vocal group. From that auspicious debut we can follow Kern’s development chronologically through a 40-year career as composer of musicals and, from the mid-30s mainly of film music.
Some of the singers are more or less forgotten today, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad, and quite a few of the songs are here presented in recordings made when the songs were brand new. Among the singers who have retained their popularity through the years we find the young Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore – the two were almost contemporaneous – the latter sings very beautifully in They Didn’t Believe Me. Bing Crosby croons nicely in The Folk Who Live on the Hill. Paul Robeson naturally sings Ol’ Man River from Show Boat – the role of “Joe” was written for him but he first sang it in the 1928 London production, the year after the Broadway premiere. It is from the 1929 musical Sweet Adeline. In 1933 came one of Kern’s best scores, Roberta, with songs like Yesterdays, here charmingly sung by Frank Luther. In The Touch of Your Hand we hear Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel from the filmed version of Roberta in 1952.
After Roberta Kern wrote principally for films and CD 2 covers that period excellently. Swing Time (1936) featured Fred Astaire and there are five songs with him, including library versions like The Way You Look Tonight and A Fine Romance. Percy Faith’s 1951 recording of Waltz In Swing Time has also retained its appeal through the years. Remind Me from the film One Night in the Tropics was a song new to me, but Julie London’s husky delivery caught my attention. Kern was nominated eight times for an Academy Award and won twice. The first time was in 1936 for The Way You Look Tonight, the second time was in 1941 for The Last Time I Saw Paris from Lady Be Good. An interesting fact is that he didn’t write the song for the film. He composed it the year before for his friend Noël Coward, and it is this version we hear on this set. The bonus track is Jerome Kern’s greatest hit of the 1950s, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes in the Million-selling recording with The Platters. My sister had the EP and played it to excess, I thought then. Hearing it again after all those years I can establish that it has aged beautifully.
From all points of view this is a great compilation. The songs have stood the test of time, the recordings are chosen for both historical and artistic reasons. Those I have mentioned specifically are either personal favourites or songs with some interesting facts surrounding them. The documentation is, as usual with these Retrospective issues, comprehensive and the transfers excellent. It was a joy to play the cram-full discs through in one continuous sitting and it will be a pleasure to dip into them for specific songs in the future. Göran Forsling, MusicWeb-International