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Oldies Music Encyclopedia: "Great American Songbook"


A typical Great American Songbook album

A typical Great American Songbook album

source: pricegrabber.com
Definition: The style known now as "Great American Songbook" -- a term that only came into widespread use of the last decade or so -- refers to the vast genre of pre-WWII pop music, a style influenced by but not tied down to the jazz and swing styles of the day. Coming into vogue as it did during an era where sheet music was the main standard of music transmission, GAS music was necessarily dependent on the songwriter, the best of whom were often just as famous (and better paid) than the singers who sang their compositions. Indeed, the outputs of these songwriters became known collectively as "songbooks," which led directly to the catchall term we use today.

The typical Great American Songbook songs -- known in jazz, then as now, simply as "standards" -- were lushly orchestrated, romantic pop numbers, heavy on balladry, which would then be "interpreted" by singers of the day. As a result, many of the genre's songs exist in hundreds if not thousands of varied vocal and instrumental versions, their only constant being the lyrics and melody (although daring jazz instrumentalists and vocalists might even taken great liberties with those).

As vinyl records had not come into their own yet, these songs largely originated from two sources: the radio star, or "crooner," a direct antecedent of the teen idols who benefited from the new advances in microphone technology that let them sing quietly and in a more intimate fashion; and also Broadway and Hollywood musicals, which provided an outlet for standards right through the early Sixties. Though this music was largely killed off by the rock and roll explosion, it survives today in the jazz vocal world, and has recently made a pop comeback of sorts with the rise of American Idol and also Rod Stewart's string of #1 GAS albums.

Also Known As: Standards, Pop Vocal, Jazz-pop
  1. "Stardust," Hoagy Carmichael
  2. "Night and Day," Cole Porter
  3. "Summertime," George and Ira Gershwin
  4. "The Way You Look Tonight," Jerome Kern
  5. "My Funny Valentine," Rodgers and Hart
  6. "(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow," Harold Arlen
  7. "Come Fly with Me," Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn
  8. "Blue Skies," Irving Berlin
  9. "That Old Black Magic," Johnny Mercer
  10. "Some Enchanted Evening," Rodgers and Hammerstein
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