Monday, November 12, 2012

Here's to Hugh

Since celebrating the American Songbook is such a huge part of what we do, I will try to give a good feature every now and then. I am sure Les has much to offer in this area.

But this week is a bump to one of the more unspoken but certainly not unsung legends; Hugh Martin. I recently picked up the new Encores Cast Recording of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" with Megan Hilty & Rachel York among others. The score is by the incomparable Jule Styne and lyrics by the lesser known Leo Robin. But the first acknowledgments in the liner notes are to Hugh Martin and worth a read. "In the 1930s & 40s he changed the sound of Broadway shows by introducing the tight jazz harmonies used by popular vocal groups on the radio. In doing so, he energized the theater and lead musicals into a new era." Other composers of the time were concerned with melody and lyric, but Hugh's forte was working with the voice.

It goes on to state that his early influence was the monumental Kay Thompson who he both played for and aranged. Choruses of that day weren't used to tight 8 part harmonies doubled for both the men and women. He also used syncopations, tempo shifts and nonsense syllables to "decorate" the tunes. Unison lines would "blast" into harmony. He chose keys that would cater to the voice in exciting ranges - and all this required singers with superior musicianship rather than the stock choruses of the era.

Listening to this show in its revived orchestrations offers a show from the 1940's, set in the 1920s with the pizazz of the future 1950's. Amazing stuff and makes me want to dig a bit deeper into his catalog other than "The Trolley Song" & "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" which we all assoicate him with.

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