When Pop Broke Up With Jazz (via NPR)

As seen in NPR:

“Writer Ben Yagoda has set out to explain a shift in American popular culture, one that happened in the early 1950s. Before then, songwriters like Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern wrote popular songs that achieved a notable artistry, both in lyrics and music. That body of work, at least the best of it, came to be known as the American Songbook.

By the early 1950s the popular hit song had evolved into a work of less artistic ambition. Novelty and simplicity ruled — and sold. What happened? That’s the question that Ben Yagoda addresses in his new book, The B-Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song. He spoke about it with NPR’s Robert Siegel.

Robert Siegel: The way you tell it, the kind of song that gifted songwriters might write, or try to write, wasn’t what the big record companies wanted in the early ’50s. Why?

Ben Yagoda: There was a change in popular taste. The soldiers who had come back from World War II didn’t seem to be as interested in the more complex, challenging kind of popular song, the more jazz-based song. Sentimental ballads and, yes, novelty numbers, suddenly was much more appealing.

You cite an interview that Patti Page, the singer, gave toMetronome in 1948. She said, “You’ve got to please the people who get up at 8 o’clock in the morning” — which I guess at the time seemed a measure of getting up early. What you’re describing, in part, is the separation of jazz music from popular music in America.

Absolutely. And for that period that you were talking about, the Great American Songbook period, there was this amazing unity of great jazz and popular songwriting. The songwriters — Berlin, Porter, Gershwin — understood jazz. And the great improvisers — Lester Young, Benny Carter and so forth — understood those songs and did great improvisations with them. That broke down after the war.”

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