Jerome Kern

Jerome Kern : His Life and Music

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Raised on the periphery of the American-Jewish elite, the composer Jerome Kern achieved early success and spent the remainder of his life among the rich and famous. However, Gerald Bordman shows in this comprehensive biography that Kern's celebrity was fully merited. Between 1914, when "They Didn't Believe Me" became a popular ballad, and his death in 1945, Kern produced innovative and enduring works of popular music. With the musical "Show Boat" he initiated an Americanized operetta style that dominated the American stage for more

Product details

  • Paperback | 448 pages
  • 136 x 200 x 28mm | 399.16g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Paperbacks
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0195065743
  • 9780195065749

About Gerald Bordman

About the Author Gerald Bordman is the author of many books, including American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, and the trilogy comprising American Operetta, American Musical Comedy, and American Musical more

Review Text

Whether or not Kern is "our greatest theater composer" (most would name Rodgers), he receives the wrong sort of tribute in this arid, pedantically detailed, unilluminating biography. Comfortably reared in and around N.Y.'s German-Jewish milieu, Kern was a charming though demanding fellow who lived a stable, work-oriented life - uneventful except in the theater and hardly responsive to Bordman's pompous, close examination. ("Myriad factors probably contrived to persuade the Kerns to give up New York and move to the suburbs.") So the focus here naturally fails on a show-by-show, score-by-score rundown - from the interpolated WW I-era songs to the Princess Theater landmarks to Sally, Showboat, and Hollywood. But though the history and contents of each show are obsessively documented (Bordman wears his research on his sleeve), there's no sense of theatrical atmosphere or excitement, no insight into the creative or collaborative process. (Bordman's humorlessness and occasional obtuseness even manage to drain the fun out of such surefire anecdotes as the oft-told tale of Oscar Hammerstein II's parody lyric for "Why Do I Love You?") And, while Kern's well-known role in revolutionizing musical-comedy structure is adequately presented, the songs themselves receive intense but oddly deflating attention: Bordman dabbles in some bar-by-bar analysis - of limited usefulness since the text includes no musical examples; he seems to be laboring in the admittedly long shadow of Alec Wilder's American Popular Song, occasionally nit-picking but more often merely parroting; several distinguished songs are virtually ignored while lesser-known (sometimes worthy) work is spot-lighted; and, above all, Bordman never projects the specialness of Kern's music, where it came from or where it figures in popular music since. A dutiful enough gathering of research, then, but otherwise - erratic, lifeless, and ineffectual. (Kirkus Reviews)show more