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I Know That Song
have been to so
time I pass a
chair, I have to fight
the urge to pick it up
and start dancing
around with it.
It's that part of the
life cycle. Children of
raries of our own chil-
dren. Some we knew
only slightly through
their parents. Some
we watched grow up. I attended the
bris of one and then was honored
with an aliyah at his bar mitzvah.
We have traveled to
Beverly Hills, Palm
Beach, Chicago for
and were glad we
did every time.
And I noticed
that almost without exception
the one song played at the par-
ties, usually chosen for the
bridal couple's dance, was "The
Way You Look Tonight."
That's comforting in a way. Most of
these kids were raised on hip-hop and
even less exalted musical forms. Yet at
one of the most meaningful moments
of their lives, they chose a song writ-
ten almost 70 years ago.
"We wanted something that stood
the test of time," my daughter, Jaime,
explained. "Because it's one of the
things we'll remember most about that
The melody is by Jerome Kern, a
composer steeped in the Central
European musical tradition and a
master of romantic phrasing. But it is
the words that connect across the
years, and they were written by a nice
Jewish girl, Dorothy Fields.
She is beyond doubt the finest
woman lyricist in the history of
American popular music. Her career
extended from "I Can't Give You
Anything But Love" in the 1920s to
"Hey, Big Spender" in the 1960s.
MuCI of her work is marked by the
sort of tender, urban sophistication
that characterizes this song.
Fans of movie musicals know it was
written for one of the great Astaire-
Rogers films, Swing Time, and was
used for comic effect. Fred plays the
piano and sings as Ginger gets ready
for a date. She is so moved by the
beauty of the song that she wanders
out of the bedroom with cold cream
still all over her face. Whereupon Fred
looks up and does a startled double
take as the song ends.
"Never, never change," pleads the
lyric, and it's good to know that a
classy kind of romance can still find
its way into young hearts.
Maybe I get a little carried away
with my affection for old songs.
Sherry and I were having dinner
recently at Cuisine, just across
Lothrop Street from the Fisher
Theatre, before a show. As we were
leaving the restaurant, the woman at
the keyboard began singing "All of
I couldn't resist. While
Sherry tried to slink into a dark cor-
ner, I insisted on informing the singer
that this song had been introduced
right across the street. It was offered
to vaudevillian Belle Baker by a pair of
Detroit songwriters, Seymour Simon
and Gerald Marks, and she liked the
But she had just lost her husband,
and when Baker began singing it
onstage at the Fisher, the personal
impact of the lyric hit her. She broke
down in tears, unable to finish. The
story was picked up by newspapers
across the country, and her emotional
performance turned the song into a
Many of the great popular songwrit-
ers of that era adapted their melodies
from Jewish folk tunes or even liturgi-
cal music. Musicologists have traced
these influences throughout the work
of Gershwin, Berlin and Harold
Arlen, who was a chazzan's son.
So when the happy couple glides
across the floor to the music of Kern
and the words of Fields, they may be
closer to the European tradition of
Jewish culture than they ever could
have guessed. ❑
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