If you are anything like me, when you think of the 1920s and 1930s, one of the first things that comes to your mind is the excellent jazz music released in those decades, is it not?
I’m willing to wager that at least one of you out there reading this is humming “Le Jazz Hot” from Victor/Victoria and picturing Julie Andrews parading around a stage “pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman”.
Jazz took the world by storm and transformed the entire musical landscape in a way that no other music genre had—before it began or since. It is a genre that speaks to generations and makes people get up and dance.
April is Jazz Appreciation Month, so on today’s post I am going to share with you some of the numbers I really appreciate. Most of the compositions were written in, or influenced by, the 1920s and 1930s. So sit back and enjoy the music!
Le Jazz Hot Hit #1—”Mein Herr” from the Motion Picture Cabaret
Set in 1931 Berlin during the Weimar Republic with the Nazi threat looming. Cabaret is a musical masterpiece and tells a fantastic story about love, lust, and the changing attitudes in Germany at this critical time in history.
The film stars Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, a modern girl and featured singer at the Kit Kat Club. Here Liza proves how extremely limber she is as she practices some fancy footwork with a chair.
Le Jazz Hot Hit #2—”I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”
This song was penned by George Gershwin in 1922 and first used in George White’s Scandals of 1922 (a revue similar to the Ziegfeld Follies). The Scandals that year were short-lived, but the tune became a huge hit, and was famously used in An American in Paris (1951). The An American in Paris version sung by sexy Frenchy Georges Guétary remains my favorite.
Le Jazz Hot Hit #3—”How Long Has This Been Going On?”
Another Gershwin classic, “How Long Has this Been Going On?” was first featured in the musical Funny Face (1927), starring the brother and sister dance team, Fred and Adele Astaire. It was later used in the 1928 musical Rosalie starring Marilyn Miller.
Did you know that in 1957 or 1958, Anthony Perkins a.k.a Norman Bates of Psycho fame released a cover of this song under the name “Tony Perkins”? It is an absolutely beautiful recording. Psycho had some pipes on him!
Le Jazz Hot Hit #4—”My Little Bimbo (Down on the Bamboo Isle)”
This song was written in 1920 by lyricist Grant Clarke and composer Walter Donaldson, and sung by Vaudevillian Frank Crumit. It’s definitely not a jazz standard by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, I’m one of the few people I know aware of its existence. It’s a naughty novelty song about a sailor on leave who has a fling with one of the island natives. Ooh la la.
Le Jazz Hot Hit #5—”Jazz Baby”
This song was written in 1919 by Blanche Merrill and M.K. Jerome and used as a jingle for Wheaties cereal, of all things. But it was in the 1967 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie starring Julie Andrews that made it downright adorable. Carol Channing’s scratchy voice is perfect for this tune.
By the way, this version of this song is part of the reason I named my blog, The Little Jazz Baby. The other part comes from the fact that “Little Jazz Baby” was one of my nicknames in high school.
Le Jazz Hot Hit #6—”Le Jazz Hot”
You didn’t think I would end this post without including this song, did you? This is my absolute favorite song in the musical Victor/Victoria (1982), which stars Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, James Garner, Alex Karas, and Lesley Ann Warren.
“Le Jazz Hot” was (along with the rest of the score) written by the incomparable Henry Mancini, and really captures the spirit of Paris in the 1930s.
Fun fact: Victor/Victoria is a remake of the 1933 German musical Viktor und Viktoria directed by Reinhold Schünzel and starring Renate Müller in the title role.
Do you have any jazz favorites from the 1920s and 1930s that I didn’t mention on this list? What are they? Let me know by leaving a comment below!