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October 2000

Warren W. Vache
The Unsung Songwriters: America’s Masters of Melody

The vast majority of standards were written not by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, or Richard Rodgers, but by relatively unknown composers and lyricists. Relatively is a key word here; most jazz fans wouldn’t apply the term “unknown” to Hoagy Carmichael or Harold Arlen, not to mention Duke Ellington, Fats Waller or Don Redman. But Vache’s aim is to include all but the most famous writers in this book, which includes thumbnail bios of hundreds of composers and lyricists. The highly readable, almost breezy style should find favor with the general public, while the wealth of information makes The Unsung Songwriters desirable to even the most serious scholars. But I think this book will be enjoyed most by those of us who have just wanted to know something about Maceo Pinkard (“Sweet Georgia Brown”), James F. Hanley (“Indiana”), Henry Creamer (“After You’ve Gone”) or wondered who wrote a favorite song. No two people would agree on how much space to give to whom; I am disappointed to only have one page about Richard Whiting, compared to eight about Harry Woods. But jazz lovers will appreciate the coverage given not only to jazz musicians but to composers they have favored, like Willard Robison (who gets five pages) and Carmichael (who only gets three, but then we already know Hoagy). There are several useful appendices and indexes, and all in all, The Unsung Songwriters is a well-executed good idea.

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