David Michael Hertz
Indiana University, Bloomington
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Love, the Body and the Dance in the American Songbook (1910-1960)
Dedalus 22-23 (2018-2019), pp. 17-32. Download PDF

The main topic of the American Songbook was romantic love in all its aspects, from joy to despair, and every conceivable emotion in between these two extremes. The form of the songs was based in eight-bar phrases, often in a sequence of just four of them, but sometimes spun out to longer lengths. Within this tautly controlled form, song lyrics became more visceral, more psychophysical, and more related to everyday life in the modern world. The dances associated with jazz became part of this new type of love song, celebrating the new rhythms, based in syncopation, and generating a freer movement of the human body, both on stage and in the rapidly developing art form of sound film. This essay explores some of the most significant songs that intertwine the love song with the brashly modern lyrics, the jazz-inflected harmonies and rhythms, and the new dances that were associated with the songs and choreographed in unforgettable films.

Song, lyric, love song, dance, jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Jitterbug, Terpsichore, tap dancing, musico-poetic structure, words and notes, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Betty Hutton, Gene Kelly, James Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Frank Sinatra

Biographical note
David Michael Hertz is professor of comparative literature and adjunct professor of American Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. His most recent book, Eugenio Montale, The Fascist Storm and the Jewish Sunflower, is an extensive study of the Clizia myth in the works of Montale, who is arguably the greatest modern Italian poet, and the biographical and historical context connected to the development of Montale‟s myth. His earlier books include Frank Lloyd Wright in Word and Form; Angels of Reality: Emersonian Unfoldings in Frank Lloyd Wright, Wallace Stevens and Charles Ives; and The Tuning of the Word: the Musico-literary Poetics of Symbolist Movement. He is currently at work on a new manuscript about the lyrics and music of the American Songbook. Hertz has written on modern poetry, music, drama, and architectural history. A composer and pianist, Hertz is the co-founder of the Center for Comparative Arts at Indiana University. He has received grants from the Mellon and Graham foundations and is listed in Who‟s Who Among College Teachers. He earned B.A. (comparative literature), B.S. (music), and M.A. (comparative literature) degrees at Indiana University, and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from New York University. From 2002-2019, he was a member of the National Council on the Humanities of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, DC. He has also served twice as chair of the Comparative Literature department at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is currently a visiting professor at the FLUL (Programa em Estudos Comparatistas), under a cooperation agreement established between FLUL and IU-Bloomington and sponsored by FLAD – Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento, and he is teaching the seminar “Music and Literature” in the MA degree in Comparative Studies.