Yesterday was the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Harold Arlen. Arlen may be the most underrated and innovative of the composers at the heart of the canon of American popular song. Working with a variety of lyricists, from those in whom he brought out the best, such as Yip Harburg (“Over the Rainbow”) and Ted Koehler (“Stormy Weather,” “I’ve Got the World On a String,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” “When the Sun Comes Out”), to those who regularly scaled the heights, such as Johnny Mercer (“One for My Baby,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “This Time the Dream’s On Me”) and Ira Gershwin (“The Man that Got Away”), Arlen supplied the haunting melodies — blues with a Jewish feeling and a jazzy heart.
My favorite of the Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks is her “Harold Arlen.” To borrow the Johnny Mercer lyric, “clear out of this world” — and a great way to explore this brilliant songwriter.
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