Temple University Esther Boyer College of Music

Jerome Kern (1885-1945), United States of America

Jerome Kern was born on January 27, 1885 at 411 East 56th Street in New York. From the beginning, he grew up in an atmosphere of musical stimulation and personal freedom of expression. His family gave him the sort of attention, support, and education that allowed him to blossom into a remarkable man and a remarkable composer.

The most important factor in Jerome Kern's musical career was his connection with the stage. For most of his career, Kern was directly involved with the theater.In fact, all of his over 1000 songs (with the exception of "The Last Time I Saw Paris" were intended for movies or theater.

At the age of ten, Kern began to attend Broadway shows and was instantly enthralled by what he saw. He wanted to be a part of it. Although he was young, he was already able to come home and play tunes from the score by ear. A few years later he began to attend music school in Europe, but dropped that in favor of a Job writing songs for London Theater. Many of these songs were not of lasting importance, but these years had a great influence on Kern's musical values and style. He worked as a rehearsal pianist and wrote individual songs to be used in productions. This line of work served at least three purposes. The constant playing kept him up to par on his piano skills. The direct involvement in productions made him appreciate the connection between music and dance. And finally, the almost instant feedback made him aware of audience reaction. He had to keep things simple enough to be easily understood by an audience who had never heard these songs before. Yet he had to make them interesting enough to keep the audience's (and his!) attention. In essence, the whole experience made him good at writing hits.

These characteristics sum up the essence of what a Jerome Kern tune is. It is lighthearted (generally), and it is characterized by a simplistic genius. He was very creative with relatively basic tools. This made his melodies sound natural yet at the same time spontaneous and creative. Since he saw the connection between music, song and dance, his songs were imbued with an infectious quality that makes them stand out years after his death.

Patrick Wade

Dr. Estrella's Incredibly Abridged Dictionary of Composers

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