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Music Makes Me

Fred Astaire and Jazz

Todd Decker

Publication Year: 2011

Fred Astaire: one of the great jazz artists of the twentieth century? Astaire is best known for his brilliant dancing in the movie musicals of the 1930s, but in Music Makes Me, Todd Decker argues that Astaire’s work as a dancer and choreographer —particularly in the realm of tap dancing—made a significant contribution to the art of jazz. Decker examines the full range of Astaire’s work in filmed and recorded media, from a 1926 recording with George Gershwin to his 1970 blues stylings on television, and analyzes Astaire’s creative relationships with the greats, including George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and Johnny Mercer. He also highlights Astaire’s collaborations with African American musicians and his work with lesser known professionals—arrangers, musicians, dance directors, and performers.

Published by: University of California Press


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pp. 1-1

Series Page, Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-11


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-18

Fred Astaire filmed his first dance solo in a Hollywood musical to the sound of a live jazz jam session. The occasion, a momentous one in hindsight, was by Hollywood standards a genuine jazz encounter. The date was 7 September 1933; the film, Flying Down to Rio; the song, “Music Makes Me (Do the Things I Never Should Do).” ...

Part One: Astaire among Others

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Chapter 1: “ There’s a difference and Astaire is it”

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pp. 21-52

Fred Astaire was incomparable. There’s no more succinct way to describe him or his career. He arrived in Hollywood an established Broadway star and almost immediately became a legend, movie business jargon for an irreplaceable screen presence with indefinable magic. ...

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Chapter 2: “I am a creator

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pp. 53-96

Astaire wrote out his own autobiography in longhand at the end of the 1950s. Published in 1959, Steps in Time is a bland recitation of one success after another. Always an admittedly uninteresting interview subject, Astaire, when telling his own tale, was polite and distant. But the published book bears almost no resemblance to Astaire’s first draft, ...

Part Two: Astaire at the Studios

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Chapter 3: “I play with the very best bands”

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pp. 99-114

The New York Times reviewer for Broadway Melody of 1940 excused himself from the task of dealing with the plot. That wasn’t why he or Astaire’s audiences were there in the first place. “It is always the sincerest form of sabotage to analyze the plot of a musical production, and in this case it might be doing an active disfavor to the reader himself, ...

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Chapter 4: “Tell them to let it swing”

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pp. 115-127

The production of musical films brought together two, normally separate studio departments: writers in the writing department conceived of the story and wrote the dialogue; composers, lyricists, dance directors, arrangers, and orchestrators loosely allied in an expanded music department created the musical numbers. ...

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Chapter 5: “Fixing up” tunes

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pp. 128-166

Writing and music department staffs at the Hollywood studios did not normally mix. Astaire worked closely with the musicians, and it is to their specialized task of making musical numbers that we now turn. ...

Part Three: Astaire in Jazz and Popular Music

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Chapter 6: “Keep time with the time and with the times”

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pp. 169-216

Popular music has almost always been dance music.1 The dance bands’ primary economic role was playing for dancing, and the film musical—especially during the era of the band pix—reached out to dancers in particular. This chapter considers how Astaire’s films bridged the gap between dancing couples on-screen and real social dancers ...

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Chapter 7: “Jazz means the blues”

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pp. 217-245

Charles Emge spent most of the 1940s on the Hollywood beat for Down Beat. Emge joined the Chicago- based publication when the Los Angeles–based Tempo was absorbed into Down Beat in 1940, and he introduced himself to a national readership in a self- deprecating manner that nonetheless staked a claim to insider status as a musician. ...

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Chapter 8: “Something that’ll send me”

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pp. 246-270

Astaire worked on a relatively small scale, trying always to stay within what he once called the “welcome limit.”1. But while he never showed an interest in making longer forms (such as dream ballets) or choreographing groups of dancers, Astaire’s routines were more than miniatures. ...

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Chapter 9: “You play and I’ll dance”

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pp. 271-310

In 1935 Astaire gave an interview to The Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper with national reach. Like all black newspapers, the Defender followed entertainment news closely: it was an area where black individuals excelled on the national stage. ...

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pp. 311-326

Jazz records had a meaningful place in Astaire’s musical life. More than just a means to play drums with a big band at home or a shortcut to collaboration with his television guest stars, jazz records could goad Astaire on as a dance creator, as shown by his oft-told story of why he came out of retirement in 1948. ...


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pp. 327-346


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pp. 347-356

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pp. 357-360

I am beholden to many libraries and librarians. My home library at Washington University in St. Louis—and the music librarian Brad Short and the Interlibrary Loan department in particular—were indispensable. The archivists at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison and the New York Public Library ...


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pp. 361-362


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pp. 363-375

Production Notes

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pp. 391-391

E-ISBN-13: 9780520950061
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520268906

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 868222909
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Music Makes Me

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Subject Headings

  • Astaire, Fred.
  • Jazz musicians -- United States -- Biography.
  • Dancers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Motion picture actors and actresses -- United States -- Biography.
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