Friday, August 2, 2013

Jews write the best cowboy music

In the cinema, anyway. As proof, check this out:

For my money, that's one of the five greatest movie themes ever. I thought of Jerome Moross today, because Thursday was his 100th birthday, and his score for that 1958 western epic justly earned an Oscar nomination. This is a big year for musical anniversaries: Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi were born 200 years ago, Benjamin Britten 100 years ago. (Britten also wrote film scores in the 1930s.) But Moross, who died at 69 and spent his life alternating between soundtracks and classical compositions, has been overlooked.

Listening to "The Big Country" got me thinking about my all-time favorite film theme:

That one comes from Elmer Bernstein, who was nominated for 14 Oscars. Bernstein, like Moross, was Jewish. So was Dimitri Tiomkin, who wrote the immortal theme and score for "High Noon." So was Victor Young, who earned an amazing 24 Oscar nominations before he died at 57 and made a name for himself with the Joel McCrea western "Wells Fargo."

And Aaron Copland, the quintessential New York-based Jewish composer of the 20th century, was nominated for an Oscar for his score for "Of Mice and Men" (set among migrant workers in California) and wrote a plaintive score for "The Red Pony," another adaptation of a western novella by John Steinbeck.

Why should this be? Did these urban composers, settled among the canyons of steel in New York or Los Angeles, long for the sprawl of open country? Did these descendants of a long-migratory people sympathize with characters who were trying to make a living in an untamed land where they weren't always welcome?

That's a question I can't answer. But it popped into my head today.


Matt M said...

Dimitri Tiomkin also wrote the theme to Rawhide.

Anonymous said...

Sure enough, and THAT'S among the best TV themes of all time.

Mark Caplan said...

John Leonard Morris from Elizabeth, NJ, composed the score for Blazing Saddles.

Brooklynite Aaron Copland wrote the music for the ballets Billy the Kid and Rodeo.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Alfred Newman's "How the West Was Won."

Anonymous said...

At the end of the main phrase in The Big Country you hear a subtle transition from a Jewish scale to a Blues scale. All played of course on European instruments. That's the American melting pot of jazz (and as you point out film music).

There was a PBS special a year or so ago tracing the migration of Jewish vaudeville composers in NYC to Hollywood. Of course the most famous pastiche of Black, European and Jewish musical heritage is "Rhapsody in Blue". From the very first clarinet phrase it has all three cultures perfectly balanced.

Anonymous said...

Ennio Morricone is Jewish?

Anonymous said...

A shout out to the many contributions of Jewish composers to that collection of tunes we know as The Great American Songbook.

AlphaMikeFoxtrot said...

In any great adventure,
that you don't want to lose,
victory depends upon the people that you choose.
So, listen, Arthur darling, closely to this news:
We won't succeed on Broadway,
If we don't have any Jews.

You may have the finest sets,
Fill the stage with penthouse pets,
You may have the loveliest costumes and best shoes.
You my dance and you may sing,
But I'm sorry, Arthur king,
You'll hear no cheers,
Just lots and lots of boos.

You may have butch men by the score
Whom the audience adore,
You may even have some animals from zoos,
Though you've Poles and Krauts instead,
You may have unleavened bread,
But I tell you, you are dead,
If you don't have any Jews.

They won't care if it's witty,
or everything looks pretty,
They'll simply say it's shitty and refuse.
Nobody will go, sir,
If it's not kosher then no show, sir,
Even Goyim won't be dim enough to choose!
Put on shows that make men stare,
With lots of girls in underwear,
You may even have the finest of reviews.

The audience won't care, sir,
As long as you don't dare, sir,
To open up on Broadway
If you don't have any Jews.

You may have dramatic lighting,
Or lots of horrid fighting,
You may even have some white men sing the blues!
Your knights might be nice boys,
But sadly we're all goys,
And that noise that you call singing you must lose.

So, despite your pretty lights,
and naughty girls in nasty tights,
and the most impressive scenery you use...
You may have dancing man-a-mano,
You may bring on a piano,
But they will not give a damn-o
If you don't have any Jews!

You may fill your plays with gays,
Have Nigerian girls in stays,

You may even have some shiksas making stews!

You haven't got a clue,
If you don't have a Jew,
All of your investments you are going to lose!

There's a very small percentile,
Who enjoys a dancing gentile,
I'm sad to be the one with this bad news!
But never mind your swordplay,
You just won't succeed on Broadway,
You just won't succeed on Broadway,
If you don't have any Jews!

Papa, can you hear me?

To get along on Broadway,
To sing a song on Broadway,
To hit the top on Broadway and not lose,
I tell you, Arthur king,
There is one essential thing...
There simply must be, simply must be Jews.

There simply must be,
Arthur trust me,
Simply must be Jews

The WBT Briarhoppers said...

Great article!

Anonymous said...

Note to the Ennio Morricone commenter: He's definitely among the all-time great composers of western themes. Either "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" or "Once Upon a Time in the West" would also make my top five.

Mitch Reed said...

O'im my God, I can't believe you forgot the biggest migila of all: Of course I'm speaking of that wonderful number-one hit from the 60's...(at least on Fairfax Avenue)...

The Ballad of Irving...the 142nd fastest gun in the west!

Who, mind you, could ever forget these brilliant lyrics:

"He rode out on of that old Bar Mitzvah spread, shlepping a salami and pumpernickel bread. He always followed his mother's wishes...even on the range he used two sets of dishes...Irving...they call him Irving...the 142nd fastest gun in the west."

"Now one hundred and forty-one, could draw faster than Irving was looking...for 143! ...HE WALKED INTO THE SALOON LIKE A MAN INSANE, STEPPING UP TO THE BAR AND ORDERING...TWO CENTS-PLAIN... Irving...they call him Irving...the 142nd fastest gun in the west!"

"Finally Irving got three slugs in the was right outside the Frontier Deli. Irving was standing there, twirling his gun around...when Butterfingers-Irving...gunned 'himself' down! Irving...they called him Irving...the 142nd fastest the West.

The above is courtesy of the comedy LP: "When You're In Love, the whole world is Jewish" by the whole world is Jewish players (I believe ...forgive any inaccuracy here please)

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Kinky Friedman.

Hawaiian Bob said...

There was also Jay Livingston (born Jacob Harold Levison) who co-wrote the theme for Bonanza with Ray Evans (also Jewish).