Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Magee, Jeffrey. "Irving Berlin's 'Blue Skies': Ethnic Affiliations and Musical Transformations." Musical Quarterly 84 (Winter 2000): 537-80.

Applying the technique of a "song profile," or the compositional and performance history of a tune that reveals socially constructed meanings, to Irving Berlin's Blue Skies reveals several borrowings that suggest reinterpretation. Many of Berlin's songs reflect a Jewish tradition, incorporating modal mixture and chromatic inflection. Although this tradition is not uniquely Jewish, listeners interpreted as such in Manhattan in Berlin's day. Looking at the tune history of Blue Skies demonstrates the shift from its Jewish origins in the 1920s to subsequent revisions that change its ethnic associations. A performer such as Belle Baker, for example, who sang the song in Betsy, attempted to identify directly with Jewish culture, whereas Al Jolson, who played straightforward and jazzy renditions in The Jazz Singer, gave the song, in addition to its Jewish characteristics, jazz overtones. Benny Goodman and Mary Lou Williams employed allusion; Bing Crosby crooned a slow, balladic version and marketed it toward a broader, Caucasian, middle-class audience. Through contrafact, Thelonius Monk virtually disguised the source in In Walked Bud, while Ella Fitzgerald used scat. Willie Nelson and Pete Seeger reinterpreted the song further to represent an American folk song. Above all, the transcendent power of the tune proves the "assimilative power of Jewish culture" and effectively reinforces its roots.

Works: Rodgers and Hart: Betsy (552-57); Berlin: Blue Skies as performed by Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (557-59), Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman (559-63); Mary Lou Williams: Trumpet No End, arrangement for Duke Ellington (560-62); Berlin: Blue Skies as performed by Bing Crosby (563-65); Thelonius Monk: In Walked Bud (566-69); Berlin: Blue Skies as performed by Ella Fitzgerald (569-70), Willie Nelson (570-71), Pete Seeger (571-72).

Sources: Berlin: Blue Skies (537-38, 540-44, 547, 549-52, 572-73).

Index Classifications: 1900s, Jazz, Popular

Contributed by: Katie Lundeen

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