Music About Asian Places, Page 2


This is a continuation of the January, 2003 Feature, if you missed page one, check the link at the end of this page or use this link.






Music by: Fred Fischer
Lyrics by: Howard Johnson
Cover artist: "Rose Symbol"


A fabulous and vibrant cover graces this work that promises a fable of exotic places and even perhaps a little debauchery is implied. A wonderfully crafted melody with terrific harmony and complexity complete with ornaments that are designed to convey that "foreign" feeling. In spite of all that we still end up with a purely American production that is as good as anything Fisher produced. Interestingly, the lyricist went wild and ranged the world it seems in his references to ideas and places, none of which seem related to Siam. Siam, you may know has since become Thailand and none of the references Johnson makes in the song are Siamese. He speaks of Caravans, sorry, that is northern Africa. He speaks of Persia (now Iran), not even close and he also speaks of Omar Khyam also Persian. Somehow, I think Fischer and Johnson made a serious wrong turn and ended up in the wrong place!


Siam, on the other hand is another part of the Southeastern musical tradition covered in our discussion about the music of Singapore (see page 1 of this issue) and their music is also founded on the rich heritage of Southeastern Asian music and is one of the many "gong" musical cultures found in that area. The New Grove states that the music of Thailand is derived from that of China but that the ensembles of gongs and chimes are predominantly South East Asian. However, Thailand uses a tuning system that seems to have originated from the music of India and Cambodia. As we've already seen, music of the area has significant cross cultural influence and often the margins are difficult to find. Music in Thailand was largely the province of royalty and the royal courts and as a result, the New Grove asserts that music has played no great part in the lives of the Thai people (Vol. 18, p. 714). Given these attributes, it is clear that this song also has no relationship to any thing musical from Siam. But, it plays well with us.


Fred Fischer (1875- 1942) was born in Cologne, Germany of American parents. Fisher ran away from home at age 13 and enlisted in the German Navy and later, the French Foreign Legion before coming to the US in 1900. He began composing in 1904 and also wrote the words to many of this songs. His first hit was If The Man In The Moon Were A Coon (1905). In 1907, he started his own publishing company with the lyricist of the song Norway , Joe Mc Carthy as a partner for a short time. In the 20's Fisher moved to Hollywood and wrote music for silent movies and early sound musicals. Though early in his career he made his name through ethnic songs, later he made something out of geographic topics such as Norway, Siam (1915)and Chicago (1922). Fisher's music endured well into the forties and one of his songs, Peg O'My Heart (midi, 1913) has become a continuing classic. Fischer wrote it after seeing Laurette Taylor in the Broadway play of the same name and he dedicated it to Taylor. Though a very successful song when published, it was even more successful when it was recorded in 1947 by the Harmonicats and also by Peggy Lee. Sometime around the First World War, Fischer dropped the "c" from his name and used "Fisher" from then on to avoid the stigma of a Germanic name. Known as a contentious, eccentric and excitable person, one of his songs was involved in copyright litigation that continued from 1919 to the 1960's, more than 20 years after his death in NY in 1942. His music is best known for his musical comedic gifts and his ability to make quirky rhythms to highlight creative lyrics.


Listen to and see this "Siamese" song (scorch format)

Listen to MIDI version




From Here To Shanghai


Music by: Irving Berlin
Lyrics by: Berlin
Cover artist: Barbelle

Yet another beautiful cover by Barbelle introduces this typical Berlin song from 1917. Berlin was in his heyday and was one of America's most popular songwriters and just about anything he wrote became a hot property. With this song, Berlin has transported us back to China again but to one of China's most fabled places. Said by some to be China's greatest city, Shanghai has been most memorialized as a den of inequity and a place where drunken sailors are unwittingly hauled off to serve aboard ships as virtual slave labor. "Years ago, Shanghai was such an attractive place for sailors that ship's captains often had difficulty putting together a crew when it came time to leave port. So they would go down to the bar district, drug likely candidates and haul them back to the ship. When the sailors awoke, they found themselves on the high seas. The verb "to be shanghai-ed" grew out of this practice, meaning to be carried away against one's will."
( Above quote from: )


This song of course uses many of the musical devices we've already seen to connote Oriental music and in some ways, Berlin does it better than most. His melody for the chorus is completely devoid of any Oriental flavor and reverts to the style most often heard in many of Berlin's songs and becomes as American as apple pie.


Irving Berlin. Born Isidore Baline in Temun, Russia, in 1888, Berlin moved to New York City with his family in 1893. He published his first work, Marie of Sunny Italy in 1907 at age 19 and immediately had his first hit on his hands. It was at that time he changed his name to Irving Berlin. His total royalties for this first song amounted to 37 cents. In 1911 the publication of Alexander's Ragtime Band (MIDI) established his reputation as a songwriter. He formed his own music-publishing business in 1919, and in 1921 he became a partner in the construction of the Music Box Theater in New York, staging his own popular revues at the theater for several years. Berlin wrote about 1500 songs. One unique fact about Berlin is that he was not able to read or write music or play the piano except in one key (F sharp). He picked out melodies or dictated them and had assistants fill in the harmonies and accompaniment for him. Berlin never seemed to give credit for these very talented people. In his later years, he had a special device attached to his piano that allowed him to transpose any song into his "favorite" key. His initial start in the music industry was as a singer and then as a lyricist. It was only after great success in writing lyrics that Berlin turned to melodies.


Whether for Broadway musicals or films, for humorous songs or romantic ballads, his compositions are celebrated for their appealing melodies and memorable lyrics. Among the numerous musical comedies and revues for which Berlin wrote music and lyrics were Annie Get Your Gun (1946), and Mr. President (1962). His many popular songs include There's No Business Like Show Business, God Bless America, and White Christmas. In 1968 Berlin received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. On September 22nd 1989, at the age of 101, Berlin died in his sleep in New York City.


It is almost impossible to provide a meaningful biographical sketch of Berlin in only a few words, he is perhaps the most celebrated and successful composer of American song from the Tin Pan Alley era. Way back in November of 1988 we did a feature on Berlin's music, sometime in the future we will post a more comprehensive biography and more of his songs. Of course many of his songs have been published by us over the years.


Hear and see this song (Scorch format)

listen to MIDI version




When It's Moonlight In Tokio


Music by: Chas. P. Shisler & Billy James
Lyrics by: Bobby Heath
Cover artist: unknown


We seem to be going in circles now for we are back again to look at Japan. Another magnificent cover of a beautiful Japanese garden and lovers in the moonlight sets the scene for a wonderful song about Japan. By now we've learned that nothing in Tin Pan alley's inventory precisely reflected on music from this area of the world and very little in the lyrics was accurate geographically or culturally so let's just settle in and enjoy some great American music with beautiful covers. The songwriting team of Shisler, James & Heath have provided us with a beautiful melody in the best TPA tradition and salted it with only a few minor "oriental" musical ornaments. This tune is one of the best in this month's issue, in my humble opinion.


Charles Shisler (1886 - 1952 ) is one of the many composers who have faded away with time. In fact, this month all but a precious few of the composers and lyricists are virtually unknown today. We do know that he wrote a number of songs and continued to publish well into the 1940's with songs such as Lolita (1943) and Love Is A Melody (1949). Beyond that, we've found little else.


Listen to and see this great work

Listen to MIDI version





Music by: L. Wolfe Gilbert & Anatol Friedland
Lyrics by: Gilbert & Friedland
Cover artist: De Takacs

Another look at Singapore in 1918 sheds no new light on the country but behind this rather drab cover is a gem of a song by two of America's greatest songwriters of the era. Gilbert & Friedland use the harmonics of fifths and a few of the other tricks we've seen to create a verse passage that is reflective of the Oriental simulation used by just about everyone but I think they do it more elegantly than most. The chorus is a melodic joy and the lyrics are cute and tell a nice story. A creative twist in the lyrics is use of the phrase, "sing, sing some more," which mimics the title, Singapore. All in all, though the music is not authentic Singaporean and the lyrics hardly mention Singapore, it is a great song and one of the best in the series that this pair wrote relating to geographic places.


Anatol(e) Friedland (b. 1881, St. Petersburg, Russia D. 1938, Atlantic City, NJ). A noted songwriter, Friedland studied music at the Moscow conservatory and emigrated to the US sometime after 1900. In the US he studied Architecture at Columbia University and later operated the Club Anatole, a speakeasy on West 44th Street in Manhattan during the prohibition years. Friedland spent many years as a vaudeville performer. In 1911, Friedland wrote the score for a Broadway musical with lyricist Malvin Franklin called The Wife Hunters. Based on the success of this show, the Shuberts hired Anatole to write music for their Winter Garden productions, including The Passing Show. In 1912, Anatole wrote the score for the Shubert hit Broadway To Paris.


In 1913, he met L. Wolfe Gilbert; a fellow Russian and the team turned out many successful songs. Sometimes they appeared together on stage singing their own songs. Other times,, Friedland appeared as just a 'singles' act, playing the piano and singing. The long time collaboration with Gilbert resulted in many hits; among them are My Sweet Adair 1915; Are You From Heaven 1917; My Own Iona (Moi-One-Ionae) 1916 (MIDI); Shades In The Night 1916; Singapore 1918; and Lily of the Valley, A "Nut" Song, 1917. In 1936, Friedland lost one leg through amputation and he retired , and took up residence at the Hotel Ritz-Carlton, in Atlantic City, N. J.


Louis Wolfe Gilbert (1886 - 1970) was born in Odessa, Russia and brought to America when he was only one year old. He was a vaudeville actor and toured with the great John L. Sullivan. During the heyday of radio, he wrote for Eddie Cantor's radio show. Aside from Muir, he also collaborated with Abel Baer (Lucky Lindy, 1927) and other famous lyricists of the period. Some of his other hits include, Ramona 1927; O, Katharina 1924 , Don't Wake Me Up 1925; and Hitchy Koo from 1912. His longest running and most successful collaboration was with fellow Russian emigrant Anatole Friedland with whom he wrote a number of hits including, My Little Dream Girl, (Sibelius Scorch format) 1915; My Sweet Adair 1915; Are You From Heaven 1917; My Own Iona (Moi-One-Ionae) 1916 (MIDI); Shades In The Night 1916; Singapore 1918; and Lily of the Valley, A "Nut" Song, 1917


Hear this great old song (Scorch format)

listen to MIDI version



In China


Music by: Otto Motzan
Lyrics by: A.J. Stasny
Cover artist: Gustav Michelson


The cover of this work is one of my many favorites and definitely my favorite from this issue. Michelson has created one of the most colorful and perhaps more authentic paintings in the Oriental genre. This cover should stand as the exemplar for this genre. Behind the cover is yet another fine song by a well known lyricist and a rather unknown composer. Again, the verse starts out with a number of Oriental sounding riffs that then flow nicely into a smooth chorus melody. As with most of these songs, the verse is where the Oriental flavor is established but the choruses almost always become pure Americana. Stasny make the same geographic and cultural errors as everyone before him. In this case he places a Geisha maid in China waiting for her "melican" man.


Anthony J. Stastny Born in Czechoslovakia, he emigrated to the US sometime before 1905. Stastny was a respected composer and music publisher. He and his publishing company were originally located in Cleveland where he used and published his name the original Czech way, "Stastny"; In 1918 he he relocated to New York City, and adopted the spelling "Stasny." He personally wrote a number of popular songs and piano solo works and his publishing house was instrumental in the publication of many popular songs from circa 1905 to well into the 1920's. Among his personal compositions are; High Stepper March & Two Step (1907); Dance Of The Moon Birds (1911); An Arabian Fantasy (1923) and Don't Waste Your Tears Over Me (1923).


Otto Motzan is a little more difficult to find information about. There is some evidence that Motzan was the pen name for composer Josie De Guzman (not to be confused with the currently popular actress of the same name) but I'm unable to find biographical information on either. Besides In China, Motzan/De Guzman wrote the music to the musical The Passing Show of 1916, with Sigmund Romberg; Where Is My Daddy Now Blues, (1920) with Abe Olman, Bright Eyes, (MIDI) (1920) with MK Jerome, The Traffic Was Terrific as Josie de Guzman and Mandy 'N' Me (1921) with Con Conrad.


Hear this great old song
Printable score using Scorch!

Listen to MIDI version



The Japanese Sandman


Music by: Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by: Raymond B. Egan
Cover artist: Frederick Manning

We'll end our feature this month with a bit of a lullaby, a wonderful work by one of America's greatest composers and songwriters. Uniquely, the credits on the cover state "told by Raymond B. Egan, set to music by Richard A. Whiting" as though we are about to experience an opera or full production rather than a single song. According to Lissauer (p. 441), the song was popularized by Nora Bayes on both Vaudeville and Columbia records and was also later recorded by Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman.

The song begins with a fabulous chromatic progression that foreshadows much of the Jazz music to come in the 20's and 30's. Musically the verse is quite complex with Jazz and classical style overtones. The instantly recognizable melody is a creative masterpiece that is also ahead of it's time and quite unique among songs for this year. Whiting clearly establishes himself as a musician to be reckoned with and one who may have inspired much of what happened after 1920 with this one piece. This song is an incredible musical accomplishment for a man who was self taught. The story line is wonderful as well so perhaps Egan and Whiting did accomplish an opera in one act and two minutes.


Richard Whiting (b. 1891, Peoria, IL, d. 1938 Beverly Hills, CA) is one of America's greatest songwriters. He taught himself the piano and music theory and talked his father into publishing his first songs. He worked for Jerome Remick for a time and in 1912 became manager of Remick's Detroit office. He wrote many, many of the classic American songs we still know today. Till We Meet Again is one of his earlier works. In 1919 he moved to New York where he wrote songs for musicals. Among his best known songs from he 20's is the great Breezin' Along With The Breeze and Sleepy Time Gal. Later hits included Beyond The Blue Horizon and The Good Ship Lollipop. He was the father of the great popular singers Margaret and Barbara Whiting. His melodies have been described as having a graceful and effortless style.


Raymond B. Egan was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in 1890 and was mainly a lyricist, most active during the 1920's and 30's. Egan grew up in Detroit and began his musical career as a boy soprano at St. John's Episcopal church there. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan and had various early jobs including a bank clerk till he became a staff writer for a Detroit publishing company. His most famous song is arguably The Japanese Sandman, written with Richard Whiting but he had a number of other extremely well known hits that have lasted till modern times including the great songs, Till We Meet Again, Ain't We Got Fun, Sleepy Time Gal and Three on A Match. Egan collaborated with many of the best composers of the Tin Pan Alley Era, among them were Walter Donaldson, Ted Fio Rito and Harry Tierney. Egan died in Westport, Connecticut in 1952. ( Adapted from Kinkle, Vol. 2., p. 863)


Enjoy this rare old song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version



That completes our look at music about Asia and Asian places. We hope you enjoyed this month's feature. As always, be sure to come back next month for a new feature or just come back anytime to browse our extensive archive of issues and special articles.

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