Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What's so great about Cole Porter?

Well, a lot actually - at a friend's suggestion I thought it would be fun and give me an opportunity to research a number of the great composers and artists of the jazz realm. Who better to start with than that witty, erudite, clever man from Indiana? I can't begin to name all the wonderful tunes that he composed - but here's a few "I've Got You Under My Skin", "Every Time we Say Goodbye", "You're the Top", "Begin the Beguine" and the sublime "So In Love".

According to Wikipedia and other sources including www.coleporter.org, the very sophisticated Cole Albert Porter was born June 9, 1891 - a date  supposedly moved to 1893 by his mother to make him appear more precocious - in the exotically named Peru, Indiana. He was the only child of a wealthy family and studied both violin and piano - his love of music largely influenced by his mother, who does seem to have been something of the dreaded stage mother - funding orchestras in town with the assurance that her son would get a solo. His grandfather had other ideas as to his profession - steering him into a career in law at Yale...even there though he sang and composed anthems er "fight" songs - for those big strong sporting men that are performed to this day and where he created a number of productions - obviously the germination for his Broadway musicals. It was at Harvard Law School that he realized it was no use fighting it - music and Mr. Porter were a perfect match.

To polish his continental air even further he moved to Paris in 1917 and was known for throwing lavish parties  - well, it only seems fitting doesn't it for the man who later wrote "I Get A Kick Out of You"? During this time he met and married socialite Linda Lee Thomas, 9 years his senior - providing a marriage of minds and sensibilities if not bodies - less accepting times for Porter's acknowledged homosexuality. They remained partners until her death in 1954 - some 35 years.

Needless to say the two enjoyed a hedonistic existence in Europe both in Paris and Italy - there are lots of bios and websites about his existence, studies, composing for ballets and such - but I won't bore you with those. Suffice to say he did return to the U.S. in the 1920s and his first Broadway production "Paris" in 1928 - the show was overshadowed by the death of his father - he returned to Indiana to comfort his mother - but did produced such gems as "Let's Do It", "What is This Thing Called Love" and "Let's Misbehave" - which lets face it is a bit of anthem for the heady 1920s themselves. Critics were less than enthusiastic about that and the following production "Fifty Million Frenchman"...isn't it interesting that one of the giants of American music got middling reviews? Irving Berlin, though took out newspaper ads extolling the virtues of his fellow composer...saving the show from closure! Way to go, Mr. Berlin.

Although we consider him pretty tame today some of his lyrics and indeed subject matter were considered quite risque for the time..see "Love for Sale".  Who better to accompany some divine Cole Porter music and lyrics than the elegant Fred Astaire in the "Gay Divorcee" - this brought Cole Porter to that glamourous town - Hollywood. But still on Broadway came "Anything Goes" - the first show of five to feature that belter Ethel Merman and a huge success for its creator. During this time he was also composing for movies and indeed enjoyed the Hollywood lifestyle - Linda - not so much - she returned to Paris...finding Cole's flamboyant and flagrant antics a bit much.

Sadly, the mirth and merriment was somewhat quenched by Porter's horrendous accident in 1937 - his horse fell on him and crushed his legs. He was to suffer great pain for the rest of his life and indeed an amputation of his right leg in 1958. To take his mind off things, he continued working prolifically - inspite of mixed reception. In 1948 "Kiss Me Kate" brought him back into the spotlight and the Tony award for best musical - that features such delightful tunes as "So In Love", "Too Darn Hot" and "Always True to You (In My Fashion) - some of my favourite lyrics:

If a custom tailored vet,
Takes me out for something wet,
If the vet begins to pet, I shout hooray...
But I'm always true to you darlin' in my fashion
Yes, I'm always true to you darlin in my way....

etc. etc. - love Blossom Dearie's version of this...by the by.

His last Broadway hit was "Silk Stockings" and his last hit song, "True Love" from the classic film "High Society" - with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra - and of course Louis (Armstrong).

He passed away October 15, 1964 in Santa Monica at the age of 73. He certainly lives on every time someone performs and records his tunes - why Ella did a whole "Cole Porter Songbook" and in recent times a tribute album by current pop artists "Red, Hot and Blue" hit the charts. There is apparently a Cole Porter festival held in his hometown of Peru, Indiana the second week of June every year. We "Concentrate on You" "Night and Day" because it wasn't "Just One of Those Things" we've got you under our skins and in our hearts.
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