JEROME KERN: A Biography by Michael Freedland

JEROME KERN: A Biography

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Whatever happened to truth in advertising? This sketchy little book is billed as ""The only comprehensive biography"" of composer Kern. And that will surely come as a surprise to Gerald Bordman, whose Jerome Kern (1980) was if anything too comprehensive. . . but certainly preferable to Freedland's slapdash job. Everything here is covered in more careful, complete detail in the Bordman biography--except for a number of dubious anecdotes, a few lively quotes, and some very vague speculations about an extramarital dabble. Freedland neither finds much personal drama in Kern's life (Bordman didn't do much better) nor most crucially--does he have the slightest insight into the music itself; while Bordman (with good use of Alec Wilder's American Popular Song) tried his best to analyze Kern's achievement and appreciate each song, Freedland seems hardly to have listened to anything much besides ""Old Man River."" So what remains is a chatty, show-by-show celebrity bio of a ""pernickety"" but highly un-glittery composer/rare-book-collector--with sometimes ludicrous attempts to add drama through dialogue (""Eva came to Jerry with some important news: 'I'm going,' she said, 'to have a baby' ""). And when Freedland does stray into musical matters the results are unfortunate: the famous ""Ka-lu-a"" plagiarism case is inaccurately explained (at issue was a bass ostinato, which isn't the same as ""a recurring bass note""); Freedland regularly neglects great songs which are less famous; he seems ill-informed on what he calls the ""German operetta"" tradition. And he also manages to confuse George Grossmith, Jr., with Grossmith, Sr. Not a reliable source, then--nor even a very entertaining one (Freedland loses the humor in retelling some well-known anecdotes). Casual fans can find plenty on Kern in musical-comedy histories; more serious buffs should stick with the stuffy but conscientious Bordman book.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1981
Publisher: Stein & Day