Classical 91.5

Fascinatin' Rhythm with Michael Lasser

Saturdays at 11:00am-12:00pm on WXXI-FM 91.5, WXXI-FM/HD 91.5-1 and online at wxxi

WXXI's Fascinatin' Rhythm presents of popular American music from Stephen Foster to Stephen Sondheim, in the context of their relationship to American history. Every week, host Michael Lasser offers a rich mix of singers, songwriters and songs to explore the history and themes of American popular music.  LISTEN to this past week's show below.

Playlists for Fascinatin' Rhythm are located here.

2/29      Episode #2009

Bing Crosby’s career took off in the late twenties and early thirties when he left the Paul Whiteman Orchestra’s Rhythm Boys to perform as a soloist. He was soon making two-reel movies in which he crooned to a pretty girl. For the rest of his career, he made musical and non-musical movies alike, but in almost every one of them he sang--from The Big Broadcast in 1932 to High Society in 1956.

2/22     Episode # 2008

Most catalogue songs are exercises in wit based on a single premise—“You’re the Top” or “Let’s Do It.” They’re about the songwriter’s ability to weave a list of clever if arbitrary associations. Sometimes, though, the song might feature a more interesting point of view that reveals something about character or situation. These list songs feature the names of the famous, both real and fictional.

2/15      Episode # 2007

There’s no river named Swanee. But there is one named Suwanee. It runs south and west from the Okefenokee Swamp in Southern Georgia until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico near Suwanee, Florida, just south of the Florida panhandle. That’s the river, but when it turns into a song it uses an elided form and becomes the Swanee, one of the most recognizable rivers in American song. George Gershwin and Irving Caesar wrote the most important Swanee song in 1919, but there are lots of others, going back at least as far as Stephen Foster in 1851.

2/8       Episode # 2006

When the eleven o’clock number got its name, curtains rose at 8:40 and dropped at about 11:20. But by the middle of the second act of a Broadway musical, audiences can grow drowsy. You need a big production number to wake them up in time for the finale and bows. Regardless of style or approach, the song and its performance had to be big enough to re-engage an audience. Think “Hello, Dolly.”

2/1  Episode #2005

Irving Berlin began his career by writing ragtime songs. He learned to write songs by writing them and publishing them, and seeing what sold. For fifteen years, for as long as ragtime was popular, that’s what he wrote. But he also sensed a change in popular taste and began to write romantic ballads, many of the still shaped by the syncopation that made ragtime raggy. If it worked, he used it.

Episode #2004

1/25      Singin' in the Rain: A History of Sorts Here's an attempt to draw some circles around one of the most famous songs in the history of the movies. Nobody knows exactly when composer Nacio Herb Brown and lyricist Arthur Freed wrote it—probably by 1925—but it first appeared in a movie in 1929, twenty-three years before Gene Kelly made it into one of those songs nearly everybody can identify.

Episode #2003

1/18      Here's to the Band Society bands at the turn of the century played ragtime for dancing in elegant hotels. Time passed and they played the fox trot. Down the street, another kind of band was playing Swing, the jazz of the 1930s, with a pause for a fox trot so people could dance close. The big bands, numbering 12-14 musicians, were hugely popular. So there were the bands and then there were also songs about the bands.

Episode 2002

1/11      The Songs of Casablanca Nearly everybody knows that "As Time Goes By" appeared in Casablanca and became a standard as a result. But Dooley Wilson as Sam appears in Rick's Place night after night, almost always playing the piano and singing. The movie is filled with snatches of songs that provide a soundtrack for the lives of Ilsa and Rick.

Episode #2001

1/4       Steppin’ Out with My Baby Maybe you remember a time when people actually dated. A young man called up a young woman to ask her out for an evening of dancing or a movie and something to eat after. When you walked home together, maybe you even stole a kiss or two, or even a little more. The powder on your tie was the giveaway. These songs take you through a joyful time, as they used to say, when a boy chased a girl until she caught him.

Alamy Stock Photo

Episode #1952

12/28    Time Off  Americans had enough extra cash in their pockets by the early decades of the 20th century so that ordinary Americans—as opposed to the fabulously wealthy—could take vacations and even dream of moving to the country. They headed for lakes, mountains, and seashores; triumphed more or less over the necessities of the rural life, and endured the endless mosquito bites—and Tin Pan Alley set all of it to song.