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.

Episode 2028  

7/11      How Duke Ellington Wrote No one worked the way Ellington did. Duke Ellington played piano onstage, but not when he was composing. He had a way of writing unlike any other composer. After a night of playing, individual musicians begin to improvise. Ellington listened, selected, and shaped what he heard. Out of the chaos came an intricate unified piece.

Episode #2027

7/4        Sinatra Swings the Slow In the 1950s, Capitol Records took a chance on a washed-up Frank Sinatra. He sang what he called “saloon songs” but he also made a series of recordings that were hipper, more jazz-inflected, but also harder-edged. In their own way, they were as sexually aware as the “saloon songs.”

Episode #2026 (Encore 1941)

The night stretches out but the years whiz by, and life happens to happen--parceled out in a hundred popular songs. Hidden somewhere under all the moonbeams and starlight, its diamond days and ebony nights, popular music sets aside a corner for imperfection, insufficiency, and aging. The songs range from the humorous to ironic to melancholy.

Daily Urbanista

Episode #2025 (Encore 1812)

Songs love to go on about forever and eternity, but anybody with half a brain knows it isn’t necessarily like that. Things are more likely to be momentary, temporary, and occasional—and there are songs about that, too. They’re earthbound love songs that refuse to dwell on the heavens above.


Episode # 2024 (Encore 1745)

Love comes without a guarantee. It’s not something we want to believe, but we learn to endure the worst of times. Separation, divorce, and, with them, the death of assumptions. Songs are good at looking back nostalgically at the past, but remembering offers little consolation--until it does. These songs range over the emotional map, but at their heart lies a sense of regret and even despair.

Episode 2023 (Encore 1702)

Jay Gatsby of West Egg Long Island was known for his extravagant parties. Those who came gossiped and flirted, and the music of the day was an essential part of it all. Fitzgerald punctuates The Great Gatsby with allusions to popular songs and bits and pieces of their lyrics. The songs of the time become a template for characters and what’s going on between them.

Episode #2022

5/30      Jonah Man The expression Jonah Man has disappeared from American speech, but there was a time when we knew who he was and we heard him in our songs. We associate songs of the Jonah Man with African- Americans. They come from the black experience before and after slavery, but their origin also lies in the melancholy, melodramatic Sentimental Ballads of the 19th century.

Episode #2021

5/23       Other Songs by Lieber and Stoller  If I usually play songs from the Great American Songbook, then what am I doing playing songs by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, the two Jewish kids who helped to invent rock and roll? A few years after such songs as "Hound Dog," they began to write a different kind of song--more introspective, more unsettling, more ambiguous. Songs that offered no easy adolescent excitement, that evoked a darker setting, a dimly-lit cabaret rather than a dance hall.

Episode #2020

5/16      Follies (Stephen Sondheim's Pastiche) Nearly every song in Follies reflects a different style, time, or songwriter. The score was Sondheim's homage to American song. The trick was to resemble other songs without imitating them, and evoke something of the past while still being modern.

Episode #2019

5/9        Peggy Lee Sings (and Writes)  Peggy Lee, that singer with the insinuatingly throaty voice and suggestively restrained style, was also a songwriter with more than two hundred songs to her credit. She had a good number of hits during her career, some of which she wrote herself. Among her collaborators were Johnny Mandell, Cy Coleman, and singer Mel Torme.