Even though pianist Dean Schneider grew up during the rock 'n' roll era of the 1960s and 1970s, the Great American Songbook tunes from the 1920s through 1950s he heard his parents play during his childhood always stayed with him.
Schneider, who has been a professional musician since age 12, said his parents were nonmusicians who had great musical taste, exposing him to everything from Beethoven to the Beatles.
"When we would listen to Sinatra, or Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan or any of these wonderful singers, I always listened to the piano. Who was accompanying," said Schneider, 49, about the vocalists known for singing Great American Songbook tunes.
For a lot of performers, an appreciation of popular music standards kicks in at some point, said Schneider, a former Margate resident who now lives in Upper Moreland, Pa.
Schneider was proven right last month when one of the most iconic of all rock artists, Bob Dylan, 73, released the 36th album of his 53-year recording career, an interpretation of standard ballads, titled "Shadows In The Night."
The CD features Dylan's versions of such compositions as Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves" from 1946, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's "Some Enchanted Evening" from 1949 and Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do" from 1923. Obviously, since he's Dylan, he doesn't do the songs the way singers traditionally perform them. Dylan is accompanied by a five-piece band. There are no strings, background vocals, obvious horns or complicated arrangements.
The term the Great American Songbook refers to popular songs created for Hollywood musicals, Broadway and musical theater from the 1920s through the 1950s. Songs in this style were pushed off radio stations at the beginning of the rock era. But these songs have an enduring quality and a steady fan base.
Loretta Meredith, 54, grew up with two Philadelphia-based opera singers as parents. Meredith was influenced by her mother, who loved the standards.
"It puts me in a nice place. It makes me feel calm. It has good smooth melodies. I liked the lyrics," said Meredith, of Margate, who incorporated some standards into her repertoire when she was a professional singer until the late 1980s. "The songs were memorable."
Meredith, a piano teacher, said that when her daughters were growing up, Meredith played the standards for them. Meredith remembers her oldest daughter, Sylvia, now 23, of Ocean City, as a 5-year-old, singing "It's So Nice To Have a Man Around the House" from 1949 and "Sentimental Journey" from 1944.
Vocalist and drummer Paul Jost, a recording artist signed to Dot Time Records in New York, said he has heard "Shadows In The Night."
"It's something how so many vocalists, including a great iconic songwriter like Dylan, come back to the Great American Songbook at some point in their careers, usually toward the end it seems," said Jost, who includes standards in his repertoire. "I think it shows that a great song is a great song no matter when you visit it, or how or by whom it's sung. A great song will stand with just piano and voice. There are reasons why songs become 'chestnuts.'"
Many of the these traditional pop songs also serve as jazz standards because they have both harmonic and melodic interest for instrumentalists and sophisticated or very clever lyrics for a vocalist, said Jost, a Vineland resident.
"There is fertile ground in those songs that you can till. Many of these songs have been a barometer for me and hold different meanings, perspectives and weight with the passing of time," Jost said. "Singing 'Lush Life' as a 20-something is like reading a book or watching a movie. It takes on a whole different meaning singing it later after you've had some life experience. There aren't any shortcuts for experience, and standards are always there waiting for you. You can plug in almost any time in your life and find a relationship with them."
Cathy Rocco, a jazz recording artist signed to Resonance Records of Los Angeles, said she likes Dylan's "Shadows In The Night." She said people don't listen to Dylan to say, "Wow, what a voice," even when he is singing his own songs.
"What you like about Bob Dylan is that he sells the lyrics, and I think he does that with the songs from the Great American Songbook," said Rocco, a Brigantine resident. "I think he did a beautiful job."
In addition to the classics that are usually considered part of the Great American Songbook, Rocco believes standards still are being written today. Rocco cited John Legend's "All of Me" from 2013, which she said will be heard at every wedding for the next few years. She said she thinks John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" from 1965, Leon Russell's "A Song for You" from 1971 and Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are" from 1977 all have become classics.
"Stevie Wonder wrote some beautiful standards. Many of his songs will remain standards forever," Rocco said.
Singer Rita Stafford of Linwood grew up in a house where her parents, who were both good singers, knew all the lyrics to songs by artists such as Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne and Nat King Cole.
As Stafford got older, her parents would be surprised that she could sing along to these classics. "They would say to me 'How do you know the lyrics to all this music?' I would look at them like they had six heads. I said, 'You sang it to me the whole time I was growing up.'"
Stafford and her husband, trumpeter Bob Ferguson, now include classic American songs in their performances.
The Great American Songbook tunes were popular at the time they were written, but they evolved and developed a life of their own through their interpretations by many different singers and instrumentalists, Schneider said.
"Most of the songs were about love, but there are all different types of love - good love, bad love, almost love and is-it-going-to-happen love," he said.
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Video: Pianist Dean Schneider acts as the music director for actress and singer Diahann Carroll for a rendition of “Some Of These Days,” written in 1910 by Shelton Brooks, for a live PBS performance in 2010 from California.
Classic songs everyone should know
'Begin the Beguine' was written by Cole Porter in 1934, but the Artie Shaw version from 1938 made it one of the most popular anthems of the Swing era and helped establish Shaw's band.
'Fly Me To The Moon' by Bart Howard from 1954. Frank Sinatra's version recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra and arranged by Quincy Jones is considered definitive, although it was not a hit.
'I'll Be Seeing You,' which was written by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal in1938, became popular during World War II as a song embraced by separated lovers.
'Someone to Watch Over Me' by George and Ira Gershwin from 1926 is one of the great love songs of American musical theater. It has been recorded by female and male vocalists and many instrumentalists.
'The Way You Look Tonight' by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields from 1936 is one of the most romantic songs ever and a good example of beautiful lyrics perfectly matching a beautiful melody.
Dylan is not alone
Bob Dylan's 'Shadows In The Night' is just the lastest instance of a pop star taking on classic songs. Artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Bryan Ferry, Sheena Easton and Linda Ronstadt have all paged through the Great American Songbook. Here are some of the most recent offerings:
Gloria Estefan, 'The Standards,' 2013
Paul McCartney, 'Kisses on the Bottom,' 2012
Rod Stewart, 'The Great American Songbook' series, five CDs between 2002 and 2010
Art Garfunkel, 'Some Enchanted Evening,' 2007
Smokey Robinson, 'Timeless Love,' 2006
'But Beautiful, Standards: Volume 1,' 2003
A Concert To Attend to Hear Great American Songbook Compositions Performed Live:
Three free Great American Songbook concerts will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays in May at the Ocean City Free Public Library, 1735 Simpson Ave.
On May 6, the music of Richard Rodgers featuring: saxophonist Mary Lou Newman and bassist Tim Lekan, both of Ocean City; guitarist Sonny Troy and vocalist Paula Johns. On May 13, the music of Harold Arlen featuring Newman, Troy, bassist Steve Varner and vocalist Michelle Lordi. On May 20, the music of Cole Porter featuring Newman, Troy, bassist Bill Stumm and saxophonist Larry McKenna.
An evening of selections from the Great American Songbook, under the direction of pianist Barry Miles, will be performed 8 p.m. June 7 in the Cape May Convention Hall, Beach Avenue at Stockton Place, as part of the 4th annual George Mesterhazy Tribute concert. The show will feature contributions by some of favorite colleagues of Mesterhazy, a Cape May jazz pianist, who died in 2012 at age 59. General admission is $25, seniors $20 and students $10. To purchase tickets for the June 7 Cape May Convention Hall concert, call 609-884-9565 or visit online at discovercapemaynj.com