Stephen Banfield
Jerome Kern.
Yale University Press, 392 pages, $35

George Dorris notes, “To an astonishing degree, the study of the American musical, like the study of Greek drama and baroque opera, ought to come under the heading of archeology.” He points out that, of Sophocles’ one hundred plays, we have seven and change. Mutatis mutandis, Jerome Kern (1885–1945) might be the Sophocles of Broadway. He was ferociously productive—one two-year period saw him write eight complete (and produced) shows. In all, he wrote well over 1,000 songs; more than 800 of them once graced the pianos of a grateful nation, but now fewer than 50 are easily available in print. Of his more than forty stage shows, none was ever published with a complete script and score. If you share Bertie Wooster’s taste in song, you’ll deplore the loss of such shows as Oh, Boy! (1917), Oh, Lady! Lady! (1918),...


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