What is the American Songbook?

According to WikiPedia, the expression: “I know it when I see it” is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters.

The phrase was first used in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe obscenity. Paraphrasing Stewart: “I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it.”

The same could be said of the book Great American Song. No, it is not obscene! But yes, it is difficult to describe or codify with precision. But I know it when I hear it! So what is the Great American Songbook? The Great American Songbook represents the most beautiful and enduring American songs of the 20th century, most often including works by songwriters such as Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, George gershwin, Cole porter, Richard Rogers, Lorenz Hart and Johnny mercer.

In essence, the songs are timeless and in the world of jazz, big band and swing, songs are considered “standards”. Most have been immortalized time and time again in Broadway and Hollywood musicals. Testimony to their lasting endurance, many artists such as Harry connick Jr., Michael Bublé, Diana krall, and even Rod stewart have continued to have success with them.

The most recent and worthy entry is the classic crossover star’s new double album and DVD, Mario frangoulis. The Greek superstar who has already shown his great flexibility in opera, classical, crossover and pop, now adds a great American standard to his vast musical repertoire.

Songs in the Great American Songbook generally feature clever, witty lyrics and languid phrasing. Frangoulis handles jazzy beats and rhymes like an old pro, and has far more legitimate vocal ability than any of the aforementioned pop singers trying their hand at style.

The real task in performing these standards is often not just to have the vocal chops, but to possess the stylistic panache to refresh well-worn melodies: Frangoulis has this quality in abundance. On “Blue Skies”, he presents a nice eclectic mix of old, old and old standards in new arrangements.


The 1930s to 1950s were a truly golden era, not only for songwriters, but also for lyricists and often unsung heroes, arrangers! The ability to effortlessly float lyrics over music is not an effortless project! Therefore, the temptation to simply recreate the famous original arrangements is great, but Frangoulis has wisely abandoned the temptation and offers a medley of familiar and less familiar melodies in crisp modern arrangements for 2021.

More rhythmic numbers like Rosemary ClooneyParticularly noteworthy are the hit “Sway” and the Latin-flavored “Quando, Quando, Quando”. As a nod to his musical theater past, Frangoulis delivers an exquisite interpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “We Kiss in a Shadow”.

Frangoulis is renowned for singing in a myriad of languages, and although he limits himself to English in this program, he sings two classic French songs – in English: Michel legrandtouch “I’ll wait for you” and the Jacques Brel chestnut, “If You Go Away”, (based on “Don’t leave me”). These nostalgic, European-tinged and romantic acts are where Frangoulis really struts. There are really few singers in the world who can match it in this material.

Tammy mccann

Frangoulis is joined on “Blue Skies” by the wonderful jazz singer, Tammy mccann, whose soft and velvety pipes adorn two issues of the CD. Mrs. McCann is the real deal. Both gifted in belt and crooner, McCann offers a sensual masterclass of phrasing on Cole porter‘s “From this moment on.”

Overall “Blue Skies” Frangoulis makes some very compelling arguments as to why these songs have been with us for generations and through performances like these, why they will continue to be a vital part of the popular music canon. .

I hope he chooses to bring this song program across the pond to America!

The CD and DVD were sponsored by the Horatio Algiers Foundation, of which Frangoulis is the ambassador.

-Peter Danish


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