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Composer Charles Strouse

His Broadway musicals include Bye, Bye Birdie, Annie, Applause, It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman, and Golden Boy, which originally opened on Broadway in 1964 and starred Sammy Davis Jr. The show will be revived later this month by City Center Encores in New York. Strouse also composed music for film and TV, including "Those Were the Days," the theme song for TV's All in the Family.


Other segments from the episode on March 5, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 5, 2002: Interview with Charles Strouse; Review of the music album “Ornette Coleman Trio at the Golden Circle, Vols. 1 and 2.”


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Charles Strouse discusses his Broadway musical "Golden
Boy," which will be revived later this month on Broadway

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The songs from the Broadway musicals "Bye, Bye Birdie," "Annie," "Applause"
and "All American" were composed by my guest, Charles Strouse. Some of his
great but lesser-known songs will be revived later this month in a new
production of his 1964 musical "Golden Boy." It's part of the City Center
Encore Series "Great American Musicals in Concert." "Golden Boy" is based on
the 1937 play of the same name by Clifford Odets, who was also one of the
writers of the musical adaptation. The 1964 musical starred Sammy Davis Jr.
as a young man who breaks out of Harlem by becoming a prize fighter. It was
directed by Arthur Penn, who went on to direct to the movie "Bonnie and

We invited Charles Strouse to talk with us about the original Broadway
production of "Golden Boy." Let's start with one of the songs from the show,
"Night Song," sung by Sammy Davis. The lyricist is Lee Adams, who had also
collaborated with Charles Strouse on the 1960 musical "Bye, Bye Birdie."

(Soundbite of "Night Song")

Mr. SAMMY DAVIS Jr.: (Singing) Summer, not a bit of breeze. Neon signs are
shining through the tired trees. Lovers walking to and fro, everyone has
someone and a place to go. Listen, hear the cars go past. They don't even
see me flying by so fast. They are moving, going who knows where. Only thing
I know is I'm not going there. Where do you go when you feel that your brain
is on fire? Where do you go when you don't even know what it is you desire?
Listen, laughter everywhere...

GROSS: Charles Strouse, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Is there a story behind
writing "Night Song"?

Mr. CHARLES STROUSE (Composer): A very intimate story, and that is I remember
lying on the grass in the park looking up at the skyline in New York, saying,
`I wish I could be there and I wish I had some friends.'

GROSS: Wish you could be where?

Mr. STROUSE: Oh, way up on top.

GROSS: Oh. So you were yearning while writing this song about yearning.

Mr. STROUSE: I was yearning, and I was remembering that period of my life
very strongly.

GROSS: How were you first brought in to do the music for "Golden Boy"?

Mr. STROUSE: Well, it's really because of the producer, a man by the name of
Hillard Elkins, who was a real operator, and he somehow got Sammy Davis to
agree to do it if Clifford Odets did it. And then he called Clifford and
said, `Would you do it as a musical if Sammy Davis did it?' And then he
called us and said, `Would you do it if Clifford Odets and Sammy Davis did
it?' And we all said, `Gee, that would be great if, if, if.' And he was able
to, in the manner of agents and producers, convince everybody that it was
going to happen, and it did happen. Sammy also was very, very interested in
becoming a serious actor and had the build and the drawing power for this
role. It's always been a great star vehicle. And Sammy agreed to do it.
Because he was such a highly paid star, he did something which is very
unusual. I don't know whether I would have accepted it today, but that is he
maintained legal approvals of every word and every note of music. And...

GROSS: Wow. So you had to play all your music for Sammy Davis Jr. and get
his approval.

Mr. STROUSE: That's right. It was a strange part of my life. We followed
him all over the country, mainly Las Vegas, and would play songs for him after
his nightclub act and early in the morning after his golf game. And it was an
unusual--yeah, I know. It was an unusual voyage for us, and not easy, because
we were on the road for almost six months, and a lot of changes. But I get
ahead of myself.

GROSS: Well, let's get back to that in a moment, but first, again, in terms
of how you were chosen, I wouldn't have thought that the first choice would
be, `Well, let's see, we're doing a musical about an African-American boxer,
so let's get those guys who wrote the musical about the suburban teen-agers,
"Bye, Bye Birdie."'

Mr. STROUSE: Yeah, `Who are white.' Yeah. No, I think part of it was that,
that "Birdie" was a rock 'n' roll-based musical, the first one really, we
like to think, although it has, you know, a typical Broadway score in many
other ways. But it was a rock 'n' roll show. So this sense of understanding
contemporary pop idioms would fall to us, in a way. And we were a little hot
then, and also we knew the producer; that helped. I think we were a good
choice, and for that reason, most of the other guys writing around that time
were not writing jazz as good as, say, Jerry Bach(ph) as a contemporary of
mine, or John Kander. They were not jazz writers, whereas my background was
in that, and my further background was as a piano player. I played for a lot
of African-American acts and toured in the South and that kind of thing. So
it was in my background. I think we were logical.

GROSS: The musical "Golden Boy" is based on a 1937 Clifford Odets play.
Clifford Odets rewrote the play for the musical in the '60s. What was the
original Clifford Odets story?

Mr. STROUSE: The original Clifford Odets story was about a poor Italian
family during the Depression, and the young man, who had a career as an artist
of some sort--he was a violinist, actually, in the original play--sacrifices
that to become a boxer, which is a source of income available to young
athletes today. And then it was originally called "The Manly Art,"(ph) and it
was written by Clifford to actually save the finances of the group theater.
He wrote it quickly, great feverish, three, four weeks, and it became an
instant success and subsequently made stars of many people who played the
role, like William Holden, John Garfield in a revival. The thing that held
true for a white athlete during the Depression held doubly true to us for a
black athlete today because, as we all know, many black athletes sacrificed
their lives for those few years of giving their bodies to sport. And it was
that aspect of it that appealed to us, and obviously it appealed to Sammy
Davis, too, who was one of the few people who was as dextrous and physical
and, of course, sang as well as he did.

GROSS: So the idea of an Italian young man who forsakes his love for violin
in order to become a boxer is changed to the idea of an African-American in
the 1964 production.

Mr. STROUSE: That's correct.

GROSS: And what does he forsake to become a boxer?

Mr. STROUSE: Well, you're touching on some of the inside stories. Sammy used
to say--he would open the play as forsaking surgery only to find out that he
was forsaking piano the next night only to find out he wasn't forsaking
anything except the love of his father. It got to be less of a raison d'etre
with a black performer giving up something than just the fact that he went
into this brutal world when his father was a very gentle man. And we felt
that the back story was that he gave up college, he gave up an education.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Charles Strouse, and his
Broadway musicals include "Bye, Bye Birdie" and "Annie." In 1964 he wrote the
music for the songs for the musical "Golden Boy," which starred Sammy Davis
Jr. Now that musical is being revived by City Center Encores later this month
in New York.

Let's play a song from the original cast production with Sammy Davis singing.
And this is a song called "I Want to be With You." Sammy Davis Jr., as the
boxer, falls in love with a white woman in the 1964 version of "Golden Boy."

I'd like you to describe the context that the song is performed in the musical.

Mr. STROUSE: This particular scene, when they sing "I Want to be With You,"
caused us to receive a lot of venomous mail, particularly in Philadelphia,
where we opened. As a matter of fact, after the show opened, Lee Adams and I
had to have bodyguards actually walk us to the hotel. We didn't think it was
anything much. We just thought it was two people. I mean, we were aware one
was black and one was white, but we didn't think it would arouse people so.
And this song, for me and Lee, was a particularly interesting one. Because I
have a serious music background, and yet I've played in jazz groups, and jazz
is part of my nature, I tried very hard in this to combine any depth that I
might have as a composer with a feeling for jazz, and I felt in a certain way
that I had succeeded. I'm very proud of this song. But it was also because
it was not only a passionate moment in the play, but I was aware it was a
passionate moment where the lovers themselves, a la Romeo and Juliet, were
really leaping over a great hurdle. They weren't aware of it, or they were--I
mean, nobody talks about that kind of thing in one way, but they leaped this
hurdle, and so the song was a very important one for me where they were both
finally able to express their passion, as two people, for each other.

GROSS: Well, let's hear the first part of this song, and this is Sammy Davis
Jr. from the original cast recording of "Golden Boy."

(Soundbite of "I Want to be With You")

Mr. DAVIS: (Singing) Lana, Lana and Joe, somehow it sounds so right. Somehow
you feel what I feel, too. I want to be with you. I want to be with you. I
want to be with you. After all the nights of wanting you, lying there loving
you, hating you, tonight I'm touching you, holding you. World, you're going
to see, we'll make out somehow. Here's my girl and me. They can't hurt us
now. We're gonna have it all. I'll love you every day. Lana, life can be so
great for us. Here's our chance, it's not too late for us. Grab it fast, or
life won't wait for us. I want to be with you.

GROSS: Sammy Davis Jr. from the original cast recording of "Golden Boy" with
music composed by my guest, Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams. And this
musical's being revived in New York later this month by City Center Encore.

Did you get a sense of what it was like for Sammy Davis to be the subject of
controversy in real life because he was married to Mai Britt, a white woman,
and to, at the same time, be the subject of controversy because he was
portraying on stage a black man in love with a white woman? You know, because


GROSS: Because it was going on in both, you know, in his stage life and his
real life.

Mr. STROUSE: Sure. I did have a real sense, particularly towards the end of
our run after--no, it was before he went to London with the show. We both
marched in Selma, and I think we were both drunk and we kind of got to know
one another. I learned a lot about Sammy and his time in the US Army where he
was pummeled and other soldiers urinated on him. He had in him a great, great
deal of suffering, and he turned whatever hurt or anger into a desire, an
intense desire, to be loved by everybody. And yet part of him also wanted to
be in that white world. It was a very--he was a most complex man.

GROSS: My guest is composer Charles Strouse. His 1964 musical "Golden Boy"
is being revived later this month in Manhattan. More after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: The City Center Encore Series is reviving the 1964 musical "Golden
Boy" later this month in Manhattan. My guest, Charles Strouse, wrote the
music for the show. The original production stars Sammy Davis Jr. as a prize
fighter from Harlem.

Sammy Davis Jr. was a club singer predominantly, you know, a recording artist
and nightclub singer. And usually the kind of singing on Broadway,
particularly in the era before microphones were commonly used, the style on
Broadway was an almost more classical style of singing where you're singing in
a big enough voice to fill the hall and, you know, there's more attention to
diction than a lot of nightclub singers might have and probably fewer
liberties are taken because everything is much more choreographed and
orchestrated. Was there ever a tug-of-war between you and Sammy Davis Jr.
about the style that he should sing your songs in for the show?

Mr. STROUSE: Yes. Yes, there was. First of all, you're not right about the
amplification. They had these body mics then, and Sammy always used that.
But he did have the diction, he did have the strength, he did have the
stamina. But we did have a tug-of-war, which I lost. In fact, the song you
played there are a lot curls added to the line, and for...

GROSS: Added by him?

Mr. STROUSE: By him, yeah. And I was quite serious, and maybe too serious,
because my background is jazz, as well as serious music. But we did have a
tug-of-war, and one which I can say I lost.

GROSS: I'd like to hear what it was like when you had to follow Sammy Davis
Jr. around Vegas playing him demos of your new songs so he could give them his

Mr. STROUSE: Well, we played the songs, and invariably Sammy was late. Lee
Adams, in particular, was not a late owl, and he would say, `I'll meet you
after the show at 1 in the morning.' And we would be lucky sometimes if he
got there at 2:30, and then we would play the songs in front of the chorus
girls. He was constantly partying, Sammy. He smoked and drank, and he was
always partying. And we would play these songs in that atmosphere all the
time. And I must tell you, at that point in our lives, we were very timid,
particularly me, and I was the one that was playing it and seeing him. So we
did that, we met him at odd hours. Sometimes, I think I said at the
beginning, you know, after the shows he would go out and play eight, nine
holes of golf or something, and then we would meet him in the steam room to
discuss a scene.

And the first time I met Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and that whole bunch--i
think Joey Bishop was there too--we were all naked, which is an odd thing to
add to my composer's resume, but there were all kinds of odd incidents like

GROSS: So when you first met Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and all those guys
naked in a steam room, were you also expected to demo your songs for Sammy

Mr. STROUSE: No, no. That was--this would be a part of Sammy that's typical
of him, probably; partially meaningless to anybody else. He brought me down
there, he said he wanted to see me for a conference, and I remember one of the
things--you know, we all introduced ourselves around. Believe me, I was not
as proud of my physique as they of theirs. And so I was--and he said, `This
is my composer, Charles Strouse.' `Oh, hi, Charlie,' you know, `da, da, da,
da, da.' And it was basically, in my opinion, looking back, that he wanted to
show them that he had a composer, a Broadway composer who had written "Bye,
Bye Birdie" that was his composer. And I remember asking him later, `I don't
say this is my actor, Sammy. Why do you say, "This is my composer?"' And
that was one of the times that he didn't argue the point with me, but I think
he saw the emptiness of having me down there, although, by the way, it's
always made an amusing story, and a true one. But that was the reason. No, I
didn't play a song in the steam room. We talked over a few things in the
scene and one of the songs, you know, where he said, `I think that chorus
could be cut,' or `This could be longer,' but it was basically a kind of--his
day in the sauna with the guys and, you know, I was the drop-in guest.

GROSS: Composer Charles Strouse. His 1964 musical "Golden Boy" will be
revived March 21st through 24th as part of the City Center Encore Series in
Manhattan. Strouse will be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Coming up, more with Charles Strouse about his musical "Golden Boy."
It will be revived later this month. And Kevin Whitehead reviews a new
reissue of the Ornette Coleman Trio recorded in 1965 at the Golden Circle Club
in Stockholm.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with composer Charles
Strouse. He wrote the songs for the musicals "Bye Bye Birdie," "Annie,"
"Applause" and "All American." His 1964 musical, "Golden Boy," is being
revived in a concert version later this month by the City Center Encore Series
in Manhattan. The lyrics for the show's songs are by Lee Adams, who also
collaborated with Strouse on "Bye Bye Birdie." The original production of
"Golden Boy" starred Sammy Davis Jr. as a young man who works his way out of
Harlem by becoming a prize fighter.

Let's hear another song from "Golden Boy," and this is called "This Is The
Life," and Billy Daniels sings it, and then it ends in a duet with Sammy Davis
and Billy Daniels. Would you talk about writing the song and where it fits
into the show?

Mr. STROUSE: Well, in the original play, there was a character, he was a kind
of gangster power-type character who was able to do the fighter Joe, Sammy,
the favors to get him into the elite world, get him the top fights and show
him a little money and power. It was originally played, by the way, in the
original production, by Elia Kazan, and in this version, which was
musicalized, Billy Daniels was just perfect for the part. In the song, he
takes him to the High Life(ph) and introduces Joe Wellington, Sammy Davis, to
the High Life.

GROSS: "This Is The Life" from the original cast recording of "Golden Boy,"
and this song features Billy Daniels and Sammy Davis.

(Soundbite of "Golden Boy" cast recording)

Mr. BILLY DANIELS: I live good. Come with me, Joe. Yes? No? Maybe?

Mr. SAMMY DAVIS Jr.: Show me.

Mr. DANIELS: Be my guest. (Singing) This is the life. Here's where the
living is. This is the life. Baby, you're there. This is the life. You've
waited long enough. Man, you've arrived. Breathe in that air. Autumn
perfume, silver and candlelight. Children make way, Joe's here to stay. Come
join the club. Hear that sweet music start. This is the life, sweetheart.
Don't be a square, Joe. Tell them bye-bye, get where the action is. Come
have some fun. I'll lead the way. This is the life, they've kept you in a
box. Break down the walls, come out and play. See all the lights, they're
spelling Wellington. How sweet the song. Now you belong. Above the heap,
that's how it's got to be. This is the life, you'll see.

Mr. DAVIS: Can I be what I want to be?

Chorus: Yes, you can.

Mr. DAVIS: Can I get what I want to get?

Chorus: Yes, you can.

Mr. DAVIS: Can I have a car with a built-in bar?

Chorus: Color TV and a Playboy tee.

Mr. DAVIS: And a hundred shares of AT&T.

Chorus: Yes, you can. Yes, you can. Contour chair, imported boots.

Mr. DAVIS: A calendar watch and custom-made shoes.

Chorus: Photograph in the Daily News.

Mr. DANIELS: Yes, you can.

Chorus: Uh-huh. $10 tie. Yes, sir, how many? (Unintelligible). Um che gum
che gum. Chi-ki-chi-ki-chi. Um che gum che gum. Chi-ki-chi-ki-chi. Um che
gum che gum. Chi-ki-chi-ki-chi. Lunch, it's yours, pick up the tab.

Mr. DAVIS: The doorman saying, `May I get you a cab?'

Chorus: Cab?

Mr. DAVIS: Thank you.

Chorus: Bartender asking, `What'll you have?' Yeah. ...(Unintelligible).
Yeah. Diamond studs. Buying is great.

Mr. DAVIS: And every single album Ray Charles ever made.

Chorus: Polaroid camera.

Mr. DAVIS: Stereo sets.

Chorus: Season box.

Mr. DAVIS: To see the Mets.

Chorus: Charcoal grill.

Mr. DAVIS: With a Nathan's frank.

Chorus: Diners Club card.

Mr. DAVIS: And money in the bank.

Chorus: Shave and a haircut.

Mr. DAVIS: Me next.

Mr. DANIELS: This is the life.

Mr. DAVIS: This is the life.

Mr. DANIELS: Is where the living is.

Mr. DAVIS: The living is.

Mr. DANIELS: This is the life.

Mr. DAVIS: Only the best.

Mr. DANIELS: Baby, you're there.

Mr. DAVIS: This is for me.

Mr. DANIELS: Come on in.

Mr. DAVIS: Free, black and 21.

Mr. DANIELS: Come on in.

Mr. DAVIS: This is the life.

Mr. DAVIS and Mr. DANIELS: (In unison) Breathe in that air.

Mr. DANIELS: You're meant for this lovely life.

Mr. DAVIS and Mr. DANIELS: (In unison) This groovy atmosphere.

Mr. DAVIS: Out of my way.

Mr. DANIELS: There, golden boy...

Mr. DAVIS: Joe's here to stay.

Mr. DANIELS: ...let's grab some joy.

Mr. DAVIS and Mr. DANIELS: (In unison) King of the hill, that's how it's got
to be. This is the life, this is the life, this is the life for me!

Chorus: Yeah!

GROSS: That's "This Is The Life" from the 1964 musical "Golden Boy," with
lyrics by Lee Adams, music by my guest, Charles Strouse, and the show is about
to be revived in New York through City Center Encores. Now you mentioned that
Sammy Davis had to approve all the songs. Did he like this one? Do you

Mr. STROUSE: Yes, although what I do remember is another thing, and that is
at the end of the song, I had carefully constructed what I thought was a very
clever canon. That is an invitation. It's note quite a fugue, but it's an
invitation; one person sings one thing, another thing overlaps that, and then
the first thing comes in under that, and I couldn't wait to hear that. And
both Sammy and Billy were too impatient, as the kind of entertainers they
were, to learn it, and they just kind of jammed it at the end, and I suppose
it worked. I always felt a little bit disappointed, because I had done a
clever thing and it just sounded now like a write-out of some sort. I
remember that, but that was the kind of--both disappointment and maybe
improvement--I don't know--that was made in the show all the time that--you
know, you get into the subject of how do you write a musical? You don't write
them. They're kind of invented sometimes, sometimes by the people who should
invent them and sometimes by a performer whose personality properly overwhelms
the material. It's sometimes a hard decision for me to make.

GROSS: My guest is composer Charles Strouse. His 1964 musical, "Golden Boy,"
is being revived later this month in Manhattan. We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: The City Center Encore Series is reviving the 1964 musical "Golden
Boy" later this month in Manhattan. My guest, Charles Strause, wrote the
music for the show. The original production starred Sammy Davis Jr. as a
prize fighter from Harlem.

Now one of the things you had to do, writing the songs for "Golden Boy," was
to write songs about being black, to write songs about growing up in Harlem.
Did you feel at all like in an uncomfortable position writing about that? Not
that you knew what it was like to be a teen-age girl who was on the telephone
all the time, like in "Bye Bye Birdie," so it's not like you were used to
writing from your personal experience. But this, I imagine, had certain

Mr. STROUSE: It did, and, yet, I would say loneliness and poverty was not out
of my life, particularly. And I had, as I started to mention before,
worked--when I got out of college, I was one of the, you know, white piano
players who could read music and had played jazz. I played in jazz groups.
So I ended up accompanying a lot of African-American performers in the South.
I worked with Butterfly McQueen for about five months touring the South, and a
woman by the name of Sally Blair, a wonderful singer whose career just
stopped. I don't know. And many others. And had, in my touring with them in
the South, been spat upon and called `Nigger lover,' refused accommodations in
any hotel. So I had a pretty good identification. Also, I'm a product of New
York City public schools, although they were not heavily black. I had friends
and, as I say, played in jazz groups.

So, no, it wasn't. I was lonely and I can remember sitting in Central Park
looking up at the Essex House and feeling `the world's going on without me and
I don't have anybody,' and we wrote a song like that called "Night Song" for
Sammy, and I'm proud to say that some black friends, you know, have said to
me, `You know, we really caught a feeling there of being lonesome on a
tenement fire escape in Harlem.' I was very aware of it. So, no, I did not
feel uncomfortable in that respect. The music for "Don't Forget 127th
Street," which has a very clever lyric by Lee, and very satirical about
Harlem, I always felt, just between you and me, a little self-conscious that
the music I wrote for it was a little bit ricky-ticky white. And every time I
hear it, I get a slight feeling going through me that it wasn't down enough in
some way. But that's me. It happens to be a very successful number in the
show, so the answer is no.

GROSS: Well, it's one that several critics picked as among the best songs in
the show.

Mr. STROUSE: It's very successful commercially, and lyrically, and, I guess,
musically, at this point. This is something that's deep in me, as a composer,
and maybe I couldn't have done it--anyway, that's what it is. But, as I say,
other times, in all the other songs, I tried very, very strongly to be a black
composer. I was very conscious of what it meant to be; though I didn't, you
know, experience the whip lashes.

GROSS: Why don't we hear a minute of "Don't Forget 127th Street," the song
that you were saying you're very self-conscious about now, so I hope I'm not
making you too self-conscious.

Mr. STROUSE: A little self-conscious, not very. I mean, I just felt as
though that it was not as black as I could have made it.

GROSS: OK. Here it goes.

(Soundbite of "Don't Forget 127th Street")

Unidentified Man #1: And when you're downtown sipping champagne with your
high-class white friends, don't forget this glorious environment which molded
your character. Don't forget your roots.

(Singing) Don't forget 127th Street.

Chorus: Don't forget your happy Harlem home. Don't forget 127th Street.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Nosiree, there's no slum like your own.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) I remember winter evenings at that window,
watching those evictions in the snow.

Chorus: Oh, no, Joe, don't forget 127th Street...

Unidentified Man #1: A little bit of heaven.

Chorus: ...wherever you may go.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Don't forget the cultural life on this here

Chorus: Richer than the outside world suspects.

GROSS: It's "Don't Forget 127th Street" from the original cast recording of
"Golden Boy." My guest is the composer of the songs, Charles Strouse. Well,
I like the song a lot, but I know what you mean. It sounds much more Broadway
than it sounds Harlem.

Mr. STROUSE: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: And...

Mr. STROUSE: That was my feeling, but it was an instantaneous success, in
spite of the fact it was one of the few songs that Clifford Odets and Lee and
I argued about, because the play is extremely serious and sad because it's
when Joe decides to become a career boxer, and he's going to go away on a road
tour, and his father has just chastised him very, very severely, begged him
not to go, and so Joe is carrying this guilt about going against his father,
whom he reveres. And Clifford Odets said to us, `Look, you can't have a man
tap dance right after that.' So he wanted the song out of the show, and we,
of course, agreed. I mean, he was Clifford Odets, and it was Sammy who
insisted on that song, and it was a great, great show-stopper, and Sammy does,
indeed, tap-dance...

GROSS: Right, right.

Mr. STROUSE: ...and dances, and so the rules about musicals are made to be

GROSS: Clifford Odets, who wrote "Golden Boy," he wrote the original 1937
play and wrote the book for the musical, he died before--well, he died in the
early stages of the musical's production. What impact did it have on the show
to have Odets die?

Mr. STROUSE: At the beginning, we thought it would have no effect, aside
from the sadness we all felt. We were very close to Clifford. But as it
turned out, Sammy, along the way, fired the director, and new playwrights were
brought in, and the one that was settled on was Bill Gibson, the noted
American playwright. Arthur Penn was brought in as director, and two shows
were now combined into one, and it was very difficult. We were playing two
shows at one time, even though we were always sold out.

GROSS: The Odets show and the Gibson show.

Mr. STROUSE: That's right. And they were totally different, and we kept the
same characters, but they were two different plays. People would enter and
never to appear again. Songs were reprised that were never heard before. To
work all of this out was very laborious and very expensive.

GROSS: What are your memories of opening night on Broadway?

Mr. STROUSE: I was so frightened that I--this is a truth I don't like to
tell. I said hello to Sammy, and hello to everybody, and wished them luck,
and I went home and I bathed one of my children and had a chicken sandwich. I
remember it quite well. Then, when I went back to the theater at the end of
the show, I lost all my telegrams. I had a bunch of telegrams from friends,
and lost them. And I went through the garbage with my wife in the back of the
Majestic Theater in the alley and never found them.

GROSS: Why did you go home while the play was on? Why didn't you stay in the

Mr. STROUSE: I was scared--quick answer. I'm always scared. I'm getting
over that.

GROSS: What were the reviews like?

Mr. STROUSE: The reviews were very good. They were very good, particularly
for the book, I would say. That's my recollection. The show was a success,
ran for two years, and--which is considered a successful run, and then it
played in London for, I think, a year and a half.

GROSS: Will you go to the opening night of the revival of "Golden Boy" or are
you going to be...

Mr. STROUSE: Oh, yes. Yeah.

GROSS: ...being a chicken at home eating chicken?

Mr. STROUSE: Well put. Yes. No, I'm a different man.

GROSS: You can take it?

Mr. STROUSE: I can take it.

GROSS: Well, I can't let you go without asking this: Jay-Z, the rapper, had
a recording called "Hard Knock Life," which used part of the song from "Annie"
in it...

Mr. STROUSE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...on his CD, "Ghetto Anthem," which no one would think of any song
from Annie as being part of a ghetto anthem, so that CD won 1999's Grammy for
best rap album. How did you find out that "Hard Knock Life" was going to be
sampled for a rap record?

Mr. STROUSE: I found it out just through hearing it and my publisher. But
I'll tell you something, he said something--I never met Jay-Z or, as Andrew
Lloyd Webber said in a phone call to me, he said, `Jay Zed recorded a song of
yours.' I thought that was wonderful. And I dropped in Andrew's name, too.

He said something in the liner notes that he--it was gritty. He said it was
gritty, and he felt that that was the way black people felt in the ghetto.
And the fact is when we were working on "Annie," it was the first song that I
had written the music for. Martin and I had never gotten--Martin Charnin and
I had never gotten together. That was--we were old friends, but that was the
first song we wrote, and I wanted that song to be gritty. I didn't want it to
be a fake. I wanted it to show these desperate times and these maltreated
girls, etc., etc.

So when he picked up on that, I was very proud of myself for that reason,
alone. And he did use just about the whole song, so--but then it comes
in--there's always a rap beat underneath, and then he comes in with some
things, which even though it went platinum four times--it was the biggest
selling recording--single recording I ever had, I still don't understand what
he's saying or anything. It's a--well, it's interesting and it bothers me in
a way.

I saw a rap retrospective just the other night on television where a lot of
the rappers spoke about what they were doing in these songs, and I didn't
understand a great deal of what they were saying. I mean that, not as a joke,
I just didn't understand the words, the diction, even when they were speaking.
And I thought, `God is this--are we going to two different worlds?' And I
guess the answer is, `Yes, we are.'

GROSS: OK. One other "Annie" question. Did you ever think that the third
"Annie," Sarah Jessica Parker, would be Ms. "Sex and the City"?

Mr. STROUSE: No. Never.

GROSS: Were you surprised to...

Mr. STROUSE: Never.

GROSS: ...see her develop into that?

Mr. STROUSE: I knew Sarah Jessica when she was nine, before "Annie," she was
in a revue of mine at the Manhattan Theatre Club called "By Strouse," and she
was nine years old, and then I brought her into "Annie," and no. That's about
as unlikely occurrence as--and you can fill in that blank. I don't know.

GROSS: Well, Charles Strouse, good luck with the revival of "Golden Boy."
Thank you so much...

Mr. STROUSE: Thank you.

GROSS: ...for talking with us.

Mr. STROUSE: My pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Composer Charles Strouse. His 1964 musical, "Golden Boy," will be
revived March 21st through 24th as part of the City Center Encore Series in

(Soundbite of "Hard Knock Life")

Mr. JAY-Z (Rapper): (Rapping) Take the bass line out. Uh-huh.

Unidentified Man #3: (Rapping) Bounce with it.

Mr. JAY-Z: (Rapping) Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. Yeah.

Unidentified Man #3: (Rapping) ...(Unintelligible) bumped up.

Unidentified Girls: (Singing in unison) It's a hard-knock life for us. It's
a hard-knock life for us.

Unidentified Girl #1: (Singing) Instead of treated...

Unidentified Girls: (Singing in unison) We get tricked.

Unidentified Girl #2: (Singing) Instead of kisses...

Unidentified Girls: (Singing in unison) We get kicked. It's a hard-knock

Mr. JAY-Z: (Rapping) From standing on the corners bopping to driving some of
the hottest cars New York has ever seen...

Unidentified Man #3: (In unison) Seen.

Mr. JAY-Z: (Rapping)...for dropping some of the hottest verses rappers ever

Unidentified Man #3: (In unison) Heard.

Mr. JAY-Z: (Rapping) From the dope spot with the smoked ...(unintelligible)
the murder scene. You know me well...

GROSS: Coming up jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new Ornette Coleman
reissue of 1965 recordings.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ornette Coleman's two-volume jazz set recorded in Stockholm
in '65

In 1965, saxophonist Ornette Coleman came out of semiretirement and took his
trio to Europe for nine months. During that time, he presented some chamber
music in concert near London, the trio recorded the music to a French film and
played in the clubs, concert halls and radio studios of several nations,
including two weeks at the Golden Circle Club in Stockholm. Two volumes of
recordings they made at the Golden Circle are now on CD with over an hour of
extra music. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says this is Ornette even skeptics
could love.

(Soundbite of music)


Ornette Coleman's "European Echoes," a playful impression of an oompah band
echoing across a town square. Folks have accused Coleman of breaking the
rules of jazz, but he just bends them a bit. In many ways he's as traditional
as Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker. He loves a crying, bluesy sound, a
catchy improvised melody and a swinging rhythm section, and he radiates the
same kind of happy confidence. His 1965 Stockholm recordings are Exhibit A.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Ornette's earlier bands could ramble in a good way but this trio
barrels straight ahead. They were recorded at the end of two weeks at the
Golden Circle Club and sound telepathically tight, even if bassist David
Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett didn't always get along. One was a
practical joker, and the other trusting and gullible. Izenzon has excellent
timing and is handy with a bow, but the heart of the band is drummer Moffett,
an old friend of Ornette's who'd played with him in rhythm-and-blues bands
back home in Texas.

(Soundbite of Ornette Coleman's "Doughnuts")

WHITEHEAD: Ornette Coleman's "Doughnuts." He could always write a nice tune,
but some of the trio pieces focus more on strong rhythm patterns and a flowing
melody line. Such numbers gave the drummer an even more pivotal role than
usual, and Moffett rises to it, steering the group by playing thematic
variations on a snare drum. He and Ornette are so attuned to each other, they
affect each other's breathing.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: The Stockholm version of "Doughnuts" is released for the first
time in a new expanded version, the Golden Circle reports. The music we've
heard so far comes from Volume I, which has a slight edge over Volume II.
That one has a piece showcasing Ornette's casual violin and trumpet; no
competition for his saxophone. But either volume boasts over a half-hour of
worthy bonus material, mostly alternate takes on a par with the original
masters. Ornette moved to Europe in 1965 because nothing much was happening
for him in New York. But when he came home in '66 he got something like a
hero's welcome. The difference was, while he was away, these records had come
out. They showed anyone with ears how good the trio was; also, how good it
is, because this music sounds as fresh now as it did then.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz critic based in Chicago. He reviewed the
"Ornette Coleman Trio at the Golden Circle, Volumes I & II" on Blue Note. I'm
Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, Ridley Scott. He's nominated for an Oscar for
directing "Black Hawk Down." And we talk with British journalist Martin
Meredith, author of a new book about Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe's presidential election is later this week.

I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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