12:02pm

Mon October 11, 2004
Columns

Cole Porter is Profiled on RIVERWALK JAZZ

Join the Jim Cullum Band and guest vocalist Nina Ferro with "Everything I Love: The Songs of Cole Porter" this Sunday, Oct. 17 at 11am.

Try the tempting tunes of Riverwalk at 11:00 a.m. with "Everything I Love: The Songs of Cole Porter." The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and guest vocalist Nina Ferro spotlight the swinging music and witty lyrics of the immortal Cole Porter. Cole Porter's wit and playful style in lyrics and music will never find a challenger, as he wrote one thousand songs in his lifetime.

Porter's bio reads like one of the movies that so many of his songs were portrayed in. Cole Porter's name derives from the surnames of his parents, Kate Cole and Sam Porter. Kate's father, James Omar (known as J. O.), was an influential man both in the community and in Cole's early life. J.O. started from humble beginnings as son of a shoemaker, but his business savvy and strong work ethic made him the richest man in Indiana. Despite J.O.'s obsessive drive for making money, he took time off to marry Rachel Henton, who had several children with him.

The couple married without the full consent of J.O., but he financially supported their wedding and subsidized the couple. As one of the richest men in Indiana, he thought his daughter should be seen doing and wearing the right things without financial fears. These subsidies from J.O. financed the rest of Sam and Kate's life, as well as that of their son born on June 9th, 1891: Cole Porter.

Cole learned piano and violin at age six. He became very good at both, but he disliked the violin's harsh sound and so his energy turned to the piano. During his formative years, he played piano two hours per day. While Cole practiced, he and his mother would parody popular tunes on the piano in order to increase Cole's patience with such long practice sessions.

Cole composed songs as early as 1901 (when he was ten) with a song dedicated to his mother, a piano piece called Song of the Birds, separated into six sections with titles like The Young Ones Leaning to Sing and The Cuckoo Tells the Mother Where the Bird Is. His mother ensured that one hundred copies were published so that the song could be sent to friends and relatives.

He enrolled in the Worcester Academy in 1905, where he was lauded as the precocious youngster who became class valedictorian. There Cole met an important influence in his musicianship, Dr. Abercrombie. His teacher taught him about the relationship between words and meter, and between words and music in songs. Cole later quoted from Ambercrombie's lessons: "Words and music must be so inseparably wedded to each other that they are like one."

Cole's Yale years included many adventures, many musicals, and the forging of relationships that he carried with him for the rest of his life. Most students soon knew him for the fight songs he would write, many of which continue to be Yale classics.

Cole wrote musicals for clubs and alumni associations, which allowed Cole and his friends to tour the country and showered with attention and parties. Some of these Yale connections were helpful when he started his career on Broadway. The Yale ties lasted beyond his graduation. Even as he was graduating, he was promising more musicals for his student organizations to be written after leaving Yale. He left Yale with a legacy of approximately 300 songs, including six full scale productions.

Cole spent the years immediately after Yale flailing in an unsuccessful Harvard law career. The man who paid all of Cole's bills, his grandfather J.O. Cole, disapproved of men choosing careers in the arts and tried hard to convince Cole to become a lawyer. Even when Cole was young, J.O. tried to instill a sense of rough individualism and business savvy that was lost on the over-pampered young Porter. Cole did indeed start attending Harvard Law but his primary attention was always to music (including writing musicals for his Yale friends). Although Kate knew, J.O. was not told that in his second year Cole switched from the law school to the school of arts and sciences at Harvard in order to pursue music. Eventually, he abandoned his studies, moved to the Yale club in New York, and began his serious music career.

After early success with one-offs like Don't Fence Me In, re-released in a World War II musical called Hollywood Canteen, Cole signed some contracts to do work for the film industry. The first film to contain a Cole Porter song was The Battle of Paris from 1929, but his two tunes from that movie had little impact on his career because of the low quality of the film in general.

In 1937, Cole was involved in a horse riding accident and fractured both of legs. He was in the hospital for months, but the effects took a hit upon his mental and physical health. It was only made worse by the eventual amputation of one of his legs. This did not stop him from writing music. During this period were songs like Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love, From Now On, and Get Out Of Town.

Doctors amputated his injured right leg in 1958. After the amputation, his creative productivity, his social power, and his happiness had waned. He died on October 15, 1964. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried between his wife Linda and his father Sam Porter. Perhaps because his father's almost irrelevant role his upbringing, many reports have circled that he was buried between his mother Kate and his wife Linda

The popularity of his individual songs lasted far beyond the common knowledge of the man himself. Many of his most famous songs were presented to the public only in the context of musicals or movies which contained non-Cole Porter songs. Other famous songs have come from Cole Porter musicals or revues that failed miserably, but made up their exposure via sheet music and recordings from popular singers like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

One album that brought Cole Porter to many younger listeners was a fundraising pop album called Red, Hot, and Blue with Cole Porter songs sung by popular musicians of the 1980s an 1990s. Porter songs still maintain a strong presence in movie soundtracks (from Woody Allen Movies, to Tank Girl), with the most popular songs Lets Do It (Let's Fall In Love) and Night and Day.

Celebrate the music of this gifted artist this Sunday at 11am on RIVERWALK JAZZ.