Michael's Most Recent Book

City Songs Front CoverCity Songs and American Life, 1900-1950
published by University of Rochester Press

"I believe that the songs of the first half of the twentieth century are essentially urban, more in sensibility than subject matter," -- Michael Lasser

Nothing defines the songs of the Great American Songbook more richly and persuasively than their urban sensibility. During the first half of the twentieth century, songwriters flourished in New York City, the home of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Harlem. A lot of them were native New Yorkers, or else they got to Gotham as fast as they could. It was as if they were standing on the West Side of Manhattan, facing west and describing America to the Americans: not its geography or politics, but its heart.

Michael Lasser's introductin to City Songs and American Life, 1900-1950 describes his coming of age in Broadway theaters and jazz clubs around Manhattan in the 1950's. The following chapters look closely at songs, but the book never ceases to give one man's take on the music he has lived with for more than half a century. First in exploration of the ways in which songs portrayed Broadway and Harlem. Then a chronological look at how the urban sensibility evolved in the early decades of the century, followed by the Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II.

Michael Lasser, a former teacher, theater critic, is host of the syndicated public-radio show Facinatin' Rhythm (winner of the Peabody Award) and the author of two previous books. For an inscribed copy, contact mlasser@rochester.rr.com.

Michael Lasser's City Songs is the most engaging, comprehensive, and provocative examination of the Great American Songbook that I've encountered. No surprise to anyone familiar with his award-winning weekly radio series Facsinatin' Rhythm, Lasser write with the "dazzling economy' of the best lyrics and lyricists that he elucidates. His book convinced me that the songs of the first half of the 20th century were indeed 'urban creatures' who 'sang the city electirc' by merging sentiment and wit into a unique amalgam, mingling the 'jingle of jazz and the jangle of slang" with "the clang and clamor" of the American metrolpolis, as Lasser so unforgettably characterizes it! -- Kim H. Kowalke, President, Kurt Weill Foundation for Music and Professor of Musicoloy, Eastman School of Music

City Songs and American Life, 1900-1950 draws on Michael Lasser’s lifetime of close and thoughtful listening to the most sparkling and enduring works of American creativity. His insights throughout make this a fresh and valuable work, thoroughly researched and well-documented, yet entirely accessible to a wide swath of curious readers and listeners. Literature, authortative, and engaging. Bravo!” — John Edward Hasse, Curator Emeritus of American Music, Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History

Reading Michael Lasser’s City Songs and American Life, 1900-1950 is a surprisingly moving experience. Progressing through the twentieth century, as music and lyrics evolve to reflect our changing national life, Lasser locates the yearning heart in us and in those who came before us—in times of war, prosperity, giddy peace, or economic depression—in all who stir to the syncopated rhythms and conversational syntax, the fine sentiment and matchless with, of the Great American Songbook.” — Jimmy Roberts, composer of the hit musical I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change


Michael's Previous Books:

America's Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley, 2006
(co-authored with Philip Furia)

You’ll come closer to knowing why you love your favorite songs, and you’ll see songwriters in a more humanlight than ever before. "Song,” the book begins, “is the most beloved of the arts.”  And this book is in love with songs – mainly with American songs from the first half of the twentieth century, when our greatest songwriters – from Irving Berlin to George and Ira Gershwin, from Cole Porter to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein – were at the height of their powers. It shows how they join music and words, sentiment and wit, into a seamless whole. It also traces the unpredictable give-and-take between composer and lyricist that results in a finished song.

 "Philip Furia and Michael Lasser's America's Songs has been required reading for me and for everyone on the Orchestra's staff. It is a fantastic book.” --  Erich Kunzel, former Conductor, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra

“A fascinating new book.” -- Howard Kissel, Drama Critic, New York Daily News

"A Wonderful Book"  -- Tom Strini, Music Critic, Milwaukee Journal Standard

"This is a good book just to pick up, read 20 pages, and come back to it a couple of days later and not miss a beat. You find yourself humming the songs as you’re reading about them.” — an anonymous reader


America's Songs II: From the 1890's to the Post War Years, 2013

America's Songs II - Songs from the 1890's to the Post-War Years tells more storiesAmerica's Songs II Cover behind the most beloved popular songs of the last century, revealing the many ways in which the creative collaborations between composer and lyricist led to songs that combined rich melodies, sophisticated harmonies, and smart rhythms with lyrics that reflected the slangy vitality of American speech, creating music both timeless and emotionally resonant. This companion to the bestselling America’s Songs reveals how intention and tuition, hard work and good luck, and beneath it all, an implicit sense of mastery, helped craft some of these golden standards of American musical history, and uncovers a rich trove of anecdotes that explore the intricacies of these dynamic relationships between some of the 20thcentury’s most well-known composers and lyricists.

Michael Lasser has given us an abundance of fascinating facts and appealing and delightful anecdotes about songs that have been familiar to me for so much of my life, that I tend to regard them as old friends. My fondness for these ‘old friends’ whets my curiosity about their origins and about the songwriters who wrote them – I believe that the millions who continue to respond to the music of composers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jule Styne will derive pleasure from getting to know something about these songs and these writers, too. – Sheldon Harnick, Lyricist, Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me, Fiorello

Paperback editions available from Amazon.

For an inscribed copy at list price, contact Michael at mlasser@rochester.rr.com.




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