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Who Should Sing Ol' Man River?The Lives of an American Song$
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Todd Decker

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199389186

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199389186.001.0001

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Ol’ Man Rhythm

Ol’ Man Rhythm

(p.51) 3 Ol’ Man Rhythm
Who Should Sing Ol' Man River?

Todd Decker

Oxford University Press

This chapter chronicles up-tempo versions of “Ol’ Man River,” showing how the song survived several transitions in popular music and dance styles and in jazz. The relative tempo of different versions is compared by measuring beats per minute (or bpm). The song’s capacity to work as dance music in 1920s jazz, 1930s and 1940s swing, 1950s rhythm and blues, and various 1960s rock styles is demonstrated by more than fifty audio examples. Fast versions also reveal the syncopated possibilities inherent in Kern’s tune. Multiple instrumental versions by jazz bands and soloists demonstrate how the tune inspired musical invention in both players and arrangers to the end of the 1960s.

Keywords:   Bing Crosby, jazz, swing, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, Latin jazz, doo-wop, soul, the Ravens

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