In A Minute! (...Or Two): Ep. #90

Ep. #90: Featuring Leah Zeger and Ira Gonzalez

Despite his barroom music education and his inability to read music, Irving Berlin’s output dwarfed those of his contemporaries. As an untrained pianist, he learned to pick out songs by using only the black keys - a ploy to which many novice keyboard players turn. With the help of “The Buick”, Berlin’s transposing piano which mechanically shifted the keys, and various music secretaries (one of whom was George Gershwin!), Berlin produced scores of popular songs, eventually bringing his “saloon music” to the Broadway stage and the bright lights of Hollywood.

Irving Berlin’s life is a remarkable “rags to riches” story. Born Israel Beilin (ישראל ביילין) in modern day Belarus, he and his family immigrated to the Lower East Side of New York when he was 5 and, like all Eastern European immigrants, struggled to make ends meet. It was only after landing a job as a singing waiter in a Chinatown saloon, where he heard and performed songs from every corner of the world, that young Berlin began to write songs of his own.

In later years, as the Broadway landscape changed, a new medium presented itself for Berlin’s domination - the movies! In fact, Berlin’s tune “Blue Skies” was so popular, it was performed by Al Jolson in the very first talking picture, The Jazz Singer. To capitalize on the promise of Hollywood success, Berlin moved to Los Angeles and became an unmitigated sensation writing songs for many films, some of which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. A film called On The Avenue was released during this era, touting several Berlin classics including “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” brought to life.

Here to keep us warm are the multi-talented Leah Zeger on violin and Ira Gonzalez on guitar.

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