Paul Denniker

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"S'posin'" that a songwriter's story could be told almost purely through their song titles. "Let's Break the Good News": it is possible to at least provide a skeletel framework, especially if a songwriter…
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"S'posin'" that a songwriter's story could be told almost purely through their song titles. "Let's Break the Good News": it is possible to at least provide a skeletel framework, especially if a songwriter is incredibly prolific. A writer with the genius of Raymond Queneau could, it seems likely, come up with an entire biography of Bob Dylan using only his song titles. The best an AMG hack can do with the likes of composer Paul Denniker is to point out that the titles of the many tunes he collaborated on from the '20s through the '40s tell more a tale of the times he lived in. Not much is revealed about the man, but perhaps that isn't so "Amazing".

The Denniker name itself is something glimpsed by many a jazz buff, but perhaps not committed to memory. A full evening of entertainment could be provided by Denniker titles that were recorded and transformed by Fats Waller. This talented pianist, singer and bandleader's career began in the same stable of songwriters, publishers and sheet music "demonstraters" as Denniker, Andy Razaf, Spencer Williams and Alex Hill. "S'posin'" eventually turned into a jazz standard, however, recorded by Miles Davis and many others. The tune was originally written in 1929 by Denniker with Razaf providing lyrics, became a hit for crooner Rudy Vallee and even inspired a whole series of similar songs--a cycle to which Denniker and Razaf were pleased to contribute, thus giving birth to "Wontcha" and "Perhaps".

So it went on Tin Pan Alley, each new popular trend providing marching orders for different combinations of tunesmiths. Denniker worked frequently with Razaf but had other writing parters such as Don Redman, Joe Davis, Will Osborne and Edwin Gilbert. One day the assignment might be to change the sexual orientation of a ballad, from "She Belongs to Me" to "He Belongs to Me". There were alsopolitical themes as in "Mr. Swing For President", unfortunately scribbled out to promote the losing candidate. In the mid '30s Hawaiian music became popular; Denniker responded with his own songwriting luau, squinting at the "Hawaiian Starlight" and dozing off "In My Dream of Waikiki".

When the song "Christopher Columbus" was discovered in a big way by the listening public, historical figures became the new songwriting assignment. "Queen Isabella" was a natural subject; then Razaf, Denniker and Davis wrote about "Nero", providing a choice assignment for any session fiddler. Naughty material was also something these fellows could churn out: "Shake Your Can, She's Nine Months Gone" and "Where Can I Find a Cherry" are--wince--part of the catalogue of Razaf and Denniker, although it is the former writer who can be blamed for both subject matter and lyrics.