George W. Meyer

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Another self-made Tin Pan Alley legend, George W. Meyer did time as an accountant in the department stores of Boston, and then graduated to the even larger department stores of New York. Having taught…
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Another self-made Tin Pan Alley legend, George W. Meyer did time as an accountant in the department stores of Boston, and then graduated to the even larger department stores of New York. Having taught himself how to play the piano, he found more interesting, lucrative, and rewarding employment demonstrating songs for sheet music publishing firms. Eventually he began to write songs of his own. In 1909 he caused barely a stir with "I'm Awfully Glad I Met You." In 1911, he moved closer to success with "Brass Band Ephraham Jones." This song made the rounds from coast to coast after Al Jolson made a wonderful recording of it in 1912. It was also in 1912 that Meyer began to operate as a publisher of other peoples' material, specializing in the purveyance of novelty rags, which were all the rage at that time. This, however, did not prevent him from continuing to invent catchy melodies. In 1916 he dreamt up an archetypal piece of naive sentimentality, "If You Were the Only Girl in the World," along with "Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night?" This bit of silliness, with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young, became another instant hit after Jolson recorded it as soon as the ink was dry on the score. What really put George W. Meyer out in front was the impossibly wholesome "For Me and My Gal," published in 1917 with lyrics by Edgar Leslie and E. Ray Goetz. It would be difficult to find a better example of innocent happiness than this apple pie melody, so strangely disarming when sung years later by Arthur Godfrey. (Legend has it that the title of this song is etched into the gravestone of Meyer's wife.) Al Jolson's continuing collusion with Meyer bore fruit in 1918 with a very popular phonograph recording of "Everything Is Peaches Down in Georgia," written in collaboration with Milton Ager and Grant Clarke. That same year, Meyer churned out an obligatory wartime ditty with the worrisome title "If He Can Fight Like He Can Love, Good Night, Germany!" Then in 1921, Eddie Cantor hauled in quite a bit of cash for himself (and for Meyer, Lewis, and Young) with a hit record of "Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old ‘Tucky Home." Meyer and Gus Kahn had a minor hit with a modest number called "Sittin' in a Corner" which they published in 1923. Please note that not every Tin Pan Alley composer's story crosses over into classic jazz the way this one does. For it was on December 17, 1924 that Clarence Williams' Blue Five recorded two songs by George W. Meyer: "I'm a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird" and "Mandy, Make Up Your Mind." Present were Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Irvis, Buddy Christian, Williams, and his wife, vocalist Eva Taylor. The most noteworthy aspect of this session is Bechet's Anthony Braxton-like impromptu bass clef sarrusophone solo on "Mandy." One can only imagine what the composer's reaction must have been to this recording. The rest of Meyer's output seems modest at first: "Someone Is Losin' Susan" came out in 1926; "My Song of the Nile" in 1929, and "I'm Sure of Everything But You" in 1932. What steers the tale end of this story back around to jazz are three melodies he published in 1935: "I Believe in Miracles," "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and "I'm Growing Fonder of You." Fortunately for posterity, these love songs were recorded onto three-minute records by Fats Waller & His Rhythm in 1935. Waller brought out every latent nuance of each selection, added his own measure of good humor, and left us with outstanding examples of Meyer's genius for sentimental harmony. Oh, to be sure, Meyer had one or two flashes of inspiration left; his last noteworthy opus was 1942's "There Are Such Things." But those songs from 1935 constitute George W. Meyer's best legacy, and if he is remembered for nothing else, let us identify him forever with Fats Waller's optimistic recording: "I'm Growing Fonder of You."