This folio commemorates the tenth anniversary of my professional debut as a songwriter for the musical theater. It’s been an exhilarating, intense and unpredictable ten years, and all the songs in this book are part of that story.
I arrived in New York when I was twenty years old, and I spent my first five years in Manhattan working as a rehearsal pianist, arranger, conductor, vocal coach, piano bar entertainer, orchestrator, and just about anything else that would pay me while I was trying to establish myself as a composer. I’d write songs for anything and anyone, and after a while I had quite a big pile of music written for various people and various projects. I met a wonderful young director named Daisy Prince, and she and I took this vast and unwieldy collection of material and began to shape it into a revue. By the time “Songs for a New World” opened at the WPA Theater in October 1995, we’d culled the sixteen songs that best suited our narrative purposes and our four exceptional singers. Four of those songs are included here: “Stars and the Moon” is without question my most popular and performed song, and I originally wrote it for a cabaret night at a summer stock theater in North Adams, Massachusetts; since its debut in 1991, its interpreters have included some of my favorite singers in the world, such as Karen Akers, Ann Hampton Callaway, Betty Buckley, and the magnificent Audra McDonald, who recorded it on her first album. “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” is the oldest song in this collection, having been written in 1990 for a cabaret night in Weston, Vermont. “Just One Step,” the story of a fed-up Upper East Side matron, was written specifically to showcase Laurie Beechman, who premiered it in Toronto; this book marks the song’s first commercial publication. Finally, “Hear My Song” is the finale of the show, and it was originally written for Sally Mayes to sing at an AIDS benefit in New York. It’s a song that gets done all the time at benefits and special events, and I’m very proud of this song’s ability to inspire hope and strength within the performers and audiences who share it.
“Parade” is a musical based on the true story of the lynching of Leo Frank in Marietta, Georgia in 1915. The book for the show is by Alfred Uhry, and it was directed by theatrical legend Harold Prince. Alfred and I both won Tony Awards after the show’s premiere at Lincoln Center Theater in 1998, and this score represents some of the most complex and ambitious writing I’ve done for the theater. “The Old Red Hills of Home” is the prologue to the show, sung by a young soldier as he prepares to join the Confederate Army and fight the Civil War. “The Picture Show” (published here for the first time) is a duet sung by young Mary Phagan and her prospective beau, Frankie Epps, as they ride on the streetcar the morning of the Confederate Memorial Day Parade. Leo Frank’s wife offers a stirring defense of her husband to a nosy reporter in “You Don’t Know This Man.” And on the eve of Leo’s murder, he and his wife share a quiet jailhouse picnic, finally able to speak the words of their love to each other: “All The Wasted Time.”
In 2002, Daisy Prince and I again collaborated on an Off-Broadway musical, “The Last Five Years,” a portrait of a doomed marriage between two young New Yorkers. I’ve chosen four songs from that show, one of which has never been published before: “See I’m Smiling” is a scene in which Cathy, an actress, greets Jamie (her husband, an aspiring novelist) when he comes to visit the theater where she works. “Moving Too Fast” is a song I often use as an encore in my own concerts, in which Jamie expresses his astonishment that so many wonderful things are happening so quickly. “A Summer In Ohio” is Cathy’s letter home to Jamie from her summer stock job. “The Next Ten Minutes” begins with Jamie’s proposal to Cathy on the lake in Central Park, continues with the couple’s wedding, and then ends by going backwards to Cathy’s reaction to Jamie’s proposal.
After “The Last Five Years” closed, I decided to take a break from writing full-scale musicals for a while so I could concentrate on my performing and songwriting, and the rest of this folio shows what I’ve been up to since then.
While she was starring in Trevor Nunn’s production of “South Pacific” in London, Lauren Kennedy approached me about doing an album of my songs. When Lauren originated the role of Cathy in “The Last Five Years,” I thought she had one of the most powerful and expressive voices I’d ever heard, so we went through my trunk of songs and found a couple that took advantage of that amazing instrument, and then I wrote a whole bunch of new ones. The resultant album, “Songs of Jason Robert Brown,” introduced some of my more pop-oriented songwriting, and four of those songs are published here for the first time: “And I Will Follow” was originally written as part of a musical version of Oscar Wilde’s story, “The Canterville Ghost,” but when Lauren and I decided to use it, I rewrote most of the lyrics to fit as the opening of the album. “Letting You Go” and “If I Told You Now” were both written as stand-alone songs. “Dreaming, Wide Awake” was a song I wrote to explore a character that intrigued me, a young German girl who had helped found a group of Resistance fighters during World War II; I ultimately abandoned the project, but I’m very proud of this song and thankful to that young girl for her inspiration.
Two songs come from the Broadway musical “Urban Cowboy,” in which I led the onstage band and sang a number; the creative team asked if I would help with the score, and I was delighted to tailor several numbers to the talents of an incredibly gifted young cast. Bud, the hero of the show, sings “It Don’t Get Better Than This” to explain why he came to Houston from a small town in West Texas. Sissy, a tough and sexy customer at Gilley’s (the Houston music club in which the show takes place), shacks up with Bud until he accuses her of cheating on him – her furious response is “Mr. Hopalong Heartbreak.”
And finally, in 2005, I released my first solo album, “Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes,” a collection of songs I had written and recorded over the years that didn’t fit into any of the shows I was writing. “Someone To Fall Back On” has served as the closing number for all of my concerts since I wrote it in 1998. “Getting Out” was written during a yearlong sojourn to Italy. “I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You” was actually the inspiration for “The Last Five Years,” and I’m thrilled to have this venue to put it out in the world. “Nothing In Common” was written as my toast at my brother’s wedding. I wrote “Grow Old With Me” as part of the incidental music to David Lindsay-Abaire’s magnificent play, “Kimberly Akimbo.” It seems most fitting to me to close the collection with “Coming Together,” a song I wrote in New York City during the devastating and confusing week after September 11, 2001.
And right now? After a long time in New York, I relocated to Los Angeles this year to teach at the University of Southern California and raise my beautiful baby daughter. In addition to touring the country performing, I’m in the middle of writing three new musicals, all of which will hopefully have been performed and shared with you all by the time my next collection rolls around in ten more years!
Jason Robert Brown
Los Angeles, California
9 November 2005