Burt Bacharach is one of the great geniuses of American popular music -- and he's a Jew. This should come as no surprise since many of America's greatest songwriters have been Jewish -- irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Leiber & Stoller, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Richard Hell, Beck. The Jews are a tribe who continue to believe that if they devote themselves to a place they love and contribute to the society selflessly that they will be embraced and accepted into it. In many cases this has proved to be a fatal error, yet there they go again, stubbornly believing in their own ability and vision.
It is arguable that the history of the Jews in this century has produced one of the most richly rewarding periods of culture in Jewish history. Yet, this fact is somehow kept neatly hidden. WHAT? Compare Philip Roth to Sholem Aleichem? Kafka to Moses de leon? Walty Benjamin to Rashi? Wittegenstein to Spinoza? Steve Reich to Felix Mendelssohn? Allen Ginsberg to Yehuda Helevi? Einstein to Nostradamus? Lenny Bruce to Hillel? Burt Bacharach is such a name. A traiblazer. A questioner. An unbridled genius. More than a great tunesmith he's a conduction, a pianist and a singer, a bold arranger with an original vision and sharp ear for detail, a brilliant producer and a sensitive collabrator. Bacharach's songs explode the expectations of what a popular song is supposed to be. Advanced harmonies and chord changes with unexpected turnarounds and modulations, unusual changing time signatures and rhythmic twists, often in uneven numbers of bars. But he makes it all sound so natural you can't get it out of your head of stop whistling it. Maddeningly complex, sometimes deceptively simple, these are more than just great pop songs: these are deep explorations of the materials of music and should be studied and treasured with as much care and dilligence we accord any great works of art.
The approuches in this collection are as varied as the contributors who participated. Some will delight you, some will confuse you, some may even annoy you -- but the intention in all cases has been to pay tribute to one of the world's greatest songwriters. I hope this set can in some small way repay Burt for the inspiration he has provided for generations of musicians in their battle to be creative and keep producing in the face of what often seems like insurmountable odds. Thank you, Burt. Thank you for not changing your name. We will always love you.
John Zorn NYC 1996