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The Memphis Music of Berl Olswanger
Anna Olswanger

The Memphis Music of Berl Olswanger (26-page oversized booklet + 55 page sheet music book in pocket) celebrates the career of Memphis' "Mr. Music." Despite offers to go on the road with name bands, Olswanger (1918-1981) found touring not to his taste and opted for a less hectic life in his hometown. Reprints of news clippings, most from the Memphis dailies, fill the illustrated booklet. The sheet music surveys the breadth of his compositions: from sentimental love songs to commercial jingles. Olswanger's blues music ("The Man Who Stole My Beale Street Gal" and "Big Mistreatin' Bitter Sweet'n Blues") displays the influence of vaudeville and the music hall as much as Black music (via W.C. Handy—see picture below of Berl with W.C. Handy and Paul Flowers, columnist with the Memphis Commercial Appeal). The hilarious, presumably self-parodying "Twelve-Chord Boogie" plows methodically down and up 13ths on every step of the scale ("Sharp that A, Flat that B, Wiggle that C and D and E . . .").

Most of the music consists of melodies and chord symbols only: "Berl's Boogie" is arranged in parts for band. There are a few double-staff piano pieces, including "Juice Harp Rag"—for piano with jews harp breaks—and Olswanger's trickiest and most memorable composition, the fast "Berl's Jazz Polka in Elevenths and Thirteenths." Part piano novelty, part rag, and flavored with soft Bixian harmony, it takes a big mitt.

Olswanger's music is genteel and sunny, strong on mid-century pop charm. Most pieces flow from a basic melodic figure endlessly varied. The numbered first edition is limited to 600 copies.
From Cadence: The American Review of Jazz and Blues

Memphis Music

Brief Reviews:

". . . surprisingly varied compositions."
Stanley Dance, Jazz Times

". . . a fond tribute and a worthwhile memento."
Edwin Howard, Memphis Business Journal

". . . everything from classics to blues and jazz."
The Bloomsbury Review

". . . a beautiful publication."
Judy Peiser, Center for Southern Folklore

"A most memorable read. Berl Olswanger with W. C. Handy, Bing Crosby, and Memphis children learning piano by "the revolutionary Olswanger method." News clippings, comments, memorabilia, plus sheet music and arrangements by a home-town musician who became a part of Memphis music history. I was particularly impressed with the photos of radio personalities, musicians and singers who performed on Memphis radio stations live. This package of history is one of the finest examples of a person preserving information from the past and doing it uniquely. Anna Olswanger sets an excellent example for others who have parents who led interesting, productive lives. Berl must be leading a heavenly chorus singing songs of praise to a daughter who has preserved a picture of those Memphis times along with the music of her father. A BookZen salute to Anna Olswanger. "
Jo Grant, BookZen

To purchase a copy of the original 1985 limited edition of The Memphis Music of Berl Olswanger, send $20.00 (which includes postage and handling) to:

Anna Olswanger
16-60 Chandler Drive
Fair Lawn, NJ 07410-2715

You can also purchase The Memphis Music of Berl Olswanger online with a secure payment through PayPal.

The Memphis Music of Berl Olswanger copyright © 1985 Anna Olswanger

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