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Remembering Jazz Lyricist And Poet Fran Landesman

Jazz lyricist Fran Landesman.
Jazz lyricist Fran Landesman.

Fran Landesman, a songwriter and poet who wrote the words to the jazz standard "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," died July 23. She was 83.

Landesman, whose other songs included "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" and "Small Day Tomorrow," was part of a circle of beat writers and jazz musicians when she started writing songs in the early 1950s. In 1988, she joined Fresh Air's Terry Gross for a conversation about many of her playful lyrics.

Landesman said she wrote "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" because she was enamored with T.S. Eliot's famous poem The Waste Land, which begins, "April is the cruelest month..."

"I was thinking to myself, if a hipster were going to say that, he would say, 'Spring can really hang you up the most, man,' and I told this to piano player Tommy Wolf, and he said, 'That would make a good song. Why don't you try to write it?' So I brought this lyric in to him, and he put this beautiful, beautiful music to it," Landesman said.

Wolf was the piano player at the Crystal Palace nightclub, a bar and performance venue that Landesman co-owned with her husband Jay. The three collaborated on the Broadway jazz musical The Nervous Set about the Beat Generation. Jay wrote the book, Wolf provided the music and Fran contributed the lyrics, which poked fun at other songwriters like Lorenz Hart, who co-wrote "The Lady Is a Tramp," "Manhattan" and "My Funny Valentine."

"We did The Nervous Set on Broadway," she said. "There was a line in a song [that went], 'No matter how they rave now / Larry Hart is in his grave now / And whoever takes "Manhattan" is a square.' And Richard Rodgers came to see the show and he said, 'People have been calling me up all week. They're so furious about [the line about Hart]. But I knew you kids didn't mean to knock Larry," Landesman said. "And I said, 'Are you kidding? He was my hero.'"

Being a female songwriter at a time when the field was dominated by men wasn't easy, Landesman said.

"They weren't interested in women doing anything but emptying the ashtrays," she said. "As a matter of fact, Allen Ginsberg came up to me after [a] gig last night and said that he really liked a poem of mine. And I just felt like he was never even aware that I did anything. So I was really thrilled."

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