Intersections: Reviving the Art of the Witty Lyric

Dave Frishberg's Deft, Wry Wording Recalls an Earlier Era

Dave Frishberg

hide captionDave Frishberg

Courtesy Jerry Kravat
Frank Loesser with his wife, Jo Sullivan

hide captionFrank Loesser, photographed in the 1950s with his wife, Jo Sullivan. Loesser, who died in 1969, composed numerous popular songs and smash Broadway shows, including Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

© Bettmann/CORBIS

For nearly 50 years, Dave Frishberg has been crafting lyrics from the quirky stuff of modern life. The four-time Grammy nominee's deftly worded, wry songs harken back to the golden age of the musical. The jazz singer-songwriter says he learned the art of musical wit from Broadway legend Frank Loesser. For Intersections, a series on artists' influences, NPR's Ketzel Levine reports.

Frishberg began writing songs in his 20s. When he first heard Loesser's music, he was struck by its inventiveness. Loesser's songbook includes standards such as Baby It’s Cold Outside and the hit Broadway musicals Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Most Happy Fella.

Frishberg had a few songs of his own — not to mention plenty of pluck — and he submitted his work to Loesser's publishing company. The move earned him an invitation to meet his idol for one memorable hour in 1961. Frishberg says he wanted to discuss music, but Loesser insisted on discussing words.

"He said your main concern as a lyric writer is to lead the listener through the song," Frishberg recalls. "Take the listener by the hand and lead him or her through the song."

That meeting was a lifetime ago, but Frishberg still remembers and tries to apply Loesser's lessons. He's recorded a number of albums of his own music — all told, about 200 songs. His songs have also been recorded by such artists as Rosemary Clooney and Diana Krahl.

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