Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tin Pan Alley

I walked down Tin Pan Alley today. Who knew such a place really existed except in a song sung by Stevie Ray Vaughan and in musicals and films. In fact, it very nearly doesn't exist today. In November 2008, apparently five of the historic buildings on West 28th St between 5th and 6th Avenues went up for sale. Luckily for the preservationists, the sale was forestalled by the economic crisis, so they now have more time to make a case against another ugly residential development going up. 
Tin Pan Alley is fondly referred to as "the birthplace of American song". From the 1890s to the 1950s, this stretch of 28th Street in Chelsea was the place where music publishers and songwriters - including Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer - were concentrated. Jewish immigrants opened up sheet-music publishing houses and created songs in their offices. Composers, arrangers and lyricists all came to this once dense musical enclave to grind out ragtime, jazz and blues hits. Apparently it got its name because of the chaos of sound produced by so many pianos playing at the same time on one street, which was said to sound like the clinging of pots and pans, which at the time were made of tin. 
I love these old New York stories. I must dig out more.

Image: Gothamist

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