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Jerry Bock and Fiddler on the Roof

bock

Jerrold Lewis “Jerry” Bock (November 23, 1928 – November 3, 2010) was an American musical theater composer who received the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with Sheldon Harnick for their 1959 musical Fiorello! and the Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist for the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof with Sheldon Harnick.  Born on November 23, 1928, in New Haven, Connecticut, and raised in Flushing, Queens, New York, Bock studied the piano as a child.  At an early age, he was able to play very advanced pieces of music by ear and began writing music for various shows while still in school, attending P.S. 32, where he wrote his first musical.  His first success came during his high school years, in the form of the musical comedy “My Dream.”

Bock attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he wrote the musical Big As Life, which toured the state and enjoyed a run in Chicago. It was based on the legend of Paul Bunyon, and put on by Haresfoot, an all-male college musical society. Bock’s collaborator was a fellow student, Larry Holofcener, who was to become a co-worker on Bock’s early scores. “Big as Life,” won first prize in an annual university show competition, sponsored by BMI, the performing rights organization. During the summer breaks, the pair worked at Camp Taminent Playhouse in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains and wrote for early television revues. The program called for the preparation of an original one-act weekly revue for 10 consecutive weeks.

Returning to New York during the early 50s period following college, Bock and Holofcener were fortunate in being selected to audition their skills for Max Liebman, a producer of early music variety shows for television. They passed the test and joined the staff of “The Admiral Broadway Revue,” which later became “Your Show of Shows,” starring one of the world’s premiere comedy duos, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.  The young writers wrote songs for the stars as well as the chorus and the Corps de Ballet.  Bock’s other early-’50s television credits include composing music and writing sketches for The Mel Torme Show and The Kate Smith Hour.   Bock made his Broadway debut in 1955 when he and Holofcener contributed songs to the score of Catch a Star as a result of an introduction to the very well-known music publisher, Tommy Valando, after which they worked on Tallulah Bankhead’s Ziegfeld Follies of 1956, which closed out-of-town.

The following year the Bock and Holofcener collaborated on the musical Mr. Wonderful, designed for Sammy Davis, Jr.  Two songs from that score became standards, “Mr. Wonderful,” and “Too Close for Comfort.”   This was followed by some pop-styled songs for Sarah Vaughan and Bob Manning and the background score for a Columbia Pictures documentary short, titled “Wonders of Manhattan,” which won an honorable mention at The Cannes Film Festival.   Shortly after, Bock met lyricist Sheldon Harnick, with whom he forged a successful partnership. Although their first joint venture, The Body Beautiful, failed to charm the critics, its score caught the attention of director George Abbott and producer Hal Prince. They hired the team to compose a musical biography of former New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Fiorello! (1959) went on to win them both the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Bock’s additional collaborations with Harnick include Tenderloin (1960), Man in the Moon (1963), She Loves Me (1963), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), The Apple Tree (1966), and their final collaboration The Rothschilds (1970), as well as contributions to Never Too Late (1962), Baker Street (1965), Her First Roman (1968), and The Madwoman of Central Park West (1979). Fiddler on the Roof included the hit song “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” and “Sunrise, Sunset.”   Bock also contributed one song per weekly broadcast of “Sing Something Special,” a New York City Board of Education program on WNYE, which culminated in a special children’s album for Golden Records. Jerry Bock is also an esteemed Inductee into the Theater Hall of Fame.  Established in 1997, the Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theater is an annual grant presented to the composer and lyricist of a project developed in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop.  Bock spoke at the funeral of 98-year-old Fiddler playwright Joseph Stein just 10 days before his own death on November 3, 2010, from heart failure at the age of 81, four weeks before his 82nd birthday.

My collection includes the following work by Jerry Bock:

Fiddler on the Roof: Excerpts.

 

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