Music Post: Bridges and other musical pathways


In music, a bridge is a transitional passage that takes the music back to where it was originally.

In “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” the chorus is a bridge back to the music of each verse. Some songs have no bridge, like “American Woman,” but most do.

In a typical 32-bar blues, the third of four eight-bar sections is the bridge, leading back to the original material. For an example here are the four lines of the satirical “White Man Blues,” by Martin Mull:

(A) Woke up this morning, found both cars were gone/(A) Woke up this morning, found both cars were gone/(B) Felt so low down deep inside/(A) I threw my drink across the lawn.

In George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” there is a bridge, not quite three and a half minutes in, which seems to correspond with the American tourist crossing over a literal bridge on the River Seine, escaping the taxi horns and finding the quieter neighborhood on the Left Bank. The critic Deems Taylor plausibly believed Gershwin did it on purposes, an inside joke for musicians, a bridge about a bridge.

Keith Emerson and Lee Jackson, in their days with the pre-Emerson Lake & Palmer band “The Nice,” recorded a series of pieces called “Five Bridges Suite” which appears also to have been a double entendre (as an American or anyone else in Paris might say.)

I had actually intended this weekend’s radio show to be about highways and roads. But the more I got into it the more I realized there are really quite a lot of pieces, with and without musical bridges, inspired by actual bridges:

Michael Torke composed pieces about the Brooklyn Bridge and the George Washington Bridge, and the latter, which crosses the Hudson at the top tip of Manhattan, inspired a composition by William Schuman, of “New England Triptych” fame, as well.

Thomas Newman (cousin of Randy Newman; son of Alfred Newman) wrote three bridge pieces in one year: the score to the film “Bridge of Spies,” and two pieces for the James Bond film “Spectre,” “Vauxhall Bridge” and “Westminster Bridge.”

Then there are there scores to the films “The Bridge at Remagen” and “A Bridge Too Far,” and, no, I didn’t forget Billy Strayhorn’s composition for Duke Ellington, “Chelsea Bridge,” though Strayhorn discovered later that the painting that inspired him was actually of a different span than that one, the Battersea Bridge shown in the painting.

There are still some road pieces in the show unrelated to bridges in the conventional sense, including Omar Hakim’s Weather Report composition “Molasses Run”, a Jacques Ibert depiction of the Paris Metro, the monorail music from “Jurassic World,” the college campus auto chase scene “A Whirl Through Academe” from early in the last Indiana Jones film, John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” Artie Shaw’s “Special Delivery Stomp,” and Danny Elfman’s “On the Road” from the 1996 movie “Freeway.”

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