22 Male Solo Ideas From The Jazz Age

Written by Jackson Upperco

April 6, 2017

So you’re auditioning for the role of Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2002)? Billy in Chicago (1975)? Aldolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone (2006)? Well, put some authentic Roaring ‘20s in your repertoire – starting with this collection of solo suggestions for audition and study from Musical Theatre’s Jazz Age. All of the selections below, chosen by a self-proclaimed expert on the scores of this era, are guaranteed to put you in the mind and flavor – the real mind and flavor – of this iconic decade. From classic entries in the Great American Songbook to jazzy (seldom sung) gems waiting to be rediscovered – this EXCLUSIVE list is one to be studied and bookmarked!

1. “In Honeysuckle Time” from Shuffle Along (1921) (Baritone)

Shuffle Along was the first successful Broadway musical starring and written by African Americans to permeate the tastes of the predominantly white theatrical community. The score, by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, was jazzy and modern, and this number, in which a gent pines for his lovely Emaline, is a joyous example of the era’s slow transition from ragtime to jazz.

2. “All By Myself” from The Music Box Revue Of 1921 (Baritone)

Irving Berlin, who wrote both the music and lyrics for this plainly sincere number, was one of the most prolific contributors to the Great American Songbook, and his efforts for the 1921-‘24 series of Music Box Revues is a terrific source of early ‘20s jazz. Whether you want to spice it up or savor its melancholia, this ballad is a Berlin classic.Get the Sheet Music Here

3. “Toot, Toot, Tootsie! (Goo’bye)” from Bombo (1921) (Baritone)

This number will always be associated with Al Jolson, who performed it in the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer (1927), but he originated the song in 1921, in a thinly plotted musical comedy that had him playing a deckhand on Christopher Columbus’ ship. For those interested in examining this memorable song, the key now is making it your own!

Get the Sheet Music Here

4. “Lady Of The Evening” from The Music Box Revue Of 1922 (Tenor)

Never underestimate Irving Berlin, whose tunes (for which he wrote both music and lyrics) are seemingly direct and uncomplicated, for every now and again he’d work in a good Cole Porter-esque double entendre, as he does in this ballad, in which a singer exalts a mysterious lady of the evening… which is also a euphemism for a prostitute!

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5. “The Dumber They Come, The Better I Like ‘Em” from Kid Boots (1923) (Tenor)

Al Jolson’s spiritual rival during this era was Eddie Cantor, who starred in this Ziegfeld musical comedy set in the Everglades of Florida. This kooky little tune – in which a man professes his preference for dumb women over smart ones (“because the dumb ones know how to make love”) regained some prominence when it was featured on Boardwalk Empire.

6. “What’ll I Do?” from The Music Box Revue Of 1923 (Baritone)

One of Berlin’s classics, this haunting ballad was added in early ’24 to the 1923 edition of the Music Box Revue. It quickly became a hit, for its honest display of a man’s longing for a lover soon-to-be-departed sure tugs at the heart. The ‘20s wasn’t all snap, crackle, and pop – times were changing and many were disillusioned; this type of jazz reflected that sadness.

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7. “There Isn’t One Girl” from Sitting Pretty (1924) (Baritone)

Many a musical theatre debate has been had about which composers were the most influential when informing the emerging sounds of the ‘20s, and while Jerome Kern’s musical substance has never been doubted, it’s easy to overlook just how surreptitiously bluesy he was becoming. This little-known tune is ambitious – and very reflective of 1924.

8. “Fascinating Rhythm” from Lady, Be Good! (1924) (Baritone)

Gershwin is the Musical Theatre equivalent to Beethoven, and the work he was producing in the ‘20s is as vibrant and alive today as it was then. 1924 not only saw the premiere of his landmark “Rhapsody In Blue,” but it also gave us a charming vehicle for Fred and Adele Astaire, Lady Be Good!, in which this rhythmic hit (which you’ve certainly heard before) was introduced.

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9. “Lucky Boy” from The Cocoanuts (1925) (Baritone)

A musical romp starring the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts features a peppy Irving Berlin score that’s inspired by the Florida land boom, which served as the basis of the story. The locale’s warmth is projected throughout the tune-stack, including in the ebullient “Lucky Boy,” a prime example of the decade’s counterbalancing optimism.

10. “Choo-Choo Love” from Kitty’s Kisses (1926) (Baritone)

From a forgotten 1926 score by Con Conrad and Gus Kahn that was resurrected when it was recorded (almost in full) a few years ago, the buoyant “Choo-Choo Love” is emblematic of Broadway’s embracement of the jazzier sounds that have since come to define the decade. Even in lesser known shows like this – amiable but unspectacular – there are delights!

11. “The Birth Of The Blues” from George White’s Scandals Of 1926 (Baritone)

The songwriting trio of DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson were more known for their contributions to several sporty and youth-oriented book musicals at the end of the decade, but they crafted one of their most indelible standards in the 1926 edition of George’s White’s Scandals (the second biggest revue of the decade – behind Ziegfeld’s). Revel in the blueness!

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12. “It Pays To Advertise” from Queen High (1926) (Tenor)

With the country’s economy booming (spoiler alert: for the time being), Broadway also experienced an explosion in both supply and demand, as new shows sprang up seemingly every week. And even in those with scores by lesser known players (like Lewis E. Gensler), fun little ditties were sure to be found. Here’s a great, esoteric, example.

13. “My One And Only” from Funny Face (1927) (Tenor)

The Gershwin brothers’ second show with the Astaires, Funny Face’s marvelous score has been split up and used throughout many of the past few decade’s jukebox Gershwin musicals. This solo for Fred Astaire was used in – and became the title – for the 1983 production My One And Only. It’s quintessential Gershwin, who is quintessentially ‘20s.

Get the Sheet Music Here

14. “Doin’ The New Low-Down” from Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds Of 1928 (Baritone)

Blackbirds was a seminal revue starring African Americans – this time with songs by Jimmy McHugh and lyricist Dorothy Fields – that had played London in ’26 before coming to New York two years later with a new, fresh American score. This number, introduced by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, is one of the hottest on today’s list; can you handle it?

15. “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” from The New Moon (1928) (Tenor)

For those who weren’t ready to embrace the decade’s newer, jazzier sounds, the ‘20s also offered more traditional forms, like operetta – a wry, light, and gaily European genre that included material both earnest and knowing. This score by Romberg and Hammerstein is a bit of both, offering some of the ‘20s most gorgeous tunes – with a wink!

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16. “Makin’ Whoopee!” from Whoopee! (1928) (Tenor)

While Jolson was associated with many iconic songs (like the aforementioned “Toot, Toot, Tootsie”), Eddie Cantor had this, the title tune from Ziegfeld’s lavish Whoopee!, a Western-tinged musical comedy in which the star played a hypochondriac who picks up a runaway bride. This classic cemented “whoopee” as a universally understood euphemism for sex.

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17. “Out Where The Blues Begin” from Hello Daddy! (1928) (Baritone)

By the last few years of the decade, it was clear that jazz and blues were here to stay, and Broadway composers were becoming jazzier and bluesier! This offering by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields lives up its name, featuring appropriately cobalt-ish heat, and for interested parties, it’s a tune that’s very much of its time, but not oversung today.

18. “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan” from The Little Show (1929) (Baritone)

Clifton Webb introduced this Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz classic in the brilliant 1929 revue The Little Show, so named for its intimacy of both material and production. This simplicity allowed the performers and songs to shine, and this standard gem has never grown out of fashion, thanks to its inclusion in MGM’s 1953 film The Band Wagon.

Get the Sheet Music Here

19. “Home Blues” from Show Girl (1929) (Baritone)

Gershwin’s legendary ballet An American In Paris, which served as the basis for a film that was then itself adapted into a stage musical a few years ago, originally came from this Ziegfeld backstager starring Ruby Keeler and Jimmy Durante. This song was part of that sequence, and if you’re familiar with the ballet, you’ll recognize the sumptuous melody!

20. “A Ship Without A Sail” from Heads Up! (1929) (Baritone)

Before Richard Rodgers made musical theatre history with Oscar Hammerstein II, he was churning out classy scores with the literate Lorenz Hart. Most of their best stuff was to come in the ‘30s (so stay tuned, fellas, because that list is ahead!), but this classic introduced by Jack Whiting is one of the stage’s most sensitive musical ruminations on lovelessness.

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21. “You’ve Got That Thing” from Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929) (Baritone)

Cole Porter didn’t become a Broadway sensation until after he composed the score for 1928’s Paris (which included “Let’s Do It”), but he certainly left his mark on the decade with a host of playful, sexually charged tunes that well represented the era’s attitude regarding amore. He’s at his best in this bouncy entry from the gem-filled Fifty Million Frenchmen.

22. “I’m A Gigolo” from Wake Up And Dream (1929) (Baritone)

Yes, let’s squeeze in one more ‘20s goodie by Cole Porter – this one far less well known than the tune above. Coming from a musical revue that opened in the West End before crossing the Atlantic in the following year, this number features a self-proclaimed gigolo – “a baby who has no mother but jazz.” It’s a lot of cheeky fun in the classic Porter mold.

For more information on the scores and composers of this era, visit the author’s blog: jacksonupperco.com.

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Jackson Upperco is a lover of retro television, forgotten Broadway musicals, and Pre-Code Hollywood. He boasts a Bachelors Degree in Film and Television from Boston University. You can keep up with all of his entertainment interests at jacksonupperco.com.