A Young Man From New Jersey

In 1902, a young man from New Jersey decided that music was going to be his life’s work and obtained a position at the publishing house, Edward B. Marks.  During his tenure there, he worked at “plugging” songs in the catalogue.  One of his assignments took him to Wanamaker’s Department Store, where he worked alongside two veterans in the industry, Jean Schwartz and Ernest Ball (both of whom were composers on Broadway). Schwartz and Ball worked for M. Witmark & Sons and had other assignments, so they would remain at Wanamaker’s only if they weren’t required elsewhere.   Our young man stayed from early to late, making up for his missing comrades by playing all kinds of music.  One of the pieces he played was not published by Marks but by Witmark; it was one of Ball’s songs.

Returning to Wanamaker’s one day, Ball heard his song being played and was sufficiently impressed by the generous act that he suggested to the young man that he contact Max Dreyfus at T.B. Harms, still at the time a relatively small player in the Broadway music publishing arena.

It was the summer/fall of 1903, when Jerome Kern, aged 18, walked into the run-down offices of Harms to meet with and play for Dreyfus, the new head of Harms.  The one thing that separated Dreyfus from other publishers was the fact that he had a “good ear” for unproven talent.  Dreyfus hired Kern on the spot, even though Kern was still a teenager and struggling to get attention.  By September 1904, Dreyfus had an initial “payback” on his investment in Kern because some of Kern’s music had been interpolated into the English import, Mr. Wix of Wickham (1904.34).  While he didn’t like most of the score, Alan Dale of the American picked out Kern’s songs with the following comment: “[The] music, by Jerome D. Kern, towers in such an Eiffel way, above the average hurdy-gurdy, penny-in-the-slot, primitive accompaniment to the musical show that criticism is disarmed….”

Looking back on the interpolated songs, there is nothing remarkable about them.  However, Dreyfus and Dale heard something special.  Around this time (September/October 1904), Kern expressed his trust in Dreyfus and Harms by purchasing 25% of Harms, out of money that he had inherited from his grandmother.