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'Fresh Air' pays tribute to the music of John Kander and Fred Ebb

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The iconic song "New York, New York" was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb for Martin Scorsese's 1977 movie musical "New York, New York," which starred Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli. A new Broadway musical called "New York, New York," inspired by the film, opens next week on Broadway. It includes Kander and Ebb songs from the movie, as well as several of their little-known songs and a few new ones composed by Kander with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Today, we're going to feature our interviews with Kander and his songwriting partner, Fred Ebb, who died in 2004. Kander and Ebb's best-known Broadway shows are "Cabaret" and "Chicago." Songs from those shows are now being lovingly parodied in the series "Schmicago," which also parodies other Broadway shows from the '60s and '70s. It's the new follow-up season to the Apple TV+ series "Schmigadoon!", which took on classic musicals of the '40s and '50s, including "Brigadoon." John Kander is 96 now and still composing. Let's start with Frank Sinatra's recording of "New York, New York."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Start spreading the news. I'm leaving today. I want to be part of it - New York, New York. These vagabond shoes are longing to stray right through the very heart of it - New York, New York. I want to wake up in a city that doesn't sleep and find I'm king of the hill, top of the heap. These little-town blues are melting away.

GROSS: I talked about that song with John Kander when we spoke in 2015 after the release of a double CD called "John Kander: Hidden Treasures." It includes this demo version of the first draft of "New York, New York," with composer Kander at the piano and lyricist Fred Ebb singing. It was recorded in 1976.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

KANDER AND EBB: (Singing) New York, New York, New York, New York. New York, New York, New York, New York. Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do (ph). They always say it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there - New York, New York. They always say it's a nice place to sightsee, but I wouldn't want to live there - New York, New York. Of course, I do like a do on Park Avenue or to view a canoe at the Central Park Zoo or stare at the glare of the Broadway lights or go to Madison Square to catch the fights. Well, it can...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: John Kander, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's such a treat to have you back on the show. I love this new collection. I'm so glad that it was produced. It's so much fun to hear that first draft of "New York, New York" and compare it to the anthem that you finally wrote. Tell the story of why this version was rejected.

JOHN KANDER: Well, to start with, I'm surprised that I ever let anybody hear that version.

GROSS: (Laughter) Why?

KANDER: It's - well, I guess because it's terrible.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KANDER: That's part of the reason. The story of how the other one got written is Fred and I were writing songs for a film called "New York, New York." Martin Scorsese was directing it and starred Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro. We wrote five or six songs and went down to Marty's office to play them. And Liza and Marty were there, and then in the background - I don't know if we got introduced or not - was Robert De Niro sitting on a couch. I'm not sure I even knew that at the time. Anyway, we played the songs for them, and everything was all set, until suddenly, we saw this arm waving from the couch. And Marty went over and said, excuse me, De Niro wants to speak to me. And then we watched what was a very animated conversation. We couldn't hear anything.

And Scorsese came back and, in a very embarrassed way, said that De Niro had felt that the title song, which was very much attached to him in the film, was just too lightweight compared to the song that was attached to Liza, which was "The World Goes Round." And would we consider taking another crack at it? And of course, we left and thought, some actor is going to tell us how to write a song. And we could not have been more internally pompous, I think. Anyway, we went back to Fred's apartment, and I think because the juices of rage were coursing through our bodies, we wrote another song very fast, probably 45 minutes, called "New York, New York," and took it back, and that was the song that was used in the movie and became the song which is now pretty well known.

GROSS: That's an excerpt of my 2015 interview with John Kander. The first time I interviewed him was 40 years ago in 1983, along with his songwriting partner Fred Ebb, who died in 2004. I asked them about "New York, New York."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: One of the really curious things about the film "New York, New York," for which you wrote the score and the title song, is that when the movie came out - well, I heard Liza Minnelli singing it on the radio a couple of times. But it wasn't until a couple of years later when Frank Sinatra recorded his version of it that it really became, like, a national anthem.

FRED EBB: You really do never know. And it was three years after the film. It was - I mean, if we thought of it, which we hadn't, we would have thought that the song was a dead issue. And then suddenly, you know, it's this wonderful break you get when somebody sings it who, you know, people like very much.

KANDER: I don't know, for instance, what made that version work and Liza's not so popular. It's...

EBB: I wouldn't know that, either.

KANDER: What...

EBB: I also don't know why Frank Sinatra decided to sing it.

GROSS: I think we've all heard at least 200 different versions of "New York, New York." I've heard it in elevators. I've heard street musicians performing it in Manhattan. Lots of, you know, performers include it as part of their performance.

KANDER: That's terrific. I mean, it makes me very happy.

GROSS: What's the worst version of it you've ever heard?

EBB: On the Miss America pageant (laughter).

KANDER: I knew it. I knew you were going to say that. Some poor girl is going to be really miserable now.

EBB: Well, I don't mean to offend you, Miss Alabama, or whoever you were. But that was really rank.

GROSS: How do you feel when you're sitting in an elevator or in a restaurant and it comes on, the music?

KANDER: I think I'm going to die.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KANDER: I really think - literally, if you're in an airplane or in an elevator or something like that and your own music comes on, and particularly if you're alone, you think, that's it - curtains.

GROSS: Has...

EBB: Sometimes you don't even connect it. You know, you listen to quite a lot of the song before you say so - oh, I wrote that. You know, you don't connect yourself.

GROSS: Have you ever elbowed someone next to you and say, oh, by the way, I wrote that song?

KANDER: No, no, no, no.

EBB: I have.

KANDER: You have?

EBB: Yeah, there was a cab driver once. I couldn't control myself. Then I felt embarrassed. But I heard it on the radio in a cab. And in fact, they'd played a few of our songs, one after the other. It sounded like they were doing a piece about us. And I got real excited. And I said to him, you know, I wrote that song.

GROSS: Oh, and he said...

EBB: Well, he's your typical New York cab ride. Like, sure you did, you know? But I was real excited then. It was the only time I've ever done that.

GROSS: That's the late lyricist Fred Ebb and composer John Kander, recorded in 1983. We'll hear more of that interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN KANDER'S "THEME FROM 'NEW YORK, NEW YORK' (ORCHESTRAL REPRISE)")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our tribute to the songs of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. The new Broadway musical "New York, New York" is inspired by Martin Scorsese's 1977 movie of the same name, which featured songs by Kander and Ebb, including the famous title song. The show opens next week with even more Kander and Ebb songs. Kander and Ebb songs from their musicals "Cabaret" and "Chicago" are among the Broadway songs lovingly parodied in "Schmicago," the new second season of the Apple TV series "Schmigadoon!" Let's get back to the interview I recorded with Kander and Ebb in 1983.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Well, let's listen to "Mein Herr" from the soundtrack of the film "Cabaret." Maybe you could tell us how this song came into shape.

EBB: That was not from the musical. This is only from the movie.

GROSS: From the movie, yeah.

EBB: Yeah.

KANDER: This was a song that Bob Fosse asked us to write to replace - what? - to...

EBB: "Don't Tell Mama."

KANDER: Yeah. I'm trying to remember why...

EBB: I think he wanted a sexier opening number. The character of Sally was somewhat - well, she was more important in the film than she ever had been in the play. In the play, in fact, she has 2 1/2 songs. In the film, she became more important, and he wanted the opening number to be more vibrant. And "Don't Tell Mama" is sort of a sweet ditty-like song. And...

KANDER: It also had a chorus in it, and maybe - I think he wanted something...

EBB: He wanted something for Liza to sing by herself. Although there's a chorus in "Mein Herr" too. I think he wanted it more thumping and arresting and dynamic. "Don't Tell Mama" is a rather soft little '30s-like song.

GROSS: And when you know you're writing for Liza Minnelli, is there a certain range you have in mind?

KANDER: Yeah, I think it's easier. Whenever you know who you're writing for, you get a sound in your head and somehow, instinctively you begin to tailor it for that person. I remember with "Mein Herr," as a matter of fact, I was so scared when we were playing it.

EBB: We also had written conservatively eight songs before that one, before Bobby approved of - Fosse approved of "Mein Herr." He knew exactly what he was looking for, and we weren't coming up with it. And finally...

GROSS: Did you resent it when he turned the others down?

EBB: Oh, no, that's part of...

KANDER: No, we write fast, and we throw away fast.

EBB: It's just a part of - it's part of the - part of what you do, you know?

KANDER: But I remember that - I remember when we played it, I was so anxious for - there are a lot of glissandos in it. I was - we were playing in Cy Feuer's office. And I remember at the end of playing "Mein Herr" for him the first time, I looked down, there was blood on the piano keys, literally from going swish with my fingers. But he took the song.

EBB: Yeah, he said, that'll do nicely. And I - there was a great sigh of relief that we wouldn't have to go home and try still another one.

GROSS: Well, let's hear. This is Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CABARET")

JOEL GREY: (As Master of Ceremonies) Meine Damen und Herren, mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, I give you that international sensation, Fraulein Sally Bowles.

LIZA MINNELLI: (As Sally Bowles, singing) You have to understand the way I am, mein herr. A tiger is a tiger, not a lamb, mein herr. You'll never turn the vinegar to jam, mein herr. So I do what I do. When I'm through, then I'm through. And I'm through - toodleloo.

Bye bye, mein lieber herr. Farewell, mein lieber herr. It was a fine affair, but now it's over. And though I used to care, I need the open air. You're better off without me, mein herr.

Don't dab your eye, mein herr, or wonder why, mein herr. I've always said that I was a rover. You mustn't knit your brow. You should have known by now. You'd every cause to doubt me, mein herr.

GROSS: From "Cabaret," that was "Mein Herr" sung by Liza Minnelli. And my guests are John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote the score for "Cabaret" and for many other musicals on Broadway. Musicals - the scores that you write for a musical get a new life when the musical closes, and then you see which songs can continue to live and what kind of context they're sung in, the kind of life they've taken on on their own - the songs that are still sung.

EBB: Well, that's - and, you know, that's always very gratifying. I think there's no real way of knowing while you're writing them. I think it's a mistake to sit down and think of a song you're writing for a musical in terms of the life it might have away from the musical.

KANDER: Yeah, we can never guess that.

EBB: But only because you really, truly never know. "Cabaret," for example, was not written with an eye to how many people could possibly sing it outside the show.

GROSS: Right.

EBB: And when that does happen, it's very gratifying and very nice, but always slightly surprising. And the songs you're surest of are the ones you might be taking out after the first preview.

GROSS: Does it ever bother you when someone says, which one of you writes the lyrics? Which are you?

EBB: No.

GROSS: Because that happens in teams.

EBB: The one question that's beginning to bother me is, which comes first, the music or the lyrics? - since everybody asks that. You very nicely did not. So I thank you.

GROSS: I thank you very much for talking with us. I really enjoyed it.

KANDER: Well, thank you for having us.

EBB: It's a pleasure.

GROSS: I love your music and good luck with songwriting.

EBB: Thanks for inviting us.

GROSS: Thanks a lot for being here.

EBB: Thank you.

GROSS: My interview with composer John Kander and the late lyricist Fred Ebb was recorded in 1983. Let's return to the 2015 interview I recorded with Kander after the release of a collection of songs by Kander and Ebb, including songs that never made it into musicals. That collection, called "John Kander: Hidden Treasures," features this demo recording of one of Kander and Ebb's most famous songs, with Kander at the piano and Ebb singing, recorded in 1965.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CABARET")

KANDER AND EBB: (Singing) What good is sitting alone in a room? Come hear the music play. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret. Put down your knitting, your book and your broom. Time for a holiday. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret. Come taste the wine. Come hear the band. Come blow a horn. Start celebrating. Right this way. Your table's waiting. No use permitting some prophet of doom to wipe every smile away. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret. I used to have a girlfriend known as Elsie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: So that was a 1965 demo recording with the composers John Kander at the piano, lyricist Fred Ebb singing. I saw the revival of the revival...

KANDER: (Laughter) All right.

GROSS: ...With Alan Cumming.

KANDER: Right.

GROSS: He was wonderful. So was Linda Emond in the title...

KANDER: Oh, you bet she was. Oh.

GROSS: So was Linda Emond in the role that was originated by Lotte Lenya in "Cabaret" as Fraulein Schneider. And Lotte Lenya was such a great singer. And she was also, of course, the widow of Kurt Weill. And some of the songs sound to me very influenced by Kurt Weill, who, I would imagine, you listened to a lot while writing the songs, since he's the composer we most associate with that period. He's the songwriter we most associated with that period. He's a German songwriter who fled the Nazis.

KANDER: The interesting thing is that I listened to everybody but Kurt Weill because I knew that was a dangerous area to be walking into. I listened to lots and lots and lots of German jazz and German vaudeville music of the '20s, but I stayed away zealously from listening to Weill at all. What I think happened is that the kind of Kurt Weill musical pieces that we hear in our heads were influenced by the same thing that I was sort of digging into. His early music and more serious music is, in many ways, in a totally different style and quite wonderful and slightly academic. When he comes to writing his musicals or operas, if you will, he's reflecting the sounds of those vaudeville houses and German jazz and that sort of sleazy world that I was trying to reflect also. But the actual influence of Weill's music itself was nonexistent.

GROSS: That's composer John Kander, recorded in 2015. Songs from the Kander and Ebb musicals "Cabaret" and "Chicago" are among the musicals parodied in the Apple TV+ series "Schmicago," which is the title of the second season of "Schmigadoon!" We'll hear more from Kander after a break. Here's a song from "Schmicago," inspired by the Kander and Ebb song "Mein Herr" from "Cabaret." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCHMIGADOON!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, non-English languages spoken) Ladies and germs, I give you the beautiful, the charming, the international sensation, Jenny Banks.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Hey.

(APPLAUSE)

DOVE CAMERON: (As Jenny Banks, singing) Back when I was summering in Brussels. I fell in love with Martin and his muscles. My heart got pumping every time he flexed. It's fair to say that I was overcome by what came next. Turns out he wasn't all that strong in bed. And that is when I turned to him and said, we've gone kaput. Now we're kaput. Once our desire burned like a fire, but now there's nothing left but soot. We had a laugh or two, but now the laughter is through. My dear, I fear that we're kaput. Once I took a lover up in Munich who made my prior beau look like a eunuch. Soon we were making...

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today, we're paying tribute to songwriters John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. The new Broadway musical "New York, New York," inspired by Martin Scorsese's 1977 film of the same name, opens next week. The show includes Kander and Ebb songs from the movie, other lesser known Kander and Ebb songs and new songs written by Kander with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Kander and Ebb songs from their musicals "Cabaret" and "Chicago" are among the Broadway songs parodied in "Schmicago," which is the title of the new second season of the Apple TV series "Schmigadoon!" Kander celebrated his 96th birthday last month. When I spoke with Kander in 1991, he told me how he met his songwriting partner, Fred Ebb.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: You know, you met your partner almost on a blind date, so to speak.

(LAUGHTER)

KANDER: Sounds like it, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, because you were basically set up by the music publisher Tommy Valando, who had been publishing both of you independently. And - what? - he suggested that you get together? Do I have the story right?

KANDER: He literally said, I think you two guys should meet each other. I think you'd like each other. And so since we always followed his advice - separately at the time - we did meet each other. We did like each other. And we started writing almost immediately. I don't know. We were just pregnant with song all the time, it seemed to me. And from then on, we've been one of those marriages in which you're pretty faithful to each other. Fred has done some material with someone else. And I do an occasional movie score, as I am at the moment. But when it comes down to the hardcore of what we've written, we write together.

GROSS: What is your process of working together? Do you work together in the same room at the same time?

KANDER: Right. We - Fred lives about four blocks from my house. And he likes to stay home to work. I like to go out to work. And at 10 o'clock or so in the morning, I'll go over to his house. And we will sit around the kitchen table and have some coffee and gossip a little and then go to work. And we - if we're working on a moment in a show, for instance, we'll be talking about the characters and the situation that we're about to musicalize. And Fred may have an idea or a phrase. And from that phrase, maybe we'll develop a rhythm.

It's very hard to describe it after that, except to say that we improvise together at the same time, in the same room. It's a kind of unique way of working for us. Most people do not work that way. Either somebody hands somebody a melody or somebody hands somebody a lyric. That never happens to us, or almost never. And for the 26 or so years that we've been together, that's always been the way we worked. And it's always fun. I don't know how to say that without sounding goony, but it's true. Whatever else is going on in our lives, sitting together in a room and writing a song is always a good time, even when it's - even when our work is bad.

GROSS: Let me pick up on what you just said - even if the work is bad. Now, when do you decide that you don't like a song, if you're going to tear it up? Do you know that right away? Is it, like, three days later that you realize, God, that was a bad song?

KANDER: Sometimes you know it right away. Usually, it takes about 24 hours. And then I'll come back the next day. We'll look at it. And we'll both stick our fingers down our throats and tear it up and go to work again.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KANDER: But it's - that's never a terrible moment. I think it's very important - at least, it always has been important for us - to stay very loose, which allows you to write badly as well as to write well. But we write a lot, and we tear up a lot.

GROSS: That's an excerpt of my 1991 interview with John Kander. Let's return to our interview from 2015, 11 years after his songwriting partner, Fred Ebb, died. They had worked together for 42 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Fred Ebb died in 2004 of a heart attack. How did you carry on musically after having collaborated with him for so many years?

KANDER: It's a hard thing to answer. We had been together for so long that it seemed - sometimes things like somebody's death seems unlikely because for years and years and years, that person has been alive and part of your life. One of the main things I think that helped me out was that we had three shows which were incomplete. One was "Scottsboro." One was "The Visit." And one was "Curtains." And so for the next few years, finishing those shows felt like working with Fred so that it wasn't that kind of sudden break-off of an artistic relationship. The songs that had to be written and the scores that had to be completed, I did the lyrics for them to the best of my ability, and trying to sort of conjure Fred when I was working. And I think they came out all right. And so in that way, it wasn't until we finished "The Visit" that it was the end of our collaboration.

GROSS: And the three shows that you mentioned - "The Visit," "Scottsboro Boys" and "Curtains" - all made it to Broadway.

KANDER: Yes, they did. And I like them.

GROSS: So I want to hear - I want to play another demo that you wrote. And this is the first song that broke through that you wrote with lyricist Fred Ebb called "My Coloring Book." What was the occasion for writing this song?

KANDER: This was very early in our collaboration. And Fred had an idea for writing a comic song about a coloring book. And my memory of it was that I think when he suggested it, for some reason I had some sort of mild annoyance. And I think I said to him, why does everything have to be funny? And we started talking about how you could take a song about a coloring book and make it real poignant somehow or other, truthfully emotional. And so we went in that direction. I have to preface this by saying Freddy and I wrote a lot. We were pregnant all the time.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KANDER: So the idea of writing a song - (laughter) it's really true. We just wrote songs. And we liked to write songs. So the idea of taking that idea and going in another direction was not a moment of friction between us. It was, OK, let's try that. And we ended up writing a song which I like very much to this day because it's so simple.

GROSS: I like it a lot, too. And I remember when it was a hit by Sandy Stewart in - was it the '50s or the '60s?

KANDER: Oh, Freddy I met in 1962.

GROSS: So it was - this was in the 1960s it was a hit.

KANDER: Yeah.

GROSS: This is a version that you recorded in 1973. I think this was in performance at the 92nd Street Y?

KANDER: Yes.

GROSS: OK. So this is John...

KANDER: I think so anyway.

GROSS: I think that's right. So this is John Kander at the piano playing and singing a song he wrote with Fred Ebb called "My Coloring Book" that had been a hit for Sandy Stewart and has been recorded by many other people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COLORING BOOK")

KANDER: (Singing) If you admire coloring books - and lots of people do - I have a new one for you. A most unusual coloring book, the kind you never see. Crayons ready? Very well. Begin to color me. These are the eyes that watched him as he walked away. Color them gray. This is the heart that thought he would always be true. Color it blue.

GROSS: That's my guest, composer John Kander, performing a song that he wrote with Fred Ebb, "My Coloring Book." How did that song change your life? Because it was a big hit.

KANDER: I think, internally, it sort of validated us. I don't know if that's true or not. And looking back on it, I think so. Suddenly, there was a song out there that lots and lots of people were singing. And it sort of puts you in a - or at least it did for me - a slightly different place in your head. It's good and bad. But...

GROSS: Wait. What's the bad part?

KANDER: I think it scares - it's a little scary. If you're writing, as I do, really kind of for the pleasure of writing, it suddenly puts you in a kind of commercial place that you hadn't really thought of or - I don't know how to express it quite. I remember I was in an elevator in a tall building on a high floor, and I got into the elevator, and I was the only person in the elevator. And the doors closed, and muzak - remember muzak?

GROSS: Yeah.

KANDER: And the doors closed on the 535th floor of this building, and a gooey string version of "My Coloring Book" started. And nobody else was on the elevator, and we were going down fast, and I thought, I am going to die.

GROSS: (Laughter).

We're listening to my 2015 interview with composer John Kander. We'll hear more of that interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALPH BURNS' "THEME FROM NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with composer John Kander, recorded in 2015 after the release of a collection of songs called "John Kander: Hidden Treasures." It includes some of Kander and Ebb's most famous songs and songs that never made it to the stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: One of my favorite recordings on this collection is sung by Linda Emond, who is the performer who I heard in the role that Lotte Lenya originated in "Cabaret." I saw Linda Emond in the revival of it. And on this new collection of your songs, she sings a song that you and Fred Ebb wrote for the musical adaptation of the Thornton Wilder play "The Skin of Our Teeth." And the 1999 production never made it to Broadway. You were revamping the production when Fred Ebb died in 2004. The song is called "He Always Comes Home to Me." And I think this is, like, a married woman singing to her maid, and the married woman knows that her maid has probably had an affair with her husband. Do I have that right? I've never seen the show.

KANDER: Yes.

GROSS: So what happened to this song? It's a beautiful song. Actually, let me play the song, and then we'll find out what happened to it. It troubles me when a song this good (laughter) hasn't had the life it deserves. So here's Linda Emond singing a song by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE ALWAYS COMES HOME TO ME")

LINDA EMOND: (Singing) There were others, quite a few. Some were strangers. Some I knew. But he always comes home to me. Late for dinner quite a lot. Do I argue? I do not. For I wake in the morning and see he's lying there close to me at home. I know you think I'm foolish. I ought to be more strong. Combat him. Defy him. But I say you're wrong. I've children, a marriage. I'd do it all again. It's just an inconvenience he puts me through now and then. So I'm staying...

GROSS: That's Linda Emond singing a song by John Kander and Fred Ebb that's included in the new collection "John Kander: Hidden Treasures, 1950 To 2015." So you mentioned that the show that that song was written for, "The Skin Of Our Teeth," that you lost the rights to it, that the Thornton Wilder estate withdrew the rights. How frustrating is it for you when a song as beautiful as that doesn't make it to Broadway and doesn't have a life?

KANDER: I don't know exactly how to answer that. I really don't want to sound phony on this. Most of the fun of writing is the fun of writing and rehearsing and hearing people sing it and working with that. What happens later - that includes going through to a complete Broadway production or whatever - is kind of secondary. I don't think I'm lying here. It's great when it happens, but the real fun is writing it and - or having Linda sing it. I think it would probably upset Fred more than me. I'm sad about it and a little bitter, but not overwhelmed because you just keep on writing.

GROSS: John Kander, it's been wonderful to talk with you. Thank you so much.

KANDER: Thank you.

GROSS: That was John Kander from our 2015 interview. The new Broadway musical "New York, New York," inspired by the 1977 film of the same name, opens on Broadway next week. The show includes songs by Kander and Ebb from the movie and other Kander and Ebb songs. We'll end our tribute to Kander and Ebb with a song featuring one of the stars of the new show, Anna Uzele, singing one of the songs that was performed in the film by Liza Minnelli.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUT THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND")

MINNELLI: (As Francine Evans) Sometimes you're happy. Sometimes you're sad. But the world goes round. Sometimes you lose every nickel you had. But the world goes round. Sometimes your dreams get broken in pieces, but that doesn't alter a thing. Take it from me, there's still going to be a summer, a winter, a fall and a spring. And sometimes a friend starts treating you bad, but the world goes round. And sometimes your heart breaks with a deafening sound. Somebody loses, and somebody wins. And one day it's kicks, then it's kicks in the shins. But the planet spins been and the world goes round and round.

GROSS: After we take a short break, David Bianculli will review "Dead Ringers," the new Amazon Prime video series based on the 1988 David Cronenberg film of the same name. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 27, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this tribute to John Kander, we played the song "He Always Comes Home to Me" from a collection of Kander songs titled Hidden Treasures. The song is from the Kander and Ebb musical The Skin of Our Teeth. We identified the singer as Linda Emond. Following the broadcast, we heard from Emond that although she had at one point performed that song in an early production of the show, she was not the singer on this recording, and that she had been mis-identified in the album credits when that collection of Kander songs was released. As of yet, we have not been able to track down the name of the actual singer.
Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.