Tuesday, 27 April 2010


I was just doing my Doris Day thing at the bus stop. Oh, it is so very easy to embarrass one’s off-spring first thing in the morning...the temptation is way too strong. I was in full Doris mode, and blasting out her version of ‘The Street Where You Live’....quite the best arrangement of that gorgeous song I know, and a good number for getting stuck into the full toe-tapping, hip-swinging, shoe-shuffling joy of a slickly-executed boogie. And it wasn’t just the Doris bits...I did the whole brass section too, with all the ‘Doo-bee-doo-waaaah’s and everything. It was excellent, though I say it myself. That kinda thing wakes a girl up in the morning.

Anyway, Doris, as I hinted, was blessed with one of the best arrangements of ‘The Street Where You Live’, concocted by a guy who happens to be one of my favourite Norwegian Americans. For he it was who helped to manufacture what I will be bold enough to call the ‘American Sound’.

Now I know you’ll say, but what about Copland, Gershwin, Berstein and Sondheim for starters? Absolutely, and of course.....those guys and several others delivered the Full Shalonga. However, there were a few people who were slightly less ‘weel-kent’ but highly significant in the development of that ‘American Sound’. My favourite, and Doris’s arranger for this song, rejoices in the name of Axel Stordahl.

You will realise that anyone named Axel Stordahl has to be Norwegian (it means Mr Big Valley, for those seeking linguistic illumination). Axel was born in 1913 in Staten Island, New York, the son of Norwegian immigrants. He learnt the trumpet and by the 1920’s he was playing in bands. He soon became a band leader, arranger and composer and realized this was where his true talent lay. He was the first guy to listen to the voice and tone of an individual singer, and arrange the song around that voice. His pioneering approach helped to bring about the shift away from the Big Band sound of the 30s to the popular music of the post-war period. He arranged songs for the voices he liked.... Doris Day of course, Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Dinah Shore. But it was his work with Frank Sinatra that was most significant....he helped to define Sinatra’s style, interpretation and execution of the music he performed. Is it possible to think of that ‘American Sound’ without Frank Sinatra? I think not.

In leaving Norway for America, Axel’s parents were part of a long tradition. There are now over 4.5 million Americans of Norwegian descent, as many if not more of them than there are Norwegians still in Norway. This was a mass migration that started in 1825 on a sloop called the ‘Restauration’, sometimes known as the ‘Norwegian Mayflower’. The sloop left from the little harbour just 500 metres from where I’m sitting right now. 52 souls sailed across the Atlantic for 3 months before arriving in New York with 53. Little Annie had been born mid-Atlantic...she was known for the rest of her life as ‘Slooper-Annie’.

It was the start of a long connection between Norway and the United States that has remained important. Initially, people left as a result of religious persecution, but soon the primary reasons were economic. Between 1825 and 1925 over 800,000 Norwegians emigrated to North America, a third of the entire Norwegian population. Over time the majority settled in the Upper Mid West, particularly Minnesota where one can still hear a strong Norwegian inflection in the local accent. With the exception of Ireland, no other single country contributed more to the population of the USA.

I could have picked any number of Norwegian descendants who contributed greatly to what we now think of as American culture....what about Marilyn Monroe, I hear you cry. Well, it’s hard to pick just one, but wherever we come from, whoever we are, wherever we end up, home is after-all, ‘The Street Where You Live’, so the Mighty Axel’s been on my mind.


  1. Another excellent and illuminating insight as beautifully and perceptively crafted as ever Jane. Thank you!
    PS Sorry I've been out of touch ... the 12 day return to Perthshire at the beginning of the month nearly did for me physically, and emotionally ... watch out for the back blips coming soon!!

  2. Rob...I've already been looking at a few...cows...wow!! Lovely beasts.
    Glad you are recovering...

  3. Thanks for visiting my blog.
    There's a way Americans say "Minnesota" to try to describe the Nordic accent. It sort of hangs on the first syllable and on the third. Hard to write but very fun to listen to. And then of course, they say "Oh Yaa" like in the movie Fargo.

  4. Expat Mum...I've got friends from Minnesota over here in Norway...I'm going to ask for a demo.