Max Raabe and the Theme of "San Francisco"

On The Corner Masthead

Max Raabe and the Theme of "San Francisco"

March 6, 2019 | by Nick Ashby

Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald in San Francisco (1936)

Jeanette MacDonald and Clark Gable in San Francisco (1936)

Even long-time San Francisco residents may be surprised to hear that the official song of the city is not Tony Bennett’s ubiquitous “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. As iconic as that cut is, it’s relegated to the title of ‘Official Ballad’. No, surely for a city with as much history as Baghdad-By-The-Bay has, you have to go back a little further to find the official song, back to the time favored by this next week’s art-deco Weimar crooner, Max Raabe.

In 1936 MGM released an extravaganza celebrating the lawless Barbary Coast in the Clark Gable/Jeanette MacDonald film, San Francisco. A lavish musical production about the clash between the seedier sides of the city and the well-heeled residents of Nob Hill told through the conflicted passions of a classical trained singer (MacDonald) who comes to the big city to make her way. Even today the films final scenes of the 1906 earthquake are breathtaking for their intensity, and when released only a couple of decades from the original event surely rattled contemporary audiences.

If you’ve ever seen a production of Beach Blanket Babylon, or gone to Lotta’s Fountain on the quake’s anniversary, then even if you’ve never seen the film, surely you’re familiar with the most famous legacy of this gem of Hollywood’s golden era – the theme song “San Francisco”. Sung several times throughout the film in saloon scenes, the song became an instant hit and resonated with the city of its namesake.

Jeanette MacDonald performs "San Francisco" in a colorized version of MGM’s San Francisco

So what does all of this have to do with SFJAZZ you ask? As alluded to earlier there’s a Max Raabe connection floating around in here somewhere. In fact, Raabe and the Palast Orchester have made a point of performing the song "San Francisco" every time they’ve come through on tour.

In the recollection of SFJAZZ founder, Randall Kline:

“Every time we've presented Germany’s Max Raabe & Palast Orchester, they’ve performed the theme from the classic 1936 film San Francisco, one of the official songs of the city still performed regularly to this day. The song was written by Polish-born Bronisław Kaper (who also wrote jazz standards “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Invitation”) and Austrian-born Walter Jurmann, whose widow has attended all of Raabe’s recent performances at Davies Symphony Hall – in fact, Raabe has acknowledged her when they’ve performed the theme from San Francisco. We look forward to hearing it again when Raabe & Palast Orchester play Davies on March 12 .”

MAR 12 | Max Raabe & Palast Orchester: Dream A Little Dream

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