102-year-old releases album with writing partner, 88
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102-year-old releases album with writing partner, 88

Pair produce pop hits with an ear toward yesteryear

From left: Marvin Weisbord and Alan Tripp have released an album of original songs. 
Photo by Lisa Schaer
From left: Marvin Weisbord and Alan Tripp have released an album of original songs. Photo by Lisa Schaer

One was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, and the other in Philadelphia. One served in World War II, and the other rode an aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic about a decade later. One ran an ad agency, and the other had a long career as a consultant.

All the while, Alan Tripp (the Kansan WWII veteran, 102) and Marvin Weisbord (the seaworthy Philadelphian, 88) harbored an abiding love for the big-band jazz music of their youths. Now, the friends — both residents of Beaumont at Bryn Mawr outside Philadelphia — have put that love to good use, releasing their album “Senior Song Book.”

“We did this because we really both believe this music ought to be preserved,” Tripp said.

“Senior Song Book” is a 10-track album of original songs, with lyrics by Tripp and Weisbord. Taking the music of big-band leaders like Cole Porter and Jerome Kern, Tripp and Weisbord have recreated the sound of their musical heroes, but with lyrics in a more contemporary idiom. Not that they’re pretending to be something they aren’t; with song titles like “Best Old Friends,” “Never Too Late for Love” and the lead single, “I Just Can’t Remember Your Name,” they know who the audience is for their work.

But whatever they initially imagined their audience to be, it’s grown far beyond that. NPR, The Washington Post, and even “The Kelly Clarkson Show” have covered Tripp and Weisbord’s work.

For a couple of old media hands like Tripp and Weisbord, who have both spent a lifetime in and out of the industry, it’s all just a cherry on top of the real sundae: a real, live album of their work. Though Weisbord is pleased that his grandchildren can finally measure him in a metric they truly understand — YouTube hits — he’s quick to quash any notion that it’s gone to his head. Celebrity culture is, after all, “a paroxysm of self-congratulation,” in his words.

If it sounds to you like Weisbord knows how to turn a phrase, you’re not alone. Editors of The New York Times Magazine and The New Republic certainly thought so when Weisbord was writing for them in the ’50s and ’60s. And readers did, too; his account of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, “Campaigning for President,” went through two editions, and he wrote other sought-after books on photography and management.

Weisbord is a longtime writer too, who studied journalism at the University of Illinois. He got his master’s degree at the University of Iowa, taught journalism classes at Penn State for a few years, then moved back to Philadelphia to work in his father’s printing business for almost a decade, while he pursued a doctorate in American studies at the University of Pennsylvania. All the while, he harbored a dream of making music. But he could never really get the hang of an instrument, aside from a few plonks on the piano.

He had long career as a consultant, writing a handful of management books with titles like “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings That Matter” and “Organizational Diagnosis: A Workbook of Theory and Practice.”

Now, he and his wife of 63 years, Dorothy, are at Beaumont. And it’s just their luck that Tripp ended up there, too.
Tripp spent his childhood bouncing between Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, the son of a businessman and a newspaperwoman. Though he was never able to plant himself in place long enough in those days to grow roots in a Jewish community, he still found nutrition from his people.

“My main Jewish education is the culture, which I consider to be extremely valuable wherever you move,” he said. That culture: “That you intend to work and intend to do a little better than everybody else, ’cause you have to.”

He went to high school in New York City, and heard the songs that would bounce around his head (and Weisbord’s) for the rest of his life; at 15, he would try to peddle his songs outside of the Brill Building in Midtown, one of the most important centers of popular music production in those days.

After graduating from Northwestern University, Tripp worked as a reporter in Chicago for a little while before he moved back to New York. He sold his first song around then, a jingle for Kool cigarettes, for a cool $75. “That was all the money in the world to me then,” he said.

Tripp spent the war in the Army Signals Corps, and made his way to Philadelphia in the aftermath to found an ad agency called Bauer, Tripp & Foley. Like Weisbord, he had many careers; over the course of his life, he produced television shows, wrote magazine columns, penned songs with the legendary Alan Bergman before the latter met his wife and co-writer, Marilyn; helped bring new inventions to market and published books of his own poetry. He and his late wife, Maggie, a prominent feminist activist, were married for 73 years.

Weisbord and Tripp met just five years ago, and it’s been a productive partnership. Weisbord, who finally found the time for real piano lessons, set to music a poem that Tripp had written for his own 99th birthday, which led Tripp to drop a few more poems off on his friend’s desk. From there, it was just a hop, skip and a jump to “Senior Song Book.”

Tripp was eager to give credit to Weisbord, his writing partner and co-most-famous-resident-of-the-Beaumont.

“Marvin is responsible for our doing this whole song album,” he said. “It’s his fault.”

Weisbord is just happy his wife likes it.

“And that is a pleasant surprise, because she’s pretty critical,” he said. “So when she says she really likes it, you can take that to the bank.” pjc

Jesse Bernstein is a writer for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication.

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