Posts Tagged ‘history of jazz’
Broadway’s newest and biggest spectacle appears also to be it’s baddest: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark isn’t even officially up; still critics tired of waiting for the now thrice-postponed opening night have broken with tradition and begun to file reviews…
The most enthusiastic reaction has been from political pundit Glenn Beck, whose love for the show moved him to suggest
…give a kidney to go see ‘Spider-Man.’ I’m telling you, mark my words, it’s being panned right now, nobody’s saying good stuff about it. I’m telling you, you go buy your ticket — you buy your ticket now, if you’re thinking about coming to New York, because when this thing opens and it’s starting to run, you will not be able to get tickets to this for a year. This is one of those shows, this is the ‘Phantom’ of the 21st century. This is history of Broadway being made. I sat next to the casting director, by chance, and I said, ‘You, sir, are part of history.’
One thrills to imagine the show’s creative team, director Julie Taymor and composer Bono, reconciling themselves to that unlikely ally, as they face the reactions of more established theatrical observers– reviews that range from bad to excruciating.
As we hear the greasepaint and smell the crowd, we might recall that it was on this date in 1924 that a young man known at the time as a composer of Broadway tunes premiered a more serious piece: George Gershwin accompanied Paul Whiteman’s Palais Royal Orchestra in the first performance of Rhapsody in Blue. Gershwin’s piece concluded an “educational event” Whiteman staged to try to demonstrate that the relatively new form of music called jazz deserved to be regarded as a serious and sophisticated art form.
Just five weeks prior to the “Experiment in Modern Music” concert, Gershwin hadn’t agreed to compose for it. But when his brother Ira read a report in the New York Tribune that George was “at work on a jazz concerto” for the program, he was painted into a corner. Gershwin pieced together Rhapsody In Blue as best he could in the time available, leaving his own piano part to be improvised during the premiere. In the event, of course, Rhapsody has come to be regarded as one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century. It opened the door for a whole generation of “serious” composers—from Copland to Weill—to draw on jazz elements in their own important works.
UPDATE 2.12.11: Our ecstatically well-informed friend CE writes with a critical clarification:
Of course, old George forgot the main requirement of the assignment for the “Experiment”- that it be composed for orchestra with strings. The “Rhapsody” he turned in, three weeks before performance, was written for two pianos!
What we mostly hear and identify with Gershwin- the clarinet call, the surge of strings, the honking brass- was largely written by Paul Whiteman house arranger FERDE GROFE who went on to have a celebrated career as a composer in his day. His GRAND CANYON SUITE was the theme music for The Chesterfield Hour (cigarettes) and a later Walt Disney film. He was commissioned to write large orchestral pieces for The World’s Fair and for the opening of Niagara Falls power plant in 1964 and soundtracks to the likes of ROCKETSHIP X-M. Now of course, he is mostly a forgotten man. But from the 1930s to the early 1960s, glory was heaped on him as it was on few native born San Franciscans. A few years back, Dutch group The BEAU HUNKS recorded a lovely album of several of his least famous works THE MODERN AMERICAN MUSIC OF FERDE GROFE which is now available on iTunes.
(Your correspondent can attest: CE’s recommendations are always worth taking.)