Gershwin by Grofé: Symphonic Jazz
Original orchestrations, and Ferde Grofé’s Arrangements for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra
George Gershwin: I Got Rhythm, Variations for Piano and Orchestra – The Yankee Doodle Blues – That Certain Feeling – Somebody Loves Me – Sweet and Low-down – I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise – The Man I Love – Fascinating Rhythm – Summertime – Rhapsody in Blue, Original Jazz Band Version
Harmonie Ensemble/New York, Steven Richman (conductor), Lincoln Mayorga (piano), Al Gallodoro (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet)
Recorded at the Performing Arts Center, Purchase Collage, State University of New York (April 2004-May 2007) – 54’46
harmonia mundi 907492 – Booklet in English, French, and German
Well, this recording is certainly an “ear opener”! I would venture to say it is the most stylishly accurate recording of Gershwin’s Symphonic Jazz ever produced in a modern recording. Steven Richman’s total grasp and comprehension of Gershwin’s intent causes the music to come alive in a manner seldom encountered in performance, let alone a recording. The Harmonie Ensemble/New York performs with great virtuosity and joy of the music, that is both captivating and revealing.
American Band Leader Paul Whiteman, who was classically trained and had played violin in the San Francisco Orchestra, had for some time during the early 1920’s toyed with the concept of blending classical music with jazz into an amalgamation which he termed “Symphonic Jazz”. Composer Ferde Grofé had an amazing grasp of instrumental technique and could play the piano, violin, viola, horn, and cornet. He had played both viola and celesta in the Los Angeles Symphony. This gave him an extraordinary facility to orchestrate with imagination and abundant colors. Like Whiteman, he gave up his classical career to pursue a more lucrative career in the world of Jazz. Both men were soon to meet George Gershwin and collaborate with him and his brother Ira on the 1922 edition of the George White Scandals for which Gershwin composed the score and produced the hit song “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”. This collaboration was indeed a happy one, and the three musicians joined forces once again in 1924 to produce Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for the Whiteman Orchestra. Grofé orchestrated the new concerto from Gershwin’s two piano score, which was literally handed to him page by page on a daily basis. In the audience for the premiere of the Rhapsody was an impressive and rather astonishing array of musical giants of the day, which included Sergei Rachmaninoff, Walter Damrosch, Leopold Stokowski, Max Reinhardt, Jascha Heifetz, and Deems Taylor. It was an immediate success, and even today, eighty-five years later, the Rhapsody in Blue remains one of the most performed and beloved works of the Twentieth Century repertoire.
I had only heard the Rhapsody in arrangements for full symphony orchestra. The original scoring for the Whiteman Band is much “jazzier” and far more entertaining. Pianist Lincoln Mayorga plays it with all of the verve and panache the concerto requires, as does the Harmonie Ensemble/New York.
An added touch of authenticity to this recording is the absolutely amazing playing of ninety-three year old reedman Al Gallodoro, an original member of the Whiteman Band. His playing of the extremely difficult opening clarinet cadenza, an ascending seventeen note figure as a “whooping” slide, can hardly be equaled. He established the standard and has set it for years to come.
Nine other Gershwin songs in arrangements by Ferde Grofé round out this distinguished recording.
An extra bonus to the album is the inclusion of a 1909 Edison Fireside phonograph recording of The Yankee Doodle Blues, which demonstrates how perfectly accurate Steven Richman has captured the original performance style of this very special music. I will also mention that the Sonics of the recording are simply spectacular. The recording engineers have really outdone themselves on this one. If you are an admirer of Gershwin’s music or a jazz enthusiast in general, you cannot pass this recording by. This is an absolute “must have”!