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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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JAZZING THE CLASSICS

Vintage 30s and 40s:
26 finest originals 1933-1947

RETROSPECTIVE RTR 4276

 

 

1. Liszt Ebony Rhapsody - Duke Ellington

2. Rimsky-Korsakov Song Of India - Tommy Dorsey

3. Liszt Liebestraum - Tommy Dorsey

4. Tchaikovsky Our Love - Jimmy Dorsey

5. Johann Strauss Blue Danube Waltz - Jimmy Dorsey

6. Johann Strauss Perpetuum Mobile - The Comedian Harmonists

7. Bach Improvisation Swing Sur Le Premier Mouvement Du Concerto En Re Mineur – Stéphane Grappelli, Eddie South and Django Reinhardt

8. Debussy My Reverie - Larry Clinton

9. Waldteufel Skaters' Waltz In Swingtime - Bob Crosby

10. Ravel The Lamp Is Low - Mildred Bailey

11. Grieg Anitra's Dance - John Kirby

12. Tchaikovsky Moon Love - Glenn Miller

13. Verdi The Anvil Chorus - Glenn Miller

14. Tchaikovsk On The Isle Of May - Connee Boswell

15. Mozart In An Eighteenth Century Drawing Room - Raymond Scott

16. Mozart Turkish March - Hazel Scott

17. Grieg I Love You - Bing Crosby

18. Offenbach Barcarolle - Frankie Carle

19. Massenet Élégie - Art Tatum

20. Chopin Till The End Of Time - Perry Como

21. Rimsky-Korsakov The Flight Of The Bumble Bee - Harry James

22. Georges Bizet Spanish Kick - Charlie Barnet

23. Chopin I'm Always Chasing Rainbows - Helen Forrest & Dick Haymes

24. Dvorák Humoresque - Guy Lombardo

25. Rachmaninov Full Moon And Empty Arms - Frank Sinatra

26. Khachaturian Sabre Dance - Woody Herman


This is quite a neat idea. There was a heady vogue in the 1920s and 30s for appropriating Classical themes and sieving them into the bowl of popular music. The 26 tracks here do feature, it’s true, one or two cracked eggs but in the main it’s nostalgic to listen to the ways and means by which arrangers and instrumentalists went about their busy business in the niche art of Jazzin’ the Classics.

Much of the music is Franco-Russian in origin – and even more so if one co-opts Chopin to the French School. The bands involved range from the behemoths of the form – from Ellington down – to inspired instrumentalists and singers. Duke dusts off Liszt courtesy of singer Ivie Anderson and there’s even a jocular Ducal break on the Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 – or Ebony Rhapsody as it was titled in this 1934 recording. Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey carve up Liszt, Johann Strauss II, and Tchaikovsky with their respective bands. Tommy’s suave legato on Liebestraum is a thing of wonder but I’ve never been fond of lugubrious crooner Bob Eberly, so can’t warm to his contributions. Operatic soprano Josephine Tumminia – well she’s a different kettle of fish entirely and brings a crazed classicist coloratura to the Blue Danube Waltz. God alone knows what Toots Camarata, Freddy Slack and the rest of Jimmy Dorsey’s band were thinking. About the session fee, probably.

The Comedian Harmonists don’t really jazz Johann Strauss’ Perpetuum Mobile in Berlin in November 1933, though it’s always good to hear them notwithstanding the many reissues devoted to them. Django Reinhardt provides one-man-band orchestral support for his violinistic partners Stephane Grappelli and Eddie South in their classic Bach recording of 1937, whilst Bea Wain’s vocal on My Reverie, a Debussy re-working is a little more obscure. John Kirby’s band provides support for Mildred Bailey on her Ravel tribute, The Lamp is Low, splendidly arranged by Peter Du Rose and Bert Shefter, but the band strikes out more vehemently when tasked with purely instrumental honours on Grieg’s Anitra’s Dance. Connee Boswell – singing lyrics to Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile from the String Quartet No.1 – vies with Bailey for female honours whilst Bing Crosby does the same for Grieg in a song used in the 1944 show Song of Norway. Add – deep breath - a witty Raymond Scott, a going-for-broke Hazel Scott, the famous Art Tatum Massenet cave-up (the Dvořák is better, but it’s not here), a laid-back Perry Como (was he ever anything else?), a fabulous piece of Harry James circus-trickery, the velvety charms of duettists Helen Forrest and Dick Haymes, and the clever arrangement, for Sinatra, deriving from Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and you have a well-packed and stylistically engaging selection of tracks.

Nice notes complete the package.

Jonathan Woolf


And another review...

Jazz has always generously borrowed ideas from other music genres. The big band era during the 30’s and 40’s was a time when the jazz masters occasionally turned their attention to classical music for insight and inspiration. This CD offers 26 jazz remakes of the classics, from Liszt to Khachaturian, and a lot of variety in between. There is an almost even split between vocal numbers and instrumentals; of the 14 instrumentals, two are piano solos. Pianist Art Tatum plays his own souped-up 1940 version of Jules Massenet’s “Elegie”, written in 1872, and is matched by the equally skilled piano virtuoso Hazel Scott, playing her 1946 version of Mozart’s “Turkish March”, written in 1778. John Kirby, bassist and bandleader of the John Kirby Sextet, known as “The Biggest Little Band In the World” leads his band with a bouncy 1939 rendition of “Anitra’s Dance” from Edvard Grieg’s music for the play “Peer Gynt”, written in 1875. The Raymond Scott Quintet, one of the most popular novelty bands of the swing era, takes their turn on a charming 1939 version of Mozart’s “In an Eighteenth Century Drawing Room”, written in 1788. The big bands are also ably represented; Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Bob Crosby, Guy Lombardo each take a turn. Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra have great fun with a swinging 1941 version of Georges Bizet “Habanera” from the opera Carmen, written in 1875. Harry James’s solo on his arrangement of “Flight Of The Bumble Bee” is frantic and masterful.

Of the 12 vocal numbers, five showcase female vocalists and five are male vocal numbers, including several of the finest pop music male voices of the last century; Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. Connee Boswell sings a beautiful 1940 arrangement of “On The Isle Of May” with Victor Young and his Orchestra, adapted from Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile movement of String Quarter No.1 in D, Op.11, written in 1871. Big band vocalist Bea Wain recorded “My Reverie” in 1938 with the Larry Clinton Orchestra, a gorgeously arranged version of Claude Debussy’s dreamy “Reverie”, written in 1890, one of his first piano solo works. My favorite vocal number on this album is the fascinating “Perpetuum Mobile”, written by Johann Strauss in 1862, and re-arranged and recorded in 1933 by the Comedian Harmonists. This popular German singing group consisted of five vocalists and a piano player, and they were well-known for their tight harmonies and abilities to imitate various musical instruments.

Bruce McCollum





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