Now running on Broadway: musicals

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I grew up on musicals. My sibs and I used to sing selections from Broadway and Off-Broadway shows in the car when we were on trips. When we get together, we still sing the same songs. All of them have children, at least three of whom have had parts in high school productions of musicals. So those of us approaching codgerdom have learned plenty of new songs. In the years since learning all of those great musicals by Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Irving Berlin, and others, I have read so much about the death of the American musical … Continue reading

Annie and Evita: two Broadway revivals

Annie poster

Two classic musicals, Annie (1977-1983) and Evita (1979-1983), return to Broadway this season. Since their original Broadway runs, both musicals have been frequently performed by local and regional repertory companies, community theaters, colleges, and high schools. Annie Popular poet James Whitcomb Riley issued “Little Orphant Annie” in 1885. It must have remained popular for some time, because Harold Gray based his popular newspaper cartoon strip Little Orphan Annie on it. The strip debuted in 1924 and, according to a poll in Fortune, was the most popular strip by 1937. Like Al Capp with his Li’l Abner,, Gray used the strip … Continue reading

Moses Asch, Harry Smith, and the Anthology of American Folk Music

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A dreamer and an eccentric, working together, turned the American music industry on its ear. They issued a revolutionary recorded anthology. In the first half of the twentieth century, so-called Tin Pan Alley composers, who mostly lived in New York, produced the bulk of America’s popular music. Their sophisticated, urban music did not satisfy all the musical needs of the entire country. The singing and fiddling of rural musicians made no impression on the country’s city and town dwellers until the appearance of the Anthology of American Folk Music. Moses Asch, the dreamer, had made it his life’s goal to … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: Have yourself a merry little Christmas

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Seventy years ago this month, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the Second World War. The war years, in turn, provided the background for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” one of the most melancholy Christmas songs ever written. The movie that introduced the song, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the exemplary 1944 MGM period musical, takes place in 1903, when St. Louis was preparing to host the world’s fair. While two songs from that period have prominent places in the movie, composer Ralph Blane and lyricist Hugh Martin produced three songs that became instant hits, including … Continue reading

Autumn Leaves, words by Johnny Mercer

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“Autumn Leaves” has its origin in French popular song. In 1950, the head of Capital Records music publishing division, Mickey Goldsen, asked for recordings of songs then popular in France. He especially loved a song called “Les feuilles mortes” (The Dead Leaves), with words by Jacques PrĂ©vert and music by Joseph Kosma. In fact, he thought this mournful song was the greatest he had ever heard. Immediately he contacted the pair and they agreed to allow him to produce an English-language version. But he had to have it done in four months. He turned to Johnny Mercer, president of Capitol, … Continue reading

Tommy Dorsey, Thomas A. Dorsey: two different great musicians

Tommy Dorsey and Bette Davis

Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956) had a rare blend of musical ability and business sense that enabled him to lead one of the most successful dance bands of his era. Famously hard to get along with, he started out with his brother Jimmy, broke with him, and then reconciled later in his life. Tommy Dorsey’s sumptuous cantabile on the trombone is one of the most recognizable sounds of the swing era. He was white, by the way. Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) is considered the father of (black) gospel music. He started his musical career as a blues and jazz band leader, much … Continue reading

Five trombone soloists we hardly remember

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The idea of the trombone as a solo instrument seems to appeal mostly to trombonists. Trombone soloists who tour or record extensively can develop quite a following. Nowadays, many can be found on You Tube, where people can not only hear, but watch performances. As long as they remain freely on line, people will be able to find them and enjoy them indefinitely. It’s easy for us to forget earlier generations of trombone soloists. A trombonist’s reputation does not necessarily vanish after his or her death or retirement simply for lack of recordings. It is easy to find information about … Continue reading

Quotations about music: unspeakable until recently.

Plato wrote, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Other people have made similar comments in the millennia since then. Nowadays, people well versed in intellectual and social history can read comments about music and, without knowing who said them first, can discern approximately when they were made. Most of us can’t do that, but here are some quotations about music that probably wouldn’t puzzle anyone. Even if I had left out who said what, could anyone have made … Continue reading

The glissando: from bad trombone technique to a common performance idiom

Perhaps no technique more perfectly characterizes the idiom of the slide trombone as the glissando. Its first deliberate use in performance is fairly recent in the long history of the trombone, and its acceptance as a legitimate technique came somewhat later. Nowadays, we tend to think of glissando and portamento as synonyms. They are, indeed, played exactly the same way, so it seems odd that the portamento enjoyed early approval and that all manner of musicians, including trombonists, strongly disapproved of the glissando within living memory. Daniel Speer provides the earliest reference to the glissando I have found (1687), when … Continue reading

March forth! A brief look at American marches

March music has played a huge role in American popular culture. What’s a parade without marching bands? Or half time at a school football game? Would anyone want to listen to a Fourth of July concert, or a concert on any other patriotic occasion, without lots of marches? Is it even possible to imagine a band concert without at least one march? The modern wind band began at the time of the French Revolution. After that, European nations developed infantry bands and mounted cavalry bands. Some nations developed highly centralized policies for the instrumentation of these bands. In any case, … Continue reading