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




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

Chestnuts being roasted: Pachelbel’s Canon by PaGAGnini




Johann Pachelbel was a fine composer. He wrote lots of music. Why does it seem like the canon from his Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo is the only piece he wrote? Why is it that when a radio announcer says that music by Pachelbel is coming up, it’s always the Canon–unless the announcement specifically says that it will be something besides the Canon? Anything that’s overexposed on the radio also appears on too many live performances. Orchestras can do it once in a season and be done with it, but pity the poor string group that … Continue reading

After the Ball, by Charles K. Harris




“After the Ball,” by Charles K. Harris kicked American popular music into a higher gear. I have even encountered the claim that it marks the birth of American popular music! Certainly, publishers and performers had long attempted to make as much money as they could by appealing to the tastes of a mass audience. Songwriters too often had to sell the rights for a song to a publisher for very little money. In fact, it was because Harris was offended by low payment for another song that he decided to publish “After the Ball” himself. It became the first sheet … Continue reading

Danzon no. 2, by Arturo Márquez




The orchestra I play in is working on Danzon no. 2, by Arturo Márquez. Since I have written quite a bit in this blog about building an audience for new “classical” music, I am very proud to present this fairly recent (1994) crowd pleaser by a Mexican conductor who is a little younger than I am. Who says composers have to be dead in order to write good music. (Well, my father has been known to say that, and I’m sure plenty of concert goers agree with him.) Márquez, son of a mariachi musician and grandson of a folk musician, … Continue reading

Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Saddleworth, and Nostalgia




I decided to look at YouTube for inspiration for today’s post and thought it was past time to mention the British tradition of brass bands. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band, one of Britain’s truly outstanding bands, is one I recalled hearing live when I was in England. So I looked them up and was surprised to find this clip from the 1998 Saddleworth Brass Band Contests, taken in the village of Delph. More on why I was surprised later. By the way, the video has two marches; the first is called “The Cobblers.” British brass bands differ greatly from American wind … Continue reading

Beloved Christmas carols: Chanticleer sings "In the bleak midwinter"




At least within the context of Christian worship, the male chorus can be dated back to priests singing liturgical prayers, a practice even older than Gregorian chant. By the time singing choral music in parts became commonplace, the church disapproved of women participating in worship anywhere but in a convent. Mixed church choirs would have been anathema. Churches initially found two ways to provide treble voices within a male chorus. Men could develop the so-called falsetto register, substituting a kind of head voice for the normal, deeper chest voice. Probably plenty of tenors in volunteer church choirs today occasionally cheat … Continue reading

Gisele MacKenzie sings Papa Loves Mambo in a holiday setting. 12-18-1954




The mambo, a Cuban dance form, first became popular in the United States in the late 1940s and reached its peak of  popularity here in about 1954. Perry Como’s recording of the song “Papa Loves Mambo,” by Al Hoffman, Dick Manning, and Bix Reichner,  was released on August 31, 1954 and made it to #5 or #4 on the Billboard chart later in the year. Nowadays most recording artists perform their own material, but in the 1950s, the fact that Como scored big did not mean that other stars regarded the song as his. Many performers sought to capitalize on … Continue reading

Toyota robot musicians




Recently someone posted four videos on Trombone-L of musical robots made  by Toyota. Someone else found them very depressing. Live musicians, he wrote, have enough  trouble without competition from yet another machine. If Toyota has already had this much success, what’s next? I have an answer, but first, here are the robot musicians: A tuba player–to me the least impressive of the bunch but still quite amazing: A trumpeter with pretty good sound. It plays better than a lot of human trumpeters, even if it’s stage presence is a little, shall we say, mechanical. A small jazz combo. What, no … Continue reading

Children and classical music revisited




Last March I wrote Children and classical music, which featured Charlie Loh, a professional conductor’s five-year-old son conducting Rite of Spring. The proud father also mounted a video of Charlie conducting something else when he was only four. Charlie got off to a good start then, but made remarkable progress by the time he was five! Lately, a video of a three-year-old, identified only as Jonathan, conducting the finale to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has been making the rounds. There are 10 videos in all (as of today) of Jonathan either playing violin or conducting something. I see he showed interest … Continue reading

An excellent high-school orchestra from Indiana




A friend of mine sent me a link to the video below and said to prepare to be impressed. It is a prize-winning performance of the Carmel (Indiana) High School Symphony Orchestra playing “Jupiter” from The Planets by Gustav Holst. As a result of this performance last May, they were named the Indiana State Orchestra Champion. My friend tells me they also won in 2008 playing the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and “Mambo” from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. These performances are also available on YouTube. This performance is better than many concerts I have heard by prestigious … Continue reading