Program 170
"Gershwin by Grofé"

MUSIC: With one exception (noted below), all music used in this hour comes from the CD “Gershwin by Grofé” performed by Harmonie Ensemble / New York conducted by Steven Richman [Harmonia Mundi HMU 907492]

MUSIC: Gershwin: Fascinating Rhythm
[under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. Stay with me for the next hour and we’ll go back in time to the 1920’s and explore the music of George Gershwin as orchestrated by the American composer Ferde Grofé for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

MUSIC: Fades out

Grofé, who lived from 1892 until 1972, is well known today as the talented orchestrator of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue -- both the original version that was premiered by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1924 and the version usually heard today for full symphonic orchestra. Gershwin originally wrote the piece for two pianos.

But Grofé is also remembered for one of his own, original compositions, a piece that is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of colorful orchestration ever written by anyone, and one of the greatest and most evocative tone poems ever composed: The Grand Canyon Suite.

What we tend to overlook are Grofé’s other orchestrations that he did for Paul Whiteman, his extraordinary piano playing and piano arrangements of popular pieces, and all of his other original, colorful suites for orchestra.

I’ve already devoted an hour of Compact Discoveries to these orchestral suites. I’m going to spend this hour on Grofé’s arrangements of Gershwin’s piano music and his own piano playing. The orchestral performances all come from a new release from Harmonia Mundi USA called “Gershwin by Grofé,” featuring Harmonie Ensemble / New York conducted by Steven Richman. That CD is the source, as well, of the liner notes about the music by Don Rayno, which I’m using as my source of information about these pieces. Rayno is the author of Paul Whiteman, Pioneer in American Music.

Paul Whiteman started out as a classically-trained musician. He was a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony. But he dreamed of combining classical formats with jazz to create what he called “symphonic jazz.”

He started experimenting with this concept beginning with the formation of his hotel bands in California in 1918. By the fall of 1920 he had come east, and the nine-piece band that he had assembled in New York quickly took the town by storm.

He began making recordings for Victor Records of jazz versions of classical pieces by Puccini, Rimsky-Korsakov and Ponchielli. All of these recordings were arranged by Ferdinand Rudolf von Grofé, who was also a classically-trained musician.

Let’s listen now to Grofé’s arrangements for Whiteman of a Gershwin popular tune as played by Harmonie Ensemble / New York conducted by Steven Richman: Somebody Loves Me. It was the hit song from George White’s Scandals of 1924, and also one of that year’s most popular songs. Whiteman recorded it just 11 days after the show opened.

MUSIC: Somebody Loves Me performed by Harmonie Ensemble / New York

Ferde Grofé’s orchestration of George Gershwin’s Somebody Loves Me, as recreated by Harmonie Ensemble / New York conducted by Steven Richman.

Grofé was a proficient player of a remarkable range of instruments including piano, violin, viola, horns and cornet. The piano became his favorite instrument, but he was a good enough violist to be hired in that capacity by the Los Angeles Symphony.

Grofé made many recordings of his piano playing on piano rolls for Ampico Recordings between 1924 and 1927. Pierian Recordings has issued a CD with 23 of these recordings. Only one, however, is of a Grofé arrangement of a Gershwin tune. It is, as it happens, Somebody Loves Me.

MUSIC: Somebody Loves Me performed by Ferde Grofé at the piano [Pierian 0033, track 4]

Ferde Grofé playing his arrangement for piano of George Gershwin’s Somebody Loves Me. It was originally recorded on an Ampico piano roll in 1924, and issued on a Pierian CD in 2008.

Sweet and Low-Down, which we’ll hear next, was a big hit from the 1925 show “Tip-Toes.” Here’s Grofé’s orchestration for Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra.

MUSIC: Sweet and Low-Down

George Gershwin’s Sweet and Low-Down arranged for Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra by Ferde Grofé and performed by Harmonie Ensemble / New York conducted by Steven Richman.

Grofé served as Whiteman's chief arranger from 1920 until 1932. He made hundreds of arrangements of popular songs, Broadway show music, and tunes of all types for Whiteman. Several were devoted to pieces by George Gershwin, including I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise from George White’s Scandals of 1922. This was actually the first collaboration between Whiteman and Gershwin. The words were by veteran lyricist Buddy DeSylva, but he had help from Ira Gershwin, George’s brother, who went under the pseudonym of Arthur Francis. Arthur was George’s other brother. Francis was his sister.

MUSIC: I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise

I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise by George Gershwin as orchestrated by Ferde Grofé for Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra and recreated here by Harmonie Ensemble / New York conducted by Steven Richman on a Harmonia Mundi USA release.

George and Ira Gershwin wrote The Man I Love for the wildly popular Lady, Be Good, but, probably because the score was so full of hit songs, the song was dropped during the Philadelphia tryout. Curiously, it had met with only a tepid reception. The song was inserted into two subsequent shows, “Strike Up the Band,” in 1927, and “Rosalie,” in 1928, but it didn’t prove popular in either one. In the end, it was the 1927 recording made of the song made by Marion Harris, plus the nightclub performances of the number by torch singer Helen Morgan, that finally made it a hit. Whiteman’s recording was made in 1928. Grofé’s arrangement was an extended one for a 12-inch record, a so-called “concert arrangement,” undoubtedly the most “symphonic” of those on this Harmonie Ensemble CD. The Whiteman record featured a popular sultry-voiced female vocalist, but in this recording, the vocalist is replaced, since they have used Grofé’s 1938 reworking of his own arrangement, which includes a number of other alterations as well.

MUSIC: The Man I Love

Ferde Grofé’s orchestration of George Gershwin’s The Man I Love. Harmonie Ensemble / New York was conducted by Steven Richman on a Harmonia Mundi compact disc.

You are listening to “Gershwin by Grofé” during this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]


Our next selection, Fascinating Rhythm, certainly ranks as one of Gershwin’s finest show tunes. It is from Lady Be Good. Whiteman recorded Grofé’s orchestration of it at the end of 1924. This Harmonie Ensemble / New York recording features Al Gallodoro as soloist. Gallodoro was a reed-playing phenomenon, the envy of virtually every reed musician in the 1930s and 40s. From 1942 to 1944 he played with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. From 1943 until 1947 he played with the ABC Orchestra under Paul Whiteman’s direction.

In this recreation of Whiteman’s Fascinating Rhythm recording, Gallodoro switches between alto sax, bass clarinet, and clarinet. Once again, Harmonie Ensemble / New York is conducted by Steven Richman.

MUSIC: Fascinating Rhythm

George Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm. Orchestration by Ferde Grofé for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Recreation by Harmonie Ensemble / New York conducted by Steven Richman, featuring Al Gallodoro on clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto sax.

Gallodoro is also featured on alto sax on our next selection, Gershwin’s Summertime from “Porgy and Bess.” Lincoln Mayorga is the pianist.

MUSIC: Summertime

Summertime by George Gershwin performed by Al Gallodoro on alto sax and Lincoln Mayorga on piano. We’ll hear more from Gallodoro in a moment when he plays the famous clarinet slide that opens Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Paul Whiteman, Ferde Grofé and George Gershwin were all responsible for the creation of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Whiteman commissioned Gershwin to write what he called a “jazz concerto,” and Whiteman organized, at his own expense, the showcase concert where the work was presented in 1924 before an audience that included Sergei Rachmaninoff, Walter Damrosch, Leopold Stokowski, Max Reinhardt, Jascha Heifetz, and Deems Taylor.

George Gershwin wrote the piece, for sure, but he did so for two pianos. Ferde Grofé orchestrated the second piano part. In 1928 Gershwin wrote a letter to ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, complaining that Grofé had listed himself as the composer of Rhapsody in Blue. In spite of this misunderstanding, Grofé served as one of the pallbearers at Gershwin’s funeral in 1937.

The unusual approach to playing the clarinet solo in the opening bars of the piece was conceived by Whiteman’s reed player, Ross Gorman, during one of the orchestra’s rehearsals. Gorman was a remarkable musician who played 27 different instruments. He was fooling around with the opening bars and came up with the idea of playing the 17-note ascending figure as a slide. This approach, though technically quite difficult, became the standard and expected manner of opening the piece.

Over the years Whiteman had three reed musicians that were especially skilled at playing this clarinet cadenza: Gorman, Chester Hazlett, and the remarkably gifted Al Gallodoro. Gallodoro made this recording with Harmonie Ensemble / New York when he was 93 years old! He had previously played it some 10,000 times with Whiteman.

As an historic homage to Gallodoro, this recording starts with the opening solo as he played it in a live 1938 recording with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, which smoothly segues into this new recording, made almost 70 years later, which demonstrates the remarkable continuity of Gallodoro’s playing. The pianist in this recording by Harmonie Ensemble / New York is Lincoln Mayorga. Steven Richman conducts on this Harmonia Mundi USA compact disc.

MUSIC: Rhapsody in Blue

The original Ferde Grofé orchestration for George Gershwiin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The pianist was Lincoln Mayorga; the clarinetist, Al Gallodoro. Harmonie Ensemble / New York was conducted by Steven Richman.

Brimming with the success of their musical, Lady Be Good, the Gershwin brothers were determined to produce a strong score for their next show, Tip-Toes -- and they succeeded. One of the big hits was That Certain Feeling. Here’s the arrangement Ferde Grofé did for Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra as recreated by Harmonie Ensemble / New York.

MUSIC: That Certain Feeling

Ferde Grofé’s orchestration of That Certain Feeling from Tip-Toes by George Gershwin.

We have time for just one more example of Ferde Grofé’s orchestrations of Gershwin tunes for Paul Whiteman: Yankee Doodle Blues.

This was one of Gershwin’s early hits, originally introduced in Spice of 1922, a Broadway revue that lasted for only 85 performances.

MUSIC: The Yankee Doodle Blues

The Yankee Doodle Blues by George Gershwin as orchestrated by Ferde Grofé for Paul Whiteman and recreated here by Harmonie Ensemble / New York conducted by Steven Richman. I thank Harmonia Mundi USA for supplying this recording and the permission to use it, as well as Don Rayno for supplying the program notes that I used as the basis of my introductions. I also want to thank Karl Miller of Pierian Records for supplying the CD of “Ferde Grofé as Pianist and Arranger.”

And that concludes this hour of Compact Discoveries devoted to the “Gershwin By Grofé.” I hope you enjoyed the music. This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening, and reminding you to go to compactdiscoveries.com for complete information on all of these programs as well as the opportunity to stream them on demand, read their transcripts, order CDs used in the programs, and enjoy articles about compact discs. And one final thank you: to Steve Jencks for saying:

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” Information and ordering at sixtyslices.com. And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you.

Total Program Timing: 58:30


 
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