Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2011 by Fred Flaxman

Program 182
"Jazz Concertos"

MUSIC: excerpt from Reser: Suite for Banjo and Orchestra, second movement), performed by Don Vappie, banjo, with the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg [Naxos 8.559647, Track 3] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, and I’m going to devote the next hour to a very interesting CD on the Naxos label called “Jazz Nocturne.” The subtitle is: “American Concertos of the Jazz Age.”

MUSIC: Fades out

In his famous novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the phrase “the Jazz Age” to describe the flamboyant era that emerged in America after World War I.

George Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue is the most famous jazz concerto of that period, but it is not the only jazz concerto to result from that era. And the Naxos CD, in addition to the complete original version of that piece for jazz band as orchestrated by Ferde Grofé, also contains four symphonic jazz pieces that were compact discoveries for me, as they may well be for you, too.

Harry Reser, who lived from 1896 until 1965, was one of the greatest banjoists of all time. He possessed extraordinary technique, often creating the impression of playing on two banjos at the same time. He got his start playing in dance bands in his hometown of Piqua [PIK-wa], Ohio, but moved to New York City in 1921, where he quickly became a sought-after recording session musician.

In the autumn of 1923, after being featured in a highly successful, long-running show with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra at the London Hippodrome, Reser returned to the United States with his greatest commercial triumph yet to come. In 1925, he was invited to become the director for the Clicquot [KLEE-ko] Club Eskimo Orchestra on the NBC radio network. This weekly half-hour show, sponsored by Clicquot Club ginger ale, made Reser quite well known and was on the air until 1935.

Reser continued to be active in music for the rest of his life, touring, leading television studio orchestras, playing in Broadway orchestras, recording and writing several popular banjo, guitar, and ukulele instruction books.

Here is Reser’s three-movement Suite for Banjo and Orchestra as arranged and performed by banjoist Don Vappie, accompanied by the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg. The first movement, written in 1925, is called “Heebie Jeebies.” The second, composed in 1930, is called “Flaperette.” The final movement, written in 1922, is called, simply, “Pickin’s.”

MUSIC: Reser: Suite for Banjo and Orchestra), performed by Don Vappie, banjo, with the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg [Naxos 8.559647, Tracks 2, 3, and 4] [11:07]
Harry Reser’s fun-filled Suite for Banjo and Orchestra, arranged and performed by banjoist Don Vappie, accompanied by the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg.

You are listening to “American Jazz Concertos” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

James Price Johnson, who lived from 1894 until 1955, was a highly influential African-American jazz pianist who also wrote popular songs and composed classical works. He was a crucial figure in the transition from ragtime to jazz.

Growing up in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Johnson studied classical and ragtime piano techniques, and by his late teens he was performing in saloons, dance halls, and at parties in a black community near Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan.

While playing for dancers before 1920 he became noted for his rare ability to create embellishments, variations, and improvisations on popular songs, including the blues, which were relatively new at the time. He made piano rolls followed by recordings of his own songs. He also composed and orchestrated music for stage revues in collaboration with his leading student, Fats Waller.

James Price Johnson met George Gershwin when both men were cutting piano rolls for the Aeolian company around 1917, and both had written songs for a show in England in the early 1920s. Johnson and Gershwin became friends and Johnson was inspired by the success of Gershwin’s 1924 composition, A Rhapsody in Blue, to create his own work in a similar format and scale in 1927. It was his first large-scale semi-classical composition.

Johnson felt that as an African-American composer he was perhaps even better qualified to fuse jazz and classical forms than Gershwin had been. The result was Yamekraw [Yam-ah-craw] : A Negro Rhapsody, which was orchestrated by William Grant Still.

The forward to the first publication of Yamekraw describes the intent of the work as “a genuine Negro treatise on spiritual syncopated and ‘blue’ melodies... expressing the religious fervor and happy moods of the natives of Yamekraw, a Negro settlement situated on the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia.”

Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody was first performed at a concert produced by the “Father of the Blues,” W.C. Handy, at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1928. As Johnson was not released from his duties as conductor of the musical Keep Shufflin’ that evening, his protégé, Thomas “Fats” Waller played the piano solo part at the concert.

The piece was quite successful. It was used as the soundtrack of a 1930 motion picture short subject also entitled Yamekraw, and as the overture to Orson Welles’ production of Macbeth later in the 1930s, and was recorded in abbreviated versions several times.

But this Naxos recording marks the première recording of the complete, final orchestral version of the work. Once again we hear the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg. The pianist is Gary Hammond.

MUSIC: James Price Johnson: Yamekraw, A Negro Rhapsody, performed by Gary Hammond, piano, with the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg [Naxos 8.559647, Track 1] [15:32]

The world première recording of the complete, final orchestral version of Yamekraw, A Negro Rhapsody by James Price Johnson. We heard the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg. The pianist was Gary Hammond.

You are listening to “American Jazz Concertos” during this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

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

Ferde Grofé, who famously orchestrated George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, also orchestrated the Concerto in Three Rhythms by Nadine Dana Suesse [Swees]. Suesse, who was dubbed the “Girl Gershwin” by the New Yorker, lived from 1909 until 1987. She spent her childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gave piano recitals, appeared in vaudeville, wrote poetry for the newspapers, and did radio broadcasts.

She moved to New York City in 1926, and within weeks of her arrival she had copyrighted piano solos and tried her hand at writing popular songs. Her instrumental, Syncopated Love Song, was first performed on radio in 1928.

By 1930 the entertainment industry was paying close attention to Dana Suesse. Lyricist Leo Robin created a lyric, Have You Forgotten?, for the second strain of Syncopated Love Song, and the song was recorded on every label in America and Britain. Soon after she was signed by Famous Music Publishers and composed two more international hits, Whistling in the Dark and Ho Hum!

Paul Whiteman, who owed much of his fame to bridging popular music and concert music, believed Suesse was another Gershwin, and made her the centerpiece of his Fourth Experiment in Modern Music at Carnegie Hall. That concert, which took place on November 4th, 1932, included a fox-trot arrangement of Ravel’s Bolero, Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody and his I Got Rhythm, Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, and Dana Suesse’s Concerto in Three Rhythms with her as soloist.

We hear Dana Suesse’s Concerto in Three Rhythms now with Michael Gurt as the piano soloist. The Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Richard Rosenberg.

MUSIC: Dana Suesse: Concerto in Three Rhythms, performed by Michael Gurt, piano, with the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Rosenberg [Naxos 8.559647, Tracks 7, 8, and 9] [22:54]

Dana Suesse’s Concerto in Three Rhythms. Michael Gurt was the piano soloist. The Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Richard Rosenberg on this Naxos release.

And that concludes this hour devoted to “American Concertos of the Jazz Age.” This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening. And special thanks to Eileen and Jim Cohn, Jean Hadas-Lebel, Don Quayle, and Peg Rhodes for their support of this particular Compact DIscoveries program. Many thanks, also, to Peter Mintun for his excellent program notes for the Naxos CD, which I used as the basis for my comments.
Please join me again next time for more Compact Discoveries!

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.” 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: 59:00