Friday, January 18, 2008

With Tongue in Cheek - Great American Humorists

In addition to a few years on either side, the middle third of the twentieth century is host to a number of brilliant and original American writers who utilized humor as their base.
Such names as Robert Benchley, grandfather of Peter, who is renown for "Jaws"; H. Allen Smith, who wrote "Low Man on a Totem-Pole"(self-deprecatory or what??); Oscar Levant -
Allow me to focus on Oscar Levant, who is one of my favorites:
Levant was a close friend of George Gershwin, and a brilliant pianist himself. His championing of Gershwin's piano music made him an important link to our time, and to our view of Gershwin as a kind of American Mozart.
What makes Levant even more interesting is that he was not only a top-notch musician, but also one of our great humorists, coupled with an I.Q. that went off the charts. Unlike the other humorists of his time, his humor was acerbic and derisive at times, giving his writings a panache like no others; for instance, how about a couple of titles of books, such as "A Smattering of Ignorance"; or, "Diary of an Amnesiac" - My view is that his brand of humor was laced with a form of irony coming out of the frustration he had when he realized that he would never become a great musician, only a brilliant one.
Levant came apart when Gershwin died tragically in his mid-thirties, and eventually destroyed himself through drug abuse.
But he left golden words for us to enhance our own lives with; in addition, he left a few recordings of Gershwin's music. Sadly, he never got to realize that his performances of Gershwin's Preludes were world-class, and his recording of the Concerto in "F" is, in my estimation, a great performance.
Why not examine this Golden Period?

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