Thursday, July 1, 2010

Benny Goodman and Bela Bartok?? Why Not??

I was mulling over some of the famous musicians who conducted forays "across the line," as it were, and it really is fun to go over some of the specifics dealing with these artists.
The first musician who came to mind this morning was Benny Goodman, the fabulous jazz clarinetist and chief representative of what is called Chicago Jazz. He was, of course, noted for a legendary technique on his instrument, with countless recordings of his wonderful improvisations and arrangements. We know that he was one of the chief movers of integration of African - Americans into the mainstream of the big bands, let alone his championing of one of the most talented of all the songstresses, Peggy Lee.
But do be reminded that his love for and knowledge of the classics prompted his "crossing the line" in such performances and recordings of the Bartok Trio, with Bartok himself playing the piano and the wonderful violinist Joseph Szigeti playing alongside Goodman. And what about Goodman at Tanglewood, playing the Mozart clarinet concerto in "A?" Such recordings may not be the apotheoses of the playing of such pieces, but the level of talent that Goodman had is demonstrated in his singular ability to cross that line.
From the composer's view as a primary example of "crossing the line," how about Igor Stravinsky? Many viewed this giant as the twentieth century's greatest force in the writing of music - one may recall the reaction of the 1913 debut of his "Rite of Spring" in Paris, and the resulting riot that spilled out onto the streets that day - well, this is the same man who composed his "Ebony Concerto" for another fabled jazz clarinetist, Woody Herman, and his band which was called, "The Herd."
How about Vladimir Horowitz, who upon hearing Art Tatum's fabled arrangement of "Tea for Two," setting upon this tune in a rather aborted attempt at coming up with a transcription?
And the American Earl Wild, who had studied with a student of one of Liszt's students, carving out a medley of the music from "Snow White?"
It's rather fun, and, for me, a period of relaxing abandon to dwell on this subject from time to time.

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