Monday, April 21, 2008

Chesterfield lites

Paul Whiteman loomed large in the 1920s and 1930s. Regardless of how one measures his actual jazz chops (his reputation as the "King of Jazz" was a laughable marketing ploy), he hired and encouraged some of the top talents of his day, including George Gershwin, Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berigan, Bing Crosby, the Dorsey Brothers, and composer/arranger Ferde Grofé.

He also worked with and obviously admired Raymond Scott, as The Chesterfield Arrangements will attest. In 1938, for his "Eighth Experiment in Modern Music" (a series that began in 1924 with the public premiere of Rhapsody In Blue), Whiteman commissioned large orchestral arrangements of three Scott tunes: "Mexican Jumping Bean," "Bumpy Weather Over Newark," and "Suicide Cliff." These were performed, with the original Scott Quintette, at Carnegie Hall on Christmas. Besides the RSQ, this spectacular showcase included Artie Shaw, Louis Armstrong, and dozens of jazz and Tin Pan Alley legends in their prime, performing works by Ellington, Gershwin, W.C. Handy, and others. The 1938 concert proved to be the "Experiment" series finale.

Five arrangements from the 1938 concert—including the three Scott titles noted above—will be recreated at the Berklee School of Music on May 5. The concert is part of a day-long tribute to Whiteman.

An afternoon forum, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Carnegie Hall gala, will include 94-year-old saxophonist Al Gallodoro (who performed at the '38 concert) reflecting on his Whiteman days. A young Gallorodo is pictured above with the legendary bandleader.

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