Paul Whiteman

The Birth of Rhapsody in Blue: Whiteman's 1924 Concert

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This was a great idea for a tribute recording that actually worked reasonably well. Conductor Maurice Peress, a longtime protégé of Leonard Bernstein, decided to do a tribute to Paul Whiteman, no less, by re-creating the style and sound -- with authentic instruments, no less -- of the bandleader's legendary 1924 Aeolian Hall concert where, among other special events, George Gershwin introduced "Rhapsody in Blue" to the world. The conductor researched and restored the original arrangements used at the performance, and assembled a group of players including pianists Ivan Davis and Dick Hyman. The results are entertaining and edifying, to say the least -- along with an authentic jazz band version of "Rhapsody in Blue," one also gets a Dixieland-flavored rendition of Elgar's music (including a banjo in the scoring) and similarly proportioned interpretations of Victor Herbert's work, et al. Clearly, the Gershwin piece was the major find at the original performance, and fills an identical role here, coming after all of the Grofé, Herbert, etc. Oddly enough, it's when Peress and company are doing pieces such as "Livery Stable Blues" that they are at their most entertaining, apart from Gershwin's contribution -- not all of the "new" music was a good idea, ranging from the inspired and the sublime to the predictable and the superfluous (although it should also be conceded that doing it wasn't a bad idea or, for that matter, redoing it here). In any case, the performances are enjoyable and the body of music unique and unto itself, providing a window onto what the more popular, concert side of "new music" meant circa 1924.

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