Various Artists

Beethoven Wrote It, But It Swings

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This is a weird little curio from another time and another state of mind, a compendium of 23 78s from the big band era that took classical themes and tried to convert them into vehicles for swing bands. In the 1930s and '40s, the most famous classical pieces were more familiar to the man in the street than they are now, and there was a lot of blather about their alleged desecration in the hands of those who played that "sinful jazz music." Yet from the perspective of 50-60 years on, these swing-band treatments actually seem pretty tame compared to the emotional and physical power of the original classical sources. Everyone is on their best behavior -- the American inferiority complex toward European culture was definitely in play -- and not much of it really swings. Even Benny Goodman & his Orchestra essays Paganini, Prokofiev, Mendelssohn and Ravel in utterly conventional swing fashion; Jimmie Lunceford's outfit is wasted on a Chopin Prelude; and the Woody Herman Second Herd's "Sabre Dance" sounds like a Borscht Belt stunt. However Gil Evans' distinctive subtle voicings for Claude Thornhill & his Orchestra give Tchaikovsky's "Arabian Dance" a big edge over the band's earlier vintage treatments of Brahms and Schumann. Other bands represented here include those of Glenn Miller, John Kirby, Les Brown, Xavier Cugat, Red Nichols, Al Donahue, Arnold Johnson, Will Bradley, Dolly Dawn & Her Dawn Patrol, and the combos of Adrian Rollini and Raymond Scott. If you want a really fearless, original, all-American swing band translation of the classics, Spike Jones had a better idea.

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