Gordon Jenkins

The Manhattan Tower

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The original Manhattan Tower is a lost artifact of the immediate postwar era, displaced and supplanted by Gordon Jenkins' more expansive reconception and re-composition of the album a decade later. Among the earliest concept album creations of the postwar era, the piece resembles elements of the then-recent musical On the Town, as well as such works as Earl Robinson's "Ballad for Americans," in terms of mixing musical genres in the course of providing a musical narrative. It's also a marvel of production acumen and ingenuity for its time, recorded before the advent of magnetic recording tape -- that is, on 78 rpm wax lacquers, which did not permit editing, which means that every piece, from the brassy choral accounts of the brash city to the sentimental string and horn passages intended to evoke the city's sweep and allure, plus the contributions of soloist Beverly Mahr, had to be done live-in-the-studio and ultimately nailed in a perfect take. True, radio had been spawning such creations in performance since the 1930s, but the idea of doing record albums -- and 78 rpm albums in 1946 were just that, heavy, cumbersome sets in photo-album-type jackets -- was still an incredibly ambitious notion for the period immediately after World War II, with the country and the recording industry regrouping, dusting themselves off, and figuring out what people might actually be spending money to hear in this new environment. Fortunately, the work itself played to the newness and freedom, and the emerging spirit of optimism; and by its nature, it spoke to the sense of freedom to indulge in such romantic notions as this symphonic poem and ode to Manhattan. Think of it as of a piece with such works as Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite" and other similar compositions, except that Manhattan Tower is closer in spirit to Broadway and traditional popular music than to classical music and the concert hall. The original has a bracing freshness and demands to be heard anew, alongside Jenkins' later revised version, which is more ambitious but also less of a prodigious technical feat, dating from a time of magnetic tape recording, modern editing etc. Originally issued as a set of 78s, this recording was later re-released on an LP (Decca DLP 8011) paired with Jenkins' "California," a similar conceptual work about the Golden State, featuring Mahr, Lee Sweetland, Betty Brewer, and Art Gentry.