Eastwood Lane
Many towns have a street named Eastwood Lane, but it is also the name of a composer. Little is known about his early years, and he seems to have had no formal music education; he did not publish his first music until he'd reached his early thirties. All of Lane's music was composed for the piano, and he is alleged to have learned to compose by watching they keys of player pianos while they played rolls of his favored composers, particularly Edward MacDowell, and Claude Debussy. Lane composed roughly a dozen suites of short piano pieces modeled after MacDowell's similar compilations, the first of which, In Sleepy Hollow, was composed in 1913. Lane's last suite, Here Are Ladies!, appeared in 1944. He also produced a few standalone pieces, of which the tone poem Sea Burial (1925) remains the best known. His longest continuous work was Sold Down the River (1928), a nearly half-hour-long suite based on the program of the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

 

Moods of a New YorkerLane's Adirondack Sketches (1922) was his best-selling work, raising Lane's profile to the extent that bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned Ferde Grofé to orchestrate Sea Burial and two others for Whiteman's Concert Orchestra. Lane drifted into the locus of the Algonquin round table set at one point; his associates were generally writers and artists, and outside of composer Deems Taylor, he maintained little if any contact with other musicians, who viewed Lane as a loner and iconoclast.

Already forgotten by the time he died in 1951, Eastwood Lane might have disappeared altogether if it hadn't been for the influence Adirondack Sketches held over jazz composer Bix Beiderbecke. Lane's work has largely fallen into the domain of pianists who specialize in novelty, early jazz and ragtime repertoire, such as Mike Polad, who is Lane's strongest champion. The work of Eastwood Lane has never been recognized in academic circles; his music is neither jazz nor strictly light classical, but something in between. Persimmon Pucker (1926) is as close as Lane got to writing something that was purely "jazz."

Eastwood Lane at the pianoOnce he arrived at it, Lane never refined or attempted to advance the sophistication of his style. From a pianistic standpoint his writing never exceeds an intermediate level and much of his music is concentrated in the middle of the keyboard. Formal development seems to have been a challenge to him, and certain pieces wander aimlessly through streams of loosely connected ideas, some deriving from silent movie pianism and other gestures that sound hackneyed in the current context. Yet in spite of these shortcomings, Lane's music is strikingly original, never descends to the level of "salon music," and successfully continues where MacDowell left off in terms of impressionistic, pictorial miniatures. Lane also anticipated the spiky, broken melodic line superimposed on dance rhythms one more readily associates with Shostakovich and did so as early as "Katrina's Waltz" in the In Sleepy Hollow set of 1913, a work that otherwise represents Lane at his most arch. While Eastwood Lane may never gain a level of esteem concurrent to some other American composers of his generation -- Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles and Charles T. Griffes, for example -- his humble accomplishments merit more recognition than posterity has accorded.

Mike Polad, piano - Lane: Knee High to a Grasshopper

Mike Polad, piano - Lane: At Dusk from "Moods of a New Yorker"

Mike Polad, piano - Lane: Powwow from "Adirondack Sketches"

Mike Polad, piano - Lane: Persimmon Pucker

Paul Whiteman and his Concert Orchestra - Lane: Sea Burial