Simon + Rhapsody In Blue @ 100

AMEN! by Carlos Simon; Simon Says by Paul Frerer

On February 12, my wife and I attended an Albany Symphony Orchestra concert entitled Simon + Rhapsody In Blue @ 100, under the direction of David Alan Miller. It took place at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady and was the first time we had seen the Grammy Award-winning orchestra at the Electric City venue.  Usually, we listen to the group at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall or Albany’s Palace Theatre.

Why Simon? Two reasons, the second of which I’ll note in due time.  The first is that the initial piece was AMEN! by Carlos Simon. He “is a GRAMMY-nominated composer, curator, and activist. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, his compositions range from concert music for large and small ensembles to film scores with influences of jazz, gospel, and neo-romanticism. Simon is the Composer-in-Residence for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.”

My wife thought the piece was Gershwinesque, and I don’t think she’s wrong, but judge for yourself. Listen to the UMich Symphony Band (2017) and the Gateways Music Festival (2019).

Next was An American In Paris by George Gershwin. I traveled to France last year so I could write a blog post with that title. Here’s hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada (2020).


After the intermission  came the second Simon. It was the world premiere of Simon Says, a concerto for Trombone and Orchestra by Jack Frerer (b. 1995). The music, as described by the composer, was a conversation between the music teacher (the trombone played by ASO’s Greg Spiridopolous) and the sometimes unwilling music students (the orchestra). That foreknowledge made the piece quite humorous, especially at the outset.

The grand piano was moved to center stage. Kevin Cole played a couple of medleys of Gershwin tunes, including Swanee, Fascinating Rhythm, But Not For Me, ‘S Wonderful, and Nice Work If You Can Get It, among others.


The week before the concert, my wife had heard on the radio that George Gershwin had “forgotten” that he had agreed to write a piece for band leader Paul Whiteman. George’s brother Ira saw Whiteman’s January 1924 announcement in a newspaper of a new jazz concerto.

That latter part is genuine: the January 4 edition of the New York Tribune. But per both the ASO program and the Wikipedia piece, George had declined Whiteman’s request for such work because the Gershwin brothers were busy working on a new musical.

In a telephone conversation the following day, Whiteman informed George Gershwin, “Whiteman’s arch-rival Vincent Lopez planned to steal the idea of his experimental concert, and there was no time to lose. Whiteman thus finally persuaded Gershwin to compose the piece.” He did, but he improvised the various piano solos, writing them down afterward.

Here’s a tease of the Cole/ASO concert recorded a week before the show.

Rhapsody In Blue: Gershwin on piano; 1st RECORDING -Paul Whiteman Orch. & George Gershwin piano (1924 version); Columbia Symphony Orchestra · Leonard Bernstein (1959). Ira’s contribution to the work.

One last thing: we also went to the concert to see our churchmate Tom in his ASO debut, playing banjo.

1922: King Tut’s tomb; these #1 hits

Fanny Brice

Fanny BriceAs the book says, “The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 opened up new realms of the ancient world.” More relevant to music, “radio swiftly evolved from a novelty into a nationwide phenomenon, with 500 stations established by 1922 and over 1,000 three years later.”

April Showers – Al Jolson, eleven weeks at #1, gold record. He was on Columbia Records. The song was written for the Broadway musical “Bombo.” It has also been covered by Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, and Judy Garland.

Three O’Clock in the Morning – Paul Whiteman, eight weeks at #1, gold record. A waltz. All of the Whiteman hits were instrumentals.  I wrote about him last year. Almost all of the remaining hits on this list were on Victor.

Hot Lips (He’s Got Hot Lips When He Plays Jazz) – Paul Whiteman, six weeks at #1. This is labeled a blues foxtrot. Foxtrot is always spelled fox trot on the labels. 
Stumbling – Paul Whiteman, six weeks at #1. A foxtrot.
Mister Gallagher and Mister Shean  “Positively, Mr. Gallagher?” – Ed Gallager/Al Shean, six weeks at #1, gold record. This is a “comedy” record. Shean was an uncle of the Marx Brothers. The dialogue is transcribed and contains…problematic references to blacks and especially women.

Angel Child – Al Jolson, five weeks at #1

In The Alamo – Isham Jones, four weeks at #1. An instrumental on Brunswick Records. A foxtrot.


Do It Again! – Paul Whiteman, two weeks at #1. The George Gershwin-Buddy DeSylva song was introduced on-stage by Irene Bordoni in the 1922 Broadway comedy “The French Doll.”
Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean – Billy Jones/Ernest Hare, two weeks at #1. A comedy record on Okeh Records

My Man (Mon Homme) – Fanny Brice  (pictured). Originally the French-language song “Mon Homme,” Fanny performed it with the new English lyrics in “Ziegfeld Follies Of 1921”. Music-Maurice Yvain, English lyric by Channing Pollock. Orchestra conducted by Rosario Bourdon. “Thirteen years after her death, she was portrayed on the Broadway stage by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl.”
My Buddy – Henry Burr. Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson wrote this melancholy post-WWI ballad. This is the song I best recollect of this bunch.

THEN I come across the article about recorded music from 1922 and earlier, which touts pieces now in the public domain, with many of the same songs. 

Paul Whiteman and the hits of 1921

Van and Schenck

Paul WhitemanPaul Whiteman had five of the 12 #1 hits for the year 1921, all instrumentals. Who WAS this guy? “Whiteman’s skill at the viola resulted in a place in the Denver Symphony Orchestra by 1907, joining the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1914.

In 1918, Whiteman conducted a 12-piece U.S. Navy band, the Mare Island Naval Training Camp Symphony Orchestra (NTCSO). After the war, he formed the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.”

Here’s some info from the Syncopated Times. “Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra was the most popular band of the 1920s and represented the apex of jazz to the general public.

“Over the years, critics and some musicians like Eddie Condon, have not had kind words to say about the band and have tended to represent Whiteman as a bad influence on the music in his attempts to ‘Make a lady out of Jazz.'” What the heck does THAT mean?

“In the 1920s he dominated the scene and hired the best White hot musicians like Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Jack Teagarden, and many more to play in his band.

The standards

“So, what was it that has led Whiteman’s name to be dragged through the mud in the annals of jazz history? Paul Whiteman being the most popular Jazz band leader of the Jazz Age is blamed for the racism in America that denied African-American musicians the credit that they deserved in the history of Jazz.”

On the other hand, he made it palatable for the (white) masses. That said, by all measures, he was very good at it. Here’s a pathfinder from the University at Albany about Whiteman.

“The Paul Whiteman Orchestra introduced many jazz standards in the 1920s, including ‘From Monday On,’ written by Harry Barris and sung by the Rhythm Boys featuring Bing Crosby and Irene Taylor; and ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ composed by George Gershwin who played piano on the Paul Whiteman recording in 1924.”

They’re #1

Again, I used the Discography of American Historical Recordings, which I discussed here. I found all of the tracks except Wabash Blues and Margie.

Wang Wang Blues – Whiteman (Victor), six weeks at #1, gold record.
Wabash Blues – Isham Jones (Brunswick), six weeks at #1, gold record.
Cherie – Whiteman (Victor), six weeks at #1.

Song of India – Whiteman (Victor), five weeks at #1.
Say It With Music – Whiteman (Victor), five weeks at #1.
My Mammy – Whiteman (Victor), five weeks at #1.
Margie – Eddie Cantor (Emerson), five weeks at #1. “After all is said and done, there is really only one. Oh! Margie, Margie, it’s you.” This is VERY familiar. I have a Ray Charles version of this, but that’s not where I first heard it.

All By Myself  – Ted Lewis Jazz Band (Columbia), four weeks at #1.
O-H-I-O  (Oh-My!-O) – Al Jolson (Columbia), four weeks at #1.

Make Believe – Nora Bayes (Columbia), three weeks at #1.
Look For The Silver Lining – Marion Harris (Columbia), three weeks at #1.

Ain’t We Got Fun – Van and Schenck (Columbia), two weeks at #1. Related to Arthur?

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