REVIEW POTPOURRI – Book: The Fifties by David Halberstam

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

David Halberstam

The Fifties
Villard Press, 1993, 733 pages

A maxim that underscored journalist David Halberstam’s work ethic was that being a professional meant doing the work one loved on the days one didn’t feel like doing it; this combination of passion and painstaking self-discipline resulted in roughly 22 books and countless articles.

David Halberstam

Born on April 10, 1934, in New York City and raised in Connecticut, he was a classmate of consumer advocate Ralph Nader. In 1955, he graduated from Harvard in the bottom third of his class and was hired as a reporter by newspapers in Mississippi and Tennessee, being the only one to cover the Nashville sit-ins. On a lighter note, I remember reading his liner notes for an LP of country pianist Floyd Cramer.

Beginning in the early ‘60s, Halberstam’s books on Vietnam, the media, big business and sports occupied him for over four decades. His gifts for story telling characterized the 1979 The Powers That Be, a riveting study of Time magazine’s Henry Luce, CBS’s William Paley and the Washington Post’s Phil Graham. The Post chapters contained one very good account of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s news investigation leading to the Watergate trial.

The Fifties is a massive-sized narrative panorama of a continually fascinating decade. Halberstam’s mastery of the character sketch shines in his portraits of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower; Red-baiting Wisconsin Democratic Senator Joseph McCarthy,”shrewd, insecure and defensive,” as tellingly and understatedly described by the author; mystery writer Mickey Spillane, creator of the vigilante lone detective Mike Hammer who went after Communists instead of gangsters and the politicians; the McDonald brothers, whose hamburger stand was transformed by Ray Kroc into a multi-billion dollar empire; Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Milton Berle, and Sid Caesar, who brought low-brow slapstick comedy to the mass television audiences, who clamored for more; nuclear scientist Edward Teller and his hydrogen bomb; Elvis Presley; sex researcher Alfred Kinsey and publisher Hugh Hefner, with their launching of the insidious sexual revolution; and a huge range of other personalities in as many spheres of influence who contributed so much to the decade’s perpetual interest. For me, the quiet seamstress Rosa Parks is arguably the central figure of monumental interest – her refusal to move to the back of the bus was a significant contribution to spurring the long-needed and awaited Civil Rights movement.

David Halberstam was killed in an automobile crash near San Francisco en route to interview football legend Y.A. Tittle for one of two books he had in preparation. He was 73 years old.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Beethoven’s 5 Piano Concertos

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Something a little different this week:

Beethoven’s 5 Piano Concertos were a very significant body of work because they both consolidated the best of what the composer learned from his predecessors — Haydn, Mozart etc. – and broke new ground on the expansion of the piano’s technical possibilities and musical depths. These two considerations, as edifying as they are, cannot be explored more, due to limited space. What will be done instead is to touch briefly on the merits of each Concerto and to offer one recording that is quite special in and of itself from the shelves of duplicates in my possession.

Ludwig von Beethoven

Ludwig von Beethoven

Concerto no. 1 has a jubilant yet graceful beauty in its assertive rhythms and rich melodic writing. A performance of exceptional quality is the mid-’50s, nicely transferred radio broadcast featuring Sviatoslav Richter, with the gifted but very unknown Bratislav Bakala on the podium, one not to be confused with later Richter releases conducted by Karel Ancerl and Charles Munch. The pianist’s often larger than life virtuosity found a captivating vehicle in this work while Bakala’s astute care for every note matched Richter’s own. A CD is available through Berkshire Record Outlet with the pair’s Beethoven 3rd.

Concerto no. 2, actually composed before the 1st but published after it, is very headstrong in its feisty exhuberance. Rudolf Serkin made three recordings; the first one, from the early ‘50s for Columbia and with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, is my favorite of them. Serkin gave a headstrong performance and a very exciting one, both rhythmically and musically. It is available on a Sony CD through Amazon.

Concerto no. 3 is on a grander scale and one beautiful, powerful creation. The 1949 recording with the relatively unknown Eduard Erdmann and conductor Helmut Muller-Kray shows an especially eloquent, deeply moving understanding of its content. It is part of an inexpensive two-CD set on the historical Tahra label, also containing one of the Schubert Sonatas, and can be found via the above-mentioned Berkshire.

Concerto no. 4 is a masterpiece of sublime introspection. The 1962 collaboration between Van Cliburn and Fritz Reiner leading the Chicago Symphony was the result of several months worth of the most detailed preparation between the pianist and conductor and shows in the gripping performance available on a nicely remastered BMG CD, again available through Amazon.

Concerto no. 5, better known as the “Emperor,” was conceived on a heroic scale never before experienced in the piano repertoire. In addition, it may be the most frequently played of the five works in concert hall and recording studio, due to its very appealing musical scoring. One highly recommendable live performance from 1995 showcases the then 17-year-old Mihaela Ursuleasa, winner of first prize at the Clara Haskil competition in Switzerland, whose much too early 2012 death remains one inexplicable tragedy. Her rendition, with the late conductor, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, has a quality of newly-minted freshness and is a formidably distinctive entry among a large number of distinctive entries. The Claves CD contains a very engaging Mozart 9th Piano Concerto as its discmate and can be bought through Amazon.

Pianist Wilhelm Kempff considered these five Concertos inexhaustibly rewarding for both performer and listener!

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Jazz musician: Count Basie; Composer: Ravel

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Count Basie

Prime Time
Pablo, CD, recorded January 18-20, 1977.

Count Basie

Jazz pianist/bandleader Count Basie (1904 -1984) appeared in the 1943 film, Stage Door Canteen, performing with singer Ethel Waters and his orchestra and doing a captivating solo turn. I say captivating because, whenever his short , stubby fingers touched a key, he drew out a most delectable note while sustaining the happiest smile. This enjoyment quickly spread to band members and audiences alike.

His best qualities, ones that were sustained in a huge legacy of recordings and concerts throughout a more than 60-year career, were an infectious rhythmic beat, an enthusiastic team spirit and a long list of talented, inspired singers and instrumentalists- vocalists Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Joe Williams, Helen Humes, and Thelma Carpenter; saxist Lester Young; guitarist Freddie Green; and Buck Clayton and Harry Sweets Edison on trumpet.

The above CD, a typically good one, contains eight selections, including such staples as Sweet Georgia Brown and Ja-Da.

In 1970, Basie collaborated with Frank Sinatra at a pair of benefit concerts. The singer would later comment: “I have a funny feeling that those two nights could have been my finest hour, really. It went so well; it was so thrilling and exciting.”

The pianist was honored at the 1981 Kennedy Center Awards program.

Count Basie succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1984 at the age of 79.

Ravel

Orchestral Works
Andre Cluytens conducting the Paris Conservatory Orchestra; French Columbia, 2 LP set, recorded 1962-63.

Maurice Ravel

André Cluytens

As much as I cherish other gifted interpreters of Debussy and Ravel – examples being Monteux, Munch, Ansermet, Boulez, Abbado etc., – I return to Andre Cluytens (1905 -1967) most often. He conducted both composers with consistent elegance, power, beauty, clarity. And his meticulously prepared interpretations weren’t just bestowed on the French school. The Berlin Philharmonic Beethoven 9 Symphonies are now routinely considered among the top three or four sets, his collaboration with David Oistrakh in the same composer’s Violin Concerto is quite splendid and a set of Moussorgsky’s Boris Godunov with Christoff is a justified cornerstone among great recordings of Russian opera. Two personal, less mentioned favorites are a live Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto with Rubinstein and an exquisitely shaped Schumann Rhenish Symphony.

The above collection consists of the Mother Goose ballet, Valse Nobles et Sentimentales, Tombeau de Couperin, Menuet Antique, Alborada del Gracioso, Barque sue L’Ocean, and Pavane for a Dead Princess. Each piece is an inexhaustible masterwork, masterfully performed. And these recordings are available via several different CD editions.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Music: Gershwin, Bruckner; Movie: Cold Turkey

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Gershwin

Music
Zubin Mehta, New York Philharmonic with soloists. Teldec cassette.

George Gershwin

Zubin Mehta, now in his 82nd year, has achieved fame via his directorships of the Los Angeles, New York and Israel Philharmonics, Bavarian State Opera, etc., and a truckload of recordings. The above is a decently performed program of the great Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess selections, sung with feeling by Roberta Alexander and Gregg Baker; and the ever captivating American in Paris and Cuban Overture. His recordings have been a mixture of great, good, average and poor but his best ones have a very exciting, inspired and exactingly precise musicality that wears well.

Along with this album, I recommend his Beethoven Piano Concerto cycle with Ashkenazy and Brahms 1st Symphony, both with the Vienna Philharmonic; the L.A. Beethoven 7th Symphony; and Puccini Turandot and both Toscas.

Bruckner

7th Symphony
Francesco d’Avalos, Philharmonia Orchestra; ASV CD.

Anton Bruckner

Francesco d’Avalos

Anton Bruckner, 1824-1896, composed music as his means of worshiping and praising God – only that! The Sympho­nies, Masses, etc., could be lengthy but their spans of uplifting, heavenly beauty seal his deserved status of greatness.

The 7th Sym­phony moved the Waltz King, Johann Strauss Jr., to declare it one of the finest musical experiences of his own lifetime. The above recording of Francesco d’Avalos can be easily added to a sizable but distinguished catalog that includes Karajan, Haitink, Chailly, Ormandy Giulini and others.

Cold Turkey

starring Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, etc.; 1971, two hours.

Dick Van Dyke

Bob Newhart

A comedy about what happens when a midwest village of the worst chain smokers agree to quit smoking for a month in order to win $25 million. I fell off the couch!

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Album: Scandinavia; Group: The Rays; Opera: Verdi

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Scandinavia

Laserlight, 79 675, cassette, released 1991.

Jean Sibelius

The Laserlight label began releasing very inexpensive cassettes and CDs during the late ‘80s and focusing mainly on classical music.

Scandina­via, a musical grab bag centered on Norway, Sweden and Fin­land, contains the 2nd Peer Gynt Suite and two Elegiac Melodies of Norway’s Edvard Grieg and the Swan of Tuonela and Finlandia of Finland’s Jean Sibelius, along with three shorter pieces. The performers include the very gifted conductors, Janos Sandor, Yuri Ahronovitch, Herbert Kegel, Geoffrey Simon and Rouslan Raichev; pianist, Jeno Jando; and, for orchestras, the Hungarian State, Budapest Strings, Vienna Symphony, Philharmonia and Dresden and Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Philharmonics – all first class ensembles. A nice cassette for classical beginners.

Amazon prices begin at one cent for CDs while the cassette is not available for now.

The Rays

Silhouettes; Daddy Cool
Cameo 117, 45, recorded 1957.

The Rays

The Rays were formed in 1955 and scored a #3 hit on the charts with the doo wop classic, Silhouettes, which sold 3 million copies. It has sustained its status as a captivating song and been covered by other artists. The side B is a throwaway.

Verdi

Otello
Sixten Ehrling conducting choir and orchestra with tenor Set Svanholm, soprano Aase Nordmo-Lovberg and baritone Sigurd Bjorling, etc.; Preiser 90754, three CDs, 1953-54 Stockholm Opera production, with extra cd of Verdi’s Don Carlo excerpts, with same forces from 1956.

Sixten Ehrling

Set Svanholm

This set will appeal to a surprisingly sizable number of those who collect historic opera broadcasts. The performance has a sterling cast with Svan­holm’s jealous Otello, Nordmo’s doomed Desdem­ona, and Bjor­ling’s treacherous Iago, while Verdi’s setting of the original Shake­speare play has made for one of the finest opera experiences in the genre’s history. Sixten Ehrling had a very unpleasant personality by most accounts but his conducting of most everything I have heard was very exciting, as was the case with the Don Carlo excerpts.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Scottish conductor, Sir Alexander Gibson

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Alex

by Conrad Wilson; Mainstream Publishing, 1993, 159 pages.

Conrad Wilson

This biography has a special fascination because Alex and I were good friends during the early ‘80s – Alex being the late Scottish conductor, Sir Alexander Gibson (1926-1995), whose recordings, guest appearances and 25 years as music director of both the Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Opera brought him international fame. It was the kind of fame justly deserved through hard work, consistently high quality results, discipline, passion for music and good will towards those he worked with. He was both a great conductor, a fine human being and a gracious friend. And he practiced humility – qualities rare among ego-driven conductors.

I saw him conduct several concerts in Houston featuring works of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Mozart, Liszt, Brahms, Elgar, Holst, Mahler, Berlioz, Saint-Saens and Szymanowski. And lots of Sibelius. He didn’t have the clearest beat but he and the players felt it together. I felt that every performance was conducted as if it would be his last, a quality surprisingly less frequent among other certain shining stars of the firmnament.

Sir Alexander Gibson

I own many of his records and CDs, all of them at least very good. Click his name on Amazon for numerous listings, each one highly recommended.

The book recounts his various successes with so many opera productions, especially Puccini; the many concerts featuring Sibelius, the names recounted earlier, and numerous world premieres; and his gifts as both organist and pianist during his early years. He was adept in managing emergencies during actual concerts and productions. Finally, no other conductor in history matches his length of service with an opera house and orchestra at the same time!

I also remember him as a chain smoker but, by the ‘90s, he had quit.

In January 1995, he died from unexpected complications following surgery.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composers: Anton Bruckner and Burt Bacharach

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Bruckner

Symphony No. 8
Anton Nanut conducting the Ljublana Symphony Orchestra; Stradivari Classics, SCD-6059, CD, recorded 1980s.

Anton Bruckner

If I had to pick only one conductor whose recordings I could take to a desert island, it would be Anton Nanut (1932-2017) . He conducted almost every piece of music as if it were the most beautiful and exciting music to be heard this side of heaven, equaling, if not surpassing, the most well known conductors of the last 100 years.

He was below the radar of listeners in the United States during the Iron Curtain years, pre-1989, as he transformed the orchestra in Ljublana, Slovenia, then a part of Yugoslavia, into a world class ensemble. Since the late ‘80s, his recordings began appearing mainly on cheapie labels while his frequent appearances in Japan and more sporadic ones in the U.S. increased his international reputation. Meanwhile, live concerts with Japanese orchestras have appeared on that country’s labels and are super expensive on Amazon- I do own a CD of a 2013 live concert featuring one very powerful and beautiful Brahms 4th Symphony among the batch of Brahms 4ths on my shelves and paid a few dollars more than the norm.

The 8th Symphony of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) is a magnificently beautiful, soaring, exciting 76 minutes of music that displays the full range of the orchestra. Being a devout Catholic, Bruckner intended for his music to praise God, to evoke His full glory. Nanut delivered a gripping, deeply moving performance and I found a copy of the cd at the Waterville Bull Moose for 4 bucks after searching high and low on Amazon.

Several Nanut recordings can also be heard on YouTube.

Burt Bacharach

Plays His Hits
Kapp, KS-3577, stereo LP, released 1965.

Burt Bacharach

Now 90, Burt Bacharach has been intertwined with so much of pop music’s infrastructure as a composer, pianist, arranger, conductor, etc. I would recommend a reading of his Wiki biography which is a super-lengthy chronicle of his hugely phenomenal musical achievements by themselves. The Dionne Warwick mega-hits; the musical Promises, Promises; and his collaborations with Carol Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Elvis Costello are still tips of the iceberg.

The LP posted above with chorus and orchestra is a suavely and vibrantly played assortment of 11 songs, over half of which have been recorded a zillion times and features such classics as Always Something There to Remind Me, Walk on By, Wives and Lovers, Blue on Blue, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart and Joel Grey doing vocal honors on What’s New Pussycat.

And most of it can be heard on Youtube!

The great conductor, Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989), recorded one beauty of a Dvorak New World Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon with the Berlin Philharmonic back in 1964, and it can be bought cheaply through Amazon as part of a mega box set of many CDs featuring this conductor’s legacy or as a single CD. He did at least four others but this is the only DG one with the Berlin Philharmonic. And this recording is on YouTube also!

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Violin Concertos; Singer: Don Williams; Movie: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Bjarne Brustad

Violin Concerto No. 4

William Walton

Violin Concerto

Bjarne Brustad

Camilla Wicks, violin, with Herbert Blomstedt and Yuri Somonov conducting the Oslo Philharmonic, Simax PSC 1185, CD, live broadcasts.

Sir William Walton

The 4th Violin Concerto of Bjarne Brustad (1895-1978), one of Nor­way’s leading 20th century composers, is a meandering exercise full of dramatic, pounding chords that go no­where; the only Violin Concerto of Sir Wil­liam Wal­ton (1901-1983) is an exciting example of perky, exotic rhythms and emotionally wistful poetry that, for me, gets better with every hearing. Both performances are as fine as is usually the case with the wonderful violinist, Camilla Wicks, and conductors Herbert Blomstedt in the 1968 broadcast of Brustad and Yuri Simonov in a 1985 one of Walton.

Wicks, now 89 and retired since 2005, made her debut playing a Mozart Concerto at 7.

Don Williams

Country Boy
MCA, MCAC-37232, cassette, released 1977.

Don Williams

I first encountered Don Williams (1939-2017) as part of Pozo Seco, an exquisitely accomplished duo that included another singer, Susan Taylor, and in 1969, when I was a high school senior . They released an LP, Shades of Time, consisting of a folk­/country assortment of very fine songs that were finely performed – I have owned a few copies over the last 50 years because I kept letting them go to others.

When he became a purely country singer, I still liked the smoothly soothing voice and delivery but thought the songs were mainly so-so or, at best, okay, thus losing interest in him.

Country Boy, a 1977 studio album was the usual assortment of his trademark love ballads and did not sustain my interest. However, his integrity and personality were of the highest calibre throughout his phenomenally successful career. He was a model husband to his wife of 57 years and wonderful father to two sons!

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World

starring Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Jimmy Durante, Three Stooges and almost every other comedian and numerous actors and actresses alive in 1963; directed by Stanley Kramer; approximately 3 hours, DVD.

This is the funniest, longest, most expensive and most profitable comedy ever produced in cinema history. I have seen it at least 20 times and still laugh myself into a strait jacket.

A few examples of its humor – Buddy Hackett and Rooney in an airplane with the drunk pilot, Jim Backus, knocked out; Jonathan Winters single-handedly destroying a garage; Jimmy Durante driving 1 mph around hairpin curves with no railings and weaving on both sides and several dozen greedheads on a rickety ten-story fire ladder! One final funny – arch con man Phil Silvers licking his smiling cobra chops and spewing, “Try me – I’m gullible!”

Best watched in two or three installments or you will be laughed out!

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Wilhelm Furtwangler conducts Bethoven; Jane Glover conducts Haydn; Movie: The Last Hurrah; Band: The Cars; Dvorak

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Beethoven

Pastoral Symphony and Leonore Overture No. 3
Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting the Turin Radio Orchestra of Italy; Urania URN 22.227, CD, from a 1952 broadcast and issued 2002.

Wilhelm Furtwangler

Wilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954) was one conductor now considered by more collectors and listeners to classical recordings to be very close to the greatest who ever lived – despite a catalog of recordings that are often live broadcasts of just fair to average sound quality, a wayward conducting technique and a tendency to do certain pieces over and over; for example, there are 11 or more different performances of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.

But there is an exalted inspiration that seeps into his conducting and stirs this listener. He will use very slow, lumbering tempos or speed them to a Richard Petty level to achieve these depths. Sometimes he misses this target and mixes good and bad qualities. Still, a friend who owns just about every lp, cassette and cd of him commented to me that even 5 minutes of inspired music-making will be 10 or 15 bucks well spent .

Because of Furtwangler’s decision to stay in Germany during the Hitler years of 1933-45, he stirred a lot of controversy. And because of limited space, I cannot go into detail. However, it should also be known that the conductor used his influence to help many individuals and their families to leave Germany for safe haven . Those curious should check out Google and other related sources.

These two Beethovens are available in numerous good modern editions by other conductors but this cd should please fans of the conductor and is cheaply priced and available through the online Berkshire Record Outlet where I found my copy.

Haydn

Symphonies 83, 84 and 88
Jane Glover conducting the London Mozart Players; Musical Heritage Society 322541A, cassette, recorded 1989.

Jane Glover

Jane Glover has become one of the finest interpreters of lesser known baroque composers such as Cavalli, on whom she has expended much research, and of the later two geniuses of the 18th century classical period, Mozart and Haydn. These three works of the latter are among the most graceful, spirited symphonies to be found in the composer’s very extensive catalog. And Glover and her players deliver exceptional performances.

The Last Hurrah

starring Spencer Tracy, Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Pat O’Brien, etc.; directed by John Ford; Columbia Pictures, dvd, 1958, 121 minutes.

Spencer Tracy

Spencer Tracy delivers one of his typically first class performances as Frank Skeffington, the Irish-American mayor of an unnamed New England City who is running for a fifth term. The conflicts between him, because of his roguish but essentially decent populist style of leadership, and a couple of power blocs, especially the old blue blood wasps, lend much interest to the story line, which is both funny and moving. And the large superb cast, which includes the other above-mentioned names, has been called by one reviewer “the largest collection of scene-stealers in the history of cinema.”

The Cars

Since You’re Gone; Think It Over
Elektra/Asylum, E 47433, seven inch 45, recorded 1981.

The group, Cars, was formed in Boston, in 1976 – the same year I moved back to Maine after my three-year sojourn in Beantown. After listening to this 45, I found myself captivated by the pulsating arrangements, utilizing interesting percussion sounds, but was unimpressed by the namby pamby two songs which went nowhere!

Dvorak

9th Symphony From the New World
James Loughran conducting the London Philharmonic; Mendelssohn: The 4th, or Italian Symphony- Antonio Pedrotti conducting the Czech Philharmonic; Net Surfin’, VMK-1059, cd, Dvorak recorded 1997, Mendelssohn from 1951.

James Loughran

This CD features two very talented conductors not generally known to even the typical American concertgoer and their interpretations of very well known symphonies. The Scottish-born James Loughran, now 87 and still active as a conductor and teacher, did one of the loveliest, most satisfying recordings of the Dvorak New World.

The even more unknown but very gifted Italian, Antonio Pedrotti (1901-1975) left one gem of an Italian Symphony, a Mendel­ssohn staple that can work as quickly as a sleeping pill in the wrong hands; this Maestro imbued the piece with perkiness, elegance and sweet poetry in just the right proportions. The CD is very cheaply priced on Amazon.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Jazz musician: Stan Kenton; Comedian: Robert Benchley; Composer: Beethoven

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Stan Kenton

Stan Kenton Presents
Capitol T248, mono lp, 1955 re-issue of original 78 singles and a ten-inch LP from 1950.

Stan Kenton

The great Stan Kenton (1911-1979) recorded a batch of singles in 1950 that highlighted the arranging and compositional skills of such SK loyalists as Shorty Rogers, Bill Russo, Frank Marks and Johnny Richards. The titles- Art Pepper, Maynard Ferguson, June Christy, etc., – feature performances by the named individual and exciting ones at that. My favorite, June Christy, has her wonderful voice all over the place, mostly humming but in her inimitably sultry manner.

Copies of the LP start at four dollars, while a few selections from the album can be accessed on youtube.

Robert Benchley

Benchley’s Best
Audio Rarities LPA 110, ten-inch LP, no date of release info anywhere, although I would guess the ‘50s because 10-inch LPs were pretty much discontinued in the US by the late ‘50s, as they were very easy to steal.

Robert Benchley

Robert Benchley (1889-1945) was a writer, a noted wit at the Algonquin Hotel Round Table, an actor, and a radio comedian.

The above LP has four skits from his radio programs, including two of his Flying Broomstick routines and a “lecture” on the history and development of swing music. In fact he begins his talk with the following:

“Tonight, I wish to lecture about the origin and development of swing music, do a survey of 17th century Italian art, and perhaps scramble some eggs…I can speak with authority on swing because I can’t carry a tune either…. The composer who is most responsible for its beginnings is Johann Gottfried Inglenook Gesundheit, who was born in Japan in 1789. It has been written that he was a backwards but friendly child and was taken out of school when he was five years old. “

Two more – “Why don’t you get out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini?” and “All it takes to make a monkey of a man is to quote him!”

Benchley died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1945 at 56. His son, Nathaniel Benchley (1915-1981) wrote children’s books and a bio of his father, while his grandson, Peter (1940-2006), authored the novel and screenplay, Jaws.

Three copies of the LP are priced from $49 to $75 through Amazon and none of it is available through YouTube, although there are other Bentleys on YouTube in plentiful supply!

Beethoven

Piano Sonatas 7, 9, 30, and 31
Awadagin Pratt, pianist; EMI 7243 5 55290 2 2, CD, recorded 1994.

Awadagin Pratt

Three of these four Sonatas – 7, 30 and 31 are huge favorites of mine, especially 7 with one eloquent second movement Largo that raises goosebumps on my arm every time I hear it. The Pittsburg-born pianist, Awadagin Pratt now 52, gives performances that mix gentle lyricism, the required virtuosity and an interesting silky type of phrasing at odd moments. Other than that, he plays in a straightforward, very honest manner that conveys a genuine love for these works. And they are well worth getting to know.

The entire CD can be heard on YouTube and is priced inexpensively on Amazon.