Anthony Brown’s Director's Notes to “Rhapsodies”
Most of the hallmarks are retained from the original June 1924 and April 1927 recordings of Rhapsody In Blue by Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra with Gershwin at the piano. The recordings captured extraordinarily energetic performances of Gershwin’s jazz, but they do not swing. The percussion is scarcely employed to generate dance rhythms, the essence of early jazz, and most jazz since. Hence, overhauling the rhythmic sensibilities was first on the list.
Replacing the piano with an electric guitar signifies the mid-century shift in the young public’s recognition of the new “all-American” popular musical instrument.
The drumset and the electric guitar — the heart and soul of American popular music — were invented in the U.S. and characterize its influences around the globe. Even air guitar and simulated drumming are practiced the world over.
Gershwin, like his American predecessor, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, was greatly influenced by the music of Cuba, particularly following his visit in 1932. In fact, Gershwin “borrowed” directly from Havana singer-composer Ignacio Pineiro for his Cuban Overture. His “Latin-tinged” section of Rhapsody is now presented as a rumba, featuring the cajón, the wooden box drum originating from the ports of Havana during impromptu descargas, or jam sessions.
Gagaku, the music of the Imperial Court of Japan, dates back to the 6th century AD and is the oldest continuous tradition of instrumental ensemble music in the world. Gagaku developed in Japan from various intercultural musical influences including China, Korea, India, and Vietnam. In the 1960s, this tradition was brought to California by Suenobu Togi, a member of the Imperial Orchestra and a descendent of one the original families of musicians who brought Gagaku to Japan.
A blues set to drummer Bernard Purdie’s patented triplet shuffle was among the first makeovers envisioned for this project. Trombonist Wayne Wallace set the previously improvised horn backgrounds during the second take of the recording. He beautifully captures the train motif that recurs later in the Taiko Trane section.
I imagined hearing this and, “United now offering nonstop flights from San Francisco to Beijing...” before I began orchestrating this classic signature theme in E major. Enroute, Will Bernard took us to Hawai’i. Again, the trombones were batting 1000: Dave Martell provided the brass backgrounds for the Adagio, after suggesting that I write them. Mahalo and Aloha.
Taiko Trane/Finale (3:01)
Taiko drumming, the hallmark of traditional Japanese festival and ceremonial music, developed in California in the 1960s. Today, hundreds of taiko groups are found in communities and colleges throughout the Western hemisphere. The train as an American icon and metaphor is complicated and profound, representing freedom and expansion to some while representing the trip to war, camps and prisons for others. The Finale is an adaptation of Billy Strayhorn’s 1962 arrangement for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Henry Hung deftly handles the original plunger mute feature by trumpeter Cootie Williams.
The world premiere of American Rhapsodies was presented at San Francisco’s Stern Grove Music Festival on the Fourth of July, 2004, and reprised at the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 18, 2004.
— Anthony Brown, Ph.D.