Radio stars (Dec 1938)

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RADIO STARS more profound music His Descried Ball- room, for example, is something like Scott's Powerhouse. Some say that it is a superior piece. Gershwin himself had Gould orchestrate his / Got Rhythm for him. That is an- other interesting sidelight. The young man knows the modern music scene thoroughly. His musical background is unusually good, his creative ability seems endless, his work is free from any sort of foreign influence —and he is only twenty-four. DUKE ELLINGTON Percy Grainger, noted composer-pianist- conductor, was director of New York Uni- versity's School of Music when he com- pared Duke Ellington's compositions to those of Bach and Delius. Others have called him the world's foremost composer of jazz, the greatest Negro composer who ever lived, etc., etc. and etc. Extravagant as some of these descriptions sound, the Duke probably deserves all of them. Graduating from high school, he won a scholarship to the Pratt Institute, a well- known art school in Brooklyn. Before he left, though, he got a job in a Washington dance band as pianist. That position fin- ished any idea of art as a career. He arrived in New York in 1924. He brought along four other musicians and tried to find work as a five-piece jazz orchestra. It was a tough struggle. Duke gave up once and went home—but he came right back. In '26, his break arrived. He and his boys went to work at the Kentucky Club. That was the period in our life when jazz had gone high-class. It was polite and polished and rather boring. Duke changed all that. His was a six-piece outfit at the Ken- tucky. It began to create attention. Hear- ing the talk along the Main Stem, Irving Mills, big-time music publisher and man- ager, dropped in on the Duke, put him under contract, increased the band to twelve pieces and began to build him up. In 1927, he went into Harlem's Cotton Club and started to attract the carriage trade. Radio, theatres and records completed the Ellington build-up. From the beginning, Duke has composed. Without a doubt, his is the most eloquent voice of the colored race. Jazz and swing and modern music have been based to a large extent on Negro blues and Negro rhythms. In that Ellington has no peers. He is best known for his Solitude, I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart, Mood In- digo, Sophisticated Lady —these and his other magnificent popular numbers run up into the hundreds. Each is individual, each is a new kind of expression. In this field of smaller, popular forms, he is said to be as great a master as Gershwin. But in the larger field, too. Duke is ap- proaching Gershwin. He says nothing about it and makes no claim to greatness. But he has and is doing work far ahead of the more popular form. His Black and Tan Fantasy is a great deal more than a good jazz piece. His Creole Rhapsody is a two-part work with unusual musical merit. Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, lichocs of Harlem, Reminiscing In Tempo and Symphony In Black are acknowledged as great and good works. Now, he is working on two compositions which will be almost a test. The first is a piano suite which Paul Whiteman in- tends to introduce in concert this fall. The second is an opera. The opera is some- thing about which Duke is reluctant to talk, yet he has been working on it for ten years. During the past five or six months he has almost finished it. It is called Boola. Running three acts and covering three centuries, it will be the mu- sical history of the Negro race in America. Ellington has composed the music, written the libretto and orchestrated the entire work. Boola is his alone. He is already the Negro Gershwin. But he may be a great deal more. FERDE GROFE George Gershwin reached the peak the hard way. So did Ferde Grofe. Gershwin was a piano player in a music publishing house. Grofe had to struggle up to com- posing from arranging. He was one of the best arrangers in the field but his ambition was to compose. Yet all the lead- ers he knew preferred to listen to his ar- rangements than to his compositions. Grofe's background is solid. His mu- sical training is well-grounded and varied. More than anything else, the Rhapsody In Blue first called him to public attention. When the Rhapsody was written, he was working as arranger for Whiteman and his was the arrangement that Paul played when the composition was introduced. Critics have always attached great im- portance to the Grofe arrangement in evaluating the success of the Rhapsody. Ferde has been heavily responsible for the rise and acclaim of "symphonic jazz" —the sort of thing which gave Whiteman the title of King of Jazz. Song of India, as played by Whiteman in dance tempo, was one composition that helped start all the talk. The arrangement was Grofe's. Peculiarly, Grofe's chief difficulty as a composer seems to be his arranging talent. He writes with both orchestration and music in mind. His music depends a lot upon the sounds he can create for various instruments. Gershwin, on the other hand, was never a good orchestrator. It is a talent he could have used and which, de- spite its drawbacks, may help Grofe. Ferde has worked in the larger form— principally suites. You know most of them, or at least the frequently played parts. There are the Grand Canyon Suite. The Mississippi Suite and Tabloid. Each is descriptive and each is designed to give a musical picture of some facet of America. As Frank Black pointed out, his work is photographic and descriptive where Gershwin's wasn't. But Grofe is thor- oughly steeped in what he is doing—which, of course, is a collection of musical pic- tures of America. Whether he will develop the melodic, rhythmic touch of Gershwin remains to be seen. So there are the four. Whether one will step out to close in that empty space in the ranks is a question to be answered by the years. Judging from my conversations with the experts, the answer is still "no." George Gershwin had the essential talents that all four possess. None of the four own—so far—what this one man had to offer. The gods seem to have taken his one talent, divided it and let it scatter. TROUBLED BY CONSTIPATION? Get relief this simple, pleasant way! < You sleep through the night Ex-Lax is good for every member of the family—the youngsters as well as the grown- ups. At all drug stores in 100 and 25^ sizes. Try Ex-Lax next time you need a laxative. Now improved — better than ever! EX-LAX THE ORIGINAL CHOCOLATED LAXATIVE Say Goodbye to Dull, Drab Hair In one, simple, quick operation, Lovalon the 4 purpose rinse, does all these 4 important things to your hair. 1. Gives lustrous high- lights. 2. Rinses away shampoo film. 3. Tints the hair as it rinses. 4. Helps keep hair neatly in place. Use Lovalon after your next shampoo. It does not dye or bleach. 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