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SWING

By Michael Levin

A Victor classical release of several weeks ago gives this reviewer a chance to do something he has long wanted to: compare symphony men playing jazz with jazz men doing the same. Subjects under discussion are "Swing Stuff," "Toy Trumpet," and "Pavanne," all recorded for the Red Seal series by Arthur Fielder with the Boston Pops Orchestra, a section of the regular Boston Symphony Orchestra.

"Swing Stuff" is a clarinet concerto written by Robert McBride, who also does the solo clarinet work. The point is that the thing is supposed to be an approximation of swing, only being arranged. I have always thought that writing solos takes something away--and here is the proof.

The "heat," "bite" that makes good swing thrilling is completely lacking here. McBride's solo work is interesting technically, but adds up to some strings of spaghetti as far as getting any, idea of swing across. A written solo is so polished that it loses the life which is the essence of swing. It's too full of notes--if you don't believe it, listen to this record, and then to some of the old Goodman Trio records or Irving Fazola's doings with Bob Crosby.

"Toy Trumpet" is one of the originals written by Raymond Scott for his quintet of six men. (Incidentally, it will be one of the basic works for a Scott Ballet that the Ballet Theater is going to do on the Coast this summer). This writer has never had too much love for Scott's stuff, feeling that it was over-arranged, and mainly tricks rather than good swing. However, even with this handicap, the six men make the tune sound a thousand times as good as does the Pops Symphony.

Fundamental reason, I think, is that symphony men have an idea that jazz consists of playing everything in dotted eighth-sixteenth time, with the result that you get a rhythm something like the rag-time of 1906. Jazz has a very succinct term for this type of playing: "corny."

Contrary to all the learned treatises that classicists may write on the subject, good jazz today is fundamentally a legato (smooth) style, rather than a staccato (jerky) style. How many times have you seen "Jazz is the result of playing melodies in short, heavily accented and staccato phrases." . . . That's like defining an automobile as a stagecoach. The definition and the symphony men's idea of jazz are 'way behind the times.

Listen to the Boston Pops record and see if you don't find its effect to be over-pretentious and Virginia Reelish in the extreme. While I don't think the Scott record is any prize-winner, at least it gains some vestige of swing by being smoother and looser in style. The same thing holds for "Pavanne" but in a lesser degree, since it was originally designed for a concert jazz orchestra (whatever that may be.)

Interesting sidelight on the battle between the so-called "cold, classical" and the "warm" jazz tone was given this reviewer the other day by one of the Hruby brothers, of the Cleveland Orchestra. These men have been a tradition for years with the Orchestra, taking various trumpet positions within it. Last year I printed remarks of Fritz Reiner to the effect that he wanted to get jazz men for his trumpet section because he felt that the clear and perfect tone of the average classical man was too cold for what he wanted, and that the slight vibrato that the jazz men added to their tones made the trumpet much more useful than just something to be used in fanfares.

I happened to mention this to one of the brothers and was slightly astounded to find that he agreed completely, and felt that classical probably had something definite to learn from jazz on this score. And furthermore it seemed perfectly logical to him for a trumpet to use vibrate since strings and woodwinds did.

While on the subject of classical, here are a couple of albums just released that are worth the attention of any record fan, classical or jazz. On the Victor label this month is "Nocturnes" by Claude Debussy recorded by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It seems to me that anybody who wants to play good jazz should plan to include Debussy in his course of study.

Jazz is essentially impressionism: that is, the expression of specific moods or ideas by music, and Debussy is one of the best at this in the classics. Ellington has long acknowledged the basis of his style to be from Debussy and Stravinsky. And if nothing else, Debussy furnishes a basis of unusual chord and harmonic structure that is invaluable to anyone trying to learn how to express ideas spontaneously through music.

The album is recorded beautifully with Stokowski extracting the lush but powerful tone that he always manages to get out of a string section. Listen especially to the "Sirens," the third part of the work, which is very seldom played or recorded. It has some chorus work that will relay set your ears on end. Ellington's weirdest jungle stuff has nothing on this.

Other album I wanted to mention is included in an experiment by Columbia Records to aid the music student. They have just released a series of albums that they call the "Add-A-Part." Quite simply, the idea is that you get an album of string quartet music minus one part. In the case of the album I received, it was the Bach Double Violin Concerto in D minor, without the first violin part. Included with the album is the complete score for the first violin part, so that you can practice quartet playing to your heart's content and get various little intricacies down, such as phrasing and exact tempos.

At the beginning of the record, a tuning note and metronome boat are included to make things easier. At present, the only things available are for string quartet in the various parts but if the experiment is a success, the company intends to put out albums suitable for other instruments, even for amateur swingmen on "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Body and Soul."

As long as we seem to be off on the track of innovations, might as well get in a mention of a couple of new ones. Victor has finally gotten a cheap but practical record rack on the market. Selling for seventy-five cents and holding twenty-four records, the rack is compact and quite durable.

Just received the new Victor needle, packed in a Plasticene case that makes it look very impressive, modernistic, and all that. Needle is supposed to play one thousand (about) sides without causing any damage to the record. I have tried it for tone, and it sounds excellent. Will try to run off a couple of hundred trys on one surface in the next few weeks and see how it stands up.

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