Sunday, April 1, 2018

Part 1 of Jazz Repertory: Raymond Scott's Music, The Chesterfield Arrangements for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and Their Revival by The Metropole Orchestra

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

conducted by Jan Stulen and

“We Yanks are long accustomed to the irony that it often requires Europeans to tell us what's best about our own culture.” – Will Friedwald

The Raymond Scott Chesterfield arrangements commissioned and performed by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1937-38 and recorded by the Metropole Orchestra with The Beau Hunks Saxtette is stunning music both in conception and execution. As beautifully reproduced on this BASTA CD, it deserves to be heard and appreciated by the widest possible audience.

In searching for a context in which to highlight this music, the editors at Jazzprofiles came across the phrase “Jazz Repertory” as used by Jeffrey Sultanof in his essay of the same name that appears in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 512-521].

According to Mr. Sultanof: “The phrase ‘jazz repertory’ has many definitions and dimensions. Perhaps the most basic is: the study, preservation and performance of the many diverse musical styles in jazz. In recent years, the phrase most often applies to big bands and jazz ensembles performing classic and new music written for reeds, brass, and rhythm section in various sizes and combinations.” [p.512]

The Dutch Metropole Orchestra and Beau Hunks Saxtette performance of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra’s Raymond Scott Chesterfield arrangements would seem to fit precisely into this definition and, as such, become the initial Jazz Repertory feature on JazzProfiles. Other jazz repertory performances by both groups will be offered on future JazzProfiles.

What follows are the insert notes to the BASTA [30-9097-2] CD as written by the erudite, Will Friedwald.
 [C] protected. All rights reserved. Graphics added.

“The Raymond Scott boomlet of the ‘90s has already outlasted the “lounge music” fad (which resulted in acres of randomly-programmed reissues driven almost exclusively by their gaudy packaging) and will hopefully also survive the so-called “retro swing” movement (which continues to produce naught but warmed over rock and roll laced with ill-trained horn players paying misguided homage to Louises Jordan and Prima). It’s true that there are far fewer CDs available of Scott’s own performances than there ought to be, but Scott’s music dominates the mass media more at the millennium than at any other time since his initial 15 minutes of fame in the late 1930’s. You can’t watch any kind of programming on TV, from commercials to contemporary animation(not to mention much of the vintage contents of The Cartoon Network) without hearing “Powerhouse.” At venues all over (in New York at least), all manner of bands from The Knitting Factory to the Bottom Line and the Jewish Museum feature his work. Much of this has been due to the tenacity of Irwin Chusid, who’s served as the late composer’s posthumous rabbi for over a decade already, but Irwin would be the first to tell you that Scott’s music doesn’t need much pushing; you just lay down a few bars on the cats and recognition and delight will instantly set in. The stuff has a life of its own.

And yet Scott’s Quintette music of the ‘30s was hardly listened to or played by anybody (especially the composer himself) from the ‘40s to the ‘90s, only to be rediscovered around the time of Scott’s death in 1994. One obvious answer would have to be because of Carl Stalling: people know “Powerhouse” and “The Toy Trumpet” mainly from growing up with these melodies on television as accompanying arias for the wacky antics of wabbits and ducks. In the early 1960s, Scott composed three LPs worth of electronic music with the intent of quieting toddlers entitled Soothing Sounds For Baby (reissued on BASTA 90642, 90652, 90662), yet his Quintette music had already supplied the soundtrack for several generations of our collective childhood.

Yet the cartoon connection isn't the only reason. Quan­titatively speaking, Stalling made use of many more tunes, for instance, by Harry Warren, Warner Brothers own in-­house giant of the movie musical. Many Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies even took their titles from Warren's tunes. (Other slices of cartoon music rate the same recognition factor: the premiere episode of South Park quoted Harold Arlen's "I Love To Singa.") Thus the motivation behind the Scott resurgence can't be attributed entirely to the fami­liarity of the themes themselves.

What makes Scott so relevant to our times, ultimately, is the rhythmic accessibility of his work. Scott supporters lament that the composer is invariably given scant notice in histories of jazz (the inevitable reference to his Duke Elling­ton‑Cootie Williams homage "When Cootie Left the Duke"), but in truth, it would be difficult to consider the ‘30s Quintette music jazz in any except the broadest defini­tion of the term. Scott's groups may have used essentially the same instrumentation as Fats Waller and his Rhythm, but that was about as far as he went. The Quintette didn't utilize improvisation, it had no connection to the blues (not a necessary element of jazz, but it doesn't hurt to use blues harmonies if you want your music to be considered jazz), and it didn't swing. That is to say, it doesn't adhere to the rhythmic patterns codified for jazz by Louis Armstrong, then expanded upon by Benny Goodman, Count Basie and others for what became known as the "Swing Era." The Quintette music has a rhythmic drive of its own, and it "swings" in the same way that Bach or Hank Williams or Marvin Gaye can be said to swing, but Scott never tried to make it swing the way a swing band swings.

Jazz purists of the '30s decried that Scott's music wasn't strictly jazz even then. (While working on the original Raymond Scott Project in 1990, Irwin and I sent some tapes of Raymond's CBS acetates to an authority on Bunny Berigan, hoping to identify which tracks might contain that great trumpeter. Said authority was very helpful, but returned the tapes denouncing The Scott Quintette as nothing more than “junk music.") Today, however, the fashion in which Scott used rhythm, and in general avoided a jazz conception of time, ultimately works in his favor. Those wonderfully tricky, rinky‑dinky, mechanical sounding pieces fall very easily on the ears of contemporary listeners who've grown up with a rock and roll sense of time.

You'll note that I'm specifying "Quintette" music as opposed to “Raymond Scott Music." That's because Scott himself only made music that sounded like the '30s Quintette for a few brief Years. When he put together his own big band, starting in 1939, he only infrequently played his classic Quintette compositions and in general avoided making the Raymond Scott Orchestra sound like an augmented edition of The Raymond Scott Quintette. In the early ‘40s, Scott went in for mainstream swing in a big way, and his CBS studio orchestra was a legendary jazz organization that, to Scott's credit, was said to be the first to regularly employ jazzmen of all races side by side in a studio situation. There's even a tape somewhere of Ben Webster soloing with Raymond's orchestra and making “Powerhouse” swing like Duke Ellington.

However. If Scott wasn't playing the Quintette compositions with his own big band, plenty of others were. The tunes were especially popular in England, where "experimental” or “novelty” composers, such as Scott's unduly neglected colleague Reginald Foresythe, had long found favor. Popular dance orchestras like Ambrose ("Powerhouse”) and Harry Roy ("Dinner Music For A Pack of Hungry Cannibals”) crafted their own big band interpretations of classic Scott small group pieces. In Ameri­ca, even as dedicated a trio of proselytes for the cause of swing as Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey found “Twilight In Turkey" worthy of their admiration. The father of swing himself, Pops Louis Arm­strong, later recorded "Christmas Night In Harlem," right before that song became terminally un‑PC.

Yet bassist, researcher and producer Gert‑Jan Blom of the Beau Hunks has recently established that the biggest supporter of Scott's music from the musical mainstream, both figuratively and physically, was The King of Jazz him­self, Paul Whiteman.

In 1937, Whiteman was nearing the end of his second decade as the most celebrated bandleader in the nation. The former violinist began his career by hiring composer and arranger Ferde Grofe’ to all but invent the popular dance orchestra, and throughout the '20s, Whiteman's band, his physical girth and his ambitious vision for Ameri­can music matched each other for sheer size. He brought jazz‑influenced dance music to recordings, to the new medium of radio and, very early on, the concert hall. Along the way, Whiteman nurtured careers as varied as George Gershwin, Bix Beiderbecke and Bing Crosby.

Whiteman stayed on top‑continuing to score high ratings on radio deep into the swing era‑because he was always able to find something new. An early supporter of the long form, he commissioned Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue and continued to play extended works by everyone from Victor Herbert and Ferde Grofe’ to Duke Ellington and even a symphonic narrative by Rodgers and Hart. With Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey, Whiteman defined the concept of the dance band vocalist. His was the first orchestra to create its own audio identity in the era of elec­tronic media, even including motion pictures. Whiteman played everything from the loftiest classical adaptations (even a "fantasia" medley of Wagner‑definitely not your basic foxtrot) to the hottest treatment of "Tiger Rag" that money could buy; from Hoagy Carmichael's gully low "Washboard Blues" to waltzes (like "Coquette") to silly novelties like "C‑0‑N‑S‑T‑A‑N‑T‑1‑N‑0‑P‑L‑E."

When Whiteman switched to Columbia Records in 1927, the company rewarded him by putting his potato­-headed caricature in full color on the labels of his discs. That drawing confirmed Whiteman's iconic status as the single best known figure in all of popular music, and he was only beginning to tumble from that pinnacle in 1937. The swing band boom, ignited by many of "Pops'” own alumni (most notably Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey) was beginning to steal some of Whiteman's formidable thunder. At first, Whiteman assumed that swing was just anot­her trend that he could assimilate into his presentations. In truth, he did launch a "swing wing" within his larger orchestra, a group that could dispense the same kind of hotter dance music that the newer bands were offering, and also premiered a number of jazz combinations from within his ranks, such as the Bouncing Brass, Swinging Strings and Sax Soctette. It took a while for it to dawn on Whiteman that such groups were beside the point ‑ that his whole concert presentation was irrelevant in a world that now wanted to forget its troubles by dancing to the hottest, fas­test and loudest music it could find.

But in 1937, Whiteman was still on top, and his new Chesterfield series for CBS was one of the most popular on the airwaves ‑ former employee Bing Crosby was one of the few who matched Pops in ratings. For Whiteman, Raymond Scott offered a whole new realm of possibilities. His tunes were now being heard everywhere (although not yet cartoons for a few more years), both in perform­ances by the Quintette and other bands. But Whiteman did everything in first class fashion: where other leaders could merely offer Scott's tunes, Whiteman's Chesterfield show brought listeners Scott himself (it helped that Scott spent most of his career under contract to CBS, under whose aegis the Quintette had been developed). The pianist and his six man fivesome became semi regulars on the series.

In total, Whiteman commissioned 18 different arrange­ments of Scott's most popular pieces (among them two very different treatments of "Powerhouse") from his orchestrating staff, which included Roy Bargy, Irving Szathmary, Nathan Van Cleave, Joe Glover, Russ Case, and Fred van Eps. All 18 charts were heard on the series between December 1937 and December 1938, but although Whiteman was recording prolifically for Decca at the time, he recorded almost none of these works. (The only discs that have come to our attention are "The Toy Trumpet" and "Minuet In jazz," released by "Paul White­man's Swinging Strings." "Christmas Night in Harlem" is an exception on several levels, it's a song with lyrics and not a Quintette instrumental.
The Quintette never recorded it, but Whiteman did in 1934. Thanks to Whiteman, "Christmas Night in Harlem" became a much‑reprised duet feature for Johnny Mercer and Jack Teagarden as well as landing Scott his major success as a songwriter from then up to the time of his Broadway show, Lute Song.)

It's likely that some or even all of the original CBS bro­adcasts were transcribed (several LPs worth of material spotlighting Jack Teagarden has, thankfully, been availa­ble) but no aircheck of the Whiteman‑Scott works has come to light. Therefore, when the Metropole Orchestra (one of the finest large jazz ensembles in all of Europe) combined forces with The Beau Hunks Sextette (who've already recorded two definitive discs of Raymond's Quintette arrangements, Celebration on the Planet Mars, Koch KOC 3 7907-2, and Manhattan Minuet, BASTA 90362) it meant the chance to document these orchestrations both for the first time and in the best possible way. What you'll hear in this disc is a revelation in both careers.

A few pages ago, we went to great pains to discuss how the Quintette music was essentially not jazz and shouldn't be expected to swing like, say, Fletcher Henderson (or even John Kirby, Scott's darker "brother"). Apparently no one told the Whiteman arrangers. While keeping more or less true to Raymond's original rhythmic conception, the time feel has been pushed ever so gently more towards that of a conventional big band, and the result is a middle ground that will satisfy both ends.

The only listeners who might be disappointed are those died‑in‑the‑wool Raymondites who want a big band treat­ment of "Twilight In Turkey" to sound like an exact elabo­ration of the way the Quintette played it. Of all 18 tracks here, only one of the two versions of "Powerhouse" make the listener think he's hearing four Dave Wades playing trumpet in unison or a whole reed section doing what Pete Pumiglio and Dave Harris did in the original. Most of the time, the arrangers took considerable leeway with Scott's compositions. Knowing how fussy the composer was regarding his music (particularly in this, his pre‑jazz chase), it's doubtful that Scott himself enjoyed these treat­ments much, but nonetheless they are exciting, creative interpretations of tunes that do much to make the Quintette music work in a genuine swing band setting.

The Scott‑Whiteman collaboration, in essence, repre­sents a meeting of two traditions: Scott comes out of the era's trend of novelty or experimental jazz‑pop composers (the terms were essentially interchangeable at that point) such as Foresythe and Red Norvo; Whiteman was the grandfather of radio "program" music, a genre associated by that time with Andre Kostelanetz. Although Kostelanetz (like Percy Faith) became a muzak maven later on, his presentations in the '30s were considerably more challenging, a fact which can be verified by the presence of Claude Thornhill on his arranging staff. The traditions had met before; Whiteman had recorded Foresythe's "Serenade to a Wealthy Widow” and Kostelanetz had done an elaborate treatment of Don Redman’s “Chant of the Weed.” (The only Maestro to continue making this kind of music into the television decade, and not take it straight into the realm of elevator arias, was probably Leroy Anderson).

Therefore, in addition to making the Scott tunes swing a’ la Benny Goodman, the Whiteman arrangers also succeed in making the charts work as “program” music. Scott’s penchant for exotica was especially useful in this regard. Over the decades, a sort of aural folklore had clustered around the concept of sounds from other than white, western sources; by the ‘30s, Hollywood score composers were relying on even-then-old notions, clich├ęs even, of what Native American and middle eastern music was supposed to sound like.

Scott embraced these hand‑me‑down ideas and made them a solid part of his repertoire: when he wasn't depic­ting the mechanical rhythm of a factory or the no‑less mechanical walk of a penguin, chances are he was depic­ting some far away place with a strange‑sounding name. Indeed, probably one of the reasons Scott was tapped to write Lute Song was because of his fondness for "world music" style themes. Although none of the Quintette pieces was overtly oriental, Lute Song at last gave him plenty of opportunity to compose such chinoiserie.

Even Raymond himself would have had to admit that the Whiteman Orchestra was, in some instances, better equipped to carry out his artistic vision than the Quintette. Where the six‑piece group can simulate only a handful of wooden Indians, the full band puts you in mind of an entire tribe. The same is true of the other geographically‑driven works‑the Whitemanites expand "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals," "Twilight In Turkey," and "Egyptian Barn Dance" to Cecil B. DeMille‑like propor­tions, with hundreds of extras up to their “buttskis” in red Jell-O. "Siberian Sleighride" opens with near‑silence, and gradually the sleigh bells theme gets louder, as if the sleigh itself were barely visible on the mountain slope and slowly coming into view. The orchestra's expanded potential for dynamics renders one of Scott's more cinematic devices a lot more effective.

"Tia Juana" may be Scott's most unusual travelogue; he wrote it some years before the Quintette, and it has the least to do with the Quintette music of all the pieces here. Scott draws a connection between those two pentatonic cousins, Spanish music and middle eastern music. While the Quintette never recorded it, Desi Arnaz and his Babalu band actually did. Without so much as a suggestion of the Quintette's trademark herky‑jerky beat, this piece comes most closely to sounding like an authentically ethnic piece, offering Scott's approximation of a bolero.

The Whiteman orchestrations also call attention to the concept of interpretation. One Scott piece not done by Whiteman, "In an 18th Century Drawing Room," offers Scott's treatment of a melody written by Mozart for one of his piano sonatas; likewise, "The Happy Farmer" was in­spired by Robert Schumann (it's a theme that you'll hear, in another re‑interpreted form, in the background to the opening scene of The Wizard Of Oz). "Tia Juana," like­wise, is Scott's version of a bolero, while "Mexican Jump­ing Bean" (another oddity, Scott didn't record this piece until October 1939, on his first session with "His New Orchestra") has Scott suggesting a typical south‑of the-­border theme. The Whiteman arrangers then re‑interpret Scott's own interpretations of these familiar motives and concepts, and elaborate upon Scott's own elaborations.

Lastly, Scott's music is loaded with conflict: often he sets it up as kind of a culture clash‑"A (presumably American) Boy Scout In Switzerland"‑what would he be doing there? "Christmas Night in Harlem"‑un‑PC as it was for Raymond to suggest it back in 1935, that was not the locale where the holiday was normally depicted in pop culture, then or now. "Minuet In Jazz"‑that about says it all right there. On "Twilight In Turkey," Scott choreo­graphs the contrast between an original theme of his own devising and another "received" melody, an archaic motif associated with the faux‑middle east in carnivals and vaudeville going back at least to the 19th century, a piece sometimes known as "Snake Charmer" and often encum­bered with a lyric concerning the absence of pants in the sunny side of France.

Such contrast, it's almost needless to say, is grist for the mill for a larger jazz ensemble, and as a result the battle between the two warring themes of "Turkey" has never sounded more exciting. Likewise, the dichotomy between the two ideas described in the title of "Minuet in Jazz," with the Whiteman crew (or, rather, the Metropolites) illustrating the difference between the symphony and the swing band. "Egyptian Barn Dance" essentially pivots around a series of exchanges between the full ensemble and the drummer; "Suicide Cliff," which may be the sleeper sensa­tion of the current collection, is a dark, noirish theme that Scott never recorded. Although "Egyptian" exists in a Quintette version, after hearing the BH6‑Metropole per­formance you'll agree that both times properly belong to Scott’s orchestra oeuvre. As "Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner" and other pieces show, the Whiteman arrangers make a much greater use of background themes and countermelodies than was possible in the six‑piece group. Victor Herbert's "March of the Wooden Soldiers" can be heard in the background to Scott's fairyland foray, "The Toy Trumpet." The growling trumpet also gets considerably bluesier than Dave Wade by himself could ever hope to be on the blues theme of "Toy Trumpet."

What's also remarkable is that all this unique music was written, performed once or twice on the air and then forgotten, all within a one year period, By 1940, both Scott and Whiteman were no longer making noises that sounded anything like this ‑ both had given in to the swing thing and were individually leading two of the best bands in the contemporrary style (coincidentally, the often excellent recordings that both leaders made in that period are equally unduly neglected). Scott's 1940 big band, included future salon music auteur Hugo Winterhalter on clarinet and tenor, as well as, future band­leader and driver of the Woody Herman rhythm section, Chubby Jackson. The Quintette had already employed CBS house musician Johnny "Drummer Man" Williams (who had recorded with them under his own name, play­ing more straight-ahead stuff), and the drummer's son, pianist and composer‑John Williams, would grow up to win Oscars for his movie music and to succeed Arthur Fiedler as the conductor of The Boston Pops Orchestra. It would complete a nice full circle if The Pops would mount a pro­gram of the Whiteman‑Scott orchestrations, hopefully in conjunction with the Beau Hunks, as the Metropole does here.

We Yanks are long accustomed to the irony that it often requires Europeans to tell us what's best about our own culture. In documenting the remarkable collaboration of Raymond Scott and Paul Whiteman, these Dutchmen have rendered a major service to American music.”

New York City, June, 1999

“Jazz repertory represents an important direction and challenge for the future: to acknowledge the creative gifts of the men and women who created ensemble music for listening and dancing, and to prepare usable performance materials so that ensembles can easily play and study it. Just imagine if materials from the baroque and classical eras of music had been allowed to collect dust in attics or to languish in special collections in colleges and archives without editing and publication; by this time, they would probably have ceased to exist. We are only now accepting that the music of the big band era is unique and warrants saving, not just in terms of American cultural history but of world music as well. It is imperative that this work continue for the sake of indigenous American music. Perhaps wide interest in this music is still several years away; yet the time to save it is now." Sultanof, p. 521.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for pulling these loose threads together. It's useful for us Scott fans to be reminded of these things, including why American jazz fans don't necessarily appreciate Scott as much as those in Europe.


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