Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Author Archive for Robert Greenberg

Music History Monday: Mic Gillette, Tower of Power, and the Oaktown Sound

We mark the death on January 17, 2016 – six years ago today – of the American trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, and tuba player and teacher, Mic Gillette, of a heart attack in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Concord.  Born on May 7, 1951, in Oakland, Gillette was 64 years old at the time of his death. You might not have heard of Mic Gillette, but I can assure you have heard Mr. Gillette’s playing, time and time again.  He was a founding member (in 1968) of what I consider to be the single greatest funk-rock/soul/horn band ever, Oakland’s own Tower of Power.  Gillette also performed and recorded extensively with two other Bay Area horn bands, Cold Blood and Sons of Champlin.  As one of the most highly respected session players anywhere, Gillette has appeared on hundreds of albums, including recordings by some of the biggest names in the business, including Santana, the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, Rod Stewart, Elton John, the Doobie Brothers, Quincy Jones, Jefferson Starship, Huey Lewis and the News, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Mic Gillette was a local legend, a legend burnished by his dedication to teaching and to his family.  This post is […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

The vocal ensemble that is Lambert, Hendricks & Ross grew from a long and storied tradition of vocal ensembles, going back over 500 years. As a public service, I would offer up a quick survey of that tradition, starting with an important distinction. Distinctions! Let us draw a necessary and important distinction between a “choir” and a “vocal ensemble” (with the understanding that not everyone is going to employ this distinction with the rigor that I, for one, would like to see and hear!). Like an (instrumental) orchestra, a choir is a vocal group in which some (or all) of the parts are “doubled”, meaning that some (if not all) parts will have more than one player/singer per part. Like an (instrumental) chamber ensemble, a vocal ensemble is one in which there is only one player/singer per part. This distinction between choirs and vocal ensembles began to come into focus in the late fifteenth century, in secular music written for both skilled amateur and professional singers. Generally but accurately speaking, music composed specifically for a vocal ensemble can have more individual parts and more complex parts than a chorus, where numbers can easily gum up and blur the music being […]

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Music History Monday: Handel Ripped Off

We mark the premiere on January 10, 1713 – 309 years ago today – of George Frederick Handel’s opera Teseo at the King’s/Queen’s Theater (also-known-as the “Italian Opera Theater”) on Haymarket, in London. It was the still 27-year-old Handel’s third opera composed for the London stage and it was a great success. However, its success was marred by a potentially catastrophic backstage incident after its second performance. We quote the London journal the Opera Register, which ran the following article on January 15, 1713, five days after Teseo opened. Here is the article as it originally appeared; I’ll translate the passage into contemporary English after we’ve read the original. (The punctuation, capitalization, and spelling below are all as in the original.) “Mr O. Swiny ye Manager of ye Theatre was now setting out a New Opera, Heroick. all ye Habits new & richer than ye former with 4 New Scenes, & other Decorations & Machines. Ye Tragick Opera was called Theseus. Ye Musick composed by Mr. Handel. Ye Opera being thus prepared Mr Swiny then did give out Tickets at half a Guinea each, for two Nights ye Boxes lay’d open to ye Pit. Ye House was very full these […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes The Beatles

The Beatles made their first studio recordings – with George Martin at the helm as their producer – on September 4, 1962, at London’s Abbey Road studios. Out of the six songs they rehearsed and recorded, Martin chose two for their first 45-rpm “single”: an original, Love Me Do, and How Do You Do It, by Mitch Murray, which Martin intended to put on side “A” of the single. In those days, British record producers chose the material for their bands, and George Martin was convinced that How Do You Do It was going to be a hit. As for the other song on the single, writes the Beatles biographer Bob Spitz: “Love Me Do was a concession to the band, who practically begged Martin to consider their own material.” (At this point in time, George Martin and the Parlophone label he managed considered the Beatles to be performers, and certainly not songwriters. Martin later claimed that at this early date, he hadn’t heard: “Any evidence of what was to come in the way of songwriting.”) The Beatles collectively hated Mitch Murray’s How Do You Do It, and in the end, to his great credit, Martin relented. That first single […]

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Music History Monday: The Fifth Beatle

We mark the birth on January 3, 1926 – 96 years ago today – of the English record producer, arranger, conductor, composer, audio engineer, and musician Sir George Martin, the putative “Fifth Beatle.”  Martin produced 13 albums and 22 singles for the Beatles between 1962 and 1970.  All told, it’s a body of work that adds up to less than 10 hours of music.   But here’s a case where numbers do not tell the story, because thanks to George Martin, those 9 hours-plus of recorded music revolutionized the world of popular music. Today’s post will observe just how George Martin became the Beatles’ record producer.  Tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post will explore the impact Martin had on the Beatles’ recordings and what is, in my humble opinion, his masterwork: the Love album of 2006. But first: a dinner conversation that I believe you will find most interesting.  What Makes a Song “Last”? My neighbor across the street is a big, smart, outspoken man named John McGleenan. I love John.   He came to the United States from Dublin, Ireland, in 1992 at the age of 24, here to make his fame and fortune.  He has done both.  He founded […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Aaron Copland, Symphony No. 3

Yesterday’s Music History Monday postmarked the 80th anniversary of the completion of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 on December 27, 1941. The utterly cinematic first movement of the symphony depicts a magnificent and lyric “landscape” gutted by a brutal invasion theme that grows from nothing to a vicious, overpowering, overwhelming musical malignancy. Given current events at the time Shostakovich composed that movement – the German invasion of the Soviet Union – it is natural to assume that the “invasion theme” (as it became known) is a depiction of the encroaching Nazi horde. However, in private, Shostakovich told those he trusted that the symphony – and the theme with it – had been conceived before the German invasion, which began on June 22, 1941: “The Seventh Symphony had been planned before the war and consequently it simply cannot be seen as a reaction to Hitler’s attack. The ‘invasion theme’ has nothing to do with the attack. I was thinking of other enemies of humanity when I composed the theme. Naturally, fascism is repugnant to me, but not only German fascism; any form is repugnant. Nowadays people like to recall the prewar period as an idyllic time, saying that everything was fine […]

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Music History Monday: Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 7

We mark the completion on December 27, 1941 – an even 80 years ago today – of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, the so-called “Leningrad Symphony.”  He had begun the symphony at home in Leningrad but completed it in Kuybishev, a city today known by its original name as Samara.  Located on the Volga River just west of the Ural Mountains, Kuybishev-slash-Samara was one of a number of “safe havens” set up by the Soviet government to protect its intelligentsia from the invading Nazi hordes. Background: With Friends Like These . . . On August 23, 1939, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet government signed a pact of nonaggression and friendship with Adolf Hitler’s Germany.  In a secret protocol, among other things, it was agreed that the Soviet Union and Germany would, between them slice ‘n’ dice and then gobble up Poland; and that the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia would stay within the Soviet sphere of influence.  In return, Stalin pledged to stay out of any war between Germany and any of the Western democracies. And so the Stalinist demon sold its soul to the Hitlerian devil.  The pact stunned the world.  Russia and Germany – the two great continental […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Frédéric Chopin: Nocturnes

Network television has traditionally served up certain types of programming at certain times of the day.  Non-stop cartoons for kids?  When I was growing up, that what Saturday mornings were all about.  Soap operas?  Traditionally broadcast on weekday afternoons before 3 pm, presumably for housewives who had finished their chores but before the kids came home from school.  Evening news programs? Broadcast daily between 5 pm and 7pm, for adults who’ve just come home from work. Let us dwell, in particular, on two more such network television designations: prime time, and late-night talk shows. Prime time refers to generally adult programming broadcast – depending upon your time zone – between either 8pm and 11pm or 7pm and 10pm.   Late night talk shows refer specifically to variety/interview shows broadcast between 11pm and 1am. Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) would not have understood the concept of Saturday morning cartoons any more than he’d know how to operate a remote control.  Be he would absolutely have understood the concepts of prime time and late-night entertainment because there were media equivalents in his day.  In Mozart’s day, a work designated as being a “serenade” or a “divertimento” was intended to be performed in “prime time”: […]

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Music History Monday: Arthur Rubinstein: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

We mark the death on December 20, 1982 – 39 years ago today – of the Polish-born American pianist Arthur Rubinstein, at the age of 95. Practicing the Piano Question: does anyone really like to practice the piano? Answer: believe it or not, yes. However, we’d observe that those good people who really like to practice are – frankly – in the minority. The vast minority. Now, obviously, there is a galactic difference between the practice schedules of kids and adult hobbyists taking piano lessons and serious students of music and professional musicians. We would expect the latter – serious students and professionals – to be practice room junkies, addicted to practice and inseparable from their instruments. But this is not always the case. Which brings us to the pianist Arthur (or Artur) Rubinstein (1887-1982). Rubinstein in America, 1906 Rubinstein made his first concert tour of the United States in 1906, when he was 19 years old. It did not go particularly well. Rubinstein played his first solo recital in New York City. Henry Krehbiel (1854-1923), the famed music critic for The New York Tribune, was there and his review was scathing. How scathing I do not know, as the […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: “A Frenchman in Rio”

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post celebrated – in part – George Gershwin’s An American in Paris, a work inspired by two visits to Paris (one in 1926 and the other in 1928). Taking our cue from An American in Paris, today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post might be called “A Frenchman in Rio”, as it celebrates a work by the French composer Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) inspired by an extended stay in Rio de Janeiro. The Happiest of Composers There are few more enduring musical stereotypes than that of the unhappy, alienated, suffering composer whose inspiration must be torn from the deepest and darkest places of their soul. It was Richard Wagner (1813-1883) who formalized this impression by claiming that serious art – “true art” – can only spring from suffering, from pain, from loneliness and from frustration. In 1958, Darius Milhaud received a letter from young French composer who was deeply troubled by Wagner’s dicta and wanted to know what Milhaud thought about it all. Milhaud responded: “I am glad you decided to write me about your problem; here is my point of view if you want it. I had a marvelously happy childhood. My wife is my companion, my collaborator; […]

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