Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Cole Porter

Music History Monday: You’re the Top!

Today we mark the death of the songwriter and bon vivant par excellence Cole Albert Porter. He was born on June 9, 1891, and died at the age of 73 on October 15, 1964: 54 years ago today. We begin with what is, I think, is a great story. In September of 1939, Igor Stravinsky travelled from his home in Paris to Cambridge Massachusetts, there to be the Norton professor at Harvard for the school year. By the time his residency ended in June of 1940, France was being overrun by the Nazis. Stravinsky and his wife Vera had a choice to make: go back to Europe and take their chances or stay in the United States where the Hollywood studios were begging Stravinsky to head west. Not a tough choice. Stravinsky instantly became a Hollywood celebrity and his music a sought-after commodity. Disney used The Rite of Spring for the dinosaur sequence in Fantasia. Barnum and Bailey’s circus commissioned Stravinsky to write a work for its dancing elephants. The producer-huckster Billy Rose commissioned a work called Scènes de ballet. After the premiere of Scènes de ballet, Rose telegraphed Stravinsky: “YOUR MUSIC GREAT SUCCESS STOP COULD BE SENSATIONAL SUCCESS IF […]

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Robert Greenberg Recommends: Erroll Garner

The jazz-inspired revelation that changed my life at the age of fourteen was foisted on me by none-other-than the Elf himself: Erroll Garner. My dad had a number of Garner LP’s among the various stacks in the record cabinet, most notably the albums “Concert by the Sea” and “Soliloquy”. These records literally drove me wild, and if you had lined ‘em up side-by-side with a scantily clad Gina Lollobrigida and asked my testosterone-ravaged 14 year-old self to choose between the records and the sex kitten, I would have (eventually) chosen La Lollobrigida, but grudgingly and only after a few minutes thought. That’s how crazy these records made me. “Concert by the Sea” was recorded on an open reel tape deck by a serviceman named Will Thornbury when Garner and his trio performed in a church outside of Carmel, California in September, 1955. Garner’s manager Martha Glaser took the tape and played it for George Avakian at Columbia Records. Boom: the LP was made and just like that it climbed to the top of the charts, becoming gone of the most successful jazz records of all time. All these years later, this record still has the power to drive me absolutely […]

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