Jazz Development in Britain

I have been taken to task for suggesting that music produced synthetically would always lack the quality of human emotion. However, I think that I have heard the instrument at its best, that is, within the framework of its development to date. I am not, however, at all certain about how I would like to hear one played for, even if the synthesiser is ultimately developed to a point where it is indistinguishable from the acoustic orchestra, it is hardly likely to give me any joy— bearing in mind that it will then undoubtedly be exploited to the detriment of "live" music. In such event I should deeply miss the sight and sound of the great orchestras and bands of all kinds.

Somehow, I do not anticipate such an experience although I do anticipate considerable advance in the development of the synthesiser. One cannot, of course, learn from the future but only from the past; nevertheless, the great advances we have witnessed in the past four decades should encourage us to expect incredible advances in the next one. But synthetically produced human emotion? I doubt it.

Incidentally, in a recent television programme we saw and heard Leopold Stokawski rehearsing a youth orchestra and, in his own words together with greater authority than I can possibly claim, he lectured the young musicians upon the importance of the quality of human emotion in the performance of music. Reference to Stokowski reminds me of one of my long- standing aversions— the idiotic things we have seen Hollywood do in the presentation of music ever since the introduction of the sound track. Around 1936 there was a film bearing the title One Hundred Men And A Girl, the stars of which were Deanna Durbin, then a teenager but now Madam Deanna Durbin David, and Stokowski with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. The plot was of little importance but the music, so long as you closed your eyes as you listened, was as delightful as would be expected from such artists. In one scene, however, I clearly recall the members of the orchestra appearing to perform the Second Hungarian Rhapsody of Brahms whilst stationed all the way up the great marble spiral staircase of a hotel— with Stokowski conducting from way down in the foyer.

Then some years later, around the end of World War II, there was a film which claimed to depict the life of Frederic Chopin. Cornel Wilde played the part of the great composer/ pianist— looking far too husky despite having been fixed up in the later scenes with appropriate dark rings under the eyes by the make- up department. Merle Oberon played the part of George Sand and their love scenes together may or may not have been reminiscent of the real thing but, although Chopin was virtually at death's door from tuberculosis when he played his last concert at London's Guildhall in November 1848, it is not true that he dripped blood all over the keyboard as Mr. Wilde appeared to do in the film. Then there was the scene in the Paris Salon when Chopin and Liszt, on the occasion of their first meeting and sitting back to back at two pianos, played a duet without so much as a talk- through rehearsal.

Half way through the performance, realising themselves to be kindred spirits— although history does not bear out this fact— the two masters turned and shook hands at the same time managing to produce the sound of four hands on two keyboards. Another film, about the undoubtedly interesting life of Cole Porter, gave us a tortuous scene where the composer, in the throes of composition and looking remarkably like Cary Grant, had a hell of a time trying to find the fourth note of the melody of the chorus of "Night And Day".

He managed to hit everything for what seemed to be ages before arriving at the simple solution of dropping the melody line by a tone. I am sure that. given a free hand, Cary Grant could himself have done better. Similarly, in The Glenn Miller Story, James Stewart, desperately ill- cast as Miller, took us through a boring period of crisis before finally discovering that sound, but how anybody who knew anything of Miller the martinet could imagine that he could ever have had the gentle and rather vague personality portrayed by Stewart is nothing short of a mystery. The Benny Goodman Story did not slip quite so far away from fact, although it did at one point seem to convey the impression that Goodman had more or less "discovered" Lionel Hampton playing in a small- time cafe job, whereas it is my recollection that the latter had "arrived" some years earlier as a teen- aged member of Louis Armstrong's Los Angeles recording groups around 1930/ 31, in which he played both vibraharp and drums.

True, the standard of recording then did not do justice to Hampton or anyone else on the sessions but, even so, we thought him to be pretty good. It was, of course, his teaming up with Goodman that brought him international fame. With the arrival of the festive season we shall no doubt be hearing various versions of Irving Berlin's" White Christmas" which, of course, was sung in the original film "Holiday Inn". by both Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire— though not together. Even then they had Bing tapping out melody on the Christmas tree bells with the stem of his pipe— ably supported by an invisible glockenspiel player. The song, like the singer, has become an evergreen, and both are completely worthy of the description, but why anybody should want to dream about a white Christmas I shall never know.

Christmas is indeed a good excuse for a break from routine and for some over- indulgence but anybody is welcome to my share of that beautiful white mantle that turns all black and sloshy. Such is the power of association, however, that I never hear "White Christmas" sung without remembering Bing's Christmas tree bells and although I am sure that he would hate it, I never see or hear Stokowski without remembering that staircase. Whilst, despite the fact that history assures us that Chopin was an aesthetic and rather delicate character, I frequently have an entirely wrong mental picture of him wearing Cornel Wilde's muscles.