23 Aug

Frenesi

Written by

(Alberto Dominguez)
Artie Shaw version analysed by Robert Walton

Whenever I play Frenesi in public, I normally get absolutely no reaction whatsoever from anyone in the audience. I don’t know what that says about my playing or indeed about one of the catchiest Latin American melodies ever.


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(Alberto Dominguez)
Artie Shaw version analysed by Robert Walton

Whenever I play Frenesi in public, I normally get absolutely no reaction whatsoever from anyone in the audience. I don’t know what that says about my playing or indeed about one of the catchiest Latin American melodies ever. Surely you would think Artie Shaw’s fifth million seller of 1940 would have left some sort of impression. The problem could be that the actual tune is not exposed enough in the William Grant Still arrangement but gets drowned in too much improvisation. So if you weren’t a big band fan, it wouldn’t mean a thing. Mind you, Latin tunes have always tended to appeal to the jazz fraternity. You hardly ever hear Frenesi these days on radio but when you do it’s often mispronounced as “Fren-acey”. Just to set the record straight the correct pronunciation rhymes with “Tennessee”.

Here in Galway in the Republic of Ireland there are two recent exceptions to the lack of response I was experiencing, proving that multiculturalism is alive and well. The first at this year’s Claregalway Garden Festival occurred while I was playing a piano purposefully left out to encourage people of all ages and standards to tickle and tackle the ivories. As I went into Frenesi out from the crowd popped a Spanish lady who immediately began singing this classic in her own language. I couldn’t believe my ears! After so many years of silence I was completely bowled over and thrilled by this unexpected turn of events and welcome intrusion. And luckily the key of C seemed to suit her perfectly. I demanded a rerun and without hesitation she instantly obliged. I was in heaven. Now I understood why Frenesi meant “frenzy” in Spanish!

The second occasion was in Ballinrobe at a local care home when I got the shock of my life on hearing someone whistling Frenesi as I was playing it. He turned out to be a Cuban and a new member of staff - not a million miles from Mexico where it was originally composed for the marimba. Must be something to do with the genes or DNA. Again I was totally taken aback. Reveling in the opportunity of having a soloist I continued forth in my new found role as accompanist. Incredibly not one person seemed to notice this unusual musical partnership!

If it hadn’t been for Shaw’s health problems caused by pressure of work, Frenesi might never have surfaced. For it was while recovering in Mexico that Shaw, looking for new material, heard the song played by a mariachi band. It proved to be one of his biggest hits.

So let’s take a closer look at this million selling record that most of the world has apparently never heard of. Basically it’s a series of improvisations by various members of the orchestra with very little Shaw. In 1940, Artie returned with a brand new 33-piece band including 13 strings that were still something of a novelty in the world of swing. The touch of a light orchestra with a dance band was irresistible. Farnon in embryo. If an introduction makes me smile like this one does, I know I’m in for something really special.

Lovely soothing strings lead straight into Shaw’s gorgeous clarinet tone and unique vibrato. The first 8 bars are played straight enough but thereafter Artie goes his own way. So if you were interested in the tune for its own sake, now’s the time to digest it before it gets lost in the rainforest of the arrangement. At least the middle 8 is played straight by Jack Cave on flugelhorn. Clearly swing is now the name of the game, as Shaw proceeds to jazz-up the melody, although to be fair you can still make out the tune. At the end of the first chorus there’s a delightful string quote from the 91-year-old Manhattan sounding as fresh as the day it was born.

The brass swing along nicely for 8 bars, changing key and leading to a 16 bar section featuring strings and flugelhorn. A bar of woodwind decoration harks back to the musical style of Laurel & Hardy, while in the next break we get two bars of Latin American rhythm sounding like Spike Jones invading the middle of a foxtrot. Then a whole chorus is delivered by a tenor sax, followed by a piano playing the middle 8 with flute support. Manny Klein gives us a classy 8 bars of muted trumpet as only he can. Then the band takes us back to Shaw for his final fling for one of the most sudden endings in Big Bandom. The quiet tune descends six notes down the scale to a tango-like finish featuring the single note of the flugelhorn dying away.

Could it be possible that the arranger had a mental block and ran out of ideas? Maybe there was a deadline for getting Frenesi finished? Perhaps the copyist had been screaming for the score? Or even more bizarre, could the time limit on the actual making of the recording in the studio have run out? Whatever the reason, I have to say against all odds it somehow comes off. And after all this analysing, I have to admit it’s beginning to grow on me.

Starting with the sensational Begin The Beguine in 1938, Shaw’s discs sold like hot cakes clocking up eight million by 1941. Surely this must have constituted some sort of record!

My father had the opportunity of actually seeing Artie Shaw’s US Navy Band live in New Zealand during WW2. Before that the band had seen plenty of action in the Pacific Theatre playing jungles, aeroplane hangers, ship decks and even in remote areas camouflaged for protection from enemy attack. My father’s verdict on the music - absolute bilge! Obviously Dad didn’t dig these newer fellas!

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17 Aug

By The Sleepy Lagoon

Written by

(Eric Coates)
LSO version conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras
Analysed by Robert Walton

By The Sleepy Lagoon was written in 1930. Selsey has a lot to answer for, because Coates’ most famous composition was inspired by the view on a warm summer’s evening looking across the “lagoon” from the east beach at Selsey towards Bognor Regis. The sea at that time of day is an incredibly deep Pacific blue, but it appeared pink like an enchanted city with the blue of the Downs behind it. Who needs to go halfway around the world for inspiration, when you’ve got everything in your own backyard?

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(Eric Coates)
LSO version conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras
Analysed by Robert Walton

In the first half of the 20th century, the ‘Uncrowned King of Light Music’ was Eric Coates, tunesmith extraordinaire, whose music provided the soundtrack to millions of people’s lives, but many wouldn’t have had a clue who wrote it. Like most instrumental music, much of it remained anonymous, unlike his songs that spoke for themselves. Coates though, was much more than just a master of melody. His brilliant orchestrations were tailor-made for his tunes and conducting them himself meant he had complete control over their interpretation. His marches proved to be the most popular, like Calling All Workers, Knightsbridge March, Television March, and TheDam Busters March.

But some of the most important Coates’ compositions were his lovely laid-back pieces with a romantic or rural flavour. As early as 1915, he had written a suite From TheCountryside. Later on he cornered the ‘millpond’ market, with his calm, unhurried, and peaceful creations. One of the first I heard as a boy was the beautiful intermezzo By The Tamarisk of 1925, used as the signature tune for a 1940s Australian radio programme called “The Junior Naturalist’s Club”. It was inspired by a patch of shrub in front of the composer’s Selsey cottage on the south coast of England. I once spotted a grove of the small trees myself on the sea front at San Sebastian in Spain.

By The Sleepy Lagoon was written in 1930. Selsey has a lot to answer for, because Coates’ most famous composition was inspired by the view on a warm summer’s evening looking across the “lagoon” from the east beach at Selsey towards Bognor Regis. The sea at that time of day is an incredibly deep Pacific blue, but it appeared pink like an enchanted city with the blue of the Downs behind it. Who needs to go halfway around the world for inspiration, when you’ve got everything in your own backyard?

Sleepy Lagoon (as it was later called) was not a purpose-built popular seller like David Rose’s Holiday For Strings. It became one by a series of circumstances. Songwriter Jack Lawrence discovered the piano version and wrote a set of lyrics that Coates thoroughly approved of. The song eventually found its way to bandleader Harry James but in fact the words were never used for his version. In his wildest dreams Eric Coates never expected his By The Sleepy Lagoon (originally described as a Valse Serenade), would turn into a foxtrot let alone achieve international hit status. The day Paul McCartney was born, the number one song on the Hit Parade was Sleepy Lagoon by Harry James, an unprecedented occurrence for an English light orchestral composition.

But let’s return to By The Sleepy Lagoon in its original form for a stereo recording of 1956. This gentlest of melodies must surely be the ultimate in the relaxation department and would easily qualify as one of the best examples of a tranquil tune from a vanished era. No wonder it was chosen as the signature tune for the BBC’s “Desert Island Discs”. For many years the dark brown voice of its creator Roy Plomley intoned over the music “How do you do Ladies and Gentlemen. Our castaway this week is”........

The 4 bar introductory vamp accentuating the second beat, immediately sets the scene, as this most famous string strain surreptitiously seeps in. It’s one of those iconic moments in light music history. Right on cue the goose pimples swing into action with the first of four 10 note leaps from the starting note of middle C in the key of C. You would be forgiven for thinking it might sound strained. Not at all. It floats effortlessly upwards, soft landing on a high E before coming to rest an octave below, cheered on by muted brass. Did you notice extremely subtle trills in bars 2 and 6, showing Coates’ attention to detail? He certainly knew how to create a mood. The next telling moment is in bar 7 when we bask in a gorgeous D9 chord while the brass stay in situ. After the opening jump, things calm down considerably as we meander in a relatively low range in a melody we’re all too familiar with.

The least known part of By The Sleepy Lagoon is the middle section but this natural extension is very much part and parcel of the whole concept and perfectly slots in. However the lagoon constantly beckons and we quickly return to our comfort zone. The last leap brings us back once more into this lovely tune ending in the coda with a mixture of the melody and the opening vamp.

Perhaps it might be a good idea at this point to show you the Lawrence lyrics that Coates loved. But the words weren’t quite all Lawrence’s. The first 5 notes of the song and the words of the title must have been the work of the composer.
“A Sleepy Lagoon, a tropical moon and two on an island”
“A Sleepy Lagoon and two hearts in tune in some lullaby-land”
“The fireflies gleam, reflects in the stream, they sparkle and shimmer”
“A star from on high, falls out of the sky and slowly grows dimmer”

“The leaves from the trees all dance in the breeze and float on the ripples”
“We’re deep in a spell, as nightingales tell of roses and dew”
“The memory of this moment of love will haunt me forever”
“A tropical moon, A Sleepy Lagoon and you!”

Despite those attractive lyrics, Sleepy Lagoon is far better known without them. If you want to hear it sung, feel free go to Google for versions by Doris Day and Dinah Shore. The latter’s honeyed-toned contralto was perfect for the job.

No, I haven’t forgotten the presence of seagulls on the “Desert Island Discs” theme. Thank goodness they were not the new breed of ‘attack’ gulls!

“By The Sleepy Lagoon” LSO available on Guild CD “More Strings In Stereo” (GLCD 5159)

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07 Aug

Auber Overtures ● 1

Written by

AUBER Overtures ● 1
Orchestre de Cannes – conductor: Wolfgang Dörner

Naxos 8.573553

Daniel-François-Esprit Auber – a name to be conjured with, but not nowadays! Even a classical music presenter recently said on air that he had never heard of him...

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02 Aug

Cinema Classics The Piano At The Movies

Written by

See Siang Wong
Sony 8985353612
The world of film music is a rich repository of good tunes and this new two-disc album has 24 mostly memorable themes played by See Siang Wong, a 37-7year-old Netherlands born Chinese pianist...

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01 Aug

Film Music Classics Vaughan Williams

Written by

FILM MUSIC CLASSICS Vaughan Williams Naxos 8.573659 RTE Orchestra conducted by Andrew Penny. 

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24 Jul

Just William’s Luck

Written by

(Robert Farnon)
Analysed by Robert Walton
Soundtrack music compilation from the first “Just William” film.

For many years discerning light music lovers often wondered what influenced those light orchestral classics of Robert Farnon.

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(Robert Farnon)
Analysed by Robert Walton
Soundtrack music compilation from the first “Just William” film.

For many years discerning light music lovers often wondered what influenced those light orchestral classics of Robert Farnon. My own theory is that from a very early age he was a virtual living, breathing sponge, possessing an innate ability to absorb all kinds of music from classical, through jazz to popular. Everything was fair game. Of course there were obvious borrowings from bebop, Bartok, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Eric Coates and David Rose. But we mustn’t forget those incidental ingredients that went into his creative cauldron to be called upon when needed. (Australian composer Ron Grainer was a stickler for keeping any good ideas that came to him on file for possible future use). But it was Farnon’s early serious works like his symphonies that contained clear evidence of an original style developing. He may not have realized it then, but little by little he was edging towards a new kind of music that in the mid-40s would suddenly blossom into a full-blown genre influencing a whole generation of arrangers and composers.

It was just Robert’s luck to hitch a ride to England courtesy of the Army during the latter days of WW2, who as Captain Bob Farnon conducted and arranged for the Canadian Band of the AEF. To suddenly find himself in London, one of the world’s important centres for music must have been something of a culture shock. However the British capital, apart from picking itself up after hostilities, was also the hub of a burgeoning light orchestral industry. Knowing he had a talent for this very specialized music, Robert had clearly come to the right town, so he stayed. The problem was he badly needed an element of luck, despite being well known through his broadcasts.

And then quite out of the blue an offer to write some film music came up. What he didn’t know was that this would lead to something completely unexpected - his dream of composing orchestral miniatures. Two “Just William” movies provided exactly that. The first, “Just William’s Luck” in 1947, gave him the perfect opportunity to release all that material which had been cooped up and lying dormant. It was quite enough to be in a position to compose and arrange a soundtrack, but to have some of the world’s finest orchestral players was the icing on the cake. All he had to do now was come up with the goods. Although it was a light-hearted film, the scope it provided for different moods was vast. It was his big chance to dig deep into his musical baggage and show the powers that be what he was really capable of.

For starters the impressive opening credits of “Just William’s Luck” proved he could easily create a big orchestral sound. Listen to those string flourishes anticipating a certain Flirt. Then we go straight into William’s cheeky theme that probably inspired Willie The Whistler. Farnon was a born orchestrator and like a kid in a toyshop was having fun and doing exactly as he fancied. Then back to that majestic start with the strings already pre-empting “Spring in Park Lane” and “Maytime in Mayfair”.

His ideas were never corny, just right for the action and jam packed with atmosphere. Had he been in Hollywood he would, I believe, have been immediately grabbed for “Lassie!” Did you notice a certain bean, ripe for development, jumping up and down trying to get noticed? And Farnon’s flare for tiptoeing tension sounded like an English “Tom and Jerry”. He was a master of the ‘wrong’ note which was absolutely right in a Farnon context and discords which might have jarred the untrained ear were pure joy to the converted. Playful woodwind didn’t know it, but were ‘rehearsing’ for what would soon become the norm in Farnon’s world. He might have even influenced the mystery and intrigue of the music for Lustgarten’s “Scotland Yard”. In fact there was music for every conceivable type of mood and occasion.

In effect this tightly edited soundtrack is a sneak preview of all the minutiae that would become the building blocks for those magnificent miniatures - little journeys of self-discovery. Remember they were still in the gestation period. Multiple births were expected very soon ..........Jumping Bean, Portrait Of A Flirt, Journey IntoMelody and most appropriately A Star Is Born!

“Just William’s Luck” and “William Comes Town”
are both from “MELODY FAIR” on Jasmine Records
JASCD 661.

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15 Jul

Mind If I Make Love To You

Written by

(Cole Porter)
Pete King’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton

For many years now my Guild collection of the “Golden Age Of Light Music” has been providing me with a perfect soundtrack for afternoon tea. But more than that, it has become something of an everyday quiz for country folk, in my case living on a farm at the edge of Europe in the far west of Ireland. I try to identify the tunes, composers, arrangers and orchestras from a vast treasure trove of titles. This virtual ‘university’ of music helps to maintain the brain as well as entertain.

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.