Analysed by Robert Walton
It’s hard to believe that a film tune as original as On Green Dolphin Street would remain virtually unknown for over ten years. It was written for the 1947 Lana Turner movie “Green Dolphin Street” but if it hadn’t been for American trumpeter Miles Davis’s 1958 recording it might never have surfaced to first become a jazz standard and then a fully paid up member of the Great American Songbook. In the 1960’s I ordered a copy of the sheet music from a well-known shop in Fulham, London, but was told there was no such title as On Green Dolphin Street. I begged to differ of course insisting to go ahead with the order. The following week I was presented with the said song copy and a somewhat embarrassing apology.
One of the best arrangements of On Green Dolphin Street was by Englishman Brian Fahey for Cyril Ornadel’s Starlight Symphony. It was given the full treatment and how! Ornadel’s orchestral policy was to dress-up good tunes symphonically. For openers we find ourselves in the Finale of Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony before the orchestra builds up to a terrific climax getting every ounce of feeling out of this magnificent melody as it soars. Already you may well be saying “I know this tune but not from this source”. Well, you are absolutely right. It bears an astonishing similarity to Lionel Bart’s Food, Glorious Food from “Oliver” but from my observation, it was probably Bart who pinched the idea from Miles Davis.
Anyway since Bronislau Kaper was the first to compose this majestic tune it is only right and proper that this is the one we should be analysing and indeed praising. The beautifully quiet answering phrase with oboe singing its heart out (Sibelius again) is the perfect contrast to the opening. Even in an up-tempo setting it works well - it’s easy to imagine Oscar Peterson’s percussive fingers flying over the piano. The whole chorus reveals itself as a gorgeous song at a time when such compositions were a rarity (Ned Washington wrote the words). No wonder it entered the world of great standards.
Then going into a Latin beat the tune still holds up well revealing its ability to be played in any tempo. Even more in the final moments the answering phrase through to the end is simply gorgeous capturing the imagination. It all adds quality to Kaper’s creation.
To think the seeds of On Green Dolphin Street once lay dormant in the soundtrack of an MGM film about a Channel Islander who emigrated to New Zealand and sent home for the wrong bride. It might have been a weak romance but at least there was a convincing earthquake!
Heard on “Contrasts” Guild (GLCD 5218)
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