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liszt rhapsodies

Franz Liszt published his Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in C-Sharp Minor in 1851, but it was some seventy years later it made is cartoon debut cementing the piece in American popular culture.

In an early Walt Disney cartoon, The Opry House, Mickey Mouse is forced to battle a manic piano while performing the popular encore.

Liszt’s irrepressible music reappeared just two years later in Krazy Kat’s Bars and Stars. Disney used it again in Silly Symphony, and this, along with Max Fleischer’s Car-Tune Portrait, present the unique challenges animals face when performing classical music.

When Warner Brothers’ looney genius Fritz Freleng discovers the Rhapsody’s potential, it becomes one of the funniest pieces of music imaginable. Freleng first uses it in Rhapsody in Rivets, a wordless masterpiece produced for Merry Melodies in 1941. In the cartoon (frustratingly unavailable on Youtube!) we watch a Leopold Stokowski look-alike conduct the construction of the building, using the blueprint as a score, all choreographed to Liszt’s Rhapsody no. 2.

Of the half dozen Freleng cartoons to feature the music, none is as memorable as Rhapsody Rabbit, in which Bugs Bunny makes his concert debut performing the piece only to find an unwelcome helper. Without straying from Liszt’s score, Freleng animates their conflict with magical timing in this clip below.

Bugs answers a phone during his performance (“What’s up, Doc?”) and says, “Who? Franz Liszt? Never hear of ‘im.”

The bit is lifted almost immediately by competitors Hanna and Barbera in the Tom & Jerry cartoon A Cat Concerto.

The Rhapsody no. 2 has also been performed by Woody Woodpecker, Rowlf the Dog, and in a violent piano duel by Daffy Duck and Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It appeared in three Marx Brothers films, and was used in a song about all the flavors of ice cream by the Animaniacs.

Throughout all this, the Rhapsody remains a concert favorite, often used by pianists to present their virtuosity in an encore. Liszt’s score enticingly invites the performer to add a cadenza. Many great pianists have written additions, notably Sergei Rachmaninoff and Arthur Rubinstein. From the very beginning it was a concert favorite, and as records were introduced it became a recording staple.

The recording used in this post, incidentally, is by Alfred Brendel, one of our favorite pianists of all time. Although he was known for his serious, scholarly attitude towards interpretation (once saying his “responsibility is to the composer and to the piece,” not the performer), Brendel likely appreciates the Rhapsody’s comic potential. In a recent retrospective interview he talks about his appreciation of early cinema:

As a child, I had played a lead in a children’s theatre and watched movies by Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. The fascination of the cinema has remained, culminating in a film series that I curated a few years ago under the heading “Between Dread and Laughter”. Great acting in the theatre as well as on the screen has continued to inspire my urge to play roles as a musical performer, and to treat musical pieces as characters.

Liszt himself was said to be one of the greatest pianists of his time, if not of all time. Few reliable accounts really tell us what he was like in performance, although he was occasionally mocked in reviews for his dramatic nature. He was known to add his own cadenzas to other works, or to include fluid changes of tempo to existing scores. In one letter he admitted doing all this to gain applause from the audience. We cannot imagine what Liszt, who life was tantalizingly close to the age of recorded music, would think of all these appearances in cartoons, but we think he would approve.

minnie rippertonfaze o good thang

 

 

 

While some jazz artists have changed direction and become popular vocalists, others have started singing on their records whether its popular or not. Our favorite of these has long been Dizzy Gillespie.

We’ve posted an entire playlist of Gillespie’s vocal numbers in the past. At home we’ve been slowly adding to the same 90 minute cassette for years — just to create an entire collection of songs with Dizzy Gillespie singing.

the modern idiomAnyways, one we’ve always looked for but had never found turned up in the shop on a compilation last week. The record is in terrible shape, but it played well enough to get us nearly three minutes closer to completing that cassette.

Also, like nearly every single recording of Dizzy Gillespie we’ve ever heard (whether he sings or not), this is just great! Few jazz fans like his vocal numbers as much as we do, but he remains one of the most undeniably accessible and endearing figures in the history of jazz.

 

Recorded from this 10″ EP in the Classics in Jazz series, here’s “Ooh La La.” It’s noteworthy that this one of the few recordings made of Gillespie’s orchestra during the short tenure of a tenor named John Coltrane. The soloist on this session, however, is Jimmy Heath.

There are so many Dylan covers one couldn’t possibly collect them all. We post them from time to time. This one hit a sweet spot for us — there’s something satisfying about Waylon version of this song.

waylon dont think twice

 

The same day we posted Lenny Bruce’s “Djinni in the Candy Store” last week, we came across this album while cleaning a great crate of jazz records.

bobby lyle

Keyboardist Bobby Lyle has made his most indelible mark as the musical director for hugely popular singers in the 80s — Bette Midler, Anita Baker and Al Jarreau — but he has sporadically recorded soulful jazz albums under his own name as well.

He is also part of the Minnesota jazz legacy, growing up just a couple blocks off Lake Street and cutting his teeth at clubs like the Blue Note and Herb’s back in the sixties. Jay Goetting’s history of Minnesota jazz, Joined at the Hip, includes an impressive story about Lyle. When Wynton Kelly was playing at Herb’s with his trio, Lyle stepped up and played during their smoke break. Mickey McClain was there, and remembered, “Kelly looked up and exclaimed, ‘Who the fuck is that?'”

Another legend about Lyle is that he nearly started a jazz fusion band with Jimi Hendrix. The two jammed, along with Willie Weeks and Gypsy drummer Bill Lordan, but the project never went further before Hendrix passed away the following year.

Lyle lives in Texas now, but according to Goetting’s book he occasionally returns to the Twin Cities.

photo

From the picture on the back of The 12 Sides of John D. Loudermilk, the singer-songwriter hardly looks like bad news, but he wrote some of the baddest outlaw tunes around. Our favorite is this 1963 single, which, like many of his songs, has been covered pretty widely over the years. Country fans likely know it as through Johnny Cash’s recording, and more recently it became a sort of signature tune for Whitey Morgan and the 78s.

Paul Revere and the Raiders had the biggest hit from a cover of one of Loudermilk’s songs with “Indian Reservation” in 1971. He wrote the song after a family of Cherokee Indians took him in when he was stranded in a blizzard, and they asked him to write a song about the plight of their people.

Historian Dee Brown calmly describes the period following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (and the subsequent Cherokee Removal Act of 1838) as “a bad time” in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The Cherokee people have long called it “The Trail of Tears,” as nearly their entire nation was forced to march more than a thousand miles with minimal supplies in one of the most shameful chapters in our nation’s history.

When telling the story of “Indian Reservation” to the Viva! Nash Vegas radio program (here), Loudermilk says that after being awarded a medal by the Cherokee nation, he was asked to read from a ledger from the Cherokee Trail of Tears and was shocked to find the names of his great grandparents, who were ninety-one years old when forced by the US Military to leave their home.

A small number of Cherokee escaped the forced removal and remained, and they now have a reservation as The Eastern Band of the Cherokee, not far from Loudermilk’s hometown of Durham, North Carolina. He wrote a song about his childhood there called “Tobacco Road,” which was also a hit after it was covered, this time by the Nashville Teens and later Eric Burdon and the Animals. The song has since become a standard and probably the most commonly covered of Loudermilk’s songs.

John D. Loudermilk is eighty-two years old and largely retired, so he’s probably not “Bad News” anymore. He is one of our favorite songwriters. In fact, last winter we posted a novelty song he recorded in 1957 without even knowing it was one of his songs (here).

hot pants

This is actually the second appearance of a hilarious country song by Leona Williams on the Hymies blog. Here’s the first.

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