What is Jazz?

Last month we posted A Child’s Introduction to Jazz by Captain Kangaroo, and today we’re featuring a similar LP which looks more closely at the unique qualities of the music often called America’s greatest artistic achievement.

For many Leonard Bernstein is primarily known as a conductor, due no doubt to the commercial success of his recordings with the New York Philharmonic during his eleven years as their musical director. He was also an accomplished composer, and many of his works imply the influence of jazz: notably passages from his West Side Story score (a favorite of ours featured in a post here) and in the second part of his Symphony no. 2, The Age of Anxiety.

As a teenager Bernstein formed a jazz orchestra, and he was only twenty-five when he first conducted the New York Philharmonic (hear his debut here). In the 1950s he was an occasional host of a television program called Omnibus, which presented analysis of the arts in accessible terms. In one memorable episode Bernstein proposed how Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony may have sounded different by conducting some of the unused ideas the composer discarded. Over several years, and all three major networks, he also discussed musical comedy and opera, and in what became the basis for this 1956 LP, jazz. The musical samples are derived from Columbia’s extensive catalog.



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