Monday, 05 January 2009


Good Time Music

If the name Ferde Grofé prompts any recognition today, it’s most often for being the composer of the Grand Canyon Suite, or as the arranger/orchestrator for George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. But Grofé had a long career as performer, arranger, and composer, beginning as an accompanist and bar musician, then working for Paul Whiteman as pianist and arranger, going on to lead radio orchestras, teach at the Julliard School, write symphonic works, and compose three film scores. Along the way he recorded 64 piano rolls for the Ampico company, and 23 of them have just been made available, played on a restored Reproducing Piano, on this compact disc.

Grofé made his roll recordings between 1924 and 1927, a period when he was playing in the Whiteman orchestra. The ones on this cd are all “pop” (at the time, they would probably have been called “jazz”)... popular music and showtunes recorded at dance tempo, often “with words (printed on the roll, so they’d scoll by as it was played) for singing.” Some rolls are pure Grofé– reproducing exactly what he played, while others (marked “Played by FERDE GROFÉ Assist’d”) had additional notes or phrases added to the artist’s initial recording to fill out the sound and make the arrangement more interesting.  All were produced using Ampico’s “Reproducing” system, which encoded the pianist’s pedalling and dynamics, as well as the notes he played.

These recordings are just plain fun!  With the CD’s “living room” acoustic, the Pierian folks have captured what it must have been like to sit (or dance!) around the ’ol (player) piano back in the 1920s.  Grofé’s playing is dazzling, the music is cheerful, and the sound (suggestion: Play at “performance volume”) is first-rate.  The songs themselves are guaranteed toe-tappers from the earliest years of the Great American Songbook, and if they all aren’t instantly familiar, they should be.  Liner notes are extensive, just too bad they didn’t include those “words for singing.”

Here’s a little “Charlie, My Boy,” just for a taste.

The details:

Original Popular Piano Recordings for Dancing & Singing 1924-1927
Played by FERDE GROFÉ, pianist & arranger

Tracks: Limehouse Blues, Hard Hearted Hanna, Somebody Loves Me, It Had to Be You, Please, etc., total 23 tracks, 71 minutes

Ferde Grofé (from Ampico reproducing piano rolls)
Pierian Recording Society[1] PIR 0033  [Amazon]
September, 2008

(And if you find you enjoyed this one, check out PIR0029: “Let’s Face The Music and Dance.”)

The Buffalo News:  QRS has ended production of player-piano rolls
Wikipedia entry:  Ferde Grofé
Pierian Recording Society (scroll down for release list)

[1] Distributed by Albany Music Distributors, Albany, NY.  Orderable through any decent record store.

Posted by: Old Grouch in Reviews at 22:26:37 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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