hey mr. dj

for those of you who aren’t (yet) listening to stumptown’s 89.9, let me just say it’s gotta be the most kick-ass classical radio station in the country.  seriously.  there are a million reasons why this is true, but without question, a key ingredient is the awesome on-air talent spinning all those oldies but goodies.  case in point: ed goldberg.  i decided to pick mr. goldberg’s brain about gershwin’s cuban overture which the oregon symphony will be playing saturday and monday:

In Guys and Dolls, Sky Masterson takes Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown to Havana when he wishes to relieve her from the burden of her virtue.  It was that kind of place.  In fact, before Fidel and the gang came down from the Sierra Maestra Mountains to depose Batista, Cuba (and Havana in particular) was known as a playground for the wealthy and the mob-connected, and a notorious liberty port for sailors.  I have spoken to ex-U.S. Navy men about R&R in Havana.  The mind still reels.  If the word “fleshpot” were not already in the vocabulary, it could have been coined for the bars and brothels of Havana.  But, Cuba is also a Caribbean paradise.  Azure sky and sea, swaying palms, balmy zephyrs.  Unless you go during hurricane season.  And the music.  Afro-Cuban music is a gumbo of the creole cultures of the Caribbean.  African tonalities and rhythms, blended with Spanish dances and folk music, French influence from Haiti, and played largely on European instruments.  George Gershwin, rich and famous, would inevitably have visited Cuba, and he did so in February of 1932.  Whatever else he did for fun, he opened his ears to the music of the island.  By this time, Cuban-American music had a presence in the popular bands of the day, notably that of Xavier Cugat.  But, it is likely that it was hearing the native Cuban music in its undiluted form that moved Gershwin to compose a piece based on that music.  Cuban Overture was first titled Rumba, and was composed in the summer of 1932, not long after his stay there.  In his own words: “In my composition I have endeavored to combine the Cuban rhythms with my own thematic material.  The result is a symphonic overture which embodies the essence of the Cuban dance… The work concludes with a coda that features the Cuban percussion instruments.”  George Gershwin was not the last snowbird to be seduced by the rhythms of the Caribbean, nor the first.  Musicians as disparate as Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Buffett have succumbed to the sway of the music, and Louis Moreau Gottschalk was likely the first American composer to incorporate it into his works.  Just give a listen to A Night in the Tropics (1859).  No wonder some have called him “the first Gershwin.”

thanks ed – grab your coppertone and see you at the schnitz!


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