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Great Film Scores of 1939
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This project is funded by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

+ About the Performance
This program was recorded 02/13/2009 at Symphony Space.

Great Film Scores of 1939 with jazz vocalist Miles Griffith and pianist/composer/arranger Kirk Nurock.

A delightful array of songs from the film scores of 1939-a year replete with florid melodies and entertaining lyrics. Miles Griffith and Kirk Nurock offer jazz-inflected impressions, putting a contemporary spin on such classics as Somewhere over the Rainbow, from The Wizard of Oz (Arlen/Harburg).




Where or When

The Lady Is a Tramp


I'm Sorry I Made You Cry

Piano Solo

Darktown Strutters Ball

I'll See You in My Dreams

My Man 

 Toot, Toot, Tootsie!

Ding, Dong the Witch Is Dead

Somewhere over the Rainbow

I'm Just Wild About Harry

+ About the Artists

Vocalist Miles Griffith has been a member of ensembles led by Max Roach, Reggie Workman, and Jon Hendricks. In 1994, he played the lead role of "Jesse" in Wynton Marsalis' celebrated Blood on the Fields, which premiered at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Griffith also participated on the Sony recording of this Pulitzer Prize and GRAMMY Award-winning work. He has performed with the T.S. Monk Septet, James Williams' ICU, and Jack Walrath's Masters of Suspense. A native of Brooklyn, Griffith's musical roots emanate from the Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, A.M.E., and Yoruba ministries. He holds a Master's degree in Jazz Vocal Performance from Queens College, and a BFA from Long Island University. He is Vocal Jazz Instructor at Columbia University and teaches privately. His own compositions and lyrics are featured on his five CDs as a leader. According to Village Voice critic Jim Macnie, "The vocalist has a wail that's able to shake a room, a visceral blues sensibility, and gregarious sense of humor."

Composer/pianist Kirk Nurock is refreshingly hard to pin down. He orchestrated for both Dizzy Gillespie and Leonard Bernstein; composed a work for 20 voices and three canines, which he conducted at Carnegie Hall; and won a scholarship at age 16, awarded by Duke Ellington. A veteran of some 30 years in the music world, he has arranged for James Taylor, Nat Adderley, a Woody Allen film, five Broadway musicals, and the Israel Philharmonic. Over 100 of his compositions have been released on CD or LP. A video documentary, Animalsong, chronicles his compositions for human chorus and the animals of the Bronx Zoo. Keyboard Magazine called him "joyously iconoclastic," and Dizzy Gillespie wrote, "Kirk-wow, you gas me!" A graduate of the Juilliard School, Nurock currently teaches composition and orchestration at the New School Jazz Program. He and Miles Griffith have performed and recorded together on a wide variety of projects and are delighted to be visiting 1939 with Laura Kaminsky and Symphony Space!


+ About the Music

The Hollywood film musical was in its heyday in 1939, a year that boasted a remarkable number of excellent films in all genres. Judy Garland starred in two of that year's biggest film musical successes: The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Arms, both produced by MGM. The former featured-in addition to Garland-Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton; and the latter, directed by Busby Berkeley, served as a vehicle for the dynamic duo of Garland and Mickey Rooney.

The Wizard of Oz was, for its time, an expensive film to produce, and its initial cost of $2.8 million was just covered in box office receipts after its initial release. Garland's signature song, "Over the Rainbow," is considered one of the most popular songs of all time by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts, and has been voted the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute.

Babes in Arms was a film adaptation of the popular 1936 musical with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart, which, on the stage, contained a wealth of great songs, many of which are considered classics today: "Where or When," "Babes in Arms," "I Wish I Were In Love Again," "My Funny Valentine," "Johnny One Note," and "The Lady is a Tramp." Only three of these made it into the film version, but an additional song, "Good Morning," by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, was added; it was later inserted into the 1952 musical comedy Singin' in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds.

Rose of Washington Square starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Al Jolson, and William Frawley. Set in New York City in the 1920s, it tells the story of Rose Sargent, a star in the Ziegfeld Follies, who falls for and marries a con man. Standing by him has a deleterious impact on her career. The story was a thinly disguised exposé of the life of Fanny Brice and Nicky Arnstein, who subsequently sued 20th Century Fox; the case was settled out of court. The film provided Jolson a perfect vehicle to offer up some of his most popular songs.

Other film musicals of 1939 included a slate from MGM: Balalaika, Bridal Suite, Broadway Serenade, The Ice Follies of 1939, and Let Freedom Ring. RKO countered with the last of a long run of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers dance films, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.


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