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PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
September 25, 2007

Music During Wartime

by Jim Newsom

Various Artists
Sentimental Journey: Hits from the Second World War

Legacy

Various Artists
Iím Beginning to See the Light: Dance Hits from the Second World War

Legacy

Various Artists
Songs Without Words: Classical Music from Ken Burnsí The War

Legacy

The most ballyhooed project of the fall TV season is a seven-part PBS documentary series by renowned director Ken Burns called The War. Beginning this week (locally on WHRO), the series tells the story of World War II through the personal testimonies of 50 folks who were there. With Burnsí track record and the publicity and controversy surrounding it, The War could well be the Roots of this decade.

The seriesí soundtrack is built around the music of the era, that wonderful big band sound that defines the last half of the í30s and the first half of the í40s so wellóGoodman, Basie, Ellington. But thereís moreó20th-century classical music by Copland and Walton, and contemporary takes by Norah Jones, Wynton Marsalis and Yo-Yo Ma.

Like other music-filled undertakings such as American Graffiti and O Brother, the soundtrack has spawned the release of additional music from the time period of the filmís setting. With the combined vaults of the now-merged Sony and BMG families at their disposal, the musical archaeologists at Legacy Recordings have assembled three additional discs to complement the single-CD soundtrack. Each is available separately or together as part of a four-disc "deluxe edition" box set.

Sentimental Journey brings together 20 "hits from the Second World War." Itís a potent mix of Artie Shaw, Harry James, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and more. Glenn Millerís cookiní version of "Little Brown Jug" is here, the Mills Brothers wrap their distinctive vocal blend around "Paper Doll," Sinatra croons "Letís Get Lost" on a radio aircheck from Your Hit Parade and fronts the Dorsey band on "Iíll Be Seeing You." Peggy Lee sings "Weíll Meet Again" with Benny Goodman, Billy Eckstineís rich voice leads Earl Hines and his Orchestra through the definitive "Skylark," Doris Day takes a mellow "Sentimental Journey" with Les Brown and Coleman Hawkins lays down his classic version of "Body and Soul."

Iím Beginning to See the Light contains "dance hits," though Iím not sure how one distinguishes "dance hits" from just plain "hits." Again, the mix is marvelous, filled with bandsí trademark tunes: Glenn Millerís "In the Mood," Duke Ellingtonís "C Jam Blues," Charlie Barnetís "Cherokee," Count Basieís "One OíClock Jump, Benny Goodmanís "Sing Sing Sing." Anita OíDay asks Gene Krupaís orchestra to "Let Me Off Uptown"; Tex Beneke tells about his gal in "Kalamazoo," while the Miller band wails behind him; and Kitty Kallen fronts Harry Jamesí crew on the discís title song. Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra remind us "Tainít What you Do (Itís the Way That You Do It)."

These two discs demonstrate how great it was when there was more to popular music than guitars, bass, drums, electronic keyboards and studio tricks.

There is also a classical disc that features several of the pieces found on the soundtrack, plus a few extras. Songs Without Words has Aaron Coplandís Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano featuring Benny Goodman on the licorice stick, some Dvorak, Liszt, Mendelssohn and Elgar. The third movement of Messiaenís Quartet for the End of Time, written when the composer was interned in a German prison camp, is especially moving and appropriate given the subject matter. The solemnity and seriousness of this final set is relieved only by Coplandís gorgeous "Groverís Corners" from Our Town, and makes for a powerful juxtaposition against the upbeat big band sounds of the first two CDs.

copyright © 2007 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.


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