Seventy-six years after this premiere performance, it might be difficult to envision Tommy Dorsey as a pop star of such magnitude, but the audience’s enthusiasm is more than enough proof. And I salute the young woman who, at 2:30, yells, “Frankie!” We know who that is. But Maestro Stokowski has to lecture the young men and women — an audience of 2300 schoolchildren, I have read — sternly at first, and again at the end of the second movement.
Please listen to the very end, where the announcer oh-so-calmly concludes that the audience’s excitement at the rhythmic nature of the final movement must have come from our civilization’s roots in “the jungle.” Dorsey was Caucasian of Irish descent; I wonder what would have been said were he African-American?
I’d gather than the work was written with Dorsey in mind — as the pre-eminent popular American trombonist, for Shilkret’s score has sly nods to Dorsey’s theme, I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU, his hit SONG OF INDIA, and the third movement’s BOOGIE WOOGIE, at least rhythmically. Dorsey and Shilkret had a long history: Tommy played on a recording of the All Star Orchestra, directed by Nat, in 1928, and they would have encountered each other frequently in radio orchestras Nat directed.
I think most readers will have encountered Shilkret as a name on a Victor 78, but if the Concerto has hints of film music, he also worked for RKO and MGM from 1935 to the middle Fifties. And of course there is the pleasing shadow of Gershwin, someone whose path crossed Shilkret’s early as well. His biography can be found here, and it’s fascinating. He had a long life — 1889-1982 — and I am amused to find that he lived with his son for the last twenty-five years of his life in Franklin Square, New York, a suburb not far from me.
This performance of Shilkret’s CONCERTO FOR TROMBONE AND ORCHESTRA (occasionally noted with MODERN preceding the title) took place at City Center in New York City on February 15, 1945, with Leopold Stokowski conducting. And this archival recording was rebroadcast, thanks to John Schaefer, over New York public radio, WNYC-FM, here in 1989:
May your happiness increase!