Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Robert Farnon and George Shearing (Thanks to BBC Radio)

Kudos to BBC Radio and their replay system. Thanks to this wonderful online device I can listen to music, documentaries and even the occasional drama while I'm doing my daily yoga session (which used to involve catching a train or bus to the yoga centre but now, happily, merely involves unrolling a mat on the living room floor). As a result I'm listening to seven hours of radio a week, just while I'm practising yoga.One of my favourite programs, as I've mentioned elsewhere, is Russell Davies on popular song. I'm also growing increasingly fond of Clare Teal, who does big band shows on both Sunday and Monday nights. The great thing about both these broadcasters is that they give due credit to arrangers. In fact it was Russell Davies who introduced me to the work of Robert Farnon. According to Davies, Farnon is esteemed as being the greatest arranger of his time. A Canadian who relocated in Britain, he is regarded as the king of easy listening, so as you can imagine, I approached his work with a certain degree of trepidation. Luckily he has also recorded a fair amount of authentic jazz with some great musicians, so that gave me an obvious starting point. The first CD (yes, I had to resort to CDs) that I got hold of was the Grammy award winning Tangence with trombonist JJ Johnson. Farnon also did some memorable soundtracks including Horatio Hornblower (the beautiful theme to which first attracted JJ Johnson to his work) and Shalako, which is pictured above. I'm on the look out for both of these on vinyl, but in the meantime I've been happy exploring Farnon's jazz work. Then last week both Russell Davies and Clare Teal broadcast programs celebrating the 90th birthday of George Shearing. A blind British piano prodigy who relocated in America, Shearing has managed to acquire near legendary status in jazz while remaining virtually absent from my record collection (okay I do have Beauty and the Beat, with Peggy Lee and a few others). I was delighted to have the chance to learn a bit more about him and doubly delighted when Clare Teal played a track with Shearing playing piano against arrangements by Robert Farnon. The track was 'Surrey with a Fringe on Top' by Rogers and Hammerstein, an old favourite of mine thanks to jazz interpretations by the likes of Miles Davis and Blossom Dearie. The Farnon and Shearing version was dynamite and I was chuffed to find it came from a complete album by the two. The album How Beautiful is Night is only available on CD, from the somewhat cheesy Telarc label, but you can't have everything. And inexpensive copies were for sale on Amazon, as I discovered when I went scurrying to my computer. The CD arrived today and I'm now listening to it. I would recommend it highly. Shearing has a terrific touch and as you kight guess, the arrangements by Farnon are so subtle and smooth and appropriate that they're almost not there, if you know what I mean. So I'm now rubbing my hands with glee and keeping my eyes peeled for more albums by both these guys. Because, of course, more albums is what I need in my life. Excuse me including the cheesy Telarc CD cover, but you might want to know what it looks like. Buy it if you see it.

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