Born Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé, in New York City, Grofé came by his extensive musical interests naturally. His family had four generations of classical musicians. His father, Emil von Grofé, was a baritone who sang mainly light opera; his mother, Elsa Johanna Bierlich von Grofé, a professional cellist, was also a versatile music teacher who taught Ferde to play the violin and piano. Elsa's father, Bernardt Bierlich, was a cellist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York and Elsa's brother, Julius Bierlich, was first violinist and concertmaster of the Los Angeles Symphony.
Ferde's father died in 1899, after which his mother took Ferde abroad to study piano, viola and composition in Leipzig, Germany. Ferde became proficient on a wide range of instruments including piano (his favored instrument), violin, viola (he became a violist in the LA Symphony), baritone horn, alto horn and cornet. This command of musical instruments and composition gave Ferde the foundation to become, first an arranger of other composers' music, and then a composer in his own right.
Grofé left home at age 14 and variously worked as a milkman, truck driver, usher, newsboy, elevator operator, helper in a book bindery, iron factory worker, and played in a piano bar for two dollars a night and as an accompanist. He continued studying piano and violin. When he was 15 he was performing with dance bands. He also played the alto horn in brass bands. He was 17 when he wrote his first commissioned work.
Beginning about 1920, he played jazz piano with the Paul Whiteman orchestra. He served as Whiteman's chief arranger from 1920 to 1932. He made hundreds of arrangements of popular songs, Broadway show music, and tunes of all types for Whiteman.
Grofé's most memorable arrangement is that of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which established Grofé's reputation among jazz musicians. Grofé took what Gershwin had written for two pianos and orchestrated it for Whiteman's jazz orchestra. He transformed Gershwin's musical canvas with the colors and many of the creative touches for which it is so well known. He went on to create two more arrangements of the piece in later years. Grofé's 1942 orchestration for full orchestra of Rhapsody in Blue is the one most frequently heard today. In 1928, Gershwin wrote a letter to ASCAP complaining that Grofé had listed himself as the composer of Rhapsody in Blue. Despite this misunderstanding, Grofé served as one of the pallbearers at Gershwin's funeral in 1937.
In 1932, The New York Times called Grofé "the Prime Minister of Jazz". This was an oblique reference to the fact that Whiteman was widely called "King of Jazz", especially after the appearance of the 1930 film of that name which featured Whiteman's music.
During this time, Grofé also recorded piano rolls for the American Piano Company (Ampico) in New York. These captured performances were embellished with additional notes after the initial recording took place to attempt to convey the thick lush nature of his orchestra's style. Hence the published rolls are marked "Played by Ferde Grofé (assisted)".
Not everybody appreciated Grofé's flowery arrangements during this time. In a review of a Whiteman jazz concert in New York, one writer said the music was expected to be pleasing, and "it proved so when it was repeated last night, in spite of the excessive instrumentation of Ferde Grofé." A writer of a later generation said "the Grofé and Gould pieces were the essence of slick commercialism..."
Mardi Gras (from Mississippi Suite) was recorded in the radio transcription series Shilkret Novelties in 1931. and again by Nathaniel Shilkret in RCA Victor's transcription series His Master's Voice of the Air in 1932. On the Trail (from Grand Canyon Suite) was also recorded in the His Master's Voice of the Air transcriptions.
During the 1930s, he was the orchestra leader on several radio programs, including Fred Allen's show and his own The Ferde Grofé Show. The "On the Trail" segment of Grand Canyon Suite was used for many years as the "musical signature" for radio and television programs sponsored by Philip Morris cigarettes, beginning with their 1933 radio program featuring Grofé and his orchestra and concluding with I Love Lucy (1951–57). Jon Hendricks wrote lyrics for "On the Trail", and the song was recorded for Hendricks' album To Tell the Truth (1975). The piano version sheet music of the suite includes lyrics to the central section of "On the Trail" by songwriter Gus Kahn.
In January 1933 the premiere of his Tabloid, an orchestral suite in 4 movements, was presented in Carnegie Hall. In 1937, he conducted a concert tribute to George Gershwin at Lewisohn Stadium. The turnout (20,223 people) was the largest in that stadium's history. The following year, 1934, Grofé announced he was working on an opera, to be based on the Edgar Allan Poe story "The Fall of the House of Usher".
In 1943, he was a guest on Paul Whiteman Presents. In 1944, he was a panelist on A Song Is Born radio show, judging the works of unknown composers. Before that time he had served several times as judge or co-judge in musical contests. Grofé was later employed as a conductor and faculty member at the Juilliard School of Music where he taught orchestration.
In addition to being an arranger, Grofé was also a composer in his own right. While still with Whiteman, in 1925, he wrote Mississippi Suite, which Whiteman recorded in shortened format in 1927. He wrote a number of other pieces, including a theme for the New York World's Fair of 1939 and suites for Niagara Falls and the Hudson River. Possibly as a result of his World's Fair theme, 13 October 1940 was designated Ferde Grofé Day at the American pavilion of the World's Fair. Grofé conducted his Niagara Falls Suite as part of the ceremony marking the opening of the first stage of the Niagara Falls Power Generation project.
Other notable compositions by Grofé were the Death Valley Suite and a music production about Mark Twain. Death Valley Suite is a short symphonic suite written by Grofé in 1949, depicting the westward travels of pioneers through the 'harsh lands' of Death Valley in California. Grofé was commissioned by the Death Valley 49ers, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving pioneering and mining history of the Death Valley region encompassing Death Valley National Monument (now Death Valley National Park) and surrounding area. The composition and music was part of a pageant performed on December 3, 1949 celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 49ers who came by way of Death Valley in search of gold and other riches and celebration of the California state centennial (1850–1950). The 1949 pageant setting was outdoors at Desolation Canyon in Death Valley. Grofé was the conductor and actor James Stewart was the narrator. In 1960, work was announced on a musical production based on the life of Mark Twain. The music was first assigned to Victor Young, but Grofé was later brought in to complete the work.
Grofé is best known for his composition of the Grand Canyon Suite (1931), a work regarded highly enough to be recorded for RCA Victor with the NBC Symphony conducted by Arturo Toscanini (in Carnegie Hall in 1945, with the composer present). The earlier Mississippi Suite along with the later Death Valley Suite are occasionally performed and are recorded. Grofé conducted the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in his Grand Canyon Suite and his piano concerto (with pianist Jesús María Sanromá) for Everest Records in 1960; the recording was digitally remastered and issued on CD in 1997.
In 1958, Walt Disney released a live-action, short subject film of the Grand Canyon using the Grand Canyon Suite music. The thirty-minute Technicolor and CinemaScope film, entitled Grand Canyon, used no actors or dialogue, simply shots of the Grand Canyon itself and several animals around the area, all shown with Grofé's music accompanying the visuals. The short won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Subject, and was shown as a featurette accompanying Disney's 1959 Sleeping Beauty. Today, the "Grand Canyon Suite's" third movement, "On the Trail," can be heard playing as the Disneyland Railroad passes the Grand Canyon sections of the "Grand Circle Tour" of Disneyland.
He began his second career as composer of film scores in 1930, when he provided arrangements (and perhaps portions of the score) for the film King of Jazz. Published data for this movie do not list Grofé as the score's composer, however. He is also credited with the film score for the 1930 movie Redemption.
A review for the 1944 Joseph Lewis film Minstrel Man stated "the music, scored by Ferde Grofé, is an outstanding item." Grofé was nominated, along with Leo Erdody, for an Academy Award in the category "Scoring of a Musical Picture" for this film.
Although he spent the first half of his life living in New Jersey and working in and around New York City, by 1945 he had moved to Los Angeles full-time. In 1945 he also sold his Teaneck, New Jersey, home.
Grofé married his first wife, Mildred Grizzelle, a singer, in 1916, and divorced in 1928. In May 1951, he filed for divorce in Las Vegas, Nevada, from his second wife, Ruth, whom he had married in 1929. The day after the divorce was granted, he married his third wife, Anna May Lampton (13 January 1952).
Ferde Grofé died in Santa Monica, California, on April 3, 1972, aged 80, and was buried in the Mausoleum of the Golden West at the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. He left four children, Ferdinand Rudolf Jr., Anne, Robert, and Delight, all of the Los Angeles area.
Grofé composed a large number of works in a variety of styles, commonly in symphonic jazz.
Works for Concert Band
Chamber music and solo works
His soundtrack to the 1950 science fiction film Rocketship X-M included the use of the theremin. Grofe's score for this film was released in 2012 on compact disc by Monstrous Movie Music, #MMM1965. His monumental Grand Canyon Suite is his best known work, a masterpiece in orchestration and evocation of mood and location.
Since 2010, the scores Requiem for a Ghost Town, the ballet Cafe Society and the Ode To The Star-Spangled Banner have been performed in newly published musicological scores based on the manuscripts on file with the Library of Congress.
Cecil Leeson (16 December 1902 North Dakota – 17 April 1989), a musician and teacher, was widely credited with establishing the saxophone as a legitimate concert instrument.
In 1937, Mr. Leeson was the first saxophonist to play at Town Hall in New York City. He was also one of the first saxophonists to appear as a soloist with major American symphony orchestras. More than 50 works for saxophone were written for him by composers such as Leon Stein, Edvard Moritz, Paul Creston, and Ferde Grofé.
Leeson taught saxophone performance at Northwestern University from 1955 to 1961 and then at Ball State University. His papers and his collection of original Adolphe Sax and other famous saxophones are in the America's National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota.
The 2nd World Saxophone Congress in Chicago in 1970, "honored Leeson for 50 years of pioneering and contributing to the establishment of the saxophone in the field of music".Death Valley Suite
The Death Valley Suite is a short symphonic suite written by Ferde Grofé in 1949, depicting the westward travels of pioneers through the 'harsh lands' of Death Valley in California. Grofe was commissioned by the Death Valley 49ers, a non profit organization devoted to preserving pioneering and mining history of the Death Valley region (consisting of Death Valley National Park and surrounding area). The composition and music was part of a pageant celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 49ers who came by way of Death Valley in search of gold and other riches and celebration of the California state centennial (1850-1950).The original performance was conducted by Grofe with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony on December 3, 1949 in the Desolation Canyon area of Death Valley National Monument (Now Death Valley National Park). The music was used in the background as a procession of covered wagons entered the area. Actor James Stewart narrated the pageant celebration. The 1949 pageant was attended by 65,000 people.The movements are titled:
I. Funeral Mountains - a strange atonal movement in 5/4 time
II. '49er Emigrant Train - features colorful musical depictions of an Indian attack and a wagon train
III. Desert Water Hole - a medley mixing Oh, Susannah and the main theme of the piece.
IV. Sand Storm - another atonal movement featuring a wind machine with a final coda recapitulating the main dramatic theme.Total length of composition is 17 minutes and 11 seconds.George Marsh (musician)
George Marsh (c. 1900 –1962) was an American jazz drummer. In the 1920s, he played with one of Paul Whiteman's bands, as well as recording with musicians including Frankie Trumbauer and Eddie Lang. From 1932 to 1934, Marsh played in an orchestra led by Ferde Grofé. He later moved to California, where he worked in film music. He died in Los Angeles in April 1962.Grand Canyon Suite
The Grand Canyon Suite is a suite for orchestra by Ferde Grofé, composed between 1929 and 1931. It was initially titled Five Pictures of the Grand Canyon.
It consists of five movements, each an evocation in tone of a particular scene typical of the Grand Canyon. Paul Whiteman and his orchestra gave the first public performance of the work, in concert at the Studebaker Theatre in Chicago on November 22, 1931.In a Mellow Tone (album)
In a Mellow Tone is a 1989 studio album by Anita O'Day.It's All Right!
It's All Right! is an album by jazz pianist Wynton Kelly released on the Verve label featuring performances by Kelly with Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb with Kenny Burrell and Candido Camero recorded in 1964. Original recording was produced by Creed Taylor.List of program music
Program music is a term usually applied to any musical composition on the classical music tradition in which the piece is designed according to some preconceived narrative, or is designed to evoke a specific idea and atmosphere. This is distinct from the more traditional absolute music popular in the Baroque and Classical eras, in which the piece has no narrative program or ideas and is simply created for music's sake. Musical forms such as the symphonic poem, ballade, suite, overture and some compositions in freer forms are named as program music since they intended to bring out extra-musical elements like sights and incidents.
Opera, ballet, and Lieder could also trivially be considered program music since they are intended to accompany vocal or stage performances. They will be excluded from this list except where they have been extensively popularized and played without the original vocals and/or stage performance.
The orchestral program music tradition is also continued in some pieces for jazz orchestra. For narrative or evocative popular music, please see Concept Album.
Any discussion of program music brings to mind Walt Disney's animated features Fantasia (1940) and Fantasia 2000 (1999), in which the Disney animators provided explicit visualizations of a number of famous pieces of program music. However, not all the pieces used in the films were particularly programmatic, and in most cases the narratives illustrated by the animators were different from whatever programmatic narrative might have existed originally.List of symphonic poems
This is a list of some notable composers who wrote symphonic poems.Mississippi Suite
The Mississippi Suite (Tone Journey) is a 1925 orchestral suite in four movements by Ferde Grofé, depicting scenes along a journey down the Mississippi River from its headwaters of Minnesota down to New Orleans.Music City Drum and Bugle Corps
The Music City Drum and Bugle Corps is a World Class competitive junior drum and bugle corps. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Music City is a member corps of Drum Corps International..Niagara Falls Suite
The Niagara Falls Suite is a musical composition written by Ferde Grofé in 1960, and performed at Niagara Falls in 1961.Rhapsody in Blue
Rhapsody in Blue is a 1924 musical composition by the American composer George Gershwin for solo piano and jazz band, which combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects.
The composition was commissioned by the bandleader Paul Whiteman. It was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé several times, including the original 1924 scoring, the 1926 "theater orchestra" setting, and the 1942 symphony orchestra scoring, though completed earlier. The piece received its premiere in the concert, An Experiment in Modern Music, which was held on February 12, 1924, in Aeolian Hall, New York City, by Whiteman and his band with Gershwin playing the piano.
The editors of the Cambridge Music Handbooks opined that "The Rhapsody in Blue (1924) established Gershwin's reputation as a serious composer and has since become one of the most popular of all American concert works."The Beau Hunks
The Beau Hunks are a Dutch revivalist music ensemble who have performed and recorded the vintage works of composers Leroy Shield, Marvin Hatley, Raymond Scott, Edward McDowell, Ferde Grofé, and others. They have been referred to as a "documentary orchestra," because they perform note-perfect renditions of music which is obscure and often commercially unavailable. For some projects for which no sheet music was known to exist, they had to reconstruct charts from original recordings extracted from films.
For various projects they have been reconfigured as The Beau Hunks Sextette, The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette, The Beau Hunks Saxophone Quartet, and The Beau Hunks Orchestra. They have recorded for the labels Movies Select Audio, EigenWijs (a division of the VPRO, the Dutch public broadcasting network), Basta Audio-Visuals, and Koch Screen.The Proud and Damned
The Proud and Damned, also known as The Proud and the Damned, Proud and Damned, and Proud, Damned and Dead, is a 1972 American-Colombian co-production western film directed by Ferde Grofé Jr.. Some sources quote the title as "The Proud and the Damned", which is not the original name. The actual title, "The Proud and Damned", is clearly displayed in the title text of the original film version in the opening of the movie. Some images erroneously use the title "The Proud and the Damned".The Uplifters (club)
The Lofty and Exalted Order of Uplifters or simply The Uplifters is an invitation-only social club at the Los Angeles Athletic Club founded by Harry Marston Haldeman in 1913. The club is still in existence today.
Haldemen, originally from Chicago, was a plumbing magnate and grandfather of Watergate conspirator, H.R. Haldeman. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, he sought to create a men's club similar to The Bugs. Its membership included Marco H. Hellman, Sim W. Crabill, Ralph Hamlin,Herman Paine, Sr., Ernest R. Ball, Byron Gay, Will Rogers, Walt Disney, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Busby Berkeley, Leo Carrillo, Harold Lloyd, Darryl F. Zanuck, Ferde Grofé, Eugene Biscailuz, Hays Rice, Clarence R. Rundel, Louis F. Gottschalk, and L. Frank Baum. Baum created the group's name, wrote its anthem, "Haldeman," and scripted most of their amateur theatricals until his death, several of which were revived posthumously.
In its initial stage, the Uplifters met regularly at The Los Angeles Athletic Club after construction on the 12-story clubhouse finished in 1912. They also held an infamous annual party, called the Hijinx, first in Los Angeles and later in both Lake Arrowhead and Del Mar. The men-only affair featured heavy drinking, the staging of lewd plays and outdoor sports including polo and shooting.
Eventually the group moved out of the Los Angeles Athletic Club to avoid the scrutiny of prohibition, purchasing a ranch in 1920 near what is now Will Rogers State Historic Park. The ranch encompassed 120 acres and included a Spanish Colonial-style clubhouse with tennis courts, a swimming pool, trap shooting range, amphitheater and dormitories. Club members were invited to build their own getaway cottages on land leased from the club, provided they adhere to strict building guidelines.The Uplifters, long dormant, now meets regularly at The Los Angeles Athletic Club. Once an all male group, it is now run by two women. The club continues to uphold their founding motto - "To Uplift Art and Promote Goodfellowship," - while also promoting a contemporary spirit of inclusivity, and outward-facing engagement with the DTLA community. Contemporary Uplifter meetings follow the same structure and procedures set by the original membership, led by the "Board of Excelsiors" which includes a Grand Muscle (President), Elevator (Vice President), Lord High Raiser (Treasurer) and Royal Hoister (Secretary), positions and titles first devised by Baum himself.Warkill
Warkill is a 1968 American drama film written and directed by Ferde Grofé Jr. and starring George Montgomery, Tom Drake, Conrad Parham, Eddie Infante, Henry Duval and Joaquin Fajardo. It was released in May 1968, by Universal Pictures.Wilbur Hall (musician)
Wilbur Francis Hall, sometimes billed as Willie Hall (November 18, 1894 – June 30, 1983), was a United States trombonist, violinist, and entertainer.
Hall was born in Shawnee Mound, Missouri. He was working in vaudeville when in 1924 he was hired by Paul Whiteman. Hall stayed with Whiteman's orchestra until 1930, mainly featured as a trombone player (his speciality on this instrument was a lightning-fast rendition of Felix Arndt's Nola, which he also recorded in 1929). However, Hall was apt a playing several other instruments - conventional as well as unconventional. Amongst the latter was his ability to play melodies on a bicycle pump. Whiteman's main arranger Ferde Grofé even wrote a special feature number for Hall on this "instrument" called Free Air: Based on Noises from a Garage. Hall can also be seen playing his pump as well as some tricky novelty violin playing in the early color film The King of Jazz. This routine, a frantically athletic rendition of "Pop Goes the Weasel", played while wearing "slapshoes", a common comedy prop from the days of Vaudeville, partly resembles the earlier work by vaudevillian Little Tich.After leaving Whiteman Hall toured as a solo act with the Publix circuit and then joined the Ken Murray Blackouts in Los Angeles. Later he toured USA as well as the world together with his wife, mixing music with comedy, He also appeared on television where he would reprise his violin bit from The King of Jazz on the Ken Murray and Spike Jones shows in the 1950s and on The Gong Show in the 1970s. He died in Newbury Park, California.
An act called Wilbur Hall and Renée Fields appeared in the variety program Eastern Cabaret on BBC Television December 12 and 17, 1938. The same month, an advertisement by Fred Collins' Agency in British newspaper The Era, known for its theatrical content, announced a forthcoming appearance in Dundee, Scotland by the same act, who may have been Wilbur and his wife.Wonderful One
"Wonderful One" is a popular song recorded by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra on January 25, 1923 in New York and was released as Victor 19019-B. The record reached no. 3 on the Billboard chart. The song was also recorded as "My Wonderful One".