"Wildcards" Summer Special
Kaplan They are musical works that, at first glance, don't seem to belong on a show about classical music. But they are all great pieces taken from a wide range of styles, genres and artists. They are what we call "Wildcards," and on this special summer edition of "Mad About Music," we revisit the “Wildcards” selected by some of our most important guests.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan, and welcome to this special summer edition of "Mad About Music." In the five years we've been on the air, we've enjoyed highly intimate views of the musical tastes of some well-known personalities. As part of each show our guests are encouraged to choose a "Wildcard" – a term we use to mean a piece of music from outside the classical music repertoire that has played some significant part in their life or perhaps they just love it. Curiously, these off-the-beaten path selections often reveal the most about our guests. And so on today's show we're taking a look back at these "Wildcards." We start with our very first guest, former President Jimmy Carter. His classical interests involved Wagner, Rachmaninoff and Puccini. While the President never really studied an instrument, he told us that listening to the radio, though, as a child had a profound effect on him and led him to this "Wildcard."
Carter The only instrument I ever played was the ukulele when I was stationed in Hawaii on a submarine and my wife was the best hula dancer among all the Navy wives on the entire island. But that's my only experience in playing a musical instrument. But when I was a child I grew up on a farm in Georgia . We didn't have electricity, we didn't have running water. But we had a radio operated by battery, and my father would let us listen to a few programs every day. Our family usually went to bed as soon as it got dark, but he gave me special permission to stay up until Glenn Miller would come on every night at 8 o'clock for 15 minutes. So I would lie down in front of the fireplace and go to sleep sometimes, but try to wake up at 8:00 , turn on the radio, and listen to 15 minutes of Glenn Miller's music, "Moonlight Serenade" and so forth, and then I would go to bed with the rest of the family.
Kaplan Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade," the first "Wildcard" ever played on "Mad About Music," a selection of our inaugural guest, President Jimmy Carter. As with President Carter, many of our guests selected "Wildcards," works outside the classical repertoire, because these were the pieces that awoke some early-life memory. That was the case with Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham, whose classical choices were Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. She told us that her "Wildcard" selection came from a remarkable experience with a legendary musician who once visited her parents' home when she was just a child.
Graham One of the earliest ones to come up there was a great friend of my sister Bis's. She had these glamorous friends and one of whom was George Gershwin. His friends complained that he would never let the piano alone and I wouldn't have wanted to have him leave it alone, but I guess they got tired of it sometimes. But anyway, we were playing tennis and he began talking about this show that he was engaged in producing and that was going to come on, I believe, in 2 or 3 months in the fall. It was Porgy and Bess . When we went in from tennis, he sat down at the grand piano and he told my sister to beat a certain rhythm on the piano with her hand and she did and he played the opening notes of "Summertime."
Kaplan "Summertime," from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess , selected by Katharine Graham, who heard Gershwin play it on the piano shortly after he composed it. Another guest whose "Wildcard" selection was inspired by childhood listening was New York Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel.
Maazel Well, I do listen to folk music and I'm very passionate about cool jazz. One of the recordings I listened to as a youngster – this is 50 years ago – was something called "China Boy". That was right out of New Orleans 1913 and of course Jelly Roll Morton was one of my heroes. But the pop ballad or folk music is something I'm very very fond of. Especially the Russian gypsy music and the Portuguese Fado , which is Portuguese tradition which I was introduced to the first time I went to Lisbon – that's also some time ago; and then I started to hang out in these small little clubs they used to have and listen to the great Fado singers tearfully recount their childhood and how they miss their mother and the lyrics are so wonderfully sentimental, we would call it "corny" or "kitschy" today. But this is really pure sentimentality.
Kaplan "A Minha Canção é Saudade," a Fado song, a sort of Portuguese blues, especially enjoyed by the music director of the New York Philharmonic Lorin Maazel, a previous guest on "Mad About Music." One other guest chose his "Wildcard" because it brought back a childhood memory. Financier and Ambassador Felix Rohatyn, whose classical selections concentrated on concertos, picked for his "Wildcard" a famous song that combines jazz and the samba.
Rohatyn Well, I picked "The Girl from Ipanema" with Stan Getz for reasons that are as much historical as musical. When we were able to flee from Vichy , France in 1941, we went to North Africa , then we went to Lisbon , and then we couldn't get into the United States because their quotas were closed, so we went to South America . And we wound up in Brazil . And in Brazil , I became enamored of the samba, as music, as culture, as rhythm. And as a reflection of what Brazil was all about, which at that time was the country that gave us refuge.
Kaplan Did you ever learn the dance?
Rohatyn The samba?
Rohatyn Well, as poorly as I dance everything else! And then when I came to the States, I began to listen to jazz. And then at some point, I heard Stan Getz combine jazz and the samba. And that was the jazz samba, and that was "The Girl From Ipanema." And of course Ipanema was Brazil , it was again part of my history, and I love the music, I love this girl's voice, I love Getz's sax. I've always liked it. I mean, I like it, I can hear it and not hear it for two years and then hear it again, and I think it's wonderful.
Kaplan "The Girl from Ipanema," played by Stan Getz with the legendary Brazilian singers Astrud and João Gilberto, which was Felix Rohatyn's "Wildcard" selection. On this special edition of "Mad About Music" we're playing "Wildcards” – music outside the classical repertoire – our guests have selected. We'll have more of these, including some that were chosen because they connected to a special experience, when "Mad About Music" continues.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan and you're listening to a special edition of "Mad About Music." We're looking at the "Wildcards" some of our prior guests have selected. These are pieces that are outside the classical repertoire, and often the ones that have the most sentimental stories to go with them. We began today by playing "Wildcards" drawn from childhood memories, and now I want to turn to those selections spurred by a particular experience. Author and columnist William Buckley's classical choices were mainly keyboard music (he plays the harpsichord himself), and with that as a background, he surprised us with his "Wildcard."
Buckley I picked Elvis Presley. I wrote a novel a couple of years ago called Elvis in the Morning and in the course of writing it I did a lot of reading about him, listened to a lot of his music. Ninety five percent of what he sang, in my judgment, is simply awful. But five percent is just terrific. He was a great, great balladeer and his sense of music and his sense of rhythm was fantastic. When I said awful I didn't mean that he ruined those other songs, but that the music was no good. So I picked one which I like a lot and I hope you do. It's called " Don't Leave Me Now."
Kaplan Elvis Presley singing "Don't Leave Me Now," the "Wildcard" selected by William Buckley when he appeared on "Mad About Music." With Elvis we heard from one of rock's great icons; and I suppose I wasn't surprised that one of our guests selected something by The Beatles. But what did surprise me was that The Beatles was the choice of former Chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Schmidt, whose favorite classical composer is Bach. He discovered The Beatles very early in their career.
Schmidt I have attended just one concert of The Beatles. They were totally unknown at the time, it was in the early '60's here in Hamburg and a friend of mine, a journalist, called me by telephone telling me there is a group of youngsters in Saint Paulie and the two of us went to that more or less obscene place where The Beatles were performing and I just remember this one song, "Yesterday." It is neo-romanticism. It's an "ear worm" as we say in Germany . It goes into your ear and doesn't get out again. In a way, the melody is as simple and naïve as many German folk songs. "Yesterday" could very well be a German folksong translated into English.
Kaplan The Beatles' "Yesterday," a memory of a moving concert experience of one of our guests on "Mad About Music," former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, principally an opera lover, also selected her "Wildcard" because of a concert experience – a concert for which she was actually the impresario, and the venue none other than the Supreme Court building in Washington. It all started, she told me, when Leonard Bernstein selected a new piano for the Court.
Ginsburg This was in 1988. Inside and on the soundboard in big letters in Leonard Bernstein's hand is written: "And justice for all," signed Leonard Bernstein, 1988. That's how it began and then Justice Blackmun thought it might be nice to celebrate the arrival of the piano by having a Musicale. 1988 was the first and initially it was every two years, now its every year. It's an annual event. Oh, the range is enormous – so we could go from Bach all the way to Burl Ives, Cole Porter. A sample that I have brought with me, a Cole Porter number is Samuel Ramey, the rich resonant bass baritone that I am accustomed to hearing in a devilish role like Mephistopheles . Here he sings in just a delightful way Cole Porter's witty "Tale of the Oyster."
Kaplan Cole Porter's "The Tale of the Oyster," sung by Samuel Ramey, the "Wildcard" selection of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One of our very first guests on "Mad About Music" was ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings who, to a degree, summed up the "Wildcard" process with this comment:
Jennings I do. I love barbershop quartet singing. I like everything except heavy metal, which I just find too insistent. Jazz is so much a part of the history of the country. But I like country music as well. I like music if it will take me places emotionally.
Kaplan For his classical music, Peter Jennings' composers included Bach and Tchaikovsky. His "Wildcard," though, was an original: a classical favorite but in a stunning jazz arrangement.
Jennings Well, I chose this because this is the hundredth anniversary of Duke Ellington's birth. My wife and I went to one of those astonishing occasions at Lincoln Center where the New York Philharmonic and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra played Grieg together. So what I thought was wonderful, fabulous, about this evening at Lincoln Center, it was how, in some respects, we were introduced to Grieg even though the evening was about Duke Ellington.
Kaplan "Morning Song," from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg in a jazz arrangement fashioned by Duke Ellington, the "Wildcard" selection of ABC's Peter Jennings. On this special summer edition of "Mad About Music" we are revisiting "Wildcards" of some of our prior guests. This is music from outside the classical or opera repertoire, and when we return, we'll hear a work a former Prime Minister learned as he planned a military attack.
Kaplan This is Gilbert Kaplan. On today's "Mad About Music" special, in a change of pace, we're playing "Wildcards” – music outside the classical repertoire – that have been selected by many of our guests. Thus far our focus has been primarily on two kinds of selections: those chosen because they revive some early memory for our guest, and those selected because the music played a role in a personal experience. Which brings us to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, himself an accomplished pianist who chose keyboard works by Mendelssohn and Beethoven. For his "Wildcard" the Prime Minister chose a work he heard actually when he was in hiding as he planned Israel's raid at Entebbe airport to free their hostages.
Barak I had to spend all the time basically hidden in the residence of our Mossad delegate, or representative to Nairobi, and it was there that I sat down with this family, nothing to do; and his wife was playing the piano and she played in a very aggressive and attractive way "The Entertainer" of Joplin. I of course knew the music from the movie, "The Sting." But I never heard it on the piano in real life, and she did it so well and so many times in a period of high intensity, awareness for everything that happened that resulted from the need to be on high alert for the preparation of the Entebbe raid, that it was imprinted on my mind, these 24 hours, and I made a point when we came back home, I made a point of beginning, trying to play it.
Kaplan Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer." Joshua Rifkin at the piano. A "Wildcard" selection of Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Symbolism also played an important part in architect Richard Meier's "Wildcard" selection – in this case a musical connection to the architecture of New York City.
Meier I remember when I first heard West Side Story , I was extremely moved by it and I think what moved me at the time was the poignancy of the story and the relationship between the music and the story, which I felt, was overwhelming. And what I didn't realize perhaps immediately, but what I think is the strongest element for me about West Side Story is that you feel the architecture of the City, you feel the power of the City, the potency of life in the City in that work. And that comes through very strongly in various ways, some hyper, almost hypertension in the music, and some very calm melodies that also appear in West Side Story . But it has an aspect of New York in it that very few works that I have heard have.
Kaplan An excerpt from the prologue of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story , chosen as a “Wildcard” by architect Richard Meier. If West Side Story evoked New York City for Richard Meier, another guest, conductor Valery Gergiev, focused on Moscow. Almost single-handedly Valery Gergiev has restored so many neglected Russian works to the opera and orchestra repertoire through his riveting performances. So I suppose it was no surprise that his choice for a “Wildcard” was very Russian also.
Gergiev Well, I was born in Moscow myself, and I somehow love this famous “Moscow Nights” song. Composer's name is Solovyev-Sedoy. He was not Shostakovich but he was extremely loved and popular in my country, mostly because of this melody. I mean, his gift for melody is amazing. We should remember that melody is the “Tsar” of music, so to say. Verdi proved it, Mozart proved it, Puccini proved it, Rossini proved it, Tchaikovsky proved it and so on. I think we have to remember that if 500 million people can sing the melody, it most probably belongs to a genius.
Kaplan The popular song, "Moscow Nights," a favorite of my guest on "Mad About Music," conductor Valery Gergiev. As we continue to bring back memorable “Wildcard” selections from guests who have appeared on this show, we jump next from Moscow to Hollywood and award-winning actor Alec Baldwin. He discovered classical music actually driving in his car as he was going to auditions. His favorite composer became Mahler, but he chose his “Wildcard” to celebrate an artist whose talent and following have endured perhaps longer than any other singer.
Baldwin Well, I have a selection from, I think the album is "Tony Bennett Live At Carnegie Hall," which was done I think, in 1964, with Ralph Sharon, who was his conductor and music director. And, you know, Bennett is someone to me who not only by virtue of the fact that he's outlived a lot of his contemporaries, and that's an important element too, is that he had the chance to reinvent himself in the last ten or fifteen years and have a whole other career, and sang every kind of music that was right for his canon. Him doing the "MTV Unplugged" album, which I think is just absolutely a priceless album, which he sang with K.D. Lang. They sang "Moonglow" together which is a beautiful cut. And the album that he did with Elvis Costello, they did the Bacharach music together, which is absolutely beautiful. It's interesting to me that a guy who is that great a musical talent, whose pipes are still in pretty good shape, and who had the will and the desire to press on for a whole other decade of making beautiful albums. I think that Bennett is probably one of my three favorite male vocalists of all time. And this piece which is entitled "Firefly" is one of my favorite cuts off that album.
Kaplan Tony Bennett singing "Firefly" from a live performance at Carnegie Hall, the "Wildcard" selection of actor Alec Baldwin when he appeared on "Mad About Music." As we have been hearing today, our guests' “Wildcard” selections often reflect more than simply their love of the music. And for our final “Wildcard,” TV news anchor Tom Brokaw picked music he wants to be played at his funeral.
Brokaw This is an interesting assignment for me. I thought, should I go to the jazz, the early days of rock 'n' roll, when I was a young disc jockey playing for the first time Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis, and all those guys who were coming up. I was fifteen in 1955, and they were making a huge impact on this country. But there's a song I suspect I would like to have played at my funeral and it's called “Shenandoah.” I've always loved it as a choral piece, but the lyrics puzzled me because, like most people, I thought it was about the Shenandoah Valley, and it would say “across the wide Missouri.” So I then did some research – this is some time ago now – and it was a song that was developed by the boatmen on the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, and it's the tale of a man who pines for the daughter of Shenandoah, who was a famous Iowa chief. There's a town called Shenandoah in Iowa, over near the Missouri River, and so that song speaks to me about where I come from, about the Missouri River especially – I was raised on it, and about the Great Plains.
Kaplan “Shenandoah,” performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the final “Wildcard” selection today, this one by NBC news anchor, Tom Brokaw. As he described it, this is music that moves him because it reflects the countryside he came from, but more significantly, he revealed it is music that he wants performed at his funeral. Finding out people's musical tastes is of course at the heart of “Mad About Music.” And while our focus is always on classical music and opera, I hope you will agree after today that it is often our guests' “Wildcard” selections that reveal the most personal things about them. This is Gilbert Kaplan and I hope you have enjoyed our summer special on “Wildcards”and look forward to welcoming you back when we begin our new season on September 4 th . Until then, enjoy the rest of the summer.