Music Post: Music on the “wrong” instruments


A great soul record came out in the summer of 1967. Jackie Wilson’s “(You’re Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” gave the back-up singers so much to do that their short notes added to the rhythmic propulsion of this uptempo love song. Four Motown musicians including bassist Jamie Jamerson played on this non-Motown date. I was 14 at the time and thought the record was great. It went to number six overall, and topped the R&B charts.

Ten years later Rita Coolidge covered it, slowing the tempo down so she could sing it in a sultry style, but retaining a propulsive beat at that slower pace. It went to number two, which was appropriate: it was almost as good as the original. One of the best things about hearing it is the contrast with the original. Thus, being familiar with one version enhances enjoyment of the other.

Classical music is filled with alternative versions of repertory works. Wind musics commission arrangements of works for full orchestra. Quartets and trios look for ways to do pieces written for piano, or orchestra. Musicians whose instruments have limited repertory mine the repertory of other instruments. I remember my daughter Leina’ala learning to play a bass aria from “Messiah” on bassoon.

This fertile ground for a “Howard’s Day Off” topic has inspired a couple of shows in years past. When I revisit a theme it’s always becaudse I’ve acquired new knowledge or new recordings that I wish I had had when I did the topic the last time. This time it’s a collection of recordings of video game music arranged for full orchestras. Music of “Legenda of Zelda,” “Splinter Cell,” “Angry Birds,” “Final Fantasy” and “Tetris” will pop up throughout this weekend’s program.

I’m also newly-acquainted with guitarist Nobuo Uematsu, who does a solo guitar arrangement of the entire Dvorak “New World” Symphony. It is amazing. I’ll present the entire first movement, and, from the same release, an excerpt from “The Firebird.”

Steve Howe, the lead guitarist with Yes, released a solo album with several classical covers, including Villa-Lobos’ plaintive Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, “Aria.”

Jazzed-up classics make regular appearances on the program and this week we will hear Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” overture and Beethoven’s “Waldstein Sonata” subjected to this treatment.

This is also a fresh opportunity to hear Pavel Zarukin’s synthesizer arrangements of Hindemith’s “Ludus Tonalis,” written for solo piano. And the Bassoon Brothers performing their arrangement of Bill Finnegan’s arrangement for the Glenn Miller big band of “Song of the Volga Boatman.”

And Bobby (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) McFerrin singing the lead voice in Boccherini’s famous minuet.

And Jake Shimabukuro doing “Thriller.”

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