The Green Brothers’ Project
Notes by David Harvey
One of America’s premier musical families, the Green family can be traced to the mid-1800s when band leader and violin and key bugle player, Joseph C. Green (1833-1924), moved from Poughkeepsie, NY, to Omaha, NB, where he formed the 7th Ward Silver Cornet Band. His son, George Hamilton Green (1868-1929), a cornet player, became the leader of his father’s band in 1889 and changed the name to George Green’s Band shortly thereafter. The next generation brought three notable musicians onto the stage: Joe Green (1892-39) and George Hamilton Green, Jr. (1893-1970); both percussionists, and Lewis G. Green, Sr. (1908-1992), a guitar and banjo player, songwriter and producer. Lewis G. Green, Jr. (1938- ), who is a cornet player from Connecticut and leads Green’s New Novelty Orchestra and the Salty Dogs Jazz Band, and his son Jeffrey Hamilton Green (1962- ), who lives in Germany and plays the clarinet and the bass, soprano, and C-melody saxophones, carry on the Green family tradition to this day.
Xylophonia Music Company is proud to present an archival collection of the xylophone music of George Hamilton Green and Joe Green, who together elevated the xylophone to be recognized as a legitimate virtuoso instrument. This multi-disc set begins with thirty-six solo performances by George Green, who began his career as a prodigy on piano and by age 12 was a featured violin soloist in his father’s band. At the age of ten, he began his mastery of the xylophone by playing an instrument that he had hand-crafted from rosewood. George’s solo repertoire while still an adolescent consisted of well over three hundred classical overtures, Hungarian rhapsodies, violin concertos, and concert piano selections. He received his first recording contract from the Edison Company in 1916, and by age twenty two, was acclaimed to be “the greatest xylophonist in the world” wherever he appeared, garnering reviews such as the following from the New York publication, The United Musician:
“He has begun where every other xylophone player has left off. His touch, attack, technique, and interpretation in rendition of his solos being different than other performers. To say that his work is marvelous and wonderful would not fully express it.” [Source: The United Musician, a New York musician’s trade publication, autumn 1915.]
CD 1 includes masterworks of Wagner, Suppe, Dvorák, Kreisler, Chopin, Moszkowski, Ganne, and others, as well as several artistic works by George Hamilton Green himself. We are afforded here some charming listening; music from an uncomplicated time that speaks of simple joys and sorrows and that appeals directly to the heart. George Green taught the xylophone to sing, wringing a surprisingly lyrical character from the wooden keyboard in these interpretations of operatic repertoire, Viennese waltzes, and delicate vignettes. This melodious quality coming from a percussive instrument must have seemed to audiences unimaginable. One critic observed:
“Showers and cascades of notes, fiery cadenzas, meteoric passages - not an orchestra or concert pianist - but George Green, who gave a xylophone recital before a representative audience of music lovers. Musical grace and rare technical skill characterize the work of this artist . . . he sets aside the usual limitations of the xylophone and makes the listener quite forget them in the thorough enjoyment of good music played with perfect taste.” [Source: an Omaha newspaper (possibly The Omaha Bee) concert review on the occasion of George Hamilton Green’s farewell recital concert in downtown Omaha prior to his leaving for Chicago, spring 1915.]
George shows impressive speed and accuracy in the opening cadenza of Valse Brillante, while Caprice Valsant is a breakneck wonder of rapid articulation. Schön Rosmarin and Caprice Viennois each cover a broad tessitura of several octaves, displaying perfect projection throughout the entire span of the keyboard. George Green states:
“I feel that my success has been due to careful study of details; little points of importance which the majority overlooks or neglect. Most xylophonists try to make too much noise, to ‘stick out’ above everyone else. By trying to play too loud the xylophone player not only spoils the effect of the instrument, but also helps to keep it out of its rightful place. The xylophone and marimba are legitimate instruments with a standard keyboard. They require the same amount of study as any other standard instrument.” [Source: magazine article entitled “Xylophone and Marimba” by George Hamilton Green from The School Musician, May 1936.]
Included in CD 2 are George Green’s celebrated series of Jazz Classics written and published by him beginning in 1924. Some period pieces by George that are probably unfamiliar to most listeners today include Watermelon Whispers, Social Life, Vanity Fair, Greased Lightning, and Southern Dreams. He performs Chromatic Foxtrot, Log Cabin Blues, and Triplets in both band and piano versions. Compared to the ensemble versions, the Jazz Classics series of novelty-rags appears streamlined, quick, and polished. George Green said:
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“ ‘Hot’ playing requires a great amount of accuracy, a thorough knowledge of the keyboard, and also a fundamental training in chord construction and applied harmony, so as to enable the player to properly improvise. Many so-called ‘hot’ players are perhaps ‘getting by’ without these requirements, but to me, they are ‘not so hot’.”
The first three tracks on CD 3 include George Green sitting in with Earl Fuller’s Rector Novelty Orchestra, which was the house band at Rector’s, an upscale nightclub in Manhattan. The selections by the Jazzarimba Orchestra, the Marimbaphone Band, and the Imperial Marimba Band feature George Green on xylophone, along with Joe Green, William Dorn, Harry Yerkes, and others on marimbas. These performances are the genesis of today’s marimba ensembles. Round The Town shows the xylophone format that the Green brothers utilized for much of their band work. The two men stood shoulder-to-shoulder at one 3 1/2 octave keyboard, with Joe sustaining the straight melody while George comps, playing riffs and stop-time breaks.
With their hundreds of sessions for dozens of record labels, the Green brothers were the busiest recording group of the twenties. In Shake Your Shoulders, George can be heard “ragging” in the lower register on the stop-time fills, while in Do Another Break, he takes the breaks in the higher register with Joe covering the tenor range. A Bunch Of Roses propels breakneck sixteenth-note choruses by George. In Reflections In The Water, George is again spotlighted, this time in the delicate refrains including a fading run at the ending fermata.
CD 4 continues with such popular titles as Tea For Two, Fascinatin’ Rhythm, and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. There are also some light-hearted antics such as the uncanny instrumental animal sounds included in Down On The Farm, and a hilarious German polka band imitation at the end of Yes! We Have No Bananas.
CD 5 The All Star Trio was a highly successful studio group that recorded popular dance music for many record companies from 1918 to 1922. Names such as George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Gus Kahn, and W. C. Handy have become legends of American culture, and it was often the All Star Trio who introduced listeners to the masterpieces of these geniuses. All Star is an instrumental number intended as a feature for the Trio; Fluffy Ruffles and Frivolity were originally published as simple piano novelties, while Dotty Dimples, Keep Movin’, Someday Down In Carolin’, and Alabama Moon, are songs. In the hands of Green, however, all these selections are transformed into exciting novelty ragtime.
The Jazz and Blues titles Sensation Jazz and St. Louis Blues are early examples of hot music on record, many years before the term “jazz” became well known to the public. The Slow Drags that follow are perhaps the funkiest of the All Star Trio sounds, with unhurried tempos and rock-steady grooves. Several years after the All Star Trio had ceased, George resurrected the trio format under the name, George Hamilton Green’s Star Trio. The other two musicians in this trio are not documented, but probably are Andy Sannella on sax and steel guitar, and Frank Banta at the piano. Green’s hammering technique once again comes through to contribute a highly effective dance beat as well as a “hot” solo style. In No Wonder I’m Happy and Sing Me A Baby Song, George heavily accents the off-beats of straight four-to-the-bar choruses in what was then known as “sock-style.”
CD 6 concludes with the multifaceted xylophone music of Joe Green, evidencing that he did it all and did it all superlatively – soloing, ensemble work, improvising, arranging, leading, and composing. The Merrymakers’ Carnival features an acapella vocal group introducing “Joe Green and his xylophone, with a technique all his own.” Joe doesn’t disappoint, providing a very hot solo chorus that follows. Next, Joe Green’s Novelty Dance Orchestra provides an upbeat rhythm for his ragging on Happy Days. The medley that follows is a program for radio broadcast, recorded without breaks, pauses, or any editing. My Toreador is the only recording made of the unique Leedy octarimba, a marimba with double-bars sounding in octaves played with two-headed mallets. Finishing this set are two barnburners written by Joe - Xylophonia and The Whirlwind, which is still played by xylophonists today.
Credits for this project:
Lew Green: Nephew of George Hamilton and Joe Green. Lew’s father (Lew. Sr., guitar, banjo) joined his xylophone playing brothers in late 1927. Lew is a musician, collector and record producer. He leads Green’s New Novelty Orchestra with his wife Mary. Their albums are available from www.greensmusic.com
David Harvey: Marimbist, historian and archivist of the history of the xylophone and marimba, Mr. Harvey performs much of the original classical and jazz music presented in this reissue collection.
Tom Freer: Assistant principal timpanist and section percussionist with the Cleveland Orchestra, coordinator of percussion studies at Cleveland State university and a collector of vintage keyboard instruments from the Green Brother’s era.
Art Shifrin: An audio restoration engineer. Art Digitally transferred the material on this 6-CD collection from a variety of cylinders, records and tapes from the collections of Green, Harvey and Freer. www.shifrin.net