George Hamilton Green Question – Feb. 10, 2009

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From time to time I have received requests from percussionists asking for information about George Hamilton Green and Joseph Green.  (I know that Bob Becker has also received many such requests – see his blog.)   Here is a sample.


Question: I am very interested in your personal role in bringing the Green family and their music to the attention of the contemporary audience.


Bill Cahn:  I will try to be helpful in responding to your request for information.  I will describe my own involvement.  Bob Becker may have similar or differing recollections.


My first exposure to G.H.Green was as a student at the Eastman School of Music, where the percussion teacher, William G. Street, required us to prepare pieces from a collection of xylophone solos titled, GEORGE HAMILTON GREEN’S XYLOPHONE SOLOS OF FAMOUS SAM FOX SUCCESSES (copyright 1929 Sam Fox Publishing).  The book consisted of popular tunes from the 1920s including NOLA by Felix Arndt and ‘OLE SOUTH originally arranged by J.S.Zamecnik, who was one of the most prolific arrangers of the era.  Green gave the solo lines to the xylophone in this book, but none of his own compositions were included in the collection.


Mr. Street and his brother Stanley had been xylophone soloists in the Eastman Theatre Orchestra in Rochester, New York during the 1920s.  He had a fondness for the style of music in the George Hamilton Green book and for the technical challenges it offered.  Most of our keyboard studies in the 1960s focused on works originally composed for violin, cello, or flute – works by Bach, Handel, Telemann, etc.    The ‘novelty ragtime’ dance music of the 1920s at least offered some repertoire created specifically for the xylophone, and Mr. Street was an ardent admirer of George Hamilton Green’s playing and writing through Green’s numerous recordings and published works.  However, by the 1960s this style of music was widely considered by conservatory percussionists to be trite and not worthy of serious study, so there was virtually no interest in this music in the conservatory world outside of Mr. Street’s lessons.  The fact that xylophonists – Green and many others – had played a very important part in the American popular music of the first two decades of the Twentieth Century was completely unknown to me at that time.


In the early 1970s, soon after graduating from Eastman, NEXUS was formed.  We started at first by playing improvised concerts for several years.  Then one day Bob Becker brought us his arrangement of  RAINBOW RIPPLES by Geo.H. Green featuring a xylophone solo accompanied by four players on two marimbas.  The first time NEXUS played  RAINBOW RIPPLES as an encore, the audience went wild, which created a huge incentive for us to dig deeper into this genre.


In my opinion, Bob Becker is solely responsible for the rejuvenation of interest in the music of George Hamilton Green (and others), eventually leading to its wide acceptance today, at least in the global percussion subculture.  It was his intuitive knowledge and understanding of the beauty in this genre of music as well as his mastery of the style and astounding technique that opened people’s eyes and ears.


Also at around this same time , I obtained a copy of the LP record, THE XYLOPHONE GENIUS OF GEORGE HAMILTON GREEN (Conservatory Album No. 7101M) containing re-pressings of some of  Green’s earlier ’78 RPM recordings.    Everyone in NEXUS was awed by Green’s musicianship and technical mastery.  It is my understanding that Lewis Green, the stepbrother of G.H.Green, was the moving force behind this LP, and though it had success among ragtime aficionados, in terms of impact on the percussion world, it was the NEXUS performances and the release of the NEXUS RAGTIME Direct-to-Disc LP in 1976 that really sparked the current worldwide interest in Green’s music among percussionists.


Another factor was the never-ending search by NEXUS for nonwestern instruments – mainly, bells and gongs – in antique shops during the 1970s.  By coincidence, in 1977 while rummaging through an antique shop in Rochester, New York I found a well-worn ’78 RPM recording of G.H.Green.  This discovery inspired a 10-year research project to find out more about these old xylophone recordings and to collect information, all of which culminated in my book, THE XYLOPHONE IN ACOUSTIC RECORDINGS, 1877-1929, a 264-page discography first published in 1980.  The book lists many recordings by George and Joseph Green under their own names and under many pseudonyms and with numerous bands having many separate names.  The earliest records by George Green were made for the Edison company and contained transcriptions of classical overtures.  Green’s own compositions came later.  The recordings of the Green brothers were enormously popular – so popular that I can still walk into virtually any antique shop in North America and find their records.  My own ’78 RPM xylophone record collection numbers in the thousands of titles by Green and many others from around the world.


Concurrently with this research, I decided to arrange some of G.H. Green’s unpublished music that I had found in his recordings, so that NEXUS could play them. These arrangements were eventually published and are still available (see the link to my catalog).


In the course of research, I also discovered that after he retired from playing, George Hamilton Green became a  cartoonist for the Collier’s and Saturday Evening Post magazines, which were published and distributed throughout America in the 1940s and 1950s.  I began to collect his cartoons, and now I have them available in a book.  His cartoons touch on many subjects, not just music.


One major source of information that I simply did not have the time to pursue was a substantial collection of newspaper reviews of G.H. Green’s performances at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.  NEXUS was shown this collection by Fred Fairchild when he was on the faculty there.  I am not sure how to contact him now.  Also, there was a very fine article, ‘Xylophone Music of the Green Brothers Lives On’ by Bob Byler published in THE MISSISSIPPI RAG periodical, January 2000 edition. (P.O. Box 19068, Minneapolis, MN 554129  tel:612-885-9918)


I hope this information is helpful.


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