Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Lenny!

Leonard Bernstein, 1944
Saturday marks the birthday of that phenomenon, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), and, to celebrate, I offer his first recording as a conductor.  Not, however, the first one offered to the public.  This recording of his ever-fresh ballet, Fancy Free, was made in June, 1944, for Decca - during the period when Victor and Columbia were unable to make recordings because of the Petrillo ban.  But it wasn't released until 1946, because it apparently took Decca that long to secure the definitive performance needed for the set's filler, that of Billie Holiday singing Bernstein's song "Big Stuff" (on which the ballet's Pas de deux section is based), with her lover at the time, Joe Guy, on trumpet.  In the meantime Lenny had switched his allegiance to Victor, which recorded and released two sets in 1945, both of his own music: a set of excerpts from On the Town (with Robert Shaw leading the chorus) and the Jeremiah Symphony (with the St. Louis Symphony).  I do not, alas, have these, but here is the Decca set:

Bernstein: Fancy Free - Ballet Music
Ballet Theatre Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein
Recorded June 2, 1944
Bernstein: Big Stuff
Billie Holiday with Joe Guy (trumpet) and Rhythm Section
Recorded March 13, 1946
Decca set A-406, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 67.79 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 28.05 MB)

Cover image, restored by Peter Joelson


  1. What a wonderful share. Many thanks, Bryan.

  2. Great to hear this, also the Billie Holiday song. Thanks again, Bryan!

  3. Hi. I'm an enormous fan of the site and wanted to write you to make a request. Is there some way to contact you besides this comment box? I'm Tim Hunter, a film/tv director (see, and my email is I hope you can provide a way to write a longer letter. All best/Tim H

  4. I wanted to thank you for this selection and many more. A source of inspiration and joy for years to come. Thank you so much.