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This Week On Riverwalk Jazz: Wizard Of Oz With Vernel Bagneris


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Jim Cullum Jr.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz comes to life as Broadway actor Vernel Bagneris portrays all the characters of Oz in a new script for radio based on the original L. Frank Baum book. The brilliance of Harold Arlen’s art as a songwriter is displayed in new jazz arrangements and performances by The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, of Arlen’s music from the movie score.

The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website. You can also drop in on a continuous stream of shows at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was a best-selling book in the year 1900. It appeared as a stage play in 1902 under the simplified name The Wizard of Oz. The 1939 Warner Brothers movie adaptation—starring Judy Garland with Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger, and featuring a magnificent music score by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg—remains an icon of pop culture. Like other popular songwriters of his generation, jazz was a key component in everything Harold Arlen composed.

“Delightful madness…is how I would describe the experience of my role in the Riverwalk Jazz production of Wizard. In a studio setting, holding on to the sound and vocal inflections of different characters would be challenging for any actor. But, in front of a live audience, playing all of the parts was sheer lunacy. Luckily, The Landing crowd embraced the audacious fun that the band and I were having, and cheered us on to the end. For that, I’m still grateful.”

“I was actually soaked in New Orleans jazz as a child,” Bagneris says, describing how live jazz music was simply a part of social and family functions in New Orleans. In high school, he said he became involved in the civil rights struggle, but turned his full attention back to music and theater in college.

In the introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum explains what he was hoping to achieve with his tale:

“…the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale; its new wonderment and joy are retained, and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.”

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