Robert F. Graettinger


Born: 1923; Ontario, Canada   Died: 1957; Los Angeles, CA  
The work of big band era composer and jazz arranger Robert Frederick "Bob" Graettinger has been likened to the music of cutting-edge classical composers such as Charles Ives and Edgard Varčse. Graettinger studied at the Westlake School of Music in Los Angeles and got his start as an alto saxophonist and arranger in dance bands. In 1947, Graettinger obtained an audition with Stan Kenton and earned a position on Kenton's arranging staff on the Read more strength of his piece Thermopylae. The following year, Kenton began his Innovations Orchestra, devoted to the promotion of the progressive jazz idiom. In April 1948, the first version of Graettinger's multi-movement suite City of Glass was unveiled to a polite but bewildered audience in Chicago.

Graettinger continued to add to the Stan Kenton & the Innovations Orchestra's book through 1953. Kenton's fans admired Graettinger's progressive arrangements of standards, and some of his originals as well (especially Incident in Jazz), but were split on the subject of City of Glass, which Kenton recorded in a revised version in 1950. Many fans argued that City of Glass was not jazz at all, but a type of weird, classical-styled concert music played by a dance band. Shortly after recording a number of concerted Graettinger set pieces under the title This Modern World, Kenton disbanded the Innovations Orchestra in 1953 under commercial pressures and formed a more traditional dance ensemble. Afterward, Graettinger worked on his Suite for string trio and wind quartet with the intention of breaking into classical concert music, but his early death at the age of 34 interrupted the work.

During his lifetime, Graettinger's work was regarded by many jazz critics with a kind of respectful toleration, but later this gave way to a view of the whole "progressive" genre as having been a pretentious failure. Long after both Graettinger and Kenton were dead, an underground appreciation of City of Glass emerged among an audience that was not necessarily interested in Stan Kenton, or even in jazz itself. Newer admirers regard Graettinger as a pioneering postmodern visionary who greatly expanded the vocabulary of orchestral music and discovered new combinations of instrumental sounds. Nonetheless, many classical composers and industrial musicians born after 1960 regard Robert Graettinger as a major influence, and with the turn of the twenty first century, interest in his work continued to grow. Read less
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