July 04, 2003
God Bless America

American Day of Independence. So - we’ll now cut to a scene from the billiant Westside Story by Robbins (concept), Laurents (story), Sondheim (lyrics) and Bernstein (musical composition):

The scene abruptly changes to a blood-red sky, and the approach of the combatants, Sharks and Jets, toward their eventual confrontation at the rumble.

The Sharks scale a tall chain-link fence under the highway. The Jets appear on the top of a facing concrete wall, jump down, and face them. After dispensing with the shaking of hands, Bernardo urges: “Look, every one of you hates every one of us, and we hate you right back. Let’s get at it.” Tony interrupts the rumble, the hand-fight between Ice and Bernardo, after it has just begun: “Hold it!” He steps between the two gang combatants to mediate and prevent senseless fighting. The leader of the Jets challenges and taunts Tony to fight in a warm-up bout: “Afraid pretty boy? Afraid gutless? Afraid chicken?…You yellow-bellied chicken…Pollack.”

During the elaborately-choreographed, action-oriented dance/fight, Riff defends Tony and punches Bernardo - the two pull out gleaming switchblades and escalate the conflict to deadly proportions. Riff is disarmed and stands defenseless in front of a chain-link fence, but is given another blade by a fellow gang member. Meanwhile, Tony is held back by the Sharks. Bernardo accidentally kills Riff with a single plunge of the knife to his mid-section. As he falls, Riff passes his switchblade to Tony. In retaliation to counter Riff’s death, Tony vengefully and passionately stabs and kills Bernardo. The sounds of police sirens force the gangs to scatter. Two bodies are left at the scene. Despite his intentions, he has caused further bloodshed. Horrified and anguished, Tony cries out: “Maria!” A spotlight catches Tony in its circular beam, pronouncing him guilty in the tragedy. A church bell tolls the time - a somber death knell.

Although some of the Jets gang regret the killings, an edgy and tense Action vows to get even: “They’re gonna pay, them stinkin’ Sharks.” Ice urges everyone to “play it cool” until the crisis blows over.

Play it cool

Now click on the button below to hear the genius of Bernstein in the highest possible fidelity (yes I know it’s a long download - approx 2.8 meg but there is simply no way I am going to compromise on the quality of this amazing piece of composition). The song is “Cool” and just imagine as you listen to this - that this piece of orchestral “jazz” was composed around 50 years ago.

Turn up the volume, close your eyes, picture the scene - and immerse yourself in the brilliance of Bernstein at his best. God bless America.

Posted by jag at July 04, 2003 06:27 AM
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