By Linda de Vries
On this date in 2006 the film Thank You for Smoking was released. On this date in 1969 the Swingle Singers won a Grammy award.
These facts allows me to write about today’s topic as well as return to the uncompleted post for March 12. The Bach Bagatelle for today is, therefore, a double feature: Bach in Film & Bach Swings.
Since today is also St. Patrick’s Day, and a feast day recognized by Lutherans as well as others, a word seems appropriate. The date was established in the early 1600s, changed only when it falls during Holy Week (recently 1940 and 2008). St. Patrick’s color was originally blue, but changed to green in the late 1700s with the Irish rebellion against British rule.
Back to Bach! In sequence, the film uses a Swingle Singers version of Sebastian’s Little Organ Fugue.
Thank You for Smoking, a comedy drama written and directed by Jason Reitman, starring Aaron Eckhart, and based on the novel by Christopher Buckley, tracks the tribulations of a tobacco lobbyist who tries to remain a role model for his pre-teen son. The film received two Golden Globe nominations and Reitman received the Best Directorial Debut award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
The soundtrack for the film features “The Little Organ Fugue” performed by The Swingle Singers.
Ward Swingle was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1927. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, he moved to France, where he studied piano with Walter Gieseking.
In 1959 he was a founding member of Les Double Six, a vocal jazz group in Paris. Their LP The Double Six of Paris Sing Ray Charles lost the 1965 Grammy award to The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night. The group disbanded 1968, but members went on to found the Swingle Singers, applying scat singing to the works of J.S. Bach.
The French Swingle Singers disbanded in 1973 and Ward moved to London to form an English group. In 1984 he returned to the United States, but continued to advise the London ensemble. In March of 1994 (an unknown date, but we’ll assume it was the 17th!), he and his wife moved back to France, where he continues to arrange and write, including his book, Swingle Singing (Shawnee Press.)
The Swingle Singers are a mostly a cappella group whose first album was Jazz Sebastien Bach. Over the years, they have won five Grammy awards and are now celebrating their 40th anniversary. They are currently the curators of the London A Cappella Festival, based at the smashing new performance venue King’s Place, near King’s Cross tube station, where they will perform on March 19, two days from today.
Sebastian Bach composed his Fugue in G Minor (BWV 578), known as the “Little Organ Fugue,” when he was in Arnstadt (1703-1707). “Little” is used to distinguish it from the longer “Great” Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor (BWV 542). The Little Fugue is one of Sebastian’s most recognized tunes, and it has been arranged many times for voices other than the organ for which it was written. In Thank You for Smoking, the Swingle Singers perform an a cappella version of it at a rapid tempo.
The Swingle Singers use of Bach can be found in other films as well. In 2006 their recording of Sebastian’s Prelude in F Minor (BWV 857) transformed into the hit single “They” by Jem Griffiths appears in the film The Gigolos. Their recording of Prelude No. 7 in E Flat (BWV 876) can be heard in the film Milk, released in 2008.