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The sound of Rodgers.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Every year about this time, Jim Ralph and friends stage what amounts to a Manhattan jazz party for two weeks in Eugene.

Musicians come from the Big Apple each August to breathe Eugene's wholesome air and play live concerts at the Oregon Festival of American Music, which kicks off Monday at the Shedd.

This year's festival is dedicated to the music of Richard Rodgers, the composer behind all those delicious post-World War II musicals such as "Carousel," "Oklahoma!" and "South Pacific."

The festival combines evening and afternoon concerts and recitals with lectures and an afternoon film series.

The fun begins on Monday with a gala dinner at the Shedd honoring New York jazzman Dick Hyman, who is stepping down this summer as jazz adviser to the festival.

Hyman, who turned 80 this spring, composed the music for numerous Woody Allen movies, was Arthur Godfrey's music director and headed the Jazz in July program at New York's 92nd Street Y for two decades. He's been jazz adviser for OFAM for eight years and played at the festival several years before that.

"I feel I am an honorary citizen of Eugene by now," Hyman said.

The music of Rodgers was a natural choice, he said, for a festival that's looked at so many other American popular composers.

"How could we not do Rodgers after doing Gershwin and Irving Berlin and Cole Porter?" Hyman said. "He is right in line."

Hyman said Rodgers' music divides fairly neatly into two periods. In the first, basically in the 1920s and 1930s, he worked with lyricist Lorenz Hart. In the second, during World War II and beyond, he worked with Oscar Hammerstein II.

``The Hart songs are more jazz age and rhythmic and more able to be treated in a contemporary jazz manner,'' he said. ``Where the Hammerstein songs are more dramatic, more based on character. Not all of them can you get your mind around as an improviser. They are not quite as hip.''

Taking over as jazz adviser will be Ken Peplowski, a clarinetist whose work has been compared to that of Benny Goodman and who has been a player at OFAM for years.

Also showing up this year will be soprano Maria Jette and jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, father of crooner John Pizzarelli, not to mention a host of other musicians such as Shirley Andress, Bill Hulings and Ian Whitcomb.

The Monday night dinner honoring Hyman will offer performances of his music, along with the West Coast premiere of his chamber string quartet, a three-movement work titled ``Dances and Diversions.'' Hyman has increasingly turned his attention to chamber composing over the past two years.

The main concerts will look at Rodgers' work from a variety of perspectives. Opening night on Wednesday will feature songs such as "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "The Sound of Music." The following night, Jette, Peplowski and Hyman will take a more classical point of view.

Other main concerts include the Aug. 9 show "The Garrick Gaieties," a look at Rodgers' early work in the 1920s; and the grand finale, "Something Wonderful," on Aug. 11
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Title Annotation:Arts & Literature; Festival highlights the composer behind `Carousel,'`Oklahoma!' and many other hit musicals
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 26, 2007
Previous Article:BUSINESS BEAT.
Next Article:Rodgers had two main lyricists; so OFAM puts on two musicals.

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