March 11, 2015

Cakewalk by Mike Russell


Al Hirschfeld’s art has inspired many things: a Sunday morning ritual looking for NINAs, great animation, millions of theater and film goers, a suite at the Algonquin, and even a sandwich. Sammy Cahn wrote a song about Nina, and so did Will Ryan. Now, Mike Russell a former son-in-law of Hirschfeld’s has added an instrumental work for flute, bassoon, clarinet, and oboe.

Forty-five years ago, Mike and Nina were among the first to see Hirschfeld’s Rhythm portfolio, a suite of ten lithographs focusing on dance. Among those prints was the classic “Cakewalk,” showing a pair of African American dancers dressed in red, white, and blue. It was one of Al’s favorites in the series, and it left an impression on Mike as well. “It struck me then as a great example of Al’s unique style and exuberant love of life,” says Russell.

Mike and Nina had two children, Matthew and Margaret, who would join their mother in having their names hidden in one of Al’s drawings, his 1989 rendition of The Wizard of Oz. And while Mike and Nina would go their separate ways, the impact of Al’s art stayed with Mike.

“Recently, I conceived my composition for woodwind quartet with a similar point of view [to ‘Cakewalk’]: a fugue, but as might have been created by Tin Pan Alley. When it was completed it occurred to me that Al’s ‘Cakewalk’ and mine complemented one another.”

Mike has generously offered to share his work with the Hirschfeld audience, so everyone can enjoy another facet of Hirschfeld’s work and Mike’s. Click here to hear the music and see the score.

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