John Green was in town to conduct his monumental work, Mine Eyes Have Seen—Symphonic Parallels and Contradictions for Orchestra, in a West Coast premiere with the San Diego Symphony.

You may recognize John Green as Johnny, the man whose orchestra played on the “Jack Benny Jello Program” in the thirties and forties, or as the composer of “Coquette,” “I Cover the Waterfront,” and “Body and Soul.” He holds five Oscars and has been nominated for the award 14 times.

As a reporter for an East San Diego County newspaper, I was sent to interview Green. He was wearing a carnation when I met him. I asked why he had changed his name after achieving fame as Johnny Green? Green, now 73, replied, “When you’re walking out on stage to conduct a symphony orchestra in a program of Beethoven and Brahms, and you’re also approaching the outer boundaries of middle age, the name of a juvenile hoofer seems a little inappropriate. Eighteen years ago, several of us [at the Los Angeles Philharmonic where he was associate conductor] felt it was high time I grew up.”

When asked what serious music he has written, Green’s eyes twinkled as he replied, “Serious music? that’s the misnomer of all time! There’s no one more serious than a rock star.” He is proud of a suite for unaccompanied piano commissioned by Abbott Laboratories and composed in 1948. He called it Materia Medica with what I learned was customary wry humor. “I figured they were paying me a handsome fee to write it; I should write something to do with them.” The three movements are titled “Narcotic,” “Hypnotic,” and “Stimulant.”

Green spoke ...

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