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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Music, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 1,478
1. Is Competition Good for Us? by Joan Lennon

Children's writers are a bit like fish in those shrinking ponds in a drought.  We're not yet at the stage of trying to breathe mud, but still, times are tight.  So, is competition good for us?

First, watch the video ...

Now, discuss!

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

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2. Top five hip hop references in poetry

By David Caplan

Hip hop has influenced a generation of poets coming to prominence, poets I call “The Inheritors of Hip Hop.” Signaling how the music serves as a shared experience and inspiration, they  mention performers and songs as well as anecdotes from the genre’s development and the artists’ lives, while epigraphs and titles quote songs. The influence of hip hop can be heard in the work of many poets including (but certainly not limited to): Kevin Coval, Erica Dawson, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Matthew Dickman, Major Jackson, Terrance Hayes, Dorothea Lasky, John Murillo, Eugene Ostashevsky, D.A. Powell, Roger Reeves, and Michael Robbins.


In no particular order, here are my five favorite hip hop references in poetry:

(1)   Kevin Young, “Expecting”
To capture the experience of first hearing his child’s heartbeat during a sonogram exam, Young develops a wildly inventive simile followed by metaphors borrowed from hip hop:

And there
it is: faint, an echo, faster and further

away than mother’s, all beat box
and fuzzy feedback. You are like hearing
hip-hop for the first time–power

hijacked from the lamppost–all promise.
You couldn’t sound better, break-
dancer, my favorite song bumping

from a passing car. You’ve snuck
into the club underage and stayed!

(2)   Rowan Ricardo Phillips, “Mappa Mundi
Describing his hometown of the Bronx, Phillips combines Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon’s verse in “Triumph,” “Aiyyo, that’s amazing gun-in-your-mouth talk,” and Samuel Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight,” “the redbreast sit and sing”:

Whether red birds sit and sing from rooftops

Or rappers cypher deep into the night,
The gun-in-your-mouth talk of a ransomed
God, nature is a lapse in city life.

(3)   Harryette Mullen, “Dim Lady”
Hip hop is nearly everywhere in Mullen’s earlier collection, Muse and Drudge, but my single favorite reference in her work to hip hop appears in “Dim Lady,” collected in Sleeping with the Dictionary. The prose poem rewrites and updates Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. In the place of Shakespeare’s lines,

“I love to hear her speak, yet well I know / That music hath a far more pleasing sound,”

Mullen offers,

“I love to hear her rap, yet I’m aware that Muzak has a hipper beat.” 

(The poem’s ending always makes me laugh, “And yet, by gosh, my scrumptious Twinkie has as much sex appeal for me as any lanky model or platinum movie idol who’s hyped beyond belief.”

(4)   A. Van Jordan, “R&B
A subgenre of poems about hip hop criticizes the music. A rare exception to the ignorance such work typically show (see, for instance, Tony Hoagland’s “Rap Music”), “R & B” offers a well-informed, thoughtful critique. “Listen long enough to the radio, and you’ll think / maybe C. Dolores Tucker was right,” the poem opens and an endnote reminds readers of Tucker’s significant contributions to the black civil rights movement.

(5)   Michael Cirelli, “Dead Ass”
“I am not afraid of dope lyrics,” Michael Cirelli writes in “Dead Ass.” Several poems in Lobster with Ol’ Dirty Bastard retell moments from hip hop history. To describe teens grooving to the music, “Dead Ass” borrows from Oakland slang, “hyphy,” meaning “crazy” in a good sense, “hyphy / music makes their bodies dip up and down / like oil drills.” (My favorite line in the book, though, describes eighties pop, not hip hop, “We danced incestuously to Michael and Janet that night.”)

Bonus Tracks

(6)   Adrien Matejka, “Wheels of Steel
“I got me two songs instead of eyes,” the poem opens then swaggering quotes five songs in twenty-seven lines.

(7)   Marcus Wicker, “Love Letter to Flavor Flav” tries to make sense of Public Enemy’s most puzzling member:

How you’ve lived saying nothing
save the same words each day
is a kind of freedom or beauty.
Please, tell me I’m not lying to us.

David Caplan is Charles M. Weis Chair in English and Associate Director of Creative Writing at Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the author of Rhyme’s Challenge: Hip Hop, Poetry, and Contemporary Rhyming Culture. His previous books include Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form and the poetry collection In the World He Created According to His Will.

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Image credit: turntable spinning. Photo by Tengilorg, 2005. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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3. "I still see her standing by the water"

From Billboard magazine, yesterday:

Glen Campbell has been moved into a care facility three years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, People.com reports.

"He was moved to an Alzheimer's facility last week," a family friend told the title. "I'm not sure what the permanent plan is for him yet. We'll know more next week."

The singer, whose "Rhinestone Cowboy" topped the charts in 1975, had been suffering from short-term memory loss in recent years. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in early 2011.

His voice, and the songs he made famous, are as much a part of America to me as the documents we hold so dear and the land we love so much. I never get tired of hearing him sing. I hope he has peace in his life in times ahead.

[Video from 2001 - it provides not only Glen singing "Galveston" but the brief story of the song, which was significantly linked to the Vietnam War. "Galveston" was written by Jimmy Webb.]

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4. Creative ways to perform your music: tips for music students

By Scott Huntington

Many music students have difficulty finding new venues in which to perform. A lot of the time it’s because we let our school schedule our performances for us. We’ll start the semester and circle the dates on the calendars that include our concerts and recitals, and that will be it. That’s fine, and can keep you pretty busy, but I’m here to tell you to get out there and plan on your own. You’ll become much more confident and even perform better at your concerts once you get a few smaller gigs under your belt. Here’s a few tips to help you along the way:

Don’t let nerves get in the way of gigging

You’ve likely heard this from countless professors, teachers, friends, and family members, but everyone experiences nervousness. It’s the result of our animal instincts, our fight or flight response, and it’s natural. The solution is simply to gain experience. Think of each instance of nervousness as a new chance to conquer and control the sensation. After enough repetitions, nervousness will no longer seem like such a big deal, just an expected and regular part of performance. Nerves will probably never go completely away, but by the time you get to a huge concert you’ll be getting used to it.

Develop your personal brand

Whether you like it or not, self-advertising, or creating your own brand, has become more and more doable thanks to the Internet. Read up on creating a web presence. Unless you’re famous, you’re going to need to market your talents. Sites like BandCamp and SoundCloud tend to be synonymous with popular music, but this trend is slowly changing. In fact, many classical musicians are uploading recordings of their gigs to SoundCloud.

On top of the benefits of a clean, easy to navigate repository of gig recordings, having a SoundCloud is like having a deluxe portfolio. What do I mean by “deluxe”? Well, it’s like having a resume with a built in audience of employers ready to look at it 24/7. And SoundCloud isn’t just a social network; it’s a social network of people who actively create and/or listen to music.

Think outside the box when looking for gigs

But where can you look for gigs? At first glance you’re at a slight disadvantage from all the rock bands that can play cover shows at bars or parties. Somehow playing solo clarinet music at the local bar just isn’t going to go over well. So, here are a few places you may not have thought of:

1. University events

Keep tabs on ongoing events at your university. Many students and faculty would love to have their events spiced up with some “sophisticated” music. There are plenty of fundraisers and galas that are always looking for entertainment. It even gives them a bragging point to have a student performing and could lead to more donations for the school.

2. Elementary schools

Music education is an important aspect of many children’s lives, and choosing an instrument to pick up can be quite a meaningful decision, even if it may seem superfluous to us at the time. Check with local elementary schools to find out when they start their students off in band and orchestra programs. They may very well be looking for people to come in and explain and play their instruments to students. You never know when you could be the one to inspire the next great performer.

elementary school music

Children from Kaneohe Elementary School clap to the beat of one of the many jazzy songs the US Marine Corps Forces Pacific Party Band played during their performance as part of the Music in the Schools program. Photo in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

3.  Retirement communities

Playing at a retirement community may not be very glamorous, but it will leave you with experience and the feeling that you’ve done a good service. One of the most rewarding times of my musical career was playing at a nursing home. A deaf woman rolled her wheelchair up to my marimba and put her hand on the side to feel the vibrations. Seeing her smile is something I will never forget. To me, this small gig was right up there with playing in Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

4. Play for small businesses and company functions

A gig at a barber shop didn’t give me a huge audience, but it’s not always the size that matters. Through it I was able to meet some people from a mattress store called Dr. Snooze, and eventually led to me getting to play at one of their open houses. I met several more people through it that led to even more performance opportunities, including corporate retreats and even a wedding. I can also use them as a reference when telling others about my music. It’s amazing how one “little” gig can turn into so much more.

5. Play on the street

Now you should look into the legality of this strategy before pursuing it, but playing in the street (even for no money) can be an incredible source of publicity. Who knows who might be looking? It also helps to strategically pick your location so that people who might be more likely to need musicians may listen. Another idea you could try would be to upload recordings of your performances to YouTube to be able to show them to others.

Finnish bluegrass buskers in Helsinki, Finland. June 2006. Photo by Cory Doctorow from London, UK. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.

Finnish bluegrass buskers in Helsinki, Finland. June 2006. Photo by Cory Doctorow from London, UK. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.

All of these ideas will give you some great experience and help you become a better musician. And when you come to the bigger events, you’ll be well prepared.

 is a percussionist specializing in marimba. He’s also a writer, reporter and blogger. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and son and does Internet marketing for WebpageFX in Harrisburg. Scott strives to play music whenever and wherever possible. Follow him on Twitter at @SMHuntington.

Oxford Music Online is the gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple music reference resources in one location. With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

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5. What’s the secret to high scores on video games?

By Siu-Lan Tan

When playing video games, do you play better with the sound on or off? Every gamer may have an opinion, but what has research shown?

Some studies suggest that music and sound effects enhance performance. For instance, Tafalla (2007) found that male gamers scored almost twice as many points while playing the first-person shooter game DOOM with the sound on (chilling music, weaponfire, screams, and labored breathing) compared to those playing with the sound off.

On the other hand, Yamada et al. (2001) found that people had the fastest lap times in the racing game Ridge Racer V when playing with the music off. Interestingly, 10 different music tracks were tested—and the lowest scores were earned when playing with the soundtrack built into the game (Boom Boom Satellite’s “Fogbound”).

Sometimes the results are more complex. Cassidy and MacDonald (2009) tested people playing a driving game with car sounds effects alone or with car sound effects plus different kinds of music. People playing with music that had been shown to be ‘highly arousing’ (in previous research) drove the fastest—but also made the greatest number of mistakes, such as hitting barriers or knocking over road cones!


In our own research (published 2010 and 2012), my colleagues John Baxa and Matt Spackman and I found that people playing Twilight Princess (Legend of Zelda) performed worst when playing with both music and sound effects off. This game provides the player with rich auditory cues that function as warnings, clues for access points, feedback for correct moves such as successful attacks on enemies, and more. Many of these don’t just “double” what you see on the screen.

As we progressively added more game audio, performance improved. However, surprisingly, our participants performed best when playing with background music playing on a boombox that was unrelated to the game! (This would be like playing a game with the game sound switched off—while your roommate’s music is playing in the background.)

How to boost your game play?

So how do we make sense of these findings? And do they shed light on what distinguishes the top gamers?

A closer look at the individuals in our 2010/2012 study suggested that the majority of our participants—but not all—played better with unrelated background music until they “got the hang of” the game.

We used a game that was new to everybody. As Twilight Princess is a pretty complex adventure role-playing game, the average player seemed to have to focus attention on the visual information when first navigating the game. So music and sound effects built into the game may have interfered with their concentration, as they had to “tune it out” to focus on visual cues to guide their actions at first.


However, our top players (who concluded four days of play in our Videogame Lab with the highest scores) were different. They tended to play better with the game sound on (full music and sound effects coming from both screen and Wiimote) from the very beginning.

The best players seemed to be better at paying attention to and meaningfully integrating both audio and visual cues effectively—thus benefitting from the richest warnings/clues/feedback. While the typical player strongly favored one sense, the best players were truly playing an audio-visual game from the beginning.

So…one secret to being a successful gamer may be to sharpen your attention to audio cues (in sound effects and music) within a game. Paying more attention to and integrating cues to both ear and eye may boost your game!

More than just high scores…

I’m also reminded of what a participant in our study expressed so well: “There’s more to a game than just high scores. It’s also about being transported and immersed in another world, and music and sound effects are what bring you there.”

Indeed, the lush cinematic scores take us through the emotional highs and lows of the journey of a game. Atmospheric tracks immerse us in other worlds. Rhythmic tracks serve as an engine to drive the action, the propulsion of the music making the virtual environment appear deeper and the visual array seem to whizz by faster (motion parallax).

When you have a great soundtrack, music can be the soul of a game.

Postscript: Sonic Mayhem!

Recently I had a chance to speak with composer Sonic Mayhem (Sascha Dikiciyan) when we were both interviewed on video game music by Sami Jarroush for Consequence of Sound. Sonic Mayhem is one of the most sought-after video game music composers today. He scored Quake III Arena, Tron: Evolution, Mass Effect 2 & 3, Borderlands, Space Marine, James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies, Mortal Kombat vs DC, and a ton of other monumental games.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Siu-Lan Tan is Associate Professor of Psychology at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, USA. She is primary editor of The Psychology of Music in Multimedia (Oxford University Press 2013), the first book consolidating the research on the role of music in film, television, video games, and computers. A version of this article also appears on Psychology Today. Siu-Lan Tan also has her own blog, What Shapes Film? Read her previous blog posts.

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Image credits: (1) Dubaj, by Danik9000, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Dataspel, by Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org, CC-BY-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

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6. 25 recent jazz albums you really ought to hear

By Ted Gioia

Jazz Appreciation Month gives us an opportunity to celebrate musical milestones of the past. But it also ought to serve as a reminder that jazz is a vibrant art form in the current day. Here are 25 recordings released during the last few months that are well worth hearing.

Ambrose Akinmusire1. Ambrose Akinmusire – The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint
Akinmusire is one of the most talented young trumpeters on the jazz scene. This release also represents a ‘return to its roots’ for the Blue Note label, which has increasingly strayed from mainstream jazz in recent years, but shows here that it hasn’t forgotten its heritage.

2. Greg Amirault – East of the Sun
Many of the most interesting new jazz albums are self-produced or issued by small indie labels. Montreal guitarist Amirault’s new CD is a case in point. He is hardly a household name in the jazz world, but this is one of the best guitar albums released in recent months.

3. The Bad Plus – The Rite of Spring
Stravinsky has been inspiring jazz artists for decades, but this ranks among the most creative reinterpretations of his work that I’ve heard.

4. Jeff Ballard – Time’s Tales
Check out the funky 9/4 groove that opens this leader date for drummer Jeff Ballard—joined byguitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Miguel Zenon.

5. Joe Beck5. Joe Beck – Get Me
Guitarist Joe Beck died in 2008, but this posthumous release (coming out in a few days) is likely to reignite interest in a very talented and underrated artist.

6. George Cables – Icons and Influences
I’ve been a fan of Cables’ piano work since I was a teenager. He has been in poor health in recent years, but this new albums finds him playing at top form.

7. Regina Carter – Southern Comfort
Carter combines jazz with traditional Southern music on her latest release. Even listeners who don’t think they like jazz might find themselves enjoying this appealing album.

8. Matt Criscuolo – Blippity Blat
This is another self-produced album that merits close listening. Criscuolo is formidable saxophonist with a sweet tone and supple phrasing.

9. Karl Denson's Tiny Universe9. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe – New Ammo
With this high-octane funk-oriented release, Denson proves that jazz can still work as dance music. This album might make a good entry point into jazz for rock fans who want to broaden their tastes and expand their ears.

10. Nir Felder – Golden Age
The recently revived OKeh label is releasing a number of outstanding jazz albums, but this CD from up-and-coming guitarist Nir Felder may be its most ambitious project of 2014, pushing beyond conventional boundaries of jazz and popular music.

11. Craig Handy – Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith
Handy mixes elements of New Orleans party music and Hammond organ soul jazz in a very exciting hybrid. In a fair and hip world, this album (and the Denson release mentioned above) would be generating lots of radio airplay.

12. Vijay Iyer – Mutations
Iyer’s debut album with the ECM label is one of his best to date, revealing his maturity not just as a jazz player but also as a composer of jazz-oriented chamber music.

13. Christian Jacob13. Christian Jacob – Beautiful Jazz
Here’s another smart self-produced jazz album that you could easily miss. Pianist Jacob is a master at updating and reharmonizing the traditional jazz repertoire.

14. Erik Jekabson – Live at the Hillside Club
Jekabson is one of the most promising young trumpeters on the West Coast, and continues to impress with this new album.

15. John Lurie – The Invention of Animals
John Lurie has never gotten the respect he deserves for his jazz work with the Lounge Lizards. He subsequently abandoned music to focus on painting, but these rediscovered tracks testify to his brilliance as a jazz improviser.

16. Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra – Strength in Numbers
I have heard several outstanding jazz big band albums this year, but this one is the best of breed.

17. The North17. The North – Slow Down (This Isn’t the Mainland)
Fans of mid-period Keith Jarrett and E.S.T. will enjoy this trio album. This band is still a well-kept secret in the jazz world, but their music has clear crossover potential.

18. Danilo Pérez – Panama 500
Pérez has long ranked among the leading Latin jazz artists. Here he draws on the Panamanian music tradition for a theme album commemorating the 500th anniversary of Balboa crossing the Isthmus of Panama.

19. Matthew Shipp – Root of Things
Pianist Shipp possesses an expansive vision of jazz that, over the years, has encompassed everything from hip-hop to electronica. In his latest album, he returns to the acoustic trio format, where he is joined by bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey.

20. Revolutionary Snake Ensemble – Live Snakes
This Boston-based band is a throwback to the earliest roots of jazz, when hornplayers often performed in parades and brass bands entertained at social gatherings.

21. (718) – Sputnik
The group’s name comes from its phone area code, and the album title honors a 1950s spacecraft. But the music here is rock-oriented funk jazz in the spirit of the best 1970s fusion bands.

22. Helen Sung – Anthem for a New Day
I’ve been following Sung’s career with interest for a number of years, but this is her best album to date.

23. Daniel Szabo23. Daniel Szabo – A Song From There
Daniel Szabo is one of the most impressive young pianists on the scene today, but even in jazz circles most won’t recognize his name. I suspect they will soon. I highly recommend his new album.

24. Norma Winstone – Dance Without Answer
Norma Winstone has been a major force on the British jazz scene since the 1960s. At an age when many jazz singers start showing wear and tear in their voices, Winstone is recording some of her finest work.

25. John Zorn – Psychomagia
It’s easy to take John Zorn for granted. He records prolifically, and puts very little effort into marketing and promoting his projects. But this 2014 release deserves your attention.

Ted Gioia is a musician, author, and leading jazz critic and expert on American music. The first edition of his The History of Jazz was selected as one of the twenty best books of the year in The Washington Post, and was chosen as a notable book of the year in The New York Times. He is also the author of The Jazz Standards, Delta Blues, West Coast Jazz, Work Songs and The Birth (and Death) of the Cool.

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7. The early history of the guitar

By Christopher Page

I am struck by the way the recent issue of Early Music devoted to the early romantic guitar provides a timely reminder of how little is known about even the recent history of what is to day today the most popular musical instrument in existence. With millions of devotees worldwide, the guitar eclipses the considerably more expensive piano and allows a beginner to achieve passable results much sooner than the violin. In England, the foundations for this ascendancy were laid in the age of the great Romantic poets. It was during the lifetimes of Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Coleridge, extending from 1772 to 1834, that the guitar rose from a relatively subsidiary position in Georgian musical life to a place of such fashionable eminence that it rivalled the pianoforte and harp as the chosen instrument of many amateur musicians.

What makes this rise so fascinating is that it was not just a musical matter; the vogue for the guitar in England after 1800 owed much to a new imaginative landscape for the guitar owing much to Romanticism. John Keats, in one of his letters, tellingly associates the guitar with popular novels and serialized romances that were shaped by the interests of a predominantly female readership and were romantic in several senses of the word with their stories of hyperbolized emotion in exotic settings. For Byron, a poet with a wider horizon than Keats, the guitar was a potent image of the Spanish temper as the English commonly imagined it during the Napoleonic wars and long after: passionate and yet melancholic, lyrical and yet bellicose in the defence of political liberty, it gave full play to the Romantic fascination with extremes of sentiment. For Shelley in his Poem “With a Guitar,” the gentle sound of the instrument distilled the voices of Nature who had given the materials of her wooded hillsides to make it, but it also evoked something beyond Nature: the enchantment of Prospero’s isle and a reverie reaching beyond the limitations of sense to “such stuff as dreams are made on.” As the compilers of the Giulianiad, England’s first niche magazine for guitarists, asked in 1833: “What instrument so completely allows us to live, for a time, in a world of our own imagination?”


Given the wealth of material for a social history of the guitar in Regency England, and for its engagement with the romantic imagination, it is surprising that so little has been written about the instrument. It does say something about why England is widely regarded as the poor relation in the family of guitar-playing nations. The fortunes of the guitar in the early nineteenth century are commonly understood in a continental context established especially by contemporary developments in Italy, Spain, and France. To some extent, this is an understandable mistake, for Georgian England received rather more from the European mainland in the matter of guitar playing than she gave, but it is contrary to all indications. But we may discover, in the coming years, that the history of the guitar in England contains much that accords with that nation’s position as the most powerful country, and the most industrially advanced, of Western Europe at the close of the Napoleonic Wars.

There is so much material to consider: references to the guitar and guitarists in newspapers, advertisements, novels, short stories, poems and manuals of deportment, the majority of them published in the metropolis of London. The pictorial sources encompass a great many images of guitars and guitarists in a wealth of prints, mezzotints, lithographs, and paintings. The surviving music comprise a great many compositions for guitar, both in printed versions and in manuscript together with tutors that are themselves important social documents. Electronic resources, though fallible, permit a depth of coverage previously unattainable. Never have the words of John Thomson in the first issue of Early Music been more relevant: we set out on an intriguing journey.

Christopher Page is a long-standing contributor to Early Music. A Fellow of the British Academy, he is Professor of Medieval Music and Literature in the University of Cambridge and Gresham Professor of Music elect at Gresham College in London. In 1981 he founded the professional vocal ensemble Gothic voices, now with twenty-five CDs in the catalogue, from which he retired in 2000 to write his most recent book, The Christian West and its Singers: The first Thousand Years (Yale University Press, 2010).

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8. Five jazz concerts I wish I had been at

By Gabriel Solis

Most people who have listened to jazz for very long have a list in their minds of the best live performances they’ve ever been to. I know I do. I remember with particular fondness a performance by Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson that I saw in the early 1980s in Modesto, California that was a benefit for local jazz musician and DJ Mel Williams’s Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation. It wasn’t so much that it was a groundbreaking concert as such–though I still remember how tight and in-the-pocket his band swung–but it was one of the first I ever went to.

As a kid in California’s Central Valley, an agricultural backwater at the time, I didn’t have that many chances to hear live jazz, and it was a revelation. I remember equally fondly seeing Johnny Griffin at Birdland in New York, when I was doing research for my first book, Monk’s Music (University of California Press, 2008). I had dug Griff on vinyl since I was in high school, and to see that band take the stage and hear him—old by then, but still brimming with intensity–burn through two sets of serious hard bop felt a little like coming home.

And most people who go see jazz regularly will tell you that the particular features of the venues where jazz happens color their experiences in tangible ways. For me, The Village Vanguard when it’s full has a kind of electricity that comes from the tight seating and the quality of the light in its cramped little basement space, as well as from its storied past. Sitting cheek-by-jowl with a couple hundred other fans to hear jazz in dim twilight in the same room where John Coltrane once played has a power that can’t be overstated. And being so close to the musicians in a room which has crisp acoustics doesn’t hurt, either.

These features and more make it common for jazz fans to feel that club dates are the best — or even the most authentic — way to hear the music. And yet, concerts, whether they be in monumental halls originally designed for classical music or in the purpose-built, often open-air spaces used for jazz festivals, have been an important context for the music as well. Since the 1920s jazz has been presented in these settings, often to truly great effect. As I say in my book on the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane’s live recording at Carnegie Hall, while clubs may offer certain pleasures for musicians–a more interactive, intimate experience especially–concerts have had their value as well. Better pay, typically, for one, but also the opportunity to present their musical ideas in more formal venues.

I’ve seen some great jazz performances at clubs and in concerts, but still, sometimes, I wonder if I didn’t grow up at the wrong time, in the wrong place. There’s just so much I never had the chance to hear — Monk at the Five Spot, Coltrane at the Village Vanguard, Billie Holiday at Café Society, Ellington anywhere … With that in mind, here are five jazz concerts I wish I had seen, in no particular order:

5. Newport Jazz Festival, 1956

To have been at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956 to hear Ellington’s band play the set that included “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” would have been, as the beatniks used to say, “beyond the beyond.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

Duke Ellington Orchestra at Newport 1956, “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue,” separated, as Ellington puts it, “by an interval by Paul Gonsalves”

The story is well-enough known to jazz aficionados, that Ellington’s star was on the wane, and that this concert was a way back for them, that on this tune Gonsalves took a solo that was a standard part of the show and turned it into a 27-chorus blues tour-de-force, inspired by a woman in a little black dress who danced and danced and danced while he blew. What else is jazz but that?

I would have worn my groovy fedora, some high-waisted white slacks, combed Brylcreem through my hair and dug every minute of it.

4. Weather Report in Tokyo, 1972

Weather Report’s work, by the later 1970s, includes some pretty dispiriting instrumental pop, but in 1972, Zawinul, Shorter, and company made some music that was vital, and living somewhere on the edge of experimental funk, avant garde noise, and deep groove.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Medley of “Vertical Invader,” “Seventh Arrow,” “T.H.,” and “Doctor Honoria Causus,” from the live recording Weather Report Live in Tokyo

Recordings of this music can only begin to capture its range. Even on high fidelity equipment, the silences are not as heavy as they would have been in the concert hall, not as pregnant with expectation, and the band at full volume is not as overwhelming. In some sense jazz performances are always a bit of a ritual, but this seems like an immersive experience of another level.

3. The Clef Club Orchestra, Massed Gala 1912 and 1913

Under the leadership of James Reese Europe, the Clef Club orchestra played at some of the best private dances New York society had in the early years of the 20th century, but they also presided over at least two “massed galas” in Carnegie Hall in the years 1912 and 1913. While Europe’s bands as they were recorded around the time included fewer than a dozen musicians, an image of the full group on stage at Carnegie Hall has better than fifty. The excitement generated by the group’s sheer size and its range of instruments including cellos, harp-guitars, drums, brass, and who knows what is born out in descriptions from the time that emphasize spectacle.

Click here to view the embedded video.

James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra, “The Castle Walk,” 1914

Somehow the recordings we know Europe by just don’t seem like they do justice …

2. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

I’ve written about Monk for so many years now, it is a particular sadness to say I never saw him play. Our lives overlapped a bit–I had just turned 10 when he died–but he had stopped playing in public for the most part by the time I was born, and even if he had been playing, he wouldn’t likely have played where I was.

I would love to have seen him play with any of his groups, but there was something special about that band and that night in November, 1957.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, “Monk’s Mood”

It’s not just that the band gave a brilliant performance–though they did. It’s more. As I say at some length in my book on this concert recording, the selection of tunes is great, the chance to hear Coltrane working out a sound in relation to Monk’s established style is a treat, and there is something brilliant about the way Shadow Wilson and Ahmed Abdul-Malik come together to underpin the whole event.

Though only Monk’s set was released on CD, I would love to have had the chance to hear this performance in context with the rest of the groups on that evening’s remarkable bill, including Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins.

1. Newport Jazz Festival 1969, Final Night

OK, so technically this wasn’t necessarily, strictly speaking, a jazz concert, as such, but I would kill to have been at the NJF the night Miles Davis famously saw Led Zeppelin drive the kids wild. This is another one that is well-known and the stuff of legend, but everything about it would have felt like a lightening bolt at the time. Would Zeppelin play or wouldn’t they? Promoter George Wein was convinced that they would start a riot, but after some controversy, they did close an evening that also included Herbie Hancock’s sextet, and the Buddy Rich band, among others.

We often hear about Zeppelin in this story, but the whole festival was kind of incredible. The British rock band played at the end of a weekend that included George Benson, Bill Evans, Sun Ra’s Arkestra, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck, Sly and the Family Stone, and Jimmy Smith hosting a jam session that included Sonny Stitt and Ray Nance, among others.

So maybe I was born too soon. Though, in the past month I’ve had my head expanded by Vijay Iyer’s trio, by William Parker, and by the Bad Plus, all in the little college town in East Central Illinois where I live, so perhaps it’s all just fine.

Gabriel Solis is Associate Professor of music, African American studies, and anthropology at the University of Illinois. A scholar of jazz, American popular music, and the transnational politics of race, his work has appeared in leading journals of ethnomusicology, music history, and sociology. He is the author of Monk’s Music: Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making (California, 2008), co-editor with Bruno Nettl of Musical Improvisation: Art, Education, and Society (Illinois, 2009), a forthcoming book on singer, songwriter, and performing artist, Tom Waits titled Sounding America: Gender, Genre, Memory, and the Music of Tom Waits (California), and Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall.

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9. Heading to the Outlands…

calico2014 Heading to the Outlands...After a very hectic month, including having two shows in two states on the same days (more about that in a later blog), I head out into the desert this coming weekend. Where are these famed outlands you ask? The Calico Ghost Town near Barstow, CA, where the Wild West Fest shall be going on, a steampunk extravaganza.

spgiraffelogo Heading to the Outlands...I am excited as I have never been to a ghost town before, and I am sure I can draw some inspiration from there for some new art. There will be panels on plenty of steampunk related subjects, hot air balloon rides, and a concert on Saturday by Steam Powered Giraffe (very good group, highly recommend seeing them). Plus there will be plenty of vendors including my good friend Tamara of The Mystical Apothecary.

I am off to finish getting ready for the show and the upcoming Wondercon, but I will have a blog up soon about Emerald City Comicon and Monsterpalooza.

Keep creating and always have fun!




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10. Heading to the Outlands…

calico2014 Heading to the Outlands...After a very hectic month, including having two shows in two states on the same days (more about that in a later blog), I head out into the desert this coming weekend. Where are these famed outlands you ask? The Calico Ghost Town near Barstow, CA, where the Wild West Fest shall be going on, a steampunk extravaganza.

spgiraffelogo Heading to the Outlands...I am excited as I have never been to a ghost town before, and I am sure I can draw some inspiration from there for some new art. There will be panels on plenty of steampunk related subjects, hot air balloon rides, and a concert on Saturday by Steam Powered Giraffe (very good group, highly recommend seeing them). Plus there will be plenty of vendors including my good friend Tamara of The Mystical Apothecary.

I am off to finish getting ready for the show and the upcoming Wondercon, but I will have a blog up soon about Emerald City Comicon and Monsterpalooza.

Keep creating and always have fun!




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11. Can’t Go Wrong With Some Joy

This video has been around for a while, but every now and then I love to watch it again and see if it still gets me all misty-eyed as soon as the violins come in. Yes, it does. And by the end I’m always in full-on happy tears. See if it doesn’t do the same for you:

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12. Janelle Monae Interview


Interview with Janelle Monae

It’s no secret that I am a very, very big Janelle Monae fan. Her music just makes me want to get up and boogie, and her style is awesome. (I wish I looked that cool in a suit.) This April, she’s making her big screen debut . . . in Rio 2! Did you see the first Rio movie

Q: In Rio 2, were you the voice of a character or are you singing in the movie?

Janelle: I’m doing both. I’m the voice of a character, and I don’t want to tell you which one! I also wrote the opening song for the movie. I’m really excited to have worked with so many amazing actors. I got a chance to work with Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway. I got a chance to produce them and get their vocals on the song that I wrote!

Q: Is it easier than performing or acting, or is it harder?

Janelle: No, it’s all the same. When I’m on stage, you know, I have to get in a different mindset. No matter what I’m going through during the day, when I touch down on stage I go into character. So I do the same thing in a movie.

Q: Your music is so creative. How did you develop your own genre?

Janelle: Well, I allow myself to grow and I tell myself that there’s nothing that I can’t do. I love creating music. I love finding out my strengths and working on any weaknesses. And I never want to tell myself that, you know, I can’t do a specific style. I was blessed with a voice. I get bored very easily as well, so I’m always discovering new things and learning. I love learning. I love challenging myself. I love collaborating with different people from different walks of life!

Q: What was your favorite subject when you were in school?

Janelle: It was English. English, definitely! In high school I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Appleberry, and her style of teaching made me want to come to class every single day. I would go home and just write and write and write. I would write short stories, and actors would perform them and, you know, I took that love of writing and turned it into my first album.

Q: Are you involved in any sort of environmental causes?

Janelle: One of my goals this year is to do more planting. And I mean that literally! I plan on planting more seeds and growing more trees and nurturing more green. But I want to also plant more seeds of hope and positivity throughout the world, whether it is by helping someone else get their career off the ground or starting a nonprofit.

image from kids.scholastic.com— En-Szu, STACKS Staffer

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13. Loud art poster

I don’t think I ever posted this—it’s a poster I designed for an exhibit of music-related art at the Graffiti Gallery here in the National Transit Building in early 2013. I was without a camera at the time and took these in-progress photos with my cell phone. I finally uploaded them to my computer. Enjoy!

IMAG0471 IMAG0472 IMAG0473 IMAG0474 paletteguitar Layout 1

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14. A New Release That’s Music to Our Ears: SUMMONING THE PHOENIX

We’re excited to announce a new release from our recently acquired imprint, Shen’s BooksSummoning the Phoenix, a musical and informative journey through the history of traditional Chinese instruments.

summoning the phoenix


In Summoning the Phoenix, author Emily Jiang and illustrator April Chu follow thirteen young musicians as they prepare to perform in a Chinese orchestra. In a starred review, Kirkus says that this is “a lively medley that will expand the musical boundaries of most young audiences.”

Happy birthday to Summoning the Phoenix! Here’s a fun video of a girl playing “Happy Birthday” on her dizi:

Filed under: New Release Tagged: april chu, chinese instruments, chinese orchestra, dizi, emily jiang, erhu, guzheng, instruments, Music, muyu, paigu, pipa, ruan, Shen's Books, sheng, summoning the phoenix, suona, traditional chinese music, xiao, yangqin

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15. April Fool’s! Announcing winner of the second annual Grove Music spoof contest

By the Grove Music Online editorial team

Just in time for April Fool’s Day we are pleased to announce the results of this year’s Grove Music Online Spoof Article contest.

This year’s submissions were all biographies, perhaps because Grove’s stylistic prescriptions for biographies lend themselves well to parody. Competition was fierce and hilarious. One of our judges reports, “You all made me spill my coffee. Twice.”

Song thrush. Digital ID: 1132614. New York Public Library

Song thrush. Digital ID: 1132614. New York Public Library.

The judges:

  • Deane Root, editor in chief of Grove Music Online, and Professor of Music, Director and Fletcher Hodges, Jr. Curator of the Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh, has been immersed in Grove style since he worked under Stanley Sadie on the first New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
  • Charles Hiroshi Garrett, Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance served as editor in chief for The Grove Dictionary of American Music, Second Edition. He is currently working on Joking Matters, a book that explores music, humor, and contemporary culture.
  • Anna-Lise Santella edits Grove Music/Oxford Music Online as well as the music modules of Oxford Bibliographies and Oxford Handbooks Online. She spends a lot of time with style guides and once read the 1927 edition of Grove cover to cover for fun.

We received a number of excellent selections, all of which observed Grove style and took care to include some plausible details among the ludicrous so that they might pass muster.

Judge Root noted, “It’s very difficult to choose among these four offerings. Indeed, in wit and prose most seem to have flowed from the fingertips of the same inspired author.” Judge Root was right about that: Three of our four shortlisted articles were written by a single author. Root added, “This year brings us brief biographical entries, thumbnail sketches of inspired beings in whom some of us might find our imaginary Doppelgänger.”


Third runner up:

Bach, Davide Adolphus Iestyn (b Rimsting, Bavaria 29 Feb 1764, d Merthyr Tydfil, Wales 22 Apr 1833), German composer, organist, and political agitator. A distant relative of J.S. Bach, D.A.I. Bach’s early career is veiled in obscurity. It is known from the personal letters of his father, Johann Maldwyn Bach (1740 – 1800) that D.A.I. Bach moved to the home of his paternal great grandmother in Fochriw, Wales in 1785 following a failed attempt to poison the Elector of Rimsting in protest about the feudal laws still employed in Bavaria at that time. He is credited with establishing the tradition of Lutheran hymn singing in Wales, translating Ein Feste Burg into Welsh for the Eisteddfod at Corwen in 1789. His most famous work is the ‘Steam’ Cantata (Schnell, Schneller, am Schnellsten!) written to celebrate the first journey of Richard Trevithick’s steam engine from Merthyr Tydfil to Penydarren in 1804. He was implicated as a ring leader of the Merthyr Riots of 1831, describing himself as a ‘solider for freedom’. He escaped punishment by disguising himself as an iron worker at the famous Dowlais works. His opera Uumo di Ferro, a semi-autobiographical account of this episode, was revived in 1987 as part of the Urdd Eisteddfod in Merthyr Tydfil. Bach’s involvement in Welsh political protest earned him a reference in the folk song Sospan Fach (‘D.A.I. Bach y sowldiwr’). In a cruel twist of fate, D.A.I. Bach died on the same day as Trevithick in 1833, following a railway accident.

ed. Llewellyn Ein Brief Aus Rimsting: the letters of Johann Maldwyn Bach (Treorchy, 1933)
Cyfansoddiadau llenyddol buddugol: Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Merthyr
Tudful a’r Cylch 1987 (Cardiff 1987)
V. Jones The Iron Men of Merthyr (Bangor, 2009)

Root notes, “Another long-lost member of the prolific family: a cwrthed Bach perhaps? Surely those lacking facility with the Welsh language are missing some humor here (“dai bach” means little David, raising expectations for references to slingshots and giants).” Judge Santella added, “This article gets bonus points for including references to actual events that leant it the air of plausibility and for including Welsh phrases that stood up to my (admittedly limited) translation abilities. It lacked, however, a signature, which is not only a missed opportunity for additional hilarity, but also against Grove’s preferred style for an article that includes bibliography. This article was submitted by Steven Griffin.


Second runner up:

Humble, Maria Felicity (b Hampshire, 1762, d Hampshire, 1813). English composer and pianist. Initially denied the musical tuition bestowed on her four brothers, Humble was eventually permitted to attend lessons by her parents, a vicar and his wife, after her threat to hold her breath for a dangerously long time led to an incident in which the parish doctor had to be called, at considerable expense and embarrassment to the family. This was the last in a series of subversive acts undertaken by Humble in protest at her exclusion; others included doctoring her father’s sermons shortly before church services, resulting in some unfortunate declarations from the pulpit.

Humble proved to be skilful and naturally musical, soon outstripping her brothers in her aptitude at the keyboard, and in her understanding of harmony, counterpoint, singing, and composition. The resultant humiliation felt by her brothers manifested itself in a number of resentful gestures, including the destruction or defacement of many of Humble’s scores. Of those that survive, most bear the marks of sibling rage, with one set of handwriting in particular – identified to be that of her youngest brother, Percy – revealing a highly scatological mind.

Humble resorted to keeping her works locked in a bureau; as a consequence, none were performed or published during her lifetime. Pieces include numerous highly accomplished songs and piano sonatas, some of which have been hailed by Charles Rosen as ‘superior even to Beethoven’.

C. Rosen, Forgotten Classical Masters (London and New York, 1972), 56–62
F. Tinkle, From Humble Origins to an Even Humbler Reputation (London, 1964)


Judge Root observes, “Reflecting timely concerns about sexist male suppression of female creativity and sibling rivalry among composers, this bio presents a remarkable amount of familial dirty linen for someone whose birth and death dates are unknown, and draws in two late male authorities who might have been reluctant to be associated with this Humble musician, no matter the sardonic Felicity.” Judge Santella concurs that the level of detail combined with the signature would have made her suspicious. “This would not have gotten by us, but I am 100% in favor of the title of F. Tinkle’s biography.”


First runner up:

Fogger-Houndsmilk, George (b Guildford, 24 August 1937, d Kingston upon Hull, 26 December 1999). English composer, pianist and folksong collector. He was educated at Winchester College and then at Hull, where he encountered the poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985). Fogger-Houndsmilk, who was published under the name George Houndsmilk, set Larkin’s poetry to music in his song cycle, The Librarian (1956), but Larkin dismissed him as ‘a second-rate churner of dubious ditties’. The cycle was published incorrectly as The Libertarian, but was so successful in that guise that Houndsmilk made no attempt to alter the title in later editions.

Houndsmilk enjoyed considerable commercial success with his settings of English folk music. Songs include Rosemary Cheesecloth, Plump Puddens, Bishop Littlebreath’s Farewell, The Saucy Skipper of Scarborough, Lewisham Fair, Shropshire Blue, Sweet Catford Sue, Newcassel Town Hall, The Red-breasted Merganser of Merseyside, Slippy Willie, and Seven Farmers Went A-Drinking and Never Came Back. Houndsmilk’s settings were issued by the eminent publisher Henry Cassocks.

Houndsmilk married Hattie Bloxham, a former barmaid celebrated for her forthright singing style. Bloxham gave numerous recitals of Houndsmilk’s songs, with her husband at the piano. They had six children, including the poet and literary critic Celia Bloxham-Houndsmilk. George Houndsmilk died of injuries sustained during the collapse of a negligently-constructed wheelbarrow.

S.L. St Bernard: To Hull and Back: The Cultural Life of England’s Most Underrated City (Cambridge, 1972), 72–81
M. Bowdler: Plump Puddens: The Tawdry World of George “Foggy” Houndsmilk and Hattie Bloxham (London, 1991)


“Those consummate British folksong collectors with their school ties and countrified lineage; where does the real end, and the imaginary begin?” asked Judge Root. “With Larkin as the poet one might have expected this composer to jazz it up, but the list of cheesy settings reveals other interests. And what the composer was doing beneath the barrow we’d best not know.”


And the winner is:

Henderson, Lucas John (b Philadelphia, 19 June, 1910, d Appenzell, Switzerland, 27 November, 1987). American composer. His style encompassed the avant garde and, later, post-modernism, including works which paid tribute to, or satirised, the music of other composers. His 1956 piece, Cage, an homage to John Cage, consists of a cage, the bars of which have been loosely interwoven with violin strings. The performer, who need not be a violinist, is required to pluck the strings while emulating the movements of a bird. In a follow-up to this work, Byrd-Cage (for performer, cage and tape, 1958), a recording of Byrd’s motet Siderum rector is played throughout the performance. When the original score to Henderson’s satirical fusion of Stravinsky and Beethoven, Oiseau de für Elise (for voice and Bunsen burner) was destroyed by fire, Henderson ceased composing altogether, retiring to a life of quiet solitude in the Swiss village of Appenzell.

N. Doggerel, The Anechoic Chambers of the Mind (New York, 1967)


Judge Root opined, “The name puns here are surprising and delightful, as are the inventively prepared birdcage and the implied hazards of modern-music performance. This mashup of music composers, styles, and titles—brief though it be—earns my nod as our spoof-of-the-year.” The rest of the judges agreed. “It’s the only one that made me laugh out loud,” said Judge Garrett, and Judge Santella admitted it was the perpetrator of the aforementioned coffee incident.


Congratulations to author Joanna Wyld, who also wrote the First and Second runner up entries. She is the winner of $100 in OUP books and a year’s subscription to Grove Music Online.

Many thanks to all of our entrants for your creativity! We hope you’ll join us again next year!

And finally, our original contest announcement elicited our first ever errata correction for an earlier spoof article. William Walderman wrote to correct the article on Dag Esrum-Hellerup, which appeared in the first printing of New Grove 1.


april fools

William Walderman:

The Grove article on Dag Henrik Esrum-Hellerup contains a serious flaw. Dag Henrik’s father, Johann Henrik (1773-1843), supposedly appointed chamber flautist to Christian IX, died 20 years before Christian’s accession to the throne in 1863.

We tried to slip one by him by stating that it must have been Johann Henrik’s long lost identical twin brother, Johann Maria, who lived to the ripe old age of 110, that served under Christian IX, but he was too quick for us!

Are you sure it was Johann Maria – a Catholic name in a Protestant country? With the surname Esrum-Hellerup, these twins weren’t arrivals in Denmark from Bavaria or the Electoral Palatinate. Maybe his name was Johan Martin Esrum-Hellerup (probably Johan, with just one n, or else Hans or Jens).

It’s certainly difficult not to admire the lungs of a 90-year old flautist.

We certainly can’t argue with that. Thanks for your comments, Mr. Walderman!

Oxford Music Online is the gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple music reference resources in one location. With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

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16. Baseball season...finally

My favorite time of year, when all the wins are still possible, when all the games hold promise. My heart is always with the Red Sox but I have a serious soft spot for the Cubs and especially for Wrigley Field. Eddie Vedder wrote "All the Way" at the request of Cubs great Ernie Banks which is just...so perfect. I hope it gets you ready for the Boys of Summer...

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17. Eight facts about the synthesizer and electronic music

By Maggie Belnap

The invention of the synthesizer in the mid-20th century inspired composers and redesigned electronic music. The synthesizer sped up the creation process by combining hundreds of different sounds, and composers were inspired to delve deeper into the possibilities of electronic music.

1.     Electronic music was first attempted in the United States and Canada in the 1890s. Its creation process was difficult. To create just a few minutes of music, with perhaps a hundred different sounds, could take weeks to finalize.

2.     The first true synthesizer was released to the public in 1956. It was made up of an array of electronic tone generators and processing devices that controlled the nature of the sounds.

3.     That synthesizer played itself in traveling patterns that could be repeated or not. It was controlled by a system of brush sensors that responded to patterns of pre-punched holes on a rotating paper roll.

4.     The most well-known and celebrated electronic pieces in the 1950s are Eimert’s Fünf Stücke, Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge, Krenek’s Spiritus Intelligentiae Sanctus, Berio’s Mutazioni, and Maderna’s Notturno.

 Robert Moog and his synthesizer

Robert Moog and his synthesizer via Wikimedia Commons

5.     The first electronic concert was given in the Museum of Modern Art, NY on 28 October 1953 by Ussachevsky and Luening.

6.     Two Americans, Robert Moog and Donald Buchla, created separate companies to manufacture synthesizers in the 1960s. Robert Moog’s synthesizer was released in 1965 and is considered a major milestone for electronic music.

7.     They were followed by others and soon synthesizers that were voltage-controlled and portable were available for studio and on stage performances.

8.     In the 1980s, commercial synthesizers were produced on a regular basis. Yamaha released the first all-digital synthesizer in 1983.

Maggie Belnap is a Social Media intern at Oxford University Press. She attends Amherst College.

Oxford Reference is the home of reference publishing at Oxford. With over 16,000 photographs, maps, tables, diagrams and a quick and speedy search, Oxford Reference saves you time while enhancing and complementing your work.

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18. Cover Illustration: Steve Leach "Songs for Squares"

Christine Marie Larsen Illustration: CD Cover Illustration of a couple dancing. Songs for Squares, Steve Leach

Texas "Folk Swing" musician Steve Leach has a new CD coming out, and I was lucky enough to be commissioned by him to create the cover artwork and illustration for this new album. He wanted a sweet illustration evocative of a different era, but also timeless. We settled on a painting of dancers lost in the moment. The hand lettering is analog brush with digital color. Visit his site and have a listen to his fun songs. 

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19. Discussing Josephine Baker with Anne Cheng

By Tim Allen

Josephine Baker, the mid-20th century performance artist, provocatrix, and muse, led a fascinating transatlantic life. I recently had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Anne A. Cheng, Professor of English and African American Literature at Princeton University and author of the book Second Skin: Josephine Baker & the Modern Surface, about her research into Baker’s life, work, influence, and legacy.

Josephine Baker, as photographed by Carl Von Vechten in 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Josephine Baker, as photographed by Carl Von Vechten in 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Baker made her career in Europe and notably inspired a number of European artists and architects, including Picasso and Le Corbusier. What was it about Baker that spoke to Europeans? What did she represent for them?

It has been traditionally understood that Baker represents a “primitive” figure for male European artists and architects who found in Baker an example of black animality and regressiveness; that is, she was their primitive muse. Yet this view cannot account for why many famous female artists were also fascinated by her, nor does it explain why Baker in particular would come to be the figure of so much profound artistic investment. I would argue that it is in fact Baker’s “modernity” (itself understood as an expression of hybrid and borrowed art forms) rather than her “primitiveness” that made her such a magnetic figure.  In short, the modernists did not go to her to watch a projection of an alienating blackness; rather, they were held in thrall by a reflection of their own art’s racially complex roots. This is another way of saying that, when someone like Picasso looked at a tribal African mask or a figure like Baker who mimics Western ideas of Africa, what he saw was not just radical otherness but a much more ambivalent mirror of the West’s own complicity in constructing and imagining that “otherness.”

Baker was present at the March on Washington in August 1963 and stood with Martin Luther King Jr. as he gave his “I have a dream” speech. What did Baker contribute to the struggle for civil rights? How was her success in foreign countries understood within the African American community?

These are well-known facts about Baker’s biography: in the latter part of her life, Baker became a very public figure for the causes of social justice and equality. During World War II, she served as an intelligence liaison and an ambulance driver for the French Resistance and was awarded the Medal of the Resistance and the Legion of Honor. Soon after the war, Baker toured the United States again and won respect and praise from African Americans for her support of the civil rights movement. In 1951, she refused to play to segregated audiences and, as a result, the NAACP named her its Most Outstanding Woman of the Year. She gave a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall for the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Congress of Racial Equality in 1963.

What is fascinating as well, however, is the complication that Baker represents to and for the African American community. Prior to the war and her more public engagement with the civil rights movement, she was not always a welcome figure either in the African American community or for the larger mainstream American public. Her sensational fame abroad was not duplicated in the states, and her association with primitivism made her at times an embarrassment for the African American community. A couple of times before the war, Baker returned to perform in the United States and was not well received, much to her grief. I would suggest that Baker should be celebrated not only for her more recognizable civil rights activism, but also for her art: performances which far exceed the simplistic labels that have been placed on them and which few have actually examined as art. These performances, when looked at more closely, embody and generate powerful and intricate political meditations about what it means to be a black female body on stage.

Did your research into Baker’s life uncover any surprising or unexpected bits of information? What was the greatest challenge you experienced in carrying out your research?

I was repeatedly stunned by how much writing has been generated about her life (from facts to gossip) but how little attention has been paid to really analyzing her work, be it on stage or in film. The work itself is so idiosyncratic and layered and complex that this critical oversight is really a testament to how much we have been blinded by our received image of her. I was also surprised to learn how insecure she was about her singing voice when it is in fact a very unique voice with great adaptability. Baker’s voice can be deep and sonorous or high and pitchy, depending on the context of each performance. In the film Zou Zou, for example, Baker is shown dressed in feathers, singing while swinging inside a giant gilded bird cage. Many reviewers criticized her performance as jittery and staccato. But I suggest that her voice was actually mimicking the sounds that would be made, not by a real bird, but by a mechanical bird and, in doing so, reminding us that we are not seeing naturalized primitive animality at all, but its mechanical reconstruction.

For me, the challenge of writing the story of Baker rests in learning how to delineate a material history of race that forgoes the facticity of race. The very visible figure of Baker has taught me a counterintuitive lesson: that the history of race, while being very material and with very material impacts, is nonetheless crucially a history of the unseen and the ineffable. The other great challenge is the question of style. I wanted to write a book about Baker that imitates or at least acknowledges the fluidity that is Baker. This is why, in these essays, Baker appears, disappears, and reappears to allow into view the enigmas of the visual experience that I think Baker offers.

Baker’s naked skin famously scandalized audiences in Paris, and your book is, in many respects, an extended analysis of the significance of Baker’s skin. Why study Josephine Baker and her skin today? What does she represent for the study of art, race, and American history? Did your interest in studying Baker develop gradually, or were you immediately intrigued by her?

I started out writing a book about the politics of race and beauty. Then, as part of this larger research, I forced myself to watch Josephine Baker’s films. I say “forced” because I was dreading seeing exactly the kind of racist images and performances that I have heard so much about.  But what I saw stunned, puzzled, and haunted me. Could this strange, moving, and coated figure of skin, clothes, feathers, dirt, gold, oil, and synthetic sheen be the simple “black animal” that everyone says she is? I started writing about her, essay after essay, until a dear friend pointed out that I was in fact writing a book about Baker.

Tim Allen is an Assistant Editor for the Oxford African American Studies Center. You can follow him on Twitter @timDallen.

The Oxford African American Studies Center combines the authority of carefully edited reference works with sophisticated technology to create the most comprehensive collection of scholarship available online to focus on the lives and events which have shaped African American and African history and culture.

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20. The Good, the Bad and the Quirky.

For the last five years I’ve been writing and rewriting a book in which twin sisters, taking alternate chapters, tell their life story.  They are child prodigies, musical geniuses, but rather than virtuosos, their instruments are the enigmatic black boxes and warm circuits of the recording studio.
There is a third voice, their bitter old brother.  He is the main protagonist, but he’s almost a ghost.

I created playlists of music to listen to as I constructed each character: one sister always seeking out new sounds, forever stretching the possible, the other twin crafting these experiments into something intricate and more beautiful. One is an experimenter, the other is obsessed with craft.

Creativity, it seems to me, is the constant smashing of the old and familiar, and then remaking something new with these fragments.  I wanted my book to be about creative children, and about creativity.  How we battle against our own instincts to make something worthwhile.

Authors are forever compromising, trying to do things differently, yet always holding back, aware that something too idiosyncratic will frighten publishers and audiences away. My new book may be a little eccentric, but I hope it's not that quirky. 

I’ve spent five years nurturing this trio of siblings, taking them from their father’s recording studio in Frankfurt, via their grandparents’ loft in the west of England to the improbable denouementin the deserts of Kazakhstan. Their musical odyssey is a search for authenticity, theirs and mine. It’s the book I’ve always wanted to write, I just hope I can find a publisher who believes in it too.

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21. It's the Same Old Song

Things in heavy rotation here in the studio, this week and last. If you have Spotify, you can listen here

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22. Torment Saint (staff pick)

With the exception of Benjamin Nugent's 2004 biography Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing and Autumn de Wilde's photo/interview book Elliott Smith, not much has been published in the decade following the singer-songwriter's too-early passing. William Todd Schultz's Torment Saint, however, not only remedies that notable lack but serves as what may well come to [...]

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23. Expressing ourselves about expressiveness in music

By Dorottya Fabian, Renee Timmers, and Emery Schubert

Picture the scene. You’re sitting in a box at the Royal Albert Hall, or the Vienna Musikverein. You have purchased tickets to hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony performed by an internationally-renowned orchestra, and they are playing it in a way that sounds wonderful. But what makes this such a powerful performance?

What is expressiveness? Let’s start by looking at these images …

Guilty_FaceSmiling Face






Do you notice what they all have in common?  They are all displaying different kinds of expression.  Just as facial expressions communicate different information to us, musicians playing the same piece will still produce slight differences. You can’t hear the musicians in these pictures, but they may both be playing the same piece in a way that is not exactly the same as the other group of musicians.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

People say music is expressive. They usually say it is expressive of emotions and therein lays its power. But is this true of all music in all cultures and historical periods? Does it matter how it’s performed and how it’s experienced?

Philosophers, psychologists, and musicians have been pondering these questions for centuries. Over the last hundred years psychologists have contributed much to developing an empirically-based understanding of the mechanisms at play. The distinction between what may be “in the music” and what the performer “adds” became a fundamental assumption leading to various theories and definitions of “expressiveness in music performance.”

Ever since the pioneering work of Carl Seashore in the 1930s psychologists have been studying individual performers to find out “what it is that a performer brings to a piece of music.” So what is it that One Direction does when covering “All You Need Is Love” that makes their performance expressive? Are they more expressive than the Beatles are in this clip? Is it the song that is expressive or does it matter how it is performed?

For those educated in western classical music, Seashore’s working definition of what is expressiveness seems reasonable: You are listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and different orchestras and conductors make it sound more or less dramatic, uplifting, emotional, riveting. But if we pause for a moment and think of all those ever listening to this great icon of western musical culture, is it reasonable to believe that they know what is “the music”, i.e. Beethoven’s composition, and what the performers “bring to it”? What about an audience who have never experienced the piece before? How do they know what is “the music” and what is the contribution of the musician? This dilemma is even more obvious in other styles, like jazz, traditional, popular, or world music.

One, wordier definition of expressiveness in music performance is “the micro-deviations from the notated dictates of the score a performer executes while playing.” So, if the notes of a score are played literally, the piece will sound dull and inexpressive — like an old MIDI notation player, or a student playing precisely in time with a metronome. The result is a “neutral” performance, like the computer image of the face above.  But is this an acceptable definition?  What about musicians who do not use a music score – improvisers, people who play music by ear?

Recent empirical work has shown that listeners tend to be unable to say if the expressiveness they are hearing originates from the composition or the performance. Studying the experience of professional musicians highlights how differently they approach their performance. For them the score is never just notes on paper but already music imagined as sound. This imagination depends on their socio-cultural, historical position, personality, and education. They use metaphors and heuristics, short-cuts that package up accumulated knowledge and speeds up problem solving in preparation for and during performance. They rarely speak of specific emotions to be conveyed but conceive of music as “emotional,” “dramatic,” “uplifting,” or “turbulent,” for instance.

This is true of music and musicians of other artistic traditions, like classical Hindustani music. According to the dhrupad singer Uday Bhawalkar, “Music without emotion is not music at all, but we cannot name this emotion, these emotions, we cannot specify them.” The sentiments or emotions that we encounter in daily life become transformed into aesthetic experiences in theatre.

Empirical work in the area of jazz and popular music shows the importance of rhythm, vocal gestures, persona, and the role of technology to create meaning through sound effects. One fascinating finding regarding the culturally construed nature of what is “expressiveness in music performance” comes from a study of the Bedzan Pygmies. They live in very small communities with 40-60 kilometres distance between them and come together only for large festivities like weddings and funerals. When singing together in intricate polyphony, each singer varies his or her line at will while maintaining the overall identity of the song. For them “expressiveness” increased when they could detect more voices in the ensemble.

Expressiveness is an important part of music performance and perception, and although we have an intuitive understanding of what expressiveness in music means, as it turns out expressiveness in music performance seems too malleable and slippery to be defined in a singular way. So what is more important is to formulate the perspective of future research and discussion, to reorient our approach and reconstruct the object of investigation.

Dorottya Fabian, Renee Timmers, and Emery Schubert, are all researchers and lecturers in music psychology. Their book Expressiveness in Music Performance offers a variety of approaches to talk meaningfully about expressiveness and music within a cross-cultural context, providing disciplinary overviews, discussion papers and case studies to show that debates of importance across the humanities and social sciences can be conducted in a richly evidence-based manner.

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Image credits: (1) Guilty Face, by Barry Langdon-Lassagne, CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Your Smiling Face, by Sibelle77, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Изображение-Портреты-Михайлова Елена Владимировна, by участница Udacha, CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (4) Addys Mercedes Kult 02, by Schorle, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (5) Adam Romański 1, by Konrad Wawrzkiewicz (Shannon5), CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons. (6) One Direction Glasgow, by Fiona McKinlay, CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (7) The Beatles in America, by United Press International, photographer unknown, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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24. Mark Vail remembers synth pioneer Bob Moog

By Mark Vail

While I wasn’t born early enough to know Antonio Stradivari, Henry E. Steinway, or Adolphe Sax personally, I did see 95-year-old Leon Theremin from afar at an outdoor Stanford University concert on 29 September 1991. Not many people have the opportunity to meet in person, or speak on the phone with, someone who designed and built a special musical instrument. I have been fortunate to have many such experiences with pioneers of my favorite instrument, the synthesizer, along with those who have invented other products used in the field of electronic music.

Synthesizers first stole my interest as a senior in high school when I read an article by Wendy Carlos in 1973’s The Last Whole Earth Catalog. In the making of Switched-On Bach and other early albums, Carlos used a Moog synthesizer, so naturally I wanted one too. In late 1976 I bought my first synthesizer, a Minimoog — America’s best-selling analog synthesizer of the 20th century.

In January 1988, in my first assignment as a member of Keyboard magazine’s editorial staff, I flew to Anaheim to attend my first Winter NAMM show, the biggest music convention in the Western hemisphere. Music merchants introduce their latest instruments, dealers and store owners comb the exhibition booths for items to sell, and other interested attendees play instruments, gather documentation, and greet old friends.

On the first day of the four-day event, my new boss — Editor-in-chief Dominic Milano — asked me if I wanted to meet synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog. Who wouldn’t? Just before the introduction, I switched the cassette recorder in my shirt pocket into record mode. I’ve since lost that tape, but thankfully before he passed at the young age of 71 in August of 2005, I became good friends with Bob.

Bob wrote for several Keyboard columns, including one called “Vintage Synths.” His first appeared in the September 1989 issue, and it was appropriately about the Minimoog. This and subsequent columns fueled a fire of interest in a technology that had been mostly abandoned through much of the decade: analog synthesis. Bob wrote three more vintage columns over the next five months then, following his January 1990 column on E-mu’s early lineup of modular synths, told Dominic that he preferred looking forward into the future instead of toward the past. Wonder of wonders, the “Vintage Synths” column fell right into my lap. I consider that one my luckiest days because it turns out that writing about old stuff – even if considered obsolete by some – never goes out of style.

Years later, in July 2004, I had the great fortune to visit and spend a few days with Bob in Asheville, North Carolina. During the tour through the Moog Music office, I spotted an odd device with knobs and jacks sitting on a shelf and asked Bob what it was. He said he didn’t know, but grabbed and posed with it.

Synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog poses with an unknown device in the Moog Music office in July 2004.

Synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog poses with an unknown device in the Moog Music office in July 2004. Photo courtesy of Mark Vail.

Many NAMM attendees yearned to meet Bob Moog, especially after he had legally recovered the right to use his own name on musical instruments again in 2002 and developed a Minimoog for the 21st century, the Voyager. During the January 2005 convention, two friends and I were determined to have dinner with Bob, but we more or less had to kidnap him from the Moog Music booth where dozens were waiting for his autograph. We had to convince several of the autograph seekers to return on Sunday to meet Bob, and quickly whisked him away from the scene.

The four of us—synthesists Amin Bhatia and Dave Gross, plus Bob and I—got into my car with no idea where we were going to eat. Our clueless excursion through Anaheim first took us past a flashy bordello, which Bob kiddingly said might be fun, before finding a quiet but festively painted Vietnamese restaurant where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner.

From left to right, author Mark Vail, synth pioneer Bob Moog, Seattle synthesist Dave Gross, and synthesist/composer Amin Bhatia.

From left to right, author Mark Vail, synth pioneer Bob Moog, Seattle synthesist Dave Gross, and synthesist/composer Amin Bhatia. Photo courtesy of Mark Vail.

At the time, Amin Bhatia was working on an all-electronic version of Ravel’s “Bolero,” using a series of renowned vintage synthesizers and drum machines and he wanted Bob to introduce the piece with in a voiceover. Bob loved the early snippets of Amin’s music and was thrilled by the idea, but within a few months the news came that Bob was battling brain cancer, which eventually took his life on 21 August 2005. I dearly miss my brilliant and jovial friend Bob Moog, whose business card listed him as the Grand Poobah.

Building on his life-long interest in music, Mark Vail discovered synthesizers in 1973 and bought his first in 1976. After earning an MFA in electronic music in 1983, he served on the editorial staff at Keyboard magazine from 1988 to 2001. The author of Vintage SynthesizersThe Hammond Organ: Beauty in the B, and The Synthesizer, Mark is internationally acknowledged as a foremost authority on synthesizers.

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25. Birthday Music

Big Muddy M-2 factory 2nd mandolin
I turned 42 yesterday, which as Douglas Adams fans know, is the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. The day was mellow and rainy, in which I met a friend for lunch and then took Lucia out to dinner. With my blessing, Bede went to Emerald City ComicCon to sell his art. There was a year in which I had two storytelling gigs on our wedding anniversary, as we decided that we had to go with the opportunities when they presented themselves.

The night before, Bede took me to Dusty Strings to buy a solid-wood mandolin for my birthday. I had thought that a mandolin of my own was many months away, as it is much more challenging to find a decently-good mando than a decently-good guitar an affordable price. This "entry-level" Collings MT A style mandolin, for example, retails at $2700 USD. I had on my wishlist a factory-2nd Big Muddy mandolin that had a few surface blemishes on the back of the neck (which lowered the price significantly), but was structurally sound, beautiful to hear, and accessible to play. Edited to add: I got the Big Muddy mandolin on my wishlist.

One of the highlights of that evening was when the man who helped me choose the new love of my life* demonstrated one of his new favorite mandolins. The other mandolins on the wall reverberated in response. I was reminded of what one of my teachers at guitar camp last summer said: the audience is important because every human is a resonator. "You might get a recording that's almost as good as a live performance if you have particularly good acoustics, but there is no comparison to the sound you get with a live audience."

I will wait to post a recording until I become decent enough to listen to. (Ukulele is relatively easy with the "decent enough to listen to"learning curve. Mando is harder!) I'm working on a simple version of an Irish reel called The Musical Priest, and plan to learn Eel in the Sink, too, just so I can say, "Hey, let's play Eel in the Sink" as casually as someone might suggest You Ain't Goin' Nowhere. I dream on....

 *I love all my instruments. Gentle suggestions to let some of them go are met with puzzled frowns until someone politely changes the subject.

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