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1. In the Know: August 2014

I was having a serious Cady-with-a-d Mean Girls moment two weeks ago as I walked into my first day in a new Teen Librarian position. Would the teens like me? Would they pity laugh at my jokes like the kids at my old job did? Or would I be just another crusty shushing-machine to them? It’s the time of year when teens across the country make that same terrifying walk into new schools, new grades, and new hormone-fueled social challenges, so let’s give them some extra special love from the library this week.

As for me at my new job, I discovered that a level 50 in Skyrim and knowing the lyrics to “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” can get you a long way. Sometimes all you need is to know a little bit about one thing that interests a teen and you can spark a relationship. Learn a little more, and pretty soon they’ll be saying “hi” to you by name. Keep at it, and they might start liking you enough to actually take your reader’s advisory suggestions.

It’s good to be in the know. Here’s some stuff teens are talking about in August 2014.

The band Five Seconds of Summer, or 5SOS (pronounced “5 sauce”), is currently touring the U.S. with One Direction and gaining popularity. The band, comprised of 4 Australian teenage boys, is often compared to their British your-mates, though they seem to be attempting a more punk rock image. (Attempting is a key word here.) Their self-titled debut studio album was released in the U.S. on July 22, and hit number one on the Billboard 200. Learn more about them here.

The 2014 Teen Choice Awards aired on August 10. Big winners were The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Divergent (films); Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort (actors); Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, and One Direction (musicians); Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, and The Voice (TV). Selena Gomez received the Ultimate Choice Award. The show also introduced a new set of web awards honoring a new breed of YouTube and social media stars. See the full list of nominees and winners here.

By now you’re not going to impress any teens by knowing what the Ice Bucket Challenge is, but you might earn some cool points by pointing out a few of the best examples of the fad. Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch gets naked in his (don’t worry, it’s safe for library viewing). Oprah Winfrey’s will appeal to those who enjoy a little schadenfreude, and Bill Gates works some STEM into his challenge. The Old Spice Guy, Homer Simpson, and Tina Fey are other winners. My personal favorite is Kermit the Frog. According to their website, donations to the ALS Association are at $94.3 million as of August 27. Looking for a research opportunity? Ask kids to find out how the Ice Bucket Challenge started; there’s plenty of info available online from reputable news sources.

The eighth season of the rebooted Doctor Who premiered on August 23, and was the first full episode in the run of the new Twelfth Doctor played by Peter Capaldi. Despite being “really old” (56) and less crushable than Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith, most fans are optimistic about the well-respected actor’s prospects in the role. The jury’s still out on whether good acting will attract as much teen attention as good looks did.

On August 18 Taylor Swift premiered her new single “Shake It Off.” The song abandons her country roots in favor of a power pop piece about how “haters gonna hate.” (That’s an old web adage that means roughly, “People are going to criticize you no matter what, so just ignore them.”) Swift also announced a new album called 1989, set to release on October 27. You can view the video for “Shake It Off” here.

Two of the YA lit-inspired movies of the summer, If I Stay and The Giver, premiered this month, both to lukewarm reviews and box office numbers. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the top movie of the month and has rocketed leading man Chris Pratt to fame (building on his recent success as Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation and as the voice of Emmet in The Lego Movie). Ninja Turtles is also going strong despite mostly bad reviews. Check out www.boxofficemojo.com for box office info.

Fans are gearing up for the release of The Sims 4 for the PC on September 2. The newest installment in the classic life simulation game comes 5 years after the release of the vanilla (that is, the original, expansion-free) version of The Sims 3. The new title will have to work hard to win over players, as there has already been outcry over the exclusion of several of the former titles’ features from the new game (most notably, toddlers and swimming pools). No OSX release date has been announced. Read more about the unhappy fans here.

Translation time: the slang of the month is “shade” or “throw shade” (verb), which means to criticize someone in an underhanded of passive-aggressive manner. This term has existed for a long time in LGBT communities but came into wider use apparently about a year ago (although I didn’t hear it until this month). It was recently added to Oxford Dictionaries (the online database, not the hoity-toity print version). For a list of recently-added words and, through it, a remarkably comprehensive overview of modern culture, check out this article.

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2. United Airlines and Rhapsody in Blue

As anyone who has flown United in the past quarter-century knows, the company has a long-standing history with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The piece appears in its television advertisements, its airport terminals, and even its pre-flight announcements. However, the history of United’s use of the piece is far from straight forward. This brand new safety video offers a compelling case in point:

Like recent videos by Air New Zealand and Delta Airlines, United’s safety briefing is designed to keep our attention as it reiterates the standard safety announcements that we know all too well. The video rewards paying close attention on multiple viewings. In fact, there are several airline-travel and United-specific “Easter Eggs.” A few of my favorites appear in the Las Vegas section. A tour bus traversing the Las Vegas Strip scrolls “lavatory occupied” and later “baggage on carousel 2.” Perhaps more subtle is a movie poster for a film titled “Elbow Room 2.” Look closely and you will see that it features a shot encountered later in the safety video as a James Bond-looking figure goes hand to hand against his nemesis a cable car—a clear reference to the 1979 film Moonraker for the alert viewer.

Under the banner “Safety is Global,” the familiar themes of the Rhapsody are musically arranged while diverse members of the United flight crew provide instructions from a series of specific and generic international locales. Certainly, the visuals play a key role in signaling our recognition of these surroundings: the Eiffel Tower and street corner cafe for Paris, a pagoda in front of Mt. Fuji for Japan, casinos and neon signs for Las Vegas, snow-covered peaks and a ski gondola for the Alps, kangaroos for Australia, a Vespa scooter and Mt. Edna for Italy, Chilean flamingos for the bird sanctuary, and palm trees and white-sands for the tropical beach.

But perhaps most important in drawing out the setting of each scene are the dramatic—if not clichéd—musical arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue. While in France a pair of accordions play the introductory bars of the piece while a pilot welcomes us aboard and reminds us to heed their instruction. A flight attendant hops a cab to Newark Airport (United’s East Coast hub) to the strains of a jazz combo setting of the love theme. A tenor saxophone improvises lightly around this most famous melody of the Rhapsody while she provides instruction on how to use the seatbelt from the bumpy backseat. A gong signals a move to Asia, where we encounter the ritornello theme of the Rhapsody on a plucked zither and bamboo flute. The bright-lights of the Las Vegas strip (where we learn about power outages) and a James Bond-inspired depiction of the Swiss Alps (where we learn about supplemental oxygen) are accompanied by the traditional symphonic arrangement of the Rhapsody created by Ferde Grofé. Curious kangaroos learn about life vests as the ritornello theme is heard on a harmonica punctuated by a didgeridoo and a rain stick. A mandolin plucks out the shuffle theme while a flight attendant extinguishes a volcano like a birthday candle—no smoking allowed! Finally, steel drums transport us to a Caribbean bird sanctuary and a tenor saxophone playing the stride theme to a laid-back, quasi-bossa nova groove relocates us to the beach.

Although each of these settings is somewhat stereotypical in its sonic and visual depiction of its respective locale, such treatment of the Rhapsody stands as less formulaic than past attempts at international representation by the airline. Both domestic and international advertisements have adapted the Rhapsody.

Although the video is a bit rough, by comparison to “Safety is Global,” the visuals and instrumentation choices are much more stereotypical. We clearly hear the “orientalist” signifiers at play: a taiko drum, a shakuhachi flute, a trio of pipas. But just as this commercial provides its American market with a glimpse at Asian cultures through the streamlined gaze of corporate advertising, a commercial aired in Japan in 1994 provides an equally reductive depiction of the United States.

The spot features a Japanese puppet of the traditional Bunraku style seated on an airplane as the voiceover announces a series of locales that travelers could visit at ever-increasing award levels. The puppet appears in a succession of wardrobes representative of each destination with arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue emphasizing each costume change: a shamisen accompanies the traditional Japanese kimono, an erhu for the silk Chinese robe, a Hawaiian slide guitar for a bright floral patterned shirt and yellow lei, a fiddle-driven two-step for a cowboy hat and bolo tie, and finally a calypso, steel drum for the white Italian sports coat and dark sunglasses—a clear reference to Don Johnson and Miami Vice. The commercial not only effectively promotes United’s frequent flyer program but also reinforces its corporate logos—both motto and music—to an international market. Through easily identifiable visual and sonic representations of destinations in the United States from Hawaii to Texas to Florida, it also promotes a positive—if not stereotypical—view of American culture using one of its most recognizable musical works.

And this is ultimately what the “Safety is Global” video accomplishes as well. By treating Rhapsody in Blue to a variety of musical arrangements, United Airlines has re-staked its claim on the Rhapsody not as its corporate theme music, but also as an international anthem. Its visualization of the Rhapsody over the course of time repositions the piece from a uniquely American (or specifically New Yorker) theme to one that aims to unite us all through the friendly skies.

Headline Image: Airplane Flying. Photo by Michael Stirling. CC0 1.0 Universal via Public Domain Pictures

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3. A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd | Book Review

A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd’s sensational middle grade debut novel, begs to be read aloud and shared with an audience of dreamers.

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4. "The Ghost is Me"

 
 Listening to this made me draw that.

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5. Celebrating Julie Andrews

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Disney’s beloved film Mary Poppins, starring the legendary Julie Andrews. Although Andrews was only twenty-nine at the time of the film’s release, she had already established herself as a formidable star with numerous credits to her name and performances opposite Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, and other leading actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Mary Poppins would earn Andrews an Academy Award for Best Actress and serve as a milestone in a career that continues today. Herewith are some of our favorite songs from Andrew’s illustrious career.

Mary-Poppins_Movie-Poster

“I Could Have Danced All Night”
Andrews belted out this song in the 1956 Broadway performance of My Fair Lady. Andrews proved her singing capabilities playing Eliza Doolittle opposite Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins, although she was replaced in the film version (with Audrey Hepburn acting and Marni Nixon dubbing).

“Camelot”
Andrews performed the play’s title track during its 1960 performance on Broadway. The actress played Queen Guenevere – a title she was apparently comfortable with, later playing Queen Renaldi in Disney’s Princess Diaries – opposite Richard Burton as King Arthur.

“Impossible; It’s Possible”
Starring in another royal role, Andrews played the title character in CBS’ 1957 production of Cinderella, written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”
People are still reciting this tongue twister performed by Andrews in Disney’s 1964 hit film Mary Poppins. In addition to earning her an Oscar, Andrews’ role as the angelic English Nanny cemented her name in silver screen history.

“My Favorite Things”
Hot on the heels of her success from Mary Poppins, Andrews starred as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music, expanding her international fame and branding herself as a singer to be reckoned with in Hollywood and on Broadway.

Headline image credit: Mary Poppins Movie Poster via Panhandle Post.

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6. Do you read your reviews?

statlerwaldorf Do you read your reviews?I’ve been reading soprano Barbara Hendricks‘s memoir, Lifting My Voice, and it’s led me not only to a rewarding reacquaintance with her singing but to some thinking about the relationship between the artist and the critic. Hendricks spills a suspicious amount of ink over how she doesn’t pay any attention to critics (whose opinions of her highly distinctive voice have long been divided), but even if the lady doth protest too much for me to exactly believe her, her essential argument–that critics aren’t helpful to artists–is a good one:

“A review of my performance is totally useless in teaching me about myself. Reviews reveal so much more about the reviewer than they do about the artists. Until her death Miss Tourel [Hendricks's teacher, Jennie Tourel] was my most demanding critic, and since then I have had to assume that task myself. I learned during my first year as a professional singer that a review was not the right criteria to determine how well I had done my work, whether I had done what I had set out to do. I know my repertoire and I know when I have done my best work.”

Hendricks goes on to recall contradictory reviews, mean reviews, and seeing a reviewer who had really gone after her: “He was slight, had thinning hair, wore very thick glasses, and did not look like a happy person.” But all this is to miss the point. It’s not a reviewer’s job to make a singer–or a writer–a better one. We aren’t here to help you; we’re here to help inform audiences and potential audiences. (Even Hendricks graciously if barely allows that she “imagines critics serve some purpose and I do not want to do away with them.” Big of you, thanks.)

If I were a novelist I hope I wouldn’t go near reviews of my own work. What have I to gain? Stars and pans, Kipling’s impostors alike. (I guess I would hope that my agent or editor were paying attention, though, so as to strain anything that might be useful to me through a filter of helpfulness.) Must be hard to resist, though, especially in an age when reviews go flying about through social media and a “we’re all in this together” ethos pervades the field.

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7. Nice Art: AlphaBands by Ben Towle

beastie-boys.jpg

Cartoonist/comics educator Ben Towle likes to take up half the year in alphabet themed art projects; once it was monsters then animals. This time he drew 26 different musicians in a project called AlphaBands. All 26 are up now, he explains and though not everyone was a hit single, it was also a technical exercise.

Also as usual, though, I used this exercise not just as an excuse to draw regularly, but also to learn some new tools. All of these were drawn and colored in Digital Manga Studio on my Surface Pro 2. I also started investigating some of Ray Frenden’s custom Manga Studio brushes. The CCR illustration, for example, was colored with his watercolor wash brushes and you can see some of his dry media brushes creating charcoal-like effects in some of the later drawings. If you want to try some of these brushes out for yourself, you can buy them from his shop here. They’re well worth picking up.

 

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8. Getting to know Anna-Lise Santella, Editor of Grove Music Online

Meet the woman behind Grove Music Online, Anna-Lise Santella. We snagged a bit of Anna-Lise’s time to sit down with her and find out more about her own musical passions and research.

Do you play any musical instruments? Which ones?

My main instrument is violin, which I’ve played since I was eight. I play both classical and Irish fiddle and am currently trying to learn bluegrass. In a previous life I played a lot of pit band for musical theater. I’ve also worked as a singer and choral conductor. These days, though, you’re more likely to find a mandolin or guitar in my hands.

Do you specialize in any particular area or genre of music?

My research interests are pretty broad, which is why I enjoy working in reference so much. Currently I’m working on a history of women’s symphony orchestras in the United States between 1871 and 1945. They were a key route for women seeking admission into formerly all-male orchestras like the Chicago Symphony. After that, I’m hoping to work on a history of the Three Arts Clubs, a network of residential clubs that housed women artists in cities in the US and abroad. The clubs allowed female performers to safely tour or study away from their families by giving them secure places to live while on the road, places to rehearse and practice, and a community of like-minded people to support them. In general, I’m interested in the ways public institutions have affected and responded to women as performers.

What artist do you have on repeat at the moment?

I tend to have my listening on shuffle. I like not being sure what’s coming next. That said, I’ve been listening to Tune-Yards’ (a.k.a. Merill Garbus) latest album an awful lot lately. Neko Case with the New Pornographers and guitarist/songwriter/storyteller extraordinaire Jim White are also in regular rotation.

What was the last concert/gig you went to?

I’m lucky to live not far from the bandshell in Prospect Park and I try to catch as many of the summer concerts there as I can. The last one I attended was Neutral Milk Hotel, although I didn’t stay for the whole thing. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Nickel Creek concert. I love watching Chris Thile play, although he makes me feel totally inadequate as a mandolinist.

How do you listen to most of the music you listen to? On your phone/mp3 player/computer/radio/car radio/CDs?

Mostly on headphones. I’m constantly plugged in, which makes me not a very good citizen, I think. I’m trying to get better about spending some time just listening to the city. But there’s something about the delivery system of headphones to ears that I like – music transmitted straight to your head makes you feel like your life has a soundtrack. I especially like listening on the subway. I’ll often be playing pieces I’m trying to learn on violin or guitar and trying to work out fingerings, which I’m pretty sure makes me look like an insane person. Fortunately insane people are a dime a dozen on the subway.

Do you find that listening to music helps you concentrate while you work, or do you prefer silence?

I like listening while I work, but it has to be music I find fairly innocuous, or I’ll start thinking about it and analyzing it and get distracted from what I’m trying to do. Something beat driven with no vocals is best. My usual office soundtrack is a Pandora station of EDM.

Detail of violin being played by a musician. © bizoo_n via iStockphoto.
Detail of violin being played by a musician. © bizoo_n via iStockphoto.

Has there been any recent music research or scholarship on a topic that has caught your eye or that you’ve found particularly innovative?

In general I’m attracted to interdisciplinary work, as I like what happens when ideologies from one field get applied to subject matter of another – it tends make you reevaluate your methods, to shake you out of the routine of your thinking. Right now I’ve become really interested in the way in which we categorize music vs. noise and am reading everything I can on the subject from all kinds of perspectives – music cognition, acoustics, cultural theory. It’s where neuroscience, anthropology, philosophy and musicology all come together, which, come to think of it, sounds like a pretty dangerous intersection. Currently I’m in the middle of The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (2012) edited by Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld. At the same time, I’m rereading Jacques Attali’s landmark work Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1977). We have a small music/neuroscience book group made up of several editors who work in music and psychology who have an interest in this area. We’ll be discussing the Attali next month.

Who are a few of your favorite music critics/writers?

There are so many – I’m a bit of a criticism junkie. I work a lot with period music journalism in my own research and I love reading music criticism from the early 20th century. It’s so beautifully candid — at times sexy, cruel, completely inappropriate — in a way that’s rare in contemporary criticism. A lot of the reviews were unsigned or pseudonymous, so I’m not sure I have a favorite I can name. There’s a great book by Mark N. Grant on the history of American music criticism called Maestros of the Pen that I highly recommend as an introduction. For rock criticism, Ellen Willis’columns from the Village Voice are still the benchmark for me, I think. Of people writing currently, I like Mark Gresham (classical) and Sasha Frere-Jones (pop). And I like to argue with Alex Ross and John von Rhein.

I also like reading more literary approaches to musical writing. Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful is a poetic, semi-fictional look at jazz, with a mix of stories about legendary musicians like Duke Ellington and Lester Young interspersed with an analytical look at jazz. And some of my favorite writing about music is found in fiction. Three of my favorite novels use music to tell the story. Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing uses Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial as the focal point of a story that alternates between a musical mixed-race family and the story of the Civil Rights movement itself. In The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem writes beautifully about music of the 1970s that mediates between nearly journalistic detail of Brooklyn in the 1970s and magical realism. And Kathryn Davies’ The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf contains some of the best description of compositional process that I’ve come across in fiction. It’s a challenge to evoke sound in prose – it’s an act of translation – and I admire those who can do it well.

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9. Salamone Rossi, Jewish musician in Renaissance Mantua

Grove Music Online presents this multi-part series by Don Harrán, Artur Rubinstein Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on the life of Jewish musician Salamone Rossi on the anniversary of his birth in 1570. Professor Harrán considers three major questions: Salamone Rossi as a Jew among Jews; Rossi as a Jew among Christians; and the conclusions to be drawn from both.

Salamone Rossi as a Jew among Jews

What do we know of Salamone Rossi’s family? His father was named Bonaiuto Azaria de’ Rossi (d. 1578): he composed Me’or einayim (Light of the Eyes). Rossi had a brother, Emanuele (Menaḥem), and a sister, Europe, who, like him, was a musician. She is known to have performed as a singer in the play Il ratto di Europa (“The Rape of Europa”) in 1608. The court chronicler Federico Follino raved over her performance, describing it as that of “a woman understanding music to perfection” and “singing, to the listeners’ great delight and their greater wonder, in a most delicate and sweet-sounding voice.”

Salamone Rossi appears to have used his connections at court to improve his family’s situation, as in 1602 when Rossi wrote to Duke Vincenzo on behalf of his brother Emanuele:

Letter that Salamone Rossi wrote on behalf of his brother Emanuele (21 February 1606); fair copy, with the close and signature in Rossi’s own hand. Archivio Storico, Archivio Storico, Mantua.
Letter that Salamone Rossi wrote on behalf of his brother Emanuele (21 February 1606); fair copy, with the close and signature in Rossi’s own hand. Archivio Storico, Archivio Storico, Mantua.

The duke granted the request in order to “to show Salamone Rossi ebreo some sign of gratitude for services that he, with utmost diligence, rendered and continues to render over many years. We have resolved to confer the duties of collecting the fees on the person of Emanuele, Salamone’s brother, in whose faith and diligence we place our confidence.”

Until now, it has been thought that Rossi earned his livelihood from his salary at the Mantuan court, and since the salary was—by comparison with that of other musicians at the court—very small, Rossi tried to supplement it by earning money on the side by investments. From 1622 on he was earning 1,200 lire, a large sum of money for a musician whose annual wages at the court were only 156 lire. Rossi needed the money to cover the cost of his publications and to support his family.

Rossi’s situation within the community can only be conjectured. By “community,” we are talking about some 2,325 Jews living in the city of Mantua out of a total population of 50,000. True, Rossi was its most distinguished “musician” and his service for the court would have brought honor on the Jewish community. But because of his non-Jewish connections, he enjoyed privileges denied his coreligionists. In 1606, for example, he was exempted from wearing a badge. The badge was shameful to Jews who, in their activities, were in close touch with Christians, as were Rossi and other Jews who performed before them as musicians or actors or who engaged in loan banking.

As other “privileged” Jews, Rossi occupied a difficult situation: his Christian employers considered him a Jew, yet the Jews probably considered him an outsider. He could choose from two alternatives: convert to Christianity to improve his situation with the Christians; or solidify his position within the Jewish community, which he probably did whenever he could by representing its interests before the authorities and by providing compositions for Jewish weddings, circumcisions, the inauguration of Torah scrolls, and for Purim festivities. All this is speculative, for we know nothing about these activities. We are better informed about Rossi’s role in the Jewish theater, whose actors were required to prepare each year one or two plays with musical intermedi. Since the Jews were expected to act, sing, and play instruments, their leading musician Salamone Rossi probably contributed to the theater by writing vocal and instrumental works, rehearsing them and, together with others, playing or even singing them.

Salamone Rossi, Ha-shirim asher li-Shelomoh (“Songs by Solomon”), 1623, no. 8. See Salamone Rossi, Complete Works, ed. Don Harrán (Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 100), vols. 1–12 (Neuhausen-Stuttgart: Hänssler-Verlag for the American Institute of Musicology), vols. 13a and 13b (Madison WI: American Institute of Musicology, 1995), 13b: 24–26.
Salamone Rossi, Ha-shirim asher li-Shelomoh (“Songs by Solomon”), 1623, no. 8. See Salamone Rossi, Complete Works, ed. Don Harrán (Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 100), vols. 1–12 (Neuhausen-Stuttgart: Hänssler-Verlag for the American Institute of Musicology), vols. 13a and 13b (Madison WI: American Institute of Musicology, 1995), 13b: 24–26.

It was in his Hebrew collection, however, that Rossi demonstrated his connections with his people. His intentions were good: after having published collections of Italian vocal music and instrumental works, Rossi decided, around 1612, to write Hebrew songs. He describes these songs as “new songs [zemirot] that I devised through ‘counterpoint’ [seder].” True, attempts were made to introduce art music into the synagogue in the early seventeenth century. But none of these early works survive. Rossi’s thirty-three “Songs by Solomon” (Ha-shirim asher li-Shelomoh) are the first Hebrew polyphonic “songs” to be printed. Here is an example from the opening of the collection, “Elohim, hashivenu”.

Good intentions are one thing; the status of art music in the synagogue is another. The prayer services made no accommodation for art music. Rossi’s aim, to quote him, was to write works “for thanking God and singing [le-zammer] to His exalted name on all sacred occasions” to be performed in prayer services, particularly on Sabbaths and festivals.

Headline image credit: Opening of Salomone de Rossi’s Madrigaletti, Venice, 1628. Photo of Exhibit at the Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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10. Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue

What is a classic album? Not a classical album – a classic album. One definition would be a recording that is both of superb quality and of enduring significance. I would suggest that Miles Davis’s 1959 recording Kind of Blue is indubitably a classic. It presents music making of the highest order, and it has influenced — and continues to influence — jazz to this day.

Cover art for Kind of Blue by the artist Miles Davis (c) Columbia Records
Cover art for Kind of Blue by the artist Miles Davis (c) Columbia Records via Wikimedia Commons.

There were several important records released in 1959, but no event or recording matches the importance of the release of the new Miles Davis album Kind of Blue on 17 August 1959. There were people waiting in line at record stores to buy it on the day it appeared. It sold very well from its first day, and it has sold increasingly well ever since. It is the best-selling jazz album in the Columbia Records catalogue, and at the end of the twentieth century it was voted one of the ten best albums ever produced.

But popularity or commercial success do not correlate with musical worth, and it is in the music on the recording that we find both quality and significance. From the very first notes we know we are hearing something new. Piano and bass draw in the listener into a new world of sound: contemplative, dreamy and yet intense.

The pianist here is Bill Evans, who was new to Davis’s band and a vital contributor to the whole project. Evans played spaciously and had an advanced harmonic sense. His sound was floating and open. The lighter sound and less crowded manner were more akin to the understated way in which Davis himself played. “He plays the piano the way it should be played,” said Davis about Bill Evans. And although Davis’s speech was often sprinkled with blunt Anglo-Saxon expressions, he waxed poetic about Evans’s playing: “Bill had this quiet fire. . . . [T]he sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall.” The admiration was mutual. Evans thought of Davis and the other musicians in his band as “superhumans.”

Evans makes his mark throughout the album, though Wynton Kelly substitutes for him on the bluesier and somewhat more traditional second track “Freddie Freeloader.”

Musicians refer to the special sound on Kind of Blue as “modal.” And the term “modal jazz” is often found in writings about jazz styles and jazz history. What exactly is modal jazz? There are two characteristic features that set this style apart. The first is the use of scales that are different from the standard major and minor ones. So the first secret of the special sound on this album is the use of unusual scales. But the second characteristic is even more noticeable, and that is the way the music is grounded on long passages of unchanging harmony. “So What” is an AABA form in which all the A sections are based on a single harmony and the B sections on a different harmony a half step higher.

A [D harmony]
A [D harmony]
B [Eb harmony]
A [D harmony]

Unusual scales are most clearly heard on “All Blues.”

And for hypnotic and meditative, you can’t do better than “Flamenco Sketches,” the last track, which brings the modal conception to its most developed point. It is based upon five scales or modes, and each musician improvises in turn upon all five in order. A clear analysis of this track is given in Mark Gridley’s excellent jazz textbook Jazz Styles.)

An aside here:
It is possible — even likely — that the titles of these two tracks are reversed. In my Musical Quarterly article (link below), I suggest that “Flamenco Sketches” is the correct title for the strumming medium-tempo music on the track that is now known as “All Blues” and that “All Blues” is the correct title for the last, very slow, track on the album. I also show how the mixup occurred in 1959, just as the album was released.

Perhaps the most beautiful piece on the album is the Evans composition “Blue in Green,” for which Coltrane fashions his greatest and most moving solo. Of the five tracks on the album, four are quite long, ranging from nine to eleven and a half minutes, and they are placed two before and two after “Blue in Green.” Regarding the program as a whole, therefore, one sees “Blue in Green” as the small capstone of a musical arch. But “Blue in Green” itself is in arch form, with a palindromic arrangement of the solos. The capstone of this arch upon an arch is the thirty seconds or so of Coltrane’s solo.

 

 

 

 
 

Saxophone (Coltrane)

Piano                                           Piano

Trumpet                                                           Trumpet

Piano                                                                                    Piano

“Blue in Green”

“Freddie Freeloader”                     “All Blues”

“So What”                                                     “Flamenco Sketches”

Kind of Blue

The great strength of Kind of Blue lies in the consistency of its inspiration and the palpable excitement of its musicians. “See,” wrote Davis in his autobiography, “If you put a musician in a place where he has to do something different from what he does all the time . . . that’s where great art and music happens.”

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11. Nursery Rhyme Redux

Three years ago, before Fairy Tale Comics, there appeared in the folklore-themed-comicsphere… What I love about this collection is that the illustrators treat the rhymes like little stories, following the original words but interpreting them in different ways.  It’s “not a parody or deconstruction,” says editor Chris Duffy, but they do imagine context and backstory — who’s […]

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12. Job: A Masque for Dancing by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Michael Kennedy has described Job as one of Vaughan Williams’s mightiest achievements. It is a work which, in a full production, combines painting (the inspiration for the work came from a scenario drawn up by Geoffrey Keynes based on William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job), literature (the King James Bible), music, and dance. The idea of a ballet on the Blake Job illustrations was conceived by Geoffrey Keynes, whose mother was a Darwin and a cousin of Vaughan Williams, assisted by another Darwin cousin, Gwen Raverat whom Keynes asked to design the scenery and costumes. They decided to keep it in the family and approached Vaughan Williams about writing the music. The idea took such a hold on the composer that he found himself writing to Mrs Raverat in August 1927 ‘I am anxiously awaiting your scenario – otherwise the music will push on by itself which may cause trouble later on’.

Out of all this emerged a musical work that exhibits the composer at the height of his powers. Often ballet music can seem only half the story when it is played apart from the dancing it was written for, but in this case the composer fully realised that an actual danced production was by no means assured (Diaghilev had firmly turned down Keynes’s offer of the ballet for Ballets Russes) and wrote a powerful piece for full orchestra, including organ, which could stand independently in a concert. That was indeed how Job received its first and second performances, the first in Norwich in October 1930 and the second in London in February 1931, both under the composer’s baton. It is dedicated to Adrian Boult. The first danced production was given by the recently formed Camargo Society at the Cambridge Theatre on 5 July 1931. It was choreographed by Ninette de Valois and conducted by Constant Lambert, who (much to the composer’s admiration) adeptly reduced the orchestration because the pit at the Cambridge Theatre could not accommodate the full orchestra specified by the composer. The part of Satan was danced by Anton Dolin.

Opinion was divided at the time as to how well the work stood up to performance independently of the dance dimension, but now, with the wisdom of hindsight, we can see it as having the stature of a symphony in terms of its overall shape and length. The careful placing of different elements in the score – the heavenly, the earthly and the infernal, all characterised by a different style of music – emphasises the sense of symphonic unity. In the music for Satan we hear a foretaste of the savagery which was to cause so much astonishment in the Fourth Symphony, on which he started work almost at once after completing Job. In the music for Job and his family we find elements of the calm we have come to associate with the Fifth Symphony, while the music for God and the ‘sons of the morning’ (Saraband, Pavane, and Galliard) presents a broad diatonic sweep at the beginning and then towards the end of the work. This will become apparent to listeners of Job performed at the Promenade Concert on 13 August 2014. They will also be able to draw comparisons between the ethereal violin solo in The Lark Ascending and the violin solo in ‘Elihu’s dance of youth and beauty’ in Scene VII.

It is no accident that two of the pieces, the Pavane and Galliard, together with the calm Epilogue, were played at Vaughan Williams’s funeral at Westminster Abbey on 19 September 1958.

Headline image credit: symphony orchestra concert philharmonic hall music. Public domain via Pixabay.

Sidebar image credit: Ralph Vaughan Williams. Lebrecht Archive.

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13. The rise of choral jazz

Composer Will Todd.
Composer Will Todd.

The genre of ‘choral jazz’ has become increasingly prevalent among choirs, with the jazz mass the ultimate form. Settings of the Latin mass by Lalo Schifrin and Scott Stroman have enjoyed popular following, while more recently Bob Chilcott’s A Little Jazz Mass and Nidaros Jazz Mass have established the genre in the wider choral tradition, reaching choirs from across the choral spectrum and audiences young and old.

Composed in 2001, Will Todd‘s Mass in Blue is a further example of the genre, presenting an innate fusion of jazz elements within choral writing. The composer describes the piece as ‘a real watershed work’, combining his passion for jazz with his previous experience of church and choral music, including as a boy treble.

As a choral composer Will Todd rose to prominence with pieces such as My Lord has come and The Call of Wisdom (commissioned as part of the celebrations to mark Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee), while as a jazz pianist he records and performs extensively with his own trio. His playing can be heard, for example, on the Vasari Singers’ recording of Mass in Blue and on OUP’s Mass in Blue backing CD.

2014 sees the publication of a new edition of Todd’s Mass in Blue, in which the composer has sought to enhance the flexibility and accessibility of the work while retaining its essence and drive. For instance, the choral parts and textures have been simplified in places, while the piano part increases support to the choir and has been revised to accommodate players of more modest ability. Optional exemplar solos are provided in the instrumental parts (piano, bass, and drum-kit, with optional saxophone) and additional cues have been added to the piano part to aid rehearsal.

Why? Will Todd observes that he has ‘experienced the work in a wide variety of guises and venues’, and the revised edition should allow the piece to travel still further. For a composer who says that his music is ‘about bringing people together’, the jazz mass is the perfect vehicle. The form lends itself to universality, with its synthesis of the sacred and the secular, of a traditional text with contemporary jazz styles, and an ability to unite musicians from diverse musical backgrounds.

Image credit: Choir Sing Cheer Joyfull Voices Vocals A Capella. Public domain via Pixabay

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14. The teenage exploits of a future celebrity

By Carol J. Oja


Rising to prominence at lightning speed during World War II, Leonard Bernstein quickly became one of the most famous musicians of all time, gaining notice as a conductor and composer of both classical works and musical theater. One day he was a recent Harvard graduate, struggling to earn a living in the music world. The next, he was on the front page of the New York Times for his stunning debut with the New York Philharmonic in November 1943. At twenty-five, Bernstein was the newly appointed assistant conductor of the orchestra, and he stepped in at the last minute to replace the eminent maestro Bruno Walter in a concert that was broadcast over the radio.

At the same time – and with the same blistering pace — Bernstein had two high-profile premieres in the theater: the ballet Fancy Free in April 1944, and the Broadway musical On the Town in December that same year. For both, he collaborated with the young choreographer Jerome Robbins, and the two men later became mega-famous for West Side Story in 1957. Added to that, the writers of the book and lyrics for On the Town were Bernstein’s close friends Betty Comden and Adolph Green, whose major celebrity came with the screenplay for Singin’ in the Rain in 1952.

So 1944 was a key year for Bernstein in the theater. Yet he already had considerable experience with theatrical productions, albeit with neighborhood kids in the Jewish community of Sharon, Massachusetts, south of Boston, where his parents had a summer home, and as a counselor at a Jewish summer camp in the Berkshires.

Some of these productions were charmingly outrageous, including a staging of Carmen in Sharon during the summer of 1934, when Bernstein was fifteen. Together with his male friend Dana Schnittken, Bernstein organized local teens in presenting an adaptation of Carmen in Yiddish, with the performers in drag. “Together we wrote a highly localized joke version of a highly abbreviated Carmen in drag, using just the hit tunes,” Bernstein later recalled in an interview with the BBC. “Dana played Micaela in a wig supplied by my father’s Hair Company—I’ll never forget his blonde tresses—and I sang Carmen in a red wig and a black mantilla and in a series of chiffon dresses borrowed from various neighbors on Lake Avenue, through which my underwear was showing. Don José was played by the love of my life, Beatrice Gordon. The bullfighter was played by a lady called Rose Schwartz.” Bernstein’s father, who was an immigrant to the United States, owned the Samuel J. Bernstein Hair Company in Boston, which not only prospered mightily during the Great Depression but also provided wigs for his son’s theatrical exploits.

Bernstein conducting the Camp Onota Rhythm Band. Courtesy of Library of Congress

Bernstein conducting the Camp Onota Rhythm Band. Courtesy of Library of Congress

The young Leonard’s summer performances also involved rollicking productions of operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan. In the summer of 1935, he directed The Mikado in Sharon. Bernstein sang the role of Nanki-Poo, and his eleven-year-old sister Shirley was Yum-Yum. Decades later, friends of Bernstein who were involved in that production—by then quite elderly—recalled going with the cast to a nearby Howard Johnson’s Restaurant to celebrate. After eating a hearty meal, they stole the silverware! Being upright young citizens, they quickly returned it.

In the summer of 1936, Bernstein and his buddies produced H.M.S. Pinafore. “I think the bane of my family’s existence was Gilbert and Sullivan, whose scores my sister Shirley and I would howl through from cover to cover,” Bernstein later reminisced to The Book of Knowledge.

As a culmination of this youthful activity, Bernstein produced The Pirates of Penzance during the summer of 1937, while he worked as the music counselor at Camp Onota in the Berkshires. His future collaborator Adolph Green was a visitor at the camp, and Green took the role of the Pirate King.

A photograph in the voluminous Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress vividly evokes Bernstein’s experience at Camp Onota. There, the youthful Lenny stands next to a bandstand, conducting a rhythm band of even younger campers. This is clearly not a stage production. But there he is – an aspiring conductor, honing his craft in the balmy days of summer.

As it turned out, Bernstein’s transition from teenage artistic adventures to mature commercial success—from camp T-shirts to tux and tails—took place in a blink.

Carol J. Oja is William Powell Mason Professor of Music and American Studies at Harvard University. She is author of Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War and Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s (2000), winner of the Irving Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music.

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15. Michael Jackson, 10,000 hours, and the roots of creative genius

By Arturo Hernandez


That any person could become an expert in something if they simply spend about 3 hours per day for ten years learning it is an appealing concept. This idea, first championed by Ericsson and brought to prominence by Gladwell, has now taken root in the popular media. It attempts to discuss these differences in terms of the environment. The idea is that practice with the purpose of constantly gathering feedback and improving can lead any person to become an expert. If becoming an expert requires 10,000 hours, does a prodigy need 20,000.

Lets consider, Michael Jackson, as an example of a prodigy. He grew up in a musical family in Gary, Indiana just outside Chicago. His father Joe played in an R&B band. All of his siblings played music in one way or another. Unlike his siblings and father, Jackson did not really play any instruments. However, he would compose songs in his head using his voice. One morning he came in and had written a song which eventually became ‘Beat It’. In the studio, he would sing each of the different parts including the various instruments. Then the producers and artists in the studio would work on putting the song together, following his arrangements.

Work in cognitive neuroscience has begun to shed light on the brain systems involved in creativity as being linked to psychometric IQ. Work by Neubauer and Fink suggests that these two different types of abilities, psychometric IQ and expertise, involve differential activity in the frontal and parietal lobes. They also appear for different types of tasks. In one study, taxi drivers were split into a high and low group depending on their performance on a paper and pencil IQ test. The results showed that both groups did equally well on familiar routes. The differences appeared between groups when they were compared on unfamiliar routes. In this condition, those with high IQs outperformed those with low IQ. So expertise can develop but the flexibility to handle new situations and improvise requires more than just practice.

Reports of Michael Jackson’s IQ are unreliable. However, he is purported to have had over 10,000 books in his reading collection and to have been an avid reader. His interviews reveal a person who was very eloquent and well spoken. And clearly he was able to integrate various different types of strands of music into interesting novel blends. If we were to lay this out across time, we have perhaps the roots of early genius. It is a person who has an unusual amount of exposure in a domain that starts at an early age. This would lead to the ability to play music very well.

Michael_Jackson_with_the_Reagans

Jackson came from a family filled with many successful musicians. Many were successful as recording artists. Perhaps Michael started earlier than his siblings. One conclusion we can draw from this natural experiment is that creative genius requires more than 10,000 hours. In the case of Michael Jackson, he read profusely and had very rich life experiences. He tried to meld these experiences into a blended musical genre that is uniquely his and yet distinctly resonant with known musical styles.

The kind of creativity is not restricted to prodigies like Michael Jackson. Language, our ultimate achievement as a human race, is something that no other animal species on this planet shares with us. The seeds of language exist all over the animal kingdom. There are birds that can use syntax to create elaborate songs. Chinchillas can recognize basic human speech. Higher primates can develop extensive vocabularies and use relatively sophisticated language. But only one species was able to take all of these various pieces and combine them into a much richer whole. Every human is born with the potential to develop much larger frontal lobes which interconnect with attention, motor, and sensory areas of the brain. It is in these enlarged cortical areas that we can see the roots of creative genius. So while 10,000 hours will create efficiency within restricted areas of the brain, only the use of more general purpose brain areas serve to develop true creativity.

Arturo Hernandez is currently Professor of Psychology and Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience graduate program at the University of Houston. He is the author of The Bilingual Brain. His major research interest is in the neural underpinnings of bilingual language processing and second language acquisition in children and adults. He has used a variety of neuroimaging methods as well as behavioral techniques to investigate these phenomena which have been published in a number of peer reviewed journal articles. His research is currently funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. You can follow him on Twitter @DrAEHernandez. Read his previous blog posts.
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Image credit: Michael Jackson with the Reagans, by White House Photo Office. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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16. Bats in the Band: Brian Lies

Book: Bats in the Band
Author/Illustrator: Brian Lies 
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

Oh happy day! There is a new book in Brian Lies' Bats series, after Bats at the Library (review), Bats at the Beach, and Bats at the Ballgame (review). Lies' accomplished bats are back, and this time, they are making music with Bats in the Band. While the musical evening setting doesn't resonate quite as much for me as the earlier library or baseball game settings, it's still lovely to be immersing myself in Lies' detailed illustrations, and reading his rhyming but varied prose aloud. In this story, as night falls one evening, a number of bats experience a common yen to make music. They converge on a "summertime theater", deserted late at night, and engage in an impromptu series of musical acts. 

 Here are my two favorite snippets of text:

"Some bats have instruments perfect in size,
Others, without them, will just improvise.
Behind the stage curtain, they're getting in tune,
making up things out of straws, out of spoons.

and

"Then the shimmering vibrations
dwindle down and fade away--
and a silence fills our ears,
as loud as anything we played."

See what I mean? Each set of couplets rhymes, making Bats in the Band nice for read-aloud, but because the passages don't all have the same number of syllables, it doesn't feel sing-songy. I love how Lies uses strong vocabulary words, like "dwindle" and "shimmering". 

And the bats! Set against mainly dark backdrops, the bats have finely textured fur, bright black eyes, and jaunty ears. Their instruments mostly look like real instruments. However, careful study of the illustrations reveals things like a bat guitarist sitting on a champagne cork, and scraps of straws and bottle-caps put into service as instruments.

Bats in the Band has a delightfully silly premise, brought to life with a joie de vivre that could awaken in any reader a fresh appreciation for music. Highly recommended, and a must-read for fans of the series. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks)
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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17. The British are coming: the Summer of 1964 (part two)

By Gordon R. Thompson


In the opening months of 1964, The Beatles turned the American popular music world on its head, racking up hits and opening the door for other British musicians. Lennon and McCartney demonstrated that—in the footsteps of Americans like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry—British performers could be successful songwriters too. In the summer, “A Hard Day’s Night” would prove that their success had not been a winter fluke or a momentary bit of post assassination frenzy.

It wasn’t that the Brits had been absent from the very profitable American market: Joe Meek had had success with the Tornados’ “Telstar” at the end of 1962. But before The Beatles, few in America cared much at all about what the British recording industry released. Indeed, British irrelevancy lay behind Capitol’s decision not to release recordings by The Beatles until news coverage got ahead of them.

In the wake of the Beatles, some of the evolving diversity of British songwriting emerged and the first stage came from composers associated with the heart of London’s music publishing world: Denmark Street. Publishers and musical instrument stores still call that short stretch of pavement home, but in the early to mid-sixties, everyone from the Beatles to the Kinks had been there. You could record at Regent Sound Studios (as did The Rolling Stones and The Who), you could grab a coffee with session musicians at Julie’s Café, or buy an ad at either Melody Maker or The New Musical Express. Indeed, The Beatles had gotten a huge break through publisher Dick James whose offices were at the corner of Denmark Street and Charing Cross Road.

A promotional photo of British rock group The Kinks, taken in Stockholm, Sweden, ca. 2 September 1965. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

A promotional photo of British rock group The Kinks, taken in Stockholm, Sweden, ca. 2 September 1965. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1963, Lennon and McCartney’s major competitor was Mitch Murray who had had a string of hits with Gerry and the Pacemakers (“How Do You Do It?”) and Freddie and the Dreamers (“I’m Telling You Now”). Murray’s forte was the simple, catchy lyric and tune, purchased and consumed in an instant, paid for by happy teens who eagerly waited for the next release. His songs had proved so successful in 1963 that John Lennon jokingly (perhaps) suggested that another challenge to the Lennon-McCartney catalogue could result in bruises for their competitor. Notably in this period, both the Liverpudlians and this Londoner published through Dick James Music.

However a particularly interesting composition emerged from the pen of another Denmark Street songwriter, this time associated with Southern Music. The twenty-nine-year-old Geoff Stephens was never much of a musician, but he had an ear for lyrics and tunes and “The Crying Game” had begun as a title and a premise. The title “seemed the perfect seed from which to grow a very good pop song,” he recalled. “We all know what it’s like to cry and have deep feelings.” Still, the song’s convoluted melody and irregular prosody made it an unlikely hit for 1964, but succeed it did.

Click here to view the embedded video.

A winning interpretation would come through Dave Berry whose breathy and exposed voice served as the perfect instrument for the melody, even if he initially thought the music inappropriate for him. (He saw himself as a rhythm-and-blues artist.) Decca producer Mike Smith (who had auditioned the Beatles back in 1962) brought in Reg Guest to serve as music director who, in turn, hired guitarist Big Jim Sullivan to complement Berry’s emotive interpretation. Employing a foot pedal meant for a steel guitar that controlled both tone and volume, Sullivan put the musical equivalent of crying into the recording. The result deeply impressed Beatle George Harrison who sought to find out how to recreate the sound (something he would accomplish the next year on songs like “I Need You” and “Yes It Is”).

Not all non-performer songwriters in this era had deep ties to Denmark Street. Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley had met at University College School as teens, sported proper academic degrees, had worked at the BBC, and were active participants in the intellectual world of late fifties and early sixties London. In 1964 they collaborated on the song “Have I the Right” and in a tavern found the Sheritons whom they believed were perfect to deliver their plea for love. The musical and lyrical materials are simple, but catchy, and demanded a distinctive sound and interpretation.

No one could better create a distinctive sound in London at the time than the enigmatic Joe Meek in his home studio on Holloway Road in North London. In order to create a sound around the band and the song, Meek turned to the four-on-the-floor musical grooves that had been popular that year (notably heard on recordings by another North London group, the Dave Clark Five). Meek recorded clipped microphones to the stairs outside his studio and had the band stomp in time with the music, perhaps in imitation of the Dave Clark Five’s “Bits and Pieces.” Next, he repeatedly overdubbed a guitar part and played with the tape speed to give it a wavering bell-like quality.

Howard and Blaikley would lease the recording to Louis Benjamin at Pye Records, who thought that the Sheritons needed a new name. Seeing the band’s female hairdresser-drummer Honey Lantree as its visual distinction and marketing hook, he renamed the band, The Honeycombs. The song topped British charts late in the summer and successfully climbed American charts that fall. The songwriters would become the band’s managers and continue to write music for them, although they never quite duplicated their success.

Click here to view the embedded video.

But where were British songwriters who also performed their own material? Jagger and Richards of The Rolling Stones had written “As Tears Go By,” but had decided to give it to Marianne Faithful. (They didn’t think it appropriate for themselves to release, at least as a single.) The band had also recorded a demo of another Jagger-Richards tune, “Tell Me,” at Regent Sound Studios in Denmark Street, only to discover that their manager Andrew Oldham had released it in America. Despite its modest success, Richards has since cited this recording as evidence of how little control they had over their career at this stage. They wouldn’t record their first real self-penned success early the next year with “The Last Time.”

More significantly during the summer of ‘64, one of the most important British artists of the era woke up every garage band on both continents, simultaneously frightening parents and the custodians of culture.

In July 1964 at IBC Studios in London, Shel Talmy prepared to give an unlikely group of musicians their last chance to have a hit. Talmy was a Los Angeles transplant, an outsider to the London recording scene who preferred to work as an independent artist-and-repertoire manager. Through hard work, good luck, and a bit of bluff, he had managed almost immediate success, much to the jealousy of the locals.

The group on whom he was gambling had the Davies Brothers as its leaders who had beaten the odds to get a recording contract, but who had struck out with their first two releases. The Kinks’ version of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” had the misfortune of comparison with The Beatles, who were now using the tune to close their shows and who would soon release their own version of it. Their next attempt was a composition by Ray Davies. “You Still Want Me” carries all the hallmarks of early sixties British pop and, consequently, had very little that would distinguish The Kinks from everyone else.

“You Really Got Me” would be the song that lifted them to success. They arrived to record it at IBC Studios in July 1964 after already taping a slower and more bluesy version. Davies and Talmy (although they might disagree about the process later) agreed that a faster version could be more successful and booked time at the studio late at night. To insure success, Talmy had engaged session drummer Bobby Graham, who was already known around professional circles as at least one of the drummers on the Dave Clark Five records. He also brought in the veteran bandleader Art Greenslade to play piano.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Graham and Greenslade had been at a previous recording session earlier that night where a contractor had asked them to do a second session. After a pint or two and a bite to eat, they showed up at IBC for a date with the Kinks. Their first reaction, according to Greenslade, was a one of slightly restrained horror at the sight of the band; but, after a short rehearsal, they settled into a good working relationship. The band’s drummer, Mick Avory, settled into playing the tambourine.

Knowing full well, that you get six sides to get a hit, Ray Davies remembered years later the tension that night. “When that record starts it’s like… doing the four-minute mile; there’s a lot of emotion.” He remembers shouting at Dave, “willing him to do it, saying it was the last chance we had.” Brother Dave apparently responded with an expletive and launched into what must be one of the original punk guitar solos played through a ripped speaker. Talmy, for his part, tried to capture the sound and to shape it in a distinctive way, employing the young Glyn Johns and Bob Auger as his engineers.

The recording of “You Really Got Me” would establish The Kinks as one of Britain’s most important bands and Ray Davies as a songwriter to be watched.

Gordon R. Thompson is Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at Skidmore College. His book, Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out, offers an insider’s view of the British pop-music recording industry. Gordon Thompson will be speaking at a number of Capital District venues in February. His lecture, “She Loves You: The Beatles and New York, February 1964,” will contextualize that band’s historic relationship with the Empire State. Check out Gordon Thompson’s posts on The Beatles and other music.

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18. The British are coming: the Summer of 1964 (part one)

By Gordon R. Thompson


Fifty years ago, a wave of British performers began showing up on The Ed Sullivan Show following the dramatic and game-changing appearances by The Beatles. That spring, a number of “beat” groups made the transatlantic leap and scored hits on American charts prompting many pop pundits to declare (not for the last time) that the Beatles’ fifteen-minutes of fame had elapsed. The first pretenders to the throne were London’s The Dave Clark Five with “Glad All Over” (sung and written by organist Mike Smith with Dave Clark), which anticipated the many other British pop records that would find a place on American charts in the mid sixties. Soon, Liverpudlian performers The Searchers (“Needles and Pins”), Gerry and the Pacemakers (“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”), and Billy J. Kramer (“Bad to Me”) followed fellow Merseysiders The Beatles and debuted on the Sullivan’s Sunday-night show, even as other American networks scrambled to get their piece of the British pop pie.

Publicity photo of The Dave Clark Five from their cameo performing appearance in the US film Get Yourself a College Girl. 27 November 1964. (c) MGM. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Publicity photo of The Dave Clark Five from their cameo performing appearance in the US film Get Yourself a College Girl. 27 November 1964. (c) MGM. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Over the course of that year, the success of acts like these changed both American impressions of British music and, importantly, British musicians’ attitudes about themselves. After an era of economic hardship and the occasional geopolitical embarrassment (e.g., the Suez Crisis of 1956), Britain came out of its postwar cultural funk to the soundtrack of pop music. At least two interrelated trends in this music emerged. First, British artists followed the long-established practice of white performers covering music created by African Americans and, second, they began to explore their own versions of what those traditions might sound like. Often, their approach was to take material previously performed acoustically and reinterpret it with electric guitars and keyboards accompanied by drums. They also applied production forces that had not been available to the original performers. Ultimately, British producers, songwriters, and musicians began to find the confidence—sometimes tinged with arrogance—that they could compete with Americans.

“House of the Rising Sun.” This traditional ballad (collector Alan Lomax had recorded an Appalachian version in the thirties) about a life gone wrong in New Orleans had been included on Bob Dylan’s eponymous first album. The Animals from Newcastle had already extracted and interpreted a song that appears on that album for British charts (“Baby Let Me Take You Home”), applying blues-rock aesthetics to a folk ballad. In a way, The Animals’ version of “House of the Rising Sun” was an early example of folk rock.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Guitarist Hilton Valentine and keyboardist Alan Price found ways to update and electrify the instrumental accompaniment of “House of the Rising Sun,” and Eric Burdon gave it a convincing and ultimately defining interpretation. The session unfolded at the unglamorous hour of eight AM after the band had traveled overnight from a gig in Liverpool, arriving at Kingsway Studios (opposite the Holborn Underground station) tired, but excited to be recording again. The band ran through the arrangement they had been playing in clubs and did two takes; but the second proved unnecessary. Mickie Most, the artist-and-repertoire manager on the session, knew he had a hit. Most later told Spencer Leigh, “Everything was in the right place, the planets were in the right place, the stars were in the right place and the wind was blowing in the right direction. It only took 15 minutes to make.”

Most’s role in the success of mid-sixties British rock and pop cannot be overstated. He would produce recordings by Herman’s Hermits, the Nashville Teens, Donovan, the Yardbirds, and many others. In the case of “House of the Rising Sun,” Most made the unconventional call to press all 4 minutes and 28 seconds of the recording. The combination of microgroove technology and vinyl allowed for longer playing times and a cleaner sound from a 45 rpm disc, even if most singles still followed the industry norm of 2:30 established by 78 rpm shellac discs. Most concluded that, if the recording and the performance were good, the length would not matter. He was proved right, even if MGM (the American distributor) would break the recording up into two parts for radio play. Released on June 19th, the record would hit number 1 on British charts in July 1964 and soon proved successful on American charts as well such that the Animals would debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in October with a hit.

“Doo Wah Diddy Diddy.” Named after South African keyboardist Manfred Lubowitz’s stage persona, the London band Manfred Mann got their break when asked to write theme music for the popular ITV television show, Ready, Steady, Go! EMI artist-and-repertoire manager John Burgess had signed them and “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” — their second release — had become a hit, albeit one that derived its success through its association with a television show. Their self-penned follow-up—“Hubble Bubble (Toil and Trouble)”—rose to a respectable #11 on UK charts, but they hoped for a piece of the transatlantic prize that The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, and others were enjoying. As with many British performers at the time, the band and their producer decided to cover a tune that had already been released by an American singing group.

Written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich in New York, The Exciters’ version of “Do Wah Diddy” featured a very basic instrumental backing and had been a regional success; but it had been unable to capture a national market. Indeed, recordings by African Americans often found release only on small independent labels that lacked national distribution and promotion structures. Burgess would have guessed that his band could give it a different spin and, with the current hunger for British acts in the US and parent company EMI’s growing clout, a good promotion and distribution arrangement would ensure success.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Paul Jones gives a constrained performance, his singing style featuring a much more constricted and nasal quality when compared to the original’s open-throated joyfulness. Burgess with Norman Smith (who also served as the balance engineer on Beatles recordings in this era) capture a slightly more elaborate instrumental performance that included timpani and Mann’s electronic keyboard prominently in the mix. More importantly, Smith’s soundscape for the recording adds a depth that was lacking in the original production by the Exciters. “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” would not be the band’s last American hit, but it would be their biggest.

“It’s All Over Now.” The Rolling Stones had had hits in the UK with a covers of Chuck Berry’s “Come On,” Lennon and McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”; but success had largely evaded them in the US in the first half of 1964. The summer had not bode well for the Rolling Stones, with The Daily Mirror at the end of May describing them as the “ugliest group in Britain.” But manager Andrew Oldham, if nothing else, had ambitious plans for the band.

In anticipation of their short inaugural American tour, he released one of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ earliest attempts at songwriting (the poppish “Tell Me,” which the songwriters had intended only as a demo) in the US to very modest regional success, but they had yet to get to the number-one spot in either the UK or the US. Once the two-week American tour began in June 1964, they played to half-empty houses and an indifferent press. If the Stones were on the road to success, it was beginning to look unpleasant.

When the tour stopped in Chicago, Oldham arranged for them to record at the studios for Chess Records. American legends who loomed large in the band’s imagination had recorded here: Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and others had all spent time at 2120 South Michigan Avenue. With Ron Malo selecting and positioning microphones before setting levels, The Stones felt they were tapping into history, while manager Andrew Oldham understood a good marketing opportunity when he saw one.

One of the tunes they had heard in New York seemed like just the thing to record during this session. Bobby and Shirley Womack had written “It’s All Over Now” for Bobby’s band, the Valentinos, but again the disc had failed to achieve much success. Their version had something of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” to its grove and feel, and a prominent bass line that drove the recording along provided a sense of humor and irony.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Rolling Stones sped their version up and added an arpeggiated guitar part, while Mick Jagger delivered the lyrics as an angry victim who gains vindication, a role he would develop extensively in the coming years. When released in Britain on the June 26th, it would prove to be the Stones’ first chart topper the week after “House of the Rising Sun” had occupied that spot in July.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When asked the previous year about why British teens liked The Rolling Stones’ blues and rhythm-and-blues covers, Jagger acknowledged that their audiences liked white faces better. Indeed, British artists (including The Beatles) relied heavily on music originally created in the US by either African Americans or by rural whites.

As 1964 unfolded, songwriters, musicians, music directors, recording engineers, and artist-and-repertoire managers would gain self-confidence and begin producing something more identifiably British.

Gordon R. Thompson is Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at Skidmore College. His book, Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out, offers an insider’s view of the British pop-music recording industry. Gordon Thompson will be speaking at a number of Capital District venues in February. His lecture, “She Loves You: The Beatles and New York, February 1964,” will contextualize that band’s historic relationship with the Empire State. Check out Gordon Thompson’s posts on The Beatles and other music.

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19. Echoes of Billie Holiday in Fancy Free

When Leonard Bernstein first arrived in New York, he was unknown, much like the artists he worked with at the time, who would also gain international recognition. Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War looks at the early days of Bernstein’s career during World War II, and is centered around the debut in 1944 of the Broadway musical On the Town and the ballet Fancy Free. This excerpt from the book describes the opening night of Fancy Free.

When the curtain rose on the first production of Fancy Free, the audience at the old Metropolitan Opera House did not hear a pit orchestra, which would have followed a long-established norm in ballet. Rather, a recorded vocal blues wafted from the stage. Those attending must have been caught by surprise, as they were drawn into a contemporary sound world. The song was “Big Stuff,” with music and lyrics by Bernstein. It had been conceived with the African American jazz singer Billie Holiday in mind, even though it ended up being recorded for the production by Bernstein’s sister, Shirley. At that early point in Bernstein’s career, he lacked the cultural and fiscal capital to hire anyone as famous as Holiday. The melody and piano accompaniment for “Big Stuff” contained bent notes and lilting rhythms basic to urban blues, and the lyrics summoned up the blues as an animate force, following a standard rhetorical mode for the genre:

So you cry, “What’s it about, Baby?”
You ask why the blues had to go and pick you.

Talk of going “down to the shore” vaguely referred to the sailors of Fancy Free, as the lyrics became sexually explicit:

So you go down to the shore, kid stuff.
Don’t you know there’s honey in store for you, Big Stuff?
Let’s take a ride in my gravy train;
The door’s open wide,
Come in from out of the rain.

“Big Stuff” spoke to youth in the audience by alluding to contemporary popular culture. It boldly injected an African American commercial idiom into a predominantly white high-art performance sphere, and its raunchiness enhanced the sexual provocations of Fancy Free. “Big Stuff” also blurred distinctions between acoustic and recorded sound. It marked Bernstein as a crossover composer, with the talent to write a pop song and the temerity to unveil it within a high-art context.

Billie Holiday by William P. Gottlieb. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Billie Holiday by William P. Gottlieb, c. February 1947. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Billie Holiday was “one of [Bernstein’s] idols,” according to Humphrey Burton. He admired her brilliance as a performer, and he was also sympathetic to her progressive politics. In 1939, Holiday first recorded “Strange Fruit,” a song about a lynching that became one of her signatures. With biracial and left-leaning roots, “Strange Fruit” was written by the white teacher and social activist Abel Meeropol. Holiday performed “Strange Fruit” nightly at Café Society, a club that enforced a progressive desegregationist agenda both onstage and in the audience. Those performances marked “the beginning of the civil rights movement,” recalled the famed record producer Ahmet Ertegun (founder of Atlantic Records). Barney Josephson, who ran Café Society, famously declared, “I wanted a club where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front.”

Bernstein had experience on both sides of Café Society’s footlights. In the early 1940s, he performed there occasionally with The Revuers, and he played excerpts from The Cradle Will Rock in at least one evening session with Marc Blitzstein. Bernstein also hung out at the club with friends, including Judy Tuvim, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, listening to the jazz pianist Teddy Wilson and boogie-woogie pianists Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. Thus Bernstein had ample opportunities to witness the intentional “blurring of cultural categories, genres, and ethnic groups” that historian David Stowe has called the “dominant theme” of Café Society.

Robbins also had an affinity for the work of Billie Holiday. In the summer of 1940, he choreographed Holiday’s recording of “Strange Fruit” and performed it with the dancer Anita Alvarez at Camp Tamiment. “Strange Fruit was one of the most dramatic and heart-breaking dances I have ever seen—a masterpiece,” remembered Dorothy Bird, a dancer there that summer.

As a result of these experiences, the music of Billie Holiday had crossed the paths of both Robbins and Bernstein before “Big Stuff” opened their first ballet. While Billie Holiday’s voice was not heard the evening of Fancy Free’s premiere, only seven months passed before she recorded “Big Stuff” with the Toots Camarata Orchestra on November 8, 1944. The fact that Holiday made this recording so soon after the premiere of Fancy Free bore witness to the rapid rise of Bernstein’s clout within the music industry. Over the next two years, Holiday made six more recordings of “Big Stuff,” and when Bernstein issued the first recording of Fancy Free with the Ballet Theatre Orchestra in 1946, Holiday’s rendition of “Big Stuff” opened the disc. Both she and Bernstein recorded for the Decca label. Holiday recorded her final three takes of “Big Stuff” for Decca on March 13, 1946, and that label released Fancy Free the same year.

Musically, “Big Stuff” links closely to the worlds of George Gershwin and Harold Arlen, whose songs drew on African American idioms. Like some of the most beloved songs by these composers — whether Arlen’s “Stormy Weather” of 1933 or Gershwin’s “Summertime” of 1935 from Porgy and Bess – “Big Stuff” used a standard thirty-two-bar song form. With a tempo indication of “slow & blue,” “Big Stuff” has a lilting one-bar riff in the bass, a classic formulation for a jazzbased popular song of the day. The riff retains its shape throughout, as is also typical, while its internal pitch structure shifts in relation to the harmonic motion. Both the accompaniment and melody are drenched with signifiers of the blues, especially with chromatically altered third, fourth, sixth, and seventh scale degrees, and the overall downward motion of the melody is also characteristic of the blues, with a weighted sense of being ultimately earthbound.

Carol J. Oja is William Powell Mason Professor of Music and American Studies at Harvard University. She is author of Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War and Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s (2000), winner of the Irving Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music.

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20. Roll over, Rimbaud: P. F. Kluge, Walt Whitman, and Eddie and the Cruisers

By Kirk Curnutt


Ask folks who came of age in the 1980s what they remember about the movie Eddie and the Cruisers and one of the following responses is likely:

  1. It spawned the great rock-radio staple “On the Dark Side” and briefly made MTV stars of the improbably named John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.
  2. It was such a shameless Bruce Springsteen rip-off that Boss fans considered it as sacrilegious as devout Christians do Jesus Christ Superstar.
  3. It had a whiplash-inducing twist ending that Roger Ebert called “so frustrating, so dumb, so unsatisfactory that it gives a bad reputation to the whole movie.”
  4. It was a box-office flop that thirty years ago this month shocked Hollywood by becoming a surprise HBO hit.
  5. It was a movie you rented repeatedly during the decade’s video boom because it fit perfectly VHS’s promise of cheap home entertainment: undemanding, toe-tapping, and eminently re-watchable, it was an ideal 99-cent diversion that helped you forget VCRs cost $500 and were as boxy as Samsonite suitcases.


What you’re less likely to hear, unfortunately: it was based on one of the best, most criminally underappreciated rock ‘n’ roll novels ever.

In a preface to Overlook Press’s 2008 reissue (the book’s first widely available trade paperback), no less than Sherman Alexie admits he never knew Eddie was originally a novel by P. F. Kluge until deep into his own career, long after “obsessing” over the movie as a high-schooler. It’s indicative of how the film overshadows its source material that Kluge’s Eddie doesn’t even make this supposedly comprehensive list of rock novels published since the 1950s.

The novel’s relative obscurity is a shame, for as Alexie notes, it has literary “ambitions and secrets and qualities” that far surpass the movie’s “mainstream” pleasures. Director Martin Davidson, who co-wrote the script with his wife, Arlene, made several changes to Kluge’s tale of a Jersey rock star who may or may not be haunting former bandmates twenty years after his supposed death. The most significant is seemingly the most cosmetic. Whereas Kluge conceived hero Eddie Wilson as a Dion-esque doo-wop rocker, Davidson turned him into an awkward splice of Springsteen and Jim Morrison. In so doing, the filmmaker altered the literary inspiration that in Kluge gives the musician a model for imagining rock ‘n’ roll as an art form instead of mere entertainment. The change is decisive to how differently each version of Eddie depicts the purpose of popular music.

Une_saison_en_enfer_-_01

Une saison en enfer, Arthur Rimbaud, Bruxelles, Alliance typographique, 1873. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the movie, college dropout Frank “Wordman” Ridgeway, the story’s Nick Carraway, introduces Eddie to the 19th-century French symboliste Arthur Rimbaud. Literature spurs the hunky frontman to make “serious” music instead of cranking out bar-band favorites for Jersey beachgoers: “I want songs that echo,” Eddie insists. “The [music] we’re doing now is like bed sheets. Spread ’em, soil ’em, ship ’em out to laundry. Our songs — I like to fold ourselves up in them forever.” Soon enough, Eddie pens a concept album called A Season in Hell, after Rimbaud’s most famous work. His slimy record-company owner refuses to release it, however, because the music sounds “like a bunch of jerkoffs making weird sounds.” The rejection sends Eddie squealing away in his ’57 Chevy, which hurtles off the Raritan Bridge, either an accident or a suicide. The Cruisers are forgotten for two decades later until an Entertainment Tonight-type reporter begins hyping Hell as an ominous foreshadowing of the late sixties, “a new age, an age of confusion, an age of passion, of commitment!” Suddenly, someone claiming to be the dead rock star is stalking the surviving Cruisers, intent on finally releasing the missing opus so the public can recognize Eddie’s brilliance.

Serious scholarly papers have drawn parallels between Eddie and Rimbaud, but the script’s invocation of the poet never really rises above literary window dressing. Davidson mainly uses Rimbaud to allude to Morrison, who idolized the literary libertine and who, according to a farcical urban legend, faked his 1971 death to escape the rock biz (much as Rimbaud abandoned literature before he was twenty). The movie asks us to believe that the Beatlemania-era Eddie predicted the Dionysian extremes of the Doors’ “The End” or (God help us) “Horse Latitudes,” but the song that’s supposed to illustrate his visionary genius, “Fire,” hardly qualifies as “weird sounds”. It’s merely an arthritic gloss on Springsteen’s “Adam Raised a Cain” with none of the Boss’s blistering vitality.

Walt Whitman by George C. Cox (1851–1903, photo) Adam Cuerden (1979-, restoration). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Walt Whitman. Photo by George C. Cox, restoration by Adam Cuerden. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

For Kluge’s Eddie, by contrast, the spirit father isn’t Rimbaud but Walt Whitman, and Eddie’s magnum opus is Leaves of Grass. Having seen Leaves appropriated to do everything from woo interns to expose unlikely meth kingpins, I’ll be the first to say that the Good Gray Poet’s popularity as the Go-To Lit Reference sometimes leaves me craving a Longfellow revival. Yet his role in Kluge isn’t gratuitous. Whitman inspires Eddie to reimagine rock ‘n’ roll as the vox populi, a medium not for becoming famous but for creating the true song of democracy. To produce his rock version of Leaves, Eddie recruits black and white greats from Elvis to Sam Cooke to Buddy Holly (the novel is set in 1957-58, a half-decade earlier than the film). Their mission is to snip the American barbed wire of segregation through a series of secret jam sessions designed to “to bring off the impossible, some fantastic union of black and white music.” What breakthroughs Eddie achieved before his supposed death is as compelling a page-turner as the mystery of who’s harassing the surviving Cruisers. (Spoiler alert: Eddie does not predict “Ebony and Ivory”).

In ditching Whitman for Rimbaud, Davidson’s film became a story not about the Gordian knot of race in American music but about rock-star greatness and fame. That point is bashed home like a gong by the movie’s trick ending, which reveals Eddie is indeed alive but indifferent to the hullaballoo the media creates when his masterwork is finally released. Despite the adaptation’s defects, Kluge speaks appreciatively of it, and rightly so: as a cult favorite, the movie kept the novel’s name alive during the decades the book was out of print. Besides, when the other movie based on your writing is Dog Day Afternoon, you can afford to be generous.

Nevertheless, the lack of attention Book Eddie receives feels like a missed opportunity for rock novels in general. The genre is a diverse, unruly one. Some of its entries are romans à clef that do little more than pencil fictional names into legends rock fans already know by heart (Paul Quarrington’s Brian Wilson-retelling Whale Music). Many others are coming-of-age novels in which that form’s traditional theme of lost innocence plays out like a Behind the Music episode, all downward-spiral cocaine and coitus. Still others are less about music-making than about the grotesquery of fame and fan worship (Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street). What rock novels aren’t nearly as often about is race — or, at least, the alchemies of ethnic interchange explored in such great nonfiction music histories as Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom (1986). A handful of exceptions do come to mind, Alexie’s own Reservation Blues (1995) most notably. Yet for the most part storylines about ahead-of-their-time geniuses predominate, and frankly, the plot of making personal art instead of appeasing a hits-happy public is as tired as the playlist at my local oldies station.

The idea of rock ‘n’ roll as both the promise and impasse of a racially egalitarian barbaric yawp, on the other hand… That’s a song in fiction we still don’t hear nearly enough.

Kirk Curnutt is professor and chair of English at Troy University’s Montgomery, Alabama, campus, where Scott Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre in 1918. His publications include A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald (2004), the novels Breathing Out the Ghost (2008) and Dixie Noir (2009), and Brian Wilson (2012). He is currently at work on a reader’s guide to Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Read his previous OUPblog posts.

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21. Whisper Down the Lane

Photo by Laurel Turton
I had the pleasure to perform in an Opera-Happening by Catherine Kontz and Ellan Parry who have made many strange and beautiful things in the past...
"Whisper Down the Lane" was a fringe event at the Tete a Tete Opera festival that's running around Kings Cross at the moment.

"Do you believe everything you read? Can you verify the source of the information and how it was passed on? Can you follow the trail? Is it a spin? Is it rumour? Is it actually true?
Even the most trivial snippet of news, however manipulated or bona fide it may be, is promoted to a worthier level as soon as it is written down in black and white. Unlike the elusive spoken word, evaporating instantly and leaving behind only the memory of its sound and meaning, the printed word weighs heavier, lives longer and comes to be literature! It becomes the truth. But can you trust it?
Expect fun tongue twisting imbroglios and misconstrued iterations 'whispered' around Kings Cross."


Photo by Claire Shovelton

Photo by Catherine Kontz








Photos by Laurel Turton (unless indicated otherwise)

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22. Barry, Bond, and music on film

Twenty-seven years ago, on 31 July 1987, James Bond returned to the screen in The Living Daylights, with Timothy Dalton as the new Bond. The film has a notable departure in the style of music, as composer John Barry decided that the film needed a new sound to match this reinvented Bond, and his love interest — a musician with dangerous ties. To celebrate the anniversary, here is a brief extract from The Music of James Bond by John Burlingame.

In the script, Bond is caught up in a complex plot involving high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) who is supposedly defecting to the West. Koskov’s girlfriend, Czech cellist Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), is duped into helping him escape his KGB guards. A Greek terrorist named Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) then supervises his “abduction” from England and transport to the Tangiers estate of an American arms dealer (Joe Don Baker). Eventually Bond and Kara find themselves at a Soviet airbase in Afghanistan, where they meet a Mujahidin leader (Art Malik) who helps 007 thwart the plot.

Because the early portions of the story take place in Czechoslovakia and Austria, The Living Daylights crew shot for two weeks in Vienna, including all of the scenes where Kara is performing on her cello. Director John Glen recalled conferring with Barry about the classical music that would be heard in the film. “We listened to various pieces before we chose what we were going to use,” Glen said. “Obviously we needed something where the cello was featured strongly.” (They ended up with Mozart, Borodin, Strauss, Dvořák and Tchaikovsky.) They recorded the classical selections with Gert Meditz conducting the Austrian Youth Orchestra and then filmed the ensemble, using the prerecorded music as playback on the set.

Maryam d’Abo was filmed “playing” the cello during several of these scenes. “I started taking private lessons a month prior to the film,” she recalled. “I just learned the movements. They basically soaped the bow so there wasn’t any sound [from the instrument]. It was hard work; I could have done with a couple more weeks of lessons. They demanded a lot of strength. No wonder cellists start when they are eight years old.” The solo parts heard in the film were played by Austrian cellist Stefan Kropfitsch.

The Living Daylights Film Poster (c) MGM

The Living Daylights Film Poster (c) MGM

The actress, as Kara, “performs” with the orchestra in several scenes, notably at the end of the film when Barry himself is seen conducting Tchaikovsky’s 1877 Variations on a Rococo Theme and Kara is the soloist. It was filmed on October 15, 1986, at Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace. Recalled Glen: “It was very unusual for John—unlike a lot of other people who liked to appear in movies, John had never asked before—but on that film, he asked if he could appear. At the time, it struck me as a bit strange. It was almost a premonition that this was going to be his last Bond. I was happy to accommodate him, and he was eminently qualified to do it.”

In fact, Barry had done this once before, appearing on-screen as the conductor of a Madrid orchestra in Bryan Forbes’s Deadfall (1968). On that occasion, he was conducting his own music (a single-movement guitar concerto that was ingeniously written to double as dramatic music for a jewel robbery occurring simultaneously with the concert). This time, he was supposed to be conducting the “Lenin’s People’s Conservatoire Orchestra.”

D’Abo socialized with Barry in London, when the unit was shooting at Pinewood. (She later realized that she had already appeared in two Barry films: Until September and Out of Africa.) “John was there, working on the music,” she said. “He was just a joy to be around. I remember seeing him and having dinner with him and [his wife] Laurie, and John being so excited about writing the music. He was so adorable, saying ‘Your love scenes inspire me to write this romantic music.’ John was such a charmer with women.”

Jon Burlingame is the author of The Music of James Bond, now out in paperback with a new chapter on Skyfall. He is one of the nation’s leading writers on the subject of music for film and television. He writes regularly for Daily Variety and teaches film-music history at the University of Southern California. His other work has included three previous books on film and TV music; articles for other publications including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and Premiere and Emmy magazines; and producing radio specials for Los Angeles classical station KUSC.

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23. The Queen whose Soul was Harmony

By James Anderson Winn


In 1701, one year before Princess Anne succeeded to the throne, musicians from London traveled to Windsor to perform a special ode composed for her birthday by the gifted young composer Jeremiah Clarke. The anonymous poet addressed part of his poem to the performers, taking note of Anne’s keen interest in music:

Portrait of Anne of Great Britain by Charles Jervas, 1702-1714, Royal Collection, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Anne of Great Britain by Charles Jervas, 1702-1714, Royal Collection, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

With song your tribute to her bring,
Who best inspires you how to sing;
None better claims your lays than she
Whose very soul is Harmony.
O happy those whose art can feast
So just, and so refined a taste.

As the poet evidently knew, Anne’s just and refined taste was shaped by her own musical experiences. Her music teachers included Francesco Corbetta, the leading guitarist in Europe, and Giovanni Battista Draghi, the harpsichord player who composed the first setting of Dryden’s “Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687.” Henry Purcell wrote the music for her wedding and for other occasions at her court; when he died, still in his early thirties, his widow dedicated a posthumous collection of his keyboard pieces to the Princess, thanking her for her “Generous Encouragement of my deceas’d Husband’s Performances in Musick, together with the great Honour your Highness has don that Science in your Choice of that Instrument, for which the following Compositions were made.”

I have paid particular attention to music written for the often misunderstood Queen, a musician and lover of the fine arts. The four examples I offer here are especially rich and complex.

We begin with an excerpt from Purcell’s last substantial work, an ode for the sixth birthday of William, Duke of Gloucester, Anne’s only child to survive infancy. The political situation at this moment was complex. After the armed coup of 1688, which deposed Anne’s father, James II, and replaced him with her sister Mary and her brother-in-law William, the two sisters had quarreled. Their estrangement continued until Mary’s death in 1694, and although William went through the motions of a reconciliation, his relationship with Anne was edgy at best. In praising the little Duke, the poet paid court to Anne in language that might easily be read as praising the Princess at the expense of the King:

She’s great, Let Fortune Smile or Frown,
Her Virtues make all Hearts her own:
She reigns without a Crown.

Evidently aware that the last line might be offensive to the King’s supporters, Purcell set it only once and surrounded it with two longer settings of the previous line—“Her Virtues make all Hearts her own”—a safer expression of Anne’s growing popularity. He devotes eleven measures to the line about Anne’s virtues, stretching it out with extensive melismatic treatments of the word all, disposes of the line about reigning without a crown in only six measures, and then returns to the words of the penultimate line for another eighteen measures. His setting thus alters the rhetoric of the poem, moving what had been a climactic and cadential line in the poem into a much less prominent position. Purcell had good reasons to look forward to the accession of Anne, who knew more about music than her predecessors, but he had far too much tact to crown her prematurely.

Henry Purcell, excerpts from Who can from Joy Refrain? Performers: Bradford Gleim, baritone; Teresa Wakim and Brenna Wells, sopranos; Jesse Irons and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

Our next example comes from the birthday ode of 1701. At this moment, Anne was just emerging from six months of mourning for her son Gloucester, who had died a few days after his eleventh birthday. In a touching and delicate aria sung by the tenor Richard Elford, who soon became Anne’s favorite singer, the words express the hope that she might bear another child.

In her brave offspring still she’ll live,
Nor must she bless our age alone;
But to succeeding ages give,
Heirs to her virtues, and the throne.

After an innocent string ritornello in B-flat major, the vocalist enters in d minor; Clarke’s wistful expression of the hope for more heirs to Anne’s virtues thus delicately acknowledges her sorrow for the lost Gloucester. The contrast with earlier birthday odes, in which composers saluted Gloucester with martial fanfares, is striking.

Jeremiah Clarke, excerpt from Let Nature Smith, birthday ode for Princess Anne (1701 ?). Performers: Owen McIntosh, tenor; Jesse Irons and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins; Sarah Darling, viola; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

Our third example is an anthem composed by John Blow for the thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s cathedral in 1704, celebrating the Duke of Marlborough’s victory in the Battle of Blenheim. The Bible reading for the day tells the story of the prophetess Deborah, who sent her general Barak to defeat the Philistines. As a married non-combatant who ruled her nation, Deborah was a close biblical analogue for Anne, and one detail in the song’s description of the battle matched the events at Blenheim with eerie accuracy: “The river of Kishon,” sings the prophetess, “swept them away,” and at the end of the recent battle, at least 2,000 French cavalrymen had drowned in the Danube. In constructing his anthem, Blow carefully rearranged a few selected verses from the recommended chapter. After one soloist sings verse 21 of the biblical story, the description of the river, the other joins him in verse 13, celebrating Deborah’s “dominion over the mighty” in a canonic duet involving several hair-raising dissonances, after which the first singer, again alone and safely back in triadic harmonies, declaims verse 31, which prays that all the Lord’s enemies will perish.

John Blow, excerpt from Awake, awake, utter a song (1704). Performers: Owen McIntosh and Marcio de Oliveira, tenors; Peter Sykes, organ; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

We end, as we must, with Handel, whose music the Queen clearly appreciated: she awarded him a generous pension of £200 a year (roughly £40,000 in modern money). Handel’s “Serenata” for the queen’s birthday in 1713 celebrates the impending Treaty of Utrecht, ending a long war on favorable terms. The text, by the Whig poet Ambrose Philips, has seven stanzas, each ending with the same couplet:

The Day that gave great Anna Birth,
Who fix’d a lasting Peace on Earth.

In his first stanza, the poet asks the sun, the “Eternal Source of Light divine,” to “add a lustre to this day,” and for this aria, Handel featured Richard Elford, Anne’s favorite singer in her Chapel Royal, and wrote a trumpet obbligato for John Shore, a versatile and inventive musician who had served the queen and her late husband for years. At thanksgiving services during Anne’s reign, Shore and Elford often performed the prominent parts for high tenor and trumpet in Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate, so Handel was honoring the traditions of the Chapel Royal by using them as soloists, by writing in the same key (D major), and by composing a canon between the voice and the trumpet that imitates Purcell’s compositional practice. Like the other composers, he was evidently confident that the queen’s musical ear would allow her to hear and appreciate the compliment he was paying to English music.

George Frideric Handel, aria from Eternal Source of Light Divine (1713). Performance: Jason McStoots, tenor; Robinson Pyle, trumpet; Dorian Bandy and Emily Dahl, violins; Anna Griffis, viola; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Denise Fan, cello.

Three hundred years ago, on 1 August 1714, Queen Anne died in the Kensington Palace in London. James Anderson Winn is William Fairfield Warren Professor of English at Boston University. His six earlier books include Unsuspected Eloquence (1981), a groundbreaking history of the relations between poetry and music; John Dryden and His World (1987), a prize-winning biography; and The Poetry of War (2008), praised by one reviewer as a book “for anyone who cares about war and truth.” His new book, Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts, includes 23 musical examples, each of which is printed in full score; a companion website allows the reader to listen to performances of each of the excerpts, many of them not heard since Queen Anne’s time.

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24. Wanna listen to the Awesome Mix Vol 1 from Guardians of the Galaxy?

awesomemix.jpeg

Perhaps no movie since the last Quentin Tarantino film has used familiar music as effectively to cue emotions as Guardians of The Galaxy. Starting with the trailers, director James Gunn picked out 70s music that has both nostalgic schlock value and hooks as big and irresistible as the universe. The result is music that grounds us in an unfamiliar world, bringing us right into Peter Quinn’s mind-set as ia dramatic link to his earth heritage.

And there’s even dancing and Footloose as the best story. I’d almost call Guardians a musical, in fact. It was probably my favorite part of the movie. And you know that scene at the end, that even bought a tear to my eye,

The official Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack includes Tyler Bates’ stirring if typical score instead of the 70s classics. However, Hollywood Records has a playlist on Spotify that has the whole Awesome Mix Vol. 1:

I dunno if this is 100% legit or not, but who cares. Fire it up and get ready to rob some space orbs.

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25. Musicians with homonymic names

By Matthew Hough


There are many cases of musicians with homonymic names, including jazz performers Bill Evans (pianist, 1929-1980) and Bill Evans (saxophonist, 1958-), and composers John Adams and John Luther Adams. In the following paragraphs, I discuss musical examples by artists comprising three such pairs.

Nancy Wilson and Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson – “Guess Who I Saw Today” (1960)

The arrangement here works for me: no real solos and clearly defined instrumental roles, including the absence of the piano during the bridge (1:56-2:29). Wilson’s performance, particularly the memorable way she sings the cascading titular line at 1:01 and 2:31, is stunning.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Heart – “Stranded” (1990)

Nancy Wilson sings a powerful lead vocal on this track from Heart’s Brigade album (produced by Richie Zito, who also produced Cheap Trick’s “The Flame” and Bad English’s “When I See You Smile”). The chorus features one of the great uses of the I-V-ii-IV pattern, evoking the chorus of Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way” (with which “Stranded” shares the key of G major following the half step “pump-up” modulation at 2:55).

Click here to view the embedded video.


 
Patti Smith and Patty Smyth

Patti Smith – “Free Money” (1975)

From her first album Horses (produced by John Cale of the original Velvet Undergound), this track features Smith’s distinctive mix of song and spoken word. I enjoy Smith’s vocalizations as well as the arrangement, which features a somewhat gradual buildup of instrumental forces. The accompaniment begins with piano; the bass and drums enter at 0:30 and rhythm guitars at 0:48. A double time feel begins at 1:01, followed by an uneasy, repeating eighth note gesture in the drums beginning at 1:33. Additional vocal tracks enter at 2:24 and a lead guitar comes in at 3:08.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Scandal – “Goodbye To You” (1982)

Featuring lead vocals by Patty Smyth, this song preceded Scandal’s bigger 1984 hit “The Warrior.” (Both became karaoke staples long ago.) The background vocals on this track are nicely placed in 1:18-1:31 and 2:48-2:56. The decision to elide Smyth’s voice with the synth lead beginning at 1:48 provides a smooth transition into the solo section, which ends with what are possibly my favorite two seconds of the song, from 2:19-2:21.

Click here to view the embedded video.


 
“Papa” Jo Jones and “Philly” Joe Jones

Jo Jones Trio – “When Your Lover Has Gone” (1958)

Also featuring Ray Bryant (piano) and Tommy Bryant (bass), this track features Jones’ uniquely colorful cymbal playing. I especially enjoy Jones’ contribution during the last chorus, beginning at 2:32.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Sonny Clark Trio – “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (1957)

With “Philly” Joe Jones (drums) and Paul Chambers (bass). Jones is in top form here with pianist Sonny Clark and frequent rhythm section mate Paul Chambers. The group’s interplay during Chambers’ solo (2:31-3:21) is particularly engaging, as Jones and Clark create a subtle interplay within the accompaniment.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Have you ever confused musicians or artists with similar names? Tell us about it in the comments below!

A version of this article originally appeared on Music! Musical Musings from Matthew Hough.

Matthew Hough is a composer, guitarist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. His music can be heard on Original Abstractions and is published by Hough House. He is also a Grove Music Online contributor. You can follow him on Twitter at @houghmatthew. He is a contributor to Grove Music Online.

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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