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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Music, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 1,582
1. Piper at the Gates of Dawn Considered

Back when Syd Barrett led Pink Floyd , the band recorded its first album at Abbey Road Studio at the same time as The Beatles recorded Sergeant Pepper’s there and The Pretty Things were recording S F Sorrow. They called it, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Flash forward to this century and a habit I picked up in Amsterdam and can’t seem to shake. The habit is listening to the World Service on the radio all night. It’s the CBC All Night Radio here, the BBC World Service there (I think). A lot of countries contribute reports to the World Service. I don’t really understand how it works but there’s nothing quite like laying snug in your bed, free to fall asleep or listen to Holland, Sweden, Korea or Poland talk about their news. For instance, the other night there was a report from somewhere near Alice Springs, Australia about a race they held between honey bees and homing pigeons. The bees won. Of course, it you’re tired and working and need to get up early in the morning, it’s unwise to indulge this habit. You lose too much sleep. At the moment, though, I am indulging this habit and the other night I must have dozed off and awoke to a female voice with an English accent declaring that the seventh chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows proved his hidden but genuine pantheism. Kenneth Grahame was born in Scotland and spent all of his working life in a bank in London. According to Wikipedia he died in 1932 and The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908. As I rolled around in the dark, it occurred to me that Van Morrison had included a song on The Healing Game cd called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The chorus is “The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn”. And Fred Armstrong out in Newfoundland actually talked on CBC radio about The Wind in the Willows. It was his opinion that the book was not a children’s book at all, that it was really written for adults. There was no script for the show but he said he went over the top a little when he called it, “Shakespeare with fur”. It’s probably the combination of poetry and music in Van Morrison’s song that appeals to me so much. When I actually read chapter seven which is called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in Grahame’s book, I discovered poetic language there too. In fact, Van used several phrases verbatim from the book or almost verbatim. When Grahame uses “the daybreak not so very far off”, Morrison uses “the daybreak not so very far away” and when Grahame writes “the light grew steadily stronger”, Morrison sings “grew steadily strong”. And Fred, an old friend and veteran reporter (30 years) just published his first fictional novel, Happiness of Fish (Jesperson Publishing., 2007) in St John’s. He’s a creative soul, one who never gives up on his dreams. If he was interested in the book, there must be something to it. So I asked him and here’s what he said, “Wind in the Willows is a deep little book about a rather Taoist bunch of beasties sitting around writing poems and banqueting between adventures....” “Opinion seems to be split on the Pan chapter of WIW. People love it or hate it.... I think WIW is a comfortably sentimental look at nature as deity. I think anyone who has been scared at sea or lost in the woods and come home can handle the balance between a nature that creates us and takes us away or maybe doesn’t. There’s also something appealing about a deity that performs a Men in Black mind wipe after you trip over him. Ratty and Mole don’t remember him when it’s all over. They take the little otter off to breakfast rather than sitting down and writing the Book of Revelation.” The words in Van’s writing which are taken straight out of chapter seven are:” heavenly music” and “song-dream” though one doesn’t have a dash connecting them and the other does. Graham writes “when the vision had vanished” and Morrison writes “vision vanished” a difference in tense only. Here is the description of Pan in Wikipedia: ‘Pan: in Greek religion and mythology, is the god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. His name originates from the word paein, meaning to pasture. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. He is recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of Spring. The wikipedia article goes on to say that “accounts of Pan’s geneology are so varied that it must lie buried deep in mythic time.” and that “panic” is derived from his name. The story recounted in Chapter seven of Wind in the Willows is a simple one: Mole and Ratty search for the lost Portly, son of Otter, and find him safe and saved by Pan after they are led there in their rowboat by his magical piping. Van Morrison uses words like “awe”, “wonder”, enchanted” and “spellbound” to describe the characters’ state as they follow Pan’s music to find little Portly. Grahame emphasizes Pan’s insistence that the wild creatures’ experience with him will be forgotten when it’s over. Like hypnotism, “You will awake and remember nothing” Wikipedia includes all kinds of interesting facts like, “Pan is famous for his sexual powers and is often depicted with an erect phallus.” and “Pan’s greatest conquest was that of the moon goddess, Selene.” along with references to the symbolism of Satan, Romanticism and Neopaganism and “A modern account of several purported meetings with Pan is given by R. Ogilvie Crombie in the books, The Findhorn Garden (Harper and Rowe, 1975) and The Magic of Findhorn (Harper and Rowe, 1975).” Pan is not named in the book, just described, but in the song Morrison calls him “the great god, Pan” when he echoes Grahame’s insistence that the animals were not afraid of him despite his reputation. It is the only song on The Healing Game (1997) which has no percussion in it. Just Van’s vocals as he plays acoustic guitar with a dobro (which I can’t hear probably because of the quality of my sound system), and a piano with Brian Kennedy’s vocal backings and Paddy Maloney on Uilleann pipes and whistle. The Uilleann Pipes, a type of Irish bagpipe, aren’t apparently related to the Pan Pipes but their effect in the song is an ethereal, delicate one. When you see the innocent willow leaves on the cover and the cartoon characters with which it’s illustrated, the same impression is left by the book as when you see Van Morrison’s black and white picture on the cover of the cd with a black fedora and shades, a black over coat and white shirt buttoned up to the neck. Neither give any hint of Pan’s magic. They bring to mind an old Willie Dixon song, You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.

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2. Austin City Limits through the years

Austin City Limits is the longest running musical showcase in the history of television, spanning over four decades and showcasing the talents of musicians from Willie Nelson and Ray Charles to Arcade Fire and Eminem. The show is a testament to the evolution of media and popular music and the audience’s relationship to that music, and to the city of Austin, Texas. In Austin City Limits: A History, author Tracey E. W. Laird takes us behind-the-scenes with interviews, anecdotes, and personal photographs to pay homage to this landmark festival. In doing so, she also illuminates the overarching discussion of the US public media and its influence on the broadcasting and funding of music and culture. This year, the festival celebrates its 40th anniversary with guests such as Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan, Sheryl Crow, and Alabama Shakes, which will air on PBS on Oct. 3 at 9pm ET.

Featured image: Night view of Austin skyline and Lady Bird Lake as seen from Lou Neff Point. Photo by LoneStarMike. CC BY 3.0n via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Austin City Limits through the years appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Poetry Friday: Last Hope by Paramore

And the salt in my wounds isn't burning anymore than it used to
It's not that I don't feel the pain, it's just I'm not afraid of hurting anymore
And the blood in these veins isn't pumping any less than it ever has
And that's the hope I have, the only thing I know that's keeping me alive

It's just a spark
But it's enough to keep me going
(So if I let go of control now, I can be strong)
And when it's dark out, no one's around
It keeps glowing

It's just a spark
But it's enough to keep me going
(So if I keep my eyes closed, with the blind hope)
And when it's dark out, no one's around
It keeps glowing

- lyrics from the song Last Hope by Paramore



If you don't see the video player above, click here to watch it on YouTube.

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View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

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4. Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone  by Katheryn Russell-Brown illustrated by Frank Morrison Lee & Low Books, 2014 ISBN: 9781600608988 Grades K-5 The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher. "Spread the word! Little Melba Doretta Liston was something special."  The first line of this picture book biography announces to readers that they are about to meet an amazing individual.

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5. Seven fun facts about the ukulele

The ukulele, a small four-stringed instrument of Portuguese origin, was patented in Hawaii in 1917, deriving its name from the Hawaiian word for “leaping flea.” Immigrants from the island of Madeira first brought to Hawaii a pair of Portuguese instruments in the late 1870s from which the ukuleles eventually developed. Trace back to the origins of the ukulele, follow its evolution and path to present-day popularity, and explore interesting facts about this instrument with Oxford Reference.

1. Developed from a four-string Madeiran instrument and built from Hawaiian koa wood, ukuleles were popular among the Hawaiian royalty in the late 19th century.

2. 1893’s World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago saw the first major performance of Hawaiian music with ukulele on the mainland.

3. By 1916, Hawaiian music became a national craze, and the ukulele was incorporated into popular American culture soon afterwards.

4. Singin’ In The Rain vocalist Cliff Edwards was also known as Ukulele Ike, and was one of the best known ukulele players during the height of the instrument’s popularity in the United States.

Cliff Edwards playing ukulele with phonograph, 1947. Photography from the William P. Gottlieb Collection. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Cliff Edwards playing ukulele with phonograph, 1947. Photography from the William P. Gottlieb Collection. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

5. When its sales reached millions in the 1920s, the ukulele became an icon of the decade in the United States.

6. Ernest Ka’ai wrote the earliest known ukulele method in The Ukulele, A Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It, 1906.

7. The highest paid entertainer and top box office attraction in Britain during the 1930s and 40s, George Fromby, popularized the ukulele in the United Kingdom.

Headline image credit: Ukuleles. Photo by Ian Ransley. CC BY 2.0 via design-dog Flickr.

The post Seven fun facts about the ukulele appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. Help! Beatles!!!

Hi!Classic is the New Black:

You may see Beatles as a bug but I see them as a band. At the age of 3, my father exposed me to a whole new world of classics. This is how I came to love the Beatles. I don’t know why I like the Beatles, but there was just a spark. Maybe it was their catchy lyrics or great melodies. It was something about the realness of the group.

In the 1960s, four young men from Liverpool, England formed a band, The Beatles, a.k.a. the Fab Four. The Beatles were a revolutionary band that mixed different styles of music like country, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues. Little Richard, my distant relative, was one of their influences. Most of their early songs were “feel good” music. Although, “Help!” is my favorite song, I also like “Yellow Submarine,” ” All My Loving,” ”Can’t Buy Me Love,”  and “A Hard Day’s Night,” which is the title of their first movie.

The Beatles were unique because they wrote their own songs. The Beatles made history because they were the first band to make a music video so they wouldn’t have to do as many live performances. Although the Beatles were British, they became internationally known. No wonder it was titled the British Invasion!

The original and ultimate “boy band,” the Beatles had a unique style of dressing, in similar clothing with long mop-top hairstyles. As a marketing strategy, they wore suits to win over parents’ approval. My father sure fell for that trick.

Out of all the members of the Beatles, my favorite is Paul McCartney because . . . actually, I don’t know why but I came to have a love for him. Paul is a very talented musician who wrote songs for the Beatles. Not only was he one of the main singers, but he played guitar, drums, piano, and the bass. Later, Paul collaborated with another of my favorite musicians, Michael Jackson. Now you can see why I love the Beatles so much!

Kennedy, Scholastic Kids Council Member

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7. On the Town, flashpoint for racial distress

When the first production of On the Town in 1944 featured the Japanese American ballerina Sono Osato as its star, as part of a cast that also included whites and blacks, it aimed for a realistic depiction of the diversity among US citizens during World War II. It did so at a time when African Americans were expressing affinity with Nisei – that is, with second-generation children of Japanese nationals who had immigrated to other countries. The two communities shared the struggle of discrimination by the majority culture.

In 1942, the Office of War Information conducted a survey in Harlem, trying to gain an African-American perspective on the war, and opinions about the Japanese emerged in the process. Many Harlemites communicated a feeling that “these Japanese are colored people.” That quotation comes from a letter written by William Pickens, an African-American journalist who worked for the US Department of Treasury during World War II. When asked “Would you be better off if America or the Axis won the war?” most blacks in the survey stated they “would be treated either the same or better under Japanese rule, although a large majority responded that conditions would be worse under the Germans.”

Yet relationships between these two marginalized communities were not always easy, and On the Town became a flash point for racial distress. A striking case appeared in the memoir Long Old Road (Trident Press, 1965), written by Horace R. Cayton, Jr. An African American sociologist from Chicago, Cayton attended On the Town soon after he heard about the bombing of Hiroshima, which occurred on 6 August 1945. He articulated a shared mission between Nisei and African Americans, yet he did so with considerable agitation. “Our seats were good, and the theater was cool after the heat of New York,” wrote Cayton. He responded positively to the opening number, “New York, New York,” then launched into an assessment of the racial and political complexities posed by Osato’s appearance on stage at that particular moment in time. He perceived her as racially accommodating.

Sono Osato modeling a dress by Pattullo Modes, early 1940s. Dance Clipping Files, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
Sono Osato modeling a dress by Pattullo Modes, early 1940s. Dance Clipping Files, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

“It was a catchy tune with cute lyrics, but when the beautiful Sono Osato, who is of Japanese descent, appeared and frolicked with the American sailors, I was filled with anger and disgust,” wrote Cayton. “I care more about your people than you do, I thought, as I sat through the rest of the first act looking at the floor and wondering how soon I could escape to the bar next door.”

Cayton’s “anger and disgust” came from watching Osato engage directly and uncritically with white actors playing the role of sailors. At intermission, Cayton’s wife June, who was white, said to him: “This is the first good musical I’ve seen in years. Isn’t Sono Osato wonderful?” Cayton then recounted a tense conversation between the two of them:

“If I were half-Japanese I wouldn’t be dancing with three American sailors at a time like this,” I [Cayton] commented sourly.

“Why shouldn’t she? She’s as America as you or I.” June began to warm to her subject. “She was born in this country. She’s one hundred per cent American, doesn’t even understand Japanese.”

[Cayton replied:] ‘She’s a Jap, I’m a nigger, and you’re a white girl. Let none of us forget what we are.”

Cayton’s outburst comes across as a racial polemic. But there was deep complexity to his reaction, as he expressed solidarity with other non-white races as they confronted the hegemonic power of Caucasians. Even though his language is disturbing, it is extraordinarily frank, acknowledging the era’s venomous racism against the Japanese and the degree to which African Americans felt themselves to be backed against a wall during World War II. Cayton continued:

“I’m torn a dozen ways. I didn’t want the Japanese to win; after all, I am an American. But the mighty white man was being humiliated, and by the little yellow bastards he had nothing but contempt for. It gave me a sense of satisfaction, a feeling that white wasn’t always right, not always able to enforce its will on everyone who was colored. All those fine white liberals rejoicing because we dropped a bomb killing or maiming seventy-eight thousand helpless civilians. Why couldn’t we have dropped it on the Germans—because they were white? No, save it for the yellow bastards.”

Those multi-layered thoughts were unleashed by watching Sono Osato on stage, dancing an identity that was intended to portray her as “All-American” yet could not avoid the realities of her mixed-race heritage at a harrowing historical moment.

Headline Image: Sono Osato modeling a dress by Pattullo Modes, early 1940s. Dance Clipping Files, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

The post On the Town, flashpoint for racial distress appeared first on OUPblog.

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8. My Writing and Reading Life: Andrea Pyros

Andrea Pyros’ debut novel is My Year of Epic Rock. Andrea has worked as a magazine editor, celebrity interviewer, and cookie wrangler.

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9. The Last Waltz Considered

The Last Waltz was a revolutionary documentary. It was the first concert movie shot in 35 mm, the record of a celebration of the Band’s last concert on the site of their first show as The Band. It is the visual evidence that more than thirty years ago Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel had the good sense to go out on top. There are many examples of actors, politicians, athletes and rock stars who didn’t. The movie itself, I hour, 37 minutes, was directed by Martin Scorsese. No matter what you think of Hollywood, his credentials as a director are undisputed. His list of credits, accomplishments and awards means that Scorsese is a serious director, not one to waste energy. At the time, 1976, a time when the underground half of the 60's generation was realizing that the other half was following in the footsteps of their parents, embracing the values that their governments, their elders and betters, praised and promoted, Scorsese was in the middle of directing NEW YORK, NEW YORK, a huge, expensive Hollywood project. Unbeknownst to the New York, New York producer who would have had a heart attack if he’d known, Marty (as he is referred to by almost everyone in the movie) took a weekend off, filmed the concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, put together the rest of it in a week and filmed three more songs on a Hollywood sound stage a few months later. It was edited and released in 1978. The sets, lighting, photography, sound and all the myriad details that go into movie creation were taken care of by hook or by crook, often improvised by world renowned experts in their fields. The project took on a life of its own. It was not made for profit and grew into an important cultural event. Before Scorsese made The Last Waltz, there was WOODSTOCK (where he worked as an assistant director and editor and learned what not to do), GIMME SHELTER, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and an Elvis film, but no other single concert had been as carefully choreographed, as meticulously set and photographed as this. There were seven cameras shooting at times, each run by a professional and, in many cases, a world famous cinematographer. Bill Graham’s lawyers forced Scorsese’s assistant to negotiate each camera movement because he controlled the stage and insisted that nothing impair the sight lines of the live audience. It is best to mention here that the DVD of The Last Waltz is available cheap at your local DVD purveyor. This one only cost ten Canadian dollars to buy, a great bargain for musicians, writers and anyone else interested in rock ‘n roll and the making of movies. The “Special Features” additions on the DVD contain a lot of comical and serious comments by the movie makers, Mac Rebenak, Ronnie Hawkins, Mavis Staples and the band members which can be listened to as the movie plays. As each band member, song and guest performer appears, someone talks about them. The story of The Band’s creation and growth through sixteen years of living on the road unfolds through a series of interviews with band members interspersed among the songs, mostly answers to questions posed by Scorsese himself, questions provided by a professional screenwriter. Many of the answers are funny, some ironic, some poignant, but one feeling permeates the whole movie, a sort of good natured humour, an amused observation of the world at large and a sincere appreciation of the music. The Band were aware that the odds of survival for such a long time in such a high risk lifestyle, were against them. Robbie Robertson says, at the end of the movie, “The road has taken some of the great ones” and “You can push your luck”. Three of the Band’s songs were filmed on an MGM sound stage where Scorsese could control everything and was free to use a crane and a camera as in normal movies. The Weight, in which Pop and Mavis Staples sing verses and all four harmonize on the choruses with members of the band, Evangeline, which is filmed in stunning colour with Emmy Lou Harris doing an achingly sweet call and response with Levon, and The Last Waltz theme song which is a waltz written by Robertson who is playing a double necked acoustic guitar as he performs it with the Band, were all filmed on sets designed by Boris Leven, a friend of Scorcese and the production designer on The Sound of Music and New York, New York. It was Leven who was responsible for renting the San Francisco Opera’s set for La Traviata and setting it up in the beat up, spruced up, old Winterland Ballroom for the concert. His original idea was to fill the place with chandeliers but they couldn’t afford more than three. It’s fitting that while the rest of their generation was trying to deal with the post Vietnam world, the plan for The Last Waltz was hatching and growing between Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese in a couple of months of creativity and hard work. At first, there was no budget, just an idea. It was cobbled together by the seat of its pants, almost an afterthought. The Last Waltz began, in a way, underground, and became the standard by which all concert movies are measured. When the concert was over, Scorsese and Robertson agreed that through all the craziness and frenetic activity, through the power of the music and the personalities, maybe, just maybe, they might have produced a gem. The movie begins with Rick Danko telling Martin Scorsese that the game is “Cutthroat” and breaking the balls on a pool table. Then, in a way which makes sense only when you’ve watched the whole thing and listened to the commentary, The Band returns to the stage for an unplanned encore after the concert’s over. They play Don’t Do It and Robbie Robertson’s lead guitar places the viewer in a car travelling through a beat up neighbourhood of San Francisco to the Winterland Ballroom where crowds are lined up and the huge vertical sign above the entrance has half of its lights burnt out. A young couple waltzes gracefully across the screen against the backdrop of The Last Waltz logo as the names of the guest performers appear: Dr John, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Emmy Lou Harris, Muddy Waters, The Staples, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Paul Butterfield, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood. In the first interview Marty asks Robbie if they’re really “just friends” who showed up. Robbie tells him that no, the musical guests aren’t just friends, they’re probably the biggest influences in music to a whole generation. Michael McClure, the poet, appears on stage in a spotlight where he recites a short piece of Canterbury Tales in olde English, smiles and walks off. Lawrence Ferlinghetti appears at the end of the show, just before Dylan, with a quick, cool poem. They are the connection to the Beats, their presence welcomed. Kerouac’s spirit. As Robbie says, it isn’t about the audience so they don’t appear except for a few reverse shots which Scorsese loved. The concert itself is a mixture of Band originals beginning with Cripple Creek, interwoven with guests who play only one song each. Dr John displays that New Orleans piano style, slow drawl and dazzling smile on What a Night. Joni Mitchell’s strumming and phrasing make the room feel like everything’s in motion as she stands golden haired and innocent singing the naughty lyrics of Coyote. The floor shakes to the beat of everyone stomping to Muddy’s Mannish Boy. In the Special Features section there is a hilarious commentary on Van Morrison’s sequined outfit as he steals the show with his tour de force performance of Caravan and almost cracks a smile. He had lived in Woodstock when The Band lived there and was an old friend. Scorsese manages to get Joni’s profile in shadow when she sings an ethereal harmony to Neil Young’s Helpless. Garth Hudson’s head is suddenly illuminated as he stands to play a sax, trading solos with Robbie’s guitar in It Makes No Difference. Clapton trades licks with Robertson on Further On Up The Road after his guitar strap comes undone and Robbie picks up the solo without missing a beat. Neil Diamond, a companion from their Tin Pan Alley days, sings a song looking like he’s ready for Vegas. Paul Butterfield pulls off an amazing physical feat when he plays along with Muddy. Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy and Van the Man all exit the stage the same way, deliberately, with a flourish. In the commentaries Ronnie Hawkins tells the story of each band member as he was brought into The Hawks, Ronnie’s backup band which later became Dylan’s backup band, then The Band. He says he hired Robbie Robertson, the kid, to be a roadie as a favour to the boy’s mother. Robbie was hanging out with some guys who might end up in the penitentiary. Richard Manuel, quiet and gentle, always reminding me of The Furry Freak Brother comics in the interviews, roars the lyrics to The Shape I’m In with a strong singing voice made for the blues and slow dancing, rough and smooth at the same time. Levon Helm’s performance vocally and on the drums is hypnotizing . The physical energy required to play and sing that long and that hard is clear in the movie. Rick Danko’s voice is “mournful and strange with off the wall harmonies” as Mac Rebenak put it. It is sweet and harsh with power and feeling. Dylan (another funny commentary in the Special Features section) sings Forever Young and leads his former band into Baby, Let Me Follow You Down. The finale, with everyone onstage, is Dylan’s, I Shall Be Released. Robbie Robertson’s guitar playing is unique. He can play like a lot of people but no one ever plays like him, no one’s got his style , it’s really unique. Ringo and Ronnie Wood appear playing in an out take of a jam until, after 6 hours of filming, the cameras and people take a break. There may be better bands at some things but only these musicians could have pulled this off. A concert which requires a backup band for a variety of performers can be accomplished technically, but the life which The Band injected into the songs, the huge variety of styles they had to adapt to, could only have been done by them. They were a perfect backup band as well as the stars of the show. The sex is in the music. Understated and hinted at, never openly mentioned, the sex is in the music. In the interviews Scorsese asks about women on the road. The answers are, for the most part, as vague and euphemistic as the references to “fun” and other bad habits. Garth Hudson states with certainty that the greatest priests on 52nd street in New York were the musicians. Songwriters were the low men and women on the totem pole but the street musicians were the greatest healers. Thirty years after the movie was made, Martin Scorsese has done another concert film with The Rolling Stones called Shine a Light. Waiting to borrow my copy of The Last Waltz are a twenty year old drummer and a seventeen year old bass player. It means that Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson and everyone involved in the movie did produce a gem. And it means that all is not lost.

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10. The Little Melba Playlist: A Jazz Music Primer from Frank Morrison

Summer is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the fun stops! With cooler weather comes fun indoor activities, like catching a great jazz show. We asked Frank Morrison, illustrator of our new picture book biography, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, to share some of his favorite jazz numbers with us. Many of the artists below played or arranged with Melba Doretta Liston; others inspired Frank while he created his illustrations. So sit back with your cup of apple cider and let the rhythm carry you away!

  • John Coltrane: “Out of This World,” plus Coltrane’s albums The Inch Worm, Big Nick, and Giant Steps
  • Thelonious Monk: “Well, You Needn’t,” “Ruby, My Dear,” “Off Minor,” and “Bemsha Swing”
  • Dizzy Gillespie: “52nd Street Theme” and “A Night in Tunisia”
  • Miles Davis: “Freddie Freeloader,” “Round Midnight,” “Airegin,” and “Blue in Green,” plus Davis’s album Kind of Blue 

little melba and her big trombone

  • Chet Baker: “My Funny Valentine”
  • Art Blakey: “Dat Dere,” “Moanin’,” “Blues March,” “The Chess Players,” and “Señor Blues” (performed with Horace Silver)
  • Abbey Lincoln: “Afro Blue”
  • Clifford Brown: “Daahoud,” “The Blues Walk,” “Jordu,” and “Parisian Thoroughfare”

little melba and her big trombone

  • Duke Ellington: “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Take the ‘A’ Train”
  • Stan Getz: “Corcovado” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
  • Louis Armstrong: “Summer Song,” “West End Blues,” and “I Got Rhythm”

Still can’t get enough jazz music? Here’s Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.”

Have your own favorite jazz tunes? Leave ‘em in the comments!


Filed under: Art and Book Design, Lee & Low Likes, Musings & Ponderings Tagged: dizzy gillespie, Duke Ellington, Frank Morrison, jazz music, jazz videos, louis armstrong, melba liston, miles davis, Music, musical instruments, trombones

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11. KAWAKAWA

Here are some pictures from the album launch of Kawakawa's new album, "Island Species".
It's beautiful, and we had a great evening.
There were some very strange birds present...







All photos: Peter John Morgan

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12. On the Town and the long march for civil rights in performance

As we celebrate the golden anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a significant aspect of the struggle for racial equality often gets ignored: racial activism in performance. Actors, singers, and dancers mobilized over the decades, pushing back against racial restrictions that shifted over time, and On the Town of 1944 marked an auspicious but little-recognized moment in that history.

On the Town opened on Broadway in December of 1944 towards the end of World War II, and marked the debut of a dazzling group of creative artists: the composer Leonard Bernstein, the lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the choreographer Jerome Robbins. All were the children of Jewish immigrants. Balancing left-leaning personal politics with the pressure of launching their first show, this team of twenty-somethings made a number of hiring decisions that boldly challenged racial performance practices of the day. Exploring those progressive choices opens a perspective on the racial climate for performers of the day.

One daring step was to feature the Japanese-American dancer Sono Osato in the starring role of Ivy Smith, a character shaped as an “All-American Girl,” while the United States was at war with Japan, internment camps established on the West Coast and Southwest, and government propaganda aggressively targeting the Japanese. Like thousands of Japanese nationals, the US government detained Osato’s father, Shoji, immediately after Pearl Harbor, and he remained on parole in Chicago for most of the war. As a result, he could not attend his daughter’s opening night on Broadway. Declassified FBI files tell the story of Shoji’s imprisonment and persecution, revealing no justification for the treatment he received.

As a result, On the Town—a show about three American sailors on a one-day leave in New York City—flirted with what was then called miscegenation. The pursuit of Ivy by one of those sailors — Gabey (played by Cris Alexander, an actor of Caucasian heritage) — was the central premise of the show. A promotional photo, now housed in clipping files at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, shows Osato standing seductively over Alexander, giving a sense of how brazenly their relationship was portrayed.

Photograph from the Souvenir Program for On the Town.
Photograph from the Souvenir Program for On the Town.

Equally audacious were staging decisions related to African Americans in the cast. On opening night, there were 6 blacks out of a cast of 56. By today’s standards, that number appears as tokenism. Yet these black performers directly challenged racial stereotypes of the day. On the Town eschewed blackface, steering clear of bandanas, maids, and butlers. It did not segregate the black performers on stage, as was often the case, but rather it modeled an integrated citizenry. Black dancers in sailor costumes stood comfortably alongside their white comrades, and there was mixed-race dancing, some of which required training in ballet. These staging decisions modeled a vision of urban interracial fellowship. They imagined an alternative to the segregated US military of World War II, and they offered an early case of what has become known as color-blind casting. The Times Square Ballet, which closed Act I (pictured here), was one of the principal showcases for these progressive racial statements.

In yet another gesture towards civil rights, Everett Lee took over the podium of On the Town, becoming one of the first African Americans to conduct an all-white orchestra in a mainstream Broadway production. Lee had been concertmaster of the show since opening night, and he became conductor nine months into the run.

The racial desegregation of performance on New York’s stages gained traction as the Civil Rights Movement grew more effective in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet the advances were never completely game-changing, as has been the case in the culture at large. To its credit, however, the first production of On the Town yielded a site of opportunity, and many of its performers of color went on to distinguished careers in the theater and concert hall.

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13. Mackenzie Bourg Interview

Mackenzie_BourgSinger Mackenzie BourgImpossible Things

?” Click on the title to take a listen!

We were able to ask the rising star some questions about what he does, and more. Check it out!

Q: What did you like best about your experience on The Voice?

Mackenzie: What I liked best about being on The Voice was getting to perform on the unique stages and set-ups. From the crowd pits to the huge platforms, it was awesome seeing the different stages each round. What surprised me the most was how much CeeLo [Green, a judge on the show] showed love for me. Going into the show, I would have never thought that over a year later, I’d still be keeping in touch with my coach!

Q: What is the best part of being a performer?

Mackenzie: The best part about being a performer is getting to put your entire heart and soul into something for people that genuinely love. The feeling I get when the audience is into what I’m doing up there is really special.

Mackenzie Bourg

Mackenzie Bourg

Q: Who was your first celebrity crush?

Mackenzie: My first celebrity crush was on two people, actually: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. As a kid, we had all of their VHS tapes, and something about solving any crime by dinner time really tugged at my heart strings even at such a young age.

Q: Funniest or most embarrassing that’s happened to you recently?

Mackenzie: Last week I was headed to the studio and had to stop at a music shop quickly to get a new set of guitar strings. As I got out of the car, I pressed “lock” on my door and closed it, not realizing I had left the keys on the seat. Needless to say I was a little late!

5. What’s the strangest fan encounter you’ve ever had?

Mackenzie: I haven’t had any really strange fan encounters, but I did tweet something randomly about Skittles and someone had about 100 bags sent to me! It was the first time anything like that had happened to me, so I guess it was strange and really cool all at the same time!

Q: What are you most excited for in the future?

Mackenzie: The thing I’m looking forward to most about the future is the future. Seeing where this journey takes me, if the hard work pays off, and if my music makes a connection with people as I hope it does. Everything truly happens for a reason, and when it does finally happen, I’ll be ready to take it in stride.

Awesome! Can’t wait to see what Mackenzie does next. He has an EP coming out soon, and I’m really excited to hear it when it’s released! What about you? Do you want to hear his new music, too? Share your thoughts in the Comments below!

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

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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. "The Ghost is Me"

 
 Listening to this made me draw that.

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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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