Sunday, October 28, 2007
W.C. Handy -- "where the Southern cross the Dog"
Number 9 in a series of thirteen 60-second films produced, directed, written and edited by Robert Mugge for Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The host and music director is Steve Cheseborough. Tells the story.
The story of W.C. Handy first hearing the blues in Tutwiler, Miss., in 1903.
Here's what it may have sounded like. a sound file of Charlie Patton's "Green River Blues" with the lyric "where the Southern cross the Dog"
Here's the lyrics. You'll need to see them, because Patton's old Paramount recording is poor quality and his singing is hard to understand. Listen to how intricate his guitar playing is, though.
-- Wikipedia Creative Commons file -- blogger called gavagai -- "just a blues lover" who plays guitar, mostly in open G, and blues harp (harmonica), asks is this song the oldest blues? He makes a good case for it.
W.C. Handy is known as the "father of the blues" -- a Memphis band leader, very important, very good -- but not a bluesman. He took the blues and developed it into a commercial art form, more jazz than blues IMHO, but a very fine musician. A short but insightful biography of W.C. Handy on the 100th anniversary of his night at the railroad station in Tutwiler, Miss., in 2003. Puts it into perspective. Handy was a musician's musician. One of the great jazz artists.
Beale Street was the main drag in the black section of Memphis in Handy's day -- and a prime tourist attraction today -- and Hand's "Beale Street Blues" was one of his early jazz compositions that incorporated blues melodies and structure. Here is an excerpt played by the De Paris Band in France in 1960.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
On a PBS website that gives background about the entire "The Blues" series, Scorsese says:
For my own film, which was the first in the series, the idea was to take the viewer on a pilgrimage to Mississippi and then on to Africa with a wonderful young blues musician named Corey Harris. Corey isn't just a great player, he also knows the history of the blues very well. We filmed him in Mississippi talking to some of the old, legendary figures who were still around and visiting some of the places where the music was made. This section culminates in a meeting with the great Otha Turner, sitting on his porch in Senatobia with his family nearby and playing his cane flute. We were also fortunate to film Otha's magnificent November 2001 concert at St. Ann's in Brooklyn, which I believe was his last performance captured on film. It seemed natural to trace the music back from Mississippi to West Africa, where Corey met and played with extraordinary artists like Salif Keita, Habib Koité, and Ali Farka Toure. It's fascinating to hear the links between the African and American music, to see the influences going both ways, back and forth across time and space.If the photocopying machine is working (cross your fingers), I'll hand out a list of players in "Feel Like Going Home." But here's a link just in case.
The links between Africa and the blues were always very important to Alan Lomax, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to include him in my film. I relate strongly to Lomax's instinct, his need to find and record genuine sounds and music before the originators died away. It's hard to overestimate the importance of what he accomplished — without him, so much would have been lost.
Otha Turner's music was a link to Africa, and Lomax spent a great deal of time exploring that connection. That elemental music, made with nothing but a fife and drum, has always fascinated me. When I first heard it, I was editing Raging Bull by night. I was enthralled — it sounded like something out of eighteenth-century America, but with an African rhythm. I never even imagined that such a music could exist. I found an audio tape of Otha's music, and I listened to it obsessively over many years. ...
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Dube was strongly influenced by Jamaican reggae legend Peter Tosh. He blended the sounds of roots reggae and pop but maintained the strong interest in social justice that Tosh and Bob Marley brought to the genre. "During his lifetime South African reggae star Lucky Dube was a man on a mission to make the world a better place," reported BBC News, a news agency not given to hyperbole. "And his determination paid off," added a BBC writer, "for in the thousands upon thousands of tributes that were paid to Dube after his shooting on Thursday, it is his message that people remember."
[Monday: The Guardian has a first-class obituary up today on its website.]
Lucky Dube was drawn to reggae, in fact, because he admired the way Peter Tosh and others used the music to fight against oppressors, "down-pressors" in the Jamaican patois they used. (Ironically, he died the day before Tosh's birthday. Tosh also was shot to death in a robbery, in 1987.) He also admired the classic reggae sound. "His phrasing and everything was like Peter's, bringing new slant and African melodies to it," Jamaican musician Brian Jobson told The Observer in Kingstown.
In a way, Lucky Dube was a crossover musician. His roots were in mbaqanga, described in The Times of London's obituary as "a style of South African dance music with its roots in a fusion of jazz and rural Zulu styles." And when he turned to reggae, he added a strong element of good commercial pop music. Dobson, the bass player in Jamaica, said:
"... he was a cool guy, really unassuming and modest, and he introduced a whole new audience to reggae music. A lot of people who didn't get it in its purest form, bringing in the African influence which he had, which was really subtle, but still it provided a good bridge between hardcore reggae and African music."In class Monday we'll watch the BBC's initial report on Dube's murder and a couple of videos.
The first is of a live performance of "War and Crime," one of Lucky Dube's songs of social commentary. In it he asks: "... so / Why don' t we / Bury down apartheid / Fight down war and crime." If you want to follow the lyrics, they're online.
We'll also screen a Gallo Record Co. promotional video for "Feel Irie." It's a video about making a video about feeling happy or righteous. That's what "irie" means in Rasta or Jamaican patois. How cool can that be? But Lucky Dube was dead serious, as the lyrics make clear:
No matter how hard we try,And music, says Lucky Dube, can show us the way.
Trouble will find us one way or another.
People had troubles since the pope
Was an altar boy ...
Listen to those guitars skankingFinally, a clip that I think is especially appropriate now. It shows Lucky Dube singing "Peace, Perfect Peace" Only Jah or "Jah Rasta Fari" as the Rastafarians call God, can give us peace as we "cry for love in this neighbourhood / Let me tell you no water can put out this fire." Over the weekend we lost a musician who dedicated his art to trying to put out the fire that, in the end, consumed him.
Yeah... Put a smile on your face
Don't let the troubles get you down
Shoop shoop doo doo
Put a smile on your face
Don't let the troubles get you down.
An irie footnote for fellow geeks. According to one biography of Lucky Dube, he first learned about reggae as a student assistant working in his school library in the Transvaal district of South Africa, where he read articles on Rastfarian religion and music in an encyclopedia. "His interest grew the more he read and found out, and soon he was working and earning enough money to buy Peter Tosh albums (which were the only Reggae albums available in South Africa at the time)." Good news, and a role model, I think, for geeks and bookworms everywhere!
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I first heard it when I blundered onto a MIDI file of "Ljoset over landet dagna" on a website called "Martin's Magazine" maintained by Martin Eidhammer that has interesting information on Norwegian culture and music. Also a directory listing a dozen MIDI files of Norwegian hymns and folksongs including "Ja, vi elsker" and "Per Spilleman." It's enchanting. The melody dates from the 1100s, and it sounds like it. It's modal, chantlike ... but very melodious and intricate like Norwegian folk tunes.
It's mentioned -- very briefly -- in an English-language survey "1000 Years of Norwegian Church Music" by Harald Herresthal on the Norwegian Information Centre website. A more detailed account is in a history of Norwegian liturgical music by Carl Petter Opsahl, who wrote it for a practical theology seminar at the University of Oslo:
Rundt de forskjellige pilegrimsstedene i Europa oppstod det forskjellige liturgiske tradisjoner. Også i Norge hadde vi vi valfartssteder, og det mest kjente var selvfølgelig Nidarosdomen, der relikviene etter Hellig Olav ble bevart. Hellig Olav ble feiret med en oktav, det vil si en uke med liturgisk fest, der 29. juli var høydepunktet i feiringen. Olavsfeiringen ga inspirasjon til ny salmediktning. Olavssekvensen Lux illuxit laetebunda står i NoS 741, "Ljoset over landet dagna".NoS is the Norsk Salmebok (1985).
Two recordings of the hymn are available on the internet, both from the Kirkelig Kulturverksted label. Both cost 165 Kroner (about $25.52 when I looked on Oct. 19).
One is by Schola Sanctae Sunnivae, a women's choir that sings in a traditional monastic style. The catalog listing says:
SCHOLA SANCTAE SUNNIVAE: REX OLAVUS (2000)The other is by Kalenda Maya, a folk group that specializes in medieval music. The catalog says:
Catalog no.: FXCD227 Duration: 0:53:49
St. Olav’s Day (29th July) was an important celebration in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages. On this day the St. Olav Mass was sung everywhere, from the great cathedral of Nidaros to the smallest village church. This was without doubt the most widely known music before Grieg, and the sequence Lux illuxit has in modern times represented the flag ship of Norwegian medieval music. And this is a truly magnificent piece of music. Finally we may now listen to it in its original context. Most of this material has never been released on CD before.
KALENDA MAYA: PILEGRIMSREISER (1997)
Katalognr.: FXCD184 Spilletid: 1:02:02
Also a link to my theory on "how a blog is like the old-fashioned oak filing cabinet in my home office ... [i.e.] kind of an electronic filing cabinet where I can tuck away information that would get lost otherwise." I posted it to Hogfiddle last year, and keep posting stuff that would pile up on my desk if I didn't post it electronically.
a. the movement of the piece, i.e., concentrate on its rhythm, meter, and tempo,
b. the pitch, i.e., in terms of its order and melody, and
c. the structure of the piece, i.e., its logic, design, and texture.
Seiler’s entire tip sheet is available at http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~rseiler/music.htm -- his examples are from classical music, but his suggestions work for blues, gospel, jazz, rock or hip hop, too. They’re excellent.
Writing about music is a lot like writing about a poem or a play in English classes. In other ways, it's different. Here's what Dartmouth University has to say about one type of music paper:
In a review, you should focus on the form of the music. What sounds make up the music? How does the composer or performer fuse together these different sound elements? How do the different movements work together to create the music's overall effect? ...
Dartmouth's tip sheet is available on line at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/materials/student/humanities/music.shtml. I recommend it highly.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Same offer as before: Go, write it up (a couple, three pages) and get extra credit. Questions to consider: How is Civil War band music "roots music?" What appeal does it have to today's audiences>
Sunday, October 14, 2007
The big thing about jazz is it's improvised, like folk music is. It started in a "bounded community," the black community of New Orleans in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It went worldwide, but it always kept that focus on improvisation -- it's not played note-for-note from sheet music, so players can vary they way they play a song and build on each other's interpretations during a performance.
One of the first roots of jazz was band music of the Civil War. Hundreds of regimental bands were organized, and most of them had bands. The YouTube clip shows vintage photos with the Federal City Brass Band playing in the background. Louisiana raised at least 30 regiments for the Confederate Army, and 11 regiments of African American troops for the union. That meant a lot of surplus musical instruments after the war, and some of them found their way to street bands in New Orleans. That tradition continues. Marches were very popular everywhere. Here's a very early movie (1889) for the Thomas A. Edison Music Video Co. showing a regimental band. And a Victorla record playing a John Philip Sousa march called "Under the Double Eagle." See the picture of the dog listening to an old-fashioned record player on the label? Jazz has always been, and continues to be even now, band music.
Religion, not surprisingly, was another deep root of jazz. Street bands grew up in New Orleans' black community in the late 1800s, and they developed a tradition that combined church processions with street dancing, Mardi Gras and what in time came to be called "dixieland" jazz. The band would play a solemn, dignified tune in the first line on the way to the cemetery. Often it was the old spiritual, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." Afterward, on the second line or way back to a celebration very similar to a wake, the band would play upbeat numbers like "When the Saints Go Marching In." The tradition survives in New Orleans, not only in the tourist sections but in the neighborhoods. Clips from the funeral for blues artist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown Feb. 25, 2005, shows a band on the way to the funeral. Later shots in the video are of flood damage in New Orleans at the time. Another YouTube clip shows a Second Line from New Orleans' St. Augustine Church in June 2007.
Louis Armstrong was one performer whose career spanned the popularity of jazz. He started out in street bands, and evolved into a polished "big band" performer during the 1930s and 1940s. His career lasted into the period of "modern jazz," which was more classical in tone, but he was uniquely himself. Here he plays "When the Saints Go Marching In" with what looks like a 1950s television studio band. And here he sings his trademark song "Wonderful World" on BBC-TV in 1968. Backing him are Tyree Glenn ontrombone, Joe Muranyi clarinet, Marty Napoleon piano, Buddy Catlett bass and Danny Barcelona drums. The BBC show was one of Armstrong's last public appearances.
Jazz evolved into what some consider a form of art music with the advent of players like Charles "Bird" Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Here the John Coltrane Quartet plays an arrangment of "Alabama" in 1963. McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones rounded out the quartet. Their playing is improvised, but very subtle, intricate and formal like art music. It came to be known as "modern jazz," and it still has a strong market niche mostly of highly educated people.
Last year rock artist Bruce Springsteen made a "roots" album in honor of folksinger Pete Seeger. (My definition of roots music is pretty simple -- just about any music that tries to capture the spirit of its roots in the folk music of a bounded community.) And Springsteen played a roots-y version of "The Saints" on the Seeger Sessions tour afterward in the U.S. and Europe. A fan who saw the concert Nov. 11, 2006, in Sheffield, England, said, "Introducing When The saints Go Marching In [Springsteen] said that this song explained what the show was all about. The slowed down arrangement worked perfectly with band members Marc Anthony Thompson and Lisa Lowell each taking a verse." Is it folk? Is it art music? Is it roots? I'd say it's all three.
Monday, October 08, 2007
A blues "harp" or harmonica player explains what a "blue note" is, how a blues scale differs from the standard do-re-mi, "Doe, a deer, a female deer" scale that Julie Andrews sang about in the old musical.
Listen for blue notes in two clips from Porgy and Bess. They'll sound a little flat to you. You may not hear them at first, but if you keep listening for them you can train your ear to recognize them.
Los Angeles Opera's production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (3:05)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yKgAEkCKxY&NR=1"Summertime" - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (4:59) stills over audio track
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Springfield College in Illinois
Instructor: Pete Ellertsen
Beata Hall 211
Below are three essay questions – one worth fifty (50) points out of a hundred, and two shorter essays worth 25 points each. Please write at least two to four pages (500-1,000 words) on the 50-point essay and one to two pages (250-500 words) on each of the 25-point short essays. That adds up to three essays. Use plenty of detail from your reading in the textbook, the internet and handouts I have given you, as well as class discussion, to back up the points you make. Your grade will depend both on your analysis of the broad trends I ask about, and on the specific detail you cite in support of your analysis. I am more interested in the specific factual arguments you make to support your points than in whether you like or dislike a particular piece of music. So be specific. Remember: An unsupported generalization is sudden death in college-level writing.
1A. Essay (50 points). African American forms of musical expression have reapeatedly crossed over to wider audiences and incorporated features of popular or art (classical) music in the process. Considering the definitions of folk, popular and/or art music in our textbook, compare and contrast the way in minstrel show songwriter Stephen Foster and opera/Broadway musical composer George Gershwin adapted African American forms of musical expression in writing for a wider audience. Consider these questions: How respectful were they of African American culture? How much African American influence is there in their adaptations? How well does the music of each transcend the limitations of time, place and culture? Would you call it folk, popular or art music?
2A. Self-reflective essay (25 points). What have you learned about American roots music in this class so far that you didn’t know before? Consider what you knew at the beginning of the course and what you know now. What point or points stand out most clearly to you? What points are still confusing? In answering this question, please feel free to look at the “Tip Sheet on Writing a Reflective Essay” linked to my faculty webpage. In grading the essay, I will evaluate the relevance of your discussion to the main goals and objectives of the course; the detail you cite to support or illustrate your points; and the connections you make.
2B. Short essay (25 points). Gospel songs like “Amazing Grace” and black spirituals like those sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers have been sung by rural congregations and opera singers alike. Do religious songs lose anything when they go from “fairly close-knit homogeneous communities possessing a strong sense of group solidarity” (one definition Daniel Kingman, author of our textbook, gives for folk music) to being sung by popular singers and by classically trained musicians? Do the songs gain anything when they cross over to popular or art music? Or is it a trade-off?. Does the music transcend the specific cultural and religious norms of the people who sing it? If so, how? Be specific.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
(But first a tangent. Once I had the opportunity to see a concert at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, famous for its performances of Russian composers like Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, and what did they play? A Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin!)
We'll go first to the official George and Ira Gershwin website. Enter the site, click through to the page with links to selected (rotating) clips of favorite songs displayed in the middle. In the menu at top, click on "History" to read about the Gershwin brothers, their musicials and their art. They were Jewish, of a Russian-American family, but when George wrote an opera about blacks in Charleston, S.C., he visited there to make sure he got the details right. The result was Porgy and Bess, and we'll see portions of it in class today.
On the Gershwin brothers website, click on "Anthology," "Selected Shows" and "Porgy and Bess." Read both screens. We'll watch portions of the Trevor Nunn production. Porgy and Bess is discussed in our textbook (pp. 218-20 in the 3rd edition). Originally written as a four-hour-long "folk opera," it has been cut down and adapted as a musical by Trevor Nunn. His production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was previewed in The New York Times, and its promotional website has sound clips of some of its most famous songs, including one that's discussed in our textbook, "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'." Listen for the "blue" notes -- they'll sound slightly flat to you -- in all the songs. They're distinctively part of African American music, and Gershwin has them nailed!
We'll also watch a segment of the full opera version of Porgy and Bess directed by Nunn and conducted by Sir Simon Rattle of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1986. It showcases both Gershwin's operatic style and its rootedness in vernacular African American music, especially a song "Oh Doctor Jesus" that echoes black gospel singing traditions.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you listen to the audio and watch the video clips (or as you write your midterm next week). In what ways does the singing sound like "Sheep Don't You Know the Road" and the singing of African American congregations we heard earlier this semester? In what ways is it different? How does Porgy and Bess compare to the artistic treatment of African American themes in the 19th-century minstrel shows and the spirituals arranged by classically oriented musicians like the Fisk Jubilee Singers?
Monday, October 01, 2007
Questions to ask yourself as you read about the minstrel shows: (1) Does the music of the ministrel shows, especially Foster's, transcend boundaries of race and culture? (2) Do Stephen Foster's songs, like "My Old Kentucky Home" or "Oh Susannah" hold up 150 years later in the 21st century, or are they sentimental and dated? (3) How should we approach American works of art, like the minstrel show songs or Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," that reflect racist attitudes?
Some other good links. A very good history of ministrel shows and vaudeville by John Kenrick on the "Musicals101.com" website takes them up into the 20th century. (Did you know the first popular "talking picture show," or movie with sound on film, featured a white blackface singer named Al Jolson?) Be sure to click through to Kenrick's discussion of how black vaudville performers changed the art form.
Vaudeville did much to to teach audiences of different ethnic and social backgrounds to get along. Defying the racist norm that dominated American society, vaudeville had black and white performers sharing the same stage as early as the 1890s. But managers had to deal with the legal and social realities of their time. Most southern states did not allow blacks and whites to sit in the same theatre, and even most Northern cities barred blacks from the best seats as late as the 1920s.This discussion on "Musicals101.com" is much better than what we have in our textbook. You may want to bookmark it so you can consult it when you write your midterm.
The TOBA Circuit ("Theatre Owners Booking Agency," which performers re-named "Tough On Black Asses") were the only venues below the Mason-Dixon Line that welcomed "colored" customers in the early part of the 20th Century, offering all-black bills for all-black audiences. For midnight performances on Saturdays, some TOBA houses allowed whites to sneak into the balcony.
Dance. Song and dance was an important part of the legacy of the minstrel shows. As early as the 1840s, William Henry Lane, a black dancer who went by the stage name of Master Juba, was an international success. He combined Irish and African American steps, and is credited as the person who invented tap dance. A London theater and dance troupe is now touring the United States with a tribute to Master Juba. Years later, at the turn of the 20th century, a dance known as the Cakewalk became a nationwide craze. It is said to have originated with slaves mocking the "high-falutin' airs" of their masters (without the masters realizing it). Two very early motion pictures, both from 1903, show a professional dance troupe doing the cakewalk on stage and people cakewalking in the surf along a beach. Note the bathing suits!
"Old Dan Tucker": A minstrel song. I've linked to several files on the Internet that suggest how widespread the song got to be, especially after it went back into oral tradition as a fiddle tune.
- Original lyrics, as they were published in 1843, played by Japher's "Original" SANDY RIVER MINSTRELS, show the typical nonsense lyrics of the ministrel shows without some of the more egregious racial stereotyping.
- Old-time string band musicians jam on "Old Dan Tucker" at the 2006 Early Banjo Gathering in the barn of the Pry House Field Hospital Museum at Antietam Civil War battlefield. They're in period clothes (except for the guy with the white ballcap), playing fiddle, banjo and bones -- or spoons, which jug bands often use instead of castanets.
- "Old Dan Tucker" was a favorite during the Civil War. Played at a slightly slower tempo, it made a good march. Here historical reenactors of the Excelsior Brigade Fife and Drum Corps play it during a Mardi Gras parade in 2007 in Brockport, N.Y. In the spirit of equal time, here's the Towpath Volunteers fife and drum corps of Macedon, N.Y., in Revolutionary War uniforms playing it.
- Grandpa Jones, a "hillbilly" performer whose act was directly descended from the ministrel shows -- by way of rural "medicine shows" that featured string bands and went from town to town selling patent medicine -- played "Old Dan Tucker" on the Porter Wagoner Show in the early 1960s.
- Spanish television broadcasts Bruce Springsteen and a band he assembled for an album of roots music called "The Seeger Sessions" playing "Old Dan Tucker" (and, later, part of "John Henry") when they played in Madrid in 2006. Also Springsteen talks (in English) about the "raw democracy" he finds in American roots music. Notice his band combines the instrumentation of an oldtime string band (fiddle, banjo, guitar) with the brass instruments of a Dixieland jazz band.