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Posts Tagged ‘jazz

“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”*…

 

Lindy Hop

 

In Atlanta’s historic Vine City neighborhood, hidden among the trees overgrowing the lot at the corner of Sunset and Magnolia, is a barren concrete slab. On this spot, in the heart of an early-1930s African American community, Atlanta was first introduced to what would become “America’s National Dance”: the Lindy Hop.

Teenagers from all over the Westside would flock to the Sunset Casino and Amusement Park. The cavernous pavilion, which had been converted to a dance hall, featured a rotating cast of local talent along with the best swing bands in the world — Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald. The Sunset also held Saturday afternoon dances and weekly Jitterbug contests. At the Sunset, for just 25 cents, the city’s black youth could briefly escape the ravages of the Depression and Jim Crow and dance their cares away…

Swing Dance is a modern umbrella term that describes a range of partner dances associated with swing music. But the realest swing dance is the Lindy Hop. The Lindy Hop was an art form invented by black dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem during the late 1920s, and almost the entire history of African American dance was its source material. The dance is based on a core move called the “swing out,” in which two partners engage in a reciprocally counterbalanced swinging movement around each other. The dancers then layer on infinite embellishment and elaboration, including the acrobatic “air steps” for which the dance is known. Lindy hoppers may use rehearsed choreography when competing or performing. When dancing socially — as we normally do — Lindy Hoppers, like jazz musicians, improvise all their movements in real time, creating a wholly new dance at each moment on the floor.

The Lindy Hop evolved through the growing popularity of big bands in the mid-1930s, especially as dance troupes began touring and appearing in Hollywood movies. The term “jitterbug” was introduced to the lexicon by a Cab Calloway song in 1932 and became the preferred term for young Lindy Hop dancers, ultimately becoming synonymous with the dance itself. By the time that LIFE magazine belatedly proclaimed the Lindy Hop to be “America’s national folk dance” in 1943, the dance had been a part of cultural and social life in African American communities across the country for well over a decade…

In the South of 90 years ago, young African Americans started dancing the Lindy Hop.  It was an act of resistance, an assertion of freedom against the discrimination and violence of the time.  Today, swing dancers across the South — black and white together — pay proper tribute to that legacy: “Jitterbugging With Jim Crow.”

* music by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Irving Mills (1931)

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As we trip the light fantastic, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940 that Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr. became the first African American to rise to the rank of General in the U.S. Army.  His son, Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr., was the first African American General in the U.S. Air Force, a rank he attained after commanding the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

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Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., in 1944

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Written by LW

October 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Saint: A dead sinner revised and edited”*…

 

Johann Sebastian Bach

 

When eminent biologist and author Lewis Thomas was asked what message he would choose to send from Earth into outer space in the Voyager spacecraft, he answered, “I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach.”  After a pause, he added, “But that would be boasting.”

You can hardly find a more sanctioned and orthodox insider than Johann Sebastian Bach, at least as he is typically presented. He is commemorated as the sober bewigged Lutheran who labored for church authorities and nobility, offering up hundreds of cantatas, fugues, orchestral works, and other compositions for the glory of God. Yet the real-life Bach was very different from this cardboard figure. In fact, he provides a striking case study in how prickly dissidents in the history of classical music get transformed into conformist establishment figures by posterity…

Fighting, drinking, organ loft liaisons… and then there’s the music– the subversive practice of a canonical composer: “J.S. Bach the Rebel.”

* Ambrose Bierce

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As we interrogate our idols, we might send harmonic birthday greetings to John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie; he was born (in Cheraw, S.C.) on this date in 1917.  A jazz pioneer– performer, bandleader, composer, and singer– he was a trumpet virtuoso and a style-setting improviser.  His combination of musicianship, showmanship, and wit made him (with Charlie Parker) a leading popularizer of (the emerging new music) bebop.  His beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, his scat singing, his bent horn, his pouched cheeks, and his light-hearted personality became emblematic of the form.

220px-Dizzy_Gillespie01 source

 

Written by LW

October 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter”*…

 

Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire at Monterey Pop Festival, in Monterey, California, in 1967

 

Few photographers have had a life and career as historic as Jim Marshall. His pictures not only capture some of the most influential artists of the 20th century but also established a new level of intimacy in the relationship between entertainers and the photojournalists documenting them.

Some of the most iconic pictures ever made of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan, to name a few, were captured through Marshall’s camera lens. His ability to level these larger-than-life musicians as normal human beings, coupled with his uncanny knack to find himself at the right place at the right time, established him as one of the era’s most sought-after music photographers. Whether it was the legendary Miles Davis or simply the neighborhood children playing stickball in the street, Marshall was able to capture the moment with striking humanity.

Marshall died in 2010 at the age of 74, leaving his entire archive of millions of photographs and negatives to his personal assistant of many years, Amelia Davis. This year, a new documentary about his life and the accompanying book, Jim Marshall: Show Me the Picture, chronicle the photographer’s journey through some of the most influential cultural events of the 20th century…

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Johnny Cash “giving one to the warden” at San Quentin State Prison in San Quenton, California, in 1969

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The Grateful Dead’s last free concert on Haight Street, in San Francisco, before they moved to Marin County, 1968

 

An interview with Davis– and more of Marshall’s marvelous work– at “23 Of The Most Influential Pictures From Music History.”  Even more of Marshall’s work at Marshall’s official website.

Vaguely related: facing rising San Francisco rent, the world’s largest collection of punk records and Maximum Rocknroll, the anti-establishment music magazine that safeguards it, must find a new home: “Eight tons of punk.”

* Alfred Eisenstaedt

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As we bask in backstage access, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Bill Haley tied Ruby Murray’s record (set in 1955) when he scored five songs in the UK Top 30: “See You Later, Alligator” (#19), “Razzle Dazzle” (#17), “Rock Around The Clock” (#13), “The Saints Rock ‘n’ Roll” (#11), and “Rockin’ Through The Rye” (#4).

haley source

 

 

 

Written by LW

September 29, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Turn left at Greenland”*…

 

 

FSA photos

 

After a series of setbacks in the courts that repealed many of the First New Deal’s program, President Roosevelt pursued a new set of initiatives including the Resettlement Administration in 1935. It was charged with aiding the poorest third of farmers displaced by the depression and particularly focused on resettlement on viable lands and providing low-interest loans. Directed by Rexford Tugwell, a Columbia University economist, the RA came under immediate scrutiny. Realizing the battle for public opinion had begun, Tugwell hired his former student Roy Stryker to lead the Historic Section within the Information Division of the RA, which in 1937 was moved to the FSA.

In order to build support for and justify government programs, the Historical Section set out to document America, often at her most vulnerable, and the successful administration of relief service. The Farm Security Administration—Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) produced some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression and World War II and included photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Arthur Rothstein who shaped the visual culture of the era both in its moment and in American memory. Unit photographers were sent across the country. The negatives were sent to Washington, DC. The growing collection came to be known as “The File.” With the United State’s entry into WWII, the unit moved into the Office of War Information and the collection became known as the FSA-OWI File…

Now, from Yale, a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing 90,000 of those 170,000 photographs created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) from 1935 to 1945: Programmer.

* Ringo Starr, in response to the question “How do you find America?,” asked in a Beatles press conference on the first U.S. tour

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As we look and see, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that Cab Calloway recorded “Minnie the Moocher,” the first jazz record to sell one million copies and the song that cemented the popularity of “scat” singing (which had been first popularized in 1926 by Louis Armstrong’s “Heebie Jeebies.”)

 

“For fast acting relief, try slowing down”*…

 

Jem Finer’s initial calculations for his Longplayer project

From the newsletter of the Long Now Foundation

Time is evoked in music in countless ways. In the first article in this series, we explored some of the long-term themes in Brian Eno’s work and traced that influence to his involvement with the 10,000-Year Clock. Through generative music — a compositional technique that uses a small set of rules to generate many unique outcomes — Eno created expansive compositions theoretically capable of lasting over extremely long periods of time. This is precisely the logic behind the 10,000-Year Clock’s Chime Generator.

Questions arise, however, when the extreme potential duration of combinatorially-generated music is taken as a challenge. How does one actually perform a piece that is 1,000 years long? Let’s explore two attempts to answer this question…

John Cage, Jem Finer, and playing music as slowly and for as long as possible: “This is How You Perform a Piece of Music 1,000 Years Long.”

* Lily Tomlin

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As we take the long view, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941, at Decca Studios, that Charlie Parker made his first commercial recording.  A member of  the Jay McShann Group, he played on “Hootie Blues” and “Swingmatism.”  He went on, of course, to become known for his virtuosity on the sax and for his gift as a composer; he earned the nickname “Bird” as he became a father of bebop.

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Written by LW

April 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians”*…

 

Physicist and saxophonist Stephon Alexander has argued in his many public lectures and his book The Jazz of Physics that Albert Einstein and John Coltrane had quite a lot in common. Alexander in particular draws our attention to the so-called “Coltrane circle,” which resembles what any musician will recognize as the “Circle of Fifths,” but incorporates Coltrane’s own innovations. Coltrane gave the drawing to saxophonist and professor Yusef Lateef in 1967, who included it in his seminal text, Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns. Where Lateef, as he writes in his autobiography, sees Coltrane’s music as a “spiritual journey” that “embraced the concerns of a rich tradition of autophysiopsychic music,” Alexander sees “the same geometric principle that motivated Einstein’s” quantum theory…

Explore the connection at “John Coltrane Draws a Picture Illustrating the Mathematics of Music.”

* Thelonious Monk

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As we square the circle, we might recall that it was on this date in 1786, at the Burgtheater in Vienna, that Mozart’s glorious Le nozze di Figaro The Marriage of Figaro— premiered.  Based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (“The Mad Day, or The Marriage of Figaro”), which was first performed two years early, Mozart’s comedic masterpiece has become a staple of opera repertoire, appearing consistently among the top ten in the Operabase list of most frequently performed operas.

Early 19th-century engraving depicting Count Almaviva and Susanna in act 3

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“I try to conjure, to raise my own spirits, from wherever they are. I need to remember what they look like.”*…

 

In Margaret Atwood’s The ­Handmaid’s Tale, a Christian sect call the Sons of Jacob creates a male-dominated theocratic state

Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah.

And perhaps one of the starting points was here: on 29 August 1911, a 50-year-old man, a member of the Yahi group of the Native American Yana people, walked out of the forest near Oroville, California, and was captured by the local sheriff. He was known at the time and popularised in the press as “the last wild Indian”.

He called himself “Ishi” – a word in the Yahi language that means simply “man”. He was the very last of his people, and had been living in the wilderness alone, travelling to places he remembered from the time when his tribe had flourished, in the hope of finding some remnant of those he’d grown up with. When he realised they were truly all gone, when a series of forest fires meant he was close to starvation, he allowed himself to be found and taken in…

And the link with feminist science fiction? Theodora and Alfred Kroeber’s daughter was Ursula Le Guin, the science fiction author. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness was published in 1969, at the start of the revolutionary women’s movement, and was one of the earliest pieces of feminist SF. It is about a man from Earth who travels to the planet Gethen, where the people have no fixed gender. He is by turns fascinated, appalled and deeply, sickeningly lonely. Everyone’s “normality” is someone else’s wilderness…

From Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, feminist science fiction writers have imagined other ways of living that prompt us to ask, could we do things differently?  More of their history at “Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future.”

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaiden’s Tale

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As we listen and learn, we might send hauntingly-beautiful birthday greetings to Eleanora Fagan; she was born on this date in 1915.  Better known by her stage name, Billie Holiday (and her nickname, Lady Day), she was a jazz musician and singer-songwriter– a legendary performer who enjoyed both huge popular success and great acclaim from her fellow artists.

 

Written by LW

April 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

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