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Posts Tagged ‘jazz

“I went down to St. James Infirmary / Saw my baby there”*…

One of the greatest of American songs is “St. James Infirmary,” and it is also one of the most mysterious, with a cloudy and complicated history. Despite the credit on the record pictured above to Don Redman, no one knows who wrote the song, and its lyrics are endlessly variable. Here’s how Louis Armstrong sang it:

I went down to St. James Infirmary,

Saw my baby there,

Stretched out on a long white table,

So cold, so sweet, so fair.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her,

Wherever she may be,

She can look this wide world over,

But she’ll never find a sweet man like me. 

When I die, want you to dress me, straight-lace shoes,

Box-back coat and a Stetson hat.

Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain, 

So the boys’ll know that I died standin’ pat. 

He first recorded the song in 1928, and then re-recorded it in 1959. (That second link says that it’s the 1928 version, but it isn’t: it’s from Armstrong’s outstanding 1959 album Satchmo Plays King Oliver.) The funeral-march pace of the later recording fits the lyrics’ mood better, I think, that the speedier early version. And Armstrong’s vocal on that later version is one of his very finest. 

Wynton Marsalis’s staggering song “The Death of Jazz,” from his 1989 album The Majesty of the Blues, is musically so close to Armstrong’s 1959 recording of “St. James Infirmary” that it’s almost a cover. Listening to the two songs back-to-back is an education in the resources of the blues tradition – and of certain folk traditions that pre-date the blues. 

The Wikipedia page for “St. James Infirmary” traces its history quite effectively, following the various dim paths back to England and Ireland. I’d give a lot to know where this unsettling masterpiece of American music really came from – if such a question can be answered at all.

As the blues became jazz: an appreciation of an American classic, from Alan Jacobs (@ayjay)

* “St. James Infirmary”

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As we note that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, we might recall that it was on this date in 1951 that guitarist Willie Kizart, playing with Ike Turner’s band at a session in Memphis produced by the (later famous) Sam Phillips, recorded what most believe is the first recorded example of electric guitar distortion. The legend of how the sound emerged holds that Kizart’s amplifier was damaged when the band was driving from Mississippi to Memphis. On arriving and discovering the problem, Kizart stuffed the amplifier with wadded newspapers to hold the cone in place– and unintentionally created a distorted sound. Phillips liked it and used it (though when he sold the rights to Chess records, he credited “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats,” who were actually “Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm”).

The song that they recorded, “Rocket 88,” is considered by many to have been the first rock and roll record– for which it has earned berths in he Blues Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singles.

“The challenge is not so much to change the sound. The challenge is to connect and to create something special.”*…

How dare these women take such liberties with Vivaldi and other greats?! I’m shocked … SHOCKED I tell you!

In honesty, I’m quite impressed. The women of Salut Salon quartet — Angelika Bachmann (violin), Iris Siegfried (violin and vocals), Anne-Monika von Twardowski (piano) and Sonja Lena Schmid (cello) — combine virtuosity, acrobatics and a sense of fun in their performances. The result is surprising, enchanting and overall, entertaining.

According to their official bio, the Salut Salon musicians “share the same humor. They love to laugh, they laugh a lot, especially at the things that go terribly wrong, even in front of an audience.”

As this video shows, they’re not afraid to take risks — in fact, they seem absolutely fearless on stage…

Are these women the Harlem Globetrotters of piano quartets?

* Gustavo Dudamel

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As we fondly remember Victor Borge, 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.”)

“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.

Benjamin_o_davis

Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., in 1944

source

 

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…

cash

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

dead

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

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