Gatemouth vs. the purists


Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (1924–2005) spent his career fighting purism by synthesizing old blues, country, jazz, Cajun, and R & B styles.

Asked in an interview about his early blues-based recordings, he gave a practical answer: “I had to sound like that because I was just starting out. Seeing as how I was a newcomer, I obliged.”

“But after a while, I thought, ‘Why do I have to be one of these old cryin’ and moanin’ guitar players always talking bad about women?’ So I just stopped. That’s when I started having horns and piano in my band, and started playing arrangements more like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, rather than some old hardcore Mississippi Delta stuff.”

This according to “Guitarist Clarence Gatemouth Brown dies at 81” by Ben Ratliff (The New York times 12 September 2005).

Today is Brown’s 90th birthday! Above demonstrating his multi-instrumental skills. Below, at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 2004.

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Bessie Smith analyzed

Bessie Smith 1923

An examination of Bessie Smith’s first two released recordings—Down hearted blues and Gulf Coast blues—demonstrates that her interpretative originality and expressive individuality were evident from the start of her recording career in 1923.

Full transcriptions of her vocal line on each of these recordings combined with detailed descriptions and analysis of the pitch content, the main rhythmic and melodic characteristics, and the melodic-harmonic and text-music relationships reveal the micro-components of Smith’s early vocal tendencies, demonstrating how, although Smith’s phrases display some similarities with each other, they constantly vary in imaginative ways, matching her with the great jazz improvisers.

This according to “Bessie Smith: Down hearted blues and Gulf coast blues revisited by Alona Sagee (Popular music XXVI/1 [January 2007] pp. 117–127).

Today is Bessie Smith’s 120th birthday! Above, the singer in 1923, the year of the recordings; below, the recordings themselves.

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Jack Casady’s signature bass


In a 2006 interview, Jack Casady recalled the development of the Epiphone Jack Casady Signature Bass: “When I first started playing, I ran across a short scale semi-hollow bass. Despite lacking some low end, I really enjoyed the semi-hollow nature of that bass and over the years tried to capture that characteristic.”

“In 1985 I was living in New York and happened to stop in a music store one day and saw a goldtop, full scale semi-hollow Les Paul bass. I loved the bass but found the pickup to be deficient…I did a little investigating and found out that only about 400 of the instruments were made in 1972 and because it was kind of an odd duck, it didn’t catch on.”

“I approached Gibson and asked if they would be interested in reproducing the bass with my input. Epiphone’s Jim Rosenberg was very interested, and allowed me to kind of re-make the instrument. I told Jim that I’d like to develop a Jack Casady pickup for it and he hooked me up with the R&D Department at Gibson.”

“I went to work on the pickup and it took almost two years to develop. I think they were getting pretty antsy by this time but I wanted it right. I did a lot of homework and bench testing and finally when it clicked in right, it was great. They blow the old Gibsons to smithereens, even in the construction. As you know, the early 70s weren’t good for cars or guitars (laughs) and the workmanship that’s coming in on these instruments is just super.”

Excerpted from “Jack Casady: The interview” by Don Mitchel (Epiphone 29 March 2006).

Today is Casady’s 70th birthday! Below, soloing on his signature bass with Hot Tuna in 2011; another Casady solo starts around 7:00.

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Libreria Musicale Italiana launched the series Miroirs in early 2014 with Prassi esecutive nella musica pianistica dell´epoca classica: Principi teorici ed applicazioni pratiche, a translation of Sandra P. Rosenblum’s Performance practices in Classic piano music: Their principles and applications (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

The book discusses the principles of performing the piano music of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and their contemporaries as revealed in such sources as their autographs and letters, early editions of their music, original instruments, and contemporary tutors and treatises. Rosenblum’s findings are then applied to dynamics, accentuation, pedaling, articulation and touch, technique and fingering, ornaments and embellishments, choice of tempo, and tempo flexibility.

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International journal of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies


International journal of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies (ISSN 2348-0343) is an open-access, international, monthly, bilingual (English and Bengali ), peer reviewed, indexed, online journal.

IJIMS publishes original research articles, review articles, short communications, and case studies. A team of reputed academics from different disciplines tackles the review work and publication process.

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Spohr and German opera



In 1823 Louis Spohr’s article “Aufruf an deutsche Komponisten” appeared in Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. He wrote it to encourage young German composers to contribute to the genre of German opera, but he may have had other intentions as well.

Spohr was determined to promote his latest opera, Jessonda, which he mentioned as a model for his ideas of German opera—but a closer look at that work reveals that Spohr did not think along nationalist lines. In a way its dramaturgy depicts Kant’s definition of Enlightenment and aims at a united and enlightened mankind; so did the composer in his personal life.

Indeed, Spohr’s liberal and enlightened ideas are so prominent in his operas that they became increasingly neglected in the 1870s, when chauvinistic tendencies became more widespread. This development culminated in the 1940s, when the Nazis banned Jessonda from the German stage. As Spohr’s original resisted attempts to align it with the Nazi idea of German opera, the Reichsstelle für Musikbearbeitungen commissioned an amended version; the end of World War II curtailed this effort.

This according to “Zwischen nationalem Anspruch und lokalpolitischen Zwangen: Entstehungs- und Rezeptionsbedingungen der Kasseler Opern Louis Spohrs” by Wolfram Boder (Studia musicologica LII/1–4 [March 2011] pp. 311–321).

Today is Spohr’s 230th birthday! Above, the composer’s self-portrait; below, some excerpts from Jessonda.

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Snowball gets down


Snowball, a male sulphur-crested cockatoo, was brought to the rescue shelter Bird Lovers Only in 2007; his caregiver had gone off to college, and the family was having trouble managing him.

The family gave a CD to Irena Schulz, the shelter’s director, and told her to play it and watch Snowball. She was amazed to see the cockatoo dance to the music, accurately keeping time with his head, shoulders, legs, and claws!

A video that Schulz made of Snowball ended up on YouTube, where it went viral; he went on to appear in several television shows and ads.

The video was brought to the attention of Annirudh D. Patel and John R. Iversen, two researchers interested in connections between animal behavior and music; they were astonished, and Schulz allowed them to conduct experiments to verify that Snowball was actually listening to the music and responding with physical rhythmic mimicry. Their vindicating study, “Experimental evidence for synchronization to a musical beat in a nonhuman animal” (Current biology XIX/10 [26 May 2009] pp. 827–830) carries a byline for Schulz along with Patel, Iversen, and Micah R. Bregman.

Below, a brief video about Schulz and Snowball, followed by more videos of Snowball in action.

Related article: A sea lion in Boogie Wonderland

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Bhāgavata purāṇa as performance


A week-long festival centered on stories about the deity Kṛṣṇa is held in the hamlet of Naluna, Garhwal district, Northern India; this practice (known as a saptāh) is primarily a product of an elite Hindu community of the North Indian Plain.

Two loci of power are salient: the village deity representing local authority, and the text-as-artifact of the Bhāgavata purāa, the metonymy of the authority of the recently imported cultural practice.

The local community comprises modern subjects and empowered agents, accounting for the nature of the interaction between the village deity and the sacred text, and the new cultural synthesis that emerges.

This according to “Village deity and sacred text: Power relations and cultural synthesis as an oral performance of the Bhāgavatapurāa in a Garhwal community” by McComas Taylor (Asian ethnology LXX [2011] pp. 197–221).

Above and below, the saptāh in Naluna.

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Tracy Chapman restarts


Following a wrenchingly poor childhood and a hard-won scholarship, Tracy Chapman was hit by stardom right after graduating from college, when her 1988 self-titled debut album sold 10 million copies.

She had only recently overcome her fear of playing for coffeehouse-sized audiences, and suddenly the machinery of celebrity was bolted around her. Despite her success, she recalled in 2000 that “they weren’t particularly happy times.”

Periods of seclusion followed, but in 1995 she restarted her career on her own terms. “You have to pay attention to the moment and make it the best it can be for you,” she said. “Make it count. I’ve been trying to do that. It’s really made a major difference for me—I’m a happier person.”

This according to “Telling her stories” by Christopher John Farley (Time CLV/8 [28 February 2000] p. 92).

Today is Chapman’s 50th birthday! Above, the singer-songwriter in Bruges in 2009; below, performing one of the songs from her debut album at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in 1988, effectively jump-starting the first leg of her career.

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Sarah Vaughan crosses over


Aided by her extraordinary voice, technical proficiency, and mastery at adopting multiple performing personas, Sarah Vaughan obscured conventional divisions between jazz and pop, masculinity and femininity, and blackness and whiteness. By transcending these binary oppositions, she crafted a vocal identity that was commercially viable, artistically satisfying, and which undermined racial stereotypes. In so doing, she reconfigured how American audiences understood the black female voice.

In American jazz criticism of the 1940s and 1950s, discourses on vocal timbre became a means to maintain boundaries between style, race, and gender, and anxiety was expressed by critics when a voice did not match the expectations created by the body that produced it or vice versa. Given that Vaughan’s voice was constructed as neither distinctly black nor white, and neither distinctly jazz or pop, this provides some explanation for her dramatic transformation, including plastic surgery, to create a physical appearance appropriate for her voice.

The roles of recording technology, the suburban home, and the contrasting domain of the nightclub all must be considered in terms of the politics of crossover in  Vaughan’s career.

This according to To bebop or to be pop: Sarah Vaughan and the politics of crossover by Elaine M. Hayes, a dissertation accepted by the University of Pennsylvania in 2004.

Today is Vaughan’s 90th birthday! Above, the singer in 1946; below, in 1958.

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