T-bone Walker’s legacy

 

One of the most important and enduring icons of blues history, the charismatic T-Bone Walker radically transformed the music with a combination of instrumental virtuosity and stylistic and technical innovation throughout a career of unusual longevity and legendary significance.

Walker invented both the electric blues guitar concept and the sound identified with it. Incorporating jazz changes with blues innovations of his own design, he created a new guitar sound with a horn-like richness that was emulated by guitarists everywhere, but especially in his home state. Everybody that picked up a guitar in Texas wanted to sound like T-Bone, and his onstage acrobatics, complete with signature splits, were directly responsible for similarly extroverted stage antics by later performers such as Chuck Berry, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix.

This according to “Walker, T-Bone” by Michael Point (Encyclopedia of the blues, 2006); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is T-bone Walker’s 110th birthday! Above, T-Bone Walker (1972) by Heinrich Klaffs is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Below, a performance from 1966.

BONUS: Walker’s signature hit Stormy Monday.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

The Siena piano

 

A legendary instrument whose sonorities reputedly have no equal anywhere, praised by musicians such as Liszt and Saint-Saëns, the Siena piano is surrounded by an aura of mystery due to its astonishing history.

Its soundboard was supposedly made of wooden pillars from the ancient Temple of Solomon in Israel. Stolen by German soldiers during World War II, it was discovered half buried in the sands of the African desert.

The instrument was saved from destruction in the nick of time and restored by an Isreli craftsman; subsequently it aroused enormous media attention before being largely forgotten.

This according to La légende du piano de Sienne: Récit instrumental by Florent Ploquin (Plouharnel: Menhir, 2017).

Below, Marisa Regules performs Debussy’s Estampes on the Siena piano.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Romantic era

Mozart’s carriage and the Haydn cartwright tradition

 

In 1762 Leopold Mozart purchased a horse-drawn coach in Pressburg: a well-sprung, covered travel carriage for four at the price of “nur 23 duccatten”. Leopold described it as a “guten Reisewagen”. It brought the family safely back to Vienna (a trip of 12 hours) and from there home to Salzburg, leaving Vienna on 31 December 1762. Half a year later the Mozart family used the same carriage for their grand tour of Western Europe (1763–66), which took them as far as London.

It is likely that the carriage Leopold purchased in Pressburg came from the workshop of the Haydn family, which was for several generations involved with carriage production and shared the market with just a few others. The family profession of carriage building began with Thomas Haydn, Joseph’s grandfather, who was allowed to open a workshop in 1686.

Joseph Haydn stayed interested in the work of cartwrights, blacksmiths, and other manual professions. His letters and notebooks from London in particular show his interest in the working conditions of craftsmen there, and his preference for technical and practical matters, numbers, and measurements. Even at the peak of his international success, Haydn stayed connected to the family’s cartwright tradition.

The carriage trade was still on his mind during his second stay in London, when he made several visits to a Mr. March, an 84-year-old dentist, wine merchant, and carriage maker. The aged gentleman impressed Haydn not only because of his very young mistress and a daughter of nine, but also because each coach sold by Mr. March earned him at least £500.

This according to “Did Mozart drive a ‘Haydn’? Cartwrights, carriages and the postal system in the Austrian-Hungarian border area up to the eighteenth century” by Käthe Springer-Dissmann, an essay included in Ottoman empire and European theatre. II: The time of Joseph Haydn–From Sultan Mahmud I to Mahmud II (r.1730–1839) (Wien: Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag, 2014, 257–80; RILM Abstracts 2014-88916).

Above, an Austrian carriage from around 1790; below, a carriage ride through Mozart’s Vienna.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities

Mahmud II and Italian opera

 

The Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II enjoyed Italian opera so much that his new Dolmabahçe Palace incorporated a small but sumptuous opera house; decorated by Charles Séchan of the Paris Opéra, it was said to rival that of Versailles.

Occasionally he invited the Italian opera company to perform in his seraglio, before the ladies of his court. The libretti were apparently altered to suit Turkish tastes: for example, a performance of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri ended with the marriage of Isabella and the Bey. The punishment of Taddeo, who received the bastinado on the soles of his feet, drew shouts and applause from the audience.

This according to “‘Each villa on the Bosphorus looks a screen new painted, or a pretty opera scene’: Mahmud II (r.1808–1839) setting the Ottoman stage for Italian opera and Viennese music” by Emre Aracı, an essay included in Ottoman empire and European theatre. II: The time of Joseph Haydn–From Sultan Mahmud I to Mahmud II (r.1730–1839) (Wien: Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag, 2014, 621–30; RILM Abstracts 2014-88925).

Above, a portrait of Mahmud II by Henri-Guillaume Schlesinger; below, a rousing excerpt from the Schwetzinger Festspiele.

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Filed under Curiosities, Opera

Stevie Wonder’s turning point

 

Stevie Wonder’s extraordinary burst of productivity after his 21st birthday in 1971—a time now celebrated as his “classic period”—was a direct result of his contractual maneuvers with Motown Records.

On his 21st birthday, when he was no longer a minor, Wonder gained access to 10 years’ worth of royalties that had been accruing in a trust set up for him when he’d signed his first contract, at age 11.

He also allowed his Motown contract to expire at that moment, meaning that one of pop music’s hottest stars was now both financially secure and a free agent. If Motown wanted to keep him, it would require a deal unlike any the label had previously granted.

Wonder negotiated a new contract with Motown that granted him full artistic control over his music, his own publishing company, and an unprecedented royalty rate. It was a revolutionary deal that initiated one of the greatest sustained runs of creativity in the history of popular music.

This according to “The greatest creative run in the history of popular music” by Jack Hamilton (Slate 19 December 2016; RILM Abstracts 2016-48645).

Today is Stevie Wonder’s 70th birthday! Above, in his turning point year; below, Superstition, his #1 hit from 1972.

BONUS: Tearing the roof off Sesame Street in 1973.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Uncracking the Nutcracker

 

Čajkovskij repeatedly sought to abandon work on Ŝelkunčik (The nutcracker), and complained bitterly about the project to the Director of Imperial Theaters; the reasons why he begged to be released from working on it, or why he ultimately persevered, remain unknown.

The problems probably involved the libretto, which the fastidious composer may well have found vexing. Parts of it lack any rationale, the balance of mime and dance is lopsided, and the overall arc of the story is incoherent, with several essential plot elements entirely missing.

These issues can be resolved by rendering most of the ballet as Drosselmayer’s thoughts rather than Clara’s dream. One can easily imagine the composer taking delight in this solution.

This according to “On meaning in Nutcracker” by Roland John Wiley (Dance research III/1 (fall 1984) 3–28; RILM Abstracts 1984-12142).

Today is Čajkovskij’s 180th birthday! Above, the composer in 1893, a year after Ŝelkunčik’s premiere. Below, Part I of Mark Morris’s alternative version of the work, which he called The hard nut.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Romantic era

Cinco de Mayo in Puebla

 

Cinco de Mayo (May 5, the date of the Mexican Army’s 1862 victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla) is celebrated in several countries outside of Mexico—not least in the U.S., where it is widely considered an occasion to eat Mexican food and drink margaritas. But in Mexico itself, the state of Puebla, where the battle occurred, is the principal place that celebrates the holiday.

The city of Puebla hosts the largest festival, which includes a massive parade and a re-enactment of the battle involving hundreds of locals dressed as French and Mexican soldiers. After the Mexican troops win, the celebration continues with music, dancing, and food.

This according to “How people actually celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico” by Talia Avakian (Business insider 30 April 2015).

Below, Puebla’s Cinco de Mayo parade in 2019.

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Filed under Central America

Willie Colón on salsa

 

Born in the South Bronx, New York, Willie Colón has been a leader in the salsa tradition for over 50 years. In an interview, he discussed the music and its background.

“A lot of people like to characterize salsa as a pastiche of Cuban son. There’s no denying that there is a Cuban influence and a Cuban base to it, but it’s so much more.”

“Salsa is not a rhythm, it’s a concept. It’s a way of making music. It’s an open concept and the reason that it became so popular is because it was able to evolve and accept all of these other musics. We put the bombas and plenas in it; we put calypso, samba, bossa, and cumbia in it. It’s definitely not even a Puerto Rican or a Cuban music. It’s a reconciliation of everything you can find.”

“I think it could have only happened here in New York, where you had so many different kinds of people living and playing together. We used to get a lot of the black jazz players. They wanted to come and play salsa so they can blow over the changes. Where are you going to find players like that other than in a big city like New York? This was not going to happen in Cuba or Puerto Rico; it had to be here.”

Quoted in “Willie Colón: Salsa is an open concept” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 March 2009).

Today is Colón’s 70th birthday! Above, an iconic record cover from 1971 (right-click to enlarge); below, a 2018 performance.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Muotatal yodeling redux

 

Thirty years after the making of his film series on Swiss yodeling, Hugo Zemp returned to his investigation of the particular yodel style—called jüüz—of Muotatal, a small valley in the Swiss Prealps.

Shot in the early 1980s, the earlier films presented the traditional jüüz sung at work or while socializing, in contrast to stage presentations of yodel choirs, which are federated in a national association under the direction of choral conductors.

Wondering how the situation had evolved in the second decade of the 21th century, Zemp went back and found a 37-year-old man whom he had filmed singing with his parents and sisters 30 years earlier. During his adolescence, like many teenagers, Bernhard was enthusiastic about American rock and country music (which he still performs), but when he watched the old films he felt the urge to return to the tradition that he had learned during his childhood. With five friends from his village he founded a traditional group, Natur Pur, to revive casual singing.

Zemp’s new film, Swiss yodelling: 30 years later (Kanopy Streaming, 2015) shows performances in various situations, including singing with women and teaching at a workshop. Informal conversations between the singers, where humor is not absent, treat serious topics around tradition and change.

Above and below, scenes from the film.

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Filed under Curiosities, Europe

Audioreelism, sound worlding, audible indigeneity, and Flying Wild Alaska

 

The soundtrack for the reality television show Flying wild Alaska uses audioreelism—sound-design components that express the lived realities of indigenous peoples—to portray the daily life of an Alaska Native family in the airline business. It also uses sound worlding—bringing the world into being through sound—and audible indigeneity—the stereotypical ways in which listeners determine whether or not music sounds Native.

This soundtrack is unprecedented in its use of music by indigenous musicians from Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic. Featured artists set lyrics in indigenous languages to popular musical styles such as hip hop, rap, funk, and R&B. The overall sound combines local musical styles, licensed third-party music by indigenous artists, synthesized distortion effects, and sounds such as propeller engines, aircraft alarms, and bird strikes.

This range of sounds unsettles conventional musical representations of The North. Audioreelism and Native sound worlding therefore challenge settler-colonial representations of the indigenous Arctic.

This according to “Inuit sound wording and audioreelism in Flying wild Alaska” by Jessica Bissett Perea, an essay included in Music and modernity among First Peoples of North America (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2019, pp. 174–97).

Above and below, Pamyua, one of the groups whose music is used in the series.

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Filed under Mass media, North America, Popular music