The smell of jazz

Sonny Stitt

People can systematically match information from different senses; these matches are known as crossmodal correspondences.

A 2013 study demonstrated that at least some color-music correspondences can be explained by emotional mediation.

A later study investigated the emotion mediation hypothesis for correspondences between odor and music, testing whether the strength of odor-music matches for particular odors and musical selections can be predicted by the similarity of the emotional associations with the odors and music. These researchers found that perceived matches were higher when the emotional responses were similar and that a model including emotional dimensions captured a significant amount of the variance of match scores, providing new evidence that crossmodal correspondences are mediated by emotions.

This according to “The smell of jazz: Crossmodal correspondences between music, odor, and emotion” by Carmel A. Levitan, Sara A. Charney, Karen B. Schloss, and Stephen E. Palmer, a paper included in Proceedings of the 37th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (Austin: The Cognitive Science Society, 2015, pp. 1326–1331).

Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention, and for noting that “fishy was comprehensively unpopular, except with the category heavy metal, where it was first on the list.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Curiosities, Science

Beethoven and King Max

Hornöck_Maximilian_I_von_Bayern_um_1810

Beethoven was known for his unwillingness to show subservience to the aristocracy, but sometimes others might do it for him, as when his friend and occasional librettist Aloys Weißenbach tried— without the composer’s knowledge and without success—to wangle him an Order of Merit from King Maximilian I of Bavaria. When Breitkopf & Härtel issued his 1811 Chorphantasie, op. 80, with an inscription to King Max, Beethoven wrote in protest:

“To what in Heaven’s name do I owe the dedication to the King of Bavaria? Explain it to me immediately. If you meant it as an honorable gift to me, then I want to thank you; for the rest, such a thing does not suit me at all. Did you dedicate the work yourself, personally, perhaps? How does this fit together? One cannot with impunity start dedicating things to kings.”

This according to “Ludwig van Beethoven: Verhinderter Träger eines bayerischen Verdienstordens” by Robert Münster (Musik in Bayern 73 [2007–2008] pp. 207–14).

Many thanks to David Bloom for bringing this to our attention and translating Beethoven’s letter! Above, Maximilian I; below, the Chorphantasie.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classic era

Richard Strauss’s 2% solution

 

r. strauss2

The German physician Hans Leicher undertook an operation on Richard Strauss’s nose in 1928, when the composer was working on his opera Arabella.

Leicher subsequently recalled that Strauss drafted two numbers for the work in the hospital immediately following the operation, after two cotton balls impregnated with a 2% cocaine solution had put him into such a state of stimulation that instead of resting he was inspired, and worked intensively.

The numbers were the duets Aber der Richtige, wenn’s einen gibt für mich and Und du wirst mein Gebieter sein, often described as the finest moments in the score.

This according to “Richard Strauss und die Hals-Nasen-Ohren-Heilkunde: Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der zwei schönsten Duette der Oper Arabella” by Herbert Pichler (Richard Strauss-Blätter I [June 1979] pp. 46–53).

Above, the 1918 portrait by Max Liebermann; below, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Anny Felbermayer sing Aber der Richtige.

Leave a comment

Filed under Curiosities, Opera, Romantic era

Reverend Gary Davis and Miss Gibson

rev. gary davis

One day Manny Greenhill, Reverend Gary Davis’s sometime manager, received a desperate call from Wurlitzer, one of Boston’s most staid and respected music stores.

A quavering voice explained that an elderly man, a minister of some sort, had seized the most expensive guitar in the store and refused to part with it.

The man had tried out several models, had chosen the top-of-the-line Gibson, and had been there for some time, talking to it, and playing and singing spirituals in a loud voice. No one dared to take it away from him. “He says he has no money, but he gave your name, Mr. Greenhill, as his manager. He is upsetting the other customers. What shall we do?”

Greenhill bought Davis the guitar, and the debt became a longstanding joke: Davis was always going to pay him back for Miss Gibson “on the next check.”

This according to “Remembering Reverend Gary Davis” by Eric von Schmidt and John Kruth (Sing out! LI/4 [winter 2008] pp. 66–75).

Today is Davis’s 120th birthday! Above and below, Davis and Miss Gibson in action.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Ma Rainey’s “Prove it on me”

ma rainey prove it on me

 

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey’s Prove it on me blues affirms her independence from orthodox norms by boldly celebrating her lesbianism.

Rainey’s sexual involvement with women was no secret with both colleagues and audiences. The advertisement for the song (above, click to enlarge) shows her dressed as a man, obviously flirting with two women, while a policeman keeps an eye on her.

The song’s lyrics include:

They said I do it, ain’t nobody caught me/Sure got to prove it on me

Went out last night with a crowd of my friends/They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men

It’s true I wear a collar and tie/Make the wind blow all the while

‘Cause they say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me/They sure got to prove it on me

This according to Blues legacies and black feminism: “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis (New York: Pantheon, 1998 p. 39)

Today is Rainey’s 130th birthday! Below, the 1928 recording.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Elliott Carter studies online

carter studies

Elliott Carter studies online, an open-access journal devoted to the music, life, and times of the American composer Elliott Carter, posted its inaugural issue in 2016.

The journal welcomes submissions on a wide range of topics—there are no restrictions on disciplinary perspective or format—and possibilities include history, theory, performance practice, personal essays, aesthetics, biography, criticism, analysis, and media.

Elliott CarterPerformers, composers, musicologists, historians, theorists, and “friends of Elliott” are encouraged to submit full-length articles for anonymous peer review, as well as short essays and notes, commentary, analytical vignettes, oral history, reviews, and media. Submissions may be specifically about Elliott Carter and his music or may focus on broader topics of relevance to Carter Studies, such as music and politics, music and philosophy, music and poetry, or theoretical work that bears on Carter’s music.

Below, Carter’s Variations for orchestra, the subject of one of the articles in the first issue.

Leave a comment

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New periodicals

Yehudi Menuhin, conductor

menuhin

By the late 1960s the legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin was conducting regularly, and by the 1980s he had led most of the world’s great orchestras and had recorded with many of them. In the early 1990s he retired from playing the violin in public and concentrated on conducting.

While Menuhin mostly focused on standard repertory, he could surprise listeners with his adventurousness. For example, as part of his 80th-birthday celebration at the 1996 Lincoln Center Festival he conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in a program of 14 new works composed in his honor. The composers were a strikingly diverse group that included Lukas Foss, Karel Husa, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Somei Satoh, David Del Tredici, Giya Kancheli, and John Tavener.

This according to “Sir Yehudi Menuhin, violinist, conductor, and supporter of charities, is dead at 82” by Allan Kozinn (The New York times CXLVIII/51,460 [13 March 1999] pp. A:1, 12).

Today would have been Menuhin’s 100th birthday! Below, conducting part of Elgar’s cello concerto.

Leave a comment

Filed under Performers

Early sources for African instruments

Le triumphe de la noblissement des Gentilhommes

Among the various musical instruments depicted in early documents (bells and double bells, drums, scrapers, horns, flutes, xylophones, and bow-lute), the double bell is of particular interest because of its relatively good pictorial documentation.

In 1687 a double bell from the Congo-Angola area called longa was first mentioned in print. Even today the Ovimbundu people call the double bell alunga (sing. elunga), and give it an important role in the enthronement of the king.

Early pictorial sources and later reports indicate four types of double bell—those with stem grip, bow grip, frame grip, and lateral bar grip—and of these the stem grip double bell, found in the Congo-Angola areas as well as Rhodesia, represents the older type of double bell and probably has its origin in Benin-Yoruba. It appears that the Portuguese, who got to know the double bell as an important court instrument in the Guinea area, brought this instrument, together with other court appurtenances, to Luanda, their new base of operations after the breakdown of the Congo kingdom.

This according to “Early historical illustrations of West and Central African music” by Walter Hirschberg (African music IV/3 [1969] pp. 6–18).

Above, Le triumphe de la noblissement des Gentilhommes, published by Pieter de Marees in 1605. Below, Nigerian double bells and other instruments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Iconography, Instruments

Whitney Balliett’s jazz metaphors

Whitney Balliett

In more than 40 years at The New Yorker, Whitney Balliett encouraged readers to hear jazz through his vividly metaphorical writing.

Writing during the years of jazz’s greatest development and ferment, Balliett used comparatively little technical vocabulary, favoring a sensual rendering. Of the trumpeter Roy Eldridge, he wrote: “His tone at slow tempos still supplicates and enfolds and at fast speeds hums and threatens.” The trumpeter Doc Cheatham’s solos were “a succession of lines, steps, curves, parabolas, angles, and elevations.”

Balliett also used metaphor to great effect in describing appearances. Of Teddy Wilson: “His figure, once thin as a stamp, has thickened, and his hawklike profile has become a series of arcs and spheres.” And of the drummer Big Sid Catlett, who inspired some of his finest writing, he wrote: “Everything was in proportion: the massive shoulders, the long arms and giant, tapering fingers, the cannonball fists, the barn-door chest and the tidy waist, his big feet, and the columnar neck.”

This according to “Whitney Balliett, New Yorker jazz critic, dies at 80” by Ben Ratliff (The New York times 3 February 2007).

Today would have been Balliett’s 90th birthday! Below, Big Sid in action (wait for him trading fours near the end).

Leave a comment

Filed under Jazz and blues, Reception

Al Green’s “Take me to the river”

Al Green 1974

Written and recorded by Al Green (guitarist Teenie Hodges gets a co-writing credit), Take me to the river straddles the line between sacred and secular—between sultry soul music and ecstatic gospel release. The sound is R&B with lashings of subtlety; it doesn’t sound like a band playing, it sounds like a lot of instruments humming.

Despite never being released as a single, Take me to the river was covered in turn by several other R&B musicians. Still, it took a band of CBGB-dwelling art school grads to fully realize the song’s potential.

Produced by Brian Eno, the Talking Heads version turns the original production inside out. In the original version, the strings, horns, organ, guitars, and Green’s wild-honey voice blend into a single swinging, winning thing, whereas the Heads/Eno version emphasizes open space and distinct sounds.

This according to “Take me to the river” by Tim De Lisle, an essay included in Lives of the great songs (London: Penguin, 1995 pp. 21–25).

Today is Green’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in 1974, the year Take me to the river was released; below, the original recording.

BONUS: Talking Heads in Stop making sense (1984).

Leave a comment

Filed under Performers, Popular music