When Michael Taft of the American Folklife Center received a call asking if the Center would be interested in an old Lead Belly disc, it seemed impossible that there could be one that wasn’t already in their collection; but when Taft asked what was printed on the label and heard “Presto” he was intrigued. Presto was not a record company—it was a brand of recording blank that the Library of Congress had used for field recordings in the 1930s and 1940s.
The disc included a song never heard elsewhere, and it provided the key for identifying the recording session. Titled Todd blues, the song was an improvisation that referred to “Mister Todd” and “Mister Sonkin”—Charles Todd (left) and Robert Sonkin (below left), who collaborated on several field recording trips for the Library of Congress in the 1930s and 1940s.
This blues took the form of a humorous lament on the departure of one of the partners: “Mister Todd went away, Lord, just after Christmas Day/He’s going to California…Mister Sonkin sitting here with his head hung down.” These lines clearly place the recording on 20 January 1942, when the pair recorded Lead Belly in New York City, shortly before Todd left for a new job in California.
This according to “A new old recording by Huddie Ledbetter” by Michael Taft (Folklife Center news XXIX/3 [summer 2007] pp. 13–15).
Today is Lead Belly’s 130th birthday! Below, Pete Seeger recalls meeting and performing with the great singer-songwriter.
In a 2012 interview, Mick Taylor was asked whether there was a particular recording from his days with The Rolling Stones that he was the most proud of or felt best represents him.
“My favorite one in terms of my own guitar playing,” Taylor responded, “is Time waits for no one. I love that solo. I think it’s probably the best thing I did with the Stones. It’s not one of their hits; it was an album track. But it’s quite lyrical and it’s a bit different from a lot of other Stones songs. I’d done something that I’d never done. Because of the structure of the song, it pushed my guitar playing in a slightly different direction.”
“I kind of played in a different mode. I was playing over a Cmaj7 to an Fmaj7, which aren’t chords the Stones used that much. You know, they had their rock and roll songs and they had their ballads as well, and they were very different.”
Quoted in “Interview: Former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor discusses gear, Bluesbreakers, Iridium and the Stones” by Damian Fanelli (Guitar world 3 May 2012).
Today is Taylor’s 70th birthday! Above, around the time of the recording; below, the solo in question.
François Couperin’s first attempts to reconcile French and Italian musical tastes came shortly after 1700, at the height of a prolonged conflict between the two musical nationalities. Despite Couperin’s authority, this contention was not to abate until the close of the 18th century, when both Italians and French were confronted with the rise of German music.
Already in the last decades of the 17th century, an Italianizing tendency had appeared under the tyranny of Lully and his followers in both Paris and the provinces. When Couperin intervened as a mediator in the resulting polemic he was not the first to do so—others less eminent had preceded him.
While his celebrated trio sonatas (1691–92) were strongly influenced by Corelli, the greater part of his output was purely French in character. But toward the end of his career, Couperin’s Les gouts rénuis (1724) and Le Parnasse ou l’apothéose de Corelli (1725), provided eloquent testimony to his desire to appropriate without partiality the best features of the different styles.
This according to “François Couperin et la conciliation des goûts français et italien” by Marc Pincherle (Chigiana XXV/5  pp. 69–80).
Today is Couperin’s 350th birthday! Below, Gli Incogniti plays l’Apothéose de Corelli.
The Jesuit priest Louis-Bertrand Castel had his hour of fame in the 18th century thanks to his ocular harpsichord.
Starting from the idea of a physical analogy between sound and color, Castel conceived of a harpsichord that would diffuse a music of colors organized into a scale on the basis of their natural correspondence with sounds. In this way he sought to reveal the rational principles that determine the order of nature, grounding art in reason. Art would thus bear witness to a divine intelligence compatible with reason, and the music of colors would be a form of revelation.
In addition, this development would rescue people from boredom, the languor that takes away their feeling of existing, by ensuring continuous movement and surprise, renewing the pleasure of variety, and satisfying the natural inconstancy that goads them relentlessly to seek other objects of pleasure. From this to the preaching of a libertine art was a matter of a single step, which Castel took without realizing it. For him, amusement had achieved a respected place in the world.
This according to Le Père Castel et le clavecin oculaire by Corinna Gepner (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2014).
Today is Castel’s 330th birthday! Above, a caricature of Père Castel and his instrument by Charles Germain de Saint Aubin; below, a brief discussion.
The life of the jazz trumpeter Rowland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan resembles nothing less than an ancient Greek tragedy: a heroic figure who rises from obscurity to dizzying heights, touches greatness, becomes ensnared by circumstances, and comes to a disastrous early end.
Berigan was a charismatic performer. His artistry made a deep and lasting impression on everyone who heard him play, while the body of recorded work he left continues to evoke a wide range of emotions. He played a key role in a golden age of American popular music and jazz.
This according to Mr. Trumpet: The trials, tribulations, and triumph of Bunny Berigan by Michael P. Zirpolo (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011).
Today is Berigan’s 110th birthday! Below, his classic 1937 recording of I can’t get started, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1975.
Ryūkyūan kumi wudui (組踊, Japanese kumi odori) uses a variety of codified vocal techniques to identify the gender and social class of each character. Degrees of musicality, variation in timbre, and pitch inflection are all understood as emblematic of particular character types.
These vocal techniques are constructed within Ryūkyūan society with reference to the Ryūkyūan language, class system, and gender relationships. Many parallels can be drawn between the ways vocal identities are constructed in kumi wudui vocal culture and in other world theater traditions.
This according to “Listening to the voice in kumiudui: Representations of social class and gender through speech, song, and prosody” by Matt Gillan (Asian music XLIX/1 [winter–spring 2018] pp. 4–33).
Below, some examples of kumi wudui vocal types.
When World War II broke out, British ballet was only a few decades old, and few had imagined that it would establish roots in a nation long thought to be unresponsive to the genre.
Nevertheless, the War proved to be a boon for ballet dancers, choreographers, and audiences, for Britain’s dancers were forced to look inward to their own identity and sources of creativity. Instead of withering during the enforced isolation of war, ballet in Britain flourished, exhibiting a surprising heterogeneity and vibrant populism that moved ballet outside its typical elitist surroundings to be seen by uninitiated, often enthusiastic audiences.
Ballet proved to help boost morale, to render solace to the soul-weary, and to afford entertainment and diversion to those who simply craved a few hours of distraction. Government authorities came to see that ballet could serve as a tool of propaganda; it functioned within the larger public discourse of sacrifice, and it answered a public mood of pragmatism and idealism.
This according to Albion’s dance: British ballet during the Second World War by Karen Eliot (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
Above, Robert Helpmann’s Miracle in the Gorbals (1944), one of the works discussed in the book; below, a documentary about reconstructing the dance in 2014.
Filed under Dance, Politics
Rap songs from Tanzania’s urban youth are especially popular due to two factors: (1) unlike the majority of countries in Africa, Tanzania has a well-established national language, Swahili, which is spoken from one end of the country to the other, and has enabled the emergence of a well-subscribed sentiment of national belonging; and (2) as of 2013, 64% of Tanzania’s population was 25 years old or younger.
Like much youth music, a constant theme for Tanzanian rap is romance and relationships, but social and political critique has also proven emblematic of the genre. With penetrating lyrics, Swahili rappers target those who engage in predatory capitalism and political corruption—elites who hoard resources to accrue ever more wealth, spending it in an ever more conspicuous style, while the majority find their lives made ever more difficult.
This according to “Neosocialist moralities versus neoliberal religiousities: Constructing musical publics in 21st century Tanzania” by Kelly M. Askew, an essay included in Mambo moto moto: Music in Tanzania today (Berlin: VWB: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 2016, pp. 61–74).
Above and below, Soggy Doggy’s Nyerere uses clips of Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, who believed that socialism was the antidote to colonial-era capitalism.
The second-generation Japanese American Jimmy Araki (1925–91) learned to play the saxophone in a World War II internment camp in Gila, Arizona.
After the War, Araki was drafted and sent to Japan to serve as an interpreter for the Tōkyō war crimes trials. During his stay there he found time to play music, and he became the pioneering figure in the introduction of bebop to Japan. He later enjoyed a career as a scholar of Japanese literature at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
This according to スウィング・ジャパン ― 日系米軍兵ジミー・アラキと占領の記憶 (Swing Japan: Japanese-American GI Jimmy Araki and memories of the occupation) by Akio Satoko (Tōkyō: Shinchō-sha, 2012).
Below, Araki and his group play Broken rhythm (ブロークン・リズム), one of his compositions.