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The Rebirth Brass Band

In a city where music traditions are held sacred, the Rebirth Brass Band, anchored by leader Philip “Tuba Phil” Frazier alongside his brother, Keith “Bass Drum Shorty” Frazier, occupies a unique place in New Orleans culture.

Over the course of three decades, the group’s R&B and funk motifs have redefined the standard for brass band music without losing sight of the music’s heritage. Rebirth’s profound influence on brass band musicians endures during second line parades and jazz funerals, and in classrooms and rehearsal spaces citywide.

This according to “Rebirth Brass Band: Keep it goin’ like a heartbeat” by Jennifer Odell (DownBeat LXXXI/9 [September 2014] pp. 44–47).

Above and below, Rebirth in action.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Kate Bush arrives

 

Kate Bush appeared at a moment in the history of British rock in which a great deal of space for a singer like her had just opened up.

One of the victories won by female singers in the mid-1970s punk era was the opportunity to experiment with a wider range of vocal sounds. Bush, who gained popularity in post-punk England with a repertoire of unearthly shrieks and guttural whispers, took advantage of this space to convey a disturbing breadth of emotion. Yet her music was also a reaction against the one-dimensional angst and discord of punk, using melody and often frail vocals to create a surreal world of affect.

To Bush, the visual presentation of music cannot be divorced from the music itself, so it is not surprising that she was the first female pop star to combine her music with her classical and modern dance training. Her idea that the combination of music and movement allows the artist to express a more complex range of emotion has proved highly influential, having been translated—though in simplified form—into the work of current music video superstars.

This according to “Kate Bush: Enigmatic chanteuse as pop pioneer” by Holly Kruse (Soundscapes III [November 2000]).

Today is Kate Bush’s 60th birthday! Above, Bush with friends in 1985; below, Running up that hill, the most successful of her 1980s releases.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

A Folkways Anniversary

 

Folkways Records, now Smithsonian Folkways, turns 70 this month! The son of Moses Asch, the company’s founder, tells the story:

“When my father founded Folkways Records in 1948, it was his third record company. The first was Asch Records founded in the 1930s, on which he released the first recordings of Lead Belly.”

“The second was Disc Records, founded during World War II….While initially a success, Disc went bankrupt in 1947 when, as my father told me, he lost the anticipated Christmas sales due to a snowstorm in mid-December that delayed the release of a Nat King Cole Christmas album until after December 25th.”

“Moe started Folkways with a loan of $10,000 from his father and the goodwill of his assistant, Marian Distler, who agreed to be the ‘front’ person so that he could get going while still under bankruptcy.”

“In calling the company Folkways, a term that connotes recognition of and respect for the diversity of traditions that exist in the world, my father located himself as standing against those who sought to limit what was available in the market place to cultural expressions that conformed to the tastes and values of white, middle-class America as defined by Red Scare ideologues.”

“Put more broadly, Folkways represented a place where voices, otherwise silenced not only by political considerations but also by an economic system intent on maximizing profits to the exclusion of all else, could be heard. Hence, his proviso that he generally did not take on projects he thought had great commercial potential but gave serious consideration to worthy projects that, nevertheless, promised little commercial success.”

Quoted from “Folkways Records and the ethics of collecting: Some personal reflections” by Michel Asch (MUSICultures XXXIV–XXXV [2007–2008] pp. 111–27).

Above, Moses Asch (center) flanked by Mike Seeger and Elizabeth Cotten in 1983; below, a brief documentary.

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Filed under World music

Leon Fleisher’s second act

In 1964, while preparing for a tour of the USSR, Leon Fleisher experienced the first signs of a problem. Two of the fingers of his right hand began to curl uncontrollably; within 10 months they were clenched in a fist. He was not in pain, and medical experts were baffled.

“I guess my fantasy was that with the same mystery with which it had appeared, it would disappear,” he said in a 2007 interview. His attempts to regain control of his fingers ran the gamut from A to Z, he said, “from aromatherapy to Zen Buddhism.” Meanwhile, he redirected his musical energies to performing the left-hand repertory, teaching, and conducting.

Finally, some 30 years later, a diagnosis of focal dystonia, a neurological disorder linked to repetitive tasks, led to an experimental treatment involving Botox injections.

His comeback catapulted him as a symbol of the human spirit and an inspiration to a broader public. Egon Petri’s transcription of Bach’s Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze) has become something of a signature piece, a staple of Fleisher’s solo programs. It is to his mind “the antiterror piece of our time.”

This according to “The pianist Leon Fleisher: A life-altering debility, reconsidered” by Holly Brubach (The New York times, 12 June 2007).

Today is Fleisher’s 90th birthday! Above, a photo by Eli Turner; below, the sublime Bach work.

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Filed under Performers, Science

Poster stamps

Poster stamps, or Reklamemarken, were advertising labels or seals printed like postage stamps on perforated sheets of adhesive paper.

Widely used and extremely popular before World War I in Europe, especially in Germany, these little collectibles almost disappeared after World War II.

As music iconography, they are exemplified in a collection of recorder-themed poster stamps recently donated to the American Recorder Society by Ewald Henseler, the author of “Not postage stamps—but recorder poster stamps” (American recorder LIX/1 [spring 2018] pp. 32–39).

Above, recorder poster stamps advertising Tobler chocolate; below, a chocolate recorder. Don’t miss the climactic ending!

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Instruments

Asian-European music research e-journal

In summer 2018 the Asia-Europe Music Research Center at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music launched Asian-European music research e-journal, a peer-reviewed open-access journal that publishes scholarship on traditional and popular musics and fieldwork research, and on recent issues and debates in Asian and European communities. The journal places a specific emphasis on interconnectivity in time and space between Asian and European cultures, as well as within Asia and Europe.

The journal provides a forum to explore the impacts of post-colonial and globalizing movements and processes on these musics, the musicians involved, sound-producing industries, and resulting developments in today’s music practices. It adopts an open-minded perspective on diverse musics and musical knowledge cultures.

Below, a silent film shot in Bali in 1928—part of Bali 1928, a repatriation project discussed in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, New periodicals

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream

The critical reception of John Coltrane’s saxophonic scream—an incredibly high-pitched, raw, and intense explosion of timbre—demonstrates how our precognitive reaction to sonic timbres can invoke tropes of masculinity and race.

A perceptual/cognitive approach that focuses on the degree to which the listener identifies with the sound, citing recent research on the neurophysiology of audition, locates a biological reason for the phenomenon of musical empathy—the perception that in listening to a sound we also participate in it. Our participation, however, is culturally conditioned.

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream was variously interpreted by music critics as the sound of black masculine violence and rage or as a sign of the jazz icon’s spirituality, a transcendent sound. Music critics’ visceral, embodied interpretations of Coltrane’s saxophonic scream turned on their reactions to the birth of free jazz in the context of the U.S. civil rights movement.

This according to “Theorizing the saxophonic scream in free jazz improvisation” by Zachary Wallmark, an essay included in Negotiated moments: Improvisation, sound, and subjectivity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 233–44).

Below, Coltrane’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966.

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Performers, Reception

Béla Fleck’s Africa Project

In early 2005 Béla Fleck traveled to Tanzania, Uganda, Gambia, and Mali to meet, jam, and record with an impressive array of musicians, bringing along a recording engineer, a film crew, and enough gear to ensure that no encounter would go unrecorded. He accompanied the player of a massive marimba in Uganda, played with kalimba masters and harpists in Tanzania, and encountered a possible banjo ancestor—the akonting—in Gambia.

In an interview, Fleck explained that his aggressive travel agenda was part of a strategy to circumvent his inner control freak. “By putting myself in a situation where I couldn’t really be completely prepared, I was forced to dig deep into things that I do that I can’t tell you where they come from. I have been pegged as a complicated guy, and so it’s funny that I feel freer not being complicated in this setting.”

This according to “Béla Fleck’s Africa Project” by Banning Eyre (Guitar player August 2009).

Today is Fleck’s 60th birthday! Above and below, excerpts from his award-winning film Throw down your heart.

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Filed under Africa, Instruments, Performers

Louis Jordan and “Caldonia”

In an interview, Louis Jordan recalled the background of his 1945 hit Caldonia:

Caldonia started a long time before I came to New York. There used to be a long, lean, lanky girl in Memphis, Tennessee, where Jim Cannon used to have a gambling place where people used to come to shoot a bale of cotton because they didn’t have too much money to gamble.”

“This long, lean, lanky gal used to hang out in this place and she wouldn’t do anything you asked her to do. That’s why they said ‘Your head was so hard,’ and…Hot Lips Page was very young then and I met him and he said ‘You should make a tune out of that, just a plain old blues.’”

Quoted in Let the good times roll: The story of Louis Jordan and his music by John Chilton (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 112).

Today is Jordan’s 110th birthday! Below, a 1946 performance of the song.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Karinding Attack’s heavy metal bamboo

Karinding Attack is a group from Bandung, West Java, that performs original songs, covers international death metal hits, and engages in collaborations with musicians who specialize in other genres—all to the accompaniment of Sundanese bamboo musical instruments that were virtually extinct only 20 years ago.

After the Sundanese people’s embrace of a hegemonic modernity in the 20th century relegated these instruments to obscurity, their efflorescence represents an alternative modernity in which, instead of adopting disdain for their own past as the primitive Other against which European hegemonic modernity is constructed, Sundanese people construct their own history against which to articulate a coherent Sundanese modernity.

This according to “Heavy metal bamboo: How archaic bamboo instruments became modern in Bandung, Indonesia” by Henry Spiller, an essay included in Studies on a global history of music: A Balzan musicology project (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018, pp. 241–55).

Below, Karinding Attack covers Sepultura’s Refuse/Resist.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music