The eclecticism of Don Byron and his music reflects the decentralization of music in the U.S., where there is no single musical culture but rather mini-, micro-, and subcultures that continually mutate into new idioms.
While eclectic music seems to characterize culture in the U.S. at this moment, the discussion about it reveals certain cultural biases. Byron’s works highlight the tension between assimilation and difference and dispel prevalent assumptions regarding style politics and identity politics.
This according to “Making mischief in the melting pot: The intercultural music of Don Byron” by Barbara White, an essay included in Intercultural music. III (Richmond: MRI, 2001, pp. 15–37).
Today is Byron’s 60th birthday! Below, a track from Don Byron plays the music of Mickey Katz.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Atlanta bluesman William Samuel McTier, who performed and recorded as Blind Willie McTell, is known today for his iconic songs and Piedmont fingerpicking 12-string guitar playing.
When he died in 1959 he passed like a vague shadow, missed only by a few friends, family members, and some scattered blues fans, his music consigned to one of the dustier back shelves of Southern Americana. But that same year the renowned folklorist Samuel Charters published his Country blues, with passages that raised McTell to the status of blues master. In the years since he has risen from his obscurity in stunning profile, as enduring as the vibrant music he left behind.
This according to “Blind Willie McTell: Atlanta’s 12-string minstrel for all seasons” by David Fulmer (Blues access 11 [fall 1992] pp. 30–35).
Today is Blind Willie McTell’s 120th birthday! Below, his much-covered Statesboro blues.
Some jazz critics and fans who admired other aspects of Lionel Hampton’s musicianship criticized him for his raw blues riffing, hard backbeat, screaming and honking saxophones, and stunts like marching into the audience with his horn players or getting the audience to clap along.
“I learned all that in the Sanctified Church: the beat, the hand-clapping, marching down the aisles and into the audience” he explained in a 1987 interview.
“When I was six or seven and temporarily living with my grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama, she’d take me to the Holiness Church services, not just on Sundays but all the time. They’d have a whole band in the church—guitars, trombones, saxophones, drums—and they’d be rocking. I’d be sitting by the sister who was playing the big bass drum, and when she’d get happy and start dancing in the aisle, I’d grab that bass drum and start in on that beat. After that, I always had that beat in me.”
This according to “Lionel Hampton, who put swing in the vibraphone, is dead at 94” by Peter Watrous (The New York times CLI/52,228 [1 September 2002] pp. 1, 35).
Today is Hampton’s 110th birthday! Below, performing Flying home, which is widely cited as a forerunner of rhythm and blues.
While there is no question that Fletcher Henderson had substantial compositional impact on the development of jazz, the term composition, with its overtones of singular artistic control and privileged aesthetic and legal status, fits only a small proportion of his creative work.
Henderson’s career is best understood from the broader perspective of a composer-arranger; indeed, distinctions between composer and arranger—and composition and arrangement, with their implied hierarchy—are precisely the kinds of differences that African American music making continually challenges.
This according to “Fletcher Henderson, composer: A counter-entry to the International dictionary of black composers” by Jeffrey Magee (Black music research journal XIX [spring 1999] pp. 61–70).
Today is Henderson’s 120th birthday! Below, Wrappin’ it up, one of the works discussed in the article.
Creativity has been defined as the ability to produce work that is novel, high in quality, and appropriate to an audience. While the nature of the creative process is under debate, many believe that creativity relies on real-time combinations of known neural and cognitive processes.
One useful model of creativity comes from musical improvisation, such as in jazz, in which musicians spontaneously create novel sound sequences. A study used jazz musicians to test the hypothesis that individuals with training in musical improvisation, which entails creative generation of musical ideas, might process expectancy differently.
Researchers used EEGs to compare the brain activity of 12 jazz musicians (with improvisation training), 12 classical musicians (without improvisation training), and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions. Some of the examples followed typical Western chord progressions, while others followed atypical ones.
Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progressions, indicating that they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.
This according to “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity” by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zheng, Kellyn Maves, Cameron Arkin, and Psyche Loui (Brain and cognition CXIX [December 2017] pp. 45–53).
Below, the Miles Davis Quintet plays Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a work often cited for its use of unexpected chords; above, Davis, Shorter, and Herbie Hancock in 1964.
In November 1957 Mose Allison recorded what would became his most celebrated and requested piece: Parchman Farm, a wickedly clever blues written from the viewpoint of an inmate at the infamous Mississippi State Penitentiary. But by the mid-1960s Allison had ceased performing the song, reportedly disturbed by audience reactions to it.
The adverse reactions were prompted by the song’s surprise ending, where the seemingly sympathetic prisoner-singer suddenly declares “I’m a-gonna be here for the rest of my life, and all I did was shoot my wife.”
Such responses to a song whose title evokes the Jim Crow South, and whose author is a white performer whom many listeners have assumed to be black, are worthy of closer scrutiny. In addition to its surface appeal, Parchman Farm possesses subtextual layers replete with complex, troubling questions about race, gender, and power, particularly as these manifest in popular discourses about blues.
Allison returned to the topic in 1964 with New Parchman, which offers an implicit critique of the ideology informing the 1957 work.
This according to “One Parchman Farm or another: Mose Allison, irony, and racial formation” by John Kimsey (Journal of popular music studies XVII/2  pp. 105–32).
Today would have been Mose Allison’s 90th birthday! Above, recording in the mid-1960s; below, the original Parchman Farm and its sequel.