Category Archives: Jazz and blues

Fred McDowell and “You gotta move”

fred-mcdowell

Although he was nicknamed “Mississippi”, Fred McDowell was born in Tennessee, and lived in Memphis for more than thirty years. He worked at various factories and farms, and played guitar at weekend dances.

McDowell’s “You gotta move” was covered by The Rolling Stones on their 1971 album Sticky fingers and appeared in their film Gimme shelter (1970) as well as on their Love you live album (1977). The jazz singer Cassandra Wilson also covered “You gotta move” in 2002. McDowell himself recorded three versions of the song: acoustic (1965), electric (1971), and with the Hunter’s Chapel Singers of Como, Mississippi (1966).

This according to “McDowell, Fred” by  Yves Laberge (Encyclopedia of the blues II [2006] pp. 670); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is McDowell’s 111th birthday! Below, his seminal 1965 recording.

BONUS: The Stones, around the time of Sticky fingers.

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(Re)discovering Sam Chatmon

sam-chatmon

Around 1910 Sam Chatmon formed a family string band with seven of his siblings that would later develop into the Mississippi Sheiks.

In 1936 Sam and his brother Lonnie made twelve recordings as the Chatman [sic] Brothers; Sam did not record again for twenty-four years. During that time he worked as a farmer, a night watchman, and a plantation supervisor.

In 1960 Chris Strachwitz rediscovered Chatmon and recorded him; four of the songs recorded were included on the Arhoolie LP I have to paint my face. In 1966 he was rediscovered again by the blues enthusiast Ken Swerilas, who persuaded him to move to San Diego, where he began playing in clubs and became a local favorite. Soon he was performing around the country at folk festivals and clubs, gaining notoriety as one of the few surviving first-generation Mississippi bluesmen. He made his last professional appearance at the 1982 Mississippi Delta Blues Festival.

This according to “Chatmon, Sam” by Andrew Leach (Encyclopedia of the blues II [2006] p. 195); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Chatmon’s 120th birthday! A discography is here. Below, ca. 1978.

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Televising jazz, 1964

miles-davis-1964

With the emergence of jazz modernism, Miles Davis’s quintet was pushing popular standards to their limits when its 11 October 1964 performance at Milan’s Teatro dell’Arte ­was broadcast on Italian television.

The producers wanted us to experience the band’s internal dynamics; by tuning in to the show—by watching jazz as the live monitoring of events—we access both the band’s collective self-understanding and the continual reworking of that collective sense through the act of performance. In the group’s version of My funny valentine the television camera participates in and redefines our sense of the quintet’s performance, bringing us into a new relationship with issues of spontaneity, immediacy, and improvisation.

This according to “Screen the event: Watching Miles Davis’s My funny valentine” by Nicholas Gebhardt, an essay included in Watching jazz: Encounters with jazz performance on screen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 221–38).

Above and below, the 1964 telecast.­

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John Coltrane’s “Ascension”

john-coltrane

In his last years John Coltrane’s quest for spiritual understanding was manifest on his albums, as well as in many of the quartet’s titles, beginning with A love supreme (1964). He increasingly incorporated elements of world music into his own jazz compositions, including African and Caribbean modalities and rhythms, Middle Eastern reed tonalities, pentatonic scales, microtones, and extended modal solos resembling those in Indian rāgas.

Coltrane’s 1965 album Ascension pushed the boundaries of jazz even further. The highly experimental work introduced an intensely dissonant sound performed by a new group of musicians that aimed to amplify their instruments’ emotive potential. By this time he had attained an almost saintly status, due as much to his revolutionary contributions to jazz as to his support of young avant-garde performers.

This according to “Coltrane, John” by Lee Stacy and Lol Henderson (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Coltrane’s 90th birthday! Below, Ascension live in 1965.

BONUS: The full studio album.

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Buddy Guy arrives

Buddy-Guy-and-Eric-Clapton

George “Buddy” Guy started working as a sideman for Chess Records in 1959 and quickly became a much sought-after guitarist, working with the likes of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Howlin’ Wolf. During the 1970s he toured and recorded with Junior Wells, and although the duo was revered in blues circles—they even opened for The Rolling Stones on several occasions—their records were often badly distributed and sold poorly.

But during the 1980s Guy’s reputation grew steadily, and in 1985 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. By the 1990s he had become an electric guitar icon, having been cited as a major influence by legendary rock guitarists including Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton.

This according to “Guy, George ‘Buddy’” by Yves Laberge (Encyclopedia of the blues II [2006] pp. 395–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Guy’s 80th birthday! Above, with Clapton in 2011; below, live in 2010.

BONUS: Stone crazy from 1961, ranked 78th in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitar songs of all time.

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Charlie Christian’s metric displacement

charlie-christian

The solo guitar improvisations of Charlie Christian feature a rhythmic drive that is created to some extent by metric displacement.

Transcriptions of Christian’s solos illuminate ten different methods for creating metric displacement: metric displacement by contour, metric superimposition, metric displacement by phrase starting point, displaced motivic repetition, metric displacement by patterning, long sequences of eighth notes, long phrases of mixed texture, irregular phrase length, hypermetric displacement, and phrase ending peculiarities.

This according to “Metric displacement in the improvisation of Charlie Christian” by Clive G. Downs (Annual review of jazz studies XI [2000–2001] pp. 39–68).

Today is Christian’s 100th birthday! Below, Benny’s bugle, which opens (after the intro) with a solo by Christian that is fully transcribed and analyzed in the article.

BONUS: Up on Teddy’s hill, a jam session that begins with a 2¾-minute improvisation by Christian.

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Jazz and imaginary folklore

La Marmite Infernale

L’Association à la Recherche d’un Folklore Imaginaire (ARFI) is a musical collective founded in 1977 by six musicians, including three who had previously formed Le Free Jazz Workshop.

The group now consists of 20 full-time musicians and comprises numerous small groups. Its multidisciplinary performances, which may include jugglers, films, pyrotechnics, and feasting, are designed to appeal to all five senses.

ARFI’s largest ensemble, the 12-piece La Marmite Infernale, began in 1978 as a free-blowing big band but has since expanded to perform compositions.  Smaller groups such as the Workshop de Lyon, É-Guijecri, and Apollo are improvising chamber ensembles, in the traditional ARFI style, while the newer L’Effet Vapeur and 32 Janvier perform higher-tech and harder edged pieces with distinctly hip-hop sensibilities.

This according to “Imaginary folklore and the infernal cooking pot: An introduction to Lyon’s ARFI” by Jim Laniok (Coda magazine 300–301 [December 2001] pp. 29, 32).

Above, a performance by La Marmite Infernale; below, an excerpt from a performance by L’Effet Vapeur.

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Grappelli, South, and Reinhardt play Bach

Eddie South

The two versions of the first movement from Bach’s d minor concerto for two violins (BWV 1043) recorded in Paris in 1937 by the violinists Eddie South and Stéphane Grappelli and the guitarist Django Reinhardt are among the earliest preserved jazz renditions of a Bach composition.

These recordings document not only a fusion of musical genres, but also a meeting between three performers of diverse nationalities and ethnicities: South was a black American, Grappelli a white Frenchman of partially Italian ancestry, and Reinhardt a Belgian-born Manouche Romani. Their collaboration evinces a fluidly complex relationship between their social backgrounds and their music that is not easily reconcilable with some of the more inflexible ways that race and culture have traditionally been theorized in critical discourse on jazz.

In Il concerto per due violini di J.S. Bach nelle incisioni del trio Reinhardt, South, Grappelli: Una edizione critica/The Reinhardt-South-Grappelli recordings of J.S. Bach’s double violin voncerto: A critical edition (Lucca: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2016) these recordings are transcribed in full score, both for performing and musicological/analytical ends.

Above, Eddie South, today the lesser-known member of the trio; below, the two historic recordings.

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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.

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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.

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