The jazz singer Jeanne Lee engaged in acts of reclamation of her identity, itself part of a greater project undertaken by creative black women.
Jazz standards with lyrics, written overwhelmingly by men, often reveal male constructions of female identity, even if sometimes seemingly from the narrative position of a woman. They therefore form a culturally important and influential way in which women have been defined by others, usually by men. Lee’s acts of redefinition—the ways in which she altered the ontologies of womanhood presented in standards—opened a possibility of subverting these externally imposed identities in subtle or overt ways.
This according to “This ain’t a hate thing: Jeanne Lee and the subversion of the jazz standard” by Eric Lewis (Jazz & culture I  pp. 49–76).
Today would have been Lee’s 80th birthday! Above, Lee in 1984; below, singing “All about Ronnie” in 1963.
The DJs and laptop performers of electronic dance music (EDM) use preexistent elements such as vinyl records and digital samples to create fluid, dynamic performances. These performances are also largely improvised, evolving in response to the demands of a particular situation through interaction with a dancing audience.
In performance, musicians make numerous spontaneous decisions about variables such as which sounds they will play, when they will play them, and how they will be combined with other sounds. Yet the elements that constitute these improvisations are also fixed in certain fundamental ways: Performances are fashioned from patterns or tracks recorded beforehand, and, in the case of DJ sets, these elements are also physical objects (vinyl records).
This according to Playing with something that runs: Technology, improvisation, and composition in DJ and laptop performance by Mark J. Butler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
Above and below, “The Wizard” Jeff Mills, who provides a case study in the book.
BONUS: Mr. Mills performs in 2016.
Kathak, the classical dance of North India, combines virtuosic footwork and dazzling spins with subtle pantomime and soft gestures. As a global practice and one of India’s cultural markers, kathak dance is often presented as heir to an ancient Hindu devotional tradition in which men called Kathakas danced and told stories in temples.
The dance’s repertoire and movement vocabulary, however, tell a different story of syncretic origins and hybrid history—it is a dance that is both Muslim and Hindu, both devotional and entertaining, and both male and female. Kathak’s multiple roots can be found in rural theater, embodied rhythmic repertoire, and courtesan performance practice, and its history is inextricable from the history of empire, colonialism, and independence in India.
An analysis of primary and secondary sources, ethnography, iconography, and current performance practice illuminates new data about hereditary performing artists, gendered contexts and practices, and postcolonial cultural reclamation. The account that emerges places kathak and the Kathaks firmly into the living context of North Indian performing arts.
This according to India’s kathak dance in historical perspective by Margaret E. Walker (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014).
Above, Birju Maharaj, one of the consummate kathak performers of our time; below, in a rare seated performance, Maharaj depicts the sensuous world of a young woman as monsoon season approaches.
BONUS: The finale of a performance that includes some of Maharaj’s star students.
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.
In most genres of Caribbean music women tend to participate as dancers or vocalists, but in Dominican merengue típico they are more often instrumentalists and even bandleaders—something nearly unheard of in the macho Caribbean music scene.
In a complex nexus of class, race, and artistic tradition that unsettles the typical binary between the masculine and feminine, female musicians have developed a feminine counterpart to the classic male figure of the tíguere, a dandified but sexually aggressive and street-smart tiger: the tíguera, an assertive, sensual, and respected female figure who looks like a woman but often plays and even sings like a man. These musical figures illuminate the rich ambiguities in gender construction in the Dominican Republic and the long history of a unique form of Caribbean feminism.
This according to Tigers of a different stripe: Performing gender in Dominican music by Sydney Hutchinson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
Above and below, Fefita la Grande, one of the tígueras discussed in the book.
Roy Byrd, known to the world as Professor Longhair, was an idiosyncratic piano genius who incorporated Caribbean rhythms into his music while singing and whistling in a cracked voice self-described as freak unique.
With his rambunctious left hand digging deep into rhumba-boogie island rhythms while his right added rolling R&B flourishes, “Fess” achieved legendary status and became the international personification of the sound and sensibility of the New Orleans music scene. While he was unlike any other musician the city produced, he was somehow representative of them all.
The swamp blues pianist Marcia Ball flatly stated “Fess is what New Orleans piano is all about. It’s not just those wonderful runs and rhythms; it’s all that life experience and personality of his that comes through so clearly. You can hear the entire city in his playing. Fess was New Orleans.” He was also a boxer, a cook, a card shark, and, ultimately, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This according to “Professor Longhair” by Michael Point (Encyclopedia of the blues II  pp. 785–86); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.
Today would have been Fess’s 110th birthday! Above, a 1973 photograph by Michael P. Smith; below, performing around the same time.
Wishing for more? So are we! Here’s a full live set:
Related article: Allen Toussaint’s legacy
McCoy Tyner’s improvisation on Bessie’s blues, recorded with the John Coltrane Quartet in 1964, exemplifies the traditional Afrodiasporic performance practice of apart playing.
A formulation of the art historian Robert Farris Thompson, apart playing occurs whenever individual performers enact different, complementary roles in an ensemble setting. For interpretative purposes, the concept helps to provide a cultural context for certain pitch-based formal devices, such as substitute harmonies and playing outside an underlying chord or scale, which Tyner uses in the course of his solo.
This according to “Apart playing: McCoy Tyner and Bessie’s blues” by Benjamin Givan (Journal of the Society for American Music I/2 [May 2007] pp. 257–80).
Today is Tyner’s 80th birthday! Above, performing in 1973; below, the recording in question.
Having established herself as a leading performer of bharata nāṭyam, by 1960 Chandralekha Prabhudas Patel—professionally known as Chandralekha—felt a need to move beyond the genre’s boundaries and began to pursue ideas about fusing Indian dance traditions with modern idioms.
Chandralekha was a firm believer in the need for resuscitating older forms with contemporary energy, drawing also on martial art and therapeutic traditions. Always a controversial figure, she criticized plastic smiles, fake religiosity, and mindless repetition of mythological themes. A voracious reader, a gifted writer, and a poet, she lived a full life and influenced a whole generation of young dancers.
This according to “Rebel with a cause” by Sunil Kothari (Sruti 269 [February 2007] pp. 16–19).
Today would have been Chandralekha’s 90th birthday! Below, a brief documentary about her life and work.
John Hartford’s mammoth collection of fiddle tunes (Franklin, TN: StuffWorks, 2018) comprises 176 of Hartford’s original compositions. Most of these tunes are previously unpublished and unrecorded, taken from Hartford’s personal music journals.
Compiled and narrated by the fiddler Matt Combs, John’s daughter Katie Harford Hogue, and the musicologist Greg Reish, the book illuminates Hartford’s creative process through original tune compositions, his own reflections on the fiddle, and interviews with family and fellow musicians.
The volume includes more than 60 of Hartford’s personal drawings—ranging in theme from steamboats and the river, to fellow musicians, home and everyday life—as well as several never-before-seen photographs.
Above, a page from the book: Hartford’s Annual waltz as part of a holiday card and invitation to his 1980 wedding; below, the composer performs the song and tune.
Jùjú, a type of popular music that combines indigenous Yorùbá musical practices with Christian hymnody, was first popular in Lagos in the 1930s.
The tambourine, introduced in Lagos in 1920 by missionaries, was integrated into jùjú because of its musical and symbolic associations. The spiritual dimension of this instrument is partly responsible for the name jùjú, which is an extension of the term used by colonialists to describe the various African traditional belief practices. Other stylistic resources of jùjú include the samba of the Brazilian community of Lagos and songs and musical instruments of the Liberian Kru sailors.
In the 1940s jùjú bands began to experiment with new musical instruments such as gangan (talking drum), pennywhistle, organ, and mandolin. The projection of Yorùbá elements and the introduction of accordion and harmonica are identified with Isaiah Kehinde Dairo (above). The rapid changes in social and political structures of the 1960s and 1970s in Nigeria were reflected in further developments.
This according to “A diachronic study of change in jùjú music” by Afolabi Alaja-Browne (Popular music VIII/3 [October 1989] pp. 231–42).
Below, King Sunny Adé, one of the performers discussed in the article.