Category Archives: From the archives

Taarab and the Kiswahili language

Immediately after World War II, taarab orchestras and music clubs proliferated in coastal Kenya and Tanganyika, and on Zanzibar. They were formed by Waswahili, residents of the region who spoke the Kiswahili (Swahili) language. Through taarab music clubs, the Swahili people developed and paid homage to their language and traditions, providing the cultural basis from which political nationalism might operate.

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”. In the popular genre taarabmpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications–often competitive and antagonistic in nature–through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance.

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa, ed. by Frank D. Gunderson, Gregory F. Barz, and Terence O. Ranger (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-8778) and “Taarab clubs and Swahili music culture” by Henry Douglas Daniels (Social identities 2/3 [1996] 413–438; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-39500).

July 7 is international Kiswahili Language Day! Below is a performance of taarab music by the group Bi Kidude Zanzibar.

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Filed under Africa, From the archives, Popular music, World music

Sly Stone, funk, and Black church aesthetics

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sly and the Family Stone were pioneers of funk music. Different from other funk acts of that era, Sly and the Family Stone’s funk variant fused psychedelic rock stylings with classic soul, and in that sense, their style differed considerably from the bass-heavy grooves of mainstream funk. The band’s success on the pop charts as well as with urban Black youth made the group especially influential, especially evident in the music of crossover giants such as George Clinton, Rick James, and Prince.

As the band’s creative force, Texas-native Sylvester Stewart (better known as Sly Stone) developed an impressive music business resumé in San Francisco in the mid-1960s, excelling as a radio disc jockey, songwriter, and record producer for the likes of he Beau Brummels, Bobby Freeman, and the Mojo Men. His first attempt at heading a group, the Stoners, failed in 1966; however, Sly and the Family Stone, which included his brother, guitarist Freddie Stone and sister Rosie Stone, who sang and played keyboards and harmonica, and a cousin, bassist Larry Graham drew sufficient attention locally in 1967 to garner a contract from Epic Records.

Sly and the Family Stone played a crucial role in introducing Black church aesthetics to mainstream popular music audiences in the late 1960s. Sly introduced secular audiences to what James Cleveland called “the Sanctified Church” through his personal experiences in the Black Pentecostal church. In the foreground of Sly’s work was the recording Stand! (1969), particularly the single I want to take you higher. Furthermore, the band’s integrated gender and racial demographic along with an overall message that all people need to work together in harmony represent the epitome of post-Civil Rights culture. In a 2023 interview, Sly spoke about his work and the transformative power of music. According to him, “I know music can always make a difference. I knew it back when I was [a radio DJ]. People would call into the station and say that they wanted me to play this song or that song and I could tell how much it meant to them. That was what we wanted to do with the music that we made. That’s what we did.”

Sly Stone turns 81 on 15 March 2024.

Read the full entry on Sly and the Family Stone in the Encyclopedia of recorded sound (2005; find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias), and in “Sly Stone and the sanctified church” by Mark Anthony Neal, an essay included in The funk era and beyond: New perspectives on Black popular culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008; find it in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature).

Below, Sly and the Family Stone perform If you want me to stay on the television show Soul train circa 1970.

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Filed under From the archives, Performers, Popular music

Max Roach, jazz drummer and Civil Rights activist

Referred to as the “dean of modern jazz drumming,” Max Roach spent his formative years in Brooklyn and received a degree in composition from the Manhattan School. While still in his teens, Roach became one of the innovators of the bop drumming style at jazz fountainheads such as Minton’s Playhouse and Clark Monroe’s Uptown House in Harlem. Among his collaborators have been Coleman Hawkins (with whom he made his first recording in 1944), Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and many others. Known for his melodic, formally structured solos, and compositional experimentation, Roach moved from bop to cool and free jazz styles, and his creative talents were recognized with commissions and awards from various sources, including the MacArthur Foundation and Down Beat magazine.

Roach’s We insist! Freedom now suite, recorded in 1960, moves from depictions of slavery to Emancipation to the Civil Rights struggle and African independence. The work draws on both long-standing symbols of African American cultural identity and a more immediate historical context. It is a modernist work as well, as Roach and his musicians used African and African American legacies in new and novel ways. In a 1987 interview, Roach commented on whether by the time he recorded the Freedom now suite, he had become a Civil Rights activist:

“Well, I guess [Black jazz musicians] always have been [activists], you know? I go back to Bessie Smith with Black mountain blues and then to Duke Ellington’s Black, brown and beige. It’s always been there. Leadbelly always spoke about the issues and the times that existed. And many of the old Black folk singers from the South to street musicians dealt with it. I’ve always been an activist. At that time [in the 1960s], my children were young. But you’re always thinking about their future as well. And if they’re going to come up and be responsible human beings, they have to have education, and the things like everyone else has. And society has to accommodate that. So, I guess I’ve always been activist because of them.”

Listen to the entire We insist! Freedom now suite recording below.

Decades after its initial release, the Freedom now suite remains fresh and significant, foregrounding the ways that jazz has been in consistent dialogue with social and cultural movements, and has been at its most inspired when engaged in social commentary.

Celebrate the beginning of Black History Month by reading the entry on Max Roach in Percussionists: A biographical dictionary (2000, RILM Music Encyclopedias) and “Revisited! The Freedom now suite” by Ingrid Monson (JazzTimes XXXI/7 [September 2001], 54–59.

Below is a performance of We insist! by Abbey Lincoln and the Max Roach group in 1964.

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Filed under Black studies, From the archives, Jazz and blues, North America, Politics, Popular music

Lionel Hampton brings the beat

Lionel Hampton is known to be responsible for popularizing the vibraphone in the jazz genre. Hampton grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and moved to the Chicago area in 1916, where learned snare drum from a nun at the Holy Rosary Academy in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He first performed as a member of the Chicago Defender Newsboys Band and later studied xylophone with Jimmy Bertrand and drums with Clifford Jones.

After making his debut on drums in 1923 with Louis Armstrong’s backup band (Les Hite) in Culver City, California, Hampton moved to Los Angeles in 1927 and worked with the Spikes Brothers, Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders, and the Louis Armstrong/Les Hite Band (1930-34), making what is regarded as the first recorded vibraphone solo, on Memories of you, with Armstrong in 1930. Legend has it that Armstrong saw a set of vibes in a room and asked Hampton if he knew how to play them; Hampton immediately responded by playing Armstrong’s entire trumpet solo from Big butter and egg man as an audition!

Jazz critics and fans who admired other aspects of Hampton’s musicianship also criticized him for his raw blues riffing, hard backbeat, screaming and honking saxophones, and stunts like marching into the audience with his horn players while getting the audience to clap along. As Hampton explained in a 1987 interview, “I learned all that in the Sanctified Church: the beat, the handclapping, marching down the aisles and into the audience. 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.”

Hampton formed his first big band in 1940, toured throughout the world in the 1950s, and introduced new talent to U.S. audiences including Betty Carter, Dinah Washington, and Joe Williams. It is also believed that he was the first to incorporate the electric organ and electric bass in a jazz group. Due to financial issues, he dissolved the big band in the 1960s and established a touring sextet in 1965. His long career also included several film appearances, including  A song is born (1948), The Benny Goodman story (1955), and Rooftops of New York (1960).

Read on in an entry on Lionel Hampton in Percussionists: A biographical dictionary (2000, RILM Music Encyclopedias) and  “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]).

Listen to Hampton on vibraphone on a recording of Buzzin’ around with the bee below.

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Filed under From the archives, Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music

Comic farce and the operatic satire of Borodin

Italian opera has played an important role in Russian musical life since the early 17th century, but by the 19th century it was being promoted there more than Russian opera. In retaliation, Russian composers used their operas to make fun of Italian opera’s stock situations and styles, and brought Russian opera back into prominence.

For example, in his early comic farce Богатыри (Bogatyri, Heroic warriors), Alexander Borodin used familiar music and arias from Italian and French operas (by Rossini, Verdi, Offenbach, Meyerbeer, and others) to set up situations where the original intention of the music and its new setting were at humorous extremes.

Read more in “Italians in a Russian manner: One step from serious to funny” by Svetlana Sergeevna Martynova (Fontes artis musicae LVI/1 [January–March 2009] pp. 1–6). This post originally appeared in Bibliolore 10 years ago this week.

Below is the opening of his B-minor symphony, which Massine used for his ballet Bogatyri, illustrated with images of the heroic warriors of Russian folklore.

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Filed under From the archives, Humor, Opera

Bach or the Devil (revisited)

During his life, Bach was primarily known as a dazzling organist with virtuoso improvising abilities. Not surprisingly, his prowess gave rise to a number of urban legends.

One such legend had him traveling incognito, dressed as a village schoolmaster, going from church to church to try out the organs—prompting one local organist to cry out, “I don’t know who’s playing, but it’s either Bach or the Devil!”

Read on in “Tod und Teufel” by Frieder Reininghaus, an essay included in Bach-ABC (Sinzig: Studio-Verlag, 2007, pp. 91–93). This post originally appeared in Bibliolore on March 21, 2015 but it seems appropriate for Halloween 2023.

Below is the tocatta and fugue in D minor, BWV 565, which is also always appropriate for Halloween!

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Filed under Baroque era, Europe, From the archives

Barry & Claire Brook’s excellent incipit adventure

The practice of using music incipits for identifying compositions occupies an important place among the many musicological research tools that Barry S. Brook conceived. “The thematic index derives its superiority over non-thematic lists because it can not only arrange a body of music in a systematic order,” he wrote, “but it provides, at the same time, positive identification in a minimum of space and symbols. It does so by the use of the incipit, or musical citation of the opening notes. For most music, an incipit of no more than a dozen pitches is required. When rhythmic values accompany the pitches, the incipit’s uniqueness quotient is astonishingly high” (Notes, 29/3, 1973).

He promoted this idea through the publication of facsimile editions of The Breitkopf thematic calagoue (1967) and The Ringmacher catalogue (1773; 1987); he organized the index to his edition The symphony, 1720–1840 (1986) in the form of a thematic catalogue; and he published the definitive catalogue of thematic catalogues (1973; 2nd ed. 1997). In 1970 he made a proposal for his Plaine and Easie Code, a computer-readable coding system for music incipits in modern or mensural notation, and when RISM initiated the cataloguing of manuscripts in the A/II series he was a strong advocate for the inclusion of the incipit in the bibliographic description of each work.

Brook’s enthusiasm for incipits was sparked when he was writing his dissertation in Paris. His daily correspondence of 1958/59 with his wife Claire—whom he married only a few months before the trip to France—was full of notated incipits for works that he mentioned in his work, La symphonie française dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle, and she patiently copied them and organized them in the thematic finder to be included with the final dissertation. His system of organizing incipits was a response to the index of eighteenth-century compositions that Jan LaRue was working on at the time, and the Dictionary of musical themes by Sam Morgenstern and Harold Barlow, both of which he found unsatisfactory.

In February of 1959 he told Claire in a letter about his thoughts for organizing the index:

“I think it will be number of #’s + ♭’s, with minor in with the majors since in some instances it is not immediately apparent from incipit if it is in minor; then subdivided into 2/4, 3/44/4, 3+6/8; then in alphabetical order note by note. If you run into LaRue you might ask him to explain his system—or even better ask him how he would do it if he were to start all over again….Then there is that crazy suggestion of Chailley, which he put very strongly, to transpose all themes into C and list them by letters alphabetically. — Take a look at appendix of Morgenstern-Barlow Dictionary of musical themes that we have and you’ll see what he wants. This looks like another big job for you. 

e.g. EFGGGGGGGGABGBA = Gossec #1
        GCCDGDDEGEEF = Gossec #2
        CDCGCDE♭F = Gossec #3” (15 February 1959).

A week later Barry returned to the topic and again asked Claire to have a talk with LaRue about how his finding system works, and whether or not he counted grace notes in alphabetizing. As LaRue was at the time still collecting incipits for his thematic identifier, he warned Claire not to reveal all that he was doing: “A little birdie keeps tweeting me about what Chailley said about keeping everything (i.e. finds) under wraps until after the thèse” (21 February 1959).

As Barry studied scores in Parisian libraries, he found more works that needed to be included in the finding aid for his thèse, and more incipits were included in his trans-Atlantic letters to Claire. Almost every letter he sent her in the late winter and spring of 1959 included a few handwritten incipits, a new consideration about their ordering, or a question about this or that detail.

A page of incipits sent to Claire on 14 March.

Replies from Claire included “just finished cutting a complete set of corrected insipids [sic], wrapped, stored, and next set ready to go” (19 April 1959), and “I refused to allow myself to sit down and write to you until the thematic index was cut and packed for mailing. A sort of external discipline—childish but effective. Just finished tying the string and lettering in the beloved name of my husband, and here I am” (27 March 1959). It seems that Claire worked on his dissertation in New York as hard as Barry did in Paris! It is impressive to see how they worked together on the intricate project of organizing the musical index of incipits, without having instant messaging, a possibility of online conversations in real time, and any other benefit of communications that we take for granted today.

At one point he was frustrated with difficulties in sorting incipits, and described to Claire his idea about an incipit box. Claire was confused by his eccentric idea and asked him to describe his concept better. In his second attempt he drew the design of the box along with his explanation of the concept: “Incipits are arranged in order in the box like file cards in a filing box or fiches in a fichier. Only the box is very flat—just high enough for the incipits to stand up in” (24 March 1959). As the deadline for submitting the dissertation was approaching fast, there was no time for constructing the box.

Brook’s drawing of the incipit box.

On 29 June the thesis—which included some 60 pages of incipits in addition to some 800 items that converted incipits to alphanumeric strings—was “delivered to [Jacques] Chailley at 5:30 in the afternoon”. This might have been one of the earliest dissertations that included such an extensive catalogue of incipits. A week after it was delivered, Claire landed in Paris for their belated honeymoon.

Above, one of Barry and Claire Brook’s wedding photographs from June 1958.

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Filed under From the archives, Musicologists, Musicology

Répertoire international de la littérature de l’art (RILA)

Plans for the publication of a bibliography of writings concerning art history were announced in the summer of 1974. The project’s vision was born much earlier, in large part influenced by the publication of  RILM Abstracts of Music Literature in early 1967.

RILA (Répertoire International de la Littérature de l’Art) borrowed the model for its name from RILM, as well as the concept of international cooperation first proposed at the conference held in Paris under the auspices of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in 1969 and then confirmed in Washington, D.C., under the sponsorship of the College Art Association of America in October 1971. RILA was conceived to provide substantial abstracts and detailed subject indexes of art-historical scholarship concerning post-classical European art and post-conquest American art published in periodicals, books, Festschriften, congress reports, exhibition and museum catalogues, and dissertations.

The project took off in 1973 as the bibliographic pilot project of the American Council of Learned Societies, with the RILM office at the CUNY Graduate Center initially providing editorial and technological support. RILA was intended to be the first addition to a proposed interdisciplinary group of bibliographies in the humanities, initiated with RILM. In the Demonstration issue (above) , which tested RILM’s bibliographic models applied to art-historical literature, the editor Michael Rinehart wrote “Continued regular publication of RILA will depend on response to this issue, and particularly on two factors essential to its long-range success: the willingness of authors to contribute abstracts of their work, and the extension of international participation through a free exchange of materials among existing and future organizations and publications.”

RILA was initially produced with RILM’s computer program, which ran on the IBM mainframe computer System 360 at the computing center of The City University of New York—the most advanced computing machine at the time. RILM’s founder Barry S. Brook was among the key advisors on the project, and the format of the bibliographic entries, the classification schema, and the indexing practices in RILA echoed those in the printed volumes of RILM. In this form RILA (ISSN: 0145-5982) was published by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute from 1975 through 1989, when it merged with Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA).

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Filed under From the archives, RILM, Visual art

Barry Brook in Dijon

Barry Brook, François Lesure, and Frederic and Nanie Bridgman. 1960s. Photograph preserved in the archives of the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation, CUNY Graduate Center.

RILM’s founder, Barry S. Brook, spent the summer of 1965 pursuing research in Brussels, Paris, and Vienna; midway he attended the IAML congress in Dijon, held on 1 through 6 July. Among the 14 letters that he sent to his wife Claire back in New York City, the letter of 8 July 1965, which he wrote immediately after his return to Paris, describes his participation in the Dijon congress and his social activities around it. The letter reveals the young Brook, who was still unaccustomed to the attention he received from his older colleagues. Every dinner and every conversation was making an impression on him.

On Saturday 3 July he was particularly busy. At a round table at 11 am he explained his idea about notating music using the ordinary typewriter, known as the Plaine and Easy Code. After lunch he was the principal presenter in a round table from 2 to 5 pm titled Utilisation of data processing techniques in musical documentation. Here he made public for the first time his idea about founding an international bibliography of music literature, which he was already calling RILM. Brook’s emphasis in the session was on the possibilities of using computers for the control of music documentation, and he showed a film about IBM called Once upon a punched card (1964; the film may be viewed at the bottom of this post). In an earlier letter, from 2 July, Brook described how he and Françoise Lesure loaded up the back seat of their car with a carton of IBM brochures in three languages that he obviously distributed in the session.

Finally, on Sunday, 4 July, he presented a paper in the session on tempo in 17th- and 18th-century music, organized by the Société française de Musicologie and presided by Mme la comtese de Chambure, who would be a his key partner in founding the Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale (RIdIM) a few years later. This may have been his first meeting with Mme Chambure, since in this otherwise very detailed letter, full of names of people with whom he was working and dining, her name was not mentioned.

His paper was Le Tempo dans l’exécution de la musique instrumentale à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Other presenters in the session was Mme de Chambure, Denise Launay, Charlese Cudworth, André Verchaly, and Claudie Marcel-Dubois.

A fragment of the letter concerning his engagements during the conference:

The congress, which was originally supposed to be more relaxation and wine gobbling than work and business meetings. turned out to be mad whirl. Many meetings—too many—and the “relaxed” part too filled with official receptions, dull speeches by [Député-]Maire [of Dijon, Chanoine Félix Kir], etc. and guided tours of museums and churches (separated by buses) that each lasted too many hours and too many miles. The food at the Cité Universitaire was cheap but dull and could be eaten only after a long wait in line. Despite all this, the congress itself has been a pleasant affair, which I enjoyed because of the people, the concerts, and small amount of wheeling and dealing, the spotlight which was on me more than anticipated since everyone kept referring to my big speech in later meetings.
Also we would drive into town for meals, even breakfast when the line was too long and that was the pleasantest of all—“we” included François [Lesure], Fritz Noske, Paule Guiomar, Nanna Schiødt from Denmark, Rita Benton, Nanie and Fredric [Bridgman], etc. Fredric has a big international job in Geneva where he lives; he & Nannie get together every weekend whether in Geneva or Paris; he took us out to dinner in a wonderful restaurant in the country 15 km outside Dijon on the way to Beaune, chez Jeanette (François, Nanna S., and me). Paule had to return to Paris to start her vacation with Michel so she couldn’t come). Also had breakfast with André Jurres of Holland who succeeds Fédorov as président [of IAML] & spent time with [John Howard] Davies of the BBC, who is good friend of Herman, [Enrich] Straram of French Radio, Sven Lunn of Denmark, spoke to [Friedrich] Blume at some length about R.I.L.M.
Now to the speeches, which as usual were down to the wire. Despite the complete lack of cooperation from Simone Wallon in charge of arrangements (projections etc.) everything was led smoothly with François [Lesure] & Paule’s [Guiomar] help. The first one on the code was changed by François at my request to 11 am instead of 9 on Saturday so as not to conflict with a round table & a RISM meeting starting then. I demonstrated the code and recent improvements with the aid of slides (made for Dallas) distributing French + German translations (Xeroxed by Elvood’s friend). The interest was very high & it was the best attended business meeting of the congress since other meetings stopped in time for those who wished to attend it.
The Round Table on Automation in Music Documentation was, according to François, the hit of the Congress. (I had missed the 1st while preparing for Code mtg, no.s 3 & 4 were very dull). I spoke for 1 ¼ hours, showed a 10 min IBM film, then followed by a German ([Walter] Reckziegel), Dane (Nanna Schiødt in English) and a Swiss ([Raymond] Maylan in French). It went very well. The Tempo meeting in a cold Abbey [de Fontenay] during a guided tour after a large winery lunch was ill conceived from the beginning and was not a success as a whole. Six speakers! 4 French who mainly spoke too fast and too low to be heard, [Charles] Cudworth who spoke charmingly as usual in English and me who spoke extempore—from careful notes—in French and did very well.
After all the intense work & preparation there was much relief and less letdown than anticipated. As indicated, the after round tables were not good, except for Vincent Duckles who was excellent and except that I was constantly being greeted or asked questions.

The letter continues by informing Claire about his research in Paris, his daily activities, the invitation to Vincent Duckles to use their New York apartment on the way through New York, and asking her to send him $150 to Vienna by special delivery.

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Filed under From the archives, RILM

RILM and the IBM Selectric

Dorothy Curzon, the Managing Editor of RILM Abstracts between 1975 and 1988, with her Selectric.

Although the production of RILM Abstracts has always heavily relied on computing technology, the computers of the 1960s and 1970s were not able to support the complexities of its multilingual and multicultural mission. Even the most powerful IBM mainframe System/370, used in the production of RILM Abstracts from 1970 to 1988, had limited possibilities for rendering different fonts, writing systems, and diacritical signs. For RILM, displaying names and terms in their most accurate representations—including rendering them in their original writing systems—was an imperative since its inception in 1967.

RILM’s Soviet national committee, headed in the 1960s and 1970s by Grigorij Mihajlovič Šneerson (1901–82) and Ûrij Vsevolodovič Keldyš (1907–95), was prolific, contributing a large number of records for publications issued in the Russian language. As the S/370 was unable to render their authors and titles in Russian Cyrillic, early RILM editors used another, much simpler IBM machine: the Selectric typewriter. The Selectric’s changeable typeball made possible it to render different fonts and scripts. For RILM editors it was like an automated transliteration machine, since its typeball with Cyrillic letters enabled printing Russian texts by typing on a standard roman-letter keyboard.

Record from a printed volume of RILM Abstracts, with author and title rendered in Cyrillic.

IBM introduced the Selectric typewriter on 31 July 1961, 60 years ago today!

Typeballs used during the 1970s in the production of RILM Abstracts, preserved in the Museum of RILM History.

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Filed under From the archives, RILM