The global jukebox

The global jukebox is the culmination of a lifetime of groundbreaking work by Alan Lomax, whose efforts to record and compile song and dance from around the world led to this collaborative project—an interactive portal for the world’s music, dance, and speaking traditions from almost every corner of the earth, recorded by hundreds of pioneering ethnographers.

This open-access resource is divided into three broad areas of inquiry: cantometrics, an analysis of the elements of song within and across cultures, and choreometrics and parlametrics, which similarly evaluate dancing and speaking.

Users can search by genre or culture and experience thousands of songs and videos that come from a myriad of traditions; seek their ancestry through song and dance; uncover the roots and connections of their favorite musical genres; take a guided tour through the vibrant musical culture of a single region or style; look at clusters of any tradition’s song styles; or search for their own answers with the site’s analytical tools.

Below, Lomax discusses the background of the project.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Resources, World music

May Day and mayhem

On this first day of May, let’s look at a vivid depiction of Dublin May Day customs from a ballad that was first published in 1843, though it was already flourishing at least 60 years earlier.

De May Bush takes place amid a longstanding feud between the Liberty and Ormond factions—weavers and butchers, respectively—and revolves around the tradition of selecting, cutting, and guarding a handsome May Bush throughout the night before May Day. The vigil involved much revelry and drinking, and on this particular occasion the butchers fell asleep and the weavers stole their May Bush. The butchers’ leader exacted revenge in the form of driving a bull into the heart of the weavers’ turf to wreak havoc and create mayhem.

Like the song itself, the action depicted is a performance genre; the theft of the bush resembles the recurrent motif of the abduction of a bride. The butchers and the weavers were just as capable of manipulating multivalent social language as they were of ribald, full-bodied expression in song—complementary performance genres that meet around the May Bush.

This according to “May Day and mayhem: Portraits of a holiday in eighteenth-century Dublin ballads” by Cozette Griffin-Kremer, an essay included in The flowering thorn: International ballad studies (Logan: Utah State University, 2003, pp. 101–27).

Above, an Irish hawthorn, a popular choice for the May Bush; below, a tourist video shows decorated May Bushes in Galway.

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Filed under Curiosities, Europe

Jean Redpath and Robert Burns

The young Scottish traditional singer Jean Redpath shared a New York apartment with Bob Dylan in the early 1960s; she went on to make more than 40 recordings, not least the astonishing project she embarked upon with the American composer Serge Hovey, to record all of the songs composed and collected by Robert Burns.

Hovey arranged 323 Burns songs for her, matching them to their original melodies, often with imaginative contemporary orchestral arrangements. Redpath recorded seven albums of these arrangements, which were critically acclaimed, and went on to make other Burns albums as well.

This according to “Jean Redpath, MBE” by Jim Gilchrist (The Scotsman, 23 August 2014).

Today would have been Redpath’s 80th birthday! Above, a portrait by Alexander Fraser commissioned by the Glenrothes Burns Club; below, Redpath’s recording of Burns’s Green grow the rashes.

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Ella Fitzgerald and “How high the moon”

In 1947 Ella Fitzgerald, already an acclaimed singer of jazz standards, toured with Dizzy Gillespie, immersing herself in the new style known as bebop. Like Dizzy, Ella responded to bebop’s complex harmonies with an infallible ear, and easily translated its fast-moving lines.

Late that year she recorded a deeply bop-inflected version of How high the moon that was based on one of her offhand improvisations. The producer Milt Gabier recalled “We taped it in my office on a little tape machine. We had the arrangement written from that, then she came in and did it.”

Adorned with sly musical references to Charlie Parker, Ella’s playful rendition begins with a straight version of the song before doubling the tempo and switching the lyrics: “How high the moon is the name of this song/How high the moon, though the words may be wrong.” A superb scat improvisation follows that is wholly colored by bop.

This according to Ella Fitzgerald: A biography of the first lady of jazz by Stuart Nicholson (London: Routledge, 2014 [updated edition]).

Today is Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday! Above, Ella and Dizzy in 1947, the year of the recording; below, the recording itself.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Iggy Pop and John Coltrane

In an interview, Iggy Pop described the influence of John Coltrane’s music on his career.

“The first time I heard Coltrane the cut was A love supreme, and that’s an extremely simple three-note bass line that repeats without variance throughout the duration of a very long piece.”

“I was a novice unfamiliar with that sort of jazz, and I heard him run through the gamut of emotions on his horn, from tender to angry to bluesy to just…insane, to where it actually sounded offensive to me—until later.”

“I liked the way he was dancing over, above, under, within, and without this rock solid motif that didn’t change, and that three-note motif established a trance world where he could do all those things. It seemed timely, spiritual, and earthy all at the same time.”

“What I heard John Coltrane do with his horn I tried to do physically.”

Quoted in “Iggy Pop” by Kristine McKenna, in Talk to her: Interviews (Seattle, Fantagraphics, 2004, pp. 174–82).

Today is Iggy Pop’s 70th birthday! Below, live in 1986.

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19th-century variations for piano

Issued in 2017 by Greenway Music Press, 19th-century variations for piano features nine theme-and-variation sets composed in the early through mid-nineteenth century by Jan Ladislav Dussek, Otto Dresel, and American composers of the early nineteenth century. The variations are based on a variety of popular songs and dances of the period, as well as on original themes. This is both a new edition and a new series!

Below, Dussek’s variations on “Vive Henri-quatre”, one of the sets included in the collection.

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Filed under New editions, New series, Romantic era

Liz Phair and “Exile in Guyville”

Although Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville was celebrated as one of 1993’s top records by Spin and the New York times, to some it was an abomination: a mockery of The Rolling Stones’s most revered album, Exile on Main Street, and a rare glimpse into the psyche of a shrewd, independent, strong young woman. For these crimes she was run out of her hometown of Chicago, enduring a flame war perpetrated by writers who accused her of being boring, inauthentic, and even a poor musician.

With Exile in Guyville, Phair spoke for all the young women who loved the world of indie rock but felt deeply unwelcome there. Like all great works of art, Exile was a harbinger of the shape of things to come: Phair may have undermined the male ego, but she also unleashed a new female one.

This according to Exile in Guyville by Gina Arnold (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014).

Today is Liz Phair’s 50th birthday! Above, a screenshot from the official video for Never said, the album’s major airplay hit; below, the full video.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Alfred Pringsheim, beer-mug thumper

At the time of the 1876 Bayreuth premiere of Der Ring des Nibelungen, Alfred Pringsheim, the future mathematician and father-in-law of Thomas Mann, then a 25-year-old postgraduate student, displayed a sometimes unseemly fervor for Wagner’s masterpiece.

In October of that year he fought a duel with pistols with the Berlin theater critic Isidor Kastan, who Pringsheim believed had insulted Wagner (fortunately no one was hurt), and after the premiere of Siegfried he fell into an argument with the Shakespeare scholar Friedrich August Leo in a tavern, leading him to hit the professor on the nose with a beer mug. The latter incident earned Pringsheim the nickname der Schoppenhauer (the beer-mug thumper).

This according to “Der ‘Schoppenhauer’ und das Pistolenduell: Alfred Pringsheims kämpferischer Einsatz für die Bayreuther Sache” by Dirk Heißerer, an essay included in Alfred Pringsheim, der kritische Wagnerianer: Eine Dokumentation (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2013, pp. 63–80).

Below, Pringsheim’s arrangement of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll for strings and piano.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Romantic era

Jane Evrard and the Orchestre Féminin de Paris

When Jane Evrard founded the Orchestre féminin de Paris in 1930 she became one of the first professional women conductors in France. The group was among the most active and well-received ensembles in the French capital from its inaugural concert until World War II.

At a time when female instrumentalists were seldom able to join professional orchestras, the all-woman ensemble provided an important performance platform for talented women string players. The group was distinguished both by the quality of its performance and by its eclectic and innovative repertoire, specializing both in reviving Baroque compositions and in promoting contemporary music.

Looking back on her career, Evrard recalled her bemusement over the mild furor caused by the appearance of a woman at the head of an orchestra: “The great critic Vuillermoz found curious and significant the conquest of feminism represented by the taking of possession of a conductor’s baton. And he compared my orchestra to a battalion composed exclusively of Amazons which I led into combat!”

This according to “On the conductor’s podium: Jane Evrard and the Orchestre Féminin de Paris” by Laura Hamer (The musical times CLII/1916 [autumn 2011] pp. 81–100). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Below, Evrard and the orchestra perform a pair of dance pieces by Lully.

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Merle Haggard lived it

Merle Haggard’s best songs are powerful vignettes portraying damaged souls who manage to summon the inner strength to resist life’s worst onslaughts. That Haggard himself lived through many of the traumas he sang about is evident from his music, giving it a rare emotional quality.

Born near Bakersfield, California, to a family of Oklahomans who had just made the westward trek, Haggard’s early childhood home was a converted boxcar. His father died of a stroke when Merle was 9. Many of his songs recall the troubles of those early years.

Haggard quit school in the eighth grade and hopped on a freight train when he was 14, roaming the Southwest for several years and filling the void left by his father’s death with a life of petty crime and time in reform schools. This was also when he began dabbling in music. At 20, Haggard—now an alcoholic, married, and a father—attempted to break into a restaurant. He was arrested and sentenced to three years in San Quentin.

Paroled in 1960, Haggard returned to Bakersfield and, while digging ditches for his brother, began performing country music on the side. He scored a regional hit in 1963, landing him his first major record contract. In 1966 he topped the country charts for the first of what would be many times.

This according to “Merle Haggard” by Greg Bower (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013] p. 269); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Haggard’s 80th birthday! Above, the singer-songwriter in 1967; below, performing the semi-autobiographical Mama tried in 1986.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music