Tag Archives: Birthdays

Django Reinhardt and U.S. jazz

 

While he was perhaps the most famous and adept practitioner of American jazz in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, the Manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt was an outsider—both culturally and geographically—to the U.S. jazz scene. For this reason, scholars have had difficulty placing him securely in American jazz history.

Reinhardt only visited the U.S. once, in 1946, as a guest of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. A recording made during that tour, A blues riff, presents a complex musical negotiation of contrasting musical and cultural values. What is heard in this performance is not just a debate over what notes to play when, but over what the philosopher Henri Lefebvre called representational spaces. The task of locating Reinhardt in jazz history requires a new theoretical appreciation for the material importance of space and place in the shaping of musical performance.

This according to “Negotiating A blues riff: Listening for Django Reinhardt’s place in American jazz” by Andrew Berish (Jazz perspectives III/3 [December 2009] pp. 233–64).

Today is Reinhardt’s 110th birthday!

Above, Reinhardt in 1946, the year of the recording; below, the recording itself.

Related article: Grappelli, South, and Reinhardt play Bach

1 Comment

Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Roy DeCarava’s photographic aesthetic

 

The legacy of Roy DeCarava, particularly his collection The sound I saw: Improvisation on a jazz theme (London: Phaidon, 2001), illuminates how his photographic method, both in individual photographs and in the way they are sequenced, absorbed jazz technique and mimicked jazz performance.

DeCarava’s aesthetic can be seen as both a distinctively black aesthetic and a profoundly inclusive one. His unflinching but caring eye is cast over the debris of the ghetto as well as the ecstasy of the jazz solo, and it observes the cramped but welcoming dark of the metonymic Harlem hallway.

This according to “‘And you slip into the breaks and look around’: Jazz and everyday life in the photographs of Roy DeCarava” by Richard Ings, an essay included in The hearing eye: Jazz & blues influences in African American visual art (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 303–31).

Today is DeCarava’s 100th birthday!

Above, Dancers (Dancers at the Savoy Ballroom, 1956) by Roy DeCarava is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Below, a brief documentary.

Comments Off on Roy DeCarava’s photographic aesthetic

Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Visual art

Tina Turner’s second act

 

 

In 1958 Anna Mae Bullock, a backing vocalist in the Kings of Rhythm, married the group’s leader, Ike Turner; in 1960, ahead of the group’s first release with her as lead singer, Ike changed her name to Tina. The recording, A fool in love, became the group’s first million-copy hit.

Rebranded as the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, the group became a world-famous soul band; but the Turners’ relationship was deteriorating drastically due to Ike’s abusive behavior, and in 1976 Tina finally left him and the band, sneaking out of a motel room with only the clothes she was wearing and the 36 cents in her pocket. She subsequently relinquished all legal rights to the songs she had recorded with them.

After appearing with major artists including Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones, Tina began to reestablish her career, and in 1984 she signed with Capitol Records. Three Top 40 hits and three Grammy Awards soon followed, and to promote her 1986 album Break every rule she toured for 14 months, performing 230 concerts. The effort paid off: the album went platinum, and its lead track, Typical male, was another Top 40 hit. By the 1990s she was firmly established as a major pop star and film actress, with an enormous and devoted international fan base.

This according to “Tina Turner” by Steve Valdez (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013] p. 641); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Tina Turner’s 80th birthday! Above, her 50th Anniversary Tour, 2008–09; below, Proud Mary in 2000.

Comments Off on Tina Turner’s second act

Filed under Performers, Popular music

Johnny Mercer, America’s troubadour

 

Raised in Savannah, Johnny Mercer brought a quintessentially southern style to both his life in New York and to his lyrics, which often evoked the landscapes and mood of his youth (Moon river, In the cool, cool, cool of the evening).

Mercer also absorbed the music of southern blacks—the lullabies his nurse sang to him as a baby and the spirituals of Savannah’s churches—and that cool smooth lyrical style informed some of his best-known songs, such as That old black magic.

Mercer took Hollywood by storm in the midst of the Great Depression; putting words to some of the most famous tunes of the time, he wrote one hit after another, from You must have been a beautiful baby to Jeepers creepers. But it was also in Hollywood that Mercer’s dark underside emerged. When he drank, Mercer tore into friends and strangers alike with vicious abuse.

During World War II Mercer served as America’s troubadour, turning out such uplifting songs as My shining hour. He also helped to create Capitol Records, the first major West Coast recording company, where he launched the careers of many talented singers, including Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole. During this period, he also began an intense affair with Judy Garland, which rekindled time and again for the rest of their lives. Garland became Mercer’s muse and inspired some of his most sensuous and heartbreaking lyrics, such as Blues in the night, One for my baby, and Come rain or come shine.

This according to Skylark: The life and times of Johnny Mercer by Philip Furia (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003).

Today is Mercer’s 110th birthday! Above, a publicity shot from around 1947; below, the Moon river sequence from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Comments Off on Johnny Mercer, America’s troubadour

Filed under Popular music

George Crumb and “Black angels”

In the 1960s and early 1970s George Crumb explored new sonorities on conventional instruments and embedded quotations from historical Western classical music into new compositions. These techniques, along with his use of the concert stage as theater, come together in one of his best-known works—the string quartet Black angels, initially titled A quartet in time of war.

In the spring prior to its premiere, the nation had witnessed several devastating events surrounding the Vietnam War, which led to his inscription “finished on Friday the thirteenth, March 1970 (in tempore belli).” Crumb’s liner notes for the work’s first recording provided further context:

Black angels was conceived as a kind of parable on our troubled contemporary world. The numerous quasi-programmatic allusions in the work are therefore symbolic, although the essential polarity—God versus Devil—implies more than a purely metaphysical reality. The image of the ‘black angel’ was a conventional device used by early painters to symbolize the fallen angel.”

“The work portrays a voyage of the soul. The three stages of this voyage are Departure (fall from grace), Absence (spiritual annihilation), and Return (redemption).”

This according to “George Crumb and Black angels: A quartet in time of war”, an entry in Music in the USA: A documentary companion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008 pp. 658–60).

Today is Crumb’s 90th birthday! Above, an excerpt from Crumb’s score; below, a performance by Ensemble InterContemporain.

Comments Off on George Crumb and “Black angels”

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music

Jon Higgins and Karnatak music

Jon B. Higgins first encountered Karnatak music as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University in 1962. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 1964 to begin study in India, and was granted an unprecedented third year extension based on the seriousness of his efforts. His first public appearance at the Tyāgarāja ārādhana at Tiruvaiyaru in 1965 was the beginning of many successful concerts to follow.

Over the next 20 years he distinguished himself as an accomplished performer, earning a sizeable and appreciative audience both in India and North America. He began teaching in 1971, finally settling at Wesleyan in 1978, where, along with his many administrative responsibilities, his singing and his interest in South India remained a constant preoccupation.

His interest and love for Karnatak music was a passionate one that fed into the strong belief that the best way to understand a music—either to talk or to write about—is to know it well from the inside.

This according to “Jon B. Higgins (1939–84)” by Tanjore Viswanathan (Ethnomusicology XXX/1 [winter 1986] pp. 113–114).

Today would have been Higgins’s 80th birthday! Below, one of his studio recordings.

Comments Off on Jon Higgins and Karnatak music

Filed under Ethnomusicology, Performers

Kitty Wells’s persona

While Kitty Wells’s publicity depicted her as sweet and subservient, her performances told a different story; her steel-blade voice conveyed a maturity and temerity that was impossible to misread.

Confident but not flashy, plaintive but not abject, Wells tapped into a rich vein of deeply loyal fans who heard the grit and forbearance of her experience as she sang to and about them. A role model for women who felt both fidelity and frustration toward family values, she was a transitional figure who represented changing times: a fierce traditionalist with her band, the career wife in an otherwise traditional marriage, and the voice of women who predated the feminist movement but still embraced women’s universal desire to be heard.

Projecting a toughness and stamina honed by 16 years as a professional musician, Wells forged feminine stereotypes into tools of power and strength. She built her reputation on this contradiction: She would not make waves and she would open doors.

This according to “Kitty Wells, queen of denial” by Georgia Christgau, an essay included in Country boys and redneck women: New essays in gender and country music (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016, pp. 211–30).

Today would have been Wells’s 100th birthday! Below, her signature hit It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels.

BONUS: A classic cover of the song.

Comments Off on Kitty Wells’s persona

Filed under Popular music, Women's studies

Hitchcock and music

 

Alfred Hitchcock held an ambivalent position toward the sound elements of cinema. He remained faithful to the idea of pure cinema realized through shots and sequences, and considered dialogue as a lesser expressive resource due to its tendency to break down the narrative tension gained by the images.

On the other hand, he considered sound effects and music to be highly effective devices, with their ability to modify the rhythm of the action, or to voice the depth of characters and the hidden forces of dramatic situations. He often gave sound effects and music central roles in dramaturgy and structure.

The 1956 version of The man who knew too much is a film completely pervaded by music. The recurring song Que sera, sera is one of Hitchcock’s most remarkable examples of diegetic music, informing the audiovisual structures in concurrence with concepts developed by Gilles Deleuze in L’image-mouvement.

This according to “Immagine, suono, relazione mentale in The man who knew too much (1956) di Alfred Hitchcock” by Matteo Giuggioli (Philomusica on-line XI [2007]).

Tomorrow is Hitchcock’s 120th birthday! Above and below, Doris Day’s iconic performance in The man who knew too much.

Comments Off on Hitchcock and music

Filed under Film music

Georgij Mušel’ and Uzbek traditional music

 

The Soviet composer Georgij Aleksandrovič Mušel’ was deeply influenced by Uzbek traditional music and Central Asian musical culture.

While his arrangements of Uzbek traditional songs display the most characteristic aspects of his style, this influence is also evident in his three symphonies, seven concertos, and nine other orchestral pieces, as well as in his chamber music and stage works, securing him a unique place among Russian composers.

This according to Творчество Г.А. Мушеля в аспекте проблемы взаимосвязей музыкальныx культур братских народов (The music of G.A. Mušel’ in connection with the interchange of musical cultures among the Soviet republics) by Galina Vasil’evna Kuznecova, a dissertation accepted by the Taškentskaja Gosudarstvennaja Konservatorija in 1974.

Today would have been Mušel’s 110th birthday! Below, a performance of one of his piano works.

Comments Off on Georgij Mušel’ and Uzbek traditional music

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music

Norman Lewis’s “pure eye music”

The African American artist Norman Lewis’s artistic background was similar to those of the abstract expressionists; but with abstract expressionism defined chiefly by white male artists and critics, Lewis’s contributions to the movement were ignored.

Abstract expressionism valued originality apart from European influence, yet Lewis borrowed ideas from Picasso, Mondrian, Klee, and Kandinsky to recontextualize into his work. Lewis also changed styles frequently. From Musicians (1945), through Jazz musicians (1948, above), to Jazz band (1948, below), a development can be traced—from depicting overt human forms merging with musical instruments, through human forms gradually more abstracted, to emphasis on visual interpretation of musical lines, sound, embellishments, and rhythms (called “pure eye music” by the critic Henry McBride).

While Lewis’s blending and recombining of many artistic influences may have run against the abstract expressionism aesthetic, his recontextualizing of styles parallels the innovative borrowing from standard tunes and chord substitution that were characteristics of bebop.

This according to “‘Pure eye music’: Norman Lewis, abstract expressionism, and bebop” by Sara K. Wood, an essay included in The hearing eye: Jazz & blues influences in African American visual art (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 95–119).

Today would have been Lewis’s 110th birthday! Below, a brief documentary chronicles his artistic development, including references to his jazz-influenced works.

Comments Off on Norman Lewis’s “pure eye music”

Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Visual art