Tag Archives: Birthdays

Merce Cunningham’s concept of freedom

 

The freedom that Merce Cunningham advocated involved the performer becoming independent mentally, facing himself or herself, and reaching the state of mind of , true freedom achieved by overcoming ego.

Cunningham attempted to discipline the dancer’s body and mind in order to attain this ideal state of mind of at all the phases of his practical activity, by stipulating an environment where the performer must concentrate on his or her own movement—in particular on two elements, the shape of the movement and the energy that serves as its basis.

Cunningham’s concept of freedom did not stay only within the scope of negative concepts, in which freedom and liberty indicate “free from…”, but also connotes a creative and positive meaning, indicated by the Zen word jiyū (free to…).

This according to “Merce Cunningham’s concept of freedom and its philosophical background” by Sako Haruko, an essay included in Proceedings: Society of Dance History Scholars (Stoughton: Society of Dance History Scholars, 2002, pp. 125–28).

Today would have been Cunningham’s 100th birthday! Below, a collaboration with the video artist Nam June Paik.

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Musiri’s moustache

 

The revered Karnatak vocalist Musiri Subramania Iyer only acted in one film: Thukkaram (1938), in which he portrayed the 17th-century Hindu poet and saint Tukaram.

The shooting of the film ran into an unusual problem. The hero had to sport a bushy moustache, and in those days makeup materials were crude and even primitive. Moustaches and beards were stuck to the actor’s face with spirit gum, and when the gum dried the skin would burn and pull, the degree of irritation depending on the sensitivity of one’s skin.

Musiri suffered unbearable irritation, and he threatened that he would walk out if he had to endure the suffering any longer. Left with no choice, the producers permitted him to grow his own moustache. The shooting had to be stopped while Musiri waited for his lip hair to grow to the degree of bushiness required by the script.

This according to “Filmsinger in saint’s clothing: Tuka-ram” by Randor Guy (Sruti 176 [May 1999] pp. 35–38).

Today is Musiri’s 120th birthday! Above, a publicity shot for the film.

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André Previn, musical polymath

 

André Previn may well have been the last of the great 20th-century American musical eclectics. He had it all, making a mark on Broadway and in Hollywood, on classical concert stages and in jazz clubs, in pop songs and violin concertos.

He was not a mere dabbler: In every context, he was always plausible, and often inspired. He was also a great popularizer, a figure who, like his idol Leonard Bernstein, suggested that it was possible to know about, and even love, all kinds of music.

When a young Mr. Previn conducted symphony orchestras, he typified the verve and boyish enthusiasm of a pop star; performing lighter fare on television, he carried himself with a rarefied swagger. Even Dizzy Gillespie was a fan. “He has the flow, you know, which a lot of guys don’t have and won’t ever get,” Gillespie said.

This according to “André Previn: Hear the many facets of a musical polymath” by Zachary Woolfe, et al. (The New York times [online only] 1 March 2019).

Today would have been Previn’s 90th birthday! Above, conducting from the piano in 1965; below, performing Jule Styne’s Just in time in 1961.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Jazz and blues, Performers

Richard Thompson and “Meet on the ledge”

 

Richard Thompson wrote Meet on the Ledge for Fairport Convention in 1969, while he was still a teenager, shaken by the loss of a close friend.

Already well schooled in traditional ballads, Thompson was aware—consciously or not—that sparing the details would lend a universal appeal to the song, which is at once a memorial and a source of comfort.

“I always believed in an afterlife,” he said in an interview. “Even at the age I wrote that I had that belief and that is reflected in the song in a subtle way. It can be taken in many ways, as fans continually remind me!”

“It’s only because it became kind of anthemic for some people that I revisited the song. I had to drag it out and look at it and think ‘Are there things that I can extract from this song so that I can continue to enjoy it?’ And there are. I can find things in it that still speak for me.”

And it speaks for many others as well—in 2004 Meet on the ledge was voted number 17 in BBC Radio 2’s top 100 songs.

This according to I shot a man in Reno: A history of death by murder, suicide, fire, flood, drugs, disease, and general misadventure, as related in popular song by Graeme Thomson (New York: Continuum, 2008, pp. 170–71).

Today is Richard Thompson’s 70th birthday! Above, with Fairport around the time he wrote the song; below, performing it in 2006.

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Disney and Musorgskij

 

Night on Bald Mountain, Walt Disney’s animated rendition of Modest Musorgskij’s Ivanova noč’ na Lysoj gore, follows the structure of the work, linking the main theme to the demonic figure of Černobog and introducing new ghostly or monstrous creatures for each new musical section.

The climactic orgy includes all of the previously introduced characters as well as newly introduced ones, often depicted in an expressionist style that contrasts with Musorgskij’s own realist aesthetic—indeed, expressionism was an overt rebellion against realism’s Romantic ideals.

Disney’s version also follows the program of Musorgskij’s work as the village church bells put a stop to the hellish festivities, but a happy ending was deemed necessary, resulting in an unfortunate segue into an inappropriately Romanticized arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria.

This according to “Klasična glazba u crtanom filmu <Fantazija> (1940.) Walta Disneya” by Irena Paulus (Arti musices: Hrvatski muzikološki zbornik XXVIII/1–2 [1997] pp. 115–27).

Today is Musorgskij’s 180th birthday! Below, the full segment from Disney’s Fantasia.

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Silvestre Revueltas and pregones

 

Silvestre Revueltas has been held up as a post-revolutionary nationalist composer, even though he often used icons of Mexicanness as objects of satire or points of departure for a rejection of nationalist art. Some of his works rely on cultural representations to communicate a political message rather than one of Mexican identity.

For instance, the figure of the street vendor had been a picturesque and positive symbol of identity as the Other within Mexican society before the Mexican Revolution, and it retained that idealized image afterwards. Revueltas did not adopt this ideal image of the downtrodden, but provided a narrative of social change in which the poor have agency.

Pregones, the street vendors’ cries, found their way into music and scholarship before the twentieth century; however, Revueltas used them in a number of his compositions, including Esquinas (1931), where they are purposefully not used along with folk songs or other topics evoking Mexicanness. Rather, the pregones contribute to a socialist political message about poverty, hunger, and anger.

This according to “‘The rending call of the poor and forsaken street crier’: The political and expressive dimension of a topic in Silvestre Revueltas’s early works” by Roberto Kolb Neuhaus, an essay included in Studies on a global history of music: A Balzan musicology project (Abingdon: Routledge 2018, pp. 395–423).

Today is Revueltas’s 120th birthday! Above, the composer in 1930; below, his 1933 revision of Esquinas.

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Jeanne Lee subverts the standards

 

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 [2018] pp. 49–76).

Today would have been Lee’s 80th birthday! Above, Lee in 1984; below, singing “All about Ronnie” in 1963.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers, Women's studies

Mick Taylor and “Time waits for no one”

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.

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Dave Grohl’s reticence

 

In a recent interview, Dave Grohl discussed why he didn’t push for his own songs while he was drumming for Nirvana:

“I didn’t like my voice, I didn’t think I was a songwriter, and I was in a band with one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. I didn’t really want to rock the boat.”

“That’s the famous joke: What’s the last thing the drummer said before he got kicked out of the band? ‘Hey guys, I’ve got some songs I think we should play.’ So I just kind of kept it to myself.”

Following Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, Grohl doubled down on his original work, resulting in the Foo Fighters’ eponymous debut the following year. At the time, he says, the project didn’t even feel like a proper record. “I just wanted to get up and go out and play something, even if nobody ever heard it,” he said. “Long before then, I had been recording songs of my own, and never letting anybody hear them, because I didn’t really think they were that good.”

This according to “See Dave Grohl explain why he didn’t write or sing in Nirvana” by Zoe Camp (Revolver 9 July 2018).

Today is Grohl’s 50th birthday! Above, performing in 2018; below, the Wasting light touring set from 2011.

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Professor Longhair and New Orleans

 

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 [2006] 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

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