Tag Archives: Performers

Jason Mraz, avocado farmer

When Jason Mraz bought a 5½-acre ranch northeast of San Diego in 2004, he thought it would be “a place to be isolated when you have a crazy life.” The densely packed property is planted mostly with avocados, along with Meyer lemons, pomegranates, guavas, and mangoes.

In his early performing days Mraz had regularly subsisted on fast food, soda, and cigarettes, but as he began to tour he realized that a better regimen was essential to maintaining his health, and in 2008 “we decided to bring a chef out on tour with us for 30 days and go vegetarian and raw to see what would happen. And I mean, a dramatic transformation. Not just in weight loss, but in overall health and energy.”

Mraz became a dedicated locavore, and an avid cultivator and consumer of his avocados and other crops. “The first time I was served a big chunk of avocado on my salad, I didn’t know what to do with it. Now I’m among them all the time, experimenting with them, making meals and adding spices and whatnot. You know, your palate evolves.”

This according to “The accidental avocado farmer” by Jim Romanoff (Eating well XIV/1 [January–February 2015] pp. 88–94).

Today is Mraz’s 40th birthday! Below, performing Back to the earth at his avocado ranch.

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Filed under Food, Performers, Popular music

Svensk jazzbibliografi

Svensk jazzbibliografi is a new online resource that covers writings about Swedish jazz in Swedish and in other languages, in the areas of jazz history; biographies and memoirs; jazz-related literature, photographs, and art; anthologies, essays, and other literature; discographies; and periodicals.

Published by Svenskt Visarkiv, this open-access bibliography was compiled and annotated by the Swedish composer, arranger, and conductor Mats Holmquist.

Above and below, Holmquist in action.

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Kanye West’s influential departure

808s & heartbreak was a jarring departure from Kanye West’s previous work, and, although its initial reception was mixed at best, it has proven to be the most influential album of his career both as a performer and a producer.

Written and recorded in haste on the heels of his mother’s death and a breakup with his fiancée, 808s features chilly synth textures, brittle drum machines, and West’s blatantly auto-tuned singing throughout. With the help of T-Pain, who, ironically, had come to be mocked for his extensive use of auto-tune, the album made the pitch-correction technology relevant again.

Another unexpected source of inspiration was found in Phil Collins—both in terms of his vocal style and the gated reverb drum sound that he invented in the 1980s. Trapping and snuffing out overtones with a signal processor, the noise gate made the programmed beats of the iconic Roland TR-808 drum machine sound both vivid and lifeless.

The album’s distinctive sound has since filtered into contemporary hip hop and R&B, and the only thing more influential than its sound is its tone: bitter, confused, self-pitying, defensive, and accusatory. 808s & heartbreak made sullen solitude fashionable, with many a male R&B star now presenting himself as a misunderstood antihero, reenacting the public breakdown that West staged without a net.

This according to “The coldest story ever told: The influence of Kanye West’s 808s & heartbreak” by Jayson Greene (Pitchfork 22 September 2015).

Today is West’s 40th birthday! Above, performing Love lockdown, the album’s lead single; below, the full album.

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The Hormel Girls

In 1946 the Hormel company created a unique organization to employ World War II veterans as musicians to market food products.

Over a seven-year period the Hormel Girls, a drum-and-bugle corps, conducted door-to-door sales, worked with local retailers in cities and towns across America, formed a professional orchestra and a choir to enhance their stage shows, and produced a weekly national radio broadcast.

This was possibly the most successful musical-marketing strategy in the history of partnerships between music and industry. The women received outstanding pay and benefits, the company doubled its profits during the group’s existence, and the performers were professional-level musicians on a par with members of other professional ensembles of the era.

This according to “The Hormel Girls” by ­Jill M. Sullivan and Danielle D. Keck (American music XXV/3 [fall 2007] pp. 282–311). Top, the group ca. 1947; center, in 1952. Below, Elisa Korenne’s Hormel Girls, illustrated with vintage photographs.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Le Pétomane and physiological symbolism

When he was about ten years old, Joseph Pujol discovered that he had the rare ability to draw air into his anus and expel it at will.

Not content to have a simple party trick, he trained his sonic instrument just as others would train their vocal chords, and by young adulthood he could produce a startling range of sounds, nuanced with tonal, timbral, and dynamic variation, and animated by his natural sense of humor. By the 1890s he was performing as Le Pétomane to packed audiences at the Moulin Rouge.

Pujol’s idiosyncratic career has rarely been considered as an historical object—and when it has, the gaze has been light-hearted and filled with puns, much like those that surrounded him in his lifetime. But if the temptation to giggle is resisted for a moment, Le Pétomane can teach us much about symbolic physiological meanings in late nineteenth-century Paris.

This according to “The spectacular anus of Joseph Pujol: Recovering the Pétomane’s unique historic context” by Alison Moore (French cultural studies XXIV/1 [2013] pp. 27–43).

Today is Pujol’s 160th birthday! Below, Le Pétomane in action (silent).

BONUS: A recording from 1904.

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Reginald Foresythe’s triple consciousness

The pianist, composer, and bandleader Reginald Foresythe occupied a critical location as a black British musician within Anglo-American jazz culture and the African diaspora. Foresythe warrants attention for his highly influential yet neglected contribution to 1930s jazz during a crucial period in which the rapid proliferation and commodification of recorded jazz meant that it increasingly became the focus of searching critique.

In this respect, he stands at a fascinating conjunction of three intersecting critical discourses. First, Foresythe offers an opportunity to reconsider modernist concerns about the form and functions of jazz in social relations as expounded by Theodor Adorno. Second, Foresythe offers an opportunity to develop broader transnational perspectives of jazz’s modernity, derived from his position within the spaces of movement that Paul Gilroy called the Black Atlantic. Third, the double consciousness suggested by such a figuring is further complicated by Foresythe’s sexualized performance as a decidedly camp figure in this arena.

The resulting interplay of such triple consciousness in the person of Foresythe offers an illuminating new way to reflect on how Adorno and Gilroy understood jazz’s role in modernity.

This according to “Camping it up: Jazz’s modernity, Reginald Foresythe, Theodor Adorno and the Black Atlantic” by George Burrows, an essay included in Black British jazz: Routes, ownership and performance (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014, pp. 173-198).

Today is Foresythe’s 110th birthday! Above, entertaining members of No. 325 Wing RAF in Setif, Algeria, ca. 1941; below, The Duke insists from 1934.

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Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Performers

Helen May Butler, American bandleader

Helen May Butler’s career provides a welcome counternarrative to the men’s professional bands—such as John Philip Sousa’s—that were the rage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Butler had the professional and musical clout to attract the top female talent needed to form a first-rate professional ensemble. Her Ladies’ Military Band rose to prominence during a time when being a professional woman required sacrifice, in terms of both family life and customary female identity. Butler’s perseverance and tenacity in creating an accomplished ensemble of women in a male-dominated field is an important and inspirational addition to the history of both U.S. concert bands and the women’s movement of her time.

This according to “Helen May Butler and her Ladies’ Military Band: Being professional during the golden age of bands” by Brian D. Meyers, an essay included in Women’s bands in America: Performing music and gender (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, pp. 15–49).

Today is Butler’s 150th birthday! Below, an undated photograph of her Ladies’ Brass Band, which toured between 1901 and 1912 (click to enlarge).

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Filed under Curiosities, Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Benga and Luo traditions

Benga, a Kenyan dance music, first emerged within the Luo community during the late 1960s. The genre has provided many Kenyans with a malleable platform that connects with the traditional ethnic poetic and musical sensibilities that have been resilient in both rural and urban Luo life.

Despite criticism that it was unpolished and parochial, benga’s development shows a clear movement towards sophistication and compositional experimentation. Ultimately benga musicians succeeded in creating a style distinct from its regional counterparts using traditional Luo melodic rhythmic structures and accompaniment cycles.

This according to “Continuities and innovation in Luo song style: Creating the benga beat in Kenya 1960 to 1995” by Ian Eagleson (African music IX/4 [2014] pp. 91–122).

Above and below, Okatch Biggy, a pioneer of 1990s benga.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music

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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Filed under Europe, Performers

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