Having the time of my life writing the Mississippi Blues unit of my textbook for Kendall Hunt Publishing on the heels of our recent visit to the Delta, and subsequent interviews with all sorts of beautiful people, musicians, historians and academics. Trying to get back down there in December again! A special thanks to Alphonso Sanders, Ben Payton, Jimmi Mayes, Bruce Conforth, Sylvester Hoover and Stewart Schrof.
Category Archives: "Around The Horn"
Throughout the last few weeks as I’ve taught my private piano lessons, the most significant opportunity (considering my group of student’s as a whole) was rhythm. As painful as it might be, practicing regularly with a metronome is absolutely essential. It cured many of my own problems as a developing, professional musician. Just can’t stress how crucial this little tool is for your musical upbringings. Below is a link to an article that discusses SOME of the benefits of using a metronome. I can’t tell you how often a student’s sense of rhythm hinders their ability to continue to excel musically. Please remember that it is important to learn it slow first !!! And of course, always with the metronome! Some of the best players are the smartest “practicers” behind closed doors. Trust me. Use your time wisely. http://www.metronomebot.com/why-use-a-metronome.html
This afternoon, in our first class meeting for the semester, I was discussing a pre-history to American blues and popular music. The below recording was captured by John and Alan Lomax at an all black southern prison and work camp during the 1930s. As a Folk Music Archivist for the Library of Congress, John Lomax’s job was to preserve old folk music traditions in America, many of which were believed to be on the verge of extinction. The musical traits heard in these recordings are thought to be reminiscent of the prisoner’s enslaved ancestors: call & response, bent pitches (later referred to as “blue notes”), a strong, physical rhythmic drive and absence of consonant harmonic relationships such as the use of thirds or sixths. The irony is that we didn’t have the ability to record until the turn of the twentieth century. Thus, we’re missing recorded evidence from a good 250 years or more of musical evolution as it relates to the music of the slaves. So, while we do have access to sheet music, press and scholarly research, we lack recorded evidence. These field recordings are about as close as we’ll get to what the music of the slaves may have sounded like.
When the Pilgrims migrated to America seeking religious reform, they brought a book with them called the Ainsworth Psalter. It was compiled and translated by the English Reverend, Henry Ainsworth and it contained a unique meter and tune set to every psalm in the Old Testament. In his book, An Introduction To America’s Music, Richard Crawford describes the publication as a pocket-size book making it easily portable and easy to read thus, geared toward the “non-musician.” While there are 150 psalms in the Old Testament, this psalter only contained 39 tunes, so many of the psalms in the Ainsworth Psalter shared the same music and rhythmic meter.
The psalmody tradition can be traced back to the 1560s in England and France, and when the Pilgrims arrived in America in 1620, psalmody became the first Christian worship music in the United States. Over the course of the next century and a half, Psalmody flourished throughout the colonies in both sacred and secular circles. More psalters, or tune books were compiled by New England composers such as William Billings and Daniel Read, and had expanded beyond the psalms to other popular Bible verses (this is the case with “Sherburne,” which is examined in the attached essay).
Americans developed a particularly unique way of singing in the psalmody tradition. For example, New England’s native composers preferred open harmonies containing fourths and fifths and the European composers tended to prefer the traditional, more consonant thirds and sixths. In a sense, this can be viewed as one of America’s first attempts at artistic rule breaking, something that has given us our own identity in the popular realm with jazz, blues and rock music.
My essay (attached below) traces one song from the New England Psalmody tradition entitled “Sherburne.” It places the composition and it’s composer into its appropriate historical context, provides an overview and analysis of the psalmody tradition, and traces its appearance in various publications dating back to the 1700s when it was originally composed by Daniel Read. Several modern recordings of the piece are also discussed. While the psalmody tradition died out in New England, it survived in the American south (something that is discussed in the essay). The soundtrack to the film, Cold Mountain starring (Jude Law and Nicole Kidman) showcases the old psalmody piece, “Going Home” performed by the Sacred Harp Singers. I’ve included the Youtube links to the recording from the soundtrack as well as live footage from the congregation in Alabama singing the same piece.
This article was posted at Twitter from author and historian, Ted Gioia. It’s written by Steve Guttenberg for CNET and is entitled “An Inconvenient Truth: Why Music Sounds Bad.” I found it intriguing as I struggled with engineers to get my recent album “just right” in terms of audio quality across all platforms (i.e. the home stereo system, MP3 playback and car stereos). Guttenberg discusses a decline in audio quality in recent years that is directly tied to today’s smaller speakers, portable devices (phones and MP3 players etc…). Thanks to Ted Gioia for posting! Why Music Sounds Bad (Steve Guttenberg)
John (Henry) Hammond was a talent scout and producer responsible for discovering musicians such as Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Big Joe Turner, Bob Dylan and many others. In 1938, he produced a historical concert at Carnegie Hall called “From Spirituals to Swing,” and would feature many of the great African-American artists of the time. His autobiography, John Hammond On Record (Ridge Press, 1977) is an insightful history of American popular music stemming from Jazz to Rock n’ Roll. Popular music wouldn’t be what it is today without Hammond and I compare his legacy to that of John and Alan Lomax who are responsible for preserving African-American work songs, American folk traditions as well as the blues.
In 2011, I began teaching a Jazz, Blues and Rock history course at Heartland Community College in Normal, IL and had to research early folk and blues artists such as Charley Patton, “Mississippi” John Hurt, Son House, Bukka White, Lead Belly and “Blind Lemon Jefferson. When I arrived at Robert Johnson, I discovered a documentary entitled The Search For Robert Johnson. In this film, a blues musician sets out to uncover the myths surrounding Johnson’s life, career and legend. It turns out that this blues musician happens to be John Paul Hammond, who is John Henry Hammond’s son.
A couple of weeks ago when I was driving home from a gig, I tuned in to WGLT radio (89.1fm Central Illinois), to hear jazz and blues radio personality, Jon Norton on an extensive interview with John Paul Hammond. Like his father, Hammond apparently has cemented his name and legacy into rock and blues history. Check out this interview by Jon Norton and sampling of Hammond’s music here.
WGLT (89.1fm) is a public radio station based out of Normal, IL and is connected to Illinois State University. It broadcasts in Peoria, IL as well (103.5fm). They specialize in news, jazz, blues, acoustic folk music and much more. They are available online at wglt.org. You can listen to live streaming, around the clock jazz, blues and acoustic channels, interview archives and some of the best news and journalism that Central Illinois has to offer. A significant portion of WGLT’s operating budget comes from the general public throughout the area. Please consider donating. It’s worth it.
The Bad Plus is a modern jazz piano trio led by pianist, Ethan Iverson. Iverson studied some with pianist, Fred Hersch (see Hersch interview on this blog). This trio is doing some very interesting things. Today, my friend, drummer and colleague posted this video on his Facebook page. Thus, I thought I’d post it here. For those of you who grew up during the 80s, you’ll recognize this song originally written and performed by the band, Tears for Fears.
CYCLE BY THREE PRESS RELEASE BY LAURA KENNEDY (WGLT RADIO 89.1FM)
Travis Wesley’s new CD reveals all the wisdom of maturity and none of the stodginess. “Cycle By Three” shows pianist and composer Wesley, along with bassist Toby Curtright and drummer Tom Marko, in an intriguing, meditative light. That’s not so say that this is a downbeat album –rather one that captivates the artists revealing their emotions. This contemplative tone is a constant and welcome companion. Wesley’s original “Prelude” is compelling, but also unsettling in a way that leads us onward to explore more. The tunes “Keeper of the Keys” and “Fading Friends” reveal an assured spirit within Wesley the composer and performer.
Bassist Toby Curtwright contributes two songs to “Cycle By Three.” Within “But He Himself Was Broken” are dark notes. And “For Us This is the End of Stories” is wonderfully pensive. Marko’s performance is a standout as his playing entices us into quiet, restful shadows. He’s no mere timekeeper, but an artist who shows us the lyricism in percussion.
“Postlude,” another original from Wesley is a thoughtful bookend to “Prelude.” The whole CD is marvelously produced, with a sustained reflective mood. There are moments of sweet melancholy tinged with the promise of optimism that’s just coming into reach.
On “Cycle By Three,” each track is a standout that holds tight to the thread that joins the songs together. The superb empathy between these players pulls you in from the start and will stay with you long after.