Archive for the ‘Musical context’ Category

An interesting article in the T-P the other day updates the thinking and possible future of the stretch of Claiborne that is now overshadowed by I-10. That area and its history was of the course the subject of an essay in LfNO. Apparently the city has recently landed “a $2 million federal grant to study ways to revitalize the Claiborne corridor, including possible demolition of the 2.2-mile stretch of elevated roadway between Elysian Fields Avenue and the Pontchartrain Expressway.”

Katy Reckdahl’s story about a brass band contest under the freeway included interesting comments on this. Ellis Joseph of the Free Agents Brass Band cheered the idea: “”It would bring it back like it was in the old days, when my grandparents and parents used to gather out here and chill.”

But Derrick Moss, bass drummer for the Soul Rebels, said the damage has already been done.

“They spent all this money to build it and moved all these people out of their homes,” said Moss, recounting the painful history of how North Claiborne and the thriving African-American-owned businesses that once lined it withered after the elevated roadway split the neighborhood. “Why spend all sorts of money to tear it down?” he asked. “Just use it for something positive, like today.”

Playwright Asali Devan-Ecclesiastes said she found the whole demolition idea “kind of sad,” a common sentiment on Saturday.

After the expressway divided the community 50 years ago, she said, neighbors incorporated the structure into their music and art. “Now they want to take it down. How much do they want people to adjust?”

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The Financial Times talks to Richard Thompson about his new album Dream Attic, “recorded live in concert.”

The most obvious sign of the live recording is that Thompson’s guitar solos, a concert staple, are longer and more unrestrained than on record. “You’re trading energy for accuracy. In the studio you can take time to do something and get it right. Live, you’re sacrificing some choices but you’re getting back to the sharp end of music. The way it used to be in the studio, actually – straight to 78. Louis Armstrong on ‘Heebie Jeebies’ or ‘St James Infirmary’; what you played was what was recorded and that was it.”

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While I’m still holding off on forming an opinion about Treme (and may never get around to expressing one here if I can’t think of anything useful to say, which is distinctly possible), I’ve certainly been monitoring the reactions of others.

Two quick links of interest on the subject of the show’s music:

Friend of no notes Marc Weidenbaum writes over on his site Disquiet about the music in the show’s first episode, here. Quick excerpt:

Learning that it was to be focused on the music of New Orleans raised some concern, since the first season of The Wire was peculiarly tone deaf when it came to the sounds of Baltimore, the city in which it was set. No such issues, as it turns out, with Treme, which mixes in not only old-school jazz and r&b, but also touches of the rap and swaggering rock’n’roll that make a home in the city.

Also there’s a blog called soundoftreme.blogspot.com written by a Tulane music prof. The first  post (again on episode one music) is here.

Episode 1 starts with the Rebirth Brass Band playing the first second line parade after Katrina. I’m sold. The flooded bar without electricity and the sun streaming in the windows; the haggling between Keith Frazier of Rebirth (alright Bass Drum Shorty!!!) and the Sidewalk Steppers Social Aid & Pleasure Club over the band fee; trombonist Antoine Batiste showing up late for the parade while Rebirth marches to their local anthem Feel Like Funkin’ It Up. It’s all so true.

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What makes American music American?

Leonard Bernstein gives his answer to the question, in introducing a performance of Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (conducted by Copeland himself, no less) in 1958. In short, he says it’s the nation’s “many-sidedness,” “all the races and personalities from all over the globe that make up our country.”

When we think of that, we can understand why our own folk music is so complicated. We’ve taken it all in … and learned it from one another. Borrowed it, stolen it, cooked it all up in a melting pot….

His full introduction and articulation of this goes on for a couple of minutes, and is worth checking out.

Via BoingBoing.

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Edinburgh Evening News says:

I’ve always thought Christmas parties are supposed to be cheery affairs but I’ve just been to a couple where the cabaret acts seemingly wanted us to weep into our wine. Both female, of an age when they have their whole lives before them, as they say.

Somebody should have told them. You just don’t choose St James Infirmary, one of the doomiest songs ever written, as a party piece.

Hm, well. This passage of course made me think about the way the song is generally performed in second-lines — including jazz funerals — in New Orleans. Musically the tone starts out quite somber, but by the end it’s turned a corner into territory that’s raucous and frankly celebratory: Affirmation of life in the face of tragedy. It’s usually quite a danceable racket. And this, as I’ve said elsewhere, reflects the compelling thing to me they lyrics to “SJI” as it’s most frequently performed: A doomy opening that toggles to a pretty jarring declaration by the narrator that his deceased lover will never find a man like him, and then a consideration of his own future passing that is more preening than grim.

Having said all that, it’s still an odd choice for a Christmas party.

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I am in receipt of a rather pleasing email from Barry Yeoman, from which I have learned of Still Singing The Blues, a blog chronicling the research behind and making of a radio documentary of the same name.

The actual documentary is scheduled to air in the spring of 2010. Still Singing the Blues will burrow deep into the lives of older blues and R&B musicians in New Orleans and South Louisiana. These artists, whose music forms the bedrock of American popular culture, continue to perform in the face of poverty, ill health, and a devastating hurricane.

Sounds promising to me! Readers of Letters From New Orleans who recall the chapter on jazz funerals may be particularly interested in this post.

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Voodoo Fest dispatch:

Thousands of folks turned around and headed toward the main Voodoo Stage across the field. Facing them was a black curtain spelling out “KISS” in enormous silver letters – and, on the video screen affixed to the left speaker stack, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s creepy-cool new animated video…. [of “SJI,” mentioned here repeatedly.] …

Preservation Hall curates a tent on the Voodoo Fest grounds that is on the opposite side of the food booths from the main stages. Many KISS fans likely wouldn’t visit it. But thanks to the video, they got a taste of the Pres Hall crew anyway.

Basically, I look forward to KISS covering “SJI.”

Thx: GK.

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Up The Lazy River, a blog about “Learning to play the ukulele,” brings up “SJI” in a post about minor chords. Excerpt:

These chord groups are fun to play and practice on a regular basis. They’re grouped in the way you will likely find them in songs, and they almost sound like songs in themselves. As a matter of fact, the first group Dm, Gm, A7 and back to Dm are used in St. James Infirmary, a well known traditional American sad song.

Of course, as it’s played in New Orleans, it starts sad, but pretty much turns into a raucous affirmation of life. In a way that’s a little jarring if you think about it. Which as you know, I have, way too much.

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Some of the most interesting tips I got while researching the SJI essay came from a Dylan fanatic who had learned of the song by way of Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell.” That tune pops up on on this list of songs Dylan “didn’t write.”

As you can guess if you’ve poked around this site much, I think the story of “SJI” is very much about the fluid nature of song-authorship, certainly when you’re dealing with something that’s been “in the tradition” for as long as “SJI” and its antecedants has. And on a more particular note: To whatever extent “Blind Willie McTell” borrows from McTell’s “Dyin Crapshooter’s Blues,” recall that friend of no notes Robert W. Harwood has shown that McTell borrowed that tune from somebody else.

That said, the list is worth a look to somebody (like me) who has some interest in how songs get rewritten, borrowed, whatever, and who is not a certified Dylanologist.

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Although I of course loved Spinal Tap, and while I am a big fan of Harry Shearer’s Le Show, I never saw A Mighty Wind. And I’m not likely to go out of my way to do so. But … I was amused at a passage regarding the music in that movie in this post on Underwire. The post is basically a review of an “unwigged” acoustic performance by Shearer, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean, of the Spinal Tap songs, with some tunes thrown in from The Folksmen (the fake band they portrayed in A Mighty Wind).

The writer contends that A Mighty Wind “did to folk music what Spinal Tap did to rock.”

Songs like “Loco Man” and “Corn Wine,” said Shearer during the show, poke fun at “the fake folk music being written in office buildings in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.” Noting that half of all folk songs were written about tragedies like train wrecks and coal-mining disasters, the Folksmen wrote one called “Blood on the Coal” that has both:

Blood on the tracks, blood in the mine
Brothers and sisters, what a terrible time
Ole 97 went in the wrong hole
Now in mine No. 60 there’s blood on the coal.


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