Archive for the ‘Other Music +’ Category

I certainly wasn’t thinking about regional identity, or music, or really about anything much at all when I started idly clicking around the Web site that’s been leaking messages from what was a private listserv called Journolist. Maybe you’ve heard about that? It’s a big scandal in media/pundit circles because the media/pundit members (there were 400 or so) were pretty much left-leaning, and since they thought their comments would remain private they expressed a lot of opinions in raw terms they wouldn’t be likely to use in public. One guy got fired from his gig as a Washington Post blogger because of stuff he said there.

All of which is neither here nor there, and I don’t know quite what was looking for (just anything interesting, I suppose) when I clicked on the fifth and final page of a discussion among some Journolist members, from 2009, about whether or not Tea Party people could be characterized as fascists. The jumping off point was coverage of a Tea Party rally in Tampa. Maybe that Tampa detail somehow explains this apparent non sequitur from Michael Tomasky:

Michael Tomasky
Aug 10, 2009, 7:37am

I’ll say it for a second time, then I’ll stop: We should split into two. Live and let live. As MacGillis reminded us yesterday, the founders never imagined a country so large anyway.

The only catch I didn’t mention the other day is sports, but I think the two nations would simply have to agree by treaty that all sports, pro and college, will just continue as before.

I assume Tomasky is referring to something he spelled out in a different thread. However he meant this, the “two nations” are interpreted by others in this thread as north and south. Here’s what followed. (Tomasky is a writer. Michael Kazin is a history professor. Richard Yeselson is an organized-labor figure of some sort. Todd Gitlin is a professor and writer. Katha Pollitt is a writer/columnist.)

Michael Kazin
Aug 10, 2009, 9:49am

but all the good music came from the South– surely, you don’t want to leave us with nothing but polka, Gershwin, and A Prairie Home Companion?


Richard Yeselson
Aug 10, 2009, 10:04am

C’mon Mike–we now have Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Dixie can keep the fucking museums and tombstones. We’ve got the recordings now….


Michael Kazin
Aug 10, 2009, 10:18am

But it took a lot of suffering (and interracial sex) to create all that great music. We Northerners just ripped it off…


Richard Yeselson
Aug 10, 2009, 10:41am

Ok, we ripped off their music. They repaid us with Jesse Helms, Tom Delay, and George W. Bush, among too many others. How about if we keep the interracial sex and just call it square?


Todd Gitlin
Aug 10, 2009, 11:20am

Hey, is the boy from Hibbing chopped liver?


Michael Kazin
Aug 10, 2009, 11:33am

As he wrote in his HS yearbook: “I want to be in the band of Little Richard.” Just another Dixie wannabee….and his mentor, Woody G, was from OK…


Todd Gitlin
Aug 10, 2009, 12:20pm

OK, OK, you win.

[Gitlin adds something here about another Tea Party rally, not relevant to this back and forth.]


Katha Pollitt
Aug 10, 2009, 11:04am

yes, but now there are lots of black people in the north, so we can still have all that great music etc. the south served its cultural purpose and can now be left to go its own way, like they say they want to do. We can check back in fifty years and see who’s better off.

Now, I don’t know if any of this is really offensive — although “Dixie can keep the fucking museums and tombstones” and “the south served its cultural purpose,” among other excerpts, are, you know, at least bothersome — and I concede that some of it seems sort of merely jokey, I guess.

But I have to admit I’m flat-out startled at how incredibly stupid this exchange is. These are supposedly intellectual folks, the kind of people you’re supposed to aspire to hobnobbing with if you live the Manhattan thing for a while. But this is the kind of conversation I would have rolled my eyes at when I was 18. I guess you could say, “Well, they ‘re just blathering online,” or whatever, but please, the sheer dumbness is astounding. It did take a few seconds, at least, for Katha Pollitt (I writer I admire) and Richard Yeselson to bang out these fool sentiments. Enough seconds, I would say, for the thought, “Oh just shut  your yap” to flare across the synapses. But they typed anyway, and they typed these hare-brained words.


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Obviously, there’s nothing at all new about grassroots forms of cultural expression, grounded in musical innovation, bubbling up from the streets of New Orleans. And there’s not even that much new about “bounce” as an example. (Here’s an article from the NY Times, from 2000, about bounce.) But it’s relatively recent (you know, compared to jazz or New Orleans’ contributions to R&B, funk, blues, etc.) and for reasons unrelated to this site I was wondering recently about how the Web era affects such things. [March 29 Update: I guess we may learn more about how the Web era affects such things soon — although as noted the New York Times wrote about bounce a decade ago, BoingBoing heard about it … um, today. Let’s see what happens!]

With that in mind here’s an amazing — and as the blog where I encountered it notes, probably NSFW — bounce video, part of a post noting the 1st Annual Bounce Festival in New Orleans, earlier this month.

I see there was also a bounce showcase at SXSW. Anybody know much about that?

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Well quite an outpouring online to the surprising and sad death of Alex Chilton. This is no surprise, as it was one of those cases where the reaction “What a loss” is acutely true. There’s certainly not a lot of wisdom for me to add on this subject, but I’ll pass along a few links below, since Chilton having been a New Orleanian gives the subject a slight connection to this blog.

Actually before I get to the links I’ll mention one instance of Chilton’s music that’s a favorite of mine but that I haven’t seen discussed much elsewhere: A record he did with Alan Vega and Ben Vaughn in 1996, Cubist Blues. In particular, one song on that album, “Lover of Love,” is one of my favorite songs, period. I actually remember where I first heard it: In New Orleans, as it happens, in the big Rue de a Course on Magazine. (That’s now something else.) They had WWOZ going, and it was one of those moments when I was really struck by a song and had to hang around longer than I wanted to, to get the info on who it was.

The story goes that Cubist Blues was recorded in two night-long jam sessions, basically improvised. It’s not exactly radio-ready material, but it obviously wasn’t meant to be, and I think it holds up pretty well for what it is, and the whole document is in my view quite enjoyable. That said, “Lover of Love” is the standout. While the sessions were in New York, and there’s nothing particularly New Orleans-y about most of the songs, the piano line in this one is pure N.O. (Chilton plays piano on the track.) The album’s sparse liner notes mention the track only in the following manner:

Most rock musicians … are not comfortable with this sort of unstructured approach; spontaneity is taken only so far. With this album it was taken to the point of controlled chaos. Alex and ben played and recorded all the instrumental tracks in whatever manner they pleased … to hell with perfection. (Listen, for example, to the drum sound they inadvertently innovated on ‘Lover of Love’ … call it compressed leakage through piano lid.

More about the record, including sound clips, here.

Also: Just in case you missed these: Congressman praises Chilton here; nice Ben Greenman writeup here.

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I listened to her stories about her team with a mix of pity and fascination. It was the first time I saw fandom as a form of faith rather than a method for receiving a regularly scheduled reward.

This pleasing two-paragraph mini-essay includes a link to James Brown’s cover of “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Which is pretty bad. But the essay is good. Check it out.

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Quick links

1. I was asked to write an essay for exhibition at the Scottsdale Museum of Art called Rewind Remix Replay, basically about the intersection of designed objects and music. They’ve put that up, for some reason they’ve made it available on in PDF form. Weird, eh? Anyway it’s called “Site And Sound: One Home, 16 Objects, and the Things We Listen to Now.” Go here to get the PDF if you like.

2. Over on Murketing.com, I recently posted my semi-data-driven favorite songs of 2009. That’s here.

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Song Decoders

It occurs to me that some of  you (anybody out there?) might be interested in this recent day-job article: I had a piece in the New York Times Magazine about Pandora, the  Internet radio service. My interest was/is in their “Music Genome Project,” the engine that underlies what music you hear when you use the site.

On first listen, some things grab you for their off-kilter novelty. Like the story of a company that has hired a bunch of “musicologists,” who sit at computers and listen to songs, one at a time, rating them element by element, separating out what sometimes comes to hundreds of data points for a three-minute tune. The company, an Internet radio service called Pandora, is convinced that by pouring this information through a computer into an algorithm, it can guide you, the listener, to music that you like. The premise is that your favorite songs can be stripped to parts and reverse-engineered.

Anyway it’s a long piece, but if you’re interested, here it is.

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Both Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, and JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater featured New Orleans artists this week.

Piano Jazz was guest-hosted by Elvis Costello, and guest-guested by Allen Toussaint. It’s a nice listen — here’s the link — even if to my great disappointment he doesn’t play “SJI.” Toussaint is such a fascinating guy, I always love his interviews, and the more I hear him and learn about him the more I think he’s one of my heroes. There’s a moment when he declines to play a James Booker tune, and do so with such casual elegance and certainty, you somehow trust that he’s right even if you’re disappointed.

And who else could be so smooth and convincing in observing that Katrina brought “blessings”? Anybody else who referred to “the booking agent Katrina” getting gigs for New Orleans players all over the world in the past four years would sound snide or crass. Toussaint just sounds thoughtful and matter-of fact. “More musicians got to work after Katrina than ever before in history,” he observes.

“SJI” is mentioned once in passing by Costello as a quintessential New Orleans song (I always like hearing that), and at the end there’s an interesting mini-medley of “Tipitina” and “Ascension Day.” The latter is the tune these two did together on The River In Reverse; I wrote about that here.

JazzSet, meanwehile, has a Marlon Jordan set — the link is here. (Apropos of Toussaint’s point, the intro indicates that the jazz festival in Colorado, where the performance was recorded has gone out of its way to add New Orleans musicians to its lineup since Katrina.) Jordan (who is Kidd Jordan’s son) is not someone I’m all that familiar with, but it’s a nice set, and the interview with him toward the middle of the show, about his harrowing Katrina experience (stuck on  his roof for five days) is interesting.

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On a decidely more upbeat note, friend of no notes Mr. Fine Wine turns over an entire one-hour episode of his Downtown Soulville show to the music of the recently departed New Orleans legend Eddie Bo. Check it out here.

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Continuing the (not exactly linear) series of musings and posts here about field recordings, technology, and so and so forth: I was interested to see that friend of no notes Disquiet had a post titled “Wavespan’s Field Recording-Inspired MP3s.”

These are not field recordings of traditional musicians. The raw material is field recordings of more everyday sounds: “Recordings of various metal and wood structures [bridges, sculptures, metal posts] in Santa Cruz County (CA, USA),” explains composor/creator Wavespan. He calls them “organic sound sources,” which puts in mind of some of Tony Schwartz‘s Folkways recordings.

I don’t actually understand whatever tweaking and mixing went into converting that raw material into these pieces — all from a set called Tilling The Soul — but the examples Disquiet offers are interesting. Check there if you want to give a listen to those: The results are often somewhat spooky, with weird sense of building-but-never-resolved tension that made me think of those creepy Japanese horror movies like The Ring.

The whole of Tilling The Soul is here.

The whole

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I somewhat belatedly have read this profile of Phil Schaap in The New Yorker.

Back in the NYC days, I would come across this guy on the radio dial from time to time, and actually I would make it a point to listen sometimes, too. He was always fascinating, but sometimes in a way that drove me (and most everybody) up the wall: He was exhaustive in recitations of jazz fact.

It wasn’t unusual to hear him interview some veteran player, and he’d basically be telling the guy all these details of some recording session or live gig that the musician himself could not recall.

Anyway the profile is pretty good, particularly, I think, the very sweet and rather poignant ending.

Here’s one passage from the middle that I thought was interesting. Schaap also teaches:

As a teacher, Schaap is less concerned about the tender sensibilities of his students than with developing knowledgeable and passionate listeners. “The school system is creating six thousand unemployable musicians a year—from the Berklee College of Music, Rutgers, Mannes, Manhattan, Juilliard, plus all the high schools,” he said. “There are more and more musicians, and no gigs, no one to listen. So what happens to these kids? They work their way back to the educational system and help create more unemployable musicians. My rant is this: I’m not trying to teach you to play the alto sax. No. I’m trying to get you to learn how to listen to Charlie Parker. Louis Armstrong is the greatest musician of the twentieth century. But name twenty musicians today who really listen to Louis Armstrong. Go ahead: I’ll give you a week.”

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