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I link to the current Ben Ratliff review of a Coleman Hawkins performance which, apparently, sheds new light on the classic “Body and Soul” that’s one of Hawk’s best known solos. You can look around and see the latest jazz news about William Savory’s collection of disc transcriptions. Had they been released in his lifetime, or close to the time of recording (late 1930s and onward) they would be called “bootlegs” like famous recordings by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, etc.— recorded performances by fans.
The big news is that the Savory survivors have sold the discs to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Even bigger is the news that they’ll probably digitize and release them commercially, after giving lip service to the various ownership conundrums. The reportage on this topic, at least in the New York Times, includes some strangely annotated excerpts on their website, and a boatload of reader comments predictably bemoaning the belated and perhaps restricted access to this material.
Ben Ratliff, a real asset to the NYTimes for the jazz world, clarifies that “Nobody is yet in any position to assess when, how or what portion of the recordings can be commercially released.” Since the National Jazz Museum owns the discs, which can be easily digitized, the Times is echoing Gene Kelly “Gotta Dance!” This newspaper which clearly supports “work for hire” transparently got Ratliff to write a legal disclaimer into his review. The first article, reporting the acquisition, suggests that ownership of the aircheck music on the discs is unclear. It’s worth reading the comments to both articles because the ephemera aspect of a jazz solo is well displayed. And so is another chapter in the evolution of copyright practice, using old jazz as a foil.
Heard of Mitch Miller’s passing. Junkers, scouts and collectors know he lives on. His cartoonish visage, on the cover of “Sing Along With Mitch” albums, haunts every thrift store in America where vinyl records can be found. Astute collectors can even find the oboe concerti he recorded with great orchestras. Jazz fans can hear him on the Charlie Parker with strings recordings. Just put a name together with Mitch Miller and there is a story. Mitch Miller/Frank Sinatra. Mitch Miller/Rosemary Clooney. Mitch Miller/Clive Davis. Mitch Miller/Goddard Lieberson. Mitch Miller/Guy Mitchell. Mitch Miller/Columbia Records.
In our store at moneyblows.com, his legacy abounds in many wonderful Columbia Records. Mitch Miller made a huge impression, as artist and repertoire chief at Columbia (later, CBS Records) for most of the 1950s til the mid 1960s. Significantly, his employer invented the long playing record. For 3 years, he had a television show version of “Sing Along With Mitch.”
He had a career any oboe player might envy. As I listen to his many contributions to popular music, whether it’s the keening banjos behind the male choruses of “Sing Along” or the rocking celeste on Rosemary Clooney’s hit, “C’mon A My House,” I can imagine the sensitive ear of a double reed player in the agonizing quest to make a difficult instrument into a voice-like utterance.
In what I suspect is a more indirect influence, many Columbia Records of Ray Conniff and Percy Faith explore the blends of instruments and wordless vocals which have come back into fashion among some of today’s big band composers.
In the big picture of things, Mitch Miller demonstrated how popular music was created in the corporate environment. It’s illustrated in this story from another corporate musical creature at Columbia, Teo Macero. Teo reported to Mitch Miller while creating jazz classics such as “Take Five.”
And, while it is quite difficult to gauge the role of artistry in a monolithic corporate environment, there’s no mistaking excellence and quality where it appears.
As a baby boomer, born a month after Rosemary Clooney had her breakout hit with Mitch Miller, I had my formative years and ears under the spell of MOR, easy listening music, rife with smooth strings, sparkling tone colors, beautiful voices, songwriting and composing which optimized the America which was an ethnic “melting pot.”. By the time Mitch was cajoling everyone to sing along, I like others in my generation were chomping at the bit. Top 40 radio was playing something else. Top 40 radio was advertising freedom from Mitch Miller, who hated rock ‘n roll. We may have been rescued by Pat Boone and Marty Robbins, but at least it wasn’t our parents’ music.
I was sitting at my laptop with the Finale music notation software open, composing the solo clarinet piece that was to become “Kaleenka Suite.”
Though I love composing songs, this was going to be an instrumental solo, so I started thinking about things from an instrumental standpoint. That led me to a nice group of three: melodic motion, repetition and arpeggio.
Motion was probably one of the first musical things explored as, in 4th grade, we learned how to finger middle C, D, and E with the left hand on B flat clarinet. Yup, they were each a step apart from each other.
I thought of a song from the same auditorium at Holmes School in New Britain Ct, where the clarinet was taught. At school music assemblies we sang “My Grandfather’s Clock.” I have a great Johnny Cash version on the original vinyl record and listened to it. Yes, it’s a nice melody with motion.
By 1962 or 1963, when this was going on, I was learning more music from radio and 45 rpm records than I was in school. But school was a good venue for me, I could get decent grades, etc., so I paid attention to the music there, too. White Coral Bells. Marching to Pretoria. One was a round. One was a processional. Cool stuff.
But out there in the big world, a melody got me that sticks today, “45 cents for a 3 course meal at McDonald’s.” A commercial to music! They were called “jingles” back then. What did this melody have? It was the one note samba of the commercial world, repeating the same note.
That’s probably why I still remember it today; probably why I don’t understand bebop too well but I love playing “rhythm sax.” I love the honkers who repeat notes for effect. Always have. Repetition, very nice in music when used creatively. Doesn’t hurt a commercial message. Without it there’d be no rap or hip-hop.
Arpeggio, the mainstay of the student clarinet experience. The instrument is engineered for speed but can only play one note at a time (classically speaking), so, on clarinet, chords are outlined in arpeggios. Suddenly I’m mentally in the same auditorium where we learned clarinet, again. This time, the music teacher is teaching us to sing, “Hot tamales, sure are tasty, always made from finest pastry, so delicious and nutritious, you will like them, so buy some now.” It’s been more than forty years and that melody has come to mind frequently. Have never met anyone who knew it if I sang it. Doggone thing is sure memorable, why? The melody is arpeggios.
Facebook, enter stage left. I got my laptop open to the notation program. There’s a browser open too. I’m gonna find the teacher that taught that melody and ask if she remembers where the heck it came from. My memory is so vague, but I think folk music was on the scene at the time, on the radio, along with Motown, rockabilly, Memphis and New York soul, garage bands, etc. They even brought guitars with folk music into the Catholic church, Kumbaya, etc.
Had her name been Mrs. Jones the whole idea would have faded fast. But there was Ms. Nkonoki, right there on Facebook and basically looking the same as I remember her. I messaged her, asking first if she was the strict music teacher at Holmes School in 1963, and then, did she know where that song came from?
Yes she was; she said I remembered accurately that she was strict. She remembered the “Hot Tamales” thing was a countermelody in a song called Tamale Joe. Couldn’t remember much else about it. I went on Google and found the author’s name for Tamale Joe and also that it was a pseudonym. A reference to a possible recording by Peter, Paul and Mary. That was it. No simple internet trace of a melody that sticks in your head, perhaps only because of an arpeggio.
Well, it also had syncopation. We had heard of rhythm outside of school, on the radio and records, but this may have been the first rhythm tune taught in my elementary school memory. I would have to check with Ms. Nkonoki’s predecessor to confirm that. Both of them went to the same Teacher’s College in Danbury, Ct., the only one in the state that specialized in turning out music teachers.
Whether it made any difference that Ms. Nkonoki was the first black teacher; well, it did at the time, but I don’t know that it does now. What makes a difference now is the persistence of a simple melody. If anyone is ever composing, a simple melody will be your best friend. I also like Three Blind Mice a lot.
Ms. Nkonoki is now on the education committee of the New Britain Symphony Orchestra, and when she found out I had gone on with my music education to the master’s degree level anyway, she wondered if I might like to help judge a scholarship competition, which the New Britain Symphony Orchestra has long used to encourage talented music students in New Britain and the surrounding area.
I went down from New Hampshire to New Britain, early on the day of the scholarship judging, to check out the Young People’s Concert of the New Britain Symphony Orchestra, on its home turf at Welte Hall in the old New Britain Teacher’s College, which is now the Central Connecticut State University, New Britain’s crown jewel of education.
Ms. Nkonoki was the emcee. She had a video camera and before I knew it I was helping set up the camera. I remember thinking how strange that was, because I ran the projectors and film strip machines at Holmes School in 1962-63 and here I was in the same role, year 2010, albeit down the street at the old Teacher’s College. She was busy trying to bring order to the crowded auditorium. What a way to start a Wednesday in New Britain Connecticut, to hear the city’s namesake orchestra play to a packed auditorium of fifth graders from all over! In the late 1980s I was author of a popular book teaching children about the instruments of the orchestra, “Big Ears and His Trip To Orchestra Hall.” And, I have had a children’s group perform my songs. Felt right at home.
Most amazing of all, today’s 5th graders know an anthem that first appeared around 1977, The Star Wars theme. Talk about music transcending time. It was the fitting climax to a program that began with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.
So much had changed in my old home town, but the arts seem to survive in events such as this, a labor of love to make sure today’s students get to associate the name of their own home town, with an orchestra that plays with excellence. And with music they might remember for who knows what reason, like I remembered the countermelody to Tamale Joe.
Over at the scholarship competition later, we heard a saxophonist and two vocalists, performing some challenging repertoire in the nave of the magnificent South Church in downtown New Britain. Right out of the gate the performances were excellent. The judges had to consult after scoring individually to arrive at a decision. We were told nothing of the students, but when we agreed on the winner, we later found out the winner had some music prep education over and above regular school. She also had an artist level instrument.
Getting to know the other judges was fun. One of them rehearses his band at a local McDonald’s on Wednesday nights, if I wanted to come down, he said.
McDonald’s? My thought exactly. A band rehearsing at McDonald’s? Well, Sam Kimble was rehearsing and then some, that night, at the same restaurant mentioned in that influential melody, “45 cents for a 3 course meal at McDonald’s.” His band included folks from my home neighborhood, up near the top of Stanley Street, when Country Club Rd. was northmost. The whole neighborhood was cut out of woods and it was magical to us, and Holmes School meant we wouldn’t have to cross Farmington Avenue to go to Slater Road School.
Sam and his band let me sit in on clarinet, my first music played in New Britain since 1966. Bandleader Sam Kimble lays down a groove like nobody else, reminding me of my favorite past music experiences in Texas where I spent most of my adult life.
So maybe this is an exercise you can try at home. Think back on a simple melody you first heard in elementary school and figure out where you learned it. Or even make a “pilgrimage” like I sort of did.
Will you spend a day starting with a symphony orchestra concert and ending with a jam session at McDonald’s, all in the same town? I can’t guarantee that unless your town is New Britain.
In my blog entries for April 2010 (this and the several preceding ones) I have documented the preparation, composition, practice, performance and documentation of an original work for solo clarinet, “Kaleenka Suite.” The final document for Kaleenka Suite is the music video presented here. Michael composed and played the music, Nung-Hsin Hu composed and performed the camera.
In the previous blog I posted a selection of stills and sounds from the actual gallery reception on April 10. I played Kaleenka Suite about 3 times, beginning, middle and end of reception. The beginning take (which will be featured in a future video) had the least crowd noise. It were those eerie early moments at an art reception where in your belly you feel no one will come. Some accident of fate has happened and no one who said they would come, will actually be here. So I played. And of course people came, plenty of them.
By the third take, nearing 9 p.m., a group of 4-5 people were esconced firmly between my bass clarinet on its stand, and Loli’s wall of color photos.
Like most people I dig the soundtrack to the silent movie “Metropolis” which offsets the visual.
In the third take of Kaleenka Suite, which was used on the sound collage posted yesterday, this group of people is adding their instrument. So at the end of the collage there is black over sound. Listen carefully to the conversation after the closing credits.
It’s Thursday now and I-Park Open Studios is Sunday. I’ll be playing my new piece “Reeverse #1″ consisting of: the Saturday recording backwards through my laptop, reading a monolog or improvising, and adding some effects from my “pedal array”– an instrumentarium including 2 tin cans, plastic pipe, glass block, and, the bass clarinet,B flat and A clarinet. I’m updating this on Friday, I wrote the monolog this a.m.
I was very excited to be working with Loli Kantor, whose work and method is featured in the Mar-Apr 2010 edition of LensWork. Although she just came to visit me yesterday at I-Park, we are familiar with each other’s work. I knew of her theater documentation, and she knew of my jazz playing. As pointed out in the LensWork interview, Loli has been working for several years with subjects in Eastern Europe, many of whom have become her friends; and with palladium and platinum/palladium contact printing at her darkroom in Texas. In the last several years, she has exhibited in China, Ukraine ,Poland, Czech Republic and the U.S., and she opens Saturday, April 10th at the Dutch Kills Gallery in New York.
It had been several years since we saw each other, but Loli and I were able to rendezvous at the I-Park artist enclave in East Haddam, CT, where I have been working on solo clarinet repertoire. I have played solo clarinet in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and have played with jazz trios at many museum and gallery exhibitions. Loli and I have set out to achieve some context in which the clarinet music will enhance the opening at Dutch Kills.
Oftentimes a gallery opening will have the character of a social event, and this one will be no different. But her powerful images seem to call for something bespoke. I have spent some time with an old collection of early 20th century piano songsheets, interested in extracting melodic material from them. Loli and I discussed this, and what came through, paraphrasing very generally, was that her photography would trigger the emotions, and any melodic material might enhance them. But there was no need for a “soundtrack” because the ebb and flow of daily life in Loli Kantor’s work is a visual music in itself. I was seduced by this very thing as I looked through her catalog/book There Was A Forest: Jewish Life in Eastern Europe Today 2005-2008. She showed me the parts of her work featuring Alfred Schreyer, which brought to mind the klezmer sounds I fell in love with more than 20 years ago when I first learned “Gay Life in Dikanka” to play in “R. Crumb Comix” (with R. Crumb himself!) at the Hip Pocket Theatre.
We were searching for a common musical language which we knew was there. Working with a potpourri of folk melodies, I have come up with Kaleenka Suite for solo clarinet, to play at her show. The clarinet is an instrument engineered for orchestral composers, so it is the furthest thing from a folk instrument. But just as early New Orleans ragtime unlocks the key for the clarinet’s role in jazz (wearing its “band instrument” hat), klezmer music unlocks the clarinet for folk music (wearing its “recorder” hat). In honor of that, I wanted my piece to begin with the A clarinet and a key signature of no sharps and flats, to make this instrument act like a folk instrument; thus the opening measures of the Kaleenka Suite are in service to the length of the tube. Many klezmers use C and D clarinets also for these reasons but I do not have those! Then, I change to B flat clarinet, a traditional orchestral instrument, back to A, and finally to bass clarinet in B flat. Going from high to low traces a breadth of range similar to Loli’s in There Was A Forest. From happy to sad, from decline to revival, from celebration to work, from past to present– the ebb and flow of daily life.
This hole you see has been a distraction for me. I discovered it less than 24 hours ago. It was dug about two years ago by a performance artist, in the woods near Devils Hopyard State Park, East Haddam, CT. A group of students was touring the environmental installations here, when we “stumbled” upon it. The photos show part of an installation that was called “Two Rivers Roar.” Below the picture of the hole, is a photo taken about 17 feet away, where one of the PVC pipes originates. The other one also originates about 17 feet away. From what I have been told, there is a geological fault line in the area, a characteristic of the glacial moraine which gives the topography its salient characteristics. An old friend, on whose property I am a guest for a few weeks, sent me a youtube link a couple weeks ago. It had Marco Mazzini playing contrabass clarinet. I only have a bass clarinet. So when I saw the pipes leading to this hole, I wondered, could I get a bass clarinet, or soprano clarinet, sound to go through the pipes and come out the hole? A devil’s errand,to be sure.
Needless to say, this is not what I had planned for my visit here. I had planned to finish a play I had begun some years ago. Since I am so easily distracted, I brought my clarinets along to work on some solos as well. Sounds like a plan to fail but I am no Jaromir Hladik. You can read elsewhere about his success.
Back to the hole. With a hole like this, some PVC pipe, and some clarinets, the first thing that would come to anyone’s mind (of course!) is, can they be joined up? Can a big sound be made? My first thought led me to the decaying waterworks of urban America. In one of my hometowns, there exist no surveys or schematics of the iron or clay sewers built as recently as the 1940s. Good thing we have video cameras, huh? I may need one. But, the first thing I have done is write to the performance artist who put these pipes in. I hope to hear back from her. I just want to know if the pipes are continuous and how they are angled. If they have holes, or open sections, it would be like putting sound into the dirt, right? Totally futile.
I don’t even know if the breath from one set of lungs (or two sets in the case of a duet) can sustain a sound the 17 foot length of these pipes. But, it should would help if the PVC pipe is clear and tight. I should ask my friend if he has a sewer type video camera lying around.
On the receiving end, this wonderful hole, I would like for the hole to broadcast the sound in whatever form it comes out of the pipes. I guess the hole would need to act like a speaker, but I prefer the term “sound chimney.” Anybody know how to build a sound chimney? Of course all chimneys should be “sound.” But I am talking about human exhaust gas, co2, breathed through these various lengths of cylindrical bore, and vented in such a way that the music could be heard as far away as possible. Some philosophers say that music predated language. I open up this discussion: what could be put in the hole? Should the end result be a composition, a performance, or an installation? I await counsel.