March 6, 2014
February 24, 2014
Marc Myers talks to author and playwright Terry Teachout about his latest play:
As Terry Teachout was finishing Pops: A Life, his 2009 biography of Louis Armstrong, he had an idea. Realizing that Armstrong’s final performance at the Waldorf in 1971 was an operatic moment — a meet-your-maker crescendo in the life of a great artist — Terry wrote a theatrical work where the trumpeter reflects on his life, and his white manager, Joe Glaser, adds his thoughts. The radical device was having the same black actor play both parts.
The result is Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man play now in previews at New York’s Westside Theatre Upstairs. The show, which opens March 4, stars John Douglas Thompson and is directed by Gordon Edelstein. Terry, of course, is the Wall Street Journal‘s drama critic, which places him in the tricky position of walking the talk — putting himself out there as a playwright. It’s one thing to critique plays and performers and quite another to become the artist behind the work and face criticism.
Flying back from Boston yesterday, I posed five questions to Terry a week from Satchmo at the Waldorf’s premiere…
JazzWax: Why place Louis at the Waldorf Hotel—aside from the event being his last performance?
Terry Teachout: One of the themes of Satchmo at the Waldorf is the extent to which Armstrong had lost touch with his original black audience by the end of his life — a fact of which he was well aware, and one that hurt him deeply. It struck me that to use a high-priced uptown hotel as the play’s setting would serve as a powerful and telling symbol of this transformation. Even the title ties into it. You hear it and you ask yourself, “What is Satchmo doing at the Waldorf?”
In addition, the setting is an aspect of what I hope is the complexity of the way in which I portray Armstrong, who wasn’t a simple man by any means. He’s proud, rightly so, that a black man who was born in the Storyville section of New Orleans in 1901 can now play and stay in a hotel like the Waldorf. At the same time, it breaks his heart to look out at the all-white crowd and realize that his own people have turned their backs on him. There’s nothing remotely simple about that situation, or about his emotional response to it.
February 22, 2014
In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh explains that the future of classical music may well lie in the ballpark:
The Colorado Rockies have commissioned and recorded a theme song from composer Charles Denler, creator of introductory music for Oprah and NBC’s Dateline. According to the Denver Business Journal, the new Rockies theme, “Take the Field”, will come with multiple versions for particular game situations.
Denler, who has a trunkful of TV and film soundtracks to his credit, said some 80 members of [the Colorado Symphony] recorded “a big ‘Star Wars’-y variation and a very serious, pensive, we’re-going-to-make-it-through-this variation, and the main theme, which is very upbeat and very aggressive in a good sportsman kind of way.”
It is hard to hear of this idea without reflecting on the fact that orchestral and big-band music is a killer app of Western civilization, but one whose frontline practitioners, in the form of regional orchestras, are said to be in a state of permanent crisis. Sports fans love Sam Spence’s lumbering NFL Films soundtracks and still wriggle orgiastically at the sound of “Brass Bonanza”. There would appear to be space for creative enterprise here: I wonder, for example, if Mr. Denler’s contract would allow him to sell a full-on three-movement Rockies Symphony once his main theme becomes familiar to fans. Different variations for different game situations is a good idea, but perhaps only a first step; maybe each inning should have its own theme? Individual players represented by their own Wagnerian motifs?
February 17, 2014
I listen to the strangest assortment of music.
No, I’m not trying to tell you I’m a hipster, bustin’ a moby at the table saw while only listening to totally deck obscure artisanal free-range amazeballs beats. That would be so midtown. I just find myself interested in odd things.
Sippican Cottage, “I Like Puddles Pity Party’s Early Stuff. You Probably Haven’t Heard Of Them”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-02-16
February 10, 2014
January 31, 2014
Of all forms of the uplift, perhaps the most futile is that which addresses itself to educating the proletariat in music. The theory behind it is that a taste for music is an elevating passion, and that if the great masses of the plain people could be inoculated with it they would cease to herd into the moving-picture theaters, or to listen to Socialists, or to beat their wives and children. The defect in this theory lies in the fact that such a taste, granting it to be elevating, simply cannot be implanted. Either it is born in a man or it is not born in him. If it is, then he will get gratification for it at whatever cost he will hear music if hell freezes over. But if it isn’t, then no amount of education will ever change him he will remain stone deaf until the last sad scene on the gallows.
No child who has this congenital taste ever has to be urged or tempted or taught to love music. It takes to tone inevitably and irresistibly; nothing can restrain it. What is more, it always tries to make music, for the delight in sounds is invariably accompanied by a great desire to make them. I have never encountered an exception to this rule. All genuine music-lovers try to make music. They may do it badly, and even absurdly, but nevertheless they do it. Any man who pretends to a delight in the tone-art and yet has never learned the scale of C major any and every such man is a fraud. The opera-houses of the world are crowded with such liars. You will even find hundreds of them in the concert-halls, though here the suffering they have to undergo to keep up their pretense is almost too much for them to bear. Many of them, true enough, deceive themselves. They are honest in the sense that they credit their own buncombe. But it is buncombe none the less.
H.L. Mencken, “The Allied Arts: On Music-Lovers”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.
December 28, 2013
Those Puritans who snort against the current dances are quite right when they argue that the tango and the shimmie are violently aphrodisiacal, but what they overlook is the fact that the abolition of such provocative wriggles would probably revive something worse, to wit, the Viennese waltz. The waltz never quite goes out of fashion; it is always just around the corner; every now and then it comes back with a bang. And to the sore harassment and corruption, I suspect, of chemical purity, the ideal of all right-thinkers. The shimmie and the tango are too gross to be very dangerous to civilized human beings; they suggest drinking beer out of buckets; the most elemental good taste is proof enough against them. But the waltz! Ah, the waltz, indeed! It is sneaking, insidious, disarming, lovely. It does its work, not like a college-yell or an explosion in a munitions plant, but like the rustle of the trees, the murmur of the illimitable sea, the sweet gurgle of a pretty girl. The jazz-band fetches only vulgarians, barbarians, idiots, pigs. But there is a mystical something in “Weiner Blut” or “Kiinstler Leben” that fetches even philosophers.
The waltz, in fact, is magnificently improper the art of tone turned bawdy. I venture to say that the compositions of one man alone, Johann Strauss II, have lured more fair young creatures to lamentable complaisance than all the hypodermic syringes of all the white slave scouts since the fall of the Western Empire. There is something about a waltz that is simply irresistible. Try it on the fattest and sedatest or even upon the thinnest and most acidulous of women, and she will be ready, in ten minutes, for a stealthy kiss behind the door nay, she will forthwith impart the embarrassing news that her husband misunderstands her, and drinks too much, and cannot appreciate Maeterlinck, and is going to Cleveland, 0., on business to-morrow …
H.L. Mencken, “The Allied Arts: Tempo di Valse”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.
December 23, 2013
Earlier this year, I had occasion to run a Google search for “Mr Gameway’s Ark” (it’s still almost unknown: the Googles, they do nothing). However, I did find a very early post on the old site that I thought deserved to be pulled out of the dusty archives, because it explains why I can — to this day — barely stand to listen to “Little Drummer Boy”:
James Lileks has a concern about Christmas music:
This isn’t to say all the classics are great, no matter who sings them. I can do without “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example.
It’s the “Bolero” of Christmas songs. It just goes on, and on, and on. Bara-pa-pa-pum, already. Plus, I understand it’s a sweet little story — all the kid had was a drum to play for the newborn infant — but for anyone who remembers what it was like when they had a baby, some kid showing up unannounced to stand around and beat on the skins would not exactly complete your mood. Happily, the song has not spawned a sequel like “The Somewhat Larger Cymbal Adolescent.”
This reminds me about my aversion to this particular song. It was so bad that I could not hear even three notes before starting to wince and/or growl.
Back in the early 1980′s, I was working in Toronto’s largest toy and game store, Mr Gameway’s Ark. It was a very odd store, and the owners were (to be polite) highly idiosyncratic types. They had a razor-thin profit margin, so any expenses that could be avoided, reduced, or eliminated were so treated. One thing that they didn’t want to pay for was Muzak (or the local equivalent), so one of the owners brought in his home stereo and another one put together a tape of Christmas music.
Note that singular. “Tape”.
Christmas season started somewhat later in those distant days, so that it was really only in December that we had to decorate the store and cope with the sudden influx of Christmas merchandise. Well, also, they couldn’t pay for the Christmas merchandise until sales started to pick up, so that kinda accounted for the delay in stocking-up the shelves as well …
So, Christmas season was officially open, and we decorated the store with the left-over krep from the owners’ various homes. It was, at best, kinda sad. But — we had Christmas music! And the tape was pretty eclectic: some typical 50′s stuff (White Christmas and the like), some medieval stuff, some Victorian stuff and that damned Drummer Boy song.
We were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts over the holidays (extra staff? you want Extra Staff, Mr. Cratchitt???), and the music played on. And on. And freaking on. Eternally. There was no way to escape it.
To top it all off, we were the exclusive distributor for a brand new game that suddenly was in high demand: Trivial Pursuit. We could not even get the truck unloaded safely without a cordon of employees to keep the random passers-by from snatching boxes of the damned game. When we tried to unpack the boxes on the sales floor, we had customers snatching them out of our hands and running (running!) to the cashier. Stress? It was like combat, except we couldn’t shoot back at the buggers.
Oh, and those were also the days that Ontario had a Sunday closing law, so we were violating all sorts of labour laws on top of the Sunday closing laws, so the Police were regular visitors. Given that some of our staff spent their spare time hiding from the Police, it just added immeasurably to the tension levels on the shop floor.
And all of this to the background soundtrack of Christmas music. One tape of Christmas music. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
It’s been over 20 years, and I still feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck with this song … but I’m over the worst of it now: I can actually listen to it without feeling that all-consuming desire to rip out the sound system and dance on the speakers. After two decades.
December 22, 2013
“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl
This song came into being after Elvis Costello bet The Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan that he couldn’t write a decent Christmas duet. The outcome: a call-and-response between a bickering couple that’s just as sweet as it is salty.
December 7, 2013
Published on 4 Dec 2013
Press “CC” in the player for the lyrics! Based on “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and STAR WARS created by George Lucas. Performed by the Star Wars cosplayers of the Arizona geek community!
Produced by the Students and Faculty of the Digital Video Program at University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona (http://www.uat.edu)
“Star Wars Edition” Lyrics by Stephen Panagiotis, Jamall Richards and Paul DeNigris
“Star Wars Edition” Vocals Produced by Joey Sawhill & Adam Newton
All vocals by Adam Newton
Engineered & Mixed by Joey Sawhill
November 8, 2013
Published on 16 Oct 2013
Al Stewart YOTC Classic Album concert. Extended version of this classic song with Al mixing up the words for fun
October 16, 2013
Richard Epstein looks at two recent disputes between unionized employees and cultural organizations:
This past week featured two stories about major orchestras dealing with their adamant unions. The first incident occurred on Wednesday, October 2 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. A fancy opening night gala, featuring the violinist Joshua Bell and the young jazz performer Esperanza Spalding, was called off due to a surprise strike by Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
The second dispute, still unresolved, involves the protracted labor impasse at the Minnesota Orchestra. On October 1, true to his promise, star music director Osmo Vänskä resigned because of the inability of the orchestra and its musicians’ union to hammer out a new contract in time to prepare for concerts scheduled at Carnegie Hall on November 2 and 3. The issues in these two labor disputes could scarcely be more different. But each of them, in its own way, illustrates the long-term toll that American labor law takes on the cultural lifeblood of our nation.
The incident at Carnegie Hall raised more than a few eyebrows when it was revealed that the strike was organized by the five full-time Carnegie Hall stagehands who were members of Local One. Their annual compensation in wages and overtime averaged a cool $419,000 per year, making them — one properties manager, two carpenters, and two electricians — five of the seven highest paid workers at Carnegie Hall after Carnegie CEO Clive Gillenson. Other union members in unspecified numbers were called in to help from time to time, presumably at rates on par with those Carnegie Hall paid to its full time workers.
As befits the sorry state of labor relations in the United States, the dispute was not about the status of these five workers. Rather, it focused on the new jobs that would open upon the completion of a new education wing in 2015. Mr. Gillenson was not exactly breathing fire when, well-coached in the pitfalls of labor law, he eschewed any anti-union sentiment and announced that he expected union workers to take the stagehand slots in that new facility. It was just that he insisted on dealing with unions that lacked the clout and the wages of the hardy men from Local One.
The bargaining dynamics could not have been more different in the Minnesota dispute. It is no secret that unionized musicians command a short-run monopoly premium for their members. The orchestra knows that it can earn back some fraction of that wage premium by securing the most talented musicians. But by the same token, any generous deal opens the orchestra up to financial ruin if its endowment shrinks or if its key donors cut back their support in hard times. But usually the large gains for older musicians carry the day.
Unions in all industries — think of the debacle at General Motors — do not do well in negotiating givebacks to management. Yet, ironically, the higher the premium that unions are able to extract during good times, the larger the give-backs are needed to bring the employer’s fiscal position into balance during bad times.
Just that dynamic was in play with the Minnesota Orchestra. The high wages before 2009 led to one round of union concessions. But in 2011, the budget was still out of balance, and management came back with a request for further cuts of about 32 percent. It later softened its demands to insist on wage cuts that would reach 25 percent after three years. Those cuts would be offset by a one time $20,000 bonus, which would, of course, not be part of the wage base in future years.
The union proposals were for pay cuts in the range of six to eight percent. This would have left an annual deficit in the order of $6 million. In the end, no deal could be reached, which precipitated Vänskä’s departure and the subsequent huge hit to prestige of the orchestra’s hard-earned international reputation.
October 8, 2013
Rolling Stone digs deep into the video archives to come up with some particularly interesting (for certain values of “interesting”) Rush videos:
Geddy Lee is the first to admit that Rush do not have a great track record when it comes to making music videos, and their track record of picking stylish haircuts and outfits also leaves a bit to be desired. A few weeks ago, he sat down with Rolling Stone to discuss Rush’s new live DVD and their future plans. Towards the end, we took out an iPad and showed him 10 Rush videos on YouTube. Sometimes, he looked a little horrified at his videos and haircuts, but he had a lot to say about all of them. Click through to see the videos and hear Geddy’s memories. At the end, we also showed him a couple of Rush tribute videos by some super-fans.
The first video is a performance of “Working Man” in St. Catharines from 1974 … with their original drummer (John Rutsey) who was replaced by Neil Peart shortly afterwards:
“I haven’t seen this, ever. It’s not a bad recording, either. John was very much a mod, very much in the Paul Weller school of dressing. Alex and I were just long-hairs pretending that we were groovy.”
And commenting on a later video:
You can see the time period in everyone’s haircuts. . . Véronique Béliveau, the French singer, was awesome. . . This was bad, but it wasn’t my worst hairdo. My worst one was the coonskin hat period. That’s when I had my hair in a ponytail and this big poufy thing on the top. That was late 1980s/ early 1990s.
September 28, 2013
If you'd like to make a radio-friendly hit song in our current music climate, you'll need the following three things:
— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) September 28, 2013
A kick drum on the quarter note. Some sort of clap/high snare on the two and four. Whiny lyrics. Congrats you've joined the corporate world.
— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) September 28, 2013
Yes yes, I didn't mention autotune. That's basically a given at this point. #cherwantsherroyalties
— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) September 28, 2013
September 26, 2013
In The Nation, Adam Shatz looks back at the turbulent and creative career of Jazz giant Charles Mingus:
Mingus rarely left his pieces alone when he took them on the road with his Jazz Workshop, as he began calling his bands in the mid-1950s. When the Workshop played “Fables of Faubus,” a dart of sarcasm aimed at Arkansas’s segregationist governor Orval Faubus, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the jaunty eight-minute tune swelled into a half-hour suite, punctuated by tart allusions to “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “God Bless America” and a bass clarinet solo of blistering intensity by Eric Dolphy. (The performance is one of five concerts included in The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964–65, a seven-disc boxed set on Mosaic Records.) In the studio, Mingus was always splicing, dicing and overdubbing, enriching the texture of his music, increasing its density. He tinkered with titles, giving old pieces new and sometimes cryptic names: the tender portrait of a woman he loved, “Nouroog,” reappeared after their breakup as “I X Love”; “Better Get It in Your Soul,” a foot-stomping gospel tune that’s still played on jukeboxes, became “Better Get Hit in Yo’ Soul,” a message to junkies that they’d be better off with a boost from the Lord than one from the needle.
Mingus was always true to his ever-changing moods: he wanted to create music that, in his words, was “as varied as my feelings are, or the world is.” For sheer range of expression, his work has few equals in postwar American music: furious and tender, joyous and melancholy, grave and mischievous, ecstatic and introspective. It moves from the rapture of the church to the euphoria of the ballroom, from accusation to seduction, from a whisper to a growl, often by way of startling jump cuts and sudden changes in tempo. Vocal metaphors are irresistible when discussing Mingus. As Whitney Balliett remarked, music for him was “another way of talking.”
Though he wrote only a few songs with lyrics, his compositions — and his own bass playing, which revealed new dimensions of the instrument and helped liberate it from its traditional time-keeping role — were supremely vocal. He collaborated with poets in East Village coffeehouses and never hesitated to call out to his sidemen when the spirit caught him, as if he was leading a gospel choir. Each instrument in a Mingus tune evoked the voice, invariably in conversation with other voices; and each voice was an extension of his famously tempestuous personality. (“We don’t need a vocalist,” he told the trombonist Britt Woodman. “This band can have an argument with instruments.”) Philip Larkin was astonished by “how every Mingus band sounds like a great rabble of players, like some trick of Shakespearian production.” No matter how small the ensemble, he could create a sense of passionate, often combative dialogue: as one of his sidemen put it, Mingus “liked the sound of a struggle.” If his Workshop settled into a groove, he would suddenly change the time signature: he didn’t want anyone to get too comfortable. Struggle — against complacency, against the confinements of race and genre, against the record industry and the American government — inspired him; he depended on it to create. Though he dreamed of finding refuge on some “colorless island,” it wasn’t clear how he’d spend his time there. He needed something to fight against; his anger, in Geoff Dyer’s words, was “a form of energy, part of the fire sweeping through him.”