I give you permission to have fun.
I give you permission to try something ‘crazy’
All music is related, all music is meant to be played, and play should be an operative word in how we approach learning. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be challenging, that doesn’t mean you shouldn't practice, or that you won’t get frustrated. But it is very important to find the things that bring us joy within our music making, and to identify the things that really don’t and examine why that is.
Personally I lose the joy when I feel like my own creativity and ideas are being shut down.
Depending on the day my idea of fun might be to play exactly what is on the page, that challenge, the sense of accomplishment, the connection to the past. It is important to recognize the value of ‘playing things as written’.
This does not mean, you always have to play things ‘the way they are on the page’
In fact much of the music that we think of as ‘carved in stone’ comes from the long held tradition of messing around and just making shit up as you go. Sure, there are frameworks that were learned but everyone knew you could go outside of the box if it felt like the right thing to do.
To honour this tradition we will be looking at ways folks have had fun with Bach out side of the box.
So to set the stage:
Our Muse tonight is Johann Sebastien Bach 1685–1750) was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. (about 1600 to 1750.)
Lute Suite E Minor written between 1708 and 1717. It is probable that this suite was intended for Lautenwerck (lute-harpsichord). Which was basically a harpsichord with gut strings instead of metal strings so it would have a super mellow tone.
We’re going to hear Mario D’Agosto a Luteist from Italy playing the 5th movement.
Any Guesses on who we’re hearing next? (Hodge House guessed correctly!)
this is not a LautenWerk, but a FlautenWerk
1969 Jethro Tull,
Last week we listened to Bach’s Concerto in Dminor for 2 violins, and we are going to listen to it again.
Starting with the most “by the book” to let’s take this and run with it.
Andrew Collins, Mike Mezzatessta
the 2 takes of Django, Stephane & Eddie
For our final bit, this isn’t a cover of a Bach piece but it is a beautiful take on a classic.
This is the Lonely Heartstring Band - Performing a very ‘accurate’ cover of Graceland.
Nourished by deep roots in the expansive canon of traditional American music, The Lonely Heartstring Band embodies the modern American condition—an understanding and reverence for the past that informs a push into the future. George Clements (guitar, vocals) Patrick M'Gonigle (fiddle, vocals) Charles Clements (bass, vocals) Maddie Witler (mandolin) and Gabe Hirshfeld (banjo) bring together their own musical styles to create a sound greater than the sum of its parts.
Bonus: Bela Fleck and Chic Corea
*Just as a little aside: I did a lot of demoing with my voice and props this week... so there will be things that won't appear here that really make things clearer*
Alrighty so last week the question of “What Makes It Swing?” Was asked
Swing does refer to a few different things in music,
From the online Encyclopedia Brittanica:
Swing, in music, both the rhythmic impetus of jazz music and a specific jazz idiom prominent between about 1935 and the mid-1940s—years sometimes called the swing era. Swing music has a compelling momentum that results from musicians’ attacks and accenting in relation to fixed beats. Swing rhythms defy any narrower definition, and the music has never been notated exactly.
So that’s about as clear as mud. Let’s break this up, first by figuring out what this sounds like.
So everything I’m about to say is as accurate as I can make it, but as always, I’m not an expert, I’m an enthusiastic educator who does her best to make things understandable. I am not a professor of music theory or jazz but that may actually be an advantage for this.
So back to our definition, we’re going to pick it a part.
a compelling momentum that results from musicians’ attacks and accenting in relation to fixed beats.
We’ll start with fixed beats. We can do this.
The fixed beat referred to here is most often a quarter note, [Clap 1 2 3 4] often the bassist will be providing a “Walking” bass run. [Sing blues walking bass while clapping]
Ok so that’s our fixed beat,
Now, Let’s look at what the guitar is doing, Like the bassist, the Rhythm guitar player is usually playing quarter notes as well, however, they will be placing an accent or emphasis on beats 2 & 4 [Clap this] that sounds like this on the guitar [Play G6 Blues]
And now what’s our drummer doing?
Our drummer at most basic will be walking the dog [Voice demo] desk demo.
See if you can hear and identify some of these elements in this track.
This is “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You” Humphrey Lyttelton & His band with Kathleen Stobart (On tenor sax) Year
Swing music has a compelling momentum that results from musicians’ attacks and accenting in relation to fixed beats. Swing rhythms defy any narrower definition, and the music has never been notated exactly.
The momentum here must be in reference to our 8thnotes, up till now we’ve been dealing in quarter notes
In a straight rhythmic feel we divide each quarter evenly in two. [Sounds like 1 + 2+ etc)
For swing, we divide quarters into two eigth notes but instead of this being an even division, the first 8thgets more of the space, and the second one gets squished up closer to the next beat. [listen to violin scale with image shared]
This can if notated look like this[showslide], but, depending on the groove, it may be that the first note gets more than 2/3 of the beat, and the second note gets squished even closer to the next. It’s also super chaotic to try to read a chart notated this way.
The general consensus there fore is to write it out as if it’s straight 8ths, and scrawl swing at the top, or 8ths=triplet quarter eight.
Up next we have the Vivien Garry Quintet, with Operation Mop from 1946
Led by Bassist Vivien Garry, on fiddle we have Ginger Smock, Wini Beatty on piano,
Ok I promised a Score, a big band score, so now that we have an idea of what we’re listen to in relation to what we are looking at lets listen to a quintessential big band swing number.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra with Tuxedo junction. Reading scores is challenging even when you’re used to it, so if you are not a reader, if this looks like polkadots, I challenge you to follow our dear friend the bassist. I’ll try to switch the pages in the right places. If you want a bit more of a challenge, follow the trumpet line, or the saxes.
If you get lost there are a couple places with really unique sounds that might get you back on track.
Everything we’ve heard so far has had a swing feel, now, I’m going to do a palette cleanser; We’re going to listen to some Bach. This is straight rhythm, I have the violin score, which I will share. Concerto for 2 violins in D minor – London Symphony
And now because no music is born in a vacuum, from 1937, Improvisations on Concerto for 2 violins, Stephane Grappelli & Eddie South on Violins, Django Reinhardt on Guitar.
One of the things that I find very interesting with humans, is that we often find something we like and then put the blinders on, filtering out a lot of the context and world that was around when that “thing” was being created, this is true for music, art, food.
So tonight, to give ourselves some context for western swing, I’ve more tunes than usual, we’ll have 3 western Swing tunes, each will have a companion track for some context.
We’re going to start, not with Western Swing as I promised, but with an artist who was a huge inspiration to the first Western Swing artist of the night.
This first track is Undecided, which was first recorded in 1938, This particular recording is from 1939, Django Reinhardt & the Hot Club of France with Beryl Davis on Vocals and Stephane Grapelli on violin. This is Hot Club or Manouche Jazz, It can be referred to as Gypsy Jazz, but the term Gypsy is actually quite problematic and it is a derogatory term, imposed by outsiders on the Roma community.
Smokey Rogers & Joaquin Murphy 1950 Trouble Then Satisfaction
a decade later we have Smokey Rogers with renowned steel player and huge Reinhardt fan performing a song that has some pretty direct correlations to undecided, true this is a much more laid back tempo, but it’s pretty clear. If you have the time to trawl through the 400+ recordings that Joaquin is credited on in his career, and then dive into the Django Rienhardt catalogue, you’ll hear the huge influence and respect that Murphy had for hot club and Reinhardt’s playing.
"Li'l Liza Jane" was first published in 1916 as a composition by Ada de Lachau. It was described as a "Southern dialect song". The song's origins, go back even earlier. There are records of the lyrics being sung by slaves in Louisiana before the American Civil War.
The name "Liza Jane" or "Eliza Jane" was a standard female character name in minstrel shows. And that is a piece of musical history that often gets glossed over.
Minstrel shows, where white performers would dress in blackface, and lampoon African American culture, were highly popular, the music played in these shows would sometimes have deeper roots to actual African American music, some times not.
The melody of the chorus of little Liza Jane is shared with the West African welcome song "Fanga Alafia".So before we listen to Lil’ Liza Jane, Let’s listen to it, Here are Weedie Braimah & Amadou Kouyate, performing Fanga Rhythm, in 2016.
Bob Wills, a founding musician to Western Swing, and probably the best brand recognition in this genre. This is from 1941
We call it Western Swing, the term Western Swing wasn’t widely used for the first years of this music. For the Musicians it was what you played for people who wanted to have a good time, and there was no need to give it a name. The record companies, committed to the filing system of “mountaineers songs” and ‘Descriptive novelty” and so forth labeled it “hot Dance”
We have 2 more tracks, both from 1952, so the term western swing is definitely in use by this time.
Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, from 1952 Pike County Breakdown
Pee Wee King
This recording is from circa 1952 for Standard Radio Transcription Services and were designed for sale or lease to radio stations.
Our Bonus Pieces:
A historical fiction about Theremin,
by Canadian author Sean Michaels
Etherial, haunting, otherworldly, the theremin is a relatively young and unique instrument. Invented by Leon Theremin, born Lev Sergeyevich Termen, in 1920 and patented in 1928 etherphone, thereminophone.
It as instrument that is played entirely without actually physically contacting the surfaces,
And because even after doing a bunch or reading and research on it, I can only comprehend snip-its of the scientific wizardry involved with how it works I’m going to let someone else walk us through. From the University of Youtube. Here is a brief, and the most straightforward although it still goes over my head at times explanation on how the Theremin does its thing.
So now, let’s talk a bit about the creator and it’s creation. The theremin was the product of Soviet government-sponsored research into proximity sensors. The instrument was invented by a young Russian physicist named Lev Sergeyevich Termen, after the outbreak of the Russian Civil war.
After a lengthy tour of Europe, during which time he demonstrated his invention to packed houses, Theremin moved to the United States, where he patented his invention in 1928. Subsequently, Theremin granted commercial production rights to RCA.
Although the RCA Thereminvox (released immediately following the Stock Market Crash of 1929) was not a commercial success, it fascinated audiences in America and abroad.
Let’s hear and see the man himself playing,
Another of Termen’s inventions was the Buran eavesdropping system. A precursor to the modern laser microphone, it worked by using a low-power infrared beam from a distance to detect sound vibrations in glass windows. In 1947, Theremin was awarded the Stalin prize for inventing this advance in Soviet espionage technology.
Theremin invented another listening device called The Thing, hidden in a replica of the Great Seal of the United States carved in wood. In 1945, Soviet school children presented the concealed bug to the U.S. Ambassador as a "gesture of friendship" to the USSR's World War II ally. It hung in the ambassador’s residential office in Moscow and intercepted confidential conversations there during the first seven years of the Cold War, until it was accidentally discovered in 1952.
In the spirit of intrigue and mystery here is the opening theme from British Crime Drama “Midsomer Murders” which features some very spooky Theremin.
One of the early adopters and highly celebrated Therminists?? was Clara Rockmore
Clara Reisenberg was born in Vilnius, then in the Russian Empire, to a family of Lithuanian Jews. After the October Revolution the family obtained visas and moved to the United States in 1921.
In America, Rockmore continued to study music, however As a teenager, tendinitis affected her bow arm, attributed to childhood malnutrition, and resulted in her giving up the violin. However, after meeting fellow immigrant Léon Theremin and being introduced to the theremin, she became its most prominent player. She performed widely and helped Theremin to refine his instrument.
Termin actually proposed to her at one point, but she turned him down. Probably for the best all in all as the espionage and spy vs spy stuff never turns out well. Termin did end up being sent to Butyrka prison, sent to work in the Kolyma gold mines, and then to a secret laboratory in the Gulag Camp system, he survived all this and was eventually rehabilitated, and lived to the age of 97, passing away in 1993.
Here is Clara Rockmore playing the familiar and beautiful Gershwin piece Summertime.
After a flurry of interest in America following the end of the Second World War, the theremin soon fell into disuse with serious musicians, mainly because newer electronic instruments were introduced that were easier to play. However, a niche interest in the theremin persisted, mostly among electronics enthusiasts and kit-building hobbyists. One of these electronics enthusiasts, Robert Moog, began building theremins in the 1950s, while he was a high-school student. Moog subsequently published a number of articles about building theremins, and sold theremin kits that were intended to be assembled by the customer. Moog credited what he learned from the experience as leading directly to his groundbreaking synthesizer, the Moog.
and so to wrap up our journey I was very pleased to find a very talented, modern young man who we can watch as well as listen to, because the movement and the sound of the mechanics of this instrument are so intriguing to me.
Grégoire Blanc started to play the theremin at the age of 15 after learning about its existence during a science lesson in high school. The very first contact with the instrument was a revelation after years of cello practise. Indeed, the process of picking notes in a free, “fretless” space is very similar.
In September 2019, following six years of intense scientific studies, Grégoire took a new turn to beat the frustration of too little time for music. Holding two Master’s Degrees, one from the leading French school of Arts and another one in sciences applied to music, he decided to pursue a career in music.
I hope he is holding on in this storm.
This was filmed for the 100 year anniversary of the invention the Theremin, here is "Clare de Lune" with Orane Donnadieu on piano.
What do we do?
Join us to be inspired by music from around the world, no preparation, prerequisites, or practicing required. I’ll read a short composer bio, highlight some historically relevant material or interesting context, we’ll listen to a piece of music, and then take the time to reflect on what we heard, ask questions, and explore.