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:
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.