Saturday, December 08, 2012

Four Takes on American Music

1. Marc Myers, proprietor of the excellent Jazz Wax blog,  has written a different kind of jazz history Why Jazz Happened (University of California Press). It the focuses on the economic and social changes that facilitated the creation of be-bop, cool jazz,hard bop and a few more styles leading up to jazz-rock fusion. I haven't read it yet, but Myers was interviewed by Jeffrey Siegel for his Straight No Chaser online jazz show (go here) up in Massachusetts. You can listen for free to the podcast. It's a fascinating interview and there are some great tunes played.

2.  Tom Hurka, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, writes about Rob Bowman's Soulsville, USA: The Story of Stax Records in normblog's writer's choice series.  I'm an  admirer of Peter Guralnik's 1986 Sweet Soul Music, which as published more than a decade before Bowman's book and with a broader focus. Hurka's  mini-essay persuades me that Soulsville deserves to be read widely as well.  As Hurka  observes 

A running theme in the book is the contrast between soul music, as at Stax, and the music of Motown. (Whereas the sign outside Stax said Soulsville, USA, that outside Motown said Hitsville, USA. Bowman thinks that encapsulates the difference.) The Motown sound was slick, northern, and urban, while Stax was rough, southern, and rural.

3. Ricky Ricardi, archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, has a great blog The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong. He's written a highly-praised book  (2012) with the same title about Armstrong's later years, but the blog for the last year has been devoted to Armstrong's early and seminal Hot Fives and Hot Sevens recordings, which marked the first revolution in jazz.  Ricardi did 10 blog posts on the 5 and 7s over six month period--they are listed here. Really fascinating stuff.

4. Dave Brubeck was one of the few jazz artists to achieve mass popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. Russell Fox comments here and Norm Geras here. I'm sure I heard "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" before I began to explore jazz in high school.  A class mate, out reliable guide to what was cool in rock, was a drummer and a fan of Burbeck's drummer Joe Morello. His parents had the famous Time Out . A few years later I spent an evening hanging out with couple of Brubeck's kids who had a jazz rock fusion group and had played at a college gig in my hometown. Despite this exposure, I didn't feel a burning desire to get the album and I was well into  adulthood before I got it. 

Burbeck wrote some great jazz standards and I have enjoyed many of the Quartets performances, but I don't really like his playing; it seems heavy handed, lacking subtlety, and not really swinging. I prefer John Lewis and Thelonious Monk.  I tend to think that the strange time signatures was a dead end.

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