I take a great deal of pleasure in placing focus on those artists who push the musical envelope, those whose willingness to take risks and experiment with their sound resulted in a positive change in our musical environment. Sometimes such efforts resulted in great fame and profit, but this is not always the case with great art – in fact, I’d say that such is seldom the case.
But it certainly was the case with Pink Floyd. We started off with a few songs from their early days, when Syd Barrett was singing, playing guitar and doing much of the writing. An interesting album cut, Bike, from Piper at the Gates of Dawn began the set, then we heard two non-album singles from that same era, Arnold Layne and Apples and Oranges. After this, we proceeded to the full Dark Side of the Moon album, uninterrupted and uncut.
Sometimes progress comes from the sort of constant experimentation that Pink Floyd built their entire catalog upon. Other times it comes courtesy of a happy accident. Such was the story behind Marty Robbins‘ Don’t Worry, from 1960. A studio pre-amp malfunctioned during the recording of Grady Martin‘s guitar solo, but Robbins and producer Don Law liked what they heard and left it intact. The result is an early example of “fuzztone”, harnessed distortion, although various guitarists had been experimenting with ways to harness distortion. But this incident caught the attention of other performers – the Ventures, in particular, worked to recreate the very sound that Martin achieved here, and these efforts directly led to the invention of commercially-available fuzz-boxes (where would Jimi Hendrix be without that?). Also from Marty Robbins, we heard Smoking Cigarettes and Drinking Coffee Blues, Singing The Blues, and A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation).
We then took a trip out to the Harlem Square Club for a January 1963 date featuring Sam Cooke. We don’t hear the silky Sam Cooke here – he is passionate and sweaty, maybe just a bit hoarse, traveling with his normal guitarist and drummer, and playing with a band led by r&b saxophonist King Curtis. He is obviously feeling right at home, inciting the crowd before ripping into Feel It (Don’t Fight It), Chain Gang and Cupid.
Next, we heard a set of three piano pieces from Arnold Schoenberg, his Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11. Written in 1909, it is generally recognized as the first attempt at a completely atonal composition, either by Schoenberg or anyone else, and is considered to be a major milestone in Schoenberg’s writing career. It really was a logical extension of a trend of composers stretching the rules of tonality to the bursting point, given the work of contemporaries such as Richard Wagner (consider Die Walkyrie), Richard Strauss (Ariadne auf Naxos), Gustav Mahler, or even Schoenberg’s own previous works (i.e. Verklärte Nacht). But even though we can say that Schoenberg was only doing the inevitable, music such as this really sets the stage for the interesting points of musical experimentation that was to come much later in the 20th century, be it jazz (Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, etc) or rock (Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, etc.).
We finished the show with a song that, in my opinion, owes a debt to the advancements of Schoenberg et al – Directions, from Miles Davis Live at the Fillmore East, from March 1970.