I find it hard not to smile when listening to some of the older recordings of Louis Armstrong. Armstrong’s attitude was vivacious and catching, the trumpet powerful, and his sidemen (Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on Clarinet, Johnny St. Cyr on banjo, and Lil Armstrong – Armstrong’s wife, but also an excellent player in her own right – on piano) were among the best of the business. Its no wonder that jazz caught on, first as a form of popular music, and then eventually as an art form – Armstrong laid out the parameters of the art-form in these 1926 recordings. We heard Oriental Strut, You’re Next, Don’t Forget to Mess Around, I’m Gonna Gitcha, Heebie Jeebies (which features the first scat vocals ever recorded), Droppin’ Shucks, Who’ Sit (featuring Louis on the slide whistle).
The Sons of the Pioneers were one of the finest country and western bands of the 1930s and ’40s. Formed by Leonard Slye (later to become well known as Roy Rogers), Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan in 1933, they soon added fiddler Hugh Farr (who also sang bass), and later his brother Karl on guitar (Slye had been playing rhythm guitar at that point, while Nolan had been playing bass). This group made a significant contribution to the development of country music through their excellent songwriting, tight, multi-part vocal arrangements, and jazzy instrumental parts that bore a debt to Django Reinhardt. From the Sons of the Pioneers, we heard Echoes from the Hills, The Hills of Old Wyoming, Ride Ranger Ride, One More Ride, and I Hang My Head and Cry.
Giovanni Gabrielli easily ranks as one of the more influential composers and musicians of the Renaissance. He studied with Orlando di Lassus, and eventually acquired a position at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where the high level of musical activity, combined with his compositional abilities, made him one of the more noted composers in Europe. Composers from across Europe came to study with him, especially from Germany, and his use of both madrigals and polychoral works as teaching material allowed these Italian innovations to influence composers like Heinrich Schütz, thus becoming a major influence to the entire German Baroque tradition that culminated in J.S. Bach.
We heard three works of Gabrielli’s which were arranged specifically for performance at St. Mark’s, which has facilities that allowed the composer to situate instrumental and vocal ensembles at various points around the room, creating something not unlike a sort of home-made surround sound effect. All of the works were published in 1615 but were probably written much earlier:
- In eccelsiis, a work scored for a vocal quartet with two separate groups of instrumental accompanists, which is considered unusual in that it is one of only two Gabrielli works that includes a bosso continuo part, which at the time was only starting to see usage.
- Sonata No. 19, a work scored for three choirs, all consisting of a violin, 4 sackbuts and organ. Contemporary accounts tell us that the church was equipped with up to 7 organs that could play simultaneously.
- Suscipe, clementissime Deus – a work scored for a vocal sextet (2 tenors, 2 baritones, 2 basses), along with 6 sackbuts and an organ.
This was all performed by the Gabrielli Consort and Players, under the conduction of Paul McCreesh.
When Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel split up their wildly successful folk/pop/rock act in 1970, they had recently concluded a 1969 tour that they had recorded for the purposes of releasing a live album. The live album was shelved, but the recordings were resurrected a few years ago and compiled to create the live album that never was, now titled Simon and Garfunkel Live 1969. The album actually has some local interest, in that a number of the songs released in this compilation were recorded in our own SIU Arena (11-8-1969, just in case you were there). We heard four songs from Live 1969: For Emily, Whenever I May Find her, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Mrs. Robinson, and The Boxer.
Many will remember the band Blood, Sweat & Tears for their excellent 1968 self-titled album, which was a Grammy winner in 1969 and which features some excellent songs and performances. But that Blood, Sweat & Tears lineup was significantly different from the lineup that recorded their first album, Child is Father To The Man, and the musical differences are so significant that they are like night to day. Child is Father to the Man is the rare album that combines rock, pop, jazz, blues and classical influences into one recipe, with the spices equally measured, with a bit of ’60s Greenwich Village mixed in for good measure. Some critics consider this one of the great post-Sgt. Pepper albums of the ’60s, and I have to agree. We heard I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know and My Days are Numbered.
Like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Creedence Clearwater Revival is a band with an interesting musical impact. They came out of San Francisco, yet they were less Haight-Ashbury than they were southern rock. Their music was less of a product of the times than it was a product of a back-to-basics approach. Of course, that back-to-basics approach gives us music that is essentially timeless. We heard Suzie Q (their first single), and Fortunate Son.
We finished tonight’s show with some Charles Mingus. Of all the interesting albums that Mingus assembled, one of the more interesting of Mingus’ albums may have been his 1972 album Let My Children Hear Music. He had been working with larger ensembles for some time before taking time off due to health problems, but he had never worked with a full big band like the one that would be assembled for this album. The music that he intended to record for the album had been percolating in his mind in various forms for an extended period of time (one going as far back as 1939), and several of the pieces had been recorded or performed in one format or the other. But he had some rather pointed ideas for this album, most notably in the instrumentation, which went far beyond the usual parameters of jazz, even for big band. Here is Mingus writing for the liner notes:
As I say, let my children have music. Jazz – The way it has been handled in the past – stifles them so that they believe only in the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, maybe a flute now and then or a clarinet. But it is not enough. I think it is time our children were raised to think they can play bassoon, oboe, English horn, French horn, full percussion, violin, cello. The results would be – well the Philharmonic would not be the only answer then. If we so-called jazz musicians who are the composers, the spontaneous composers, started including these instruments in our music, it would open everything up, it would get rid of prejudice because the musicianship would be so high in caliber that they symphony couldn’t refuse us.
In fact, who wants to be in the symphony anyway, nowadays? If you stop and take note of what jazz has done, and the kind of musicianship which has developed from each instrument, it becomes obvious that it has made each player a virtuoso.
In this album, Mingus practiced what he was preaching. Several of the songs on the album, including the two (The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive-Ass Slippers and The Chill of Death) heard tonight, are scored for configurations of ten woodwinds (ranging from piccolos to contra-bass clarinets), brass which includes French horns (and notably so), and a bass section that includes six basses and a cello. Just as the instrumentation is aggressive, so is the performance, with two or three soloists sometimes soloing over each other. The first half of The Chill of Death revolves around the recitation of a poem that is rather Poe-ish in its subject (I do not know the writer, but I assume that it was Mingus), before turning to an instrumental. Mingus wrote in his liner notes about wanting to build new tall buildings in music. Well, “tall buildings in music” can’t get much taller than this.