|Traditional jazz is popular throughout Australia. This is the front line of the Caxton Street Jazz Band playing at the Toowoomba Jazz Society, Queensland
POPS & FILM MUSIC
Dave's Desert Island Discs - worldwide pops,
movie themes, trad jazz and classics
Last updated 23/02/2011
"Without music, life would be a mistake" (Friedrich Nietzsche)
"Music crosses all boundaries", it is often said. This is only a half-truth. Most people are tied down to the music of their own culture or subculture and make little conscious effort to broaden their horizons.
There are probably more opinions about music than there are inhabitants of this planet. Peoples' tastes continuously change and, for awhile, develop. I use the word "develop" pointedly, confident that some music really is much better than the rest. (Well, isn't Beethoven's 9th better than a nursery song, and if you can compare those why can't you compare everything else?)
However, music is a recreational activity, to be enjoyed, and the amazing thing is that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways. My personal opinions are just as subjective as anyone else's and, while classical music occupies most of my listening time, I have little inclination to plug the "highbrow stuff" (but see Footnote 9). You like what you like, and that's that. Just so long as it makes you happy, I suppose that's all that really matters. If you look through some of the personal lists of favourites on the net you'll be lucky to find any with more than a 2% overlap. Most music lovers' tastes appear to be very narrow. My own are fairly broad (though somewhat antiquated), but still it's hard to find any list (other than classical) with even one of my choices in it! This despite the fact that most of the items in my selection are, or have been, very popular, many of them played to death. Yet in my Pops & Rock file you will not find Elvis, the Stones, ACDC, Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Pink Floyd, Aretha Franklin or any of the pre-Bill Haley smoothies such as Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Petula Clark, to mention but a few. My classical pickings barely touch the surface of thousands of great compositions and performences, ignore Bach's two Passions, Handel's Messiah, Wagner's operas and other well-liked choral megaliths, as well as a host of important composers, among them Vivaldi, Weber, Berlioz, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Dvorak, Verdi, R.Strauss, Mahler, Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Stravinski and Shostakovich. And there's a heap of stuff I positively deride, usually because it's insufferably naive or simply not musical (see Dislikes).
"You are the music while the music lasts" (T. S. Eliot)
Regardless, I'm submitting this list and the accompanying remarks in the vague hope that someone, somewhere, might find a "new" song to listen to, or an idea they've never considered before, that will help to broaden their tastes and perspective a little. Because, all you sticklers for a particular genre, there's a whole world of fabulous music out there, all kinds of mind-blowing stuff. You only need to listen carefully, and with an open mind, to find the sparks that will set you on fire. Try to let the music take you over. Masterpieces like those in the following selection (almost all available on CD) should not be relegated to the background - that would be close to sacrilegious. Put everything else aside - this demands your complete attention! This is one time you can afford to be sucked in! But (NB) I've left the best till last - the classical stuff. Click here to go direct to the preaching page (a list of some of the characteristics of "good" music). All these compositions can be found on youtube, often in many versions.
Pops and Rock Worldwide
"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings
because it has a song." (Chinese Proverb)
Khaled - Aicha (All-French version) - From the king of rai, this catchy number picks up steam through four verses and one and a half choruses to a contrasting, soaring bridge. Charming lyrics, splendidly sung over a fabulous blend of guitar and orchestral effects. A great "home-style" studio production, though the looped percussion sounds a bit mundane. The original French version was composed by Jean-Jacques Goldman (Lyrics and translation here), but the Arabic component of the better known French/Arabic version, on the album Sahra, was written by Khaled. Aicha, which means "princess", with various spellings is also a popular name for elephants, especially the famous one mentioned here.
Stevie Wonder - You Are the Sunshine of my Life - In a class of its own, this tour de force has a terrific swing feel*, nice harmonies and an inspired breadth of expression - can make you laugh and cry at the same time. Inimitably sung with a great backing group, in my book this is close to the ultimate in popular music - yeah-yeahs, wo-ohs and all, and despite a couple of minor blemishes. (There's now a digitally remastered version which might have corrected these.) Amongst Stevie's other great hits - Superstition, Part time lover and I just called to say I love you.
Paul McCartney - Yesterday (original Beatles version) - The most painstakingly crafted of McCartney's songs, providing, after much trouble, a good match of words to music. A beautifully formed, naturally flowing melody ("gift of the gods"?) with sweet harmonies played by a raw-sounding guitar and those rather incongruous strings. The title is apt, as this little ditty (only 2 minutes long) sounds a bit dated now. My favourite cover version of this tune is an arrangement for Dutch barrel organ! (possibly found on the 1994 album The Exotic Beatles, Pt. 2, although I first heard it at a fairground in the 1970's).
Sinead O'Connor - Nothing compares 2 U - and nothing compares to the power and passion of this memorable performance, a rare gem from a country (Ireland) that has produced remarkably little of any value (!) - this opus actually comes from the pen of that great entertainer, Prince. Sung against a simple, contrasting backdrop of long piano and organ-like chords, drums and occasional ah-ahs, the controversial O'Connor's pit-in-the-stomach elegy to lost love is doubtless helped by some careful voice overdubbing - but what pops are free from electronic tampering these days? (see Abba entry below*). Regardless, if I were allowed to take only one pop track to my desert island, this could easily be the one. But I'd leave the singer at home!
| What is pop music? Well, in India and its|
outposts, bands just like this play at all kinds
Ghulam Ali - Chupke Chupke Raat Din (Urdu/Hindi) - A "ghazal" used in the 1982 movie Nikaah. The movie version# is one of the neatest packages ever created, beautifully rounded, beguiling, softly sung, the melody floats on the tabla like a boat on the river and there are a couple of splendid instrumental breaks. Rather trite lyrics by Hasrat Mohani are abridged in this version - translation here. (#The movie track is 4 min 55 secs long and has no bass or jingly-jangly things in the accompaniment. Longer versions are best avoided. There are a number of hot contenders for this spot: see footnote about Lata Mangeshkar and the amazing world of Bollywood film music)
Israel ("IZ") Kamakawiwo'ole - Over the Rainbow - A fine example of how one man and a ukelele can bring out the best in a great song. In fact two great songs, as this very liberal but unpretentious (and rather touching) rendition also dips into "What a Wonderful World". Incidentally, the blurry opening words of this are "OK, this one's for Gabby" - a reference to another legendary Hawaiian musician, Gabby Pahinui.
|.....and like this!
Jimi Hendrix - Little Wing (extended instrumental version) - Awesome guitar work in this bluesy instrumental. Opening chords to send shivers down your spine. No other rock guitarist that I know of has ever come up with anything remotely approaching this hair-raising yet carefully measured labyrinth of electronic squalls and technical gyrations (without sounding contrived or just plain noisy). Another incredible number, with its frenetic panning, is the evergreen Voodoo Child (Slight Return).
Jimmy Cliff - You Can Get It If You Really Want - Maybe not the very best of Cliff's impressive output, but I'm totally besotted by the way this one scoots along with such consummate ease. Just listen to that plunky guitar go! There's very little to choose between this and the 1970 Desmond Dekker imitation which became a hit. (I have a slight weakness for happy reggae, e.g. Jimmy Cliff - Sunshine Reggae, and pops with a reggae beat, e.g. Ace of Base - The Sign.)
Kate Ceberano - Calling You (Live with W.A. Symphony) - Fabulous combination of power and sensitivity transforms the phrase I am calling you into something special. Picturesque words sung against an arresting sequence of gentle, slow arpeggio chords, and poignant orchestral fill-in provided by the Western Australia S.O. There are other versions, notably by Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, but, once having got used to her aspirated vowels ("high hams" near the end), Kate's voice suits this weird little song better. It's an absolute gem. From the same album - as proof of Ceberano's musical supremacy - try the soulfully orchestrated Cherry blossom lipstick and the dynamical nightmare of Sunburn for Australian nostalgia at its best. Passionate stuff, original and always interesting, from a woman of magnetic presence and exotic beauty (and a scientologist to boot! - Why oh why???)
The Stranglers - Golden Brown - A plaintive "gothic rock" ballad with a fascinating arrangement. The accompaniment is dominated by a harpsichord belting out the predominantly 6/8 beat, but there are some quaint instrumental sections containing extended (7/8) bars of descending harpsichord notes. (Unfortunately this British band's chief claim to fame is its association with heroin, apparently reflected in the ambiguous lyrics of some of its songs.)
The Sandpipers - Guantanamera (Spanish) - Could this be the most popular song ever? Or if not this, then maybe one of the other catchy Latin-American numbers that re-echoes night after night in countless romantic clubs and restaurants throughout the western world. The Sandpipers, an American group, brought Guantamera to the attention of the general public in 1966, and although there are numerous other renditions, this is still the best I've heard. But for a more authentic sound, try the live session with Capim Cubano - rhythmically more interesting, moves along at a faster pace and evokes the Cuban party atmosphere. Other tolerable versions are by Compay Segundo (live), Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. I can't recommend the popular Celia Cruz versions. The melody of Guantanamera, officially attributed to Joséito Fernández, is almost certainly based on a Cuban folk song, while the words mostly used today are an adaptation of a poem by José Marti, a Cuban independence fighter. What a shame the name of Guantanamo Bay now only inspires wrath (Hmm! Is there a connection?).
Gamelan Of Central Java - VI: Kraton Surakarta - This could hardly be called "pop", but being marooned on an island without the hypnotic sonorities of the traditional gamelan orchestra is almost unthinkable. I wonder what would take priority - breakfast, smoke signals or the gamelan? There's quite a lot of this stuff on record - it's amazingly varied, considering the melodic limitations of the instruments - and while this CD is excellent, I'm not sure it's "the one" for me. I especially like the gending that keep going on and on at a steady or gradually quickening pace, full of rapid notes and weaving polyphonies, creating a fantasyland of sound that buzzes around in your head until you're virtually in a trance (like the musicians themselves, I suspect - see Footnote 8). Unfortunately it's hard to get the full effect from a CD - you'd need a superior recording and a top-of-the-range surround sound system. Do desert islands come properly equipped?
(If you're not sure what this is all about, try downloading something from here or listen immediately to this.)
Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing |
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me
Abba - Thank You For the Music - The group's signature tune, this is a "nice" song, a really nice song. The sweet chorus, one of my favourite little musical tributes to music, keeps on revolving in my head "long after the crowd has gone home". Others on my list of Abba favourites: The name of the game, Chiquitita, Take a chance on me and Knowing me knowing you (but what on earth is that mumbling going on in the background towards the end?)*. Their most widely acclaimed track is Dancing Queen, one of the most perfectly assembled pop creations of that era. NB: thirty years ago I wouldn't have blinked at this lot, even after their epic Australian tour in 1977!
*These days pop music depends heavily on sound-mixing techniques, and sometimes one feels that the sound engineers should get most of the accolades for the end-result. Abba’s unique sound was partly achieved by overdubbing the voices, particularly in the choruses, to produce the thick, vibrant (fuzzy?) quality which undoubtedly contributed to the success of virtually all their songs. It's interesting to compare this with the methods used by that other well-known Swedish group, Ace of Base, whose principal recording of The Sign might never have made the charts without the echoing effect that occurs throughout. It all gets quite confusing, as many songs are re-issued in versions (one or more) known as "remixes", which might sound very different to the original issue. Sometimes, where the main aim has been to intensify the sound, the results turn out blurry and messy. On the whole I prefer a clean sound.
Others - The Proclaimers (I'm gonna be (500 miles)), Police (Every breath you take), Johnny Nash (I can see clearly now), Men at Work (Down under), Joe Cocker (You are so beautiful to me - a gritty, touching performance by the English bloke who was kicked out of Australia in 1972 for assault and possession of marijuana), Sara Bareilles (Gravity - poignant love song, heart-rending melody), Peter Allen (I still call Australia home), "Unchained melody" (any straight version, no fancy stuff - see Footnote 2), "What the world needs now (is love, sweet love)" (Dionne Warwick and dozens of other famous artists - a Burt Bacharach / Hal David composition, one of the best waltz tunes ever written), Whitney Houston (Heartbreaker, I will always love you etc - possibly the greatest pop singing voice of all time), John Farnham (You're the voice - see Footnote 6), Bob Marley (No woman no cry - not sure which version), Chuck Berry (Johnny B Goode - quintessential rock n' roll), Donovan (Try and catch the wind, album version), Bob Dylan (Blowin' in the wind), Billy Joel (Piano Man), Michael Jackson - the world's greatest one-man act? (Beat it, Billy Jean - innovative and inimitable, but portending a period of unmusical garbage), Keith Jarrett (Over the rainbow - La Scala concert - not sure whether this is pop or jazz), Little River Band (Help is on its way), "From a distance" (I'm not a fan of either God or Bette Midler, but in the right hands this beautifully constructed song can sound awesome - maybe this is an exception to the rule expressed in the features of good music, lyrics), John Lennon (Imagine - a wonderful world that will never be!), Louis Armstrong (What a Wonderful World - imagine!), U2 (With or without you), Tina Turner (What’s love got to do with it), "Have you ever seen the rain" (I prefer Rod Stewart's cover of this John Fogerty/Creedence Clearwater Revival hit), "Twist and shout" (Isley Brothers, Beatles), Frank Ifield (I remember you - Johnny Mercer's beautifully worked melody, harmonies and lyrics), Donovan (Catch the wind, version 2 - poetic, nice tune), Cat Stevens (various - perfect unity of guitar and voice), Carole King (It's too late - song with a touch of genius), P.J. Proby (Somewhere there's a place for us), Madonna (Like a prayer), Josh Pyke (Middle of the hill - modern-sounding island style with a suburban story - I like the slightly unusual guitar chords and the way the uncluttered backing skips along and bounces off the lyrics), Alicia Keys (Streets of New York), Josh Groban (great voice, some of his latest stuff sounds refreshing - don't know which are his best tracks), Karise Eden (You won't let me: one of the most unique voices ever to grace the Australian pop scene).
* Note: By "swing feel" I mean the way Stevie Wonder hits his notes a little before the beat. He does it to perfection. This type of syncopation was much used in the swing music of the 30's, but of course You are the sunshine of my life is not swing. Incidentally the meaning of the word "swing" has changed over time. It is now often used to refer to a type of crooning associated with Frank Sinatra and his disciples, which I suppose also often uses this kind of syncopation but lacks most of the other features of early swing, which was an instrumental style associated with Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa etc.
Movie and TV Themes, Musicals and Anthems
Tan Dun / Yo-yo Ma - "Farewell" from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Marvellous web of fascinating sound, the gliding, interweaving parts almost seem extemporised. A completely successful blend of East and West. Composed by Tan Dun, the cello part is played by one of the greatest and most captivating musicians of the 20th century, Yo-yo Ma, perhaps heard at his best in his recordings of Brahms' chamber music.
Songs from The Sound of Music (Rodgers & Hammerstein) - The greatness of this movie (my alltime favourite) is largely due to its enchanting music, but, conversely, the appeal of most of the songs probably depends on their role in the movie. Some of them do stand on their own feet, notably Edelweiss, The Sound of Music, Climb Ev'ry Mountain and Maria.
Score of the Lord of the Rings trilogy - Composed (mainly) by Howard Shore, this is a mammoth effort by any standard. I love this dark, ominous "gothic" music with its striking harmonic progressions. Not sure whether it really does contain my favourite music of this type, but as an entirity we are unlikely to hear the likes of it for a long time.
John Williams - Jurassic Park overture and finale. Haunting music, almost self-sufficient yet begging further development. Even though Williams doesn't satisfy all my criteria of good music, this is possibly my favourite filmtrack. I'm not a movie buff, so can't say whether this is his very best score. (The problem with the widely acclaimed Schindler’s List main themes is that they sound classical, and as such you anticipate something more elaborate and fulfilling from them, but it never comes. They really don't stand up on their own alongside music of the same genre.)
Anton Karas - The Harry Lime Theme from The Third Man, original version released on Decca 1949 (also known as the "short" version - it's only 2 min 10 sec long). This zither solo was the very first hit tune to get under my skin, a perfect gem and the shape of all good things to come! Yet it remains utterly unique. It has an ABCA format. There's also a "long" version in ABCDA format (approx 3 min 15 sec), also known as The Third Man Theme. This has a rather discordant opening, an additional subject (D) and one or two very minor slip-ups, and it jogs along at a slower but more even, gradually quickening pace. There also appears to be a later version (perhaps more than one), in ABCBA format, with a lighter touch, moving at a constant, sprightly pace, but a bit scrappy (approx 2 min 20 sec). Click here for information on Anton Karas and the zither, from the composer's grandson, Werner Chudik. How perseverance and hard work pay off!
UEFA Champions League Anthem - Stirs the blood of every soccer fan. This is a fine arrangement by Tony Britten of Handel's Zadok the Priest (one of his Coronation Anthems). It is performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields choir with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. To be honest, I don't think I've heard the whole thing, as it has never been released on disk and only the chorus is normally played at games and during TV broadcasts.
Others - (1) Neverending Story theme. (2) Gonna fly now theme from Rocky (esp. versions for brass band). (3) Sunrise, sunset from Fiddler on the Roof. (4) Inspector Morse theme tune. (5) "What matters most" theme from The Champ (Dave Grusin). (6) Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley's theme tune for Miss Marple BBC series (brilliant rejuvenation of a hackneyed harmonic progression).
(7) Listen to the beguiling harmonic progressions in the orchestral accompaniment to Lovely Lonely Man in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and you might agree that even the silliest of songs can have its good points. (8) Axel F (Beverly Hills Cop theme) - the melody is inseparable from the electronics, and it sounds great.
Mostly Trad Jazz
(See Footnote 4 for definition)
"A jazz musician is a juggler who uses harmonies instead of oranges" (Benny Green )
|Jelly Roll Morton
Aah! Hello Central, give me Doctor Jazz|
He's got what I need, I'll say he has
Oh when the world goes wrong and I got those blues
He's the man that makes me get out both my dancin' shoes
Arr! The more I get the more I want, it seems
I page old Doctor Jazz in my dreams
When I'm trouble bound and mixed, he's the guy that gets
Hello Central, give me Doctor Jazz!
Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers - Doctor Jazz Stomp - Contains everything that jazz should have, in one beautifully organised package. Other outstanding examples are Grandpa's Spells (Take 2*), Jelly Roll Blues, Blackbottom Stomp, Steamboat stomp (trombone part par excellence with Ory at his very best), Cannon Ball Blues (Take 1*), The Chant. (Many of these cuts, supposedly re-mastered, still sound quite noisy. *See Note 1 below.)
Louis Armstrong's Hot Seven - Potato Head Blues, Willie the Weeper, Alligator Blues, Melancholy Blues, Weary Blues, Struttin' with Some Barbecue - Still the hottest, bluesiest most innovative sound in trad jazz, and by far the greatest collection of cornet solos. Nothing to touch Satchmo's early creativity - or, for that matter, the genius of Johnny Dodds - until the modernist era (not forgetting Bix Beiderbecke's little patches of brightness, produced in the same year as those Hot Seven recordings - 1927). The same comment goes for Willie the Weeper as for Morton's Doctor Jazz, yet they are so different. Others: Wild Man Blues (one of Louis's longest and finest solos, and another from Johnny Dodds), Georgia Bo Bo (Lil's Hot Shots - relaxed, lilting, blue). Ain't Misbehavin' (Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra, 1929) shows off the singing and playing of the maestro in big-band context and points towards the popular style he was soon to embrace. This number (virtually his signature tune until Sleepy Time Down South) was recorded many more times; a nice up-tempo version occurs on the soundtrack of the movie Town and Country.
|A New Orleans marching band in the 70's, flanked by inebriated convention delegates! (From a faded family album photo)
Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band - Chicago Buzz, The Dormouse, Buddy's Habit, Trouble in Mind* - Humph, Trog and company in top form in these nicely arranged numbers. Clarinettist Wally Fawkes (alias Trog the cartoonist) and trombonist Keith Christie are in my opinion among the very finest exponents of their trade (also hear their thoughtful solos in DJC Blues). For non-stop exhilaration try Cakewalkin' Babies Back Home (version with trombone*) - who said jazz has to have breaks? Open House (Bell-Lyttelton Jazz Nine) is a fabulous combination of sparks and neat arrangement, and from the same session comes Take a note from the South - rocking, relaxed and illumined by one of Humph's best solos. At the time of writing, recordings are still available on Calligraph CDs (*see Note 1 below)
Humphrey Lyttelton in 1956
Meade Lux Lewis - Honky Tonk Train Blues - Syncopation riding on the wind, this is probably the neatest boogie solo of all time. The original version, cut in 1927 and released 1929, is best though the mechanical recording is noisy. The 21/11/35 version is almost as good and the recording much cleaner. Later versions (that I know of) with percussion added have a heavier, less innocent sound.
|Meade Lux Lewis
Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang - Jazz Me Blues - Contains one of the neatest, most imaginative little cornet solos in all of trad jazz (most of the others are from Armstrong, especially in Potato Head Blues and Alligator Blues); also some great solo and ensemble playing from clarinettist Don Murray, whose solos, like Bix's, are among the the best-structured on record. Others - Singing the Blues (many regard this as Bix's finest solo), Goose Pimples (gives me goose pimples!), Royal Garden Blues (another neat solo from Bix), Riverboat Shuffle (one of Don's best, and yet another from Bix) and the enduring At the Jazz Band Ball.
Other good versions of the latter: Bud Freeman's Famous Chicagoans (1940) - smooth, tidy and strikingly different from the Beiderbecke version; Sidney Bechet (1949), Muggsy Spanier, Dukes of Dixieland, Alan Gresty/Brian White Ragtimers, and the very believable attempt at mimicry by Arturo Sandoval). It's never easy to pick the best of Bix's output. Unfortunately the Gang's lacklustre rhythm section and Rollini's bass sax often gave the band a rather corny, stodgy sound. Listen to re-mastered recordings which have the blimps ironed out.
|Bix Beiderbecke in 1925
Bill Coleman and Herman Chittison - I'm in the mood for love - In sweeter vein, this is my favourite jazz duet and one of my favourite melodies. A must for my desert island - don't know why, it's just very pleasant, relaxed listening. (Admittedly this is immature Coleman, his later recordings showing considerable improvements in style and range.) The opening chorus shows good rapport between Coleman and Chittison, there's a fine central piano solo in a different key, and then Coleman takes it away
|A New Orleans jazz band in the 1970's (?)
in the final chorus, in which the piano plays a very secondary role.
Bill Coleman had a knack of perfectly complementing the musicians he played with: e.g. listen to the impeccable attack of his solo in Believe it beloved (with Fats Waller, who rather annoyingly introduces him with "Yeh! Swing it..." patter). Incidentally, the worst rendition of I'm in the mood for love I've ever heard is Danny DeVito's crazy violin solo in the movie Other People's Money.
Graeme Bell and his Australian Jazz Band - Cakewalking Babies from Home - Though primarily a vocal number, I include this just for the 40 seconds chorus of the most exuberant collective improvisation ever put on record - a real spirits-lifter. Others from this band (1950-51) include I'm Satisfied with My Gal (nuclear powered by Johnny Sangster's traps, this number has terrific momentum and unity), When the Saints Go Marching Home (still the definitive version of this classic), Shake That Thing # (great stuff from everybody), Goanna March, Nullabor (the now famous composition of deceased pianist/artist Dave Dallwitz, the title is a misspelling of Nullarbor), Big Walkabout (more fine collective improvisation in the second half of this). From an earlier period (1948) Big Chief Battle Axe is a good listen. With so much more zest and lyricism than the original Lu Watters band, which seems
to be their chief model, this band (in its heyday) is in my opinion one of the most underrated phenomena in the history of revivalist jazz.
Bell’s later All Stars usually suffered the same shortcomings as most other revivalist bands. Driven by technically accomplished but unimaginative musicians (let them be nameless), the resultant sound invariably lacked heat, blueness, impetus and variety. The two-beat, two-cornet tradition of the original Bell band is (and has been for many years) carried on by the Melbourne-based Creole Bells, whose relaxed, beefy sound is always a pleasure to listen to, even if they do occasionally tread on each other's toes.
# This number was composed and first recorded by the talented banjoist Papa Charlie Jackson in 1925, but the phrase "Shake that thing" was made famous by Pinetop Smith in 1928/29 (Pinetop's Boogie Woogie), and later by Ray Charles in 1953 (Mess Around, which uses most of Pinetop's lyrics). On this version of Shake That Thing, Roger Bell's vocal contains an amusing reference to British jazz critic Rex Harris.
In 1947 Graeme Bell introduced the sound of jazz to the citizens of Prague and the rest of Czechoslovakia, where it
immediately caught on - and remains alive and well, as this 2014 holiday snap of Jazz no Problem performing on the Charles bridge shows. The city is now brimming with jazz clubs and since 1964 has hosted an annual international jazz festival.
Piano jazz: Jelly Roll Morton (King Porter stomp, New Orleans Joys), Fats Waller (Handful of keys, Believe it beloved - a "delicious, delightful delirium", Honeysuckle rose etc), Pine Top Smith (Pine Top's boogie-woogie, 1928), James P Johnson (Carolina shout, Liza, Keep movin’, Snowy morning blues), Albert Ammons (Shout for joy, Boogie woogie stomp, 1939), Jimmy Yancey (Five o'clock blues), Pete Johnson (Basement boogie, Zero Hour etc), Errol Garner (Misty, There's a small hotel, Autumn leaves, No greater love, When you're smiling, Will you still be mine, I can't get started with you etc), Earl Hines (1928 - A Monday date, 1939 - Rosetta, 1965 - My blue heaven etc, 1970-74 - You're driving me crazy, A foggy day, Deep forest, Why do I love you?), Thelonius Monk (Round midnight, Blue Monk, Well you needn't, Off minor, April in Paris etc), Bill Evans (almost anything - mesmerising stuff).
Trad bands and small groups: New Orleans Wanderers (Gatemouth, Perdido Street - Dodds, Mitchell and Ory in some great ensemble playing), Muggsy Spanier and Sydney Bechet (Sweet Lorraine, Four or five times, China boy - the first unusual in its effective use of bowed string bass throughout. Bechet - amazing ability to swap between leading and creative harmonizing, and to lead into what’s coming miles ahead), Django Reinhardt** (Tea for two, Minor swing, Parfum - solo, Night and day, Moon glow, I've found a new baby), Chris Barber and Monty Sunshine (Chimes blues 13 July 1954, Whistlin' Rufus, Brownskin mama, Merrydown Rag 1955/6) and with Ken Colyer 1953 (Harlem rag, Early hours, La Harpe street - Colyer's trumpet under-recorded on these). To hear "roots" Monty Sunshine, try the Crane River Jazz Band with Ken Colyer (poorly balanced recordings). Similarly for "roots" Ellis Horne (clarinetist with the Yerba Buena Jazz Band) listen to him playing with Bunk Johnson. Al Fairweather and Sandy Brown (Everybody loves Saturday night), Acker Bilk & Paramount Jazz Band (Jump in line, There's a rainbow 'round my shoulder, In A Persian Market, Summer set, Travelling blues, Gladiolus rag etc), John Petters International all Stars (Morton numbers e.g. Doctor Jazz, Black Bottom), Jabbo Smith & Rhythm Aces (A Jazz Battle) & Hot Antic Jazz Band (After you've gone), Eddie Condon with Red Nichols & Pee Wee Russell (China Boy 1929), Ken Peplowski (China Boy 1993; brilliant clarinettist, takes most numbers at breakneck speed; a beautiful exception - Corcovado with Ken on sax & Charlie Byrd gtr). I'm not very familiar with the current trad jazz scene in the USA and Europe, but recent bands/personnel that stand out are (1) Charquet & Co. (French), reborn as the Petit Jazzband de Mr. Morel, with clarinetist Alain Marquet being the most impressive player (e.g. in Everybody Stomp, 1978, outstanding for its collective improvisation); (2) Marty Grosz and his Hot Puppies e.g. China Boy, 2005 (Marty Gross gtr, Randy Reinhart cnt, John Allred tmbn, John Sheridan pno. Frank Robertscheuten tnr, Nico Gastreich bass, Moritz Gastreich dms); and (3) lyrical clarinettist Kenny Davern (e.g. Travellin' All Alone, 1989, and Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams, 1993). To be honest, as individual performers some of the guys in these bands, technically speaking, knock spots off most Aussie trad players, past or present - or for that matter, British players too. South America has also grown some fine bands, such as Argentina's The Georgians (Georgia Swing) and Delta Jazz Band (Chicago Breakdown).
Swing, mainstream etc: Bunny Berigan (Walkin' the dog), Benny Goodman quartet (Stompin' at the Savoy, Sweet Sue - just you, Flying home, Whispering) and big band 1937-38 (Don't be that way, One o'clock jump, I want to be happy), Duke Ellington (Jubilee stomp, Lazy Duke, Take the "A" train - famous Billy Strayhorn composition and orchestra's long-standing signature tune), Vic Dickenson septet (Jeepers creepers), Glen Miller (In the mood - the exemplary sweet orchestral jazz classic - perfectly balanced), Dave Brubeck (The Duke), James Morrison with Brian Kellock & others (I asked for the blues - short version on "So far, so good" - imaginative, thoughtful, masterful, tense, climactic).
Blues (classic): I've gone right off this style (see comments on country music etc below), but three examples of the kind of stuff I used to like are: John Lee Hooker (So excited), Big Joe Williams (Vitamin A), Lightning Hopkins (Easy on your heels).
* Note 1: Be aware of different "takes" of those early recordings of Morton and pre-1952 Lyttelton. Some are distinctly better than others. Sometimes even the instrumentation varies (e.g. in Lyttelton's Cakewalkin' Babies Back Home, 1950). Unfortunately the Lyttelton Calligraph set doesn't always have the best takes, notably of Trouble in Mind (drags its feet, poorer phrasing in breaks) and Gatemouth Blues (muffed notes, poorer blending). However, I recently came across my preferred take of Trouble in Mind here on youtube (posted Mar 14 2008, and still there in Mar 2013). Some recent CD's of Morton contain more than one take of numbers where the takes are markedly different. This comment brings to mind a more important point, which I'll add to the Footnotes.)
** Note 2: The downside of Reinhardt is that he played alongside the much acclaimed Stephane Grappelli, whose uninspired, relentless “dee-di-dee-di-dee-di-dee” style of playing dominates almost every track they made. I wouldn’t say Reinhardt played with Grappelli, as they rarely played both at the same time but only one after the other, and with little in the way of arrangement. Consequently their Quintette du Hot Club de Paris recordings are extremely short on ensemble work. They must have had a strong influence on modern jazz! (To be fair to Grappelli, his technique was flawless and his style improved in later years. Not every jazz musician gets to play with Yehudi Menuhin!)
Note 3: The main trouble with most latter-day trad jazz musicians is that they've heard too much jazz and had too much training. Their style is generally a nondescript blend of everything, and their admirable technique and professionalism does not compensate for a depressing lack of creativity and individualism.
Hot jazz in Queensland
In my wonderful home State of Queensland we are lucky to have some of Australia's finest traditional jazz musicians and at least three of the best bands.
For starters, we've got The Caxton Street Jazz Band, a long-established, versatile group based in Brisbane. They don't like being called a "trad" band, though according to my preferred definition their output is probably about 90% trad. However, this is certainly no run-of-the mill band. The strong line-up is fronted by (currently) one of Australia's best hot jazz trumpeters, John Braben - listen to him go in Blame it on the blues, Coal cart blues (shades of Armstrong) and Take me home precious Lord, and in distinctly Beiderbeckian mood in Rhythm king - all titles on the bands's latest CD "It's about time...2" (June 2007). This album is one of the most entertaining I've heard for some years, ranging from the traditional Take me home... (a particularly sensitive rendering of this fine old favourite) and beautifully performed Chimes blues through the haunting As-tu le cafard and the quaint Knockabout trolls to Ellington's The mooche. Reeds player Paul Williams has a nice solo in Coal cart blues and demonstrates wonderful rapport with Braben in Bechet's As-tu le cafard.
Although their repertoir revolves mainly around New Orleans style jazz, the CSJB seem just as much at home with various mainstream styles - in fact, their line-up in some ways often suits these styles better. From the traditionalist point of view, their chief drawback is the lack of a banjo or guitar (except when trombonist Tom Nicolson does a swap) and the use of a frequently over-amplified bass (which would be almost sacrilegious were it not for the spotless technique of Dennis Ashton). However, Bob Mair's colourful, mood-setting traps, heard to good effect in Rhythm king and Jungle jive together with Bernice Haydock's lively ivories, more in evidence on CD than in live performance, do more than enough to offset these deficiencies. A big plus is Bernice's neat arrangements, and her unpretentious, clearly enunciated vocals also add charm to the band's performances. All told, this is a very professional sounding, tightly knit group with every member a fine musician in their own right. Who would have guessed they are just part-timers with day jobs in various fields?
|The Caxton Street Jazz Band blazing away at the Centenary Tavern. With a strong basis of pure "trad" (they prefer the term "classic hot jazz"), the band has recently expanded its horizons and repertoire|
Pictured: Paul Williams, Bob Mair, John Braben, Matt Eves, Tom Nicolson, Bernice Haydock
(2007 - Dennis Ashton now replaces Matt Eves on string bass)
Next we have the Up the River Jazz Band, a first-rate outfit that's been playing regularly at the Story Bridge Hotel since 1994. A more joyful sound would be hard to imagine, the band is bristling with talent and possibly has the best rhythm section of any in Australia, firstly because it is complete and sounds authentic, secondly because of the presence of the incredible pianist Jo Bloomfield. (Although Ian Cocking has started using an "anorexic" electronic bass, it sounds just like an acoustic double bass and the sound mix is kept under control.) Band leader/humorist Mike Hawthorne blows a convincing trombone, while the lusty trumpet lead is provided by Mal Jennings (whose brilliant playing may be heard to advantage in the "Jazz Giants" recordings of West End Blues, Beale Street Blues and other numbers showing the Armstrong influence). What a pity both this group and the Caxton Street band must rely so heavily on the extremely talented, much in demand but not particularly imaginative Paul Williams for the reeds. Well, there just isn't anyone to replace him, is there?
Another excellent local group is The Jazz Factory, a vibrant, polished five-piece band based in Noosa, with a fierce attack and unanimity rarely heard these days. Led by sousaphone-player Richard Stevens, the sessions sparkle with the fluid clarinet work of reeds-man Peter Strokhorb, while Ian Denovan's forthright, biting cornet lead is offset by the lyrical, gliding trombone of John Murray, giving their music a great flowing feeling as well as punch. Very professional, tightly knit and with a huge repertoire, though they seem to have a distinct preference for medium-fast numbers with simple harmonic structures. Much less dependent on dots and crib-sheets than most other bands in their class, they create an authentic sound that's a joy to hear. Not surprisingly, their's is a busy schedule, including overseas assignments, and their small number and portable instrumentation gives them the capability of a true marching band. But I do wish they'd get themselves a drummer! They always sound a bit thin after hearing the likes of Up the River or the Creole Bells, and the lack of imagination in arrangements, breaks and much of the solo work is apt to lead to monotony after an hour or two.
A popular group of mostly senior, but certainly not senile, entertainers is David Rankin's Paradise City Jazz Band, formerly based on the Gold Coast and now in Brisbane. Their repertoire extends well beyond the bounds of jazz, which they treat with more abandon and less confidence than the more "serious" jazz bands. Still, they make very pleasant listening and their brand of music seems to be much in demand.
In Far North Queensland (where my spouse and I have recently settled), good trad jazz seems harder to find. The Tropic Jazz Club at the Tiger’s Den in Cairns is home to the Barrier Reef Jazz Band, a long-established outfit whose members command many years of experience between them - and enough enthusiasm to fill a few Carnegie Halls. This band can certainly deliver a very solid, happy sound, particularly in some of the fast numbers. Band leader Nobby Neilsen provides a strong, though at times a little ragged, trumpet lead, while reeds man Rob Williams (president of the club and an important figure in the Cairns jazz scene) sometimes comes up with surprisingly individualist solos, particularly on the clarinet in slower numbers. Sometimes he's accompanied (or substituted) by another gifted reeds player, Ian Horn, whose hot tone on the clarinet gives the band quite a distinctive sound. However, the shining star of this band is drummer Bluey Morgan, whose dazzling talent, faultless timing, boundless energy and imaginative solos can turn the most pedestrian of performances into a fireworks display. It's true, occasionally his enthusiasm tends to get a little out of hand, and at those times a degree of restraint and more sensitive appreciation of the mood might serve the band better. No matter, he's undoubtedly the best trad/mainstream jazz percussionist I've heard in Queensland, and possibly the best I've heard anywhere, anytime.
The Barrier Reef band is at its best in the traditional numbers, with a more-or-less standard instrumental line-up (except for the lack of a banjo). Their attempts at mainstream/swing, often with an extended personnel and with saxes replacing clarinets, sound muddy and confused - even the riffs are handled badly. Regardless, their overall approach is cheerful and wonderfully relaxed - as you might expect up here in the tropics - verging on the atmosphere of a jam session. I don't think they aspire towards wider recognition, but if they do, from what I've heard so far they'll need to spend more time on arrangements and the structure of their solos. There would then be a danger of the band losing much of its primaeval charm, and anyway I can't see it happening - it's just not fun! (The Tropic Jazz Club does, however, deserve acclaim for its encouragement of young players, some of whom join the sessions at the club.)
"Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune" (Kin Hubbard)
"Music is a higher revelation than philosophy" (Ludwig van Beethoven)
Beethoven - String Quartet no.15 in A minor, Op.132 - The incredible range of expression, depth of feeling and sheer mastery of this composition possibly makes it my all-time, overall favourite piece of music. Composed and first performed in 1825, the quartet was never heard by the maestro himself - he was stone deaf when he created it. For some time only one really good recording of this difficult work was readily available, by the Amadeus Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon), but now there are dozens, of which probably one of the best is by the Alban Berg Quartet (live performance on EMI). The profound Amadeus interpretation, still available on CD, remains one of my favourites.
Beethoven - almost everything, especially his other late quartets, various piano sonatas (Op.10 no.2, to mention but one little gem, and of course the later ones, notably Op.111), symphonies nos. 3 and 9, piano concertos nos. 2 and 5 (a perennial favourite*), and especially Piano Concerto no.4 (definitely one of my top 10 - I like Julius Katchen's speedy interpretation, with the LSO under Pierino Gamba, but for $2 in Crazy Clarks you might be able to pick up a CD containing an excellent "live" performance by Friedrich Gulda. If you're looking for a complete set you might find none better than Emil Gilels with The Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell). All enthralling music with no wastage. (*On the basis of the first two movements this should be the king of all concertos, but to my mind the third lets it down - and actually the first movement is a bit too long.)
Brahms - Piano Concerto no.2 - A thunderous cauldron of beautiful sounds, broken by a soothing slow movement with an emotive, floating-rollicking piano highlight in the middle. Favourite rendition - Louis Kentner with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult. Until recently this was probably my most-played piece of classical music.
Brahms - Symphony no.4 - Possibly my overall favourite symphony, this is utterly glorious, arresting music, the first two movements calming and profound, the third joyful, the last a powerful, majestic set of variations. Beautiful orchestration throughout, but difficult for conductors (and sound technicians!) to get the blend exactly right: Rafael Kubelik/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was a combination that worked well, also Bernstein/Wiener Philharmoniker, Kleiber/VPO and (possibly the best?) Klemperer/Philharmonia orchestra, while closer to home I was recently quite impressed by a performance by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marco Zuccarini (in Cairns of all places!).
Schubert - Symphony no.9 - Just pure sweet music, great melodies, wonderful harmonies and interweaving parts all carried on simple but ingeniously orchestrated rhythms. It all comes out sounding so natural and spontaneous. I especially like the way Schubert launches into new melodies, and the motif that begins and ends the first movement (the different characters it assumes) and the way it develops. The second movement rather suddenly switches to a passage beginning with a glorious descending melody and ending with a suspension or "break" (to use jazz terminology) containing a repeated note, alternated on horns and strings, followed by a wistful release phrase - one of the most sublime moments in my world of music. Schubert's bold use of brass at times foreshadows Bruckner. I'm happy with my Bernstein/NY Philharmonic recording and don't have enough knowledge to pick a better one - possibly Furtwangler/Berlin Philharmonic (old mono!) or Günter Wand/Berlin Philharmonic (live recording). See below for more Schubert.
Mozart - Symphony no.41 (Jupiter) - Some wonderful harmony sequences in the second and fourth movements of this perfectly balanced, unpretentious composition that holds you under its spell from start to finish. Of the multitude of available recordings of this symphony, two of the greatest (and most "historical") are said to be by Szell and Karajan; of those I've heard my favourite is possibly the widely acclaimed rendition by Mackerras with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra - how glorious is that second movement! And yet I'm quite happy with my original old Telefunken LP of Joseph Keilberth/Bamberg Symphony Orchestra - nice and light, no messing around with tempo. Be very careful to avoid heavy-handed or over-romanticised versions. See below for more Mozart.
Tchaikovsky - Symphony no.6 (Pathetique) - Probably the most emotive symphony of all the classics. Owing to the enormous range in volume of this work, it needs to be heard "live" or on a good sound system in a quiet room. Beware: many conducters, including Karajan, completely wreck the 3rd movement (a march) by slowing the tempo (once if not twice!) near the end, right at the climax. Unbelievable! I've found nothing to replace my fine old EMI LP of the LA Philharmonic under Erich Leinsdorf, who also make a perfect job of the heartrending final movement. (Remastered and re-released on CD. Also, for $2 in Dollars and Sense you might find a CD that does all the right things - the "Orchestra Filarmonica di Zagabria" conducted by Kazushi Ono.)
Bruckner - Symphony no. 9 - Patience! This is really spacious music, but Bruckner has a completely original sound, and his 9th (unfinished) symphony contains two of the most haunting passages in the entire musical world (in the 1st and 3rd movements), as well as one of the most electrifying crescendos (3rd movement - I'm quite happy with my Heliodor recording of Jochum with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, but I think the acclaimed Deutsch Grammophon version is Jochum with the Berlin Philharmonic). Again, failing a rare opportunity to hear the symphony played "live", good recording and sound systems are needed to get the full effect of Bruckner's incredible orchestration and changes in volume ranging from complete silence to all hell being let loose. Other of his works I like are the 7th symphony (maybe Karajan's version) and the 3rd (scherzo) movement of the 4th - try Günter Wand/Berlin Philharmonic for the whole symphony. (Some people say Bruckner's music is macabre, even terrifying. Strange! To me it's profoundly beautiful.)
Haydn - various string quartets - Heard one and you've heard the lot? Garbage! Haydn is said to have invented the quartet form, and they show him at his most innovative and musical best. Admittedly, it's hard to remember which is which. Outstanding examples are Op.20 no.5, Op.33 no.3, Op.50 no.6, Op.64 no.5, Op.76 no.3, Op.77 no.1.
Bach, J.S. - various - Difficult to choose from the immense number of transcriptions of Bach's huge output. I prefer modern string-orchestra versions of some of his more melodious stuff, e.g. Sheep may safely graze, and instrumental transcriptions of certain arias, e.g. from the Christmas Oratorio - the Baroque singing style is very strained, but Bach's treatment of counterpoint in his instrumental accompaniments is usually stunning. (Oh, and take care to avoid that rasping harpsichord continuo!) A feature of Bach is his rapidly changing harmonies, sometimes done to great effect, e.g. in The Musical Offering, Ricercare a 6 and the Orchestral Suite No. 3, Air, but sometimes overdone to the point of tedium.
Others - Prokofiev (Symphony no.1), Saint-Saens (Symphony no.3), Brahms (Symphony no.3, Intermezzo in B minor Op.119 no.1 and other late piano works, Sextets Op.18 and Op.36), Elgar (Enigma variations, Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 - impossible to leave off any Pom's hit list), Mascagni (Cavalleria rusticana - intermezzo sinfonico), Wagner (Tannhauser overture), Ferde Grofé (Grand Canyon suite), Tchaikovsky (Symphony no.2 - Little Russian), Samuel Barber (Allegro for strings), Debussy (String quartet), Schubert (Symphonies 5 & 8, Trout quintet, string quintet D956), Tolga Kashif (The Queen Symphony, esp 1st movement; based on songs of pop group Queen), Hans Rott (young master of orchestration and counterpoint - Symphony in E major), Mozart (Symphony no.40, piano concerti K467, 488, 491, Rondo in Am K511, quintets K515, 516, 593, clarinet quintet K581, quartets K421, 465, 499, Piano Quartet K478 etc.)....I don't know when to stop, so I'll stop now! As I still have a lot of listening to do, this selection will inevitably change.
There's something important missing from this list. No, not opera! See Footnote 7 and get a big surprise!
"Anybody who has listened to certain kinds of music, or read certain kinds of poetry, or heard certain kinds of performances on the concertina, will admit that even suicide has its brighter aspects." (Stephen Leacock)
"I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, 'denigrate' means 'put down'." (Bob Newhart)
This is a clever though pretty nasty double thrust from Newhart. On the whole I agree with his sentiments about country music, at least the traditional kind, but not with his implied sentiments about its exponents and fans (see below). I'm not too wrapped up in run of the mill country and western, including Australia's own highly esteemed Slim Dusty (deceased), (three chords*, tunes all much of a muchness), but over the years "country" has broadened its horizons so now there's some pretty good stuff out there amongst the junk). Nor do I like most most R&B (i.e. extra noisy 3 chords!), urban, and especially not rap and hip hop (utterly retrograde, no tune, usually no chords, and lyrics like a wall plastered with graffiti), most funk/techno/trance and many related genres (I have no idea what's what with this lot), the turn-of-the-century (2002-06) trend in pops (macabre, monotonic sound, like sheep in the throes of death), traditional hymns (nursery songs with even sillier words, but some of them sound great when jazzed up), contemporary Methodist (etc) songs* and so-called new age or new world music (insipid slush), the New Zealand national anthem (a worthless tune that jumps around like a yoyo), harpsichords (you baroque enthusiasts, we have pianos now so why put up with that wretched clanking noise?), bagpipes (foul tone, limited notes and a propensity to play worthless traditional tunes - should have been abolished centuries ago). My list of dislikes also includes pseudo-country romantic trivia churners such as Jim Reeves - especially ever since a hospital nurse once told me (almost 50 years ago!) "Anyone who doesn't like Jim Reeves must have something seriously wrong with them". Well, she'd be right about that, though I'd prefer to keep the disease rather than suffer her suggested cure for it. But perhaps worse than any of these is the latest (2013-15) mania for "exercise music" - and, I've noticed, not only amongst the young: a totally degenerate, relentless, high-volume "bang-bang-bang-bang" noise that shouldn't be classified as music at all.
Getting back to the country, at least it's invariably a happy sound and it could be the most universal music around. In recent years the country style has diversified so much it is often unrecognisable as such. This is all to the good. As for Australian country singers and their fans, most of them seem to be terrific people, True Blue Aussies often with hearts of gold. All the more's the pity, then, that musically speaking so many of them haven't left the nursery. Some of the Wiggles' songs are far superior to most old-style country. (And why do American female country singers have to twist their vowels until they sound like cats under a road roller? Ugly! Plain ugly!)
In the realm of jazz, I resent the increasing use of electronic instruments in traditional bands (electric basses in particular completely stuff the rhythm section - better to have no bass at all), trombones pretending to be trumpets (a trend apparently started by Jack Teagarden and J.C. Higginbotham), jazz numbers that are essentially solo vocals (the human voice just doesn't possess the required versatility), bebop and its heirs - collective improvisation has all but vanished and the modern harmonies are a myth - a bass and a wind instrument make only 2-note chords, yes? (Forget the piano with its pathetic little background chips.) Modern jazz sounds ten times better when the harmony is thick and emphatic, but there is then a danger of successive chords sounding too similar and forsaking both a sense of direction and the exhilaration that comes from those unexpected chord changes for which modern jazz is renowned. This briefly explains why e.g. Errol Garner and Bill Evans nearly always enliven me while e.g. the Gerry Mulligan Quartet invariably leaves me cold.
Other high-profile composers and performers whom I think tend to be overrated include Johann Strauss, Frederik Chopin and Frank Sinatra. Still, Chopin has some licence to be counted among the greats - what a pity some of his simpler pieces (such as the inspired chord sequences of Op. 28, No. 4) have fallen prey to teachers of piano to primary school children. But Sinatra??!! - immaculate sense of timing apart, he all too often sounds like a chug-chug boat sinking in a jar of marmalade, and his repertoire was not helped by positively dreadful songs like Cole Porter's I've got you under my skin. As for Strauss, though other composers of his day admired his genius, I'm not sure whether he ever had pretensions of being a "serious" composer. In my opinion many later composers of light music easily eclipse him. (Of course, I fully concur with those who regard André Rieu as the King of Schmalz!) Then there's that other Strauss, Richard, whose final tone poem, the Alpine Symphony, is so directionless it could start and end at just about any arbitrary point, or could go on forever - which it almost does. Though splendidly orchestrated with top-heavy brass, the trouble is he wanted to have it all going almost all of the time.
* This in no way belittles the tremendous service done by the Methodist church in many countries towards
the promotion and development of choral music.
(1) Three-chord songs. Actually there are plenty of 3-chord songs I like, e.g. I'm Gonna Be (The Proclaimers), Down on the Corner (Creedence Clearwater Revival). And for a considerable period of my life I was pretty much stuck with the 12-bar blues, an essentially 3-chord format that reached its peak of popularity, not with innumerable country blues singers, but with the inimitable Elvis Presley. So I guess my dislike of country music has more to do with the overall style, not least the boring uniformity of structure, melody and lyrics. Well, you know what happens if you sing country music backwards? You get your job and your wife back.
(2) Unchained Melody. Charlie Harvey (whose website has now disappeared) has a collection of no less than 722 versions of this timeless jewel, and cites another 10 which he'd like to get hold of. The original version (not too good) from the soundtrack of the movie Unchained was sung by Al Hibbler and released on disc early in 1955. Other versions to hit the charts within a few months include those by Jimmy Young, Roy Hamilton and Liberace, and the orchestral cover by Les Baxter. Perhaps the best known versions today are those of the Righteous Brothers (1965-69) - actually solos by Bobby Hatfield. These, like many others, are much too florid for my taste. This is a great tune that needs no embellishment. Try a straight version by someone like Roger Whittaker instead. Or maybe even Herb Patten playing "Unchained" with all his heart on a gum-leaf - I wonder if Charlie has got this one?
(3) Lata Mangeshkar. I have some regrets about not including a song from this distinguished world-record breaking artist (well over 50,000 songs recorded in Hindi and about 20 other Indian languages), but of course I have only heard a fraction of her output and, while most of her songs are charming, it's hard to pick one that really stands out. (Actually, I've heard about 300 of them, many countless times over.) Her fans would doubtless claim that all her songs are outstanding, and in a way the fans are right; because one thing is certain - the quality of her voice and singing are unsurpassed, in this world or the next. As an example of this sustained celebration of the human voice, I'd suggest listening to The Golden Collection, Volume 2 (Legends CD).
Her most renowned song, apparently, is Ae mere watan ke logon, lauded by Ghandi (more than just a song, and certainly not typical Lata Didi!). Among my personal favourites (none of which occur in the above mentioned CD) are the wistful Unko yeh shikaayat hai (ke hum kuchh nahin kehte) from the 1958 movie Adalat (captivating melody and lyrics, perfectly performed); Lag ja gale se from Woh Kaun Thi (1964 - a deeply romantic song in 3/4 time with charming instrumental interludes); and Yeh zindagi usi ki hai from Anarkali (1953 - a great basic tune with an intricate, soulful development that soars above the agile waltzing beat of the tabla). The many sweet, well-worn melodies from the latter movie are from an era when harmony was still unknown in Indian popular music, which owed much to the local classical style of singing and playing. The actors, of course, mimed all the songs, as they still do, but in those days this was done very badly. It barely involved moving the lips, let alone the body! I would not advise anyone to see Anarkali or any other black-and-white movie just for the sake of the songs!
Today's Bollywood movies, however, are much livelier affairs, and the music is more westernised, with less melodic and rhythmic interest (depending on your point of view) though often with orchestral arrangements offering a degree of background harmony. But Mangeshkar does not approve of most of this "modern garbage", and who's to argue with one of the most celebrated vocalists of the 20th century? Some of her best performances, however, come from the "transition" period of the 60's and 70's, including her teamwork with renowned male artists such as Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar and Mahendra Kapoor. (Her work with Mohammed Rafi, before their quarrel over royalties, is from an earlier period.) I might mention the duet with Manna Dey, Dil ki girah khol do, from the movie Rat aur din (1967), not so much for the song or the singing, but because of the nice composition of the orchestral backing, with its brooding triplets of descending notes (F-E-D). This is a simple walzing tune, but Hindi pop music is chiefly noted for its melodic inventiveness and astonishing variety of rhythms, especially evident in this era. For a fine example of a nifty beat, listen to Soch ke yeh gagan from the 1969 film Jyoti - wish I could have that much fun! (Also see Footnote 6 about "You're the voice". Also see this reviewer's list of 30 - seems pretty good to me!)
(4) What is "Trad"? While the word “trad” is sometimes used to refer mainly to the British revivalist scene of the 50’s (and at that time and place was often used even more narrowly), I have adopted the current broader meaning, an abbreviation for “traditional jazz” as defined, for example, by the Northern Colorado Traditional Jazz Society:
Traditional, or trad jazz as it's often called, is "hot" jazz, tracing its roots back to ragtime and the hot dance
music of the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s ….. Trad jazz includes forms like ragtime, blues, Dixieland,
boogie-woogie, swing, and some big-band music (Duke Ellington and Count Basie, for instance).
One reason for adopting an American definition is because I have the impression (without having heard much US jazz) that the trad jazz being played today throughout the US is mostly of a much higher standard and more authentic than the current offerings of Australian bands - or, for that matter, British and European bands. So let them have the right to name their kind of music!
(5) Jazz takes and improvisation. Some trad jazz bands of the pre-electronic era have come in for criticism that I believe is quite unfair. They've been accused of producing "not real jazz" because their arrangements were too detailed and tight, leaving little room for improvisation which, of course, is an essential ingredient of jazz. Two bands that copped this flack were Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers and the Bell-Lyttelton Jazz Nine (and other combinations of members of this Anglo-Australian alliance).
Well, apart from the fact that good arrangements do wonders for the end-product, the criticism doesn't take into account the need to produce the best possible version in the recording studio, not just once but maybe several times. Because in the old days you often had to make more than one take, and all the takes had to sound similar. And even when you only had to produce one master disk you might have had to do several run-throughs to get it just right. So the musicians were required to play more or less the same notes on each run. Of course they didn't always succeed too well, which is why to this day there still exist good and not so good takes of the same numbers. But I don't think it's fair to say that the element of improvisation is lacking, just because the guys had to do it two or three times. They had to invent the stuff in the first place, didn't they? Now, if they were reading most of it from the dots, that's a different matter. The bands that did that could be accused of faking jazz - and it has become an increasingly common practice: I suspect most bands use "charts" these days, at least to learn their stuff. But what does it matter anyway? "If it sounds good, it is good". And jam sessions often don't sound good.
(6) You're the Voice - one of Farnham's best-known songs, doubtless partly because of the booming drum-beat and partly because of that oriental-sounding catch-phrase of descending notes. Did I say oriental? Listen to the Hindi song "Mera dil tere liye" from the movie Aashiqui and you'll hear almost exactly the same melodic phrase again, this time sung by Anuradha Paudwal and Udit Narayan. Copied or coincidence? If copied, who copied whom? Well, Farnham's song was released in 1986 and the music was probably written well before that, mainly by Chris Thompson. Aashiqui was released in 1990, and I presume this is when Mera dil.... (tune written by Nadeem Shravan) made its debut. For years I thought You're the Voice was the thief, because that little string of notes does sound so Indian.
(7) Sounds of nature - birdsong. I'm seriously of the opinion that some birds have a keener musical insight than many human beings. (I might add that the intellectual abilities of many animals in a number of spheres surpasses that of some humans, especially when you take age into consideration.) I haven't included birdsongs in my list, firstly because I can't identify any particular individuals or performances and secondly because they can't be judged by quite the same standards as human music. Indeed, according to my definition of music, birdsong is definitely not music. However, if poets can burst into raptures writing odes to nightingales and welcomes to cuckoos, there must be something enchanting about them. Not music, perhaps, but creative, beautiful and timeless - yes.
Four species of bird deserve special mention, two from each of my chief homelands. In Australia we have the pied butcher bird and the superb lyrebird, while in the UK there's the celebrated nightingale and the blackbird (the latter now also exceedingly common in Australia's southern states). The quality of their song varies greatly, not only amongst individuals but depending on season, weather, location, family situation and time of day. I feel the best specimens of the Australians have the edge over their British counterparts. The lyrebird's song is amazingly inventive and varied and is renowned for its mimickry. The pied butcher bird has the fluty tones of the blackbird, and a good male in full swing (Brisbanites might have to go to the Redlands area in spring to catch the best songsters) is as tuneful as they come, producing, like the blackbird, a stream of sound that never wearies. Poor singers, on the other hand, can be tiresomely repetitive.
Pied Butcherbird, Cracticus nigrogularis
(8) Savage music? The following quotation from Aldous Huxley (The Devils of Loudun) is a bit of a worry:
"No man, however highly civilized, can listen for very long to African drumming, or Indian chanting, or Welsh hymn singing, and retain intact his critical and self-conscious personality. It would be interesting to take a group of the most eminent philosophers from the best universities, shut them up in a hot room with Moroccan dervishes or Haitian Voodooists and measure, with a stop-watch, the strength of their psychological resistance to the effect of rhythmic sound. Would the Logical Positivists be able to hold out longer than the Subjective Idealists? Would the Marxists prove tougher than that Thomists or the Vedantists? What a fascinating, what a fruitful field for experiment! Meanwhile, all we can safely predict is that, if exposed long enough to the toms-toms and the singing, every one of our philosophers would end by capering and howling with the savages."
(9) Should I be plugging classical music? To be honest and up-front, I'm confident that the best classical music is much better than the best of anything else. I'm saying so now, so I suppose I'm plugging it. Let's face it, music is something like maths - some people can't even add up a laundry list, others can solve difficult equations in their heads. I suppose I'm somewhere near the bottom end, so these remarks certainly don't imply my desert island collection would consist only of heavy classics. Life without Beethoven may be a life hardly worth living, but life on a desert island without variety would also be hell.
.......Dabs of Grue....10/12/02 - 23/02/2011........................HOME