Staff Picks: Music

Bargains from the Basement: Ragtime

When They All Played Ragtime: The True Story of an American Music was first published in 1950, it quickly became heralded as “the bible of ragtime” for its (then) insightful examination of an overlooked and all-but-forgotten American art form. While the book’s inevitable flaws have been the subject of controversy for decades since, authors Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis succeeded in creating a groundbreaking initial study of the origins of ragtime music. The scholarly work of writers like Edward A. Berlin and others have since attempted to correct many of the inaccuracies and set straight the resulting misconceptions, yet They All Played… remains a vital resource for information about what Blesh calls “the first genuinely American music [and] in reality a milestone in musical history.” Thanks to the Friends, I was able to add a nice clean copy of the updated and expanded 1966 third edition to my own reference library.


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Consider this little series my own version of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Book

They All Played Ragtime
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/friends/bookstore/

Bargains from the Basement: Part 6

While the evolution of popular music is (and has been) a continual process, several distinct time periods stand out as important milestones; the ragtime era and the advent of early jazz, for example. Gunther Schuller’s monumental studies of the development of jazz are regarded as masterworks. The first volume, Early Jazz, was first published in 1968 and was heralded by The New York Times as “definitive.... A remarkable book by any standard... unparalleled in the literature of jazz.”

My Friends Find this week was volume two of Schuller’s remarkable journey, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930-1945, an era that I admittedly know relatively little about (though I’m most anxious to learn). Written two decades after the first volume, The Swing Era explores the lives and musical significance of the many great bandleaders of the time; Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and the great soloists; Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young. This was a fantastic find that I can’t wait to read. 


friends-logo-50.jpg

Consider this little series my own version of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Book

Winter Wonderland
9780195071405
/friends/bookstore/

45 at 45: Respect

Otis Redding wrote it, but Aretha Franklin owned it – “Respect”, one of the biggest radio and jukebox sensations of 1967, topped both Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R’n’B charts mid-year, reigning supreme on the latter for almost two months. The track cemented the Detroit native’s standing as the “Queen of Soul”, proving its potency as both a civil rights anthem and a dance floor phenomenon.

The Big O’s original Stax version, framed simply as a lover’s question, is a classic in its own right. Pleading being one of Redding’s strongest suits as a vocalist, it’s only natural that his request for “respect when I come home” is less demanding than begging, a “need” that he’s “gotta, gotta have”, never sounding sure that he’s going to get satisfaction as the track fades.

Aretha’s having none of that in her updated NYC arrangement, featuring infectious girl-group vocal support from her sisters Carolyn and Erma, as well as a sweet King Curtis sax break. Standing the nature of the lyric on its head, her assertion that “what you want, baby, I got it” is shouted out with absolute confidence. Adding a lyric not found in Redding’s version, Franklin drives the point home by spelling out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, in case it wasn’t clear, adding “find out what it means to me” as an emphatic imperative. The lover’s question has become a statement of purpose, writ large enough to put not just one person on notice, but any and every person within earshot.

"Respect”’s cultural resonance was immediate and lasting. The song’s refrains of “sock it to me” and “TCB” became all-American catch phrases overnight. In addition to earning numerous awards and consistently high rankings on critics’ “greatest songs” lists, it was among the first 25 recordings to be included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2002. A signature song of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and Aretha’s storied career, “Respect” deserves all its accolades, truly getting what it’s after play after play.

Music

I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
WEM193423C

No 45 at 45: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper

In the spring of 1967, rock and roll’s primary medium was the 45 RPM single. On the first of June, the Beatles changed all that with the highly anticipated release of their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP. Though no contemporary single releases were culled from the album, its songs were given heavy AM radio airplay, at a time when FM stations were few, far between, and “underground”. Through the airwaves, those songs – including “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, “When I’m Sixty-four”, and “With a Little Help From my Friends” - burrowed their way into the collective memories of all who recall those heady first days of the “summer of love”.

Touted as rock’s first “concept” LP (though I’d give that nod to the Flamingos’ 1959 magnum opus, Flamingo Serenade), the record is presented as a concert program, featuring the imaginary band for which the album’s named. The program encompasses all varieties of music – take in the symphonic grandeur of “She’s Leaving Home”, the loopy circus march of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, and the Indian classicism of “Within You Without You”, among them. The band begins and ends the program with its own theme, leaving the audience with the mind-altering encore that is “A Day in the Life”. The broad stylistic brush with which the Beatles (and producer George Martin) crafted the LP may be the reason it received near-unanimous praise from “serious” music critics who’d previously disdained rock and roll’s perceived juvenilia. This critical success ensured the band even greater listenership, and ushered in the era when “rock and roll” morphed into “rock”.

Even without a 45 release (or due to the lack of one?), the LP sold strongly, placing it at number one on the Billboard 200 LP chart for 15 weeks in a row. The album it knocked out of the top slot - the Monkees' Headquarters – also contained no 45 sides. Though the “Prefab Four”’s third LP was recorded without the benefit of backing tracks crafted by session men - in partial response to charges against the band's phoniness - its intimate construct was no match for the epic studio production ascribed to the Beatles’ alter-egos.

Sgt. Pepper regularly tops “best albums of the ‘60’s” or “best albums of all-time” lists, if not always ranking at the top of Beatles’ fans' LP lists. (My own fave is Revolver.) Peter Blake’s legendary LP cover has inspired homage and parody countless times. Celebrations of (and attacks on) the LP can be found in numerous books, articles, and blog posts. What really counts is the music included. If you haven’t yet discovered Sgt. Pepper for yourself, check it out… it may become the soundtrack to your own “new summer of love”.

Music

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
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Hubert Sumlin 1931–2011

The music world lost another blues guitar legend this week with the passing of Hubert Sumlin. Born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1931, Sumlin played and recorded with some of the best, and gained great acclaim as the guitarist behind the mighty Howlin’ Wolf during the 1950s and ‘60s. Guitarist Bob Margolin writes in his biography of Sumlin, “Listen to ‘Built For Comfort,’ ‘Shake For Me,’ ‘300 Pounds of Joy,’ ‘Louise,’ ‘Goin’ Down Slow,’ ‘Killing Floor,’ and ‘Wang Dang Doodle.’ How did this grinning genius come up with these original, emotional, Hell-to-Heaven guitar parts? Fortunately, we don’t need to know to enjoy them.”

In 2008, Hubert was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame by The Blues Foundation, and was the winner of The Blues Music Award for Best Tradition Artist of the Year.

My good buddy Bill LaValley was backstage with Hubert before a show here at the State Theater a few years ago and fondly remembers him... Hubert wasn’t feeling well at all that evening, he could hardly walk. But according to Bill, when it came time to take the stage, it was as if a dark cloak had been lifted. Sumlin stood up and headed for the stage with a spring in his step and the blues in his heart. He played that night (and always) as if his life depended on it.

Hubert so loved his music and contributed much—he’s another who will be sorely missed.

Here’s a great clip of “Little Hubert” tearin’ it up with Sunnyland Slim in 1964. That’s Willie Dixon on bass and Clifton James on drums. Sonny Boy Williamson introduces them... 

music

I Know You
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http://www.catalog.kpl.gov/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5?searchdata1=hubert+sumlin{AU}+AND+i+know+you{TI}&library=BRANCHES&language=ANY&format=ANY&item_type=ANY&location=ANY&match_on=KEYWORD&item_1cat=ANY&item_2cat=ANY&sort_by=-PBYR

Viva Cuba Libre!

When the summer comes around and the weather turns hot, it just feels right to listen to music from a sultry part of the world. For me the music of Cuba just sounds perfect on a hot and humid summer day, and I can be instantly transported to Havana where the sweltering heat is perfectly normal; but really, I just love it any time of year and KPL has a great selection of Cuban music to choose from. If you are new to the music of Cuba or a fan wishing to expand your knowledge, KPL is sure to have something that will interest you. A great place to start is with The Rough Guide to the Music of Cuba which offers a good sampling of the various flavors of Cuban music. For many, myself included, their first real exposure to the rich history of Cuban music came in 1997 from Ry Cooder and the Buena Vista Social Club and it remains one of my favorites and a fantastic collection of musicians and tunes. Check out the group live at Carnegie Hall! A Buena Vista Social Club member and one of the giants of Cuban music is Ibrahim Ferrer and KPL has a good selection of his recordings that any fan of Cuban music should check out. Another standout of the KPL collection is the album Afrocubism that highlights the African influences on the music. Explore Cuban music even further with Cuban Counterpoint: history of the son montuno or Machito & his Afro Cuban Orchestra  and discover even more with a music search for word or phrase = Cuba.

Music

Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall
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Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University 1963

As a collector and (ahem) connoisseur of “underground” Bob Dylan recordings since the 1970s, I was of course thrilled with the official (and thankfully ongoing) release of The Bootleg Series. Now nine volumes and counting, these releases represent the hidden side of Dylan’s work – especially during the early years. Akin to browsing through an artist’s sketchbook, these recordings give us a fresh glimpse at Dylan’s writing and recording process and a chance to hear otherwise lost performances.

As an addendum to this historic series, Columbia has just released the stand-alone version of Bob Dylan In Concert - Brandeis University 1963, a previously unreleased and seemingly un-bootlegged early live set.

On May 10, 1963 – 48 years ago today – Bob Dylan performed at the Brandeis First Annual Folk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts, just two weeks before the release of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. A seven inch reel-to-reel tape recording of Dylan’s performance that day sat tucked away on a shelf in Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Ralph J. Gleason’s home for more than four decades.

Recently discovered, these recordings represent a glimpse of how Dylan sounded while he was still touring the small clubs and coffee houses on the brink of fame. Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, calls this “the last live performance we have of Bob Dylan before he becomes a star... way back when Kennedy was President and the Beatles hadn’t yet reached America.”

So how does it sound? In a word… amazing. Bob… his guitar… his harmonica… and seven audible slices of 1963. The version of “Masters of War” is alone worth the effort.

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Book

Bob Dylan in Concert
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http://www.catalog.kpl.gov/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5?searchdata1=Brandeis+University+1963+AND+Dylan{AU}&library=BRANCHES&language=ANY&format=MUSIC&item_type=ANY&location=ANY&match_on=KEYWORD&item_1cat=ANY&item_2cat=ANY&sort_by=-PBYR

This Is London....

As of late, the attention of the world's media has been drawn to the United Kingdom and the Royal Family. I don't have a British heritage in my ancestry, yet I have for a long time enjoyed studying British history, geography, arts, and culture. Part of that is some really thrilling music. KPL has a 3-CD set that serves as a good sampler of a wide variety of the best. As a collection of works by top composers that is conducted, played, and sung by some of the UK's finest musicians, these recordings are well worth the listening. One of my favorites on here is 'Crown Imperial' by Sir William Walton, which was the recessional at today's royal wedding.

Music

Best of British [sound recording] : the nation's favourite classical music
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Archaeology - Digging Local Music

Kalamazoo’s local music scene these days is diverse and richly vibrant. One look at the Gazette’s Ticket supplement and you’ll find everything from talented local amateurs to nationally known superstars performing in dozens of different venues across the area, even Kalamazoo Public Library!

But has Kalamazoo always had this kind of passion for music? You might be surprised!

If you’re like me, you wonder what popular entertainment sounded like in Kalamazoo a century or even a century-and-a-half ago. What instruments were being played? What music was being played? Who was playing it, and where?

Admittedly, there isn’t a CD called “Early Kalamazoo Music” (yet!), but All About Kalamazoo History, KPL’s aptly titled collection of Local History essays, has a wealth of information on that very topic. Check the newly created Music category, and you’ll find articles about everything from Kalamazoo’s very first band (formed in 1837 shortly after Kalamazoo—then Bronson Village—was established) right through the Ragtime Era at the end of the nineteenth century and into the Jazz Age of the early 1920s. There’s information about Kalamazoo’s leading music organizations, the early dance bands, the musical leaders, and some of the local performers who “made it big.” Learn about the early efforts to establish the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and discover the various local businesses that grew up around the music industry. There’s even an article about “That Gal from Kalamazoo.”

So dig in, you’ll never know what you might find.

Book

Kalamazoo Ragtime Music
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Jazz in the Box

This month’s jazz display (see it at Central) only scratches the surface of KPL’s vast collection of jazz materials – not just the music, but writings and film on the subject as well. Navigating over a hundred years of jazz history is a challenge for all but the most dedicated jazz musicologists. Thankfully, for those of us who are novices, KPL owns a substantial number of CD box sets, which provide succinct overviews of jazz in all its variations, including:

The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz: one of the best aural introductions to American jazz in the 20th century, this set opens with the birth of jazz, by way of Scott Joplin's ragtime piano, moves into the hot jazz best exemplified by Louis Armstrong’s ‘20’s sides, then sails through swing, bop, cool jazz, and the avant-garde. While it stops short of exploring jazz during, and beyond, the fusion period pioneered by Miles Davis in the early ‘70’s, it's a great spot to get acquainted with seminal jazz pieces and performers before that time.

Big Band Renaissance: a sequel to the Smithsonian’s earlier Big Band Jazz set (also available at KPL), this set takes listeners past “the big band era” by focusing on post-WWII jazz combo configurations. Classic big band auteurs such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman still figure, but the set’s scope is greatly broadened by the inclusion of bands led by Sun Ra and Henry Mancini.

The Erteguns’ New York: Atlantic Records founders Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun were avid jazz afficianados (younger brother Nesuhi oversaw the label’s earliest jazz signings, including John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and the Modern Jazz Quartet). This set of '50's cabaret jazz numbers showcases vocalists such as Bobby Short, Chris Connor, and Carmen McRae, who wowed audiences at the cozier NYC clubs the brothers favored after hours.

Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar: the influence of jazz on the guitar (and vice-versa) gets its due with this set that generously makes room for artists such as Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana, nestled side by side with jazz guitar greats such as Eddie Condon, Wes Montgomery, and Bill Frisell.

The Savoy Story: storied as much for its gospel recordings as for its jazz releases, Newark, N.J.-based Savoy Records was influential in the popularization of bebop music in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s. Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Errol Garner were just a few of the great musicians who cemented their reputations during their time at the label – all are featured, alongside other legends, on this set that focuses on Savoy’s early jazz output.

This is just a small sampling of the jazz music KPL has to offer – check out our display this month, and our AV collection at any time, to dig even deeper.

Music

Savoy Story Jazz
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