Monday, December 28, 2009

Lost Hexagrams of the I Ching

Hexagram number negative - Backwards Day

painting yourself into corners is declared the new way forward. enemies are the new friends. fish practice walking backwards and shop for bicycles

the superior man discovers no innovations in maps and continues reading. good fortune

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lost Hexagrams of the I Ching

hexagram number irrational - Monstrosities

hamsters get married to rats. a law is published declaring food to be shit. armies follow the battle plan of their opponents and attack themselves

the superior man keeps his friends and his goals the same, and contemplates large pictures

good fortune

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Important Medical Information

the next version of the DSM will include a description of stupid personality disorder:

Stupid Personality Disorder (SPD) is a personality disorder defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic classification system used in the United States, as “a pervasive pattern of idiocy, a marked susceptibility to ridiculous theories and meaningless slogans, need to issue fascist diktat, and a lack of information gathering ability [1], beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. Lack of ability to gather, digest, and understand easily available information.
2. Intense attachment to pet theories, and a obsessive preoccupation with them.
3. Rejection of any facts that contradict these pet theories, accompanied by intense anger, and denigration of the person bringing these facts to their attention.
4. Marked susceptibility to conspiracy theories, random bullshit dressed up with ten dollar words, and melodramatic but impotent threats.
5. Addiction to issuing orders in Command Voice.
6. Poore speling and CAPITAL LETTERS
7. Inability to admit that perhaps one might be mistaken in some small detail.
8. Black and white thinking, perfectionism, inability to put themselves in other people’s shoes.
9. Narcissistic personality disorder

Lost Hexagrams of the I Ching

hexagram number square root of my homework - Loud Fish

pigs and fishes declare the best way to get to vegas is to drive the chevy over the cliff. somehow, it forgets to fly. they blame the sandwiches, so nobody gets any lunch. fish.

the superior man picks up the discarded sandwiches and speaks in riddles. good fortune.

irrational number in the second place - the chevy stays on the highway. fish food is dispensed but the fishes argue with it. good fortune.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Don't Be Like That!

A cute little tune from the twenties that i first heard from baby rose marie in the vaudeville documentary. first off is a once famous songstress that i heard about from phila - annette hanshaw was attrative, intelligent and stylish:

here a version by harry reser's syncopaters has a lot of fun graphics from the twenties and teens, that get more and more sexy and stylish as the video goes on...

and here's baby rose marie

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lost Hexagrams of the I Ching

hexagram minus 42 - Stupidity and Craziness

chickens bark and dogs lie down in their own shit

the superior man looks up bix biederbeck videos on youtube and plays with his cats

good fortune

Friday, November 13, 2009

Meshes of the Afternoon, by Maya Deren, Part 2

one of the best "underground" movies ever made

Maya Deren (April 29, 1917, Kiev – October 13, 1961, New York City), born Eleanora Derenkowskaya, was an American avant-garde filmmaker and film theorist of the 1940s and 1950s. Deren was also a choreographer, dancer, poet, writer and photographer

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Ctenophore Blogging

With profuse and apologetic thanks to Phila for the inspirational example of his very popular Nudibranch Blogging, I present a selection of Ctenophores!

Ctenophores are bioluminescent biradially symmetrical hermaphroditic solitary marine animals resembling jellyfishes having for locomotion eight rows of cilia arranged like teeth in a comb.

No flirting!

Although powers of regeneration are great, no evidence for asexual reproduction by fission. Reproduction considered to be entirely sexual. Most species are hermaphroditic, but some gonochoristic. In most, gametes shed through mouth, fertilization and development external.

Elastic mesenchyme provides "skeletal" support, with muscle cells providing tonus for body shape. Neutrally bouyant, but swim using comb rows with ctenes (transverse bands of partially or wholly fused cilia beating as a unit).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Six Pillows

Sechs Kissen (Six Pillows), 1493 by Albrecht Dürer

Dürer made so many wonderful pictures, but there is something so charming and fresh about this one.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chopin D♭Nocturne Axis Mundi

Op. 27, number 2

rec. 1922
Józef Kazimierz Hofmann (20 January 1876 – 16 February 1957) was a Polish-American virtuoso pianist and composer. Many connoisseurs consider him one of the greatest pianists of all time.

Sergei Rachmaninoff considered Hofmann his superior as a pianist and dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 3 to him.

Hofmann's invention of pneumatic shock absorbers for cars and planes earned him a fortune in the early 20th century. His other inventions included medical devices, a furnace that burned crude oil, a device to record dynamics in reproducing piano rolls that he perfected just as the roll companies went bust, another piano invention, and a house that revolved with the sun.

NB:[All text in this particular post has been cut and pasted from the wikipedia article about the pianist being discussed, unless otherwise noted!]

Hofmann, rec. 1935:

Artur Rubenstein (1887 – 1982) was a Polish-born American pianist. He received international acclaim for his performances of the music of a variety of composers, and is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. Although best known as a recitalist and concerto soloist, Rubinstein was also considered an outstanding chamber musician. Rubinstein recorded much of the core piano repertoire, particularly that of the Romantic composers. With the exception of the Etudes, he recorded most of the works of Chopin. He was one of the earliest champions of the Spanish and South American composers and of French composers who, in the early 20th century, were still considered "modern" such as Debussy and Ravel. Rubinstein, in conversation with Alexander Scriabin, named Brahms as his favorite composer, a response that enraged Scriabin.

rec. 1964, Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory

Vladimir von Pachmann (1848 – 1933) was a pianist of Russian-German ethnicity, especially noted for performing the works of Chopin, and also for his eccentric on-stage style. Pachmann was born in Odessa, Ukraine.
Pachmann was one of the earliest to make recordings of his work, beginning in 1906 with recordings for the Welte-Mignon reproducing piano and in 1907 for the gramophone. He was also famous for gestures, muttering, and addressing the audience during his performance; the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica judiciously characterized it as the "playfulness of his platform manner", while critic James Huneker called him the "Chopinzee", and George Bernard Shaw reported that he "gave his well-known pantomimic performance, with accompaniments by Chopin."

rec. 1916 and 1925

Louis Diémer (1843 - 1919) was a well-known piano performer and pedagogue in the 19th century, and taught many prominent pianists. Franck composed his Variations Symphoniques for him and he worked closely with many of the major French composers of the time, performing premieres of works by Saint-Saëns, Franck, Fauré and Lalo amongst others.

His own playing is technically highly refined, in the ultra-clear French manner. The playing verges on the over-neat, almost even sometimes austere.

His few recordings are mostly of his own salon works. This recording of Chopin's Nocturne in D flat was made in c.1903-04. [Cut and pasted from the YouTube comment accompanying the video]

Moriz Rosenthal (December 17, 1862 - September 3, 1946) was an American-Jewish pianist of Austro-Hungarian origin. He was a pupil of Liszt and a friend and colleague of some of the greatest musicians of his age, including Brahms, Johann Strauss, Anton Rubinstein, von Bulow, Saint Saens, Massenet and Albeniz. Rosenthal recorded less than three hours' worth of music. What he did record, however, is considered some of the most legendary piano-playing on disc. Rosenthal's wit was legenday. When he heard Horowitz blaze through the octave passages of Tchaikowsky's First Piano Concerto at his Vienna debut, he remarked: "He is an Octavian, but not Caesar."

Rec. 1936

Claudio Arrau León (1903 – 1991) was a Chilean pianist known for his interpretations of a vast repertoire spanning from the baroque to 20th-century composers, especially Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Liszt. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. Claudio Arrau was of Basque descent. Many claimed that his rich, weighty tone lent his interpretations a distinctive voice, some saying it sounded thick and muddy and others praising its rounded tone, saying it sounded as though Arrau were almost playing the organ or "plowing" his "paws" into the "flexible" keyboard. According to American critic Harold Schonberg, Arrau always put "a decidedly romantic piano tone in his interpretations".

rec. ?

Dinu Lipatti (19 March 1917 – 2 December 1950) was a Romanian classical pianist and composer whose career was cut short by his death from Hodgkin's disease at age 33.

rec. ?

Vladimir Ashkenazy (born 1937) is a Russian conductor and virtuoso pianist. Vladimir Ashkenazy is renowned for his performances of Romantic and Russian composers. Ashkenazy is also known for his slightly unusual habits in solo piano performance: spurning coat and tie in favor of a white turtleneck and black suit; running (not walking) onstage to the piano; and running offstage after finishing and taking his bow.

rec. ?

Raoul Koczalski (1884 – 1948) was a Polish pianist and composer, who fulfilled his promise (first shown as a child prodigy) to become one of the great pianists of his time. "Raoul Koczalski is one of those last performers who use the romantic freedom in their perfomance" [The last sentence is from the YouTube comment]

rec. ?

Moura Lympany (Mary Gertrude Johnstone)(1916 - 2005) was an English concert pianist.

rec. 1961

Martha Argerich (born 1941) is an Argentine concert pianist. Her aversion to the press and publicity has resulted in her remaining out of the limelight for most of her career. Nevertheless she is widely recognized as one of the greatest modern-day pianists. In a 2001 article about Martha Argerich for The New Yorker, critic Alex Ross wrote: "Argerich brings to bear qualities that are seldom contained in one person: she is a pianist of brain-teasing technical agility; she is a charismatic woman with an enigmatic reputation; she is an unaffected interpreter whose native language is music. This last may be the quality that sets her apart. A lot of pianists play huge double octaves; a lot of pianists photograph well. But few have the unerring naturalness of phrasing that allows them to embody the music rather than interpret it."

rec. 1972

Maurizio Pollini (born 1942), Italy. Pollini is especially noted for his performances of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Schoenberg, Webern and for championing modern composers such as Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Giacomo Manzoni, Roberto Carnevale, Salvatore Sciarrino, Giovanni Sollima, Bruno Maderna. Important modern works were composed for Pollini, notably Nono’s …sofferte onde serene…, Giacomo Manzoni’s Masse: omaggio a Edgard Varèse and Salvatore Sciarrino's Fifth Sonata. While known for possessing an exceptional technique, Pollini is sometimes accused of emotional conservatism. He has conducted both opera and orchestral music, sometimes leading the orchestra from the keyboard in concertos.

rec. ?

Daniel Barenboim (born 1942) is an Argentinian-born pianist and conductor. Barenboim first came to prominence as a pianist but is now perhaps better known as a conductor. Daniel Barenboim is considered one of the most prominent musicians of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, as both pianist and conductor. He is noted for his mastery of conveying musical structure, and for a deep sensitivity to harmonic nuances.

rec. ?

Vitalij Margulis (born 1928)in the Ukrainian City of Charkov. He received his first piano lessons from his father, whose teacher, Alexander Horowitz, studied with the composer Alexander Scriabin. In 1994, he accepted the post of Professor of Piano at the University of California in Los Angeles.[Cut and pasted from the YouTube comment]

rec. ?

Evgeny Kissin (born 1971) is a Russian classical pianist and former child prodigy. He is especially known for his interpretations of the works of Chopin, for whom he has felt an affinity since early childhood.
rec. ?

(these YouTube videos do not allow embedding)
Lang Lang
Leon Fleischer, early 1980s, celebrating the return of function to his right hand.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Selection of Renaissance Hells

Limbourg Brothers, 1416

Jan van Eyck, 1430

Fra Angelico, 1431

Hans Memling, 1471

Matthias Grunewald, 1516

Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1525, detail 1

Cranach, detail 2

Cranach, detail 3

Saturday, August 15, 2009

~~~ Love and Death in the Year 1347 ~~~ The World of Guillaume de Machaut ~~~~~

In 1347, the Black Plague hit Europe. Guillaume de Machaut, the most famous poet and composer of his time, was 47 years old. Boccaccio would write in the Decameron how he and some friends escaped the plague by retreating to a house in the country. Machaut had been working for the recently deceased King John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, and he remained there during the plague times, preparing manuscripts of his work, in demand by the royalty and nobility of all Europe.

Machaut was the foremost proponent of a new and startling form of music, known as Ars Nova, the New Art. It was the first real phase of that revolutionary musical technique that originated in Europe and eventually spread throughout the world: Harmony.

Previously in Europe, and in all other musics of the world before they were influenced by European music, there was either only the melody played in unison with, perhaps, percussion, or there might be a single note played underneath throughout the whole song, like the drone note of the bagpipes. Classical Indian music still follows this second form. But in the 1200s century composers started to experiment with singing more than one note at a time, although at first perhaps only as simple parallel voices or other naive forms of harmony. In the 1300s, for the first time, composers began to create elaborate, organized compositions with two or more voices singing different lines carefully designed to complement each other: Counterpoint.

Looked at another way, vertically, this results in a series of shifting chords. The effects on human emotions of the way that these chords are chosen and put together in a musical composition has been refined over the centuries to the system that we use today, in every song you hear, everywhere. And Guillaume de Machaut was the first major proponent of the earliest form of this technique.

Machaut was also equally famous as a poet, and the genre he worked in was Courtly Love. In addition, musically he started off at the end of the period of Troubadors and Trouveres, who sang in the older tradition accompanyed only perhaps by a drone note and percussion, and who had sung tales of courtly love for centuries in the banquet halls of the kings of Europe.

Courly Love, of course, is that tradition of forbidden love of a courtier for a lady who really should be out of his reach, such as the wife of his lord. The fact that this would utterly subvert the social order of the time and place the life of the lover in mortal peril gave it an illicit thrill that made it the most popular theme of popular art for centuries. The love of Lancelot and Guinevere and the destruction that this wrought for the court of King Arthur is these days the most famous story remembered from this tradition.

Machaut was a tuneful composer who entertains the popular ear. He also composed one of the first set-piece masses, as the Ars Nova technique began to be used in church music. Pope John XXII wrote annoyed letters asking what the hell was up with all the extra notes.

Machaut was the most famous artist of his time. His face is recognizable in a number of portraits (that isn't him above), and Chaucer, a generation or two later, treasured his expensive copy of Machaut's works.

When he was past middle age, it seems, he was still so famous that he lived a life much like a modern superstar. A beautiful young woman wanted so much to have the ultimate accolade, a love song addressed to her written by the most famous poet and songwriter of Europe, that she became his mistress. Machaut was plenty pleased until one day he got wind of the unflattering accounts of his lovemaking that the young lady was amusing her friends with.

Dame, je sui cilz qui weil endurer
vostre voloir, tant com porray durer
My Lady, I am the one who wants to endure your will.
and for as long as I may live

mais ne cuit pas que longuement l'endure
sans mort avoir quant vous m'estes si dure
but I do not believe that I will endure it for long
without dying, since you are so harsh to me

que vous voles qu'ensus de vous me traie.
sans plus veioir la tres grant biaute vraie
that you want me to withdraw far away from you.
without seeing any longer the very great beauty

de vo gent corps qui tant a de valour
que vous estes des bonnes la millour
of your lovely body, which has so much worth.
for you are of all good ladies the best

Las! einsi ay de ma mort exemplaire.
Mais la doleur qu'il me convendra traire
Alas! Thus I have the model of my death.
But the pain which I must endure

douce seroit, se un tel espoir avoie
qu'avant ma mort par vo gre vous revoie.
will be sweet, if I have such an expectation
that before I die I see you again, by your leave

Dame, et se ja mes cuers riens entreprent
dont mes corps ait honneur n'avancement
My Lady, if ever my heart should undertake anything
of which I may have the honour and profit

de vous venra, com lonteins que vous soie.
car ja sans vous que j'aim tres loyaument
ne sans Amours emprendre nel saroie
you will be the inspiration, however far away you be.
for never without you, who I love very loyally.
nor without Love, could this be undertaken

Friday, August 14, 2009

mad owls staring wildly
the mice give themselves up in despair
snakes bemoan their lack of feet
birds search for the lost sun

i heard the books unspeaking themselves
daylight apologising to the night
winds that would only blow beneath the ground
because they were traumatised by clouds

hand me back my feet
listen for where to find your eyes
roll around on the ground looking for your shoes
and stand up like a man again


if we were electrons
heisenberg would tell us where we might be found
and we would eat gravity for lunch

but as it is
we emit influence without knowing it
and though we think we are fixed while the universe whirls around us
in truth, all our gravities work on all each
and torque us without mercy

so forgive us our physics
as we forgive those who cut in on our valences
as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be
world without end, amen


(the painting is 'wind swept', by "cmz"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ancient Language of the Celts

Celts dominated western Europe in the hellenistic and early roman era. Starting from near the type sites of Hallstat, now in Austria, and La Tene, now in Switzerland, between 800-600 b.c., the Celts spread their culture and language all the way to what are now Spain, northern Italy, eastern Europe, and the British Isles. Celts centered in Italy's Po valley sacked Rome in 387 b.c. At the time Julius Caeser conquered Gaul in the mid first century b.c., the area that was to become modern France was considered to be the gravitational center of a powerful, Europe-wide Celtic culture.

Even then, the celtic interlace style that is still current and familiar to us after two and a half millenia was being practiced, as you can see in the detail from the helmet of Agris, France, a detail from which can be seen in our illustration above and left, dated to the 4th century b.c. Later, roman ladies often bought their fibulae, which were like rather large, decorated, safety pins that they used to pin their cloaks together, from celtic sources and decorated with celtic interlace designs.

Now, naturally many people these days assume that ireland, scotland, wales, and brittany would be the centers of celtic culture, despite what is know to students of the history of celtic culture, and since the only surviving celtic languages are from these areas (we heard quite a bit of welsh on the radio when driving though powys a few years ago). As we said above, the british isles appear to have been conquered by the celts in the middle of the first millenium b.c., and very little is known about the more indigenous cultures of the islands. Except, we should say, for Ireland, where folklore preserves the names of the cultures that preceeded the celts, including the Fir Bolgs, and the Tuatha Dé Danann. (The weapons of the successive waves of Firbolgs, Tuatha de Danann ("People of the Goddess"), and, finally, Celts, are described in the folk histories.)

Logically, then, modern celtic languages bear roughly the same relationship to the Gaulish celtic language of ancient times that modern romance languages do to Latin. So, what was Gaulish like? Fortunately, a number of inscriptions, many (as below) written using basically the greek alphabet and inscribed when the romans had not yet broken out of italy, are available and give us a decent idea of Gaulish.

What we find out is that Gaulish, the ancestor of modern celtic languages, was very close to Latin! It is thought that Latin succeeded Gaulish very easily after it became part of Rome because of this close similarity. A well known example of this similarity is the name of the great warrior who attempted to organise the Gaulish chiefs against Julius Caeser, Vercingetorix, where the "rix" is the Gaulish version of Latin "rex", king. Also, the word "fir" in the name "Fir Bolgs", means "man", and is the Celtic version of Latin "vir".

Possibly, the reason for this close similarity (Gaulish is much closer to Latin than Greek is) might be in a common origin in the Urnfield cultures of the late bronze age central europe. Many scholars postulate that both the Hallstat Celts (the earliest archaeological culture recognizable as definitely celtic) as well as the early romans and their relatives the oscans and umbrians, derive from the migration of the Urnfield peoples from central europe southwards and westwards during the tumultuous period at the end of the bronze age and the beginning of the iron age, 1200 - 900 b.c., sometimes known as the "greek dark ages".

Here is a little table of some common words:

Gaulish--- English--- Latin
-cue------ and------ -que
es--------- out of-------- ex
are-------- before---- ante
ver-------- over------ super
allos------ second---- alius
tarvos---- bull------- taurus
tri--------- three----- tres, tria
more------ sea------- mare
rix--------- king------- rex
lanum---- plain------ planum

I was puzzled when trying to etymologize the medieval name of that ancient celtic settlement, modern Milan, 'Mediolanum'. "Medio-", in the middle of something, but what? "Lanum" - wool? The mystery was solved when I read that in Gaulish, the 'P' was commonly absent at the beginning of words that in Latin would have "pl-". Therefore, Mediolanum would be in Latin Medioplanum, "in the middle of the plain"

Gaulish was also a highly inflected language, as were Latin and Greek.

Most surviving Gaulish is in brief inscriptions, on stone altars, tombstones, jewellry, and coins. Here are a couple of early inscriptions, from the pre-roman period when the greek alphabet was employed:



"Segomaros, son of Uillo, toutious (tribe leader) of Namausos, dedicated this sanctuary to Belesama"



(apparently dedicated to Gobannus, the Celtic god of smithcraft)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lucas Cranach the Elder 1472 - 1553

Cranach had a thing about naked women with daggers and swords

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

mr bear at oz farm

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monteverdi - Oblivion Soave

First performed in 1642, L'Incoronazione di Poppea is the masterpiece of the first major composer both of Opera and of the Baroque era in general, Claudio Monteverdi. However, this beautiful lullaby does not seem to be confined by the musical conventions of its time.

Poppea was married to the cruel emperor Nero, and we should mourn for her sad end. Here she has a moment of peace...

Adagiati, Poppea,

acquietati, anima mia:

sarai ben custodita.

Oblivion soave

i dolci sentimenti

in te, figlia, addormenti.

Posatevi, occhi ladri;

aperti, deh, che fate,

se chiusi ancor rubate?

Poppea, rimanti in pace;

luci care e gradite,

dormite, omai dormite.


Lie down now, Poppea,

hush, my darling;

you shall be guarded.

May gentle oblivion

lull sweet thoughts

in you, my child.

Now rest, thievish eyes;

why stay open

if you can steal all hearts even when closed?

Poppea, rest calmly;

dear eyes, fond eyes,

sleep now, sleep.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the Invention of the word 'Quality' and the letter 'G'

"The task he [Cicero] had set himself was to transmute Greek philosophy into a corpus of Latin works that would make sense to Romans. In doing so, he found himself struggling to give Latin some means of expressing abstractions. The word qualitas, for example, is one of the technical terms Cicero invented, turning up here for the first time in his Academic Questions:

"...they called it body and something like quality ('how-ness'). You will certainly allow us in these unusual cases sometimes to use words that are novel, as the Greeks themselves do who have long been discussing them."
"As far as we're concerned," said Atticus, "go ahead and use Greek terms when you want, if you Latin fails you." Varro replied, "You're very kind: but I'll endevor to speak in Latin, except for words like philosophy or rhetoric or physics or dialectic, which along with many others are already customary in place of Latin words. So I have called qualities what the Greeks call poiotetas, which even among Greeks is not a word for ordinary people but philosophers, as often. In fact, the logicians have no use for ordinary words: they use their own."

"Etruscan speakers, who did not hear a difference between [g] and [k], (nor indeed [d] and [t], nor [b] and [p] {tacitus note - these are known in linguistics as 'voiced/unvoiced pairs'}) provided the reason why the letter Γ, Greek gamma... came to be pronounced as [K], and to be distinguished from the K and Q only by the following vowel... This reinterpretation of Γ/C meant that the Latins needed to reinvent a symbol for [g], namely G. Amazingly, we are even told the inventor's name, one Sp. Carvilius Ruga (Plutarch, Roman Questions, 54). He seems only to have gotten around to this in the third century BC."

from 'AD INFINITVM - a biography of Latin', Nicholas Ostler
image: etruscan alphabet

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kansas City Here I Come

Benny Moten Orchestra, Thick Lip Stomp, 1926

Benny Moten Orchestra, Moten Stomp, 1927

New Orleans was the birthplace of Jazz, Chicago in the early 20s was its second home, and in the mid to late 20s, New York City became the place to be, but that doesn't mean that great Jazz wasn't played elsewhere. Until prominent Jazz bands became nationally broadcast in the 30s, so-called "Territory Bands" were more common, and the greatest territory band outside of the great capitals of jazz was Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra. Getting his start in the early 20s, Benny Moten's band dominated the midwestern-plains circuit. Its earliest recordings in 1923 show a more ragtime based rhythm, but also a focus on the blues that would remain characteristic of the Kansas City Style well into the 30s, and which was one of the elements that made the Basie band the force that brought the living, beating heart back into Jazz in the Swing era, when commercialism and sophistication were threatening to stifle it. By the way, the devil-may-care attitude of Kansas City's Mayor Prendergast and his machine encouraged the proliferation of night clubs with hot music and hotter patrons that made the city the center of vice, accompanied by the swinginest jams ever heard, all through the era.

And, if for no other reason, the Moten orchestra is famous as the birthplace and core of the later Count Basie Band. In fact, Basie got his big break from Moten later in the 20s, and he met a number of later Basie stalwarts, prominently bassist Walter Page, in the Moten band, or in Page's case, even earlier in Walter Page's Blue Devils, later folded into the Moten Band. Basie, and later Goodman, also featured Moten's tune 'Moten Swing' prominently in their playbooks in the 30s. Benny Moten himself, though, wasn't around to hear it. He died prematurely of what should have been a routine operation in 1933, and Basie inherited the greatest territory band that ever was.

We shall hear more of this band as we move through the years...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Louis Armstrong 1924-25

Fletcher Henderson Orchesra with Louis Armstrong, Copenhagen 1924

Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong, St. Louis Blues, Jan 1925

In 1923, Louis Armstrong made his first recordings, with his mentor, King Oliver. In late 1925, he began a series of (studio only) recordings, the Hot 5's and Hot 7's, that utterly transformed the course of jazz forever by establishing the virtuoso solo as the sine qua non for every jazz performance. But what was he doing between these two periods?

In New York City, Fletcher Henderson had by 1924 already established his orchestra as the number one jazz group in town. Of course, these NYC black musicians had very different background than the New Orleans trained performers like Armstrong, no matter whether they were black or white. Henderson had already begun the process of creating written arrangements for jazz tunes, an innovation required for the northern musicians for whom improvisational counterpoint was not part of their training, and which would be brought to new heights later by Don Redman. But he had heard Armstrong and knew that he would be a really exciting addition. Armstrong finally listened to the prompting of his wife at the time, Lillian Hardin Armstrong, to strike out on his own, and accepted Henderson's offer.

The Henderson recording here is not the absolute best for highlighting Armstrong's contributions to the band, but you can hear him strike out with the vigorous and driving tone that certainly woke up the new york musicians, and impelled them to sharpen their sense of rhythm, not to mention the proper application of the blues scale.

(Also, the proud owner of this actual original 78, and a beautiful victrola, has unaccountably chosen to highlight his possesions in a bare room with such live reverberations that they threaten to overwhelm the actual recording. I apologise for being so lazy that I have not yet created my own videos to make up for the lacunae in the You Tube recordings that are currently available. Truly, I am teh lazy blogger!)

The other recording here is a famous one that Louis made with the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith. All through the 20s, Louis would find the time to pick up a few dollars by performing on recordings with singers. (Musicians would only make a flat fee for recordings, with no royalties or residuals, until the successful outcome of the strike they held during WWII. The so-called V-Discs were made by the U.S. Army during this strike to make sure that servicemen would not be deprived of jazz during the strike!)

In this great recording of W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues, Armstrong can barely restrain himself from playing while Bessie Smith is singing. In fact, he is not really showing good musical manners! However, the result for us is a feast of virtuoso singing and playing that makes this side one of the most rewarding of Bessie Smith's many fine recordings. Bessie was not as pleased as we might be - she told her producers to never hire Louis again, and the remainder of her recordings from this period often feature Louis' replacement in the Henderson band, the unjustly neglected Joe Smith.

(okay, for some insane reason there is some copyright issue with this particular recording. it is still, however, a 'must hear' for fans of pops and the empress of the blues)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

If You Were Lost I'd Come And Find You (Rough Cut)

so we were sitting around talking on th' eschaton one night and honey bear kelly says

Hecate don't worry. If you get lost I'd come and find you.
HoneyBearKelly | Homepage | 02.05.09 - 9:51 pm | #

and hecate says why that's the nicest thing anybody ever said to me

and i says to myself i says 'if you were lost i'd come and find you' that's a song

so it's kind of rough but what the hell...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sidney Bechet 1923

Wild Cat Blues

One fine day in New Orleans back before 1910, a band was playing a party in someone's house. From another room they suddenly heard someone playing a wicked clarinet along with the band. I turned out that little Sidney Bechet had picked up his brother's clarinet and just taught himself how to play, that's all!

Bechet kicked around New Orleans in the teens with the rest of the musicians, most of whom, as Louis Armstrong describes in his book My Life In New Orleans, had day jobs. But by the end of the teens things had changed - jazz had become big business, and, ironically, all of the best jazz musicians had left New Orleans. Sidney Bechet was touring Europe with a band, and came across a soprano saxophone one afternoon in a pawnshop in England.

He had always had a ferocious lip, a supernaturally powerful tone, and a scintillating vibrato wide enough to frame the sistine chapel. He also had a nasty temper and tended to get into fights. After one such fracas he was persuaded to leave Europe for a while, so he came back to the United States for a few years, recording this and a few other sides. Discographers joke that he is one band member who can never be mistaken when there is little other information about a rare record: that tone could only be Sidney!

During the 20s and 30s he was in and out of the United States, but soon he settled in France, where he became a national treasure. His innate sense of musical drama, in addition to his tone, sustained many more decades of performing there, and he lived like an aristocrat. He belongs on the roll of true and original New Orleans Jazz geniuses.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Young Bix, 1923-4, and the Chicago Style

wolverines, copenhagen, 1924

New Orleans Rhythm Kings

Up in Davenport, Iowa, in the years around 1920, a teenager with a cornet kept on playing his Original Dixieland Jazz Band records over and over, trying to play along with them on his cornet. Aspiring jazz musicians have done the same ever since, playing along with the recordings of their idols, trying to learn the trick of playing and composing at the same time that is what jazz improvisation is all about, not to mention giving it a little bit on what's in your heart so that you are speaking with your own voice.

Bix grew up in a middle class family with a bit of a taste for music, but his father strongly disapproved of jazz, and this fact cast a shadow over Bix's entire life. Nevertheless, he persisted in learning the cornet, and a wise teacher hired by his parents told them that he played all wrong, but that he was not going to interfere because the young man was "getting excellent results". In fact, Bix was perfecting a unique and wonderful cornet style that still stands out, featuring a beautiful bell-like tone, and perfectly formed eighth and sixteenth notes with an miraculously formed attack. His tone has been compared to "BBs hitting a bell", and, most poetically by Eddie Condon, who compared it to "a girl saying yes". Even Louis Armstrong was impressed: "those pretty notes went right through me".

Bix also had a firm grasp of modern harmony, and his solos are just as well known for their beauty and advanced harmonic conception. On famous composition, In A Mist, recorded on the piano by Bix, is really more of an impressionist piano composition than a jazz piece.

Bix was also recorded early on at Gennett records. He was playing with the Wolverines, a small group formed to play in the clubs and summer resorts of the midwest. As the records filtered out, musicians all over the country pricked up their ears when Bix's clear, beautiful tone leapt out. These early recordings of Bix have a charm all their own, but we will return to Bix later on for a look at his career when he was in the big time.

Also included are some Gennett sides by another northern white group, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. They are known for self-consciously including what were considered "black" elements into their playing, chiefly a bluesy sound that contrasted with the ricky-ticky rhythms and straight intonation that characterized some other white groups of the time. It made a big impression on their peers, including Bix.

All in all, these Gennett recordings document the second generation of jazz players, young kids in the midwest who had never been in New Orleans. It was the good luck of Gennett to be the only record company in the midwest at the point in time when the heart of jazz was in Chicago...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

tacitus and mme voltaire hang out in copenhagen, while, back home, master percy the cat relaxes on the deck...

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, "Mandy Lee Blues", "I'm Gonna Wear You Off My Mind", "Chimes Blues", 1923

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, "Just Gone", 1923

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, "Canal Street Blues", 1923

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, "Snake Rag", 1923

It was 1922 when the then obscure Kid Ory's Sunshine Orchestra became the first authentic african american jazz band from New Orleans to record. However, these few sides didn't have nearly the impact of the substantial series of recordings that King Oliver's band made for Gennett Records in 1923.

King Oliver was one of the three great Cornet Kings of New Orleans. He was famous for his effects on cornet, where he pioneered the use of mutes, especially the wah-wah style use of the plunger mute. His famous "crying baby" routine was unfortunately never recorded, but you can hear a little bit of his wonderful creamy crying tone especially at the very end of Mandy Leee Blues. (Unfortunately we don't have a You Tube posting of his famous solo on Dippermouth Blues, q.v.) By 1922 he was installed in the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago, where young white aspiring jazz musicians, including eventually a young Bix Beiderbecke, would sneak in and sit transfixed in front of the band stand, watching him in amazement, as well as Johnny Dodds with his incendiary clarinet tone, and his little brother Baby Dodds, who is famous for pioneering the modern trap set.

By 1923, however, King Oliver was suffering from gum disease, and found it difficult to play a complete set. He sent for Louis Armstrong, who around then had been playing on a riverboat on the mississippi. Louis played with a big, open tone, which contrasts with the smaller, plunger-muted tone that King Oliver was still playing at that time. Louis Armstrong's first recorded solo can be heard here on the third cut on the first 'video', "Chimes Blues". It shows his high level of musical training by that point, being a very organised and composed solo, almost like a classical composition exercise.

Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana was the project of the Starr Piano company. The big recording studios were in NYC, and didn't make it out to Chigaco, where the real jazz was happening at that time. Despite being a conservative family of instrument makers with origins in Germany, they knew that african americans were making good music, and they secured their place in american cultural history by being the first to record King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

However, the studios were not up to the standard of Victor or Columbia. The famous story of the King Oliver recording sessions was how the engineers kept on pushing Louis farther and farther back, because his tone overwhelmed the other musicians on the test pressing, until he was standing in the hall. Even with the primitive recording standards, these sides have a wonderful cheerfulness that, along with the amazing hot solos, demonstrates what kept Bix and the others coming back to Lincoln Gardens night after night back in 1923...

Friday, January 2, 2009

"If you're not moaning, you're not singing the blues"

Mamie Smith, "Crazy Blues", 1920

Bessie Smith, "Nobody Can Bake A Sweet Jellyroll Like Mine", 1923

Bessie Smith, "Yellowdog Blues", 1925

Bessie Smith, "You Gotta Give Me Some", 1929

Bessie Smith, "Do Your Duty", 1933

These days, americans grow up immersed in the blues. The blues is in every type of american music, even country music. Musically speaking, the essence of the blues is the blue note, the subtle and seductive bending of the pitch of the note out of the strict scale so that is falls between the keys of a piano. We all know exactly how it's supposed to sound, exactly how the note should be bent to get that moaning, heart-twisting blues sound that is the heart of any guitar solo that ever existed in rock 'n' roll, and the way that americans sing.

But before 1920 most americans had never heard it.

So, when Crazy Blues was recorded in 1920 by one Mamie Smith, the effect was electric. Now, the band on this record is out of tune, and is no longer considered a great recording, but it is an important historical document, and a million seller that was instantly famous at the time, and changed forever american's idea of how a popular song should be sung.

Americans already knew about the blues from the success of W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues, but this was sold as sheet music and played on the piano by white americans who had no notion of the blues scale. However, as soon as Crazy Blues came out the real blues sound went viral. Everybody knew that it was the real thing, and how american music had to sound. In the stilted white manner of the time, newspapers published instructions on how to moan like a real negro blues shouter, and African americans wrote in amazement about how white people were shaking their hips, letting it all loose when they sang and generally trying to get as black as possible. Even Fiorello La Guardia, then a republican congressman and later mayor of NYC, hosted a blues singing contest in 1923, and nobody was surprised that all the top contestants were black women.

Bessie Smith, of course, soon became The Empress of the Blues. She remained a superstar right up to her tragic death in a car accident in 1937. Her smooth, strong voice and impeccable phrasing defined what a blues vocal should sound like, and remains the gold standard. She was hard living woman to be reckoned with. The story goes that she was singing a big tent show in the south one night when word got in that some KKK members were coming around to make trouble, and that Bessie had better get out. Instead, she went right outside the tent and confronted the klansmen: "you better just pick them sheets up and run right now, or else I'm gonna get this whole tent out here". That did the trick...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Jazz Craze Is On!

Original Dixieland Jass Band, Dixie Jass Band One Step

Frisco Jass Band

Original Dixieland Jazz Band, St. Louis Blues

The Jazz Craze was on, but what, exactly, was jazz and where could you get some? Until about 1923, the ODJB was the only genuine New Orleans jazz band doing any recording. The popular image of jazz was that it was wild and crazy, vulgar and noisy, and created on the spot by inspired musical illiterates. The ODJB, like african-american musicians had for decades before them, went along with the fiction that the music was improvised from scratch on the spot, that it couldn't be written down, and that they couldn't read music anyway.

The association of the saxophone with jazz also took hold in this ealy period, even though saxophones had rarely been seen in New Orleans bands before. The standard lineup in the teens had been clarinet, cornet, and trombone, accompanied by bass, drums, and guitar or piano. (The guitar, of course, was replaced by the banjo during the 20s because of how well the banjo registered with the pre-electric recording of the day). But for some never-explained reason, the public got it into its head that that wild and crazy saxophone just had to be in a jazz band! The ODJB dutifully went along and added a saxophonist to its lineup, and musicians set about figuring out how to get a jazzy sound out of the rather bland natural saxophone tone.

Featured here today are the 'Dixie Jass Band One Step', one of the ODJB's original wild and crazy signature tunes, a tune by a non-New-Orleans group led by saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft, and a great rendition by the ODJB of W.C. Handy's St. Louis blues.

Please listen carefully for the amazingly hot clarinet blues solo after the corny singing in St. Louis Blues. The solo sounds to me amazingly like the blues harp solos played by Little Walter with Muddy Waters in the records they made in the early 50s! Wow! Clarinettist Larry Shields was certaintly the musical star of the group! You can also hear the bland tone of the saxophonist that had been added...

The tune by the Frisco Jass Band as been added to give you and idea of the not very authentic or exciting non-New-Orleans jazz bands that sprang up to fill the demand for jazz that the recording industry was not really meeting, despite the fact that Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, and Sidney Bechet were all playing at the time. None of them would be recorded before 1922.