“The Mooche,” recorded October 20th, 1928, is one of the most enduring of the early Ellington recordings. Its growling muted trumpet and feral clarinet provide the perfect example of the era’s “jungle style,” popularized by the Duke’s already legendary orchestra.
The trumpet on this recording is performed by the tragic and short-lived Bubber Miley, whose distinctive style was carried on by future Ellington alumni such as Ray Nance and Cootie Williams.
The clarinet on this first of many recordings of “The Mooche” is performed by Barney Bigard, last noted here on the Hymies blog (with his name unfortunately misspelled) when we listened to recordings of another Ellington standard, “Caravan.” Bigard remained the lead clarinetist for the Ellington Orchestra all through the Cotton Club years, and sometimes doubled on tenor sax as well. He and Ellington wrote “Mood Indigo” together during this period.
We are thinking of this first great incarnation of the Ellington Orchestra today because our friends, the Southside Aces, will be performing a program of Duke’s small group classics on Friday night at Vieux Carré in St. Paul. We are often reminding folks that the Aces appear the second Thursday of every month at the Eagles Club #34 right here in our neighborhood, but Friday presents a unique opportunity to hear some songs by the single greatest composer our country has produced. They are rounding out the regular group with guest pianist Rick Carlson, and promising the brass will be bringing along “buckets of mutes.”
Several years ago we put together a whole post of alternate takes of famous tune from the likes of John Coltrane, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits. At the time we must not have added this double LP to our collection, or we would have included one of its numerous Chuck Berry alternates.
Here’s an early take of “Johnny B. Goode” recorded December 30th, 1957.
Rock and rollers around the world today are mourning the passing of the music’s primary architect, Chuck Berry. The larger-than-life icon passed away at his home in St. Charles County, Missouri yesterday at the age of ninety.
It was sixty-two years ago that his first single, “Maybellene,” first appeared, combining blues and western swing into an entirely new creation. The single would be the first in a rapid series of hit singles for Berry on the Chess label, most of which have gone on to become rock and roll standards. Its inspiration in a Bob Wills song and its b-side, a smoldering blues tune called “Wee Wee Hours,” are evidence of Berry’s unique ability to blend the different traditions. Of the single, Rolling Stone later wrote, “Rock and roll guitar begins here.”
While so many of Berry’s songs are universally familiar, it was his showmanship more than his songwriting which made him a star in the late 50s. His stage presence and his explosive runs on the guitar, all accented by a signature “duck walk” move established rock music’s over-the-top escapism.
Berry’s career was derailed several times by, to quote one of his songs, “too much monkey business.” He had not recorded a new album since 1979, but had announced last year that he was recording a new record which would feature two of his children as accompaniment. At this time there is no release date for the new record, titled Chuck.
This 1960 sequel to “Johnny B. Goode” is one of our favorite songs from Berry’s original run of hits for Chess Records, even though it is not one of the twelve found on the classic Greatest Hits LP. “Bye Bye Johnny” was one of several of his songs covered by the Rolling Stones (whose first single was a Chuck Berry tune) and was also adapted, uncredited, into an elegy for Elvis Presley by Bruce Springsteen in the 80s. Like its predecessor the song tells a story with vivid details and a sly wink towards the American dream of social mobility.
In keeping with yesterday’s Irish theme, we present today Molly Bloom’s soliloquy which comprises the final episode of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.
Our son is fond of using the word “epic” (this must be a thing with kids these days), but it truly applies to the eight sentences that make up this nearly thirty-minute monologue, as read on this LP by Sibohan McKenna.
In all, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy on her relationships with men and ultimately the marriage proposal of her husband is over four thousand words long, containing only two punctuation marks. Joyce’s own wife, Nora, is often remembered for having asked her husband, “Why don’t you write books that people can read?”
Last weekend when Laura ran in St. Paul’s “Get Lucky” half-marathon, Dave and the kids met her at the new CHS Field in Lowertown. There they heard enough Irish music to last a whole year, reminding us of what a customer once jokingly said when selling his mother’s collection of mariachi records: “You really just need one.”
Of course, any healthy record collection should represent the wide range of genres found around the world, including Irish music. Here’s a fun Clancy Brothers tune for today.
Tribute albums have been around for about as long as any other kind of record, but they really took off in the 90s when the “Various Artists” section of your neighborhood record shop (likely to be largely CDs in those days) swelled. Some artists were fortunate enough to find such a collection could buoy their careers by introducing their music to a larger audience. Sometimes the covers disc eclipsed the sales of the original recordings, as for instance with Sweet Relief – A Benefit for Victoria Williams in 1993, and a subsequent album of Vic Chesnutt’s songs.
It may be some songwriters will be best remembered by such a collection long after they’ve left us, and to further this theory we’d like to look a ways further into the past, about 135 years. This is when an Austrian music publisher, Antonin Diabelli, embarked upon a charity project to benefit the country’s orphans and widows in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. To create his fundraising publication, Vaterländischer Künstlerverein (“Variations for the Pianoforte on a Given Theme”), he sent a waltz he had written to every A-List composer he knew and asked each to write variations on it. Fifty complied, including Franz Schubert, a now largely-unheard son of Mozart, and a then-twelve-year-old Franz Liszt. And then there was the fifty-first contribution, which came from Ludwig van Beethoven.
At this time, the monumental maestro was working with renewed fervor on the late sonatas (including the epic, finger-twisting twenty-ninth), the late quartets, the Missa Solemnis and that capstone of all works, the Symphony no. 9 in D Minor. His initial reaction was to dismiss the project as beneath his talents, as we know from his description of the piece as Schusterfleck, a German term of derision (literally “Cobbler’s patch”) which compares work to mundane stitching. Beethoven’s secretary and earliest biographer Anton Schindler, fond as he was of exaggerating Beethoven’s accomplishments, claimed he quickly created his thirty-three variations so as to establish his enduring prowess. More likely, Beethoven was promised a princely sum for a set of variations and complied for the cash. Studies of his sketchbooks suggest the variations were not written at one time, contradicting Schindler’s story.
The scale and depth of his set of variations, thirty-three in all, certainly did serve to further his supremacy in Vienna at the time. They were published, along with one each from the fifty other contributors, in 1823. The Diabelli Variations, op. 120, were his last major works for the piano published before his death three years later. And Antonin Diabelli, who likely initiated the project to advance his publishing business, achieved at least part of his goal in establishing the endurance of his name. The work is a favorite among Beethovenians, widely recorded and performed, and even the subject of a Tony-nominated play (33 Variations) produced in 2009.
Famously described by Daniel Barenboim as “thirty-three mutation,” Beethoven takes tiny elements of Diabelli’s melody and expands them. Throughout the series, which hardly strays from its original C-Major setting, Beethoven makes reference to Bach, his own sonatas, and most famously to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Beethoven changes direction in the last several variations, first shifting to the minor and then, in number thirty-two, to the key of E-Flat-Major. This leads to a dramatic flourish which builds to a comfortable return to Diabelli’s key for the brief closing minuet in number thirty-three.
Some pianist, such as Alfred Brendel, have suggested his thirty-three variations were intended as a capstone to the thirty-two sonatas, the last of which had only recently been published. There is also an account of Beethoven having asked Diabelli how many composers had contributed variations to the project, and when told thirty-two said, “I shall write thirty-three myself.”
Owing to how ridiculous thirty-three little track players would be, we’ve posted this recording of Rudolf Serkin performing The Diabelli Variations in two tracks, one for each side of the record. The first track contains numbers 1-19 and the second track contains the remaining eighteen. You’ll have to forgive the noisiness of our this copy of the album, which was recorded from our personal collection.
There’s an interesting story about Serkin himself, who made his debut at seventeen years old while living with the family of German violinist Adolf Busch. Joining his host and others in a performance of one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, young Serkin was asked to play a little encore. As a joke, he suggested that other famous set of variations, Bach’s Goldberg Variations. “I took him seriously,” recounted Serkin, “When I finished there were only four people left — Busch, [pianist] Artur Schnabel, [musicologist] Alfred Einstein and me.”