Sometimes we don’t look too closely at the art on these Musical Heritage Society LPs. They often contain excellent recordings of both well-known and esoteric classical pieces.
This album collecting what’s called Schubert’s Biedermeier Dance Music is a great example of the latter. They are the most famous of the fifteen hundred compositions he wrote in his thirty-one short years, but the album is an interesting addition to a collection of his music. We thought “Biedermeier” might refer to a beer hall or tavern, but it is actually a reference to a time period in Central Europe during which the middle class took an interest in the arts. One significant aspect of this in regard to music was that it was a time when people performed music in their homes and even held small concerts.
This was where Franz Schubert thrived, in as much as he was ever successful. In fact, during his lifetime his music was only performed in a public concert once, in March of 1828. Otherwise Schubert was a denizen of the house show, so to speak.
This album has several chamber works for a quartet with piano, and a pair of pieces (including “Six Valses Sentimentals” above) for piano performed by Verena Pfenninger.
It was only posthumously that the music of Franz Schubert was fully introduced to the concert hall, but many of his works have become a staple of the classical repertoire ever since (for instance his String Quintet in C Major, the “Cello Quintet” as it is often known, is considered one of the finest chamber works by any composer).
This copy of Schubert’s Biedermeier Dance Music is here in your friendly neighborhood record shop for just $3. Of course, there’s some asshole selling it on Amazon for $225 right now, if you’d rather have it delivered to your door. Absurd prices such as this for classical recordings are fairly common, especially on Amazon, so there must be some unfortunate souls out there who actually pay them. Is the music on the LP actually worth a couple hundred bucks? Well, if you look closely at the jacket you can see that it is in fact so good that its taught dogs and cats to get along with one another…
In the 1940s Gil Evans was in his thirties, living behind a Chinese laundry on New York’s 55th Street, and writing arrangements for bandleader Claude Thornhill. Gerry Mulligan described the apartment in 1998: “[It] had all the pipes for the building as well as a sink, a bed, a piano, a hot-plate and no heat.” Hardly famous, the aspiring arranger would soon have an enormous influence on the post-bop development of jazz, simply by encouraging musicians to explore new directions. Working with Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and others, jam sessions at his apartment would inspire some of the most celebrated jazz records of the era.
Evans’ employer, Thornhill, had established a name for himself early in the decade with hits like “Snowfall” and left a lucrative contract with the Paramount Theater to enlist in the Navy during the Second World War. When he returned in 1946 he retained Evans as his arranger adding a number of younger musicians to his orchestra, which included many of its pre-war members like Mulligan. With the talented band, Evans began to explore what would evolve in to cool jazz.
Evans’ swinging arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s manic “Anthropology” was recorded by the Thornhill Orchestra in September 1947, and is one of our favorite big band interpretations of bop. The band melds the frantic energy of Gillespie’s changes, with its smoother style. By comparison, Gillespie’s own big band arrangement of the tune he’d written with Charlie Parker is distinctly more angular and rhythmically modern.
Evans added subtle color to the Thronhill Orchestra with a low brass section consisting of two french horns and a tuba, as well as a relaxed atmospheric sound by discouraging vibrato — both ideas being just about the opposite of Stan Kenton’s “progressive jazz,” which produced a dynamic, dense sound. On “Anthropology” the tuba, played by Harold Weskel, plays a more classical role rather than the taking the traditional jazz role of timekeeper given to low brass.
The jam sessions in Evans’ apartment because a meeting spot for musicians interested in the new style — one might run into Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker or trumpeter (and Glenn Miller Air Force Band veteran) John Carisi. The group began to put together arrangements for a novel new form, a jazz nonet to sound like the Thornhill Orchestra. The new band led by Davis played its first gigs during the intermissions of Count Basie’s residency at the Royal Roost. While many musicians loved the new style of the nonet (including Basie), the audience’s reaction was cool, and not cool in a good way.
Still, Davis convinced Capitol Records to record twelve tracks by the group over three sessions 1949 and 1950, eight of which were issued on 78rpm singles credited to Miles Davis and his Orchestra. The remaining four made their first appearance several years later on Classics in Jazz: Miles Davis, a 10″ LP in one of Capitol’s first jazz series at 33rpm. In 1957, all twelve tunes was collected as The Birth of the Cool in the LP format which has been in its infancy when the recordings were made. Ironically, the recordings were given this now-famous name by one of Stan Kenton’s arrangers, Pete Rugolo. The opening track was “Move,” the first of the singles released in 1949.
The Birth of the Cool recordings represent the post-bop interest in European classical music, especially the work of the French impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. The cool jazz approach to polyphony is unique from New Orleans jazz and the music of the swing era, where horns often “battled” one another. Cool jazz arrangements found the horns working together much as voices do in choral music, creating richly textured, almost narrative landscapes. The Miles Davis-led nonet was carefully established to feature complimentary pairs: the trumpet and alto in the high range, the trombone and french horn in the middle range, and the baritone saxophone and tuba in the low range. Note there is no tenor sax, and that no individual soloist plays a consistent leading role throughout the twelve recordings.
Evans thought Charlie Parker would be the perfect musician to lead the group, but found his interest in his own development as a soloist didn’t fit the concept. Miles Davis had the right attitude towards ensemble collaboration, as well as the unique timbre necessary to compliment Lee Konitz’s alto sax.
During the band’s first residency with the Count Basie Orchestra the Royal Roost, Davis had a sign put on the sidewalk which read “featuring arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis [of the Modern Jazz Quartet]” to emphasize the novel nature of the nonet. Ciresi also contributed, arranging his own composition “Israel.” He also created controversy simply by leading an integrated band.
A 1998 deluxe edition remastered the original Capitol LP from 1957 and added surviving recordings from two sets of the Royal Roost stand with Count Basie’s Orchestra. Included in these tracks is a nineteen-second “Birth of the Cool” theme credited to Evans and drawn from his arrangement of “Anthropology.” Davis’ solos stand out on the live recordings, as on this performance of “Godchild” by George Wallington, which the band later recorded at the first of the Capitol sessions.
If you dig out your copy of ‘Round About Midnight, the first album by the Miles Davis Quintet after being signed to Columbia Records by producer George Avakian in 1957, you’ll find a description of the ‘Birth of the Cool’ nonet which was just receiving its overdue LP issue by competitor Capitol: “Miles embarked briefly on a medium-sized band venture which was a great success musically but one of the grandest failures the jazz nightclub scene has ever known. It was a frankly experimental group, with some of the most unusual arrangements ever offered by a jazz band up to that time, and its brass section was augmented by a French horn and a tuba. In order to eat, Miles went back to working with Parker and others on 52nd Street.”
Davis was directionless before forming the quintet featured on ‘Round About Midnight and four fantastic albums for Prestige Records (all actually recorded after he signed the Columbia contract). His resentment of the success of cool jazz on the west coast — often featuring former members of his ‘frankly experimental’ nonet — was famous and vitriolic, a recurring theme of his autobiography published in 1989.
Sadly, few of the successful west coast groups really went in the same direction as the ‘Birth of the Cool’ band (a rare exception being Mulligan’s short-lived but wonderful ‘ten-tette’). It was truly one of the most original and singular experiments in jazz and the recording are an absolute joy to listen to today because there’s still nothing else quite like them.
John Coltrane’s “Reverend King” was recorded in February 1966, just a few weeks after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his family had moved into their 1550 South Hamlin Avenue apartment in Chicago, to begin working on the Open Housing campaign.
The recording was released posthumously in late January 1968 on Cosmic Music, one of the first two LPs his label, Impulse Records, pulled from unissued recordings after Coltrane’s death. Eventually there would eight albums in all — plus many live recordings — found in the archives. Fans have mixed reactions to some of these recordings, but “Reverend King” is surely an excellent example of Coltrane’s last group at work. This band featured his wife, Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, Jimmy Garrison, Rashid Ali, and on “Reverend King” additional percussionists Ray Appleton and Ben Reilly.
At the time the recording was released on Cosmic Music, Reverend King had recently announced the Poor People’s Campaign, with a focus on pushing Congress to pass a economic bill of rights” for working people, as outlined in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
The campaign’s broad agenda was not received well by many of The Reverend King’s dearest supporters, notably Bayard Rustin. Five years earlier Rustin had been the primary logistical organizer of the 1963 march in Washington DC at which Reverend King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
After Reverend King’s assassination on April 4th, thousands of demonstrators established a symbolic shanty town at the National Mall where he had delivered this famous address. The encampment was called “Resurrection City” and remained for nearly six weeks.
“Reverend King” was not the first piece of music in which Coltrane expressed the inspiration he felt for the Civil Rights leader. He modeled one of his most moving songs, “Alabama,” on Reverend King’s eulogy for the four victims of the September 15, 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church.
Reverend King’s eulogy for Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Denise McNair was delivered three days later, and is a deeply moving and spiritual address, which does not shy from the political situation which led to the terrible terrorist attack. A funeral for the fourth girl, Carole Robertson, was held on a different date.
(we posted an alternate version of Coltrane’s “Alabama” here). There is no account of John Coltrane having met the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. or having been present to hear him speak. His views on politics and the Civil Rights movement we know mostly through the universalist spiritual liner notes he wrote for A Love Supreme and Meditations.
Thank to all reading. We hope you take an interest in these recordings because the goals of racial and economic equality outlined by Reverend King in these speeches and in his last book are still within our reach, if a little further down the road than they were on this day last year.
We also hope you stay warm on this snowy day here in Minneapolis and do not forget those around us who struggle for safety and shelter in this weather.
Oh, and your friendly neighborhood record shop will be open from 1-6pm on this national holiday.
Songs of Metric Man is one of the funkiest educational records we’ve ever heard. This 1976 album tells the story of Newton Joule, a mild-mannered substitute school teacher who works for M*O*M (Measures of Metrics) teaching America how to use the metric system. If he says the magic word “Kilometer!” he becomes Metric Man!
Metric Man fights against the Big O, who is the head of the Ounce Family, but he triumphs over his adversary and soon America was singing the praises of metric measurements.
The music is by Jimmy Vann and Richard Hieronymus and the lyrics by George Greer and Jimmy Vann. It was released by Educational Film Systems but is officially on Metric Records. Its track “I Weigh With Kilos” was sampled on a Ghostface Killah and Raekwon track.
It seems the only thing shared among the many responses to the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, is that they’re passionately held. Fans either love or hate the re-boot additions to the space saga, often it seems along generational lines, and this has invited a re-evaluation of George Lucas’ critically panned prequel trilogy from the early 00s. There seems to be a single line of agreement between all Star Wars fans, and that is that Lucas’ “special editions” which tweaked the three original films were poorly executed and entirely unwelcome.
You may ask what on Earth this has to do with records, or Roy Orbison in particular. Turns out science fiction movies are not the only media to receive and unwelcome change. Composers of Western classical music have long revisited their works to make revisions large and small — in one famous example Beethoven was inspired by the recently invented metronome to add tempo markings to his music which propels it to a remarkable pace. This was the subject of an episode of Radiolab shared here on the Hymies blog in 2013.
A 2010 album by the new wave pop band Squeeze faithfully recreated fourteen of the bands classic songs, adding to each a tiny alteration — they called it Spot the Difference. Another greatest hits collection, America’s History, altered hit tracks more surreptitiously, adding lush orchestration by producer George Martin without identifying the tracks as different from those which charted as singles.
And then there is this Roy Orbison collection from a Sun Records series. The album naturally opens with “Ooby Dooby,” the song which put Orbison on the musical map. The Sun single was already a re-recording of a song he recorded for the Je-Wel label with the Teen Kings, which was played over the phone to Sun founder Sam Phillips by a record store owner.
The original Sun singles are notorious for the noisy hiss on even the cleanest copies, as you can hear in the recording of our 45 below.
While the sound has been tidied up for The Sun Story Volume 4, there is also the addition of an overdubbed piano part, which we think is as welcome as Greedo shooting first in the Star Wars special edition.
Here’s our own copy of that original Sun single:
And here’s the same song from The Sun Story Volume 4 with the superfluous piano part. Other Orbison tracks have been overdubbed with backing vocals as well. “Ooby Dooby” is probably the most well-known of the songs Orbison recorded between 1956-58, although he also recorded the original version of his composition “Claudette” (widely heard as performed by the Everly Brothers) in the legendary studio.
Along with many other famous artists, Orbison soon left Sun Records. He struggled financially for a while, but soon found his voice, and his place on the pop chart, with a more crooning style on a series of successful singles for Monument Records. The singer of our favorite rockabilly track didn’t really want to be a rocker at all.
Before their exciting rise to television stardom, our friends The Cactus Blossoms held down Monday nights at the Turf Club with a residency that became the place for local fans of country music to connect. With a ‘who’s who’ band of top talent, honed a live set that they have since taken around the world.
They’re returning to their Turf Club Mondays, but only for this month. Charlie Parr and Andrew Broder are also taking on January residencies at the midway “remnant of the 40s.” They have special guests planned which includes ourselves, who will be back to DJ rockabilly and country singles on the 15th.
While their first two discs — including 2013’s Live at the Turf Club — are out of print and unlikely to return, fans can expect to hear some songs from them, as well as their debut LP for Red House Records, You’re Dreaming.
Here’s that performance of “Mississippi” from the new Twin Peaks series which won the duo countless new fans and accolades.