Laura and Dave are celebrating their eleventh anniversary today!
“The Anniversary Waltz”
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The newspapers have been black and white and red all over in 2015, with today’s one of the most upsetting yet. A twenty-one year old man facing a felony charge was given a semiautomatic handgun, which he used to kill nine people at a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. The mass killing in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has shocked the nation, especially because it took place in a house of worship with a deep history of protecting the safety, freedom and dignity of all Americans.
It is hard not to think of the September 16, 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four little girls were killed in the terrorist attack, called “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity” by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Incidentally, two black teens were also killed by firearms in Birmingham that day, one by a police officer and one by a white teen returning from an anti-immigration rally.
We posted John Coltrane’s harrowing response, “Alabama,” earlier this year on the anniversary of the beginningof the Selma marches. Political response to the bombing was swift and substantial. Public outrage over the crime became a primary catalyst in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We only wish our leadership had the same sort of political courage today.
Another song we posted in response to current events this year was “Heaven Help Us All,” a song by an ex-Marine named Ron Miller, made famous by Stevie Wonder in 1970. It contains the lines, “Heaven help the boy who won’t reach twenty-one / Heaven help the man who gave that boy a gun.”
“Heaven Help Us All” by Stevie Wonder
And we don’t usually comment on politics here on the Hymie’s blog (after all what do we know about how to run the world when we hardly leave our neighborhood) but this line seemed strangely apt today. You may have read news accounts of Roof’s descent into isolation and racial hatred, and recall the twenty-one year old had been charged with felony narcotics possession in February. This, of course, would leave you to wonder how he could come to own a gun two months later, given the provision of the Brady Act which requires background checks before a firearm may be purchased. Here’s how: Roof received the Glock semiautomatic .44 handgun as a gift from his father, and South Carolina is one of the thirty-three states which do not require background checks for private transactions (Minnesota, in case you’re wondering, requires a permit which in turn requires a background check).
And, in addition to prohibiting felons and those charged with felonies from purchasing firearms, the Firearm Possession Prohibition Law, 18 USC § 922(g) & (n), makes it illegal to knowingly sell or give a weapon to an ineligible recipient. We can assume from this Mother Jones article about the attorney who represented Roof in the February case, that the killer’s father Ben Roof was aware his son faced a felony charge when he gave the boy the weapon in April. It’s hard to imaging he wasn’t also aware his son, unemployed and aimless, was hardly a safe candidate for firearm ownership. We hope the prosecutor in Lexington County, South Carolina will pursue charges against Ben Roof.
President Obama began his statement yesterday by saying, “I’ve had to make comments like this too many times.” It’s true: he has addressed the nation following a mass shooting more than a dozen times. After twenty children and six adults were killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, it seemed as though the Obama administration may have gathered the political courage to push for any changes to federal firearm regulations, but any efforts were doomed by Senate Democrats facing “red state” re-election campaigns in 2014.
A Pew Research poll found 85% in support of universal background checks. This is pretty common for polls on the subject. Additionally, Polls have shown strong majority support from gun owners, although the leadership of the NRA changed its position a few years ago to oppose universal background checks. All we know is that once again a person who would not have passed a background check came into possession of a semiautomatic handgun and the consequences were tragic.
“At some point,” the President continued in his address yesterday, “we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It is in our power to do something about it.”
“Gun” by Gil Scott-Heron
If only the leadership of his political party had the courage to act on its conviction, and would allow a vote on the legislation nearly all Americans support.
Billie Holiday’s classic Columbia recordings (1933-1941) are her very best. Producer John Hammond describes them as “unique in music” on this little bonus record. “I don’t believe we’ve ever gotten this kind of interplay in the years since Billie’s prime,” he continues. The record was included in promotional copies of God Bless the Child, a 1972 double-LP compilation produced by Columbia in response to the success of Lady Sings the Blues, a bio-pic starring Diana Ross. We rarely sell copies of the soundtrack, which hasn’t aged particularly well, but Billie Holiday records have a one or two day shelf-life around here.
“We ought to have a lot of fun, having this record listened to by people who only know Billie Holiday through the movie,” says Hammond at the end.
The movie was loosely based on Holiday’s autobiography. It was fairly successful and nominated for several Academy Awards, but panned by jazz musicians who performed with Holiday, and jazz fans in general. Ross’ meek performance re-casts Holiday as a mid-level pop singer — it’s remarkable, for instance, that neither Lester Young nor Teddy Wilson appear in the film, even though Holiday collaborated closely with each for years (bringing out, we think, some of their very best). Hammond, who produced her records for years, likewise is nowhere to be seen.
Then again, what can you expect from a Hollywood movie starring Diana Ross? At least the film revived interest in her original recordings. There are several collections from her Columbia discography besides the 1972 double LP. Their nine volume Quintessential Billie Holiday series is on the Columbia Jazz Masterpieces imprint (the ones with the blue borders) and the sound on the LPs is fantastic, as are the notes for each. There’s also an earlier three-album box set, sort of a ‘best of’ collection, called The Golden Years. All are worth the search.
“The Man I Love” recorded December 1939. The band features Buck Clayton and Harry Edison (trumpets), Earl Warren, Jack Washington and Lester Young (saxes), Joe Sullivan (piano) Freddie Greene (guitar), Walter Page (bass) and Jo Jones (drums).
“Time on my Hands” recorded June 1940. The band features Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Billy Brown, Joe Eldridge, Kermit Scott and Lester Young (saxes), Teddy Wilson (piano), Freddie Greene (guitar), Walter Page (bass) and JC Heard (drums).
Deep in the Hymie’s blog archives there’s a post about performers who had a tough “first day” on the job, as for instance Temptation Dennis Edwards, who was outshone by his predecessor, David Ruffin, at performances until Motown hired security to keep the ex-Temptation from literally stealing the spotlight.
We ended that post with Heaven and Hell, the first of the few Dio-era Black Sabbath albums. We consider Heaven and Hell a success and singled out “Neon Nights” as a pretty good song, but many regular readers disagreed. There’s never any consensus on Sabbath albums, is there?
The other records we chose all featured disappointing replacements like drummer Kenny Jones, who really can’t be blamed for the Who’s lousy Face Dances album though it’s awfully easy to see it that way. Today we thought we’d feature a successful replacement since there are some. In fact, we think of ourselves as exactly that, not being the original proprietors of your friendly neighborhood record shop. It’s hard to step into big shoes.
Today’s last-minute replacement, went on to become pretty darn famous himself, and his debut represents a truly historic moment: On Sunday November 14, 1943 twenty-five year old Leonard Bernstein was given a couple hours notice that he must replace the New York Philharmonic’s conductor, the legendary Bruno Walter, who had become ill.
Heard here is the beginning of the evening’s program, which opened with the “Star Spangled Banner” and Robert Schumann’s “Manfred” Overture (Op 115). The highlight of Bernstein’s debut was Don Quixote, one of the most complex and interesting of Strauss’ tone poems. Bernstein handled his assignment with class, and was well received by critics.
He went on, of course, to succeed Dimitri Mitropoulos as musical director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958, following in Walter’s footsteps in one of the most important positions in American music at that time. Bernstein’s eleven years with the Philharmonic included many fantastic recordings which are favorites of ours.
KUSC Radio in Los Angeles, California recorded the performance at Carnegie Hall from a cross-country line. The recording was preserved on 16-inch acetate discs (like the 16-inch records you may have noticed here in the record shop). These were transferred and released by the New York Philharmonic as an in-house souvenir in 1983, the double LP from which we took the recording of Bernstein’s debut.
Yesterday’s post focused on the first collaborations between jazz arranger Gil Evans and Miles Davis. Of course, the ‘Birth of the Cool’ sessions were just the beginning of a beautiful friendship, from which later came some of the best and most original jazz records of the sixties — including Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and others.
Davis’ progression towards the revolutionary early jazz fusion albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew is well-known, as is the inspiration he took from groups like Sly & the Family Stone. Less familiar is the potential collaboration between Gil Evans and Jimi Hendrix, whose music the Canadian arranger had first discovered at the encouragement of his wife. Hendrix and Evans had scheduled a meeting which never happened because of the guitarist’s untimely death in September 1970.
It’s hard to imagine what an album they may have made together would sound like — but it probably would have been awesome. Four years later Evans made an album featuring jazz arrangements of Hendrix’s songs. It’s a good record, but it will always be colored by a sense of “what if.”
In yesterday’s post about the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s groundbreaking digital recording of Appalachian Spring we mentioned that Aaron Copland himself had earlier conducted a recording of the original 13-piece arrangement of the ballet. We never loved that recording as much as the SPCO’s, but both are records we’d recommend in a heartbeat.
We also wrote disparagingly about the “Copland Conducts Copland” series but it really has less to do with the quality of the recordings than with what the period of time in his career represented. His transition traveling guest conductor was the result of his diminished inspiration as a composer. He is quoted, heartbreakingly, in Howard Pollack’s biography Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man, as saying “it was exactly as if someone had simply turned off a faucet.”
We find it sad to imagine an artist bound to his earliest works because of its enduring popularity, having never understood how for instance Bruce Springsteen can still drag “Born to Run” onto stage with any passion. Copland, in his later years, was often invited to conduct Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Billy the Kid. For good measure also The Red Pony and Fanfare for the Common Man at times, all fine works and famous for a reason.
His late-period twelve tone compositions like the Piano Fantasy are rarely performed in the country which declares him a favorite son, just as (let’s be honest here) nobody really wants to hear songs from the last decade’s worth of Bruce Springsteen albums. This isn’t a fate which befalls all composers or all rock stars. Richard Strauss, for instance, had something of a renaissance of creativity in his seventies and eighties, composing his Four Last Songs almost in anticipation of his own passing. And until this Frank Sinatra bullshit it seemed like Bob Dylan was as creative as ever (maybe that’s the idea — you never know with Dylan).
Anyways, every record collector in the world loves any kind of album insert, especially a bonus disc. And any music lover would enjoy hearing a favorite composer rehearse one of their most famous pieces. Columbia’s Masterworks division experimented with 7-inch inserts for a while, offering insights into the album by Leonard Bernstein or Bruno Walter, or in this case recordings of the rehearsals.
The little bonus record provides an interesting and enjoyable portrait of Copland, both as a composer and a conductor, as well as an opportunity to imagine what it would be like to revisit one’s own work decades later.