Music

The jazz repertoire in action

August 11, 2009
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The jazz repertoire in action

It’s that time of year again and the Chicago Jazz Festival is right around the corner. While Chicago’s jazz scene is active year-round (check one of these calendars for some upcoming shows) the festival offers audiences a unique opportunity to see some of the best local talent playing together with some of the international stars of jazz. And whether performing hard-bop improvisations over standard tunes, or completely unrehearsed avant-garde jam sessions, Chicago jazz masters like Mwata Bowden or soon to be octogenarian Fred Anderson always make it seem easy, sparking awe in those of us who still remember struggling through “Basic Basie” in junior high band class. So how do they do it? In Robert R. Faulkner and Howard S. Becker’s new book “Do You Know … ?” the authors—both jazz musicians with decades of experience performing—present the view from the bandstand, revealing the array of skills necessary for working musicians to do their jobs. While learning songs from sheet music or by ear helps, the jobbing musician’s lexicon is dauntingly massive: hundreds of thousands of tunes from jazz classics and pop standards to more exotic fare. Since it is impossible for anyone to memorize all of these songs, Faulkner . . .

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Backstage at the revolution

July 14, 2009
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Backstage at the revolution

At the start of NPR’s Bastille Day-inspired story this morning about the music of the French Revolution, listeners were asked to “imagine it’s the year 1789 and you are waking up in Paris. You might hear an angry mob outside your window, about to storm the Bastille prison.” For those who wish to take this kind of mental journey back in time, Victoria Johnson’s Backstage at the Revolution zooms in from the birds-eye view to the street level, where some of that mob is busy searching for weapons—at the Paris Opera. The Opera, as Johnson tells it, began the Revolution at center stage when a part of the crowd on its way to the Bastille stopped at the opera house for the arms they thought would be stashed inside. The organization’s official caterer, Charles Mangin, unlocked the doors and, as he later wrote, “armed the citizens of the District of St. Martin des Champs with halbards, pikes, and sabres belonging to the Opera.” The long story of the Opera’s Revolutionary life neither begins nor ends, of course, on that fateful July 14. Johnson’s cultural history explains how, despite its reputation for despotism and wasteful extravagance, the Opera survived the Revolution . . .

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The perdurance of the Paris Opera

February 24, 2009
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The perdurance of the Paris Opera

Last Thursday’s Times Higher Education contains a review of Victoria Johnson’s Backstage at the Revolution: How the Royal Paris Opera Survived the End of the Old Regime in which reviewer Brian Vick praises the book for its “unique, insightful and colorful perspective on the French Revolution and the Paris Opera’s early history.” Spanning academic disciplines to combine “early modern French cultural history with the theory of organizations and entrepreneurship” Johnson provides a novel explanation for how the Paris Opera not only managed to escape destruction during the French Revolution, but was protected by French revolutionary officials, despite its long association with the royal court and ostentatious displays of aristocratic opulence. Exploring beyond the context of the revolution itself, Johnson’s book uncovers the roots of the Opera’s survival in its identity as a uniquely privileged icon of French culture—an identity established during its founding one hundred years earlier under Louis XIV. Thus, Vick concludes, more than just an account of the revolution, “the work provides a full and persuasive history of the early Paris Opera…at once scholarly and for the most part engagingly written, the book could be worth keeping in mind as reading matter the next time one is thinking . . .

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Patrick Burke on the Birth of Cool

October 15, 2008
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Patrick Burke on the Birth of Cool

Now that his Come In and Hear the Truth: Jazz and Race on 52nd Street is out, UCP author and Washington University professor Patrick Burke stopped by the studios of KWUR 90.3 FM to talk jazz on Kemper Art Waves, a bi-weekly radio show that connects St. Louis arts and visual culture to the Washington University community and beyond. The conversation focuses on the coolest of them all, Miles Davis, and features Professor Burke’s analysis of the term “cool.” Whether discussing St. Louis’s native son (Davis was born in Alton, Illinois, and later moved to East St. Louis) or the two-block stretch of 52nd Street in Manhattan that was the center of the jazz world in the mid-1930s and the late ’40s (as he does in his book), Professor Burke proves to be one cool cat himself. Check out the podcast of this session, and the next time you are in St. Louis, drop by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and say hello to former Press exhibits manager Kimberly Singer! . . .

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Rain Taxi reviews A Power Stronger than Itself

September 11, 2008
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Rain Taxi reviews A Power Stronger than Itself

The Fall 2008 print edition of the Rain Taxi Review of Books published a positive review of George E. Lewis’s new book A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Rain Taxi contributor W. C. Bamberger begins: Founded in 1965, the AACM … seeks to enable black composers and performers of experimental music to take control of its presentation and recording. For more than forty years the name and acronym have been appearing in the liner notes of recordings by The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Muhal Richard Abrams, and many others, but information about the group has always been rather hazy, a frustration that George E. Lewis’s impressive sociological-historical study more than remedies. Lewis, a trombonist and electronic musician, is also an AACM member and past president, and so brings an insider’s perspective to his analysis. He also conducted nearly 100 interviews with musicians and writers and presents their memories and views, some of them clashing, in hopes that “a useful story might be realized out of the many voices heard in this book, the maelstrom of heteroglossia in which we nervously tread water.” There is no picket fencing here: Lewis doesn’t utilize the high point or . . .

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Kelan Phil Cohran and Chicago’s mecca of the avant-garde

August 14, 2008
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Kelan Phil Cohran and Chicago’s mecca of the avant-garde

The latest edition of Time Out Chicago is running an article about Kelan Phil Cohran—whose notable work as a jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist once landed him a spot in Sun Ra’s Arkestra and, more recently, a central role in George E. Lewis’s new book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Lewis’s book is the definitive history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, an important and influential Chicago jazz collective which Cohran helped to found in 1965. But as Time Out‘s Jake Austen notes, Cohran not only played an important role in organizing the association and establishing Chicago as a mecca for avant-garde jazz, but continues to be a major force in the jazz scene today: After settling in Chicago in the mid-’50s, Cohran became an integral part of the South Side’s cultural fabric during the next half-century, forming the AACM and turning a Bronzeville movie house into the Afro-Arts Theater (home base of Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Oscar Brown Jr. and Gwendolyn Brooks, among others). He also became a fixture in public schools, teaching and demonstrating his musical ideas from 1965 until the ’90s.… But Cohran is best known for his stint . . .

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NPR reviews A Power Stronger Than Itself

July 30, 2008
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NPR reviews A Power Stronger Than Itself

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviewed George E. Lewis’s new book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music for the July 29 edition of NPR’s Fresh Air. In the review, Whitehead outlines the book’s captivating scholarly portrait of the Chicago avant-garde jazz collective known as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which, since its inception in 1965, has counted among its ranks internationally acclaimed artists such as Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Muhal Richard Abrams, and gained world wide recognition as one of the defining forces in the avant-garde jazz scene. Listen to the archived audio on the NPR website. Also, read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Two books in the TLS

July 9, 2008
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Two books in the TLS

The July 4 Times Literary Supplement ran an excellent review Evelyn Bloch-Dano’s Madame Proust: A Biography—an engaging account of the life of Jeanne Wiel, mother to Marcel Proust, and as Bloch-Dano demonstrates, a decisive influence on the great writer’s career. Touching on a myriad of ways in which Proust’s mother helped to mold her son into one of the nineteenth-century’s most famous novelists the review pays special attention to Proust’s mother as a German Jew living in France just before the Dreyfus affair, which revealed the strong undercurrents of antisemitism and injustice that permeated French culture and greatly affected the role Jeanne took in protecting her son from the social pressures and prejudices of the day. Ingrid Wassenar writes for the TLS: For Bloch-Dano the key to Jeanne is her status as an assimilated Jew. She is represented as a Third Republic Esther: “To save her people, Esther must hide her true origins without ever denying them.” In the Old Testament, Esther treads a fine line between obeying the Persian King Ahasuerus and placating her Israelite uncle, Mordecai. In similar ways Jeanne Weil did not truly belong to herself.… Madame Proust raises fascinating questions about the nature of maternal love . . .

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The epic history of the AACM

June 3, 2008
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The epic history of the AACM

The June issue of Downbeat Magazine is running a positive review of George Lewis’s new book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music—the definitive history of one of the most influential avant-garde jazz collectives in existence, the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Writing for Downbeat jazz critic Howard Mandel begins his review: George Lewis’s epic history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians sets a new standard for scholarly writing about the people who make Great Black Music, or any other kind. A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, interweaves interviews with 67 of Lewis’s AACM colleagues, select journalistic reports and theoretical writings with the perspective of a trusted insider across a societal portrait worthy of Tolstoy. Lewis dramatizes the story of independent, underfinanced, determined, sophisticated artists from a working-class minority subculture struggling to launch an esthetic movement that emphasizes individuality, continuous exploration and personal development in a world that could hardly care less. Downbeat magazine seems to be having some technical difficulties with their website, but for now you can read the full unedited version on Howard Mandel’s blog Jazz Beyond Jazz. Also read an excerpt . . .

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Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans

May 22, 2008
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Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans

Charles Hirsch’s new book Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans was reviewed yesterday in the Times-Picayune. Contributing writer Jason Berry begins by drawing a parallel between the early New Orleans jazz scene Hirsch brings to life in his book, and the city as we know it today: The music we now call jazz flowered at the dawn of the last century, a time of grinding poverty and struggle for black people, as Charles Hersch writes in a provocative new history, Subversive Sounds. A political scientist by training, Hersch illuminates how musicians of color drew from realities that few white people experienced in forging a form of dance music for people of both races. In that sense, Subversive Sounds is more than timely. The social realities of New Orleans today resemble the city in 1900: racial polarization beneath a blanket of poverty and uncertain leadership. A century ago tourism was in its infancy; today’s “cultural economy” markets an urban identity shaped by African-American traditions that ran deepest in downriver wards that were wrecked in the flooding of 2005, areas where tour buses show visitors the wonder of our Pompeii on the Mississippi. Read the full review . . .

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