Birds and musicians, video


This video from the USA says about itself:

Birds Got Swing: A Musical Experiment

8 July 2014

What happens when a jazz composer challenges a vocal virtuoso to match the voices of some of her favorite birds? Serious fun. Join Grammy recognized artists Maria Schneider and Theo Bleckmann in their musical experiment to help us tune in to nature’s music—from the melodious to the downright weird. You’ll never think of a sparrow or a toilet plunger in the same way again.

Then explore our Birds Got Swing playlist from the Macaulay Library archive.

Theo’s music at http://theobleckmann.com.

Maria’s music at http://mariaschneider.com.

Brought to you by the All About Bird Biology team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Japanese protest against militarist government


This music video is called John Coltrane – Peace on Earth – Live in Japan.

It says about itself:

10 June 2012

John Coltrane – soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Alice Coltrane – piano
Pharaoh Sanders – alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Jimmy Garrison – bass
Rashied Ali – drums

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Japan: Thousands protest against military change

Monday 30th June 2014

THOUSANDS of people protested outside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office today in protest at his government’s intention of reinterpreting the constitution to allow the military a larger international role.

They demanded that the plan to allow the Japanese military to help defend other nations be scrapped.

The constitution renounces war and permits the use of arms only for Japanese self-defence and critics say that the change undermines the charter.

Beating drums and carrying placards and banners, the protesters demanded that Mr Abe resign, expressing outrage that the constitution could be changed by interpretation rather than by democratic process through a referendum.

Communist MP Yoshiki Yamashita accused the government of turning a deaf ear to the people’s voices.

“Can we really keep peace by sending young people to a distant battlefield? We must stop the cabinet decision,” he declared.

The Cabinet is expected to announce its decision tomorrow.

See also here.

Louis Armstrong in jazz history


This music video says about itself:

Louis Armstrong – Black And Blue. Live in Berlin 1965.

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

Satchmo at the Waldorf in New York: The life and times of jazz great Louis Armstrong

12 June 2014

The one-man show currently playing at the Westside Theatre in New York City, Satchmo at the Waldorf, makes effective use of hundreds of audio recordings by jazz great Louis Armstrong, one of the iconic figures in American musical history, to reveal something of the man behind the myth.

The audio tapes are now stored at an archive in Queens College, not far from Armstrong’s modest former home, which was opened about a decade ago as the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Playwright Terry Teachout—the theater critic for the Wall Street Journal and the author of a biography of Armstrong published five years ago—has used the tapes to fashion a lively and moving memoir of the great jazz genius, largely in his own words.

Using a simple but effective set, the play places Armstrong (played by John Douglas Thompson) in a dressing room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York a few months before his death in July 1971, about a month short of his 70th birthday. This was to be the last public performance for the man known universally as Satchmo, a shortened version of “satchelmouth,” a nickname referring to his large mouth.

As Armstrong reminisces, the main biographical details emerge: his birth in the notorious Storyville section of New Orleans—the “red-light” district, his mother 15 years old; his father’s abandonment of his family; Armstrong’s early years of abject poverty; and his arrival at the Colored Waifs’ Home for Boys before he reached the age of 12.

Alongside the deprivation and degrading conditions faced by Armstrong, there were also some brighter moments and opportunities. At the age of seven he did odd jobs for an immigrant Jewish family, the Karnofskys, who owned a small junk-hauling business. They would welcome the fatherless boy into their home and offer him meals with the family as well as encouragement, later lending him the money that enabled him to buy his first cornet. Afterward, in the unlikely circumstances of the Waifs’ Home, Armstrong received formal musical instruction and soon became the leader of the Home’s band.

All this and much more is covered in the 90-minute show, with Thompson in an excellent performance, which for the most part does not attempt to impersonate Armstrong so much as bring out the essence of his life, his emotions and his experiences.

Necessary drama and contrast are added with the introduction of two other characters, each also portrayed by Thompson. This theatrical technique, by no means unique in recent years, is extremely effective here, as swift lighting changes mesh with Thompson’s rapid shifts in style and delivery to depict the relationship between Armstrong and his long-time manager, Joe Glaser.

Making a briefer but still important appearance is Miles Davis (1926-1991), the trumpeter and musical genius a generation younger than Armstrong. Davis, one of the pioneers of bebop and later developments in jazz, also became known for his bitter denunciations of Armstrong as an Uncle Tom, “jumping around and grinning for the white man.”

The playwright allows these three main characters to speak for themselves. His enormous respect for Armstrong is unmistakable and understandable, but the man is also portrayed honestly, as he presented himself in his candid and at times angry and bitter reminiscences. The play begins with rueful comments such as “How’d I get so old?” Of course there is plenty of profanity from Armstrong, directed at himself as well as others.

Glaser, the tough-talking Jewish manager from Chicago (and one-time associate of gangster Al Capone) who guided Armstrong’s career for 40 years and died about 18 months before Armstrong, emerges as a ruthless businessman who nevertheless understood and respected Armstrong’s genius.

The New Orleans-born musician had found wide recognition for his work with King Oliver’s band in the early 1920s, and a few years later through the superlative recordings of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five or Hot Seven on Okeh Records. During the 1920s he worked with Fletcher Henderson, Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, among other extraordinary talents. It was Glaser who helped make Armstrong a wealthy man, however, after the musician turned in some desperation to him for help when Armstrong was threatened by Chicago gangsters.

Glaser is portrayed as savvy but cynical. He declares with some astonishment that Armstrong does not care about money, and “gives away $1,000 a week.” According to the manager, it is Armstrong’s renowned gravelly voice that made him famous, not the horn. “You’re like Jolson, or Sophie Tucker,” he says, and that is where the big money is.

Armstrong makes no apologies for showcasing his vocal abilities. Speaking of his much later rendition of “Hello Dolly,” he confides to his tape recorder, “Dolly ain’t much of a song, but I made it what it became. Dolly knocked the Beatles off the charts”—an event whose 50th anniversary was marked a month ago, on May 9.

Armstrong “replies,” however, as the lighting changes to shift the scene from Glaser to him, rejecting the idea that his horn was less important. His relationship with his horn has shaped his entire life, he declares. They are one and the same. “The horn done save me.”

Glaser, himself answerable to the mob and threatened by them with the exposure of a 1928 statutory rape charge that involved a 14-year-old girl, signed over 50 percent of the business to mob lawyer Sidney Korshak and left nothing to Armstrong. One of the strongest moments in the show comes when Armstrong, who left all the business dealings to Glaser and trusted him his whole life, bitterly notes that “I was the business, but he left nothing for me. I felt like he used me up and threw me out.”

Nor was Glaser free of racist prejudices, as evidenced in the play’s portrayal. Armstrong points out that in all their decades of the closest possible professional collaboration, he was never invited to Glaser’s home.

Another theme emerges in Armstrong’s resentment over the clashes between the rival generations of jazz musicians. “That Dizzy Gillespie, he didn’t treat me right,” he angrily declares. When Time magazine put Armstrong on its cover and Gillespie was asked for his reaction, he said, “us cats, we study,” and disparaged Armstrong for supposedly possessing only “soul.”

Armstrong, reminiscing, brags of his musical credentials and experience. He read music and his playing reflected real training. “I played country music with Johnny Cash,” he declares. “And the St. Louis Blues with Bernstein….I played classical too. Like Caruso. Caruso or the blues–soul is soul. I love that grand opera–love that Pagliaccio.”

There were undoubted tensions between the early jazz pioneers and big bands of the 1930s, on the one hand, and the young generation of musical innovators that introduced bebop. As Armstrong claims, “You want to please the people. You can’t get too far out in front like the goddamn beboppers did.”

As time passed, however, passions cooled and collaborations took place between Gillespie and Armstrong, although that is not referenced in the play.

Miles Davis introduces another controversial subject: the relationship between jazz musicians and the bitter struggle for racial equality that gathered steam in the post-World War II period.

Satchmo at the Waldorf gives Davis some eloquent words, while also highlighting Armstrong’s self-defense. Armstrong complains bitterly over being called an Uncle Tom, and is resentful over the fact that he lost much of his African-American audience in the last years of his career.

“I told off President Eisenhower over Little Rock,” says Armstrong. “I said Eisenhower ain’t got no guts. And that John Foster Dulles, he’s another mother–….I played down South with a mixed band. I said if you can’t stay [at a hotel] you don’t play.”

While Armstrong’s comments are heartfelt, he was also a man of his time, born barely 35 years after the end of the Civil War, and the product of a period when open resistance to Jim Crow segregation and the brutalization of African-Americans, particularly in the South, was rare.

A younger generation, influenced by wartime experiences and also decisively by the mass movement of industrial workers that built the CIO, was far more militant and inevitably criticized many of its elders. …

These issues cannot be looked at in isolation from their whole social and political context in the postwar period. This was a period of rising militancy among black workers and youth, and of combativity and confidence among trade unionists as a whole, then at the peak of their numbers as a percentage of the labor force. It was also the period, however, of the Cold War, the grip of the reactionary union bureaucracy and the witch-hunt against those who sought to fight Jim Crow on the basis of a class struggle socialist program. These conditions created circumstances in which nationalistic views at times were looked on as the alternative to “accomodationism.”

A significant feature of Satchmo at the Waldorf, and no doubt a conscious one, is the almost complete absence of Armstrong’s music. There is a solo from the classic “West End Blues” and a few other snippets, but nothing more substantial. Undoubtedly, the playwright felt anything more would detract from the story told by the tapes.

This may well be true, but this play is nevertheless a wonderful introduction to the life and times of Louis Armstrong, and those who want to experience the music of this genius do not have very far to look.

The author also recommends:

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (Gennett, April 5-6, 1923 Session)

West End Blues – Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, 1928

Bessie Smith – St. Louis Blues, 1925

Louis Armstrong, His Hot Five – Muskrat ramble

Greece, nazi massacre and jazz music


This video from Greece says about itself:

Kyriacos Charitou singing Andonis Vardis song “To tsigaro to Kommeno“.

By Chris Searle in Britain:

Gunter Baby Sommer, Savina Yannatou, Floros Floridis, Spilios Kastanis and Evgenios Voulgaris

Songs for Kommeno (Intakt CD190)

Tuesday 18 December 2012

“We shall make Kommeno a village of music, a grove of peace and culture.”

So declared Christos Kosmas, the mayor of Kommeno – the Greek village where in August 1943 soldiers of the occupying German Wehrmacht massacred 317 villagers including 97 children and 13 babies-in-arms.

The album Songs for Kommeno emerged from a project led by the German free jazz drummer Gunter Baby Sommer, born in Dresden also in 1943, whose long experience began as a pioneer improviser in the days of the German Democratic Republic and who has subsequently played with some of the great free jazz giants like Cecil Taylor and Wadada Leo Smith from the US and fellow Europeans such as Irene Schweizer, Evan Parker and Peter Brotzmann.

He affirms: “What I can give is music. This is why I decided to develop a music project which puts the focus on the name of the village Kommeno and the memory of the suffering of the victims.

“What I have taken in from my ties with jazz since its beginnings is that we have to position ourselves in regards to the events taking place in our world.”

In the album Sommer joins with four Greek musicians to create a brilliant and moving sequence of evocations of the 1943 events. Savina Yannatou is an Athens-born singer of theatre and dance who has sung with free improvisers like bassists Peter Kowald and Barry Guy for two decades. The oud virtuoso is Evgenios Voulgaris from Patras and the soprano saxophone and clarinet master is Floros Floridis from Thessaloniki. Spilios Kastanis, who plays in a trio with Sommer and Floridis, is the bassist from a village in Arcadia near Patras.

In 2008 Sommer played a concert in Kommeno, beginning with a piece struck entirely on tubular bells “without realising what kind of associations this would trigger … people rose from their seats, some of them started to cry, some of them clasped their necklaces with the cross. That moment was the starting point of a close relationship between the people of the village and me.

“I postponed my departure for a few days and I was asked to go to visit them in their houses. They talked about their experiences, spoke about the massacre, of their families, fathers, grandmothers. They gave me food and drink and I didn’t leave a single house without receiving a small gift.”

All this gave birth to Songs for Kommeno and the opening track, Tears, where the Greek strings of Kastanis and Voulgaris make sounds close to the blues which their German confrere said “describes the love and suffering in life … the resignation, and awakening grief and joy.” It is all there certainly and stroked with beauty and memory with Sommer’s rustling percussion.

As Floridis’s clarinet enters over Kastinis’s pulsating bowed bass these sonic tears could be shed in Louisiana, Cape Town, Gaza or Dhaka, so cosmic is their resonance.

Of the track called Andartes Sommer writes: “The Greek partisans called themselves Andartes. The introductory drum solo could stand for the situation of the hard-pressed Greek people.” Then and now, perhaps, as Sommer booms, crackles and crashes and Yannatou’s wordless voice wails over the strings.

The 18 minutes of Mirias Miroloi includes the voice of Maria Labri, one of the survivors of the massacre, and is begun by Kastanis’s howling bowed bass and Floridis’s mournful clarinet.

Sommer’s drumming is astonishing. He resorts to gong chimes as Maria’s chanting begins, along with Tibetan cymbals, metal sheets and bass drum until the free improvisation explodes from all musicians and Maria tells the story of the brave priest who was cut down by nazi guns as he tried to prevent the slaughter.

Arachthos has Sommer striking what sounds like a steel pan, and suddenly the sound of Trinidad travels to Greece, while Lullaby has Yannatou’s voice like that of a child falling towards sleep. It prefaces Children Song, where Yannatou and Floridis’s clarinet find a floating amalgam of sound over Kastanis’s plucked infant heartbeats.

The final track is Kommeno Today where the past is a springboard to now-times youth, dancing, grooving, setting their village beyond the horror of history.

“Jazz is also liberation from everything which unnaturally restricts and limits us” is Sommer’s dictum and it applies here in earfuls as it does all through this extraordinary album.

Full of the past and full of the future. And how many more people will remember Kommeno and its people?