Tag Archives: jazz

simple music worth noting

I found myself this evening dodging Chicago traffic on the way home and listening to an Eddie South recording from the late 1920s of By The Shores Of Lake Minnetonka, a popular tune from the era with Native American derivation. Chicago-based bandleader and violinist Eddie South was a child prodigy of classical violin who switched to performing jazz and popular music in the 1920s when racism foreclosed career options for him either with a major orchestra or on the solo circuit. South became arguably the strongest jazz violinist who has ever lived. In an era when it was not uncommon for violinists to front dance bands, South’s technique sparkles, outshining early jazz age violin contemporaries George Morrison, Erskine Tate, and Carroll Dickerson, and even second generation luminaries Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli.

While driving and listening, I was struck with the elegance of Eddie South’s performance on the recording. While South adorns the tune gracefully, the underlying musical idea is very simple.

It is a wonderful thing when a performer is able to reduce all possible complexity to its simple essence.

And not just great musicians, but all great artists, great thinkers, and great athletes possess this ability. They are able to take a wealth of experience and distill from it something very basic.

It is important it is to pay close attention to the seemingly simple, especially when offered by those with great experience.

A second example that came to mind as I was driving was composer JS Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, which contemporary jazz musician Jon Batiste recently pointed out in an interview were written for children. While hardly easy to play, they present a musical idea known as counterpoint in its most basic form. The big idea of counterpoint is that a single piece of music can be composed of two simultaneous voices that are mutually interdependent, without one being subordinate to the other. Simple — like a good human relationship.

Another image that flashed to mind was Einstein at the chalkboard, indicating his little formula E=MC2

In music, the simple ideas are often worth noting.

Proto Jazz

Library of Congress has a nice article on Ragtime that raises the fascinating topic of of polyrhythm as both African inspired but also found in the jigs and reels played by immigrants from the British Isles in the Appalachian regions of the US South. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035811

The wiki entry on Contradanze/Habanera is also a very interesting read, on the Afro-Cuban origins of proto-jazz styles. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contradanza

Another interesting musical form of proto jazz is the “Cakewalk”. Need to read more about this!

Popular Music at the World’s Columbian Exposition — 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago

The Library of Congress has a great description of the music scene at the World’s Fair. Dvorak was there conducting, Sousa was there leading his band. Will Marion Cook (later Duke Ellington’s mentor), and Joseph Douglass (grandson of Frederick Douglass) performed. Scott Joplin, then living and working in Chicago likely played ragtime in one or more of the numerous saloons and cafes along the outskirts of the fair.

25 million visitors from hundreds of countries soaked it all in, and carried the new popular musical styles home across the US and abroad.

More Ellington for cello

Here’s an arrangement for cello trio of Jungle Jamboree, a song on the Okeh Ellington 1927 – 1930 collection. It’s actually an Andy Razaf/ Fats Waller tune, but it is performed by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. I think this song stands out to me because it seems to combine elements of the collective improv style of traditional New Orleans jazz with improvised solos that are rich enough to stand on their own.

Black And Tan Fantasy for Cello Quartet

Here’s an arrangement for four cellos I did of the Duke Ellington / Bubber Miley composition Black And Tan Fantasy. I tried to faithfully transcribe all of the solos as played on the original 1927 first take, for Okeh Records. I think this tune is amazing because of the way it combines elements of classical, blues, and jazz.

All the planes that intersect

Last week was parent-teacher conferences at the Waldorf School, and I met with the parents of a second grade student in my general music class, both of whom are from Ethiopia. The father really wants to learn the Krar, a 5 string lyre-like instrument from the Ethiopian musical tradition. He was lamenting that he can’t find a teacher of the Krar in Chicago. I’ll keep an ear out, I told him.

A buddy of mine recently forwarded some wonderful mixes he’s made. Deep cuts, not the sorts of tunes one comes by easily. Mix003, an Ethio-jazz mix, starts with a tune called Tezeta. This is actually the name for a whole genre of Ethiopian jazz, somewhat similar to The Blues as a style in US music. I looked it up, and Tezeta means something like “reminiscence” or “nostalgia”. I asked the students’ parents if they happened to be familiar. Their eyes lit up and they told me that not only were they familiar, but Mulatu Astatke, the grandfather of Ethio-jazz and the arranger of this particular Tezeta, was playing a show in Chicago soon, did I know? I didn’t, and sadly it turns out the May show sold out quickly.

I did some research on the Krar, and it turns out that it, like the lyres we use in first and second grade music at Waldorf, is tuned to a major pentatonic scale. The planes begin to intersect.

Concurrently, I’ve been doing some blues improv with my cello students. We’re learning to solo over the 12-bar blues changes. I wrote a post at Chromawheelmusic about how Music Compass has helped me finally understand some things about why the minor pentatonic scale works so well over a major blues.

Returning to the mix I was forwarded, and this lovely tune Tezeta, I wanted to encourage some friends and family to build the major pentatonic shape on the Music Compass webapp, and experiment with jamming along with tune. Pentatonic scales are great for soloing as they seem to float easily over the music. It turns out that this Tezeta is in Eb, so forwarded the Major Pentatonic page from the soon-to-be-released Visual Guide to Music and suggested they try to build the pentatonic shape in Eb.

Eb Major Pentatonic

Meanwhile, my mom was in California this past week enjoying the beauty of life with some friends. She brought back a very sonorous windchime for my father, which he hung on the porch. He’s sent a couple of videos to the family Whatsapp thread because the label on the windchime asserts that it’s tuned in D pentatonic, and he’s quite puzzled. This source of his confusion? It sounds like there’s a Bb and an F in the chimes, which I’m sure he’s discovered by trying to jam along with the chimes on the piano. How he got the piano near the porch where the chimes are hanging I’m not sure I want to ask.

I asked him to send a video of him playing each chime in turn, which he did, and I gave video a close listen. It turns out that the windchimes are actually tuned to an Eb pentatonic scale, and thus will accompany Mulatu Astatke’s Tezeta perfectly.