Having long rejoiced in the bands heard on the 2 glorious CDs Frozen brass ( Nepal, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Ghana, Surinam, Bolivia, Peru!), it’s high time for me to get a basic education on the brass bands of New Orleans. 
The early years After the Civil War and Emancipation, black civilian bands began to emerge, their style inspired by both European-style military bands and the ring shout of African slaves at the Sunday gatherings in Congo square. Organised by labor unions, social aid and pleasure clubs (the Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Association was founded as early as 1783), they would perform on parades for feast days like Mardi Gras, and play hymns and dirges on funeral processions.
By the early 20th century, new instruments, sounds, and styles were transforming the musical landscape. Early groups included the Excelsior (1879–1931) and Camelia bands. Perhaps most celebrated is
the Eureka brass band (wiki; YouTube topic) (1920–75); here’s a brief clip from 1951:
Excerpts from 1952 to 1963:
Some more footage:
and Westlawn dirge, 1961:
Since the 1960s By the early 1960s, despite concerns that the tradition was in decline, New Orleans brass bands enjoyed a renaissance, gaining wider celebrity through tourism, heritagification, and touring. As new generations were trained, the stylistic spectrum broadened. Among the more traditional groups:
William J. Schafer, Brass bands and New Orleans jazz (1977)
Richard Knowles, Fallen heroes: a history of New Orleans brass bands (1996), and
Mick Burns, Keeping the beat on the street: the New Orleans brass band renaissance (2006),
note e.g. the Hogan Archive, a CD series from Smithsonian Folkways (e.g. this), as well as articles here and here. This article leads to four videos (starting here) that make a succinct introduction, along with an outline of the style’s rhythmic foundations (NB this virtual exhibition, with great photos and audio reminiscences).
Do watch the fine documentary Buçuk [“The Half”] (Elmas Arus and Haluk Arus, 2010) on vimeo, an all-too-brief portrayal of the lives of three minority groups in Turkey: Rom around the Aegean, Thrace, and the Black Sea; Lom in the Armenian regions of Sivas, Erzincan, and Erzurum; and Dom in southeast Anatolia. *
Among scenes are the work of a hereditary family of circumcisers and dentists; Lom basket weaving; blacksmiths; waste recycling; training dancing bears.
The soundtrack is effective throughout. From 6.57 an exhilarating sequence of musicking among the Dom people segues from Gaziantep to Mardin—reminding me yet again of how much we lose in “refined” society” by shackling music acquisition to the classroom (cf. the Growing into music project, and flamenco).
From 22.15 another musical sequence shows a Rom municipal wind band in Bergama north of Izmir; the only instance I know of folk violin played with a mute; and a female wedding group (cf. Afghanistan). Music makes a crucial income:
If we did not have this job, we would have died of hunger—no farm, no land, no income.
Hutsul master Mykhailo Tafiychuk demonstrates the trombita.
The great strength of Maria Sonevytsky’s excellent Wild music is the way she binds urban popular genres closely with the constantly changing social and political life of Ukraine. While she shows how avtentyka and etnomuzyka performers remould “traditional” rural cultures, the latter are not her main topic; and indeed (typically?), such local musicking, submerged under glossy media representations, may seem to have become vestigial.
Still, as a rank outsider (as with my impertinent forays into many areas of world music, largely untrammelled by any knowledge of the subject) I’m prompted to explore online sites to seek some sonic soundmarks, and to suggest the kind of fieldwork practised by Sonevytsky’s mentors.
Given that most folk musicking is based in life-cycle and calendrical rituals, I’m sorry that few of the tracks below provide much social context—online clips often tend towards the fakeloric. But a home video like this, from a 2004 village wedding in Kolomyja county, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, has a good honest feeling (and talking of avtentyka, even the weather is authentic):
Here’s a solo kolomyjky song accompanied by fiddle at the summer solstice festival, also from Ivano-Frankivsk:
Some iconic instruments of the Hutsul people of the highlands in west Ukraine:
the long trembita horns (played over the wider Carpathian region) that gained fleeting celebrity with Ruslana’s winning Eurovision song in 2004 (see Wild music): here’s an introduction by the great Hutsul master Mykhailo Tafiychuk:
For early recordings of immigrant communities in New York and New Jersey (cf. the companion disc at the end of Folk traditions of Poland), here’s Ukrainian village music: historic recordings 1928-1933 (playlist):
And here’s a 1951 Folkways LP:
For the Crimean Tatars, here’s the first of three compilations on the emblematic qaytarma 7/8 dance (“traditional”, followed by “modern” and “retro” lists):
* * *
While folk musical activity changes constantly along with society (cf. Society and soundscape, and Musics lost and found), all this may remind us that it survives not merely in the commodified representations of urbanites; and that in Ukraine, to paraphrase its national anthem, rural culture is not dead yet.
Much as I love the Albert Hall, one might wish for a more intimate, or interactive, ambience for jazz. But it worked for Nubya Garcia’s recent Prom—wonderfully cohesive ensemble musicking, showcasing the thriving British jazz scene (shown on BBC4, now on i-Player).
Reception of the commander-in-chief of the Bulgarian army in Tsarigrad (Istanbul), 1917. Source.
The Janissary band is known in the West largely through the vogue it enjoyed in the classical era of WAM (“Typical!”). But I was curious to learn a little about its changing fortunes under Ottoman rule.
Within the military, the Janissaries were the standing army of the Sultan.  In the mid-17th century the explorer Evliya Çelebi, whose parents were attached to the Ottoman court, gave a good description of the mehter musicians at the time:
There are 300 artists in mehterhane-i Hümayun (the mehterhane of the palace) in Istanbul. These are quite precious and well-paid people. There is additionally a mehtertakımı of 40 people in Yedikule since there is a citadel. They are on duty three times a day, in other words they give three concerts, so that the public listens to Turkish military music. This is a law of Fatih. Moreover, there are 1,000 mehter artists in addition to them in Istanbul. Their bands are in Eyüp S, Kasımpaşa (kapdan-ı Deryalık, the centre of the Turkish Naval Forces), Galata, Tophane, Rumelihisarı, Beykoz, Anadoluhisarı, Üsküdar and Kız Kulesi. These mehter bands are on duty (i.e. give concerts) twice a day, at daybreak and the sunset hour.
Mehter musicians who became a member of the organisation of the imperial mehterhane in the 16th century were divided into two groups: official and unofficial mehter musicians. As part of the kapıkulu system, official mehter musicians served the palace and high-level Ottoman officials. Therefore, it is possible to claim that official mehter musicians were professional paid musicians of the state. Evliya Çelebi states that these musicians played music three times a day, mentioning the music they played prior to morning ezan (call to prayer) and following night ezan at Yedikule, Istanbul and the Demirkapı building built within the palace by Fatih Sultan Mehmed. Çelebi adds that some similar music was performed in thirteen towns [districts] of Istanbul that has famous towers such as the Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower) and Kız Kulesi (Maiden’s Tower). Moreover, it is known that there was a group of unofficial mehter musicians who were affiliated to mehterbaşı (head of the band) and who lived as a crowd in small towns surrounding Istanbul, even though they did not represent the Ottoman empire officially.
In successive revolts through the 18th and early 19th centuries the Janissaries struggled to maintain their privilege and power. In Osman’s dream, definitive tome on Ottoman history, Caroline Finkel documents their changing fortunes: the end of their domination after the 1651 revolt; resistance to modernisation in the 18th century; the 1807 rebellion against Selim III, until growing ill-discipline led to their elimination in the “Auspicious Incident” of 1826. 
The instrumentation of the mehter military band included kös and davul large drums, zurna shawms, naffir or boru natural trumpets, çevgan bells, zil cymbals, and (borrowed from Europe) triangle. In the classic format, davul, zurna, and trumpets were each played by nine musicians.
After the “Auspicious Incident”, in 1828 it was replaced by a European-style military band, among whose directors was Giuseppe Donizetti (1788–1856), older brother of the composer. I wonder what happened to all those zurna players—this is just the kind of dispersal from court to folk that Chinese scholars observe for the late imperial period (sources seem to suggest that such bands performed not just in Istanbul but for regional Janissary divisions).
As the Ottoman empire crumbled, from 1911 the earlier tradition was revived, but with its function more symbolic than practical, the band was again abolished in 1935. Whereas the new recording industry was just beginning to pay attention to the popular songs of the demi-monde, the mehter style was never going to be a commercial proposition. Still, one might suppose keen ethnographers would have documented it, as they were already doing elsewhere; I’ve been hoping to find some recordings from this period, but so far my enquiries have been in vain.
In 1952, leading up to the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Constaninople, the mehter band was resuscitated under the auspices of the Istanbul Military Museum, and in 1953 a unit was created within the Turkish Armed Forces.
Call Me Old-Fashioned (the traditional style was abolished in 1826!), but I still hanker after the “original” sound—here are a couple of recent recreations:
Of course, the zurna-davul combo, in smaller scale, has never disappeared from either urban or rural Turkey—as in China, where shawm-and-percussion bands also served the imperial courts and armies,
Cf. Frozen brass, and for links to posts on shawms around the world (China, Tibet, south Asia, the Middle East, north Africa, Europe), click here. For an engaging fictional fantasy, see The Janissary tree.
* * *
Returning to the classical era of WAM: you’d hardly know it, but that’s the kind of style, part of a wider fashion for Turquerie, that filtered down to Mozart and Beethoven before 1826, just as the Janissaries were in severe decline (see Eve R. Meyer, “Turquerie and eighteenth-century music”, Eighteenth-century studies 7.4, 1974). Vienna was a major forum for the East-West encounter.
One intriguing experiment was the Janissary pedal on the piano (listen here).  And even if it’s not quite “authentic”, I like this:
And as if Barcelona wasn’t cool enough already, since 2006 the bass player Joan Chamorro has been nurturing a wealth of talent in his Sant Andreu jazz band, originally based at the Escola Musical de Musica de Sant Andreu. I heartily concur with Gary Berman’s enthusiasm and his excellent introductions (e.g. here and here); in another post he introduces A film about kids andmusic, 2012 Ramon Tort’s beautiful record of a great period in the band’s life (English subtitles only on the DVD):
The band’s repertoire (not one that teenagers necessarily take to at first: cf. Punk in Madrid) is based on the classic Great American songbook, with an impressive sideline in bossa nova. The female singers seem to have a particular aptitude; still more remarkably, they are also fine instrumentalists. This is a true ensemble, producing generations in seamless succession. By contrast with their American models, isolated divas beset by racism and heroin, this is a nourishing, supportive environment, a family; immersing themselves in the style, they delight in taking turns accompanying each other’s solos as backing singers with sumptuous close harmony (surpassing the family jazz band in Cold comfort farm…).
From the wealth of glorious musicking on Chamorro’s YouTube channel, even my modest selection below is rather extensive. We might start with this track from 2010, with an 8-year-old Alba Armengou (to be featured in my second post) joining in with her seniors—including Andrea Motis, then 14:
The site includes tracks from the two La magia de la veu [The magic of the voice] albums so far.
Andrea Motis (trumpet)—here she is singing a blues in 2009, aged 13:
Four fabulous numbers from 2013—Meditaçao:
Moody’s Mood for love:
Chega de saudade:
and I fall in love too easily—just as moving as Chet:
In ensemble, here’s How high the moon, with the Fab Four together in 2017—Rita Payés, with Andrea Motis, Eva Fernández, and Magalí Datzira:
The singers featured on the second CD are the subject of another post…
While the production values of these videos are classy, I feel the point here is about young people learning to engage in musicking joyfully together. Whether or not such brilliant young performers go on to take up music as a profession, it’s inspiring to see how potential, and the spirit of ensemble, can be nurtured.
Sous aucun prétexte je ne veux Avoir de réflexes malheureux Il faut que tu m’ex——pliques un peu mieux Comment te dire adieu
Mon coeur de silex vite prend feu Ton coeur de Pyrex résiste au feu Je suis bien perplexe, je ne veux Me résoudre aux adieux
(Je sais bien qu’un ex——amour n’a pas de chance, ou si peu Mais pour moi un ex——plication voudrait mieux)
Sous aucun prétexte je ne veux Devant toi surex——poser mes yeux Derrière un Kleenex je saurais mieux Comment te dire adieu Comment te dire adieu
(Tu as mis à l’index nos nuits blanches, nos matins gris-bleu Mais pour moi une ex——plication vaudrait mieux)
Sous aucun prétexte je ne veux Devant toi surex—poser mes yeux Derrière un Kleenex je saurais mieux Comment te dire adieu Comment te dire adieu Comment te dire adieu
She sounds soooo cool, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hurting going on here. Instead, she finds inner strength through a flurry of insouciant wordplay on “ex“—not least Pyrex (a niche hommage to kitchenware in French chanson) and Kleenex. Sex is just a sibilant away….
Nor does she let up in her gorgeous sprechstimme interludes (above a change to triple metre on strings), stressing ex——amour and ex——plication (as in the sung ex——pliques and surex——poser) with an ecc——entric hiatus, negating the natural rhythm of speech—not so much a speech impediment as the kind of deliberate pause advocated by therapists to prepare the stammerer to approach the following syllable (especially plosives) with easy onset!
True, she would make the Paris phone directory sound irresistibly seductive (cf. the HP sauce label), but here her spoken sections further the dramatic effect, ex——punging, ex——orcising her ex——perience. They’re punctuated by a funky syncopated trumpet motif, courtesy of Caravelli, worthy of Hardy’s fellow-Parisian Messiaen—who three years previously had completed the Sept haïkaï…
Then there’s the extra visual frisson of veux, malheureux, auxadieux, mieux. One even hopes to hear her pronouncing the x there (I wonder how this works: do native French speakers somehow hear it in their heads?).
À propos, like many men, Monsieur Pyrex, the passionless, fire-resistant subject of this nonchalent lament, clearly needs his head ex——amining.
Françoise Hardy subtly subverts both the melodrama and the “gamine elfin waif” trope (see also Feminine endings). Put this song on the British school syllabus and there’ll soon be a legion of fluent young Francophiles…
Her German version of the song works well too; while the lyrics are less detached, they make a bit of an effort to keep the “ex” theme going:
Nach zwei Cognacsex bekamst du Mut Deine Abschiedstexte waren gut [Das Lied von der Erde for generation X?] Ratlos und perplex nur dachte ich Was mach ich ohne dich
Stets war mein Komplex du bist zu schön Charm hast du für sechs, ach was, für zehn ** Liebt denn so was exklusiv nur mich Was mach ich ohne dich
(Ob du daran denkst Wie einsam und verloren ich bin Nein, du hast schon längst Eine Andere im Sinn)
Gib mir keinen Extrakuss jetzt mehr Der nur noch Reflexbewegung wäre Ratlos und perplex nur frag ich mich Was mach ich ohne dich Was mach ich ohne dich
(All die Nächte mit dir Voll von Glück bis zum Morgengrauen Die und dich stahl mir Eine andere Frau)
Diese Dame X, die dich mir nimmt Fliegt auf deine Tricks wie ich, bestimmt Dann als Dame ex sagt sie wie ich Was mach ich ohne dich Was mach ich ohne dich
And she sings it in Italian, with yet another angle on the story:
Non voglio un pretesto per pietà Sai che io detesto falsità Sii un po’ più onesto quando vuoi Finirla fra di noi
Non restar perplesso ad inventar Scuse che del resto non van mai Oltre ad un modesto rendez-vous A cui non vieni più
(Io so bene che i castelli di carta Con un soffio van giù Non ne hai colpa tu)
Non voglio un pretesto per pietà Sai che io detesto falsità Dammi il fazzoletto quando vuoi Finirla fra di noi Finirla fra di noi
That first verse is good:
I don’t want an excuse for piety Know that I detest falsity Be a bit more honest when you want To finish it between us.
One might think Spanish regional languages would offer potential for the exes too. Anyway, the nuances of mood in these various versions are intriguing. Possibly a multilingual EU directive to Brexit Britain?
Françoise Hardy did a more melancholic version with her soul sister (twin?) Jane Birkin in 1976 (Comment lui dire adieu!):
Later Birkin gave an intense live arabesque rendition (1996/2002), with ex——emplary decorations on solo fiddle:
The 60s, eh?! Ex——traordinare! I am officially applying to be reincarnated as Serge Gainsbourg.
In 1905, Debussy’s inspiration for La mer was the sea at Eastbourne: “the sea unfurls itself with an utterly British correctness”, as he observed. * By 1930, it was the exotic acquatic vistas of Bognor that inspired Eric Coates to compose the “valse serenade” By the sleepy lagoon.
It’s been the theme tune of Desert island discs ever since the series began in 1942, soon becoming a comfy old sonic armchair. But like Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto and Also sprach Zarathustra, it’s been truncated into a soundbite, so one rarely gets to hear more than the opening. This seems to be the original version, with Eric Coates directing “the Symphony Orchestra” (a name that all the other symphony orchestras will be kicking themselves that they didn’t think up); it’s good to hear it in full at last— complete with modulation, and a whimsical middle section:
In 1940 Jack Lawrence made it into a song, which Coates loved. Here’s Richard Tauber, being Richard Tauber:
and Kate Smith—a name you don’t often hear nowadays, what with all these young upstarts like Dusty Springfield and Madonna:
Now then, here’s what I came in here for.
The piece soon became a favourite with American big bands. The Harry James arrangement (1942) opens, wonderfully, with a fleeting homage to the magical Lever du jour from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, and goes on to introduce some abrupt, evocative key shifts:
Other band versions, within a far more contained world than that of bebop, are also creative, with fine details—such as Jimmy King:
By way of a Chinese interlude, here’s his arrangement of Shanghai at night:
and for good measure, Zhou Xuan‘s 1946 original (see also A Shanghai Prom):
Meanwhile back at the sleepy lagoon, here’s Tommy Dorsey, with more key shifts:
and Glenn Miller:
Would it be sacrilegious for Desert island discs to ring the changes?
Tommy Potter, Charlie Parker, (Max Roach,) Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, August 1947.
After recent posts on Mingus and Trane, while I’m in a jazz mood:
Miles Davis‘s autobiography is brilliant anyway (cf. his thoughts on vibrato), but one of the most inspiring passages in all musical literature is his intoxicating account of how he arrived in New York in 1944 to track down his hero Charlie Parker, in a quest for enlightenment that has a long tradition in China…
Having briefly met Bird and Dizzy earlier in 1944 when they were playing in St Louis, at this stage Miles was still an innocent 18-year old. It was only in 1949 that he fell prey to the heroin lifestyle of his idol—due in large part to his depression on returning to the racism of the States after feeling respected on a great trip to Paris and a beautiful affair with Juliette Greco.
I arrived in New York City in September 1944, not in 1945 like a lot of jive writers who write about me say [YAY!]. It was almost the end of World War Two when I got there. A lot of young guys had gone off to fight the Germans and Japanese and some of them didn’t come back. I was lucky; the war was ending. There were a lot of soldiers in their uniforms all around New York. I do remember that,
I was 18 years old, wet behind the ears about some things, like women and drugs. But I was confident about my ability to play music, to play the trumpet, and I wasn’t scared about living in New York. Nonetheless, the city was an eye-opener for me, especially all the tall buildings, the noise, the cars, and all those motherfucking people, who seemed to be everywhere. The pace of New York was faster than anything I had ever seen in my life; I thought St Louis and Chicago were fast, but they weren’t anything like New York City. So that was the first thing I had to get used to, all the people. But getting around by subway was a gas, it was so fast. […]
I spent my first week in New York looking for Bird and Dizzy. Man, I went everywhere looking for them two cats, spent all my money and didn’t find them. I had to call back home and ask my father for some more money, which he sent me. I still was living clean, not smoking or drinking or using dope. I was just into my music and that was a total high for me. When school started at Juilliard, I would take the subway to 66th Street where the school was located. Right off the bat, I didn’t like what was happening at Juilliard. The shit they was talking about was too white for me. Plus, I was more interested in what was happening in the jazz scene; that’s the real reason I wanted to come to New York in the first place, to get into the jazz music scene that was happening around Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, and what was going on down on 52nd Street, which everyone in music called “The Street”. That’s what I was really in New York for, to suck up all I could from those scenes; Juilliard was only a smokescreen, a stopover, a pretense I used to put me close to being around Bird and Diz. […]
Then I was finally able to get in touch with Dizzy. I got his number and called him up. He remembered me and invited me over to his apartment on Seventh Avenue in Harlem. It was great to see him. But he hadn’t seen Bird, either, and didn’t know how or where to get in touch with him.
I kept looking for Bird. One night I found myself just sort of standing around in the doorway at the Three Deuces when the owner came up and asked me what I was doing there. I guess I looked young and innocent; I couldn’t even grow a moustache back then. Anyway, I told him I was looking for Bird and he told me he wasn’t there and that I had to be 18 to come in the club. I told him I was 18 and all I wanted to do was to find Bird. Then the dude start telling me what a fucked-up motherfucker Bird was, about him being a dope addict and all that kind of shit. He asked me where I was from and when I told him, he come telling me that I ought to go on back home. Then he called me “son”, a name I never liked, epsecially from some white motherfucker who I didn’t know. So I told him to go fuck himself and turned around and left. I already knew Bird had a bad heroin habit; he wasn’t telling me nothing new. […]
Miles meets Coleman Hawkins, who tells him, “My best advice to you is just finish your studies at Juilliard and forget Bird”.
Man, those first few weeks in New York were a motherfucker—looking for Bird, and trying to keep up with my studies. Then somebody told me that Bird had friends in Greenwich Village. I went down there to see if I could find him. I went to coffeehouses on Bleecker Street. Met artists, writers, and all these long-haired, bearded beatnik poets. I had never met no people like them in all my life. Going to the Village was an education for me. […]
One day I saw in the paper where Bird was scheduled to play in a jam session at a club called the Heatwave, in 145th Street in Harlem. I remember asking Bean [Coleman Hawkins] if he thought Bird would show up there, and Bean just kind of smiled that slick, sly smile of his and said, “I’ll bet Bird doesn’t even know if he’ll show up there or not.”
That night I went up to the Heatwave, a funky little club in a funky neighborhood. I had brought my horn just in case I did run into Bird—if he remembered me, he might let me sit in with him. Bird wasn’t there, but I met some other musicians, like Allan Eager, a white tenor player; Joe Guy, who played a great trumpet; and Tommy Potter, a bass player. I wasn’t looking for them so I didn’t pay them hardly no attention. I just found a seat and kept my eye fixed on the door, watching out for Bird. Man, I had been there almost all night waiting for Bird and he still hadn’t shown up. So I decided to go outside and catch a breath of fresh air. I was standing outside the club on the corner when I heard this voice from behind me say, “Hey, Miles! I heard you been looking for me!”
I turned around and there was Bird, looking badder than a motherfucker [the ultimate accolade—Ed.]. He was dressed in these baggy clothes that looked like he had been sleeping in them for days. His face was all puffed up and his eyes were swollen and red. But he was cool, with that hipness that he could have about him even when he was drunk or fucked up. Plus, he had that confidence that all people have about them when they know their shit is bad. But no matter how he looked, bad or near death, he still looked good to me that night after spending all that time trying to find him; I was just glad to see him standing there. And when he remembered where he had met me, I was the happiest motherfucker on earth.
I told him how hard it had been to find him and he just smiled and said that he moved around a lot. He took me into the Heatwave, where everybody greeted him like he was the king, which he was. And since I was with him and he had his arm around my shoulder, they treated me with a lot of respect, too. I didn’t play that first night. I just listened. And, man, I was amazed at how Bird changed the minute he put his horn in his mouth. Shit, he went from looking real down and out to having all this power and beauty just bursting out of him. It was amazing the transformation that took place once he started playing. He was 24 at the time, but when he wasn’t playing he looked older, especially off stage. But his whole appearance changed as soon as he put that horn in his mouth. He could play like a motherfucker even when he was almost falling-down drunk and nodding off behind heroin. Bird was something else.
Anyway, after I hooked up with him that night, I was around Bird all the time for the next several years.
Here’s one of several recordings from the Royal Roost, New York, in 1948:
Wind bands, and brass bands, continue to play a major role in the soundscape of many cultures around the world (cf. New Orleans brass bands; see also trumpet tag; for early wind bands in Europe, click here).
A splendid project by Rob Boonzajer Flaes, with Fred Gales, Ernst Heins, and Miranda van der Spek, resulted in 2 CDs issued on Pan records in 1993:
Frozen brass: Anthology of brass band music, #1: Asia
Frozen brass: Anthology of brass band music, #2: Africa and Latin America.
They’re magnificently ear-scouring. Both are on Spotify, and the Asia tracks are on a YouTube playlist:
The liner notes give perspectives:
In the times of colonialism, when European soldiers, traders, and missionaries set out to occupy large parts of other continents, they were accompanied by brass bands. The brass band stood for more than just instruments, uniforms, and songs. The martial appearance, the loudness of the instruments, the discipline of the musicians, and its mobility made it a proper symbol of the culture of the conquerors. Technological developments, strict training, rationality, and standardization had produced this ensemble: a band that could play anything in the temperate scale, everywhere, and always in time; a multi-functional ensemble suitable for emperors and military campaigns, enlightening the masses and evoking edifying religious feelings.
The brass band conquered the world as a well-devised formula, as a musical weapon, and a thunderous proof of Western military and religious superiority. Western habits and customs were forced upon the colonized; traditional music, dances, and instruments were forbidden; and local musicians were trained on brass instruments to perform in church, in school or at public events such as national holidays, royal birthdays, and visits of dignitaries. But of course sooner or later, someone discovered that a brass band could do more than merely reproduce Western classics, and enterprising musicians started to use the instruments to music a local audience would listen to, dance to, and—even more important—pay for.
The rigid and uniform colonial brass band came to terms with local music, leading to a wide variety of popular band traditions. Musical hybrids developed, not as part of any grand cultural tradition, but as an ingredient of local popular culture. Nowadays in many countries brass bands (or brass band derivatives) have become indispensable for weddings, circumcisions, processions, funerals, and even for communicating with spirits and inducing trance-like states.
Similar musical hybrids, for example the Bleh music from the Balkans, klezmer from the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, and—most famous of all—the development of jazz in New Orleans attracted the attention of the recording and writing industry. Outside Europe and North America, however, brass bands are only locally known.
The African, Asian, and Latin American brass bands are in many ways different from their western counterparts: the instruments may be worn out, or replaced by replicas; traditional drums may be added; and the uniforms can be anything from the local postman’s cast-offs to the most elaborate pieces of art. Marches and hymns are replaced by local tunes, mesmerizing rhythms, or decorous funeral music: tokens of the creativity of thousands of nameless plodders who made the brass band formula their musical way of living.
CD 1 contains tracks from Nepal, India, Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, the Moluccas, Sulawesi), and the Philippines; CD 2 has examples from Ghana, Surinam, Bolivia, and Peru. The notes give useful introduction to genres and bands.
For a taste, how about this Batak hymn from Sumatra, for the second day of a 1992 Protestant funeral:
Such tracks are not mere curiosities, but a window onto the soundscape of social life. Of course, audio recordings can only hint at the “red-hot sociality” of people interacting for communal activities—indeed, at the moment one misses social interaction altogether.
* * *
Chang Wenzhou’s big band plays for village funeral, Shaanbei 2001.
Brass bands also became common in major Chinese cities from the 1880s, introduced by such Westerners such as Robert Hart, and in the Republican era warlords used them for their own armies. Since the 1980s they have developed out of folk shawm bands (my many posts on which start here), such as in Shaanbei (see my Ritual and music of north China, volume 2: Shaanbei, ch.9, and DVD). For links to posts on shawms around the world (China, Tibet, south Asia, the Middle East, north Africa, Europe), click here.
I’m not exactly in the mood to celebrate glossy official showpieces for Chinese modernity, but I appreciated the TV broadcast of the recent Prom by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Long Yu.
One of the most readable accounts of Chinese music,
Richard Kraus, Pianos and politics in China (1989),
gives some leads to the chequered history of the orchestra. It originated in the Shanghai Public Band, founded back in 1879 by a German professor with six other European musicians. In 1907 it became the Shanghai Municipal Symphony Orchestra, and in 1919 they hired the Italian conductor Mario Paci (1878–1946; see also here), a graduate of the Paris Conservatoire; his orchestra included many White Russian and Italian musicians.
In 1922 the orchestra was renamed the Shanghai Municipal Council Symphony Orchestra. Under Japanese occupation it became the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra. Among the Jewish refugees from Nazism who swelled the city’s expat population from the mid-1930s were many musicians.
Some Chinese players were admitted from the late 1920s, but by 1938 there were still only four of them in the orchestra; paid less, they had no social interaction with the European musicians. The audiences too were mostly Caucasian.
Among the Russian musicians in Shanghai was the composer Alexander Tcherepnin, who promoted both Western and Chinese music in Shanghai and Beijing from 1934 to 1937. Bach’s B minor Masswas performed in Shanghai.
Paci was a leading light in the founding of the Shanghai Conservatoire in 1927. In 1935 he invited the composer Xian Xinghai to conduct the orchestra for a concert, but they refused to play under the baton of a Chinese. Paci was in charge of the orchestra from 1917 until 1942, when the orchestra had to disband, with many foreign musicians and conductors leaving. After the 1949 “Liberation” it was re-formed in 1950, becoming the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in 1956.
One of the protagonists of Kraus’s study is the pianist Fou Ts’ong (1934–2020), who studied with Paci from 1943. Seeking political asylum after the 1958 Great Leap, he made his home in London, where he became a great friend of my own violin teacher Hugh Maguire.
The orchestra inevitably suffered grievously as the Cultural Revolution exploded in 1966. Whereas Soviet orchestras had managed to maintain high standards, Chinese orchestras, even after the liberalizations from the late 1970s, took many years to develop.
I’m pretty sure most of the band would be bemused by my own tastes in musicking around Shanghai—Kunqu, folk opera, silk-and-bamboo, Daoist ritual… Meanwhile the more cosmopolitan aspect of musical life in swinging Shanghai before Liberation is covered in another fine book,
Andrew Jones, Yellow music: media culture and colonial modernity in the Chinese jazz age (2001),
It opens with a vignette on the African-American trumpeter Buck Clayton, leader of the Harlem Gentlemen in Shanghai on the eve of the Japanese occupation. Back in the USA he worked with Count Basie; Billie Holiday, no less, described him as “the prettiest cat I ever saw”.
The Harlem Gentlemen at the Canidrome ballroom.
Here you can watch a trailer for Marketus Presswood’s documentary Yellow Jazz, Black Music (2021(.
* * *
The Prom began with The five elements by Chen Qigang, (b.1951), a Messiaen pupil and one of the most meticulous and imaginative of Chinese composers. Eric Lu then played Mozart’s wonderful A major piano concerto.
And a suitable choice, reminding us of Shanghai’s Russian heritage, was Rachmaninoff’s final work, the Symphonic dances (1941). I’ve only been getting know the piece quite recently, but it already ranks with the 2nd symphony in my affections. Among noted recordings are those of Golovanov, Svetlanov, and Kondrashin; but given that the piece was composed in American exile, Mitropoulos’s 1942 version is a popular choice. Here’s Kondrashin with the Moscow Philharmonic in 1963:
Among the glories of the Symphonic dances is a solo part for alto sax—again suggesting Shanghai’s jazz background. As an encore, a smoochy and bombastic arrangement of Molihua (another perennial Chinese music cliché)—strangely endearing as a snapshot of a bygone age of Chinese symphonic writing—led into a stirring rendition of Hey Jude, with fine jazzy solos on sax and trumpet and an audience singalong (for the Beatles original, see Alan W. Pollack’s analysis; cf. A Beatles roundup).
Now I dream of a Shanghai Daoist ritual at the Proms…
Shawms of panche baja band, Nepal. For more images, see here.
Just as the common images of instrumental music in China are the conservatoire solos of erhu, pipa, and zheng, for south Asia many may think of solo genres like the sitar. However, in both of these vast regions the social soundscape is dominated by loud shawm and percussion groups, performing for ceremonial contexts in the open air, often on procession.
Alongside my interest in Chinese shawm bands, similar groups are common throughout the Islamic world and Europe (for links, click here).
And shawm and percussion bands are also common in south Asia; here I’ll give a little introduction to groups in Nepal and Kerala. As in China and elsewhere, one soon finds that they are among a varied cast of performers for ritual events. And not only do temple festivals require ritual specialists, minstrels, and so on, but we need to place the soundscape within the whole fabric of social life.
Nepal The Dutch scholar Arnold Bake (1899–1963) (see here, and here) did pioneering fieldwork in the 1930s and 50s—just as Robert van Gulik was exploring Chinese culture. And in 1969 Mireille Helffer released the LP Musician castes in Nepal.
Here I mainly cite the work of Carol Tingey:
Heartbeat of Nepal: the pancai baja (1990), and
Auspicious music in a changing society: the damāi musicians of Nepal ( 1994).
Citing Felix Hoerburger (1970):
Shawms, wherever they occur, from northwest Africa to the Balkans and down to southern Asia, are always played by outcasts of one sort or another: in the Balkan states and in Turkey only by gypsies; in Arabic countries by negroes; in Afghanistan by Jats (a kind of gypsy) or by the socially low members of the barber profession. Yet very important social tasks are associated with the playing of shawms.
she goes on,
In Ladakh, the shawm is played by an untouchable caste of carpenter-musicians, the mon; in Bihar, Orissa, and west Bengal by the ghasi leatherworkers; in south India by barber-musicians, and there are examples to be found throughout south Asia.
The panche baja ensemble is played by occupational damai tailor musicians for Hindu Nepali castes. Along with blacksmiths, tanners, shoemakers, and itinerant minstrels, they are low-class, outcasts—as in China. But they are indispensable, and serve an auspicious function, performing both for calendrical ceremonies of the devotional and agricultural year and for life-cycle rituals (notably weddings).
Throughout Nepal such bands are common in various versions; Tingey focuses on the west-central Gorkha area. I note that Nepal’s total population of 30 million is merely that of one small Chinese province.
The ensemble comprises shawms (sahanai, like shehnai), kettledrums, cymbals, and natural trumpets karnal and/or curved horns narsingha.
from Geneviève Dournon, “Organology”, in Helen Myers (ed.) Ethnomusicology: an introduction (The new Grove handbooks in music).
The trumpets and horns are played in pairs, or in even numbers, with a far more complex technique than in China. Whereas in China the two shawms play at the octave in heterophony, the south Asian bands tend towards unison. But on a blind tasting, so to speak, one might easily mistake many of the Nepali tracks for Chinese shawm bands.
Tingey gives detailed accounts of instrument-making and techniques. Many other features that she observes remind me of China. The repertoire is varied; and a more flexible use of more popular tunes from folk-song and film has been challenging the stricter sequences of ritual items. Tingey notes that “in the Gorkha area, during the course of a single generation, a whole repertoire has been lost”, giving instances of the rags formerly prescribed for each stage of a wedding. And she finds a growing perception of the bands as providing mere ostentation.
Still, Tingey details the complex observances of the ritual ensembles serving temples, more resilient to change. Meanwhile she pays attention to the varied soundscapes of social events, as in this list of recordings:
Nepal is also one focus in the outstanding research of Richard Widdess, such as his book
Dāphā: sacred singing in a south Asian city: music, performance and meaning in Bhaktapur, Nepal (2013).
For the shawm and percussion bands, you can find clips online, such as
and several playlists, such as
South India In Kerala (again, as in China)percussion ensembles (panchari melam, pandi melam) serving kshetram and kavu rituals, without the melodic component of shawms, are common; but shawms (kuzhal, or the long nadaswaram) and kombu curved horns may play a supplementary role.
South India was another site of Arnold Bake. And his 1938 fieldwork there was the subject of a 1984 restudy. Other notable work includes
Laurent Aubert, Les feux de la déesse: rituels villageois du Kerala (Inde du sud) (2004)
For films by Bake, Tingey, Killius et al., see here.
* * *
So this is my latest valiant attempt to embed shawm bands in the public consciousness, whatever that is… It’s also a reminder that musicking in south Asia (and everywhere) is far broader than the so-called “classical” traditions. Adjusting the imbalance in the representation of folk and elite cultures involves exploring both context and class. Just as for China, an initial focus on “music” soon reveals the importance of ritual in local communities, demanding that we broaden our scope to consider the variety of participants who create the “red-hot sociality” of such events.
Tom Service always makes a good guide (and do watch his link to Jakub Hrůša’s musical tour of Brno).
This is music that Janáček wanted ideally to be played by a military band like the one he’d heard a few years prior to the composition of Sinfonietta, and whose music he wrote down in the composing notebook he took everywhere with him. If you had to perform the Sinfonietta without a military ensemble, Janáček said (as it almost always is in concert halls these days), make sure the brass players sound as rough, brash, and bright as an army band.
On one hand, the jump-cuts and juxtapositions of Janáček’s music, the way he repeats little cells of music and then without warning moves to a new idea, means that you experience a continuous sense of surprise and suspense when you hear this piece. That kind of cinematic editing and shuffling of musical time seems to be the opposite of the conventional symphonic principle, substituting a logic of surreal colours, unpredictable textures and even less predictable timing for the development, argument, and discourse of proper symphonic behaviour.
There’s a host of spectacular recordings of the Sinfonietta. Since Charles Mackerras was a great champion of Janáček’s music, I was going to suggest his version (not least to remind you his wonderful anagram, Slasher M. Earcrack); but for some historical depth how about this one, with Czech performers—just after the war and Communist takeover, as musicians and audiences must have been anxiously awaiting life-changing measures wrought by their new leaders:
And here’s a 1961 recording with Karel Ančerl, who had survived Terezin and Auschwitz:
The Sinfonietta makes a glorious prelude to exploring the riches of Janáček’s music—operas, chamber music, and so on.
* * *
Please excuse me for returning to folk music, but it was a major inspiration for composers throughout central and east Europe, like Bartók. Along with pioneers like František Sušil and František Bartoš, Janáček collected Moravian folk culture keenly, long before Kundera dissected the way it was distorted under Communist rule.
Janáček collecting folksongs on 19th August 1906 in Strání.
As well as my overview of musical cultures of east Europe I introduced Polish folk music here; Czech and Slovak traditions are projects for another time. Many of those features that Service notes—the use of cells, jump-cuts, shuffling—must relate to Janáček’s background exploring the rhythms and textures of peasant life.
Again, the Rough Guide to world music makes a starting point, under “Czech and Slovak republics”. Janáček’s own recordings have been reissued on the CD
The oldest recordings of folk-singing from Moravia and Slovakia, 1909–1912 (Gnosis, Brno).
Barbara Krader, “Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia”, in Helen Myers (ed.), Ethnomusicology: historical and regional studies, pp.178–85
Magda Ferl Zelinská and Edward J.P. O’Connor, “Czech Republic and Slovakia”, in The Garland encylopedia of world music, vol.8: Europe.
As she suggests, this re-imagining of Ophelia’s monologue is enriched by the following 500 years of female experience. With her utterance at once fragile and resolute, the result is not bleak but luminous. And Hannigan is just mesmerizing on stage, embodying the role—one of the great singers (see also my Playlist of songs).
The cycle was also part of the CBSO Prom in 2016 (from 11.00), with the excellent Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducting:
At the Barbican the other day Let me tell you was sandwiched [Aww, no smorgasbord?—Ed.]* between two challenging symphonies, which S-Simon conducted from memory. He describes Sibelius 7 (1924, one of his last works before he devoted himself more single-mindedly to the bottle) as “almost like a scream” (cf. Mahler 10). (Sibelius makes a flimsy pretext to remind you of this post on Finno–Ugric musicking).
To harp (nyckelharpa? Another world fiddle for our list) on the folk angle, whereas other composers like Bartók approached their local traditions as outsiders, Nielsen came from a poor peasant background as a brass player and traditional fiddler on the island of Funen.
Getting to know both the music of Sibelius and Nielsen in my teens thanks to enterprising amateur orchestras, I must have been vaguely aware of Nordic gloom, but in my callow youth I suspect I heard “classical music” as a monolith, hardly discerning regional, temporal, or personal diversity.
The concert made an evening that was both disorienting and inspiring. Live performances by Barbara Hannigan are not to be missed.
* SJ: Not today, but I can offer you “pining for the Fjordiligis”.
Struggling to encompass all this? I know I am. While we inevitably specialize in particular topics, it’s important to build bridges. I guess it’s that time of year when another guide to my diverse posts may come in handy—this is worth reading in conjunction with the homepage and my roundup this time last year.
I’ve added more entries to many of the sidebar categories and tags mentioned in that summary. I’ve now subheaded many of the categories; it’d be useful for the tags too, but it seems I can’t do that on my current WP plan. Of course, many of these headings overlap—fruitfully.
To accompany the visit of the Zhihua temple group to the British Museum in April, I also did a roundup of sources on the temple in the wider context of ritual in Beijing and further afield, including several posts on this site.
I’ve posted some more introductions to Local ritual, including
I’ve given basic subheads to the language category (note this post on censorship), which also contains much drôlerie in both English and Chinese. Issues with speech and fluency (see stammering tag) continue to concern me, such as
Going to hear Bach every Sunday in church must have been like the Duke Ellington band having a 27-year residency at Ronnie Scott’s. And the congregation rarely heard the same piece twice—kind of “one-off performance”, as the Chinese might say.
All four orchestral suites are wonderful. In the 3rd suite—like Mahler’s Adagietto in the context of his 5th symphony—Bach’s Air deserves to be heard in context, after the exhilarating overture. For a change, here’s Ton Koopman with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (including some stars of the London scene) in 1989:
The 4th suite is astounding too:
Bill Evans would have loved those harmonies over a pedal (from 1.48/3.20, and again from 8.12):
And everyone gets in on the act—brass, woodwinds, strings, even the bassoon with its funky break (from 9.45). It beats me how anyone can possibly be expected to sit still through pieces like these.
* * *
I only noticed recently that the overture of the 4th suite is a version of the opening chorus of Cantata BWV 110, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, which Bach unleashed on his Leipzig congregation on Christmas Day 1725, in both the Nikolaikirche and the Thomaskirche (cf. the Christmas Oratorio).
the piece emerges new-minted, alive with unexpected sonorities and a marvellous rendition of laughter-in-music, so different from the stiff, earnest way it is often played as orchestral music. When they are suddenly doubled, as here, by voices singing of laughter, instrumentalists have to re-think familiar lines and phrasing. Reciprocally, the singers need to adjust to the instrumental conventions of a French overture.
Unser Mund sei voll Lachens May our mouths be full of laughter
und unsre Zunge voll Rühmens. and our tongues full of praise. Denn der Herr hat Großes an uns getan. For the Lord has done great things for us.
And there’s another amazing solo for oboe d’amore (from 10.41).
The cantatas are an inexhaustible treasury.
* * *
I don’t think the Leipzig congregation would have heard the orchestral suite—it’s not even clear if Bach had written it by then. Nor did they have the luxury of hearing it on CD or online: they were lucky to hear any of his works more than once.
Still, they were blessed beyond measure. And just imagine being in Bach’s Big Band, playing dazzling new music every week…
Sure—their ears, teeth, bodies, sanitary arrangements, and whole life experiences were entirely different to ours when we perform or listen to Bach’s music (see here, under “Ears, eyes, minds, bodies”). They hadn’t heard Duke Ellington or the Rite of Spring; and rather than having to take taxis to Heathrow for an early start or hurriedly checking into a hotel before trying to find a quick pre-rehearsal snack—they were there all the time, in a provincial town still recovering from traumatic warfare. All of which makes the constant aural bombardment from their kappellmeister–bandleader even more remarkable.
As this blog features a growing number of posts on trumpeters (both jazz and WAM), wind bands, and brass bands, here’s a handy list. I’ve awarded trumpet its own tag in the sidebar. My usual proviso: all these genres belong within changing social life!
Yangjiagou band, 1999
The list might begin with shawm bands (for links, click here)—I won’t try and index all the Chinese shengguan wind ensembles here, but they’re a constant theme of posts under Local ritual, for instance. Both types feature in the playlist in the sidebar, with commentary here.
In its social message—the threat to communities and traditional culture from a repressive government—the 1996 film Brassed off suggests certain parallels with China (among many posts, see e.g. here). It’s permeated by some overwhelming brass-band playing—the soundtrack by the amazing Grimethorpe Colliery Band. A couple of highlights:
The “Concerto di Orange-juice”:
and, as the climax, the William Tell overture—just exhilarating:
Apart from the playing, it’s great filming too—just the way to turn people on to great music.
For a handy list of posts on trumpets, wind and brass bands, see here. See also trumpet tag.
As we saw in my previous posts, the soul of flamenco is cante jondo (“deep singing”). It may be nourished by the toques of the guitar, and may lead into dancing; but at its heart is anguished solo singing and palmas. Besides Washabaugh’s social analysis, I’m also much taken by
Timothy Mitchell, Flamenco deep song(1994).
While recognizing the power of cante jondo, Mitchell takes a refreshingly detached, even jaundiced view:
A decoding of flamenco from a psychohistorical perspective will reveal self-pity, posturing machismo, hypersensitive adolescent egos, and a defensive flight into narcissistic ethnicity.
Again, as a counterpoint to the wholesome family revamp subtly promoted in the Rito series, Mitchell shows that the moods and musical techniques of cante jondo
are inseparable from alcohol abuse. […] Flamenco creativity sought to recover Catholicism’s lost catharsis in saloons, bordellos, and prisons. At the behest of playboy-philanthropists, the haunting cries and brash guitars of a stigmatized underclass were harnessed to explore every aspect of co-dependency. To be worthy of deep song, male performers needed to get their hearts trampled by some dark-skinned dancer; female singers needed to be abandoned or battered by their men. Flamenco artistry as we know it today makes sublime psychodrama out of alcoholism, fatalism, masochism, and ethnic rivalry.
Music can convey the most profound expressions of anguish, from the arias of the Bach Passions to the hymns of mourning of the Li family Daoists. Cante jondo has long entranced outsiders, from Lorca and Falla’s 1922 festival to the films of Carlos Saura. But Mitchell confronts the crucial question:
Why does flamenco deep song appeal to people who never shared the traumas that precipitated its birth?
He reflects (evoking jazz, and reminding me of China—I plead guilty on all counts),
All forms of human expressive culture may be intrinsically or potentially artistic. In practice only a small range of creative endeavours come to be designated as Art with a capital A. […] A given expressive behaviour becomes art because the right people rally to redefine it as such in accordance with their needs at a given historical moment and usually in conscious opposition to some other group’s standards. Forms of creativity that originated with the “wrong” people can always be redeemed (and thereby transformed) by talking or writing about them in ways associated with established genres.
He is critical of scholars like Demófilo in the 1880s:
With his selective compassion, unabashed elitism, neoromantic primitivism, spurious notions of purity and contamination, classificatory compulsion, lack of sociological acumen, nostalgia, and racialist aesthetics, he paved the way for numerous 20th-century flamencologists.
As Mitchell observes, the performance style
can strike even the most open-minded as brazen, overwrought, tortured, or histrionic. […] Male-female relationships […] contained considerable amounts of codependency, sado-masochism, self-destruction, and (in compensation) large amounts of transgressive ecstasy.
He gives a nice parallel with reactions to the waltz from an 1816 article in the Times:
So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now it is attempted to be forced on respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing their daughter to so fatal a contagion.
Still, he concludes:
The flamenco style is not only about trauma but about the quest to recover from trauma; it is about distress and discharge too; it is about taking pain, expressing it, playing with it, and possibly working through it.
* * *
Near the base of the flamenco treetrunk (for full tree, see here), the cluster of tonás (cantesa palo seco,solo songs without guitar, often even without palmas) includes the unaccompanied saeta ritual songs, as well as no-less-intense secular deblas (“goddess”), carceleras (jailhouse songs; there were even penitential jailhouse saeta), martinetes, and seguiriyas.
Melodically, in their narrow range and in the frequent cadences on do, most of these songs show a contrast with the common minor descending phrygian tetrachord of other flamenco palos.
Saetas I’ve already featured the saeta solo ritual songs in honour of the Virgin as her statue passes—alternating with percussion, and wind ensemble with piercing trumpets. Mitchell’s discussion is illuminating as ever (pp.100–103, 137–42).
Here are some more examples, starting with Niña de los Peines in 1920:
Tonás This early programme in the Rito series, clearly explained as ever, includes searing instances of martinetes, as well as rare deblas and carceleras, from Juan Talega, Antonio Mairena, Aguejetas with Tio Borrico, Tia Anica de la Piriñaca, Rafael Romero, and José Menese:
Martinetes These stark solo songs are literallyforged—in forges, with hammer and anvil. Here’s Agujetas el viejo:
And his son:
Ian Biddle (ch.2, pp.31–6, and ch.3, pp.16–18) analyses in detail the martinete “A la puertecita de la fragua” sung by Pepe El Culata:
A la puertecita de la fraguaAt the little door of the forge tú a mí no me vengas a buscar don’t come looking for me con el fango a las roillas with the mud on your hem, y las enagüitas remangás. rolling up your petticoat.
Vinieron y me dijeron They came and told me che tú habías hablao that you had been saying muy mal de mí bad things about me y mira mi buen pensamiento: and look at my good thoughts: yo siempre pensando en ti. I am always thinking about you.
Ma fin tenga la persona May that person have a bad end que anda llevando y trayendo who goes about gossiping, poniéndole mal corazón giving a bad heart a aquel que lo tiene bueno. to the one who is good.
La maresita de toítos los gitanos, The mother of all the gitanos, toítos venian al tren. they were all coming by train. La mía como estaba malita Mine, being so bad no me ha poio venir a ver. could not come to see me.
La lunita crece y mengua The moon waxes and wanes y yo me mantengo en mi ser, and I remain in my own being yo soy un cuadro de triste I am a picture of sadness pegaíto a la paré. I will stop being stuck to her.
Seguiriyas Most often heard among the intense solo tonas, seguiriyas—like soleares and bulerías— have an underlying 12-beat metre, though it can take some concentration to detect it; as ever, the studioflamenco site is useful.
Especially in these more intense slow songs, non-lexical sounds are important, like the opening “ay“—”a knife-at-the-throat sound, a chain, a parched throat, a wound”, as Hecht describes it. Another integral aspect of the flamenco event is the jaleo—of which palmas are part—exclamations of encouragement, way beyond the familiar “¡Olé!” (cf. Indian raga).
The Rito series dedicates two programmes to seguiriyas. Framed as ever by perceptive comments, this first programme (based around Cádiz) opens with a precious sequence from Tia Anica de la Piriñaca, and concludes with brilliant seguiriyas from Aguejeta and Terremoto de Jerez:
The second programme is centred on Seville. Again it opens with the venerable cantaorJuan Talega, leading on to Chocolate, Louis de Cabellero, and Antonio Mairena:
Oh all right then, here’s the programme dedicated to Terremoto (with soleares from 8.00, a fantastic bulerías from 17.14, and siguiriyas from 24.20):
And more from Agujeta, father and son—with soleares (4.59), romance y alboreá (10.05), bulerías por soleá (21.07), culminating in a mesmerizing seguiriya (27.28)—how intently they listen!
And a complete concert from 1996:
And we just have to include a seguiriyas from Camarón de la Isla:
The Rito series captured Camarón’s early career. Two excerpts:
Near the beginning of the second excerpt (from 1.37) is a wonderful bulería in which Camarón follows his mother:
Paul Hecht, The wind cried: an American discovery of the world of flamenco (1993)
is a fine ethnography of flamenco social life in the 1960s; and it also contains plentiful translations of coplas verses (or letras, lyrics).
Just a few examples:
A las rejas de la cárcel Don’t come and weep no me vengas a llorar at the jailhouse gate; ya que no me quitas pena since you can’t ease my sorrow, no me la vengas a dar. don’t darken my fate.
Cuando yo me muera When I die, te pido encargo in you I confide: que con las trenzas with the braids de tu pelo negro of your black hair me amarren las manos. let my hands be tied.
The ¿Y a quién le voy a contar yo mis peñas? genre includes some intense gems of oedipal Catholic masochism (maudlin Andalucian haiku?)—one from Agujetas ticks all the boxes:
Que a nadie se las puedo contar I’ve got no-one to tell my woes Yo tengo a mi mare loca My mother is crazy La llevan pa un hospital They’re taking her to a hospital.
* * *
There’s a whole treasury of flamenco videos to explore on YouTube. The depth and artistry of flamenco never cease to amaze me—if we think we know European culture, or even flamenco, all this makes an ear-scouring awakening.
My brilliant friendPaola Zannoni (who gave me such a wonderful image for that Bach cello prelude), far more “deep in the dream” of Chet Baker than I, has given me her own playlist. She and her brother Fabio inherited their passion for Chet from their father Enzo (1925–98, R.I.P.), an avid participant in the modest yet passionate jazz scene in Verona.
In March 1959 Chet was busted again in Harlem, spending four months in Rikers Island gaol. Soon after his release he was touring in Europe, and in October he recorded the iconic Chet Baker in Milan. Not long after Paola was born, her father went to see Chet’s new film Urlatorialla sbarra (see below) in Milan, hearing him live there too.
As Paola notes, 1950s’ Milan was still a world of factory workers, the Fiat 1100, merry-go-rounds, and suburban dance bands. Local jazzers were keen, but way behind the USA. Franco Cerri recalled,
We should go back to the end of the war in 1945. We were playing for Radio Tevere, which had to sound like a Roman programme even though it was made in Milan—there was fascist propaganda at one end of the studio, with our group Smeraldo at the other.
This was the world onto which exploded the divine druggie Chet—so “cool” that deep down he envied Cerri his little apartment and his Fiat 1100!
In 1975, when Paola was 17, she went to hear Chet at the Umbria jazz festival. Later she played recorder and cello in the early music scene in north Italy, going on to devote herself to jazz, teaching, and her funky string quartet, always exploring. In 2007 she wrote a thesis on Chet in Milan. Paola’s brother Fabio, a flautist, is also active as a writer on music and organizer of contemporary music in Verona.
* * *
Of all Chet’s disciples around the world, it was surely in Italy that l’angelomaledetto was most idolized.
Whereas Miles fell in love with Europe (particularly Paris and Juliette Greco), for Chet Europe seems never to have been much more than a useful source of drugs. His tours read mainly as a squalid litany of dodgy dealers, dope busts, and duplicity. But it’s worth noting the many fine local jazzers who worked with him on his European tours—in what were often trying circumstances.
While I’m adjusting our focus on the American scene, it’s worth mentioning jazz behind the Iron Curtain, like Tomasz Stańko in Poland—where the counter-cultural message of jazz felt still more significant (cf. punk in the GDR).
Chet in Italy Chet’s first European tour began inauspiciously in Milan over New Year 1955, followed by Perugia, Rome, and Genoa, ending in Germany.
By 1959 audiences were drawn to l‘angelo like a moth to a flame. He took a role in the film Urlatori alla sbarra:
For all his romantic image, Chet was truculent and prone to tantrums, as he smuggled in pills, checked briefly into rehab, blagging dodgy prescriptions, and alienating his most devoted followers. He had a devoted following in Lucca, home of Puccini. He was finally busted there in summer 1960, languishing [as you do—Ed.] in jail until his trial in April 1961, where he received a rather light sentence.
Another romantic image now emerged as the tones of his angelic trumpet wafted from behind the prison walls. He was released early in December, even managing not to get deported. He resumed touring; briefly drug-free after his release, he soon resumed the habit. Meanwhile other jazzers kept dying (Deep in a dream, pp.153–83—sordid and depressing as the book is, it’s brilliant, do read it!).
He was welcomed back as a returning hero for a gig in Pescara in 1967 (Deep in a dream, pp.252–3):
The Rimbaud of jazz, often defeated but every time rising … the sweet and fragile boy grown in the slums of New York [sic!] … a bird whose wings are always broken, the defenseless victim of every violence in the wild city.
Always running from the law, he spent summer 1976 in Rome, doing another troubled gig there in 1978. Through the 1980s he did further tours of Italy for adoring audiences, spreading chaos all around his circle. His last gigs in Rome in 1988 were punctuated by street busking to pay off his dealer. By May he lay dead on an Amsterdam pavement; the only mystery about his death was its circumstances.
* * *
But again, utterly dysfunctional as Chet’s life was, the tracks are mesmerizing. For Paola’s thesis she interviewed Renato Sellani and Franco Cerri, who appeared with Chet Baker in Milan in 1959. This is their version of My old flame:
Indian Summer (Milan, again from 1959)—Paola: with a long, sweet, elegant solo that I LOVE)
Well you needn’t (a boppy version of the famous Monk standard):
These foolish things (whose lyrics Eric Maschwitz wrote as a love song to Anna May Wong!), with René Thomas on guitar:
Here I can’t resist playing two versions by Billie Holiday too—first from 1936, before the literal shot in the arm of the 1940s:
and then from 1952:
Back to Paola’s playlist—Autumn Leaves, with Paul Desmond on sax:
There will never be another you (Chet’s first solo here is a classic study piece for jazz trumpeters):
Ballata in forma di blues (Rome, 1962):
Paola’s selection is based on Chet’s genius as a trumpeter, but she also led me to another searingly intense sung ballad live on video, Almost Blue (also featured in the Let’s get lost film). While he was eminently capable of sounding befuddled and morose, this is on a par with his heart-rending My funny Valentine. His cover of an Elvis Costello song inspired by Chet’s The thrill is gone, it’s a late version from 1987, not long before his death:
There’s another, longer, version in his amazing Tokyo set, also from 1987:
If only I could have shared all these ballads with Natasha.
Listening to these late gigs, perhaps I was wrong to conclude:
Whereas most of the jazz greats, through their similar struggles with addiction, were constantly learning, honing their craft, Chet seems to have been gifted with his dreamy cool style very early, and then traded on his angelic image (largely for substances) for the rest of his surprisingly long life, settling for melancholy—without the constant explorations of the other great jazzers.
Even with those standards that he’d been playing year in, year out since the 1950s, he couldn’t help exploring, both in melodic invention and in the depth of his pain.
I often observe that notation is overestimated; still, many jazzers were obsessed with chord sequences, and often consulted scores. There’s discussion (e.g. here) of how familiar Chet was with theory and notation. As Gerry Mulligan observed, “Chet can read, but he doesn’t have to.” Anyway, his sense of harmonic melody was largely aural.
Chet appeared less often in England, but late in his life he was in fine form for a week at The Canteen in London in March 1983. His 1986 appearance at Ronnie Scotts, with Elvis Costello, was also great:
To think that I could have been there… 1986 was my first stay in China, but I now add this to the list of great gigs that I kick myself for missing—Amy Winehouse, Tennstedt doing Mahler, and so on.
Lastly, another of my favourite ballads, Time after time—the 1954 recording:
To follow Fats Navarro, Chet Baker (here and here) and Clifford Brown, it’s worth adding Lee Morgan(1938–72)to our list of great jazz trumpeters (NB also trumpet tag). He was shot dead by his wife at Slug’s Saloon when he was only 33, before he could finish himself off with heroin—on which, do listen to this fine programme on the Lexington Narcotics Farm.
First, to pursue the theme of lineages, I remember Clifford (1958):
Still with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, among stiff competition, here he is with Wayne Shorter playing A night in Tunisia in 1959 (even the percussion intro is amazing):
Another ballad, from 1958:
And just listen to him with Coltrane in Blue train (1957)!
hosted by the engaging Clarke Peters, introduces a treasury of recordings illuminating the social history of Europe.
The first series covers the period from 1900 to 1930—notably Black Europe, a richly-documented 44-CD set from Box Family Records.
From the series website:
Received wisdom has it that black popular music arrived in Europe with the Empire Windrush in 1948, but Clarke brings us black sounds recorded in Europe from as far back as 1900.
Programme 1: Focusing on early commercial discs made in the recording studios of London, Paris and Berlin, we hear from dozens of different performers, including African American travelling entertainers, traditional African musicians, black British classical composers and more.
Clarke discovers a huge variety of black music recorded in Europe at the start of the 20th century, including very early examples of blues harmonica, scat singing and stride piano. The programme also includes some of the earliest African music ever recorded, from Senegalese war songs captured at the Paris World Fair in 1900 to the music of a troupe of Congolese pygmies who toured Britain in 1905-07.
Programme 2: Clarke explores the music of black Europe at the time of the First World War. The sounds of what would become jazz start to emerge, including African American banjo bands who entertained London high society, and the military music of Harlem bandleader James Reese Europe which enthralled France. The programme also includes music by captured African Prisoners of War, recorded in camps across Germany.
Programme 3: Clarke explores the sounds of Zonophone records, a pioneering label that recorded a huge amount of early African popular music. Many of these discs were made in London for export to West Africa, including several Nigerian hymns recorded in 1922 by Fela Kuti’s grandfather. The programme also includes the sounds of African American jazz in 1920s Paris, especially the work of Josephine Baker, the world’s first black superstar.
Series 2 and 3 are now available, taking the story through World War Two, the 60s, and the 70s—antecedents of what even then was still not called “world music”. These programmes too are full of gems, such as hot jazz in Weimar Berlin, calypso in Cardiff Bay; underground bands in Hitler’s Germany, black American trumpet stars in occupied Paris, Caribbean swing bands playing through the Blitz in London; and in the post-colonial era, on to Ambrose Campbell and his West African Rhythm Brothers, Sterling Bettancourt, Lord Kitchener, and the emergence of the Notting Hill Carnival sound; Ghanaian highlife, Congolese rumba from Brussels, Algerian chaabi in Paris, Surinamese jazz from Holland, the songs of Cape Verde—and black flamenco. To Name But A Few…
Leading us to the Shanghai jazz scene, here’s Sam Wooding’s Orchestra playing Shanghai shuffle in 1925 Berlin:
For Algerian chaabi, here’s Dahmane El Harrachi’s Ya rayah:
And here’s Ronald Snijders live:
All these diverse cultures have made up a major part of European social history over the last century. It’s a really ear-opening series, providing many leads to explore.
I also have to single out the most stunning trumpet solo from Roy Eldridge (following a plaintive one from a dying Lester Young) inspired by a spellbound Billie Holiday on their utterly gorgeous 1957 TV session.
That’s in a class of its own, but other early videos give a feeling of jazzers relishing each other’s creativity, like this clip of Bird with Coleman Hawkins, and later, Buddy Rich on drums (despite the arid studio setting):
Note my jazz roundup, including Billie, Bird, Miles, Coltrane, and much more…
As I keep saying, if only we had such a wealth of video footage for Yanggao shawm bands and Daoists in the 1940s—or Bach’s band in the 1720s, for that matter.
My time with Chinese shawm bands (most ubiquitous of performers for rural ceremonial) leads me to dabble mildly in studies of early European wind bands. So I’m struck by this detail of a 1520 Portuguese painting:
The Engagement of Saint Ursula and Prince Etherius,
It makes an alluring image for reviews of Miranda Kaufmann’s new book Black Tudors: the untold story, though it’s familiar to musicologists on the period—leading me to a glimpse of some of the fine work that scholars do for early European organology. See these images—Keith McGowan’s groundbreaking work on wind bands (which we await, um, breathlessly) encompasses social aspects of early European players of ethnic minority backgrounds—who, as in China, were generally low in status. And the painting is included in a survey by Will Kimball on early sackbut grips (and I thought my workwas niche…)
That image comes from Portugal, but Kaufmann opens her book with a vivid account of John Blanke, trumpeter at the Tudor court.
John Blanke (rear, centre), from Westminster tournament roll, 1511.
As she notes, African musicians (mostly wind players) had been playing for European monarchs and nobility since the 12th century. More commonly represented in painting are Middle-Eastern shawm bands, as in Carpaccio’s Baptism of the Selenites.
So if the 1520 Portuguese painting is the earliest surviving representation of a black trombonist, then when was the next, eh? Before the 20th century?
Moving laterally (like a trombone slide), here’s Melba Liston:
While we’re about it, any excuse to cite Some like it hot:
And Vermeer’s The art of painting attracts as much interpretation as Las meninas:
* * *
Now, much as I admire Chinese music historians and the many fine collections of early iconography of Chinese instruments, I wonder if the Confucian habit of merely citing early written sources without discussing them applies in that field too: beyond merely displaying images, we need to interpret them.
While I’m on the subject, citations of early texts by Chinese scholars seem to assume we all know what they mean; they feel no need to translate them into modern Chinese. Yet when I query how to translate such passages, even the best scholars aren’t necessarily clear—and the uncertainty is precisely why we need to discuss them.
* * *
On a topical note, I caught a glimpse on the news recently of a shawm band playing for a demo in troubled Catalonia. Among the amazing regional variety of folk culture in Spain (e.g. Valencia and Rioja, not to mention flamenco), folk Catalan double-reed instruments include gralla, tarota,tible, and tenora.
For links to posts on shawms around the world, click here; for a handy list of posts on trumpets, wind and brass bands, here (see also trumpet tag).
As I noted in my first post on Chet Baker, among the innumerable delights of Paul Berliner’s book Thinking in jazzis his exploration of trumpet styles and links between them.
Miraculously, we can explore most of these players on YouTube—here’s Fats Navarro (1923–50, yet another distressingly short life—see list here), at the Royal Roost in 1948:
It’s gratifying that Anthropology is not only a discipline that embraces jazz, but (thanks to Charlie Parker) a real living piece:
Casbah, again with Tadd Dameron, and Rae Pearl (Harrison) singing:
And savour Guilty, a rare male-voice ballad featuring Earl Coleman:
From his last gig, with Bird on 30th June 1950—a week before Fats died:
The treasures of YouTube are inexhaustible, but as a change, the 4-CD set The Fats Navarro story is instructively annotated, like other gems in the Proper Records series—and it ends with two further searing tracks from that last session.
James Gavin, Deep in a dream: the long night of Chet Baker, 
which goes well with Bruce Weber’s remarkable film Let’s get lost (for the making of which, do read Deep in a dream, pp.328–42).
Born in 1929, Chet somehow managed to live to the ripe old age of 58—this quote seems tailor-made for him:
If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself!
(Like Daoist ritual texts, this has been diversely attributed—to Eubie Blake, Mae West, Adolph Zukor, and so on.)
We don’t expect any artist to be a paragon of moral virtue—and in jazz, there were few angels. The “straight” WAM scene also had its bad boys—not least, trumpeters.
Before we get onto Chet’s iconic slow ballads, I like his early bebop playing:
And here he is with Charlie Parker in 1952:
I often wish someone would do a study of the styles of Chinese shawm players or Daoist guanzi masters like that of Paul Berliner on instrumentalists in Thinking in jazz. He cites John McNeil’s impressive genealogy (more taxonomy!) of jazz trumpeters (p.137):
But whereas most of the jazz greats (Billie, Bird, Miles, Trane, Bill Evans, and so on), through their similar struggles with addiction, were constantly learning, honing their craft, Chet seems to have been gifted with his dreamy cool style very early, and then traded on his angelic image (largely for substances) for the rest of his surprisingly long life, settling for melancholy—without the constant explorations of the other great jazzers.
Donald Byrd, 1959.
Still, taken individually, ignoring the degradation of Chet’s life, his songs are captivating. Apart from his trumpet playing, Chet is one of few male jazz singers I can relate to (that’s my own weakness—the late great Amy Winehouse was devoted to Tony Bennett, for instance); maybe what distinguishes his singing is the way he dispenses with masculine bravado. But the critics are divided: while Chet’s followers revered him as a god, regarding his solos as “models of heartfelt expression, as graceful as a poem”, others were less enchanted, describing him as “a singing corpse”, “a withered goat”, “a hollow-cheeked, toothless, mumbling, all but brain-dead relic”, and “a drug-ravaged ghost” (Deep in a dream, p.5).
But let’s just forget the film, and the book, and wallow. These songs almost add up to a potted biography in themselves:
As with My favorite things, everyone has their favourite versions of My funny Valentine, but this one (live from Turin in 1959  —at the height of Chet’s celebrity in Italy, and just as his substance-abuse was rocketing) is heart-rending:
Another lesson from jazzers in how to use vibrato: I fall in love too easily. And let’s hear it for Lars Gullin on sax…
This next recording (evidently achieved through some editorial sleight-of-hand) contrasts with Bille Holiday’s You’re my thrill—which Chet also sang:
For a sequel, with a yet more informed playlist, see here.
 I also look forward to reading Jeroen de Valk, Chet Baker: his life and music.  Short of undertaking a global survey, 1959 is widely known as the year of Kind of blue; and in China, for the escalation of famine—still not widely enough known.
It’s been a while since we’ve had any French drôlerie (try A French letter, and the series on the Tang faqu). So it’s high time to remind ourselves of the classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
Food for thought on the Brexit debate? And for aficionados of Chinese ritual, note the long trumpet near the opening.
For the taunts of cheerleaders at archery festivals in Bhutan, see here.
The labyrinthine crime novels of Michael Connelly are brilliant—set in LA, packed with gritty procedural, historical, and psychological detail, with their protagonist Harry (short, indeed, for Hieronymus) Bosch.
A tangential delight permeating the series is Bosch’s fine taste in jazz. Continuing my trumpet theme, it was through Nine Dragons (a murky Triad case) that I learned of Tomasz Stańko (1942–2018), “the Polish Miles Davis”.
To remind us of the jazz scene under state socialism (see e.g. Pickham and Ritter, Jazz behind the Iron curtain), here’s his 1970 album Music for K:
Brass players enjoy, even flaunt, their hooligan image (more “licence to deviate from behavioural norms”)—or at least, UK brass players in a befuddled heyday from the 1960s to the 1990s, still an ongoing hangover today.
Becoming a musician (or indeed a household Daoist) is about far more than “learning the dots”; aspiring musicians also look to the lifestyles of their role models. The intoxicant du jour changes—Chinese shawm players have moved from opium to amphetamines, for instance. But both in jazz and WAM, many musos have learned to their cost that adopting the, um, recreational pastimes of Charlie Parker or John Wilbraham doesn’t necessarily help them play the way their heroes did.
The trumpeter John Wilbraham (“Jumbo”) was legendary. This is a beautiful site well worth exploring—an insider’s ethnography. I came across him when he was trumpet tutor for the NYO, and later in the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
There are also some fine stories on this site, not least about two of my most admired conductors (more maestro-baiting):
“The one thing we do know about Bach for certain, is that he didn’t want it to sound fucking awful!”
—John Wilbraham to John Eliot Gardiner.
(a succinct critique of the Early Music movement?), and
“If I’d wanted to play in front of a clown, I’d have joined the fucking circus.”
—John Wilbraham (Jumbo) on Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Noddy)
Learning to perform—in any tradition!—requires endless hours of practice (again, it’s the stories about jazzers, rather than WAM musos, that inspire me here). There’s another famous story, which strangely I haven’t yet found among all the online anecdotes:
Before Mahler 5 at the Proms, a music critic was having a drink in the 99, favoured hostelry of Prom-goers. He watched in amazement as Jumbo downed pint after pint, and then picked up his trumpet case to stagger off to the gig. Expecting the worst, the critic took his place in the audience. The symphony opens with a scary exposed trumpet solo, and is challenging throughout. Jumbo played the whole piece perfectly.
After the concert the critic returns to the pub, to find Jumbo already propped up at the bar, more pints lined up. He walks up to him and says,
“You must excuse me, Mr Wilbraham, but may I ask how you manage to play so perfectly when you’re pissed?”
“It’sh perfectly simple,” Jumbo smiles back at him conspiratorially, “I practice pissed!”
Mark Padmore, incomparable Evangelist in the Passions, makes some thoughtful points here (cf. this article). Do watch his Matthew Passion as staged by Peter Sellars. And here he is in the John Passion (cf. Passion at the Proms)—how he sings und ging heraus und weinete bitterlich (from 33.48), and how Bach composed it, is miraculous:
Also in the John Passion is one of Bach’s most moving arias is Zerfließe, mein Herze:
Zerfließe, mein Herze, in Fluten der Zähren Dissolve, my heart, in floods of tears Dem Höchsten zu Ehren! to honour the Almighty! Erzähle der Welt und dem Himmel die Not: Tell the world and heaven your distress: Dein Jesus ist tot! your Jesus is dead!
While Protestants do their thing, let’s not forget Holy Week in Spain, with solemn hooded processions, soaring trumpets, and saeta devotional songs for the images of Christ and the Virgin (for more saeta, along with other moving cante jondo songs, see here):
Indeed, for me one of the benefits of being a touring muso was being able to combine both Bach Passions and flamenco. In southern Spain flamenco only tends to get going in the small hours, but concerts also begin at 10pm or later. So by the time we had played the final chorus of the Matthew Passion in Seville, there was plenty of time to stroll over the bridge to the wonderful Anselmas bar in Triana, downing a few G&Ts before the flamenco began to get in the groove.
Meanwhile it’s a busy period in the Chinese ritual year calendar too.  On the Hebei plain, apart from everyone taking part in the lineage observances for the Qingming festival, Catholics are busy holding Masses and making pilgrimages—not least evading police road-blocks (see here, and for the Gaoluo Catholics, here). It is also the time of the 3rd-moon festival for the goddess Empress Houtu, when many villagers go on pilgrimage to the Houshan mountain temples to revere her.
The Houshan pilgrimage, which under the commune system had been observed only by a tenacious minority through the 1960s and 70s, began reviving in the 1980s; by the 1990s it was attracting around 100,000 pilgrims for its 3rd-moon temple fair. We met several village ritual associations on the mountain for the festival in 1995, though Gaoluo village no longer organizes a group; in recent years “people’s hearts are in discord”, as association leader He Qing lamented. In some places the Houtu festival has been revived within the village: for the 3rd-moon festival in 1996, for instance, we visited Shenshizhuang, south of Yixian county-town, whose four ritual associations all celebrate the Houtu festival in their separate ritual buildings in the village.
Altar to Houtu, Shenshizhuang West association 1996.
Many villagers make the pilgrimage in small groups on their own initiative. Their vows are pledged to Houtu. One can climb to the Houshan temples to offer incense and pledge a vow, or just make it at home; the vow often used to include a promise to “look after a banquet” for the ritual association.
So the red flag which one often sees adorning truckloads of villagers in the 3rd moon now heralds a group of pilgrims rather than any political campaign—another sign of the changing times. But despite the lengthy impoverishment of ritual and faith, the power of Houtu is still strong: even in 1997 Gaoluo friends reminded me “Here we believe in the Empress Houtu, so a lot of people offer incense”.
* * *
For the dispassionate (sic) observer, some photos may distinctly suggest a stress on masochism in Easter observances around the world. Meanwhile on a visit to the Saudis, celebrated defenders of religious values, our Prime Minister gets herself embroiled in a futile dispute about Easter eggs with the notoriously subversive National Trust. Indeed, this “We’re not even allowed to celebrate our own culture any more” fatuity is itself becoming an annual ritual. Hey-ho.
Billie Holiday‘s 1957 TV appearance must be among the most moving videos ever, with Billie in rapture, showing the depth of the rapport between great musicians (for the making of the film, see here). Don’t miss the final trumpet solo from Roy Eldridge!
For my personal Billie Holiday playlist, see here. As to books on her, don’t get me started…
Apart from the experience of listening, jazz biographies are just as captivating as jazz photos. If only I could bring the Li family Daoists to life with such detail as we find in books like
Ross Russell, Bird lives (for a fine review of three more books on Charlie Parker, interrogating the whole genre of jazz biographies, see here)
In books like this, it’s not just the social and personal detail that impresses, but the technical aspects of their constant musical strivings—the musos’ obsession with chords, timbre, and so on. From Charlie Parker’s use of the Rico number five reed (Russell pp.10–13) to Keith Richards‘ sheer exhilaration at discovering the open five-string tuning (in Life p.270ff., no less captivating than the many gaudy experiences throughout the book).
We could compile lists of similar excursions in world music, but jazz leads the way…
Here’s a fun party game. When reading Life, be sure to read it in Keef’s voice—his inclusive conspiratorial chuckle is one of the great primeval sounds of nature.
Conversely, Miles’s autobiography should be read in the voice of the Queen, Brian Sewell, Jacob Wee-Smug [aka The Haunted Pencil]—or (for yet older readers…) the presenter of Listen with Mother. If serialised on Radio 4, it could be called Listen with Motherfucker. For a related story from Turkish trumpeter Muvaffak “Maffy” Falay, see Jazz in Turkey.