Our monthly meetings held in St. David's Centre Pensarn at 2:00 pm on the first Tuesday of each month.
The group is fortunate to have the use of a high quality hi-fi system.
Normally, each member plays his/her choice of CD often introducing and/or commenting on the music. This may lead to further group discussion, but none of the foregoing is obligatory and anyone may attend just to listen to proceedings in relaxed company.
Occasionally, a talk will be given on one or other aspect of music, maybe prompted by some event or anniversary e.g. History of ‘The Messiah’ at Christmastime.
Our tastes are wide and varied, sometimes eccentric. Recent offerings have included Jazz, Cajun, Wagner, Schubert, Mozart, Folk, Gospel, Baroque, Café, Cohen and Puccini.
Tea and biscuits are served at half time.
Gordon Preston who leads Music Appreciation has written the following articles to share with us his enthusiasm for music.
First there was “King” Oliver, then “Duke” Ellington. Goodman became “The King of Swing”. William James Basie joined the aristocratic line up when a radio announcer dubbed him “Count”.
William ”Count” Basie (1904 -1984)was a pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer.
His mother taught him to play the piano and he started performing in his teens. He honed his technique playing accompaniments to silent films at a local cinema in his home town of Red Bank, New Jersey. By the age 16, he was playing jazz piano at parties and other events.
In 1924, he went to Harlem, a hotbed of jazz. After standing in for “Fats” Waller his performing career took off. He toured with groups to the major jazz cities of Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City.
In 1935, Basie formed his own band, the Count Basie Orchestra, and In 1936 took them to Chicago where they made their first recording.
He led the group for almost 50 years. Many musicians came to prominence under his direction, including the tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, and trumpeter Buck Clayton. His singers included Jimmy Rushing and Billie Holiday.
Basie’s Big Band fusion of Blues and Jazz helped lay the foundations for the Big Band “swing era” of the thirties and forties. He placed great emphasis on his rhythm section, while his understated piano playing added a distinctive feature. Overall, the sound was characterised by elaborate riffing by different sections of the orchestra, often created or even improvised collectively.
The style became known as Kansas City Jazz.
Riffs have long been used in jazz – a musical phrase played repeatedly as an accompaniment or backing to another melody or soloist.
Count Basie is credited as the composer of “One O’Clock Jump”, one of the Big Bands (still) favourite Jazz Standards.
But the number was never composed in the accepted sense. Late one night with time to fill, the band started improvising.
According to Basie, "we hit it with the rhythm section and went into the riffs, and the riffs just stuck. We set the thing up front in D-flat, and then we just went on playing in F."
“One O’Clock Jump” became his signature tune!
Gordon Preston Go to youtube, “one o’clock jump” -Basie
The Ballad of John Henry
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 gives a patriotic welcome to immigrants to America. In fact it was a retrospective invitation for many who had already arrived. Immigration had been growing at an increasing rate over centuries. By the 1880s immigrants had become a stream from all over the world, escaping persecution, intolerance, famine and conflict in their native lands. They sought to shape their own identity in a vast and sparsely populated world. Many suffered great hardship, lawlessness and hostility from established groups. Tribes of native Indians were brushed aside as the immigrant tide engulfed areas where they had thrived for centuries. Survival of the fittest arrived at its own conclusion and never wavered.
As areas were settled and ‘civilised’, railway companies raced to join burgeoning prosperity. An army of workers, many immigrants, some convicts or former slaves, were employed in construction of the railways. Legend has it that John Henry, an African American was among that number.
John Henry was a steel driving man, renowned for his strength and determination in dangerous and debilitating work. His task was to drive steel drills into rock with a hammer to make holes for explosives. No one was better.
When a steam hammer was introduced to carry out the same tasks, John Henry objected. He hated to see a machine doing the job of men. A contest was arranged between man and machine and John Henry’s Story is now told in a classic folk ballad. The words are not set in stone but Big Bill Broonzy’s version starts:
John Henry said to his captain,
Now a man ain't nothing but a man
But before I let this steam drill beat me down,
I will die with that hammer in my hand.
John Henry said to his shaker,
Man, why don't you sing?
I'm swinging twelve pounds from the hip bone down,
Can’t you hear that cold steel ring.
John Henry went down that railroad track
With a twelve pound hammer by his side.
He went down the track but he never came back,
Because he laid down his hammer and died!....
John Henry won a pyrrhic victory, collapsing and dying of heart failure shortly afterwards.
For many, the ballad of John Henry strikes a romantic chord. It has been recorded by: Burl Ives, Bruce Springsteen, Woodie Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Pete Seegar, Lonnie Donegan and many others. Aaron Copland based an orchestral work on the song, but no one knows who wrote the original.
Much research has been done to establish what truth lies in the story.
In the absence of full contemporary records researchers have come to widely different conclusions both as to the identity of John Henry and the location of the contest.
Two researchers refer to statements by witnesses
John Garst, a retired Chemistry professor and folklorist from the University of Georgia argued that the contest took place either at the Coosa Mountain or the Oak Mountain Tunnel of the Columbus and Western Railway near Leeds, Alabama in 1887. Based on his research and an account of the contest by C.C.Spenser who claimed to have been an eyewitness, Garst, speculated that John Henry had been born a slave, Henry, owned by the father of the father of the Chief Engineer on that railroad in 1850. Since 2007, the City of Leeds has held an annual festival ‘Leeds Downtown Folk Festival and John Henry Celebration’.
Guy B. Johnson, Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina in the late 1920s concluded that John Henry was a real person who worked and died at the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway’s Big Bend Tunnel, in West Virginia, built from 1870 to 1872. Johnson interviewed several men who had been boys of 12 or14 when the tunnel was begun who claimed to have seen John Henry. He was described as a large powerful man. Most had heard of the contest with the steam drill but none had seen it.
Eventually Johnson found a man, Neal Miller, who said he had worked on the tunnel when he was 17 years old, carrying water and drills for the drivers. He said he saw John Henry every day. He described the contest and gave an accurate description of the steam drill. He said: “John Henry...he took a lot of pride in his work.... Well they decided to hold a test to get an idea of how practical the steam drill was. The test went on all day and part of the next day. John Henry won. He wouldn’t rest enough. He took sick and died soon after that”.
It is difficult to test accounts by witnesses some 50 years or more after the event. By 1920 the ballad would have been widely known and the cynic suspects that at least some witnesses had been ready to retell the story learned from the song.
True story or not, John Henry is still a favourite of The American Folk Archive and a statue of him stands outside the town of Talcott in West Virginia.
Go to YouTube – Bruce Springsteen – John Henry
Life and Times of Jelly Roll Morton (1890 – 1941)
Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe was born into a creole family in New Orleans.
His date of birth was given on a certificate of baptism as 20th September, 1890. But other sources give different birth dates: he and his half sisters claimed he was born in 1885, his first World War draft registration showed 1884 whilst his death certificate listed his birth as 20th September 1889.
His parents lived in a common law marriage. When his father died and his mother married he took his stepfather’s name, Mouton, then later changed it to Morton. Eventually his professional name emerged when he added his nickname Jelly Roll to his final surname. One can only guess at the lifestyle which awarded him his chosen first name. It was common slang with sexual connotations and definitely not used in polite circles.
At the age of ten, Morton learned to play the piano and by the age of fourteen had become so proficient that he began working as a piano player in a “Sporting House” (Brothel). By that time he was living with his religious great Grandmother. He explained his nocturnal absences by persuading her that he was working as a night watchman in a barrel factory.
When she discovered the truth she kicked him out. Morton said: “She told me that I had disgraced the family....She told me that the devil music would surely bring about my downfall”. Perhaps it did but not for another 36 years!
Like many great jazzmen, Jelly Roll served time providing entertainment in the bordellos of Storyville which were plentiful and popular. Some are still commemorated in music – Mahogany Hall Stomp, Canal Street Blues etc.
For a tome Jelly Roll was employed as a “Professor” in Mahogany Hall. It was said to have been the most famous bordello – a “Pleasure Dome” of garish opulence. Jelly Roll Morton described the scene:
“Lulu White’s parlor had mirrors that cost 30,000 dollars. The place was all colored lights and mirrors – lots of mirrors - some even on the floor where the girls danced. ...they wore lace stockings and big garters and not much else. Each girl kept a bill inside her stockings way up by her thigh. The denomination of the bill was the girl’s price. Some had $2 bills, some $5. Occasionally you’d spot a ten – not often”
In due course, Jelly Roll started touring the south, working in minstrel shows, gambling and composing. In 1912 - 1914 he toured as a vaudeville act with his girlfriend Rosa Brown before settling for three years in Chicago. Soon he was moving again to wherever he saw the next opportunity. His stays included, Los Angeles, Washington, New York and Chicago and he played with such Jazz Greats as Omer Simeon, Sidney Bechet, Artie Shaw, Barney Bigard, Bubber Miley, Bud Freeman, Pops Foster and Paul Barbarin.
He married a showgirl, Mabel Bertrand in 1928.
Music was always the lynchpin to Morton’s popularity, growing fame, arrogance and opulence. But he was not averse to eking out his living in any other ways when given the chance. When he arrived in Vancouver to play at a nightclub, The Jazz Historian Mark Millar described his arrival as “an extended period of itinerancy as a pianist, vaudeville performer, gambler, Hustler, and, as legend would have it, pimp”.
In 1938, whilst operating as the manager/piano player of a bar in Washington, Morton was stabbed by a friend of the owner and suffered wounds to head and chest. A nearby “whites only” hospital refused to treat him and he was taken further away for treatment. He never fully recovered and died in July 1941 in Los Angeles County General Hospital.
Jelly Roll was a prolific jazz composer, probably the first to write down his compositions. In 1915, “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first jazz composition ever to be published. In 1935 Morton’s 30 years old composition “King Porter Stomp” became Benny Goodman’s first hit. He wrote other such standards as Wolverine Blues and Black Bottom Stomp.
In 1926, in Chicago, Morton made a series of recordings for Victor Talking Machine Company. These recordings of “Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers” are regarded as classics of 1920’s jazz. They featured such instrumentalists as Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, George Mitchel, Johnny St Cyr, Baby Dods and Omar Simeon.
Throughout his life Jelly Roll Morton’s self promotion and arrogance knew no bounds; he claimed he had invented jazz in 1902 and signed his letters “Jelly Roll Morton, Originator of Jazz and Stomps, Victor Artist, World’s Greatest Hot Tune Writer”.
Jelly Roll always sported a smart suit and good overcoat. His flamboyance was emphasised by a diamond set in a prominent gold tooth. But as his grandmother had predicted “the devil music” did bring about his downfall – his inauspicious end emphasised as he lay in his coffin by a missing diamond from his gold tooth.
Of course much of the foregoing may not be true, as there is some reliance on “facts” related by Morton to Alan Lomax interviewing him on behalf of the Library of Congress!
“It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing..” (A Brief History of a Jazz Great).
Stéphano Grapelli was born in Paris in 1908. His mother, Anna Emilie Hanoque died when he was four.
His Italian born father, Ernesto Grapelli was a scholar who taught Italian, sold translations and wrote articles for local journals. At the beginning of the First World War he was conscripted into the Italian army. Eventually, Ernesto with no other support had to place his child in an orphanage.
Stéphano spent his childhood in institutional gloom; he stayed at the orphanage in misery until his father returned from the war in 1918. Ernesto found them an apartment in Barbès and in 1919 had his son naturalized as a French citizen, changing Stéphano’s name to the French Stéphane.
The boy took up the violin at the age of twelve, Ernesto pawning his suit to buy his son a three quarter size violin. He also sent him to violin lessons, but Stéphane soon preferred to teach himself. Grapelli later said “My first lessons were in the streets watching other violinists....”
After allowing his son a period of musical independence Ernesto enrolled him at the Conseratoire de Paris from where he graduated with a second tier medal in 1923.
During Stéphane’s final year his father remarried and moved to Strasbourg. Stéphane declined to join them and at the age of 15 he was earning his own living playing both violin and piano in cafes and accompanying silent films in cinemas.
He became interested in jazz.
Unsure which instrument would allow him the most opportunities, he decided to make the violin his major instrument after hearing Joe Venuti* play.
In 1929 he met Django Reinhart and they formed the quintet “Hot Club de France”. The two virtuosi were as different as chalk and cheese. Django, the gypsy guitarist, was easy going and unreliable, living in the moment whilst Stéphane was the opposite, a meticulous organiser and perfectionist. Tension imbued their relationship. Nevertheless the Hot Club prospered until World War Two which Django spent in France and Stéphane, England, playing through the blitz at venues in London. After the war in 1946 Stéphane returned to France but did not again play regularly with Django.
Over his lifetime Stéphane Grapelli played with a number of Jazz greats including Fats Waller, George Shearing, Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Stuff Smith and of course Django.
He appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1973 and Carnegie Hall in 1974.
It has been said that without the constant tension of working with Django, Stéphane was freed to reach greater heights of fluency and creativity, continuing to flow through old age.
Many believe that his greatest accolade was playing with Yehudi Menuhin in the1970s. I believe the accolade was mutual, each violinist being the best in his field.
Stéphane Grapelli died in 1997. He once said “I shall play until the final curtain”. He did.
Gordon Preston 2016 *American Jazz Violinist – A rare breed
Nessun Dorma, sung by Luciano Pavarotti, became the unforgettable anthem to the 1990 Italia Football World Cup.
It is an aria from Puccini's Opera Turandot. Heard within its own context it would seem to be an unlikely choice to announce "The beautiful game".
The aria is sung by the hero, Calaf, finishing with a cry of triumph " I will win!" He is celebrating a unique survival for a suitor of the Princess Turandot.
She has posed three riddles to those seeking her hand. Any suitor answering incorrectly incurs a high price. He is beheaded!
The town square is lined by the heads of aspirants impaled on high poles, but Calaf has answered correctly leaving Turandot distraught at her defeat.
Calaf offers her another chance: if Turandot can discover his name before dawn he will accept defeat. Turandot orders her subjects to find his name on pain of death.
Calaf sings None shall sleep! None shall sleep!
Even you, O Princess,
In your cold bedroom,
Watch the stars
That tremble with love and hope!
But my secret is hidden within me;
None will know my name!
No, No! on your mouth
I will say it when the light shines!
And my kiss will dissolve
the silence that makes you mine!
Chorus of Women: No one will know his name
and we will have to, alas, die!
Calaf: Vanish O night!
Fade you stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win! I will win!
A fine start to any football match!
Some consider the opera itself to be flawed. It is difficult to reconcile the aura of cruelty with the eventual romance between Calaf and Turandot. Puccini may have had the same problem. Turandot remained unfinished at his death in 1924 and was completed by Franco Alfano in 1926.
18th. September, 2015
A Few Notes on Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883): what’s not to like?
Wagner never doubted his own genius. He toiled to establish his new musical vision. He is best known for his thirteen completed operas (Musikdrama) for which he wrote both music and libretto.
He lived in uncertain times; the disparate German States only became united as Germany in 1871 and Wagner became deeply involved in politics as well as music. He took part in an abortive revolution in his native Saxony.
Until his final years, his life was punctuated by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from creditors.
In 1864 Wagner embarked on an affair with Cosima, the wife of Hans Von Bulow and the daughter of Franz Liszt. She was 24 years Wagner’s junior and a mother of two. For a time all three lived as a ménage a trios. Von Bulow accepted Wagner’s child with Cosima as his own but he was eventually prised out of the equation. Upon the death of his long time estranged wife (Minna), Wagner married Cosima and the couple went on to produce two further children.
In 1864 Wagner’s life was transformed when the 18 year old King Ludwig of Bavaria acceded to the throne and became Wagner’s patron. He paid the composer’s debts and provided a regular income.
Over much of his life, Wagner published tracts on a range of political issues from democracy to anarchy. However, his notorious essay “ Judenthum in der Musik” is the one for which his politics is mainly remembered.
“Jewishness in Music” is virulently anti semetic arguing the Jewish race to be incapable of creating original or meaningful art. I particular the document attacked Felix Mendelssohn and Giancomo Meyerbeer.
Adolf Hitler was an admirer of Wagner and when he became to power in 1933 Wagner’s music and its heroic imagery became entwined with Nazi ideology.
Wagner became a complete anathema to many when it emerged that Jews had been sent to the gas chambers to his musical accompaniment.
Daniel Barenboim has argued that it is time the music was accepted for its intrinsic quality, devoid of political colouring. In 2001 in Israel with the Staadskapelle Berlin Orchestra, he conducted Wagner’s ‘Liebestod’ as an encore after debating with the audience as to whether it should be played. It was decided that the piece should go ahead and those who disagreed were given the option to leave. Only 20 or so left and the rest stayed and applauded warmly at the end.
So what about the music? Briefly, Wagner wrote opera in a way not heard before or since. His dexterity with both music and libretto closely integrated two elements. He used ‘Leitmotifs’, musical phrases which indicated a presence or situation in the story. His use of harmony and discord was unique. ‘The Tristan Chord’ has been described as having changed the course of western music in just four notes. The chord is a harmonic phrase which descends into discord as the listener longs for harmonic completion. The tension it engenders throughout ‘Tristan und Isolde’ is finally resolved with a blissful musical completion in the last aria as Isolde reacts movingly and astonishingly to the death of Tristan.
For the new listener, patience and a degree of acclimatisation pays dividends.
Finally, a quote from Mark Twain appears to be apt...” Wagner’s music is not as bad as it sounds!”
Go to Youtube: Wagner Liebestod Scala 2007 –Barenboim
Stephen Fry – Tristan Chord
James Henry Miller - a brief History
William Miller was an iron moulder and his wife was a charwoman. Both were socialists and William was a militant trade unionist. He was blacklisted in nearly every foundry in Scotland. Destitute, the family moved to Salford to find work!
In 1915, Jimmy Henry Miller was born, the only one out of four children to survive beyond the age of four. He learnt Scottish folk songs and politics at his mother's knee.
Having survived an elementary education, in 1930 he joined the ranks of the unemployed at the onset of the great depression. He worked intermittently eking out his living by street singing. Keeping warm in Manchester Central Library he embarked on a programme of lifelong self education. He joined The Young Communists' League and began his writing career producing humorous verse for the party.
Jimmy became an activist in the unemployed workers' campaigns of the thirties. He also helped organise the "mass trespasses" of Kinder Scout which paved the way to enactment of The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949.
Over the years, Jimmy became a poet, playwright, actor, record producer and broadcaster. He was a prolific song writer, folk singer, song collector and promoter. But to some he was always a controversial figure. His campaigning did not always win friends and his private life became chaotic.
He was married three times. He divorced his first wife, theatre producer Joan Littlewood and married Jean Newlove, a dancer, with whom he had two children. He divorced Jean Newlove to marry Peggy Seeger, a folk singer half his age at 22 years, under a cloud of outrage and scandal. They had three children.
Jimmy Henry Miller who changed his name to Ewan McColl in 1945 was born 100 years ago in January. He died in October, 1989 leaving behind a wealth of song, artistry and controversy.
Listen to: The First Time ever I saw Your Face..(song for wife Peggy Seeger)
Dirty Old Town (a hymn to Salford). see "The Pogues" on YouTube.
The Manchester Rambler (Access to Kinder etc)
Many people know the melody of "Meditation" by Jules Massenet". A number also know that the piece is from an opera*, "Thaïs". Few know the story which hangs behind the melody.
I was no exception to the general rule; I loved the melody from childhood. It was one of our family's scratchy 78s. nestling in a pile with such items as “Rustle of Spring”, “H.M.S. Pinafore” and ”Sandy Powell.”
But recently, I had the chance to see the opera and "Meditation" was transformed, revealing a depth of beauty and passion barely hinted at in my earlier memories.
In the opera the melody is first heard as an instrumental played by a solo violin and orchestra between scenes in Act 2. It’s infusion is eagerly anticipated by the audience. The memory lingers through the unfolding story until in the final scene "meditation" is interwoven into a duet between Thaïs and Athanaël.
The beautiful is transfigured into the sublime.
And the story? It features a Beautiful Courtesan (Thaïs) and a Holy Cenobite Monk (Athanaël) who embarks on a mission to convert her to Christianity. With his teaching, the Sinner becomes a Saint but the Saint becomes a Sinner as Athanaël is consumed by his growing earthly love for his protégé.
- Jules Massenet 1842-1912. Thais was first performed in Paris in 1894.
Bunk Johnson – A tale of the unexpected!
Bunk Johnson was a prominent early New Orleans jazz trumpet player; between the years 1905 and 1915 he was regarded as one of the top trumpeters in New Orleans.
In 1915 having failed to appear for a New Orleans Mardi Gras job, he learned that the ‘Krewe’* members intended to do him bodily harm. He left town forthwith, touring with minstrel shows and circuses, then finally settling in New Iberia, Louisiana.
In 1931 playing at a dance in Rayne, Louisiana, Bunk became involved in a fight. He lost his teeth and his trumpet playing days were over.
Eight years later a number of historians were beginning to chart the development of New Orleans Jazz. Historian William Russell interviewing several prominent Jazzmen of the time learned of Johnson’s existence. He found him labouring in the Louisiana cotton fields.
Bunk insisted that with a new trumpet and a new set of teeth he would be able to play as well as ever. A collection was taken up by jazz musicians and writers and Bunk was fitted up with new teeth and trumpet. In 1942, he made his first ever recordings, many of which are still available today.13
Jazz historians still debate Bunk’s legacy. Perhaps his most lasting influence lay not in his playing but the band he left behind on retirement in 1948.
His clarinet player, George Lewis took over the band and to many British Traditional Jazz Revivalists it became the archetypal New Orleans Jazz Band, much emulated during the ‘Trad. Boom’ of the 1950s.
- Krewe – New Orleans organisation arranging parades, parties, celebration etc.