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Fifty Year Friday: Miles Davis Quintet “Nefertiti”

 

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Recorded in June and July of 1967 and released, as best as I can determine, around February 1968, give or  take a month, Nefertiti is the ever-exploring, adventurous Miles Davis’s last all-acoustic instrument album. I also consider this one of the first albums to take significant steps into both Fusion and New Age territory.

Miles Davis time at Julliard is partially evident here (just as Tony Scott’s time at Julliard is partially evident in what some consider the very first New Age record, the 1964 album, Music for Zen Meditation.)  Miles seems to infuse Bartok and Satie, whose music he admired, into some of this work,  as well as possibly (this is maybe a reach on my part, based only on the nature of some of the rhythmic and melodic patterns) Olivier Messiaen.  Miles also drives his fellow musicians to further reaches of creativity producing a work like no other work recorded in 1967 or released in 1968.  Some call this free-bop, and there are elements of free jazz present, but overall this is generally an accessible album, very much a predecessor to the fusion jazz and progressive-jazz psychedelic/rock-impressionism that will soon follow in so many albums of the 1970s.

The title track, “Nefertiti”, recorded on June 7, 1967 as a single take, is named after the Egyptian queen, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti who, with her Pharoah husband, brought about a religious revolution in Egypt by narrowing religious worship from many gods to only one. And with this first track, “Nefertiti”, there is a singularity of focus.  Missing are solos from the trumpet and saxophone.  Instead, the two instruments blend into an ambient, cleverly crafted circular sonic stream (well done, Wayne Shorter!), much as when drifting into alternative realms of consciousness prior to sleep.  The piano, bass and drums provides the greater variety and commentary here, the entire work thoroughly and unapologetically breaking from the traditional be-bop approach to ensemble sections and solos.  We have a strong case for this being jazz minimalism despite the richness of material provided by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, based on the foundational, hardly perceptible variations provided by Miles and Wayne Shorter.

“Fall”, “Pinocchio” (two takes) and “Riot” were recorded on July 19, 1967, two days after John Coltrane’s death.  This tragic and monumental event shapes the nature of the performances of these works, particularly Miles’ solos.  The other tracks on the Nefertiti album,”Hand Jive” and “Madness”, are more extroverted and were recorded on June 22 and June 23, respectively.  Though this album may not have been conceived as a whole work (the amazing “Water Babies”, the sharp-edged”Capricorn” and the reflective, surreal “Sweet Pea” [this last a perfect fit for the Nefertiti album] were also recorded during these sessions and released years later, in 1976),  it comes together nicely and provides a general mood of near-mystical introspection.  The performances by all members of the quartet border on mythical, with Miles inspiring and encouraging his fellow musicians in reaching further levels of excellence.

This a particularly subtle, perhaps initially elusive, album — one that many will not fall in love with on the first listening.  Not as accessible as the previous album, the 1967 Sorcerer, it is often considered to be more substantial: pushing jazz into an unexplored territory that soon becomes part of the language of not only jazz, but rock, fusion, progressive rock, new age, and late twentieth century classical music.   Darken the room and give Nefertiti your undivided attention when listening, if not already a devoted fan.

Side One:
 “Nefertiti”  — Wayne Shorter  (7:52)
“Fall” —  Wayne Shorter (6:39) 
“Hand Jive” — Tony Williams (8:54)
Side Two:
“Madness” —  Herbie Hancock  (7:31)
“Riot” —  Herbie Hancock (3:04)
“Pinocchio” — Wayne Shorter (5:08)

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Fifty Year Friday: The Don Ellis Orchestra “Electric Bath”

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Is it possible that the first truly progressive rock album was not a rock album, but a jazz album?  For those that adamantly insist that the most adventurous and exploratory rock music of 1967 and early 1968 is really not progressive rock but “proto-prog, such prog fundamentalists often require that any music to be considered true progressive rock must display a relatively high level of musicianship and deploy mixed meter or unusual time signatures, 20th century instruments, a wide range of dynamics and instrumental combinations, effects such as tape loops or use of quarter tones, and extended length tracks painting a colorful, sonically rich landscape.  If we buy into such requirements, then perhaps we should consider this modern big-band jazz album recorded in September 1967 and released either in late 1967 or early 1968, to validly qualify as the first progressive rock album.

In terms of quality and excitement, The Don Ellis Orchestra’s “Electric Bath” should please any “Close to the Edge”, “In the Court of the Crimson King”, “Thick as A Brick”, “Selling England By the Pound”,  “Brain Salad Surgery”. or “Power and the Glory” fan.

A progressive rock album has to start with a fervently vigorous or otherwise bigger-than-life immersive track such as King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, Genesis’s “Watcher of the Skies”, or the opening to ELP’s Tarkus.  “Indian Lady” is just that with its fanfare opening, a meter of alternating 3 and 2,  and a strong distinct theme running relentlessly forward, swinging ferociously with a indisputably bluesy orientation.  We also have sitar, electric piano, and most notably, Don Ellis on a four-valve quarter-tone enabled trumpet.

The second track, “Alone”, by far the shortest at less than six minutes, is a basically a samba, a musical form from Brazil that became so popular in the mid sixties, but in 5/4 time without any sense of awkwardness, but just the opposite, fully liberated and unconstrained.

Ending the first side is the brilliant “Turkish Bath” with sitar and a exotically distorted reeds sounding not so much like instruments from Turkey, but from an even more exotic location, probably from another planet in some remote solar system. Sitar and quarter-tones contribute to the appropriate balance of spices.

“Open Beauty” open side two of the original LP, and provides appropriate contrast and musical reflection.  Elegantly executed by the band, this composition is haunting, surreal and evocative, with ebbs and flows of intensity until a little over two-thirds of the way in when we get a tape-delay Don Ellis solo  which initially echoes with layered fifths and then more adventurously explores into more expressive and polyphonically combative territory.

The last track, “New Horizons” is the strongest, longest and most remarkably inventive of the album with relentless energy driven by a 17/8 5-5-7 pattern with amazing ensemble and solo trumpet passages.  The work unfolds like a story with contrast and subplots ending with explosive energy winding down into an emphatic, punctuated coda.

This album should appeal to anyone that loves adventurous and well-written, arranged and performed music whether their preference is classical, progressive rock, progressive heavy metal, be-bop or big band jazz.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Don Ellis except as indicated

  1. “Indian Lady” – 8:06
  2. “Alone” (Hank Levy) – 5:32
  3. “Turkish Bath” (Ron Myers) – 10:16
  4. “Open Beauty” – 8:29
  5. “New Horizons” – 12:20
  6. “Turkish Bath” [Single] (Myers) – 2:52 Bonus track on CD reissue
  7. “Indian Lady” [Single] – 2:58 Bonus track on CD reissue

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Jackie McLean “Demon’s Dance”

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Unlike most rock albums of 1967 and 1968, in which there is a focused effort to release the material fairly soon, perhaps partly due to the quickly changing musical landscape in pop, many jazz recording sessions of 1967, did not get released until some time later, partially due to the lack of commercial interest in jazz music at that time: the six tracks that make up Demon’s Dance was recorded in a single session on Dec. 22, 1967 and not released until October of 1970.

One can readily notice a similarity between the Demon’s Dance album cover and Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew cover.  Bitches Brew was released by Columbia records on March 30, 1970, and reached the number one spot on Billboard’s best selling jazz albums  by July 18, holding that position, on and off, for the rest of 1970.  Blue Note engaged the Bitches Brew album cover artist, Marty Klarwein to provide the artwork for the album cover of Demon’s Dance,  with the eye-catching result as shown above.  (Note that this is just a portion of the original painting — shown fully below at the end of this post.)

The music here is particularly ear-catching, with Jackie Mac taking a step back from his more adventurous free-jazz persona, playing modern, sometimes modal, bebop partnered with a twenty-three year old Woody Shaw providing intense, focused, clear, and often beautifully lyrical trumpet and flugelhorn and a twenty-five year old Jack DeJohnette providing dynamic, propulsive percussion with support from LaMont Johnson on piano and Scott Holt on bass.

The three hard bop uptempo tracks, “Demon’s Dance”, full of energy and intensity and enriched with variety by McLean, Shaw and DeJohnette, “Boo Ann’s Grand”, an excellent composition by Shaw, and “Floogeh” are certainly solid, top-notch performances, but the other three tracks are exceptional.

Woody Shaw provides a cheerfully, affirmative bossa-nova-based composition, “Sweet Love of Mine” that sparkles and includes riveting soloing by McLean and Shaw.  Cal Masey, provides the one ballad of the session, “Toyland” which showcases McLean at his reflective, thoughtful best, providing warmth and tender musicality with an appropriate introspective solo by LaMont Johnson.  The album closes with Cal Masey’s particularly intriguing “Message From Trane”, a modal composition with surface similarities to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”

Both McLean and Shaw are in top form throughout the album, providing engaging solos that can be enjoyed over and again. Shaw is particularly inventive with his well-controlled, crisp, clear, solid tone that makes him one of the great jazz trumpeters of all time.  This was the last of Jackie’s twenty-one albums for Blue Note (wow!!!) and the second-to-last U.S session prior to McLean’s four year break from recording and his departure to Europe.  As far as I can tell, the next session after this, again pairing Jackie and Woody, has never been released — which, making an evaluation based on the merits of the Demon’s Dance album, is a notable loss to the music world.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Jackie McLean except as indicated
  1. “Demon’s Dance” – 7:09
  2. “Toyland” (Cal Massey) – 5:24
  3. “Boo Ann’s Grand” (Woody Shaw) – 6:57
  4. “Sweet Love of Mine” (Shaw) – 6:04
  5. “Floogeh” – 5:23
  6. “Message From Trane” (Massey) – 5:29

Personnel

Century Sunday: 1917 Part 2

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First off, HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone. Hope your 2018 is filled with discovery and joy!

Going back 100 years, 1917 approximately marks the end of the ragtime era and the beginning of the jazz era.  On April, 1, 1917, Scott Joplin, the “King of Ragtime”, died at the age of 48, having written dozens of published ragtime piano pieces, a ragtime ballet, and two operas, “A Guest of Honor”, confiscated in 1903 as collateral for non-payment of bills and lost forever, and “Treemonisha”, praised as, “…an entirely new form of operatic art” by  American Musician and Art Journal in 1911, then neglected for decades, and then finally receiving a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

It’s hard to accurately assess Joplin’s influence on music, but one could make the case he was the most influential single composer of the last 150 years.  Stride, Jazz, Swing, Boogie Woogie, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, Rock, Progressive Rock, and Hip Hop all have the equivalent of genetic markers that go back to ragtime, of which, Joplin was the most important voice.  It’s not clear that without Joplin, serious ragtime composers like James Scott and Joseph Lamb would have ever had a voice, or if ragtime would have achieved enough momentum to have any popularity or influence.

In other classical music, we have new operas from Sergei Prokofiev   (The Gambler) , Giacomo Puccini (La rondine), and Richard Strauss (Die Frau ohne Schatten [Woman Without a Shadow].Carlos Chávez  composes his first Piano Sonata (Sonata fantasia), Claude Debussy his Violin Sonata in G minor, Alexander Glazunov his second Piano Concerto in B, Op. 100, Charles Ives his Three Places in New England , Maurice Ravel  the often played piano work, Le tombeau de CouperinOttorino Respighi his Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1  , Igor Stravinsky his symphonic poem, Le chant du rossignol  and his “etude” for pianola, Karol Szymanowski his third piano sonata and his String Quartet No. 1 in C majorHeitor Villa-Lobos starts on his second symphony and completes his 4th String Quartet,  and Sergei Prokofiev  his Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 19, Visions fugitives),  two piano sonatas (Piano Sonata No. 3  and Piano Sonata No. 4) and his landmark neo-classical Symphony No. 1

Musicians born in 1917 include:

Ella Fitzgerald, jazz vocalist (d. 1996)

Lou Harrison, composer (d. 2003)

John Lee Hooker, blues singer, songwriter and guitarist (d. 2001)

Buddy Rich, jazz drummer (d. 1987)

Thelonious Monk, composer and jazz pianist (d. 1982)

Dizzy Gillespie, composer and jazz trumpeter (d. 1993)

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Seventy Year Saturday: 1947

With the world recovering from the worst war ever, World War II, and the cold war just starting, 1947 was a year of many musical landmarks.

In classical music, there are new operas by Benjamin Britten (Albert Herring),  Gian Carlo Menotti (The Telephone) Francis Poulenc (Les mamelles de Tiresias), and Virgil Thomson (The Mother of Us All.)  Sergei Prokofiev completes his  6th Symphony (Op. 111) reflecting the tragedies of World War II, and condemned by the Soviet government for its modernism. Arnold Schoenberg completes  A Survivor from Warsawthe grim story of a holocaust survivor during his ordeal in a Nazi concentration camp.  Other notable works composed in 1947 include the following completed compositions:  Samuel Barber – Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Vagn Holmboe – Symphony No. 6, Aram Khachaturian – 3rd SymphonyWitold Lutosławski – Symphony No. 1, Heitor Villa-Lobos – String Quartet No. 11William Walton – String Quartet in A minor —  and  Edgard Varèse – unfinished work, Tuning Up, a parody of the orchestra tuning process before the start of a concert.

In jazz, bebop artists continue to gain the attention of listeners, Thelonious Monk, at age thirty, records several masterpieces for Blue Note including Ruby My Dear, Off Minor, Well You Needn’t, In Walked Bud (a tribute to Bud Powell, based on the chord progressions of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies”), and the incredible ‘Round About Midnight.  Wardell Grey and Dexter Gordon record The Chase, and Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards record The Duel. Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis record several sides together under various names (Charlie Parker All Stars, Miles Davis All Stars, Original Charlie Parker Quintet) in combination with various other musicians such as Bud Powell, Duke Jordan, John Lewis, and J.J. Johnson.  Parker also records tracks with trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro,  Howard McGhee, saxophonists Wardell Gray, Shorty Rogers, pianists Erroll Garner, Dodo Marmarosa, Russ Freeman, guitarist Barney Kessel,  bassist Red Callender,  and others, leaving some incredible recordings for future generations to marvel over.

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For those that were around New York City to catch live music, they could see the aforementioned Miles Davis All-Stars at the Savoy, Louis Armstrong at Carnegie Hall with his big band, and The Count Basie Orchestra at the Paradise Club in Atlantic City or at the Strand Theater in Lakewood, New Jersey, supporting Billie Holiday.

For musical theater lovers in London in 1947, Annie Get Your Gun (Irving Berlin) opened at the Coliseum on June 7 and ran for 1304 performances and Oklahoma! (Rodgers & Hammerstein) opened at the Theatre Royal on April 29 and ran for 1543 performances.

Of the many babies born in 1947, notable future rock composers and musicians include David Bowie and folk singer Sandy Denny, born in January, Derek Shulman and John Weathers of Gentle Giant born in February, Elton John in March, Steve Howe and Iggy Pop in April,  Ronnie Wood, Mick Fleetwood and Mickey Finn (T.Rex) in June, Brian May (Queen), Arlo Guthrie, Peter Banks (Yes, Flash), Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Carlos Santana in July, Ian Anderson in July, Marc Bolan and Meat Loaf in September,  Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) and Laura Nyro in September, Greg Lake and Joe Walsh in November and Gregg Allman, Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) and Burton Cummings in December.

In movies, we have the timeless Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, as well as The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant and Loretta Lynn and It Happened on Fifth Avenue.

The next few years would bring major changes all over the world. Fortunately that world as it was in 1947 has been well documented in records, movies and books.

 

Fifty Year Friday: Singer/Songwriters; Additional Groups and Artists

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Singer/Songwriters

2017 is soon coming to a close, and so must our fifty year anniversary reflection on 1967.  If we had started these posts earlier in 1967, instead of starting mid-year, we could have highlighted many more albums.  Those we chose were personal favorites. Some of those not included are also worth noting.

1967 provide of wealth of albums by singer songwriters from Arlo Guthrie and his  captivating “Alice’s Restaurant” album to Van Dyke Parks first album, “Song Cycle.”

Warner Brothers Records hired Van Dyke Parks with high hopes based on his previous work with Harper’s Bizarre, The Byrds, Tim Buckley, and Paul Revere & the Raiders, and then spared no costs for Parks to record his album — racking up session hours and using a full orchestra.  When “Song Cycle” was played for the president of Warner Bros. Records, his reaction was apparent confusion: “Song Cycle?  Okay — where are the songs, then?” The label didn’t release the album until December 1967, a year after it was recorded, until, as the story goes, Jac Holzman of Elektra records offered to buy if from Warner Bros.   Once released, it’s sales where less than expected, and prompted Warner Bros.  to run full page newspaper and magazine advertisements that said they “lost $35,509 on ‘the album of the year’ (dammit)” and offered owners of the album the chance to send in their worn-out LPs of “Song Cycle” in exchange for two new copies, so one could be passed on to a friend.

Harry Nilsson authors his second album, Pandemonium Shadow Show, originally intended to be titled after Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, which is a mix of Nilsson songs and several covers including two Lennon/McCartney songs. Nilsson’s droll lyrics and musical arrangements provide character to a well-executed and produced album.  The album includes the definitive version of Nilsson’s “Without Her”, sparsely arranged with flute, electric bass, strummed guitar and cello. The album fared better in Canada then in the US, eventually catching the attention of  Beatles publicist Derek Taylor who sent copies to the Beatles.  Purportedly, John Lennon listened to the album over and over again, playing it back to back for a total of 36 consecutive hours.

1967 provided the release of two Bob Dylan albums, Dylan’s eighth studio album “John Wesley Harding”, an album filled with songs that appear were written first as poetry and then Dylan added music to them, and a greatest hits album compiling classic Dylan songs from his first seven albums.  For many of us, born between 1954 and 1960  this was our first exposure to Dylan besides what was played on AM radio.

Also for many of us born in that mid to late fifties time frame, the great North American singer songwriter of our time was not American Bob Dylan, but Canadian Roberta Joan “Joni” Mitchell.  At this time, Joni had not recorded an album but, after moving to the U.S. and performing in various clubs, was gaining attention from these performances and in several of her songs that more established artists recorded.

The most notable 1967 Joni Mitchell song, was recorded by Judy Collins on her 1967 album Wildflowers album (released in 1968.)  This song, “Both Sides Now”, would reach #8 on the U.S. pop singles, making it Judy Collins biggest hit and being the most contributing fact to the Wildflowers album peaking at the number 5 best selling album on December 1968.

Laura Nyro  released her debut album,  More Than a New Discovery Recorded in 1966, initially released in 1967, and then reissued in 1969 and again in 1973, this album showcases Nyro’s songwriting skill and versatility with many of the songs being covered by other artists, including “And When I Die” (Blood Sweat and Tears), Wedding Bell Blues” and “Blowin’ Away” (The Fifth Dimension), and “Stoney End” (Barbara Streisand.)

Recorded in 1966 and early 1967 the Deram label releases Cat Stevens’ first album,  Matthew and Son The album makes the UK Top 10, and has several successful singles. Later that year,  Stevens records New Masters which is released in December 1967, and sells significantly less copies than the first album.

Also in 1967, Tim Buckley released his second album, his most popular and generally most acclaimed album, Goodbye and Hello.   Tim Hardin released his second album,  simply titled Tim Hardin 2.  Leonard Cohen’s releases his first album, the captivating and engaging Songs of Leonard Cohen, after Judy Collins’ recording of his song “Suzanne” brought Cohen to the attention of legendary record producer  John Hammond. Cohen’s debut album begins with “Suzanne” and includes several fairly profound songs like “The Stranger Song”, “Sisters of Mercy”, and “Stories of the Street” as well as the well known “So Long, Marianne” referencing his close companion, Marianne Ihlen.

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Additional Notable Albums of 1967

The Beach Boys release two excellent albums, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.  

Pretty Things releases their distinctly interesting, and accessible “Emotions” album, full of life and musical vibrancy with brass instruments adding further energy. Recorded in late 1966, and early 1967, it did not sell well, perhaps this was a result of ineffective distribution or marketing or perhaps the album was a bit ahead of its time, sounding more like it was recorded in 1968 or early 1969.

The first album of what many consider the first rock supergroup, Cream, sets the stage for later heavy rock bands (and by extension, heavy metal bands) with their second album, Disraeli Gears. Though there were many influences that spawned hard rock and heavy metal, Cream had a significant impact on many such younger rock musicians.

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Art (Art essential being an earlier formation of the group, Spooky Tooth), infuses rivulets of blues and wisps of psychedelia into their only album, Supernatural Fairy Tales  creating a thick-textured album, perfumed with an aroma of cannabis. Earlier to the recording of this album, several of the same musicians under the name “Hapshash and the Coloured Coat”  recorded an album earlier in 1967, titled “Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids” — this being, as far as I can tell, the first reference to “heavy metal.”

Other notable albums, many heavily psychedelic (and some incorporating elements of free jazz) were released by groups such as 13th Floor Elevators, The Aggregation, Ten Years After, AMM, Chocolate Watchband, Clear Light, Country Joe and the Fish, The Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope, Mesmerizing Eye, Moby Grape, Orbital, Pearls Before Swine, Red Krayola (The Parable of Arable Land), Rupert’s People, Sagittarius, The Seeds, Sly and the Family Stone, Sopwith Camel, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Steppeulvene, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Animals, The Beethoven Soul, The Box, The Ceyleib People, The Easybeats, The Factory, The Fire Escape, The Freak Scene, The Incredible String Band, The Lefte Bank, The Motions, The Serpent Power, The Smoke, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, The Turtles (Happy Together), The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Yardbirds, Thomas Edisun’s Electric Light Bulb Band, Vanilla Fudge, and various more accessible or highly commercial groups like The Association, The Grass Roots, The Ventures, The Monkees (put together for a U.S. television series), and The Young Rascals.

This only scratches the surface.  I have not mentioned artists like Albert King (Born Under a Bad Sign), Nina Simone, Miles Davis, John Coltrane (Expression), Sam Rivers, Charles Tyler (Eastern Man Alone), Bill Dixon, Blue Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Burton, Graham Collier, Herbie Mann, Roland Kirk, Marvin Gaye, Magic Sam, Otis Spann,  John Mayall, Miriam Makeba, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Tate, and many others, some of which I have covered in previous “Fifty Year Friday” posts: there are a number of incredible jazz albums as well as blues, rhythm and blues, and soul music albums.

Though the term progressive rock is more formerly applied to many of the more adventurous and classically influenced bands of the early 1970s, for my money 1967 was the childhood of progressive rock with the birth perhaps occurring in 1966 with Beach Boys Pet Sounds, the Beatles’ Revolver and many psychedelia-tinged albums released in 1967, but recorded at the end of 1966. I challenge anyone to deny the progressiveness of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Procol Harum, Van Dyke Parks, or even groups like The Who, The Beach Boys, or The Doors.

This was a vital period in the expansion and diversification of rock music, the like of which has not been seen since.  Fortunately for us, even albums that were nearly impossible to get a hold of in 1967 are now relatively readily available, not only on CD, or in some cases freshly, pressed LPs, but also available through streaming services or on Youtube.

Most importantly, have a happy and fulfilling 2018, and don’t neglect to broadly explore the immensity of great music available to those of us alive today.

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Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts for the year 1967:

The Beatles: Sgt Peppers

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

Jimi Hendrix: Are you Experienced

Jimi Hendrix: Axis: Bold as Love

The Who: The Who Sell Out

Moody Blues: Days of  Future Passed

Byrds, Hollies and Buffalo Springfield

Love “Forever Changes”

Far Out 1967, Part One

Far Out 1967, Part Two

Nirvana “The Story of Simon Simopath; The Kinks “Something Else”

Dizzy Gillespie in 1967

Larry Young “Contrasts”; Joe Zawinul, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream”

Procol Harum “Procol Harum and The Doors “Strange Days”

Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Arthur Rubinstein, Pink Floyd

Marta Argerich and Carlos Paredes

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, John’s Children

John Coltrane, Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner

Hindustani Classical Music

The Doors: The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Aretha Franklin, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound

Mahler recordings

Rolling Stones: Between The Buttons

Jobim, Zappa, Beefheart

Century Sunday: 1917 Part 1: Sweatman, OJDB, Kreisler, and Heifitz

Sweatman

Son of a barber in Brunswick, Missouri, Wilbur Coleman Sweatman learned piano as a child from his older sister and soon started playing the violin, perhaps having taught himself on the instrument.  Later he also learned clarinet and made this his primary instrument touring with circus bands, eventually leading dance and jazz bands, and developing the unusual skill of playing two, and then later, three clarinets at once.

He recorded several cylinders and records as bandleader, one of the being possibly the very first recording of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.  In 1911, he published “Down Home Rag” a work in 4/4 time (as opposed to the usual 2/4 time of ragtime works) that shares elements of the contemporary fox trots and turkey trots of the time.

In  December 1916, in a New York recording studio, Sweatman recorded two takes of “Down Home Rag”, each with notable melodic variations, arguably establishing him as the first band leader to have recorded jazz and these recordings as the very first recorded jazz records.  This was two months earlier than the Original Dixie Jazz Band recorded “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixeland Jass Band One Step”, the latter based on Joe Jordon’s “That Teasin’ Rag” and being the first record to ever contain the word “jass”.  Later in 1917, Wilbur Sweatman would record additional tracks, several of which contained the word “jass” or “jazz” in their titles.  For additional information on Wilbur Sweatman, please refer to the excellent and well-researched biography, “That’s Got ’em: The Life and Music of Wilbur C. Sweatman” By Mark Berresford

Though Wilbur Sweatman recorded the first jazz record, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) recorded the first record with the work “jass” or “jazz” in the title, when they recorded “Dixeland Jass Band One Step” in February 1917. More importantly, their record label, Victor, effectively promoted their material, even if as novelty, providing the sound of something akin to jazz to record buyers all over the country.  Already successful as a dance band, first in Chicago, then in New York, the fame brought by these recordings, and their next set on Columbia, further increased not only the popularity of the ODJB, but was a catalyst for jazz in general. Soon bands all over the country included the word “jazz” in their name or the titles of the records and soon true improvisational jazz music was available live and through records to a diverse audience across the United States.

Though jazz predates the recordings of Wilbur Sweatman and the Original Dixieland Jazz band by several years, records and the phonograph were the primary reason for the rapid spread and adoption of jazz as not only trendy, but popular and indispensable music.

Composer, and the greatest violinist of his generation (born in 1875, died in 1962). Fritz Kreisler recorded several times in 1917 for the Victor label. Taken with earlier recordings on Victor, going back to 1910, we are left with a diverse set of miniatures, some of which are Kreisler’s own compositions, some of which were even credited to other composers, long dead, until Kreisler revealed they were his own compositions in the style of those composers.

These are acoustic recordings, as were all recordings in 1917 and up until about 1925, which means that instead of using microphones to capture sound, large horns were used that generated vibrations to etch the groves in the mastering cylinder (very early on) or platter. In addition, the rotation of the platter was mechanical and not electrical. The performer or performers had to position themselves near the horn and the resulting recording had a limited frequency range between 250 to 2500 Hz (Hertz or cycles per second: vibrations per seconds, known as the frequency, determining musical pitch and the nature of the sound since a given instrument produces a set of vibrations for any given note.)  The human hearing range is around 20 Hz to 2000 Hz and the notes on the piano range from 27.5 Hz to 4186 Hz.  250 Hz is not very low: for example, the highest of the four open strings on the cello sounds at 220 Hz and middle C on the piano is around 262 Hz. The B natural, only a semitone below, is around 247 Hz, meaning that the left hand accompaniment of a piano piece like “Maple Leaf Rag”, disregarding “overtones” or the additional upper frequencies that the piano or any instrument produces for each given note, is almost entirely below the lower limit of the range available to recordings in 1917.  Thus, while one could record piano pieces on this technology, or in the case of many of the Kreisler recordings, violin with piano accompaniment, it sounds very thin and strange.  The amazing thing, psychologically, is how the listener adjusts and soon gets comfortable with the recorded sound, as unfaithful as it is to the original performance.

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Shortly after his Carnegie Hall debut on November 7, 1917 RCA started recording Jascha Heifitz, only a couple of months away from his 17th birthday.  Just as Kreisler was the most notable and celebrated  violinist of his generation, Heifitz (1901-1987) was the most prominent and acclaimed violinist of his generation.

These 1917 recordings of Heifitz available on CD are compelling and vital.  The transfers are good, and once one puts in some time listening to recordings of this era, the significant sonic limitations of the acoustic recording process don’t pose any serious barrier to enjoying the music. We are very fortunate that Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, allowing it to develop, although slowly from a 21st Century person’s perspective. so that by 1917 we start having some real treasures of music captured forever on these ten and twelve inch shellac disks.

 

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