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Century Sunday: 1918

New Orleans

First of all, wishing everyone a happy, productive and fulfilling 2019!

I was not around one hundred years ago, but my grandparents were.  My mother’s mom was twenty, and she sometimes referenced the terrible flu epidemic of 1918 and the lives it took.  For many, this affected them more directly than World War I.

World War I would end in November of 1918.  For many years, Armistice Day, November 11, was a notable holiday in the U.S. until sometime after World War II, when it was renamed Veteran’s Day, honoring those who served in both world wars. Now Veteran’s day is a tribute to all those that served in the U.S. armed forces, the true great heroes and protectors of our nation.

In movies, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton continued to provide silent comedies.  The big silent movie hit of 1918 was Mickey, starring Norma Mabel, the famous actress, writer, director, and producer of the 1910s and 1920s.

In 1918, the gifted seventeen-year-old Louis Armstrong was playing cornet on Mississippi riverboats.  With prostitution made illegal in New Orleans in November of 1917, not to protect the women involved, but as a step to prevent VD transmission to nearby army and navy camps, Storyville, the red light and entertainment district of New Orleans, and the musicians that made a living in Storyville would take a financial hit: soon Louis’s idol, King Oliver would move to Chicago, and Louis would replace him in Kid Ory’s band.

Original Dixieland Jass Band continued to release recordings including their most famous one, “Tiger Rag.

Pianist, and National Public Radio (NPR) host of “Piano Jazz”, Marian McPartland was born on March 1918, living until 2013. Other jazz musicians born in 1918 include trumpter Howard McGhee, pianist Charles Thompson, pianist Hank Jones, saxophonist Ike Quebec, and trumpet player, composer, arranger and band leader, Gerald Wilson.  King of the Slide Guitar, blues guitarist, composer, singer and bandleader Elmore James was also born in 1918.  Mr. James was one of the first guitarists in the 1950’s to intentionally overdrive the electric guitar’s amplification to produce distortion for musical effect.

Classical violinist, Ruggiero Ricci was born in 1918 and gave lessons to one of my good friends from college who talked about him in utmost awe and respect. Ricci gave performances as a member of the US Army in World War II and then later, in 1947, was the first violinist to record the complete twenty-four Caprices (Opus 1) by Paganini in their original form. Ricci also championed many twentieth century composer’s violin concertos including Ginastera’s.  In total, Ricci made over 500 recordings and performed over 6,000 concerts in sixty-five different countries.

Leoš Janáček composed Taras Bulba, Arnold Bax his first string quartet,  Igor Stravinsky his Histoire du Soldat. Operas first performed in 1918 include Béla Bartók’s dramatic Bluebeard’s Castle and Giacomo Puccini‘s set of three one-act operas, Il trittico.

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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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