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  • feedwordpress 09:01:58 on 2019/03/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , history of photography, jazz, , , Office of War Information, , ,   

    “Turn left at Greenland”*… 


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    FSA photos

     

    After a series of setbacks in the courts that repealed many of the First New Deal’s program, President Roosevelt pursued a new set of initiatives including the Resettlement Administration in 1935. It was charged with aiding the poorest third of farmers displaced by the depression and particularly focused on resettlement on viable lands and providing low-interest loans. Directed by Rexford Tugwell, a Columbia University economist, the RA came under immediate scrutiny. Realizing the battle for public opinion had begun, Tugwell hired his former student Roy Stryker to lead the Historic Section within the Information Division of the RA, which in 1937 was moved to the FSA.

    In order to build support for and justify government programs, the Historical Section set out to document America, often at her most vulnerable, and the successful administration of relief service. The Farm Security Administration—Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) produced some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression and World War II and included photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Arthur Rothstein who shaped the visual culture of the era both in its moment and in American memory. Unit photographers were sent across the country. The negatives were sent to Washington, DC. The growing collection came to be known as “The File.” With the United State’s entry into WWII, the unit moved into the Office of War Information and the collection became known as the FSA-OWI File…

    Now, from Yale, a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing 90,000 of those 170,000 photographs created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) from 1935 to 1945: Programmer.

    * Ringo Starr, in response to the question “How do you find America?,” asked in a Beatles press conference on the first U.S. tour

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    As we look and see, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that Cab Calloway recorded “Minnie the Moocher,” the first jazz record to sell one million copies and the song that cemented the popularity of “scat” singing (which had been first popularized in 1926 by Louis Armstrong’s “Heebie Jeebies.”)

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:43 on 2018/04/30 Permalink
    Tags: Bird, , , Jay McShann, jazz, Jem Finer, , , , slow,   

    “For fast acting relief, try slowing down”*… 


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    Jem Finer’s initial calculations for his Longplayer project

    From the newsletter of the Long Now Foundation

    Time is evoked in music in countless ways. In the first article in this series, we explored some of the long-term themes in Brian Eno’s work and traced that influence to his involvement with the 10,000-Year Clock. Through generative music — a compositional technique that uses a small set of rules to generate many unique outcomes — Eno created expansive compositions theoretically capable of lasting over extremely long periods of time. This is precisely the logic behind the 10,000-Year Clock’s Chime Generator.

    Questions arise, however, when the extreme potential duration of combinatorially-generated music is taken as a challenge. How does one actually perform a piece that is 1,000 years long? Let’s explore two attempts to answer this question…

    John Cage, Jem Finer, and playing music as slowly and for as long as possible: “This is How You Perform a Piece of Music 1,000 Years Long.”

    * Lily Tomlin

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    As we take the long view, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941, at Decca Studios, that Charlie Parker made his first commercial recording.  A member of  the Jay McShann Group, he played on “Hootie Blues” and “Swingmatism.”  He went on, of course, to become known for his virtuosity on the sax and for his gift as a composer; he earned the nickname “Bird” as he became a father of bebop.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2017/05/01 Permalink
    Tags: Beaumarchais, Circle of Fifths, Coltrane circle, , jazz, John Coltrane, , , , , The Marriage of Figaro,   

    “All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians”*… 


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    Physicist and saxophonist Stephon Alexander has argued in his many public lectures and his book The Jazz of Physics that Albert Einstein and John Coltrane had quite a lot in common. Alexander in particular draws our attention to the so-called “Coltrane circle,” which resembles what any musician will recognize as the “Circle of Fifths,” but incorporates Coltrane’s own innovations. Coltrane gave the drawing to saxophonist and professor Yusef Lateef in 1967, who included it in his seminal text, Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns. Where Lateef, as he writes in his autobiography, sees Coltrane’s music as a “spiritual journey” that “embraced the concerns of a rich tradition of autophysiopsychic music,” Alexander sees “the same geometric principle that motivated Einstein’s” quantum theory…

    Explore the connection at “John Coltrane Draws a Picture Illustrating the Mathematics of Music.”

    * Thelonious Monk

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    As we square the circle, we might recall that it was on this date in 1786, at the Burgtheater in Vienna, that Mozart’s glorious Le nozze di Figaro The Marriage of Figaro— premiered.  Based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (“The Mad Day, or The Marriage of Figaro”), which was first performed two years early, Mozart’s comedic masterpiece has become a staple of opera repertoire, appearing consistently among the top ten in the Operabase list of most frequently performed operas.

    Early 19th-century engraving depicting Count Almaviva and Susanna in act 3

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:56 on 2017/04/07 Permalink
    Tags: Billie Holiday, dystopian, , , jazz, , , ,   

    “I try to conjure, to raise my own spirits, from wherever they are. I need to remember what they look like.”*… 


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    In Margaret Atwood’s The ­Handmaid’s Tale, a Christian sect call the Sons of Jacob creates a male-dominated theocratic state

    Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

    Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah.

    And perhaps one of the starting points was here: on 29 August 1911, a 50-year-old man, a member of the Yahi group of the Native American Yana people, walked out of the forest near Oroville, California, and was captured by the local sheriff. He was known at the time and popularised in the press as “the last wild Indian”.

    He called himself “Ishi” – a word in the Yahi language that means simply “man”. He was the very last of his people, and had been living in the wilderness alone, travelling to places he remembered from the time when his tribe had flourished, in the hope of finding some remnant of those he’d grown up with. When he realised they were truly all gone, when a series of forest fires meant he was close to starvation, he allowed himself to be found and taken in…

    And the link with feminist science fiction? Theodora and Alfred Kroeber’s daughter was Ursula Le Guin, the science fiction author. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness was published in 1969, at the start of the revolutionary women’s movement, and was one of the earliest pieces of feminist SF. It is about a man from Earth who travels to the planet Gethen, where the people have no fixed gender. He is by turns fascinated, appalled and deeply, sickeningly lonely. Everyone’s “normality” is someone else’s wilderness…

    From Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, feminist science fiction writers have imagined other ways of living that prompt us to ask, could we do things differently?  More of their history at “Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future.”

    * Margaret Atwood, The Handmaiden’s Tale

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    As we listen and learn, we might send hauntingly-beautiful birthday greetings to Eleanora Fagan; she was born on this date in 1915.  Better known by her stage name, Billie Holiday (and her nickname, Lady Day), she was a jazz musician and singer-songwriter– a legendary performer who enjoyed both huge popular success and great acclaim from her fellow artists.

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:39 on 2016/11/18 Permalink
    Tags: , big band, , , , jazz, , , , ,   

    “Pop music has been exhausted”*… 


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    … and so it becomes the subject of art.

    A year ago, local artist Elle Luna challenged artists from around the world with her “100-Day Project,” an idea with a simple premise: do the same thing every day for a hundred days — draw a doodle, write a poem, whatever — and document the results.

    San Francisco–based designer Katrina McHugh responded by making infographics based on popular song lyrics that reference the natural world, mirroring the style of vintage encyclopedias she inherited from her grandfather. The project, titled “100 Days of Lyrical Natural Sciences,” is a gorgeous and hilarious exercise in taking metaphor too literally…

    Try your hand at identifying the songs in question at “Classic Pop Songs, Reimagined as Infographics.”

    * Brian Wilson

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    As we tap our toes, we might spare a thought for Cabell “Cab” Calloway III; he died on this date in 1994.  A master of scat singing and led one of the United States’ most popular big bands from the start of the 1930s to the late 1940s, regularly performing at the Cotton Club in Harlem.  His band featured performers including trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon “Chu” Berry, New Orleans guitar ace Danny Barker, and bassist Milt Hinton.  His “Minnie the Moocher” was the first jazz record to sell 1 million copies.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:41 on 2016/08/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , jazz, Louis Armstrong, , , Satchmo, , ,   

    “A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”*… 


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    Decode the pictures above– and experience synesthesia– at “This Is What Musical Notes Actually Look Like.”

    * Leopold Stokowski

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    As we move to the music of the spheres, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to Louis Armstrong; he was born on this date in 1901.  A trumpeter, composer, singer (and occasional actor), he was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance, and helping to pioneer scat singing.  Nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, he has 11 records in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:09 on 2016/05/24 Permalink
    Tags: , fanzine, , jazz, Mark Smith, , , , Sniffin Glue,   

    “I certainly was one of the originators, but I don’t think you can blame me for everything”*… 


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    In advance of an appearance at London’s ICA (which, in the event, didn’t happen),  a conversation with Mark Smith, musician (The Fall) and founder of the legendary punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue— which quickly became a vital outlet for punk in the 70s.

    It’s different today because you’ve got the internet. If we want to have our say on anything we can go straight online to our blog, our Facebook page, our Twitter. But remember, in the 70s there wasn’t any of that. If you wanted to get your voice out there, you had to actually do something. When you started a fanzine in the old days, you had to actually cut and paste. You used felt-tip pen and cow gum to physically cut and paste it together. And then you’d go down the local photocopying shop. In those days, nobody had their own photocopiers. I mean, nowadays most printers can photocopy and in those days, you had to get up off your bum and go down the photocopying shop. It was more of a hands-on process. I don’t think there’s any need for fanzines, in the same way, these days because people can just start blogs and that, can’t they? You can put it all on YouTube. There are more ways of getting your voice out there nowadays and in the 70s there wasn’t, so you had to go and start a fanzine…

    More first-hand history– and more cover art– at “Tracing the beginnings of the punk fanzine.”

    * Mark Smith

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    As we we give ourselves over to Submission, we might spare a thought for Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington; he died on this date in 1974.  A composer, pianist, and bandleader, Ellington is generally credited with elevating the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other more traditional musical genres.  In a career that spanned 60 years (he wrote his first song,”Poodle Dog Rag,” in 1914, at the age of 15 while working as a soda jerk in the Poodle Dog Cafe in Washington, D.C.), Ellington wrote more than one thousand compositions– the largest recorded personal jazz legacy– many, many of which become standards (“Mood Indigo,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing [If You Ain’t Got That Swing],” “Take the A Train,” and many, many others).   As a performer, his career spanned continents, and ran from The Cotton Club to Carnegie Hall.  As a recording artist he sold millions of records and won 12 Grammy Awards, plus the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and membership in the Grammy Hall of Fame (among many other Hall of Fame memberships and musical laurels).  He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1999.

    And, as regular readers may recall, he had something to teach us all about the fine art of eating.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:53 on 2016/04/24 Permalink
    Tags: , E. Simms Campbell, , , ilustration, jazz, , Miles Davis, ,   

    “Ain’t you heard/ The boogie-woogie rumble/Of a dream deferred?”*… 


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    Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library just acquired this original pen-and-brush version of E. Simms Campbell’s nightlife map of Harlem, from 1932. The map, drawn by an illustrator who frequented many of the establishments he depicted, exudes an insider’s pride in the robust music scene in full swing during the Harlem Renaissance.

    When he made this map, cartoonist Elmer Simms Campbell was at the beginning of a decades-long career in illustration and commercial art. (Here’s some of his other work, for advertisers and magazines.) Campbell was “one of first commercially successful African-American cartoonists,” writes Rebecca Rego Barry. “He steadily produced artwork for Esquire upon its launch in 1933, and his work was also published in Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, and Playboy.” This map first appeared in Manhattan magazine, as a centerfold, and later showed up in Esquire.

    Campbell was friends with Cab Calloway, whose band appears at the bottom left-hand corner of this map. Swann Auction Galleries’ Kir Jordan links to this clip from a 2012 PBS documentary, in which Calloway walks viewers through Campbell’s map, remembering how he “bombed” with his first band at the Savoy Ballroom, and how much he always liked to say the name of the club that called itself “The Yeah, Man.”

    More– and a zoomable version of the map– at “An Affectionate 1932 Illustrated Map of Harlem Nightlife.”

    * Langston Hughes

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    As we tap our toes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that Miles Davis made his first studio recording. Working with his then-boss Charlie Parker and the other members of his octet, Davis backed singer Rubberlegs Williams.  Two years later Davis led the same group of musicians in recording music released as from the “Miles Davis All-Stars.”

    The young Miles Davis

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:53 on 2016/03/07 Permalink
    Tags: bricklaying, Guinness world record, , jazz, Livery Stable Blues, , The Original Dixieland Jazz Band,   

    “Few of them were to be trusted within reach of a trowel and a pile of bricks”*… 


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    email readers click here for video

    It is oddly mesmerizing to watch Robert Boll win the the 1st annual World Champion Brick Olympics– and set a Guinness world record– by laying 914 bricks in one hour.  Boll’s feat has been bested several times since, most recently, by Travis McGee:

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    * P.G. Wodehouse

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    As we get set for the paint drying event, we might recall that it was on this date in 1917 that the Victor Talking Machine Company released two songs recorded by The Original Dixieland Jass Band — “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixie Jass Band One Step”– as two sides of a 78 rpm disc…  the first jazz record ever released.  As readers can see in the photo below, the band changed the spelling to “Jazz” later that year.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:06 on 2015/04/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , Douglas Leigh, , , , jazz, , ,   

    “My attitude is never to be satisfied, never enough, never”*… 


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    Duke Ellington eating dinner with his wife, Bea Ellington, and a friend (source: Library of Congress)

     

    While Duke Ellington is rightly revered as the extraordinary musician and composer that he was, he was known among his friends almost as prominently for his appetites.  As frequent sideman Tricky Sam Nanton said, “he’s a genius, all right, but Jesus, how he eats!”

    Ellington was happy to share his gourmand enthusiasms.  In a 1944 interview (recounted in Lapham’s Quarterly) he reminisces…

    There’s a place in Chicago, the Southway Hotel, that’s got the best cinnamon rolls and the best filet mignon in the world. Then there’s Ivy Anderson’s chicken shack in Los Angeles, where they have hot biscuits with honey and very fine chicken-liver omelets. In New Orleans there’s gumbo filé. I like it so well that I always take a pail of it out with me when I leave. In New York I send over to the Turf Restaurant at Forty-ninth and Broadway a couple of times a week to get their broiled lamb chops. I guess I’m a little freakish with lamb chops. I prefer to eat them in the dressing room, where I have plenty of room and can really let myself go. In Washington, at Harrison’s, they have deviled crab and Virginia ham. They’re terrific things. On the Île-de-France, when we went to Europe, they had the best crêpes Suzette in the world, and it took a dozen at a time to satisfy me. The Café Royal, in the Hague, has the best hors d’oeuvres in the world—eighty-five different kinds, and it takes a long time to eat some of each. There’s a place in Paris that has the best octopus soup. And oh, my, the smorgasbord in Sweden! At Old Orchard Beach, Maine, I got the reputation of eating more hot dogs than any man in America. A Mrs. Wagner there makes a toasted bun that’s the best of its kind in America. She has a toasted bun, then a slice of onion, then a hamburger, then a tomato, then melted cheese, then another hamburger, then a slice of onion, more cheese, more tomato, and then the other side of the bun. Her hot dogs have two dogs to a bun. I ate thirty-two one night…

    More gustatory goodness in “Duke Ellington’s Diet“; and for a bonus treat, read this 1944 New Yorker profile of Ellington.

    * Duke Ellington

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    As we Take the A Train, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that the first animated-cartoon electric sign display in the U.S. was lit by its designer, Douglas Leigh, on the front of a building on Broadway in Times Square.  It used 2,000 bulbs, and its four-minute show included a cavorting horse a ball tossing cats.  Leigh, who went on to design such famous billboards as the Eight O’Clock Coffee sign (with a coffee pot that was, literally, steaming) and the Camel Cigarette sign (that blew smoke rings), became know as “The Man Who Lit Up New York.”  While his signs are now gone, his lighting of the Empire State Building (Leigh was also a pioneer in the illumination of city skylines and buildings) survives; and his large illuminated snowflake is still hung at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street every holiday season.

    Douglas Leigh and his Times Square

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