Ellis Marsalis first learned to play the clarinet and saxophone but the piano later became his main instrument. From 1951 to 1955, he completed a bachelor’s degree in music education at Dillard University in New Orleans while receiving informal jazz lessons from saxophonist Harold Battiste. Together with Battiste, Marsalis performed as a pianist in the American Jazz Quintet, which also included clarinetist Alvin Batiste and drummer Ed Blackwell. The ensemble’s first recordings were made in 1956 in Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio in New Orleans, and during his subsequent military service in the United States Marine Corps, Marsalis performed with a show band as part of the CBS television show Dress blues and the radio show Leatherneck songbook. Among the guest musicians were the already well-known drummer Chico Hamilton and bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy. After completing military service in 1959, Marsalis returned to New Orleans and married Dolores Ferdinand, with whom he had six sons; four of them achieved successful careers as jazz musicians: the saxophonist Branford, trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo, and drummer Jason.
Marsalis played regularly in various local New Orleans clubs and recorded the 1962 album In the bag with the trumpeter Nat Adderley, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, tenor saxophonist Nat Perriliat, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer James Black. In 1966, Marsalis appeared as a soloist with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra performing his own compositions. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s he worked with several ensembles in New Orleans, including from 1967 to 1970 with the band of trumpeter Al Hirt. In 1978, Marsalis released his first album as a solo pianist and accepted an engagement at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Orleans, which lasted until 1980. Ellis Marsalis can be heard as a guest musician on the recording of a concert by his son Wynton with drummer Art Blakey’s band. The album Fathers & sons, recorded in New York in 1982, features Ellis together with Wynton and Branford—the first of several collaborations with his sons.
Besides working as a musician, Ellis Marsalis also was the director of the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans. He also taught at Xavier University, Loyola University, and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. In 2007, he spoke about why New Orleans has provided a unique musical space for jazz to flourish. According to Marsalis, “I think that New Orleans is the best learning town in the country, if not the world, as far as jazz is concerned. The nature of the economy here, as well as the laws that have been established over many years, make it conducive for musicians to work. Anyplace where you have the legal means to party to excess, the opportunities for certain types of musicians increase. Now, we don’t have Carnegie Hall; we don’t have Lincoln Center; we don’t have Alice Tully; the Metropolitan is not here–all those things which attract huge orchestras. You see, we as a city cater to people who come in with a slightly different kind of budget . . . People who want food and music and a good time will come to New Orleans because it’s rather difficult to find what you can find here if you go to Little Rock, Arkansas, or Jackson, Mississippi.”
From 1990 onwards Marsalis increasingly began to release albums under his own name on major labels with a wide international reach including Blue Note, Columbia, and Verve. He also produced recordings as a solo pianist and bandleader and took part in various productions as an ensemble member or guest musician. As part of his regular appearances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Marsalis played with his sons and a host of established guest musicians.
Read the feature on Ellis Marsalis in MGG Online.
Below, Ellis Marsalis performs with his sons in New Orleans in 2001 and performs “Twelves it” in 2018.
The Hollywood Bowl is one of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world, with seating for 18,000 people. The first concert season was held in 1922 and since that time, some of the greatest performers have appeared in this venue, including such diverse artists as Jascha Heifetz, Otto Klemperer, Leonard Bernstein, Judy Garland, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Beatles, The Doors, The Who, Ben Harper, and Halsey.
The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra was founded by Leopold Stokowski in 1945 and gained immediate recognition for its distinctive sound and exciting programs. In the 1950’s the orchestra was conducted by Carmen Dragon, who introduced the popular evening concerts. In 1991, John Mauceri took over the orchestra and greatly enhanced its proud tradition. The repertoire of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra is quite diverse, ranging from Mozart to Motown. Each season, the orchestra can be heard performing Broadway favorites, film music, pop, jazz, classical music, and premieres by living composers. The specialty of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, however, has been the live performance of film music that previously had been heard only on original soundtracks. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Hollywood Bowl (and Los Angeles Philharmonic) have restored and performed a number of neglected or lost film scores. Some of this repertoire has been performed live by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra including the theme to Gone with the wind, the Dream ballet sequence from Oklahoma!, the Born in a trunk sequence from A star is born (1954), and many others.
Learn more in Conductors and composers of popular orchestral music: A biographical and discographical sourcebook (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.
Below is a medley of music from well-known movies performed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
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Indigenous hip hop in recent years has created a space for unpacking ideas of authenticity, contemporary Indigenous identity, links between indigeneity and U.S. Blackness, and urban Indigenous experiences. But what is Indigenous hip hop and what does it represent? Indigenous Hip Hop is a culture first adopted and then produced by Native people to challenge settler colonialism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy, among other issues. One of the primary objectives of Indigenous hip hop has been to assert the sovereign rights of Indigenous people and to assert their humanity as modern subjects. Indigenous hip hop takes on many flavors throughout the Indigenous world. Some artists may sound like what listeners hear on commercial radio, while other may include elements of Native sounds including powwow music. Indigenous hip hop provides an anthem, a voice, a literary and decolonial movement—it is not merely Native people mimicking hip hop culture. For some Indigenous hip hop musicians in Detroit, Michigan, the connections between settler colonial logics in Detroit and Palestine allow for hip hop in these spaces to serve as a decolonial art form.
Contemporary Detroit, nicknamed the “Motor City”, has gone through many changes since the 20th century. In the 1950s, its streets were lined with vehicles produced by nearby Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors factories and driven by nearly 2 million people who called the city home. After the 1967 Detroit riots, parts of the city resembled ghost towns and the city’s population dwindled to around 670,000 as many residents fled to surrounding suburbs. Detroit has experienced a rebirth over the past two decades drawing local investment and new residents to the downtown area. What remains remarkably consistent, however, is the invisibility of the Motor City’s Indigenous population. Indigenous erasure, in this context, combined with rhetoric and policies that continue to marginalize African Americans in Detroit, create a place rooted in multiple colonialisms.
In 2014, an Anishinaabeg (Walpole Island) and Chicanx rapper from Detroit named Sacramento Knoxx collaborated with Palestinian rapper Sharif Zakot on a music video entitled From stolen land to stolen land. Sharif is a youth organizer and coordinator in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Arab Youth Organizing (AYO!) program. Similar to Indigenous youth, many Palestinian youth also have turned to hip hop culture to express their anguish and marginalization. The images in Sacramento Knoxx and Sharif’s video travel from New York City to Detroit to Palestine. Sharif scribbles “Free Palestine” with a black marker on a metal object while the video cuts to a scene of Knoxx standing on the Brooklyn Bridge and to the words “Free Rasmea Odeh”, a long-time Palestinian activist who was arrested and indicted on federal charges in October 2013. As the words appear on the screen, a blurred view of the Statue of Liberty appears in the background, a symbol of a loss of freedom for many of North America’s Indigenous people. The song’s lyrics connect white supremacy with the occupation and displacement of Indigenous land while the two rappers lyrically interweave the ongoing processes of settler colonialism in both settings. Although they acknowledge that the colonization of the Americas and Palestine happened at different times and in different contexts, the similarities of occupation join the two disparate lands.
Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day by reading Kyle T. Mays’ article “Decolonial hip hop: Indigenous hip hop and the disruption of settler colonialism” in Cultural studies (33.3, 2019).
Below is the video for Sacramento Knoxx and Sharif Zakot’s From stolen land to stolen land. Check out more from Sacramento Knoxx at https://sknoxx.bandcamp.com/music
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Digital humanities is an umbrella term for branches of humanities disciplines (such as linguistics, literature, history, music, art and religious studies) in which digital technologies are used: as the application of digital technologies and methods humanities objects (e.g., works of music, literature, art) or as the application of humanities methods to digital objects (e.g. digital sound recordings, videos, websites and graphics). Examples of such interdisciplinary applications include digital coding, storage, archiving, searching, processing, and analysis of humanities objects as well as historical, linguistic, cultural research into digital objects.
Today, digital humanities methods are a part of all humanities research. The digital humanities emerged from the first applications of digital calculators and computers in humanities research in the 1950s, primarily in linguistics, but soon also included music research and other disciplines. Since then, its importance has grown steadily with the development of new computer and software technologies.
The basis of many digital music research projects is the digital storage and notation of music. In the mid-1950s, a project at Bell Telephone Laboratories led by Max Matthews (1926–2011, pictured above) developed technology to transmit telephone conversations in digitized form, the MUSIC-N series was the first computer program to generate digital audio through direct synthesis. MUSIC I (1957) and MUSIC II (1958) synthesized simple sounds over a limited number of triangular wave functions. However, it was not until MUSIC III (1960) that the first comprehensive synthesis program emerged. MUSIC IV (mid-1960s) was rewritten in the FORTRAN programming language and revised and expanded as MUSIC V in 1969 at Bell Laboratories. MUSIC V offered more global sound control, the ability to represent individual notes and note patterns, and supported the simulation of performance nuances (such as ritardando and crescendo). MUSIC V’s global parameter differentiation and event list were also precursors to the standard MIDI file format. Today, SAOL (1999) is a MUSIC-N programming language that is part of the MPEG-4 audio standard.
The Plaine & Easy Code was developed by Murray Gould in the early 1964s and later expanded by Gould and Berry S. Brook. It was intended to enable the transfer of musical bibliographic data to electronic data processing devices. The Plaine & Easy Code was a purely monolinear notation, encoded with normal typewriter symbols, with which not only tempo, key, meter, pitch, and durations could be encoded but also some phrasing and ornamentation symbols. Below is an example of the notation.
Below Max Mathews demonstrates his Radio Baton Controller and Conductor software program and performs brief selections by Bach, Chopin, and Beethoven.
Here are some related Bibliolore posts:
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Last year, I visited New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz music and the legendary Louis Armstrong (1901-1971). Known as the “Father of Jazz,” Armstrong began his musical journey in New Orleans and later moved to Chicago and New York. Through his tours, Armstrong also brought jazz music to audiences worldwide.
Upon returning to New York, I discovered that the Louis Armstrong House was in the nearby Corona neighborhood in the borough of Queens. Coincidentally, an extension of the House, the Louis Armstrong Center had just opened, so I decided to explore it.
Corona is a working-class community, and it’s quite unusual for a celebrity like Louis Armstrong to have lived there. It’s worth noting that by that time, Armstrong had already achieved a high social status, so his residence in Corona was somewhat unique. I learned from the guide that Armstrong’s wife, Lucille, grew up in Corona and had purchased the house before they got married. Lucille had initially planned to move to a different house after their marriage, but Armstrong had a special affection for this place. He liked it because it wasn’t as formal as upscale neighborhoods, and at the same time, it offered him a good amount of privacy.
The Armstrong couple lived here for over twenty years, right up until Louis Armstrong passed away in 1971. Influenced by Armstrong, another renowned jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie, later moved to this community as well.
Today, the Louis Armstrong House continues to contribute to the cultural life of the community. There are regular outdoor concerts in the yard during the summer, and across from the residence, inside the Louis Armstrong Center, there is a performance space where concerts will be held after summer.
Armstrong rose to fame in his early years as a trumpet player, but later became a renowned jazz singer with his distinctive gravelly voice, even winning the Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance in 1965. Armstrong had a famous song called What a wonderful world, and he mentioned in an interview that he often felt this way while living in hisj Corona home.
Coincidentally, he had a Chinese painting in his home depicting four musicians playing the xiao, pipa, guqin, and sheng, along with a dancer. The accompanying poem reads, “A fairyland on earth exists; why search for Penglai (a place in Chinese mythology where immortals live)?” The sentiment of this artwork aligns with the message of What a wonderful world. Armstrong never visited mainland China, but he did visit Hong Kong, and it is possible that he acquired this painting during this visit in 1963.
Research on Armstrong is abundant, but it seems there has not been much study on this Chinese painting in his possession. If Chinese scholars are interested in researching Armstrong, this painting could serve as an excellent starting point. However, before embarking on this study, it’s advisable to consult existing literature. Below are ten English books about Louis Armstrong that are included in Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM) Abstracts for reference.
–Written and compiled by Mu Qian, Editor, RILM.
Armstrong, Louis. Swing that music (New York: Da Capo, 1993). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1993-3006]
Abstract: English: Originally published in 1936 (London: Longmans; New York: Green), this is Louis Armstrong’s first autobiography and the first autobiography by a jazz musician in history. Armstrong’s life living in the South Side of Chicago with “King” Oliver, his marriage to Lil Hardin, moving to New York in 1929, forming his own band, European tours, and the success he achieved internationally are chronicled.
Armstrong, Louis. Satchmo: My life in New Orleans (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1954). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1954-00411].
Abstract: “In all my whole career the Brick House was one of the toughest joints I ever played in. It was the honky-tonk where levee workers would congregate every Saturday night and trade with the gals who’d stroll up and down the floor and the bar. Those guys would drink and fight one another like circle saws. Bottles would come flying over the bandstand like crazy, and there was lots of just plain common shooting and cutting. But somehow all that jive didn’t faze me at all, I was so happy to have some place to blow my horn”. So says Louis Armstrong, a tough kid who just happened to be a musical genius, about one of the places where he performed and grew up. This raucous, rich tale of his early days concludes with his departure to Chicago in August 1922 to play with his boyhood idol King Oliver. Armstrong was a man of minimal formal education who was born on a dirt street in the poorest section of New Oreleans, very close to the House of Detention. From the age of five until his departure for Chicago he lived mostly at Liberty and Perdido in the heart of the black vice district–a world of pimps, hustlers, prostitutes, saloons, and gambling joints. His unique mix of personal attributes–toughness, sensitivity, drive, and strength of character–helped make possible a truly inspiring rags-to-riches story told by a discerning critic of human nature.
Cogswell, Michael. Louis Armstrong: The offstage story of Satchmo (Portland: Collectors, 2003). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2003-03459].
Abstract: A pictorial biography of the jazz musician, much of which is drawn from the Louis Armstrong House and and the associated archives at Queens College (Flushing, New York).
Willems, Jos. All of me: The complete discography of Louis Armstrong (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2006). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-01901].
Abstract: Listing of all known recordings, both studio and live performances of the jazz musician. Entries include a complete description of the recording session, the date, its location, the personnel involved, titles of tunes, and lists of commercial releases in various formats.
Collier, James Lincoln. Louis Armstrong: An American genius (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-01371].
Abstract: To millions of fans, Louis Armstrong (“Satchmo”) was just a great entertainer. But to jazz aficionados, he was one of the most important musicians of our times–not only a key figure in the history of jazz but a formative influence on all of 20th-century popular music. Set against the backdrop of New Orleans, Chicago, and New York during the Jazz Age, the saga of an old-fashioned black man making it in a white world is re-created. Armstrong’s rise as a musician is chronicled, along with scrapes with the law, his relationships with four wives, and frequent relationships with fellow musicians including Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, and Zutty Singleton. Light is also shed on Armstrong’s endless need for approval, his streak of jealousy, and perhaps most important, what some consider his betrayal of his gift as he opted for commercial success and stardom.
Riccardi, Ricky. Heart full of rhythm: The big band years of Louis Armstrong (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-01371].
Abstract: Nearly 50 years after his death, Louis Armstrong remains one of the 20th century’s most iconic figures. Popular fans still appreciate his later hits such as <Hello, Dolly!> and <What a wonderful world>, while in the jazz community, he remains venerated for his groundbreaking innovations in the 1920s. The achievements of Armstrong’s middle years, however, possess some of the trumpeter’s most scintillating and career-defining stories. But the story of this crucial time has never been told in depth, until now. Between 1929 and 1947, Armstrong transformed himself from a little-known trumpeter in Chicago to an internationally renowned pop star, setting in motion the innovations of the swing era and bebop. He had a similar effect on the art of American pop singing, waxing some of his most identifiable hits such as <Jeepers creepers> and <When you’re smiling>. However, as this book shows, this transformative era wasn’t without its problems, from racist performance reviews and being held up at gunpoint by gangsters to struggling with an overworked embouchure and getting arrested for marijuana possession. Utilizing a prodigious amount of new research, the author traces Armstrong’s mid-career fall from grace and dramatic resurgence. Featuring never-before-published photographs and stories culled from Armstrong’s personal archives, the book tells the story of how the man called “Pops” became the first “King of Pop”. An excerpt is cited as RILM 2020-61930.
Riccardi, Ricky. What a wonderful world: The magic of Louis Armstrong’s later years (New York: Pantheon, 2011). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2011-04068].
Abstract: A comprehensive account of the final 25 years of the life and art of one of America’s greatest and most beloved musical icons. Much has been written about Louis Armstrong, but the majority of it focuses on the early and middle stages of his long career. This in-depth look at the years in which Armstrong was often dismissed as a buffoonish, if popular, entertainer, demonstrates instead the inventiveness and depth of expression that his music evinced during this time. These are the years (from after World War II until his death in 1971) when Armstrong entertained crowds around the world and recorded his highest-charting hits, including <Mack the knife> and <Hello, Dolly!>; years when he collaborated with, among others, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck; years when he recorded with strings and big bands, and, of course, with the All Stars, his primary recording ensemble for more than two decades. During this period, Armstrong both burnished and enhanced his legacy as one of jazz’s most influential figures.
Armstrong, Louis. Louis Armstrong in his own words: Selected writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1999-05124].
Abstract: Drawn from the archives of the master trumpeter, band leader, and entertainer, a collection of ARMSTRONG’s own writings presents his life as a musician, entertainer, civil rights activist, and cultural icon. These writings, many of which were previously unpublished, include some of his earliest letters, personal correspondence with one of his first biographers during 1943 and 1944, autobiographical writings, magazine articles, and essays. This work presents the jazz musician’s own thoughts on his life and career–from poverty in New Orleans to playing in the famous cafes, cabarets, and saloons of Storyville; from his big break in 1922 with the King Oliver band to his storming of New York; from his breaking of color barriers in Hollywood to the infamous King of the Zulus incident in 1949; and finally, to his last days in Queens, New York. In his writings ARMSTRONG recorded revealing portraits of his times and offered candid, often controversial, opinions about racism, marijuana, bebop, and other jazz artists such as Jelly Roll Morton and Coleman Hawkins.
Berrett, Joshua. The Louis Armstrong companion: Eight decades of commentary (New York: G. Schirmer). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1999-05125].
Abstract: An anthology compiled using the rich resources of the Armstrong Archives, including Armstrong’s autobiographical writings from the 1920s, letters to friends and family, interviews with others about Armstrong, and more, many of which have never been published. The reprints articles, interviews, and reviews stem from 1927 to 1999.
Meckna, Michael. Satchmo: The Louis Armstrong encyclopedia (Westport: Greenwood, 2004). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-07292].
Abstract: Details every aspect of Armstrong’s life and music, along with a discography, chronology, film listings, a guide to online resources, a bibliography about Armstrong, and more.
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Margaret Rosezarian Harris (1943–2000) was the first Black woman to conduct the orchestras of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and 12 other U.S. cities. Harris played solo piano recitals in the U.S. and abroad and served as musical director for the Broadway production of Hair. She was a composer of ballets, concertos, and an opera, and served as a U.S. cultural specialist for a production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in Uzbekistan in 1995.
Harris was a child prodigy: she first performed in public when she was three years old and played a Mozart concerto movement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was ten. She received her musical education in the public schools of Chicago, Illinois; at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. During the 1960s, Harris was active in New York as a musical director for the Negro Ensemble Company and the New York Shakespeare Festival Company and as a teacher at the the Dorothy Maynor School of the Performing Arts. She made her concert debut as a pianist in 1970 at Town Hall in New York, including some of her original compositions on her program.
The same year she made her debut as a conductor-musical director with the Broadway musical Hair. She also conducted several musicals, including Two gentlemen of Verona (1971) and Raisin (1973). In 1971, she made her debut as a symphony orchestra conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in its Grant Park Concert Series. Harris toured widely at home and abroad as a guest conductor, appearing in concert halls, on college campuses, and at festivals where she frequently performed two roles, conductor and pianist-composer, playing her own piano concertos. She was active in radio and television music and served as the music director for Opera Ebony, and her honors include appointments to national advisory panels and an award from the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1972.
Today is Margaret Rosezarian Harris’ 80th birthday! Read more in the Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians (1982). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Below is her second piano concerto.
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As a singer and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Seeger played an important role in the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Although Seeger was generally less known than his politically outspoken half-brother, Pete, he helped found the New Lost City Ramblers in 1958 and throughout his career recorded and produced dozens of albums of American music that he called “true vine”, which combined British and African storytelling traditions. Although only eight years older, Seeger had a strong influence on Bob Dylan. Recalling him in Chronicles. I (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), Dylan wrote:
“Mike was unprecedented. He was like a duke, the knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. He could push a stake through Dracula’s black heart. He was the romantic, egalitarian, and revolutionary type all at once—had chivalry in his blood…”
“He played all the instruments, whatever the song called for—the banjo, the fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, the guitar, even harmonica in the rack….He played on all the various planes, the full index of old-time styles, played in all the genres and had the idioms mastered—Delta blues, ragtime, minstrel songs, buck-and-wing, dance reels, play party, hymns and gospel—being there and seeing him up close, something hit me. It’s not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them.”
Mike Seeger would have celebrated his 90th birthday on August 15. He passed away in 2009. Learn more about Seeger in Country music: A biographical dictionary–find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.
Watch Seeger perform the song Freight Train and a performance on fiddle and banjo from the 1960s.
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By the late 1970s, hip hop’s five core elements had emerged, namely deejaying, emceeing, breaking, graffiti, and beatboxing. The first two originated primarily in New York City hip hop parties led by DJs (disc jockeys) who revolutionized the practice of record spinning through the art of turntablism, and MCs (master of ceremonies) who performed rhythmic call and response with audiences. Breaking (the dance element of hip hop), graffiti (the visual art of hip hop), and beatboxing (the ability to create beats with one’s mouth) also formed in tandem with early hip hop culture at these parties.
Emceeing, which later known as rap, had cultural roots in the Black verbal arts of the United States and the Caribbean region. Mainland U.S. traditions that remained visible in hip hop include “jive-talking” radio personalities of the 1940s and 1950s, oral traditions of storytelling, and “playing the dozens“, a competitive and recreational exchange of verbal insults. Jamaican traditions include toasting, mobile disk jockeys, and sound systems. Many hip hop pioneers were Caribbean immigrants who brought musical practices from their native countries and adapted them to new social and sonic contexts of New York City.
The mingling of Caribbean immigrant and native-born African American and Latinx communities in the United States set the stage for the development of hip hop and rap music. A large Caribbean community had developed in New York, where the first rap and dance parties were said to have begun, as early as 1972 in the Bronx. Rapping as a distinct musical form developed in New York as a cultural expression encompassed by hip hop. Socioeconomic conditions in the Bronx and Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s profoundly shaped the aesthetics and activities of hip hop culture. The construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in 1959 accelerated the deterioration of buildings and led to the displacement of communities of the south Bronx–in many of these areas, youth gangs and gang violence emerged. Despite the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s, Bronx youth developed popularized expressions that eventually came to be associated with hip hop culture, then consisting primarily of graffiti and competitive dancing. Hip hop became a powerful cultural symbol of urban youth. Within a few years, it had spread far beyond the Bronx.
Rap largely incubated outside of the pop mainstream during the 1970s. Although commercial success eluded him, Kool DJ Herc is widely considered to be the godfather of rap. His ideology ultimately defined hip hop culture–he was a record collector, dedicated to finding jazz, rock, or reggae discs possessing a funky drum break ideal for dancing. When asked in an interview about how many times he would play a break, Herc replied, “I wouldn’t go too far. Two times. I’ll just extend it two times. And James Brown says “Clyde” [for drummer Clyde Stubblefield]–that’s my name. So James Brown shouted me out. Oooh. Then the break comes in. I used that to start me off, and then go into the Isley Brothers and [Babe Ruth’s] The Mexican. Oooh, I like this. And then Jimmy Castor Bunch. Them were the records, man. I lay claim to it: That’s a Herc record. I’d say, “You never heard it like this before, and you’re back for more.” That’s it.”
Spinning records at local venues, Herc attracted Black audiences largely from the Bronx and Harlem where so-called “b-boys” dominated club dance contests until Puerto Rican youth developed a new dance vocabulary of power moves known as breaking (or break dancing). “Some say hip hop some begins with the DJ. But actually hip hop culture itself begins with the b-boy. We’re the x factor,” says Cholly Rock (Anthony Horne), a first generation b-boy. Cholly traces breaking back to the 1960s when Latinos across New York started “rocking” or “uprocking,” creating moves inspired by mambo music to contemporary soul and rock. Rocking was inspired by battle dances and performed as type of showdown. Some dancers latched on to its more aggressive components referring to the elaborate dance-disses as “burning.” Provocative styles emerged among feuding New York City gangs, especially in the Bronx.
Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) provided the final impetus in making rap an art form. After moving to the Bronx from Barbados with his family as a child, Flash learned about electronics in a high school vocational class and quickly applied his knowledge to turntables and his father’s record collection. He extended and refined Herc’s breakbeat technique by incorporating a cross-fader system to monitor the mix on headphones and switch channels quickly–essentially inventing the turntable/mixer setup used by many hip hop DJs today. Flash specialized in playing breaks, the point when a DJ rapped, or a b-boy displayed his flashiest moves, and was adept at extending breaks and abruptly shifting records to the next break beat (or “cutting”). He also perfected “scratching” (see video below), the technique of taking the beginning of the beat, holding the record with your finger and making it go backward and forward with your finger.
Look out for upcoming posts celebrating hip hop’s 50th anniversary in the Hip hop at 50 series on Bibliolore. Find out more about the history of hip hop and contemporary scenes in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME) and RILM Abstracts.
Ahmad Jamal’s laid-back, accessible style of jazz featuring dense chords, a wide dynamic range, and use of silence initially drew criticism from the jazz press early in his career. This style, however, soon became ingrained in the jazz soundscape. The critic Stanley Crouch wrote that bebop’s founding father, Charlie Parker, was the only musician “more important to the development of fresh form in jazz than Ahmad Jamal”. Miles Davis declared, “[Jamal] knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement, and the way he [phrased] notes and chords and passages.” Jamal’s unmistakable style consisting of an economical and relaxed manner of playing encompassing pauses, distinctive rhythmic accents, a distinctive sense of melody, and a soft intonation. It befitted the intimate instrumentation of the piano trio, which formed the focus of his work. Clint Eastwood borrowed two tracks from the album At the Pershing for his 1995 romance film The Bridges of Madison County. Jamal also inspired hip hop musicians, including Nas, De La Soul, Gang Starr, and Common, all of whom sampled his 1970s work.
Jamal began playing piano when he was three years old and began piano study with Mary Cardwell Dawson at the age of seven. He competed successfully in piano competitions by the time he was eleven and performed publicly in recitals. In his early years, Jamal listened not only to jazz, which he referred to as “American classical music”, but also to Western music. “We didn’t separate the two schools,” he told The New York Times in 2001. “We studied Bach and Ellington, Mozart and Art Tatum.”
In the early 1950s, he converted to the Islamic faith, changed his name to Ahmad Jamal, and used that name for his trio. Jamal recorded extensively, toured widely in the United States, Europe, Central, and South America, and played long residencies in nightclubs of New York and Chicago, among other cities. He also was active in television and films and played on film soundtracks, including the M*A*S*H soundtrack (1969). He also toured as a soloist, and is best-known for his album But Not for Me. He played in the avant-garde style and exerted wide influence upon trios of the 1960s and 1970s.
Ahmad Jamal passed away on 16 April 2023.
Read more about Ahmad Jamal’s life and jazz career in the Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians (1982). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME). Also find the obituary on Jamal in MGG Online.
Below is a performance by Ahmad Jamal in 2012 also featuring Yusuf Lateef.
Hailing from a musical family in western Virginia, Ernest “Pop” Stoneman was a carpenter by trade and a musician by avocation. By his twenties, Stoneman could play the guitar, autoharp, mouth harp (or harmonica), and jaw harp. He contacted Okeh Records in 1924 and made some test recordings that were released early the following year, including the first recording of The Sinking of the Titanic. That first recording was not released as Stoneman and Okeh executives felt it was too soon after the tragic sinking of the “unsinkable” ship, but he subsequently rerecorded two versions in 1925 (entitled The Titanic) and in 1926, both of which were well received. Stoneman’s lyrics to The Titanic provided an account of the incident and social commentary on class differences between the ship’s travelers. For instance, in these two verses:
“When they were building the Titanic, they said what they could do. They were going to build a ship that no water could not go through, But God with his mighty hand showed to the world it could not stand. It was sad when that great ship went down.
When they left England, they were making for the shore. The rich they declared they would not ride with the poor. So they sent the poor below, they were the first that had to go. It was sad when that great ship went down.”
Like many country music stars who came from a rural background, Stoneman was not especially traditional in his approach to music making—instead of singing in a highly ornamented style, he sang in a relaxed, almost spoken manner, with clear pronunciation. His string-band recordings were more genteel than the rough-and-rowdy style preferred by many deep Southern bands.
During the Great Depression, the recording industry was severely crippled, and Stoneman’s initial career ended. He worked in a munitions factory through World War II, settling outside of Washington, D.C., and did not return to active performing until the first folk revival of the early 1950s. Stoneman had 13 children, many musically talented, so he formed a family band that performed in the Washington area. They recorded for various labels, but their most important and influential album came out in 1957 on the Folkways label, introducing their sound to the urban folk-revival audience. In 1962 they became members of The Grand Ole Opry and continued to perform through the 1960s for both country and folk-revival audiences. They also appeared on TV programs ranging from Shindig to Hootenany to The Jimmy Dean Show.
Read on in Country music: A biographical dictionary (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Below is a recording of Stoneman’s The Titanic.
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