Most people know the The House of the Rising Sun as a 1964 hit by The Animals about a place in New Orleans—a whorehouse or a prison or a gambling joint that has been the ruin of many poor girls or boys—but few songs have traveled such an intricate journey.
The launch of the song’s world travels can be traced to Georgia Turner (above), a poor 16-year-old daughter of a miner living in Middlesboro, Kentucky, when the young folk music collector Alan Lomax captured her voice singing The Rising Sun blues in 1937. Lomax deposited the song in the Library of Congress and included it in the 1941 collection Our singing country.
In short order, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Josh White learned the song and each recorded it. From there it began to move to the planet’s farthest corners. Today, hundreds of artists have recorded House of the Rising Sun, and it can be heard in the most diverse of places—Chinese karaoke bars, Gatorade ads, and as a ring tone on cell phones. The song’s journey is a case study of how a cultural artifact moves through the modern world, propelled by technology, globalization, and recorded sound.
This according to Chasing the Rising Sun: The journey of an American song by Ted Anthony (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2007-6177). Below, Lomax’s original recording of Georgia Turner.
Reviews serve many valuable functions in music scholarship, from sparking critical discourse, to revealing topics of interest at a particular historical moment, to providing summaries and assessments for further inquiries, to shining a light on superlative (or, in some cases, substandard) research. Reviews collect and constitute interpretive communities, which arguably play a role in constructing the very meaning of a text.
In recognition of the importance of reviews, RILM inaugurates its Instant Classics series—a collection of the ten most-reviewed monographs indexed in the extensive international holdings of RILM Abstracts of Music Literature. The current list of books spans the two-year period from 2017 to 2019 and is ordered from least to most reviewed. Since it takes some time for texts to be assessed and reviews to be released, going back a few years provides a fuller and more accurate picture of a book in review.
This list is inherently limited, dynamic, and subject to continuous revision as more reviews potentially accrue for these and other texts. What we offer here is merely an inchoate snapshot, one that reflects the biases and areas of interest in music research at a specific time and place in history. With that in mind, it is also more than simply another “Top Ten” list, as it may hold a degree of historiographic value.
And finally, an important reminder: We need your help! RILM always welcomes your reviews or reviews of your publications. Notice an omission? Help us fill in our gaps by submitting your review.
– Compiled and edited by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor and Marketing Coordinator, RILM
#10. Wheeler, Barbara L., Donna W. Polen, and Carol L. Shultis. Clinical training guide for the student music therapist (2nd ed., rev.; Dallas: Barcelona, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-43779]
Abstract: Covers planning, assessment, goals and objectives, improvisation, composing, listening, individual and group work, documentation, and self-assessment.
#9. Borge, Jason R. Tropical riffs: Latin America and the politics of jazz (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-1970]
Abstract: This book traces how jazz helped forge modern identities and national imaginaries in Latin America during the mid-20th century. Across Latin America jazz functioned as a conduit through which debates about race, sexuality, nation, technology, and modernity raged in newspapers, magazines, literature, and film. For Latin American audiences, critics, and intellectuals—who often understood jazz to stem from social conditions similar to their own—the profound penetration into the fabric of everyday life of musicians like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker represented the promises of modernity while simultaneously posing a threat to local and national identities. Brazilian anti-jazz rhetoric branded jazz as a problematic challenge to samba and emblematic of Americanization. In Argentina, jazz catalyzed discussions about musical authenticity, race, and national culture, especially in relation to tango. And in Cuba, the widespread popularity of Chano Pozo and Dámaso Pérez Prado challenged the United States’s monopoly on jazz. Outlining these hemispheric flows of ideas, bodies, and music, this book elucidates how the art form was, and remains, a transnational project and a collective idea.
#8. Chua, Daniel K.L. Beethoven & freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-28046]
Abstract: Over the last two centuries, Beethoven’s music has been synonymous with the idea of freedom, in particular a freedom embodied in the heroic figure of Prometheus. This image arises from a relatively small circle of heroic works from the composer’s middle period, most notably the Eroica symphony. However, the freedom associated with the Promethean hero has also come under considerable critique by philosophers, theologians, and political theorists; its promise of autonomy easily inverts into various forms of authoritarianism, and the sovereign will it champions is not merely a liberating force but a discriminatory one. Beethoven’s freedom, then, appears to be increasingly problematic; yet his music is still employed today to mark political events from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the attacks of 9/11. Even more problematic, perhaps, is the fact that this freedom has shaped the reception of Beethoven’s music to such an extent that we forget that there is another kind of music in his oeuvre that is not heroic, a music that opens the possibility of a freedom yet to be articulated or defined. By exploring the musical philosophy of Theodor W. Adorno through a wide range of the composer’s music, this book arrives at a markedly different vision of freedom. The author suggests that a more human and fragile concept of freedom can be found in the music that has less to do with the autonomy of the will and its stoical corollary than with questions of human relation, donation, and a yielding to radical alterity. This work makes a major and controversial statement by challenging the current image of Beethoven, and by suggesting an alterior freedom that can speak ethically to the 21st century.
#7. Talle, Andrew. Beyond Bach: Music and everyday life in the eighteenth century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-24136]
Abstract: Reverence for J.S. Bach’s music and its towering presence in our cultural memory have long affected how people hear his works. In his own time, however, Bach stood as just another figure among a number of composers, many of them more popular with the music-loving public. Eschewing the great composer style of music history, the book takes us on a journey that looks at how ordinary people made music in Bach’s Germany. The author focuses in particular on the culture of keyboard playing as lived in public and private. Ranging through a wealth of documents, instruments, diaries, account ledgers, and works of art, he brings a fascinating cast of characters to life. These individuals—amateur and professional performers, patrons, instrument builders, and listeners—inhabited a lost world, and this book teases out the diverse roles music played in their lives and in their relationships with one another. At the same time, the author’s nuanced recreation of keyboard playing’s social milieu illuminates the era’s reception of Bach’s immortal works. An excerpt is abstracted as RILM 2018-7846.
#6. Watt, Paul. Ernest Newman: A critical biography. Music in Britain, 1600–2000 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-24973]
Abstract: Ernest Newman (1868–1959) left an indelible mark on British musical criticism in a career spanning more than 70 years. His magisterial (a reprint of which is cited as RILM 1976-2951), published in four volumes between 1933 and 1946, is regarded as his crowning achievement, but Newman wrote many other influential books and essays on a variety of subjects ranging from early music to Schoenberg. In this book, the geneses of Newman’s major publications are examined in the context of prevailing intellectual trends in history, criticism, and biography. Newman’s career as a writer is traced across a wide range of subjects including English and French literature; evolutionary theory and biographical method; and French, German, and Russian music. Underpinning many of these works is Newman’s preoccupation with rationalism and historical method. By examining particular sets of writings such as composer-biographies and essays from leading newspapers such as the and the Manchester guardian and the Sunday times, this book illustrates the ways in which Newman’s work was grounded in late–19th-century intellectual paradigms that made him a unique and at times controversial figure.
#5. García, David F. Listening for Africa: Freedom, modernity, and the logic of Black music’s African origins (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-38670]
Abstract: Explores how a diverse group of musicians, dancers, academics, and activists engaged with the idea of Black music and dance’s African origins between the 1930s and 1950s. The author examines the work of figures ranging from Melville J. Herskovits, Katherine Dunham, and Asadata Dafora to Duke Ellington, Dámaso Pérez Prado, and others who believed that linking Black music and dance with Africa and nature would help realize modernity’s promises of freedom in the face of fascism and racism in Europe and the Americas, colonialism in Africa, and the nuclear threat at the start of the Cold War. In analyzing their work, the author traces how such attempts to link Black music and dance to Africa unintentionally reinforced the binary relationships between the West and Africa, white and black, the modern and the primitive, science and magic, and rural and urban. Counter to the movement’s goals, it was modernity’s determinations of unraced, heteronormative, and productive bodies, and of scientific truth, that helped defer the realization of individual and political freedom in the world.
#4. Tunbridge, Laura. Singing in the age of anxiety: Lieder performances in New York and London between the World Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-4190]
Abstract: In New York and London during World War I, the performance of lieder was roundly prohibited, representing as they did the music and language of the enemy. But as German musicians returned to the transatlantic circuit in the 1920s, so too did the lieder of Schubert, Wolf, and Strauss. Lieder were encountered in a variety of venues and media—at luxury hotels and on ocean liners, in vaudeville productions and at Carnegie Hall, and on gramophone recordings, radio broadcasts, and films. The renewed vitality of this refugee musical form between the World Wars is examined here, offering a fresh perspective on a period that was pervaded by anxieties of displacement. Through richly varied case studies, it traces how lieder were circulated, presented, and consumed in metropolitan contexts, shedding new light on how music facilitated unlikely crossings of nationalist and internationalist ideologies during the interwar period.
#3. Eidsheim, Nina Sun. The race of sound: Listening, timbre, and vocality in African American music. Refiguring American music (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-7187]
Abstract: Traces the ways in which sonic attributes that might seem natural, such as the voice and its qualities, are socially produced. The author illustrates how listeners measure race through sound and locate racial subjectivities in vocal timbre—the color or tone of a voice. The author examines singers Marian Anderson, Billie Holiday, and Jimmy Scott as well as the vocal synthesis technology Vocaloid to show how listeners carry a series of assumptions about the nature of the voice and to whom it belongs. Outlining how the voice is linked to ideas of racial essentialism and authenticity, the author untangles the relationship between race, gender, vocal technique, and timbre while addressing an under-theorized space of racial and ethnic performance. In so doing, she advances our knowledge of the cultural-historical formation of the timbral politics of difference and the ways that comprehending voice remains central to understanding human experience, all the while advocating for a form of listening that would allow us to hear singers in a self-reflexive, denaturalized way.
#2. Kreuzer, Gundula. Curtain, gong, steam: Wagnerian technologies of nineteenth-century opera (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-5417]
Abstract: Argues for the foundational role of technologies in the conception, production, and study of 19th-century opera. The author shows how composers increasingly incorporated novel audiovisual effects in their works and how the uses and meanings of the required apparatuses changed through the 20th century, sometimes still resonating in stagings, performance art, and popular culture today. Focusing on devices (which she dubs “Wagnerian technologies”) intended to amalgamate opera’s various media while veiling their mechanics, the author offers a practical counternarrative to Wagner’s idealist theories of total illusionism. At the same time, the book’s multifaceted exploration of the three titular technologies repositions Wagner as catalyst more than inventor in the history of operatic production. With its broad chronological and geographical scope, this book deepens our understanding of the material and mechanical conditions of historical operatic practice as well as of individual works, both well known and obscure.
#1. Iverson, Jennifer. Electronic inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War musical avant-garde. New cultural history of music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-1204]
Abstract: For a decimated post-War West Germany, the electronic music studio at the WDR radio station in Cologne was a beacon of hope. This book traces the reclamation and repurposing of wartime machines, spaces, and discourses into the new sounds of the mid-century studio. In the 1950s, when technologies were plentiful and the need for reconstruction was great, West Germany began to rebuild its cultural prestige via aesthetic and technical advances. The studio’s composers, collaborating with scientists and technicians, coaxed music from sine-tone oscillators, noise generators, band-pass filters, and magnetic tape. Together, they applied core tenets from information theory and phonetics, reclaiming military communication technologies as well as fascist propaganda broadcasting spaces. The electronic studio nurtured a revolutionary synthesis of science, technology, politics, and aesthetics. Its esoteric sounds transformed mid-century music and continue to reverberate today. Electronic music—echoing both cultural anxiety and promise—is a quintessential Cold War innovation.
The story of jazz in China spans a century, encompassing the introduction of jazz in the early 1920s, its interruption under Mao in 1949, and its rejuvenation in the early 1980s with China’s opening to the world under Deng Xiaoping.
As a highly democratic form of music characterized by improvisation and individual freedom of expression, in the 1920s jazz embodied the antithesis of thousands of years of Chinese cultural history. A hundred years later, Chinese jazz is engaged in a balancing act between consumerism, political ideology, and censorship.
This according to Jazz in China: From dance hall music to individual freedom of expression by Eugene Marlow (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2018; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-7991).
Above and below, Li Gaoyang, one of the musicians discussed in the book.
The term “Asian American” refers to people of Asian descent who have settled in North America beginning in the mid-18th century. Encompassed within the term is a wide range of ethnic groups and immigrant experiences stretching from Japan, Korea, and China, to India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the Middle East. The earliest Asian immigrants were Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and South Asians who came for economic reasons and worked on building the railroads or in agriculture. Subsequent waves of migration since the 1960s have included refugees escaping from political conflict in countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran, and Afghanistan. Laws passed in the United States such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, which barred further immigration from Asia, and Executive Order 9066, which facilitated the relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II, highlight instances where Asian immigrants encountered racism and segregation. Many have overcome such challenges by maintaining connections with their homelands, especially through music, dance, and the dramatic arts.
The diversity of social classes and ethnic heritages of Asians in North America are represented in a wide range of performance traditions. Using the term Asian American music, for instance, has been highly contested and can refer to any music made by Asian Americans or simply music made about the Asian American experience (Wong 2004). Some artists have voiced concerns about the phrase “Asian American music” suggesting it could be essentializing or implies a unified aesthetic. Dance scholars have made the case for establishing Asian American dance as a critical field of inquiry bringing topics of Asian American studies into dialogue with dance studies. By interrogating issues of racial belonging and identity, citizenship, and model minority stereotypes in the context of dance, the field offers a framework for Asian American embodiment.
The scope of Asian American music and performance also has a historical component given the different waves of migration. Early Chinese immigrants of the 18th century brought to North America their love of Cantonese opera and narrative song traditions often heard in the Chinatowns that emerged in cities across the continent. From 1890 to 1924, Japanese immigrants brought various folk, popular, and classical music and dance to places such as California and Hawai’i. After 1965, the constituency of Asian America was transformed by an influx of different types of migrants including laborers from the Philippines, China, and Japan, war refugees (Vietnam, Laos, Afghanistan), and educated professionals and wealthy entrepreneurs from across Asia.
Active scenes for various genres of Asian music and dance emerged along with newer styles blending Asian and Western musical elements. The establishment of San Jose Taiko in the context of the 1960s Asian American political movement opened a space of racial consciousness even as it forced dancers, choreographers, and musicians to navigate the external pressures of representing the often essentialized ideals of Asian America. Some immigrant musicians enthusiastically learned instruments such as piano and violin and became active in Western art music, citing it as a form of social capital that could lead to upward mobility. Others immersed themselves in jazz and hip hop, creating new experimental genres. Today, Asian Americans are singer-songwriters, metalheads, rappers, and performance artists as well as butoh dancers, taiko performers, and bhangra musicians. Each of these shifting artistic identities has contributed to the nuanced complexity of representation that comprises Asian American music and dance.
The following bibliography represents selected texts taken from RILM Abstracts of Music Literature that enhance our knowledge of music, dance, theater, and Asian American experiences. It comprises publications that detail varying perspectives, genres, mediums, and activities.
Written and compiled by Russ Skelchy, Associate Editor, RILM
Baily, John and Asif Mahmoud. Tablas and drum machines: Afghan music in California (London: Goldsmiths College, 2005, motion picture). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-17147]
Abstract: A film exploring the musical life of the Afghan community in Fremont, California, with particular attention to issues of cultural identity.
Bryant, Lei Ouyang. “Performing race and place in Asian America: Korean American adoptees, musical theatre, and the land of 10,000 lakes”, Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music 40/1 (winter–spring 2009) 4–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-344]
Abstract: The Walleye kid: The musical, written by R.A. Shiomi and Sundraya Kase with music and lyrics by Kurt Miyashiro, was one of two musical productions incorporating themes of transracial and transnational adoption staged in the Twin Cities in the spring of 2005. The musical, produced by the Minneapolis-based Asian American theater company Mu Performing Arts, follows a young Korean American adoptee’s journey of self-discovery while adjusting to life in rural, white Minnesota. The production is used as a case study to examine the creative processes used in contemporary Asian American artistic expression, the Korean American adoption experience in Minnesota, and the use of the musical theater to express complex issues surrounding the transnational adoption experience.
Cayari, Christopher. “The education of Asian American music professionals: Exploration and development of ethnic identity”, Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 228 (spring 2021) 7–24. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2021-3584]
Abstract: Asian American people make up approximately 5.8% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019) and pursue careers in a variety of musical professions. However, a monoracial view of Asian Americans that conceives of all Asian Americans as a homogenous group without regard to ethnicity or cultural background has led to widespread stereotypes. The desire to acculturate to U.S. culture and Western European art music ideals can pressure Asian Americans to play certain instruments, restrict their involvement to areas of music, or force them to portray their ethnicity in offensive ways. This study looked at the racial and ethnic identity development of nine Asian American music professionals from various career paths in education, performance, curation, and history through a Web survey and subsequent semistructured interviews. Findings pertained to the musical upbringing of participants both inside and outside of school, the social contexts that affected participants’ musical endeavors, pressures from dominant cultures that participants faced while in school and during their careers, and the actions participants took in their careers that were a result of growing up as Asian Americans in various music learning contexts (e.g., school, community, familial, and informal).
Chambers-Letson, Joshua. A race so different: Performance and law in Asian America (New York: New York University Press, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-29192]
Abstract: Taking a performance studies approach to understanding Asian American racial subjectivity, the author argues that the law influences racial formation by compelling Asian Americans to embody and perform recognizable identities in both popular aesthetic forms (such as theater, opera, or rock music) and in the rituals of everyday life. Tracing the production of Asian American selfhood from the era of Asian Exclusion through the Global War on Terror, the book explores the legal paradox whereby U.S. law apprehends the Asian American body as simultaneously excluded from and included within the national body politic. The last chapter examines the group Dengue Fever and the racialization of Cambodian-America.
Hong Sohn, Stephen. “Calculated cacophonies: The queer Asian American family and the nonmusical musical in Chay Yew’s Wonderland“, The journal of American drama and theatre (JADT) 29/1 (fall–winter 2017) 20p. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-50880]
Abstract: Chay Yew’s productions commonly address queer Asian American experiences and associated themes, including the struggle to survive amid hostile familial ties and exclusionary social contexts. This article explores such issues through an extended analysis of Wonderland, a dramatic production involving four roles. Three of the roles—a Man, a Woman, and a Son—comprise an Asian American nuclear family. The fourth figure, a Young Man, is revealed to be playing the Son as an adult. Each role bears the burden of expanding the audience’s vision to include the queer Asian American as part of a domestic social construct that better integrates non-normative sexualities as part of its core foundation. The article shows how Wonderland diagnoses this problem through its thematic depictions and offers an intriguing intervention through its deployment of form—what Yew describes as a “nonmusical musical”. I investigate the “nonmusical musical” as a quintessentially queer racial performance form that employs what I term as calculated cacophonies, which elucidates how Wonderland uses dialogic, sonic, and thematic relationalities to undercut the portrayed destruction of the Asian American family. The presence of calculated cacophonies allows Wonderland to spotlight some guarded optimism: there may be a sustained possibility for the queer Asian American son to find a place in the heteronuclear family.
Liu, Sissi. “‘Kungfu/jazz’ as a new approach to music theatre making: Fred Ho and ‘manga opera'”, Studies in musical theatre 11/2 (2017) 197–214. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literaturewith Full Text, 2017-35087]
Abstract: Kung fu and jazz—performing art forms that originated from the racial others—will be used as shorthand for two concurrent, interdependent, and dialectically opposing cultural processes: one that prioritizes boundary formation or reinforcement, and one that favors boundary elimination or crossing. The processes of kung fu and jazz are analyzed in the case of Ho’s Voice of the dragon (2006), and the paradoxical process of negotiating between the two are explored in Ho’s creation of a new genre, manga opera. I propose that in a world of increasing global encounters, racial and ethnic multiplicities, and political and cultural complexities, kung fu/jazz provides a politically progressive and transgressive approach to the process of boundary-conscious musical theater-making.
Nguyen, Mimi Thi and Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu. Alien encounters: Popular culture in Asian America (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2007-17171]
Abstract: Showcases innovative directions in Asian American cultural studies by exploring topics ranging from pulp fiction to multimedia art and import-car subcultures. Contributors analyze Asian Americans’ interactions with popular culture as both creators and consumers. The volume reflects post-1965 Asian America paying nuanced attention to issues of gender, sexuality, transnationality, and citizenship, while unabashedly taking pleasure in pop culture. Issues of cultural authenticity are raised by addressing Asian American participation in hip hop and jazz, the emergence of an orientalist “Indo-chic” in U.S. youth culture, and the circulation of Vietnamese music variety shows. Taking popular culture seriously reveals how people imagine and express their affective relationships to history, identity, and belonging.
Sharma, Nitasha Tamar. Hip hop desis: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a global race consciousness. Refiguring American music (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-5669]
Abstract: Explores the worldviews of young U.S. people of South Asian descent (self-identifying as Desis) who create hip hop music. Through their lives and lyrics, hip hop Desis express a global race consciousness reflecting both their sense of connection with Black Americans as racialized minorities in the U.S. and their diasporic sensibility as part of a global community of South Asians. The author emphasizes the role of appropriation and sampling in the ways that hip hop Desis craft their identities, create art, and pursue social activism. Some of the Desi artists at the center of her ethnography produce what she calls ethnic hip hop, incorporating South Asian languages, instruments, and immigrant themes. Through ethnic hip hop, Desi artists such as KB, Sammy, and Bella Deejay express alternative desiness, challenging assumptions about their identities as South Asians, children of immigrants, minorities, and U.S. people. Desi artists also contest and seek to bridge perceived divisions between Black and South Asian Americans through racialized hip hop. It is described how they uncover connections between South Asians and Black Americans, highlighting in their lyrics links such as the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Mahatma Gandhi. By taking up themes considered irrelevant to many Asian Americans, Desi performers including D’Lo, Chee Malabar of Himalayan Project and Rawj of Feenom Circle create a multiracial form of Black popular culture to fight racism and enact social change.
Villegas, Mark R., Kuttin Kandi, and Roderick N. Labrador, eds. Empire of funk: Hip hop and representation in Filipina/o America (San Diego: Cognella, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-5390]
Abstract: Gives long overdue attention to the most popular cultural art form practiced by recent generations of Filipina/o American youth. The anthology features the voices of artists, scholars, and activists to begin a dialogue on Filipina/o American youth culture and its relationship to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class. The text also offers the opportunity to question the future of hip hop itself. Individual chapters explore Filipina/o American hip hop aesthetics, community-building, the geography of hip hop in Filipina/o America, sexuality and power, activism and praxis, visual culture, and navigating the hip hop industry. This text gives readers a thoughtful introduction to an often-overlooked aspect of American society and culture.
Wang, Oliver. Legions of boom: Filipino American mobile DJ crews in the San Francisco Bay Area (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-13936]
Abstract: Armed with speakers, turntables, light systems, and records, Filipino American mobile DJ crews, such as Ultimate Creations, Spintronix, and Images, Inc., rocked dance floors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. This book chronicles the remarkable scene that eventually became the cradle for turntablism. These crews, which were instrumental in helping create and unify the Bay Area’s Filipino American community, gave young men opportunities to assert their masculinity and gain social status. While crews regularly spun records for school dances, weddings, birthdays, or garage parties, the scene’s centerpieces were showcases—or multi-crew performances—which drew crowds of hundreds, or even thousands. By the mid-1990s the scene was in decline, as single DJs became popular, recruitment to crews fell off, and aspiring scratch DJs branched off into their own scene. As the training ground for a generation of DJs, including DJ Q-Bert, Shortkut, and Mix Master Mike, the mobile scene left an indelible mark on its community that eventually grew to have a global impact.
Wong, Deborah. Louder and faster: Pain, joy, and the body politic in Asian American taiko. American crossroads (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-7730]
Abstract: A cultural study of the phenomenon of Asian American taiko, the thundering, athletic drumming tradition that originated in Japan. Immersed in the taiko scene for 20 years, the author has witnessed cultural and demographic changes and the exponential growth and expansion of taiko particularly in Southern California. Through her participatory ethnographic work, she reveals a complicated story embedded in memories of Japanese American internment and legacies of imperialism, Asian American identity and politics, a desire to be seen and heard, and the intersection of culture and global capitalism. Exploring the materialities of the drums, costumes, and bodies that make sound, analyzing the relationship of these to capitalist multiculturalism, and investigating the gender politics of taiko, the book considers both the promises and pitfalls of music and performance as an anti-racist practice. The result is a vivid glimpse of an Asian American presence that is both loud and fragile.
Wong, Yutian, ed. Contemporary directions in Asian American dance. Studies in dance history (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-1207]
Abstract: The definition of Asian American dance is as contested as the definition of “Asian American”. The term encompasses not only a range of national origins but also a dazzling variety of theoretical frameworks, disciplinary methods, and genres—from traditional to postmodern to hip hop. Contributors to this volume address such topics as the role of the 1960s Asian American movement in creating Japanese American taiko groups, and the experience of internment during World War II influencing butoh dance in Canada. Essays about artists look closely at the politics of how Asian aesthetics are set into motion and marketed. The volume includes first-person narratives, interviews, ethnography, cultural studies, performance studies, and comparative ethnic studies.
Yoshihara, Mari. Musicians from a different shore: Asians and Asian Americans in classical music (Philadelphia: University of Temple Press, 2007). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2007-5967]
Abstract: An examination of the phenomenon whereby musicians of Asian descent enjoy unprecedented prominence in concert halls, conservatories, and classical music performance competitions. A confluence of culture, politics, and commerce after World War II made classical music a staple in middle-class households, established Yamaha as the world’s largest producer of pianos, and gave the Suzuki method of music training an international clientele. Soon, talented musicians from Japan, China, and South Korea were flocking to the U.S. to study and establish careers, and Asian American families were enrolling toddlers in music classes. This historical backdrop is punctuated by interviews with Asian and Asian American musicians, such as Cho-Liang Lin, Margaret Leng Tan, Kent Nagano, who have taken various routes into classical music careers. They offer their views about the connections of race and culture and discuss whether the music is really as universal as many claim it to be. A Japanese translation is cited as RILM 2013-34104.
Zhu, Ying and Quynh Nhu Le. “Body, time, and space: Poetry as choreography in Southeast Asian American literature”, Dance chronicle: Studies in dance and the related arts 39/1 (2016) 77–95. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-26748]
Abstract: This collaboration between a dance scholar and a literary/critical race studies scholar engages cross-disciplinary strategies of reading poetry to complicate contemporary discourses surrounding Southeast Asian American cultural productions. We offer an analysis of Phayvanh Luekhamhan’s Rubber bands and Diep Tran’s Schools, focusing on their incorporation of elements integral to both dance and Southeast Asian diasporic poetry: body, time, and space. Choreographic in form and content, these poems shed light on the embodied repercussions of imperialism, war, and migration, and call forth the moving body as central to both recording and cultivating the formation of communities in diaspora.
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Over 150 countries around the world celebrate Labor Day, or International Workers’ Day, on 1 May. With origins in the mid–19th-century eight-hour workday movement, this date (May Day) was established in 1889 by the first congress of the Second International to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. Today, the holiday functions largely to recognize the struggle and achievements of laborers everywhere. The criteria by which music making is judged as work, the power of collectives to safeguard the rights of music workers, and the determination of appropriate remuneration for musical services are constantly being negotiated by musicians and institutions. Simon Frith’s article “Are workers musicians?” (cited below)—an exploration of how UK musicians’ unions have been shaped by the conceptual division of the musician as laborer-craftsperson, or professional—ends with a familiar opposition: music as work versus music as play. Frith elaborates:
The belief that music—making music—is in itself, fun, a pleasurable activity that shouldn’t be thought of as work is embedded in our culture. Music is something humans do; we are all musicians—hence the vast number of amateur musicians, people who play for love. Such love of music is, of course, why people are willing to pay for musical labour in the first place, but it also means, perhaps, that they don’t really regard or music as work. Its value is precisely as non-work. Musicians may, then, be workers, but they shouldn’t be!
Aside from the reductive tone of this quote’s opening sentence (one might rightly question, “Whose ‘cultures’?” and “In which contexts?”), the musician as non-laborer (or player, rather than worker), is a common trope encouraged by the music industry, fans, journalists, and even pop musicians themselves. To cite just one examples of the latter, Lou Reed, in an interview for the documentary Rock & Roll, recounts the conditions that led to his place in The Velvet Underground. He recalls, “I had a real problem with authority. Always have. I had a real problem with being able to hold a job, a normal job. I only had, I think, three in my life. Some lasted a half hour and some half a day. I had often thought, like, ‘What are you going to do, for a job? You can’t do anything’. And I fell into the band thing.” The positioning of popular music making as a desirable alternative to the repressive power structures foisted upon those with “normal” jobs facilitates the notion that pop offers a high (or relatively high) degree of autonomy to its practitioners. Reed’s experimental—some would say, and did at the time, “unlistenable”—1975 album Metal machine music would serve as just one of innumerable sonic examples of musicians complicating this putative autonomy. Whether resulting from an interest in drones, noise, minimalism, and the postwar avant-garde, or a defiant gesture to RCA Records, pop audience expectation, and genre boundaries (or some, all, or none of these), it made a statement on the (perceived or real) options available to a pop musician.
Frith’s remarks on music’s pleasurability and Reed’s appeal to autonomy are tenacious elements of discourses surrounding popular music making that have at times led to pop musicians being denied the status of worker. This denial is worthy of inspection and holds implications for other forms of music-related activities, but it is also glaringly limited. A more complete picture of a topic as complex, wide-ranging, and wide-reaching as music and labor would include numerous genres (traditional, art, and pop musics), activities (composition, performance, editing, recording), organizations (unions, libraries, private companies, state institutions), and functions (entertainment, ritual, edification). And of course, in the spirit of the holiday, it is worth remembering that music may be mobilized to serve the struggle for workers’ rights more broadly, through protests and activist movements that operationalize the emotionality embedded in chants, songs, and melodic speech. People sound defiance, and that too does work.
The following bibliography presents a selection of texts taken from RILM Abstracts of Music Literature that may advance our knowledge and awareness of specific aspects of music and labor. It comprises publications that are international in scope and that detail varying perspectives, genres, collective activities, and economies. It is hoped that they will serve as a spark for further research. But perhaps leave that for tomorrow and take today off.
Written and compiled by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing Manager, RILM
Absher, Amy. “Traveling jazz musicians and debt peonage”, American music: A quarterly journal devoted to all aspects of American music and music in America 37/2 (summer 2019) 172–196. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2019-18326]
Abstract: The story of three brothers—Charles, Chester, and Morgan Jones—and their lives as itinerant jazz musicians in the 1930s reveals the ways in which Black musicians were still effectively enslaved by white club owners and law enforcement. In 1937, they were jailed as a result of debt peonage, wherein an employer, Dewey Helms, withheld pay supposedly in the service of debt owed by the musicians. Rarely does jazz scholarship document this system of debt peonage, and in this case, the documentation relies heavily on records of the FBI, who interviewed the brothers, Helms, and others as part of an FBI investigation. The kind of coerced labor involved in this story is well-documented in histories of the Reconstruction through World War II. Stories of Black musicians during this period, however, are often colored with a romanticized illusion of freedom rooted in the creative nature of their work. The difficulties in studying musicians such as the Jones brothers without access to oral histories, accounts of their performances, or memoirs are explored. One of the only ways to examine a story such as this is through the lens of slavery and labor culture.
Alisch, Stefanie. “‘I opened the door to develop kuduro at Jupson’: Music studios as spaces of collective creativity in the context of electronic dance music in Angola”, Contemporary music review 39/6 (December 2020) 663–683. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-61691]
Abstract: Demonstrates how studios producing the Angolan electronic dance music (EDM) kuduro (hard arse) in the capital Luanda are usefully investigated as social spaces of collective creativity. Interviews, observations, close listening, and ethnographic participation are triangulated. Researchers often portray kuduro and other EDM styles in the Global South using what I name the–scarcity-resilience narrative. This narrative gives short shrift to the rich cultural resources that feed into EDM styles. It perpetuates problematic stereotypes about African people and occludes the deliberate labor that kuduro practitioners (kuduristas) invest in their craft. As kuduristas routinely affirm that sociability drives their interpersonal creative processes, kuduro studios are portrayed as social spaces and kuduro’s collective creativity is construed through extended mind theory (EMT). In the analysis, first kuduro studios in Luanda are introduced broadly and then the focus is on two influential kuduro studios: JUPSON and Guetto Produções. It is shown how kuduristas mobilize their collective creativity inside the studio by tapping into aesthetic strategies and conventions of the rich popular culture that surrounds them. Via EMT, aesthetic dueling is portrayed through puto-kota (elder-younger) relationships, call-and-response, and urban vocal strategies as collectively maintained social institutions. Inside the studio, kuduristas translate these rich resources into the sonic materiality of kuduro tracks which, in turn, are designed to achieve maximum audience response through mobilizing the social institutions when radiating out into the world. The scarcity-resilience narrative of Global South EDM is de-centered by focusing on collective creativity and, as such, a fresh epistemological position is offered on the study of music studios, Global South EDM, and popular music in Angola.
Ayer, Julie. More than meets the ear: How symphony musicians made labor history (Minneapolis: Syren Book Co., 2005). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-7672]
Abstract: A history of the grassroots movement that transformed labor relations and the professional lives of U.S. and Canadian symphony musicians. The struggles and accomplishments experienced by many visionary leaders of the 1950s to 1970s offer inspiration to new generations of musicians, students, teachers, music lovers, labor historians, and orchestra administrators. Minnesota Orchestra case history documents the growth of a major American orchestra in dramatic detail and anecdotes, showing the profound effect the musician’s labor movement has had on the profession.
Abstract: What is the ultimate song to celebrate Workers’ Day? Many will suggest “The Internationale” which had its roots as a poem written in the aftermath of the Paris Commune in 1871 by Eugène Pottier, a transport worker. Set to music a few years later, it became the anthem for the wider progressive movement. But I would argue that trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s iconic and internationally popular song “Stimela”—the coal train—is perhaps a more appropriate anthem for Workers’ Day in southern and Central Africa. The song speaks about local history and the migrant labour system on the mines. “Stimela” reminds everyone that South Africa’s wealth and infrastructure was built on the back of labour from all over Africa. They were the force that modernized the country. But the song is also internationalist in focus. Later recordings of the song typically begin with bass rhythms and percussion mimicking the sound of a train on its tracks.
Dedić, Nikola. “Muzika između proizvodnog i neproizvodnog rada”, Challenges in contemporary musicology: Essays in honor of prof. dr. Mirjana Veselinović-Hofman/Izazovi savremene muzikologije: Eseji u čast prof. dr Mirjane Veselinović-Hofman, ed. by Sonja Marinković, Vesna Mikić, Ivana B. Perković, et. al. Muzikološke studije: Monografije. (Beograd: Univerzitet Umetnosti, 2018) 472–484. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-11468]
Abstract: Identifies three models through which music is connected with the economy. Autonomy of art is shown as utterly relative autonomy, while the labor in art (music) is treated as a socially and economically determined labor. Those three models are: art (1) as a simple commodity exchange that rests on the law of simple supply and demand, then art as (2) redistribution of income through the intervention of modern state that carries with it a certain social division of labor (productive and non-productive classes) and finally, (3) it is art as a social practice of forming a monopoly rent. In our contemporary, capitalist society all three models coexist. However, in the history of Western art this was not always the case, and that is why our three-part system can be applied historically: the first model, we call it premodern, is characteristic of most precapitalist societies (at a time when there was no art, only techne, and when there was no idea of the autonomy of art which is obviously a consequence of a very specific social division of labor); the second model, we call it modern, appears with the administrative, bureaucratic state; the third model arises with the evolution of capitalist forms of production that, at one point, through art markets and the culture industry, begin to co-opt and commodify cultural products. The second and third models are, therefore, historically extremely specific and occur exclusively in bourgeois, capitalist societies.
Dreyfus, Kay. “The foreigner, the Musicians’ Union, and the state in 1920s Australia: A nexus of conflict”, Music and politics 3/1 (winter 2019) 1–16. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2009-3759]
Abstract: In September 1929, the general secretary of the Musicians’ Union of Australia (MUA) announced in the official journal, “there are no orchestras of any foreign nationality here now…the fight is over”, an extraordinary statement given that the nonindigenous musical traditions of this former British colony are entirely transplanted. The proximity of the date to the advent of sound films suggests a causal relationship, but the facts are more complex. The issue of foreign musicians became the site of a struggle for control of the labor market, a struggle rooted in the institutionalized racism of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 (the infamous so-called White Australia Policy), legitimized by the distinctive structures of the arbitration system and sanctioned by legal recognition of trade union autonomy with regard to membership regulation. The evolution and consequences of the MUA’s policy on foreign labor through the 1920s and its efforts to mobilize legislative support by appeals to popular concerns are examined.
Frith, Simon. “Are musicians workers?”, Popular music 36/1 (January 2017) 111–115. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-20901]
Abstract: Discusses working musicians in light of being considered laborers versus being considered professionals, and the historical role played by musicians’ labor unions.
Hildbrand, Sebastián Mauricio. “‘Todos unidos triunfaremos…’: La música para los gremios en el Teatro Colón durante el primer peronismo”, Recorridos: Diez estudios sobre música culta argentina de los siglos XX y XXI, ed. by Omar Corrado and Jorge Dubatti (Buenos Aires: Editorial de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras UBA, 2019) 273–309. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-27072]
Abstract: In 1946, Colonel Juan Domingo Perón came to power legitimately through the efforts of various sectors of society that promoted his presidential candidacy; among them the fundamental support of an as yet dispersed and inorganic labor movement. From then until the coup that ended his first period in office in 1955, he served as an effective channel for union demands on the state, as is well known; less familiar are his efforts on behalf of labor rights for the musicians’ union, in particular at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, which constitutes a significant chapter in the reconstruction not only of the history of the opera house, but of musical life during those first Perón years.
Kahn, Si. Habits of resistance: Cultural work and community organizing (Songspeech) (Ph.D. diss., Union Institute, Cincinnati, 1994). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1994-4550]
Abstract: Songspeech is a communication mode that is useful in multicultural communication and consciousness-raising. It draws on a number of traditional cultural forms, such as oral poetry, southern storytelling, midrash, theater, preaching, and unaccompanied song. Songspeech is located at the crossroads of cultural work, community organizing, and power, where multicultural communication forms an integral part of social change organizing. At the heart of this work are issues related to race, gender, class, and the complex interplay between them. Three southern contexts are discussed: black studies (emphasizing the 1960s civil rights movement), women’s studies, and labor studies. Examples are drawn from popular culture, multicultural studies, and social change theory and practice, including oral history, poetry, storytelling, and musical performance styles. Additional examples of the use of songspeech include the Dutch resistance to the Nazis, occupational stress, the relationship between social work and social change, the relationship between culture and community, and the need to develop habits of resistance to injustice.
Karmy, Eileen. “Musical mutualism in Valparaiso during the rise of the labor movement (1893–1931)”, Popular music and society 40/5 (December 2017) 539–555. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-28773]
Abstract: The Musicians’ Mutual Aid Society of Valparaíso was active from 1893 to well into the 20th century in what was then Chile’s main port city. I examine the characteristics of this social organization of Chilean musicians during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its relationship to the rising labor movement. Moreover, I report some relevant findings based on a range of archival material. To conclude, I discuss the role of the Mutual Aid Society of Valparaíso as a forerunner to the creation of the country’s first Musicians’ Union in 1931.
Milohnić, Aldo. “Performing labour relations in the age of austerity”, Performance research: A journal of the performing arts 17/6 (December 2012) 72–79. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-15379]
Abstract: Discusses labor in relation to the performance projects Call cutta (2005) and Call cutta in a box (2008) by the collective of theater directors Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi, and Daniel Wetzel, know as Rimini Protokoll.
Scherzinger, Martin. “Music, labor, and technologies of desire”, Sound and affect: Voice, music, world, ed. by Judith Lochhead, Eduardo Mendieta, and Stephen Decatur Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021) 197–223. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-3926]
Abstract: Speculatively and critically diagnoses new forms of labor, affect, and technology that have taken shape in recent decades, arguing that musical practices are at once historical precursors of current mutations across these domains, key players in the crystallization of their new contemporary forms, and sites where their new shapes may be discerned and critiqued today. In particular, the ways are critiques in which the indeterminacy of affect, along with the kinds of connection that such open affective experience can facilitate, might now fall prey to new forms of harvesting, extraction, and exploitation, which were unforeseen in earlier affect theory and in some musicological literature that valorized affective and emotional experience. Writing with an eye to recent developments at intersections of machine learning, advertising, and cognitive science, it is cautioned that affective arousal could be colonized by militarized adaptation in the same way that interactive instincts could be colonized by industrial interpellation.
Schinasi, Michael. “Zarzuela and the rise of the labour movement in Spain”, Popular entertainment studies 8/2 (2017) 20–37. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-26626]
Abstract: Zarzuela—Spanish lyric theatre—traces its extraordinary popularity on the Iberian Peninsula to the reign of Isabel II (1844–68). Thereafter it never lost its public appeal. In the 19th century cultural commentators debated its debt to 17th-century antecedents. Notwithstanding differing opinions on this, clearly its modern form emerged from Spanish musicians’ attempts to found a new national opera. When they failed to popularize a genre entirely in music, what remained was the zarzuela, which has both singing and spoken dialogue. This article focuses on the social nature of musicians’ hopes for a national opera, the way this arises from their difficult material situation in the face of competition from foreign music and artists, and the politics of early Spanish liberalism. After documenting the depth of artists’ concern with material life and the social language of their plan for action it suggests that we view the rise of the mature zarzuela in the light of Spain’s incipient labor movement. By doing so we in turn gain insight into an important aesthetic feature of zarzuela.
Schwab, Heinrich W. “Das Lied des Berufsvereine: Ihr Beitrag zur ‘Volkskunst’ im 19. Jahrhundrets”, Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 63 (1967) 1–16. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1968-2481]
Abstract: Investigation of the song repertoire of the labor organizations from the standpoint of the history of the genre and in its sociological and qualitative aspects. Describes the various organizational song books (chemists, post and telegraph assistants, railway workers, surveyors) and interprets the textual and musical symbolism of the special club” or “class” songs.
Stahl, Matt. Unfree masters: Recording artists and the politics of work. Refiguring American music (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-9073]
Abstract: Examines recording artists’ labor in the music industry as a form of creative work. It is argued that the widespread perception of singers and musicians as free individuals doing enjoyable and fulfilling work obscures the realities of their occupation. Stahl begins by considering the television show American idol and the rockumentary Dig! (2004), tracing how narratives of popular music making in contemporary America highlight musicians’ negotiations of the limits of autonomy and mobility in creative cultural-industrial work. Turning to struggles between recording artists and record companies over the laws that govern their contractual relationships, Stahl reveals other tensions and contradictions in this form of work. He contends that contract and copyright disputes between musicians and music industry executives, as well as media narratives of music making, contribute to American socioeconomic discourse and expose basic tensions between the democratic principles of individual autonomy and responsibility and the power of employers to control labor and appropriate its products. Attention to labor and property issues in relation to musicians and the music industry can stimulate insights about the political, economic, and imaginative challenges currently facing all working people.
Toynbee, Jason. “The labour that dare not speak its name: Musical creativity, labour process and the materials of music”, Distributed creativity: Collaboration and improvisation in contemporary music, ed. by Eric F. Clarke and Mark Doffman. Studies in musical performance as creative practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) 37–51. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-34150]
Abstract: Explicitly offers a predominantly macro-social account, with musical creativity approached through the lens of labor. The author presents a broadly Marxist critique of the traditional romantic ideology of creativity (IOC), pointing out some of the contradictions of a capitalist system that presents all labor as alienated while regarding creative production as no kind of labor at all. As a consequence, creativity is conceived of and presented as entirely individualist and psychic, despite its organization in terms of an industrial labor market (the cultural industries). This organization of labor is manifestly a system of distributed creativity, which nonetheless clings to the radical individualism of the IOC. Through an analysis of the creative labor processes in diverse musical genres (the symphony orchestra, singer-songwriters, rock bands), the author points out the ways in which musical production, though thoroughly assimilated into contemporary capitalism, demonstrates outlier, or eccentric, tendencies, in which the primary creative agents operate with a high degree of autonomy, and in which artisanal forms of working are perpetuated. From this macro analysis of the contradictorily distributed nature of musical creativity, the essay moves to material production, making extensive use of the idea of coded voices. He points to both the abstract (schematic) and the concrete character of the coded voice, and he identifies translation (intercultural borrowing) and intensification (intercultural development) as the two primary generative processes that act upon them.
Woolhouse, Matthew and Jotthi Bansal. “Work, rest and (press) play: Music consumption as an indicator of human economic development”, Journal of interdisciplinary music studies/Disiplinlerarası müzik araştırmaları dergisi 7/1–2 (spring–fall 2013) 45–71. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2013-39541]
Abstract: Human development is addressed with respect to the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI), a composite statistic ranging from 0 (undeveloped) to 1 (highly developed). Rather than merely industrial output, the HDI expresses the level of human wellbeing within a country (and is therefore arguably better suited to the study of music downloading than a purely monetary indicator such as Gross Domestic Product). HDI depends on three main factors: life expectancy, educational opportunity, and standard of living. We explore relationships between music consumption, human development, work and leisure, and unemployment levels in 27 geographically and economically diverse countries. We hypothesize (1) that countries with high HDI values will have increased download variability between periods of work and non-work, due to elevated levels of consumption-based leisure, and (2) that countries with high levels of unemployment will have decreased download variability between periods of work and non-work, due to a decrease in the population for whom there is a clear distinction between work and non-work. A music database, consisting of over 180 million mobile-phone downloads, is used to investigate our hypotheses. We discuss our findings in respect of HDI, the European Sovereign Debt Crisis, literature on paid and unpaid work, and the types of leisure enjoyed by people in different countries.
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In the mid-1950s Charles Mingus embraced the collective improvisation of early New Orleans jazz and the ecstatic worship and singing rituals of the Black Pentecostal church— two historical African-derived approaches that emphasized group expression.
Mingus used these two approaches to advance both musical expression and political and spiritual ideas, charting a trajectory toward group oneness. His recordings from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s progressed from short sections of collective interplay and group improvisation reminiscent of early jazz to longer forms of ecstatic ritual. This latter practice—in the form of solos, band, and audience participation—was a direct invocation of the spiritual communion or Holy Spirit possession that he had witnessed in Pentecostal church services as a youth.
This according to “Mingus in the workshop: Leading the improvisation from New Orleans to Pentecostal trance” by Jennifer Griffith (Black music research journal XXV/1 [spring 2015] 71–96; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-87883).
Today is Mingus’s 100th birthday! Below, Wednesday night prayer meeting (1959), one of the recordings discussed in the article.
A master of the blues guitar, a gifted storyteller and songwriter, Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins was one of the most prolific and successful of the Texas blues musicians of the post-World War II era.
Combining ominous, single-note runs on the high strings of his guitar with a hard-driving bass, his guitar playing included sudden bursts of speed and equally sudden silences; flurries of notes; sharp, hammered punctuations; and irregular, unpredictable rhythms.
Hopkins’s talent for improvisation also extended to songwriting. He could create both slow and energetic songs on the spot, with subjects ranging from autobiographical matters to social protest to world events. He often seemed simply to be speaking his mind, almost talking to himself, with lyrics that were sometimes bitter, always vivid. He sang in a slow, country drawl and often answered lyrical phrases with a flourish on the guitar. This combination of haunting guitar and verbal inventiveness earned him the status of a true folk poet.
This according to “Hopkins, Sam Lightnin’” by Stan Hieronymus (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013]); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.
Distinguished for his achievements in both the jazz and classical worlds, Joe Wilder performed as lead trumpet and soloist with Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Lunceford, Dizzy Gillespie, and Count Basie.
He was also a pioneer who broke down racial barriers. Wilder was a founding member of the Symphony of the New World, the first racially integrated orchestra in the U.S., where he played first trumpet; the first African American to hold a principal chair in a Broadway show orchestra; and one of the first African Americans to join a major network studio orchestra
Wilder’s modesty and ability to perform in many musical genres may have prevented him from achieving popular recognition, but his legacy and contributions to music and culture are far-reaching.
This according to Softly, with feeling: Joe Wilder and the breaking of barriers in American music by Edward Berger (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2014).
Today is Wilder’s 100th birthday! Above, performing in 2006 (photo by Professor Bop, licensed under CC BY 2.0); below, playing the jazz standard Cherokee in 1956.
Jon Hendricks was not the first jazz singer to practice the art of vocalese—crafting lyrics to jazz instrumental compositions and solos—but was widely considered its standard-setting grand master.
After hearing King Pleasure’s 1952 record of “Moody’s mood for love” with lyrics by Eddie Jefferson, Hendricks was inspired to write his own verses to jazz instrumentals. “It opened up a whole world for me” he said in a 1982 interview. “I was mesmerized. I’d been writing rhythm-and-blues songs, mostly for Louis Jordan. But I thought ‘Moody’s mood for love’ was so hip. You didn’t have to stop at 32 bars. You could keep going.”
Dubbed “the James Joyce of jive” by Time magazine, Hendricks gained international fame as part of the trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, which often featured his vocalese creations.
This according to “Jon Hendricks, vocalese pioneer, dies at 96” by Allen Morrison (DownBeat LXXXV/2 [February 2018] 25; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-1066).
Today would have been Jon Hendrick’s 100th birthday! Below, LH&R perform his Cloudburst.
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“There’s no question that being an advocate eclipsed my reputation as a musician” Billy Taylor said in a 2007 interview. “It was my doing. I wanted to prove to people that jazz has an audience. I had to do that for me.”
Taylor’s career spanned nearly 70 years and included collaborations with almost every significant performer in jazz, from Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker to Wynton Marsalis; but he had an even rarer gift for explaining his music and drawing people to it.
With a doctorate in education, Taylor was considered perhaps the foremost jazz educator of his time. He taught in colleges, lectured widely, served on panels, traveled the world as a jazz ambassador, and organized events that took renowned jazz musicians directly to the streets.
Fully conversant as a performer in the complexities of bebop, he was among the few musicians who were comfortable with explaining it to the uninitiated. “It bothered me when Diz and Bird would start talking bebop and giving nonsensical answers to what they were intelligent enough to know was a seriously meant question” he said in 1971. “It bothered me so much that every chance I got, I tried to set the record straight.”
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
From 4 to 8 October 2021, The Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation hosts the virtual conference Responses in Music to Climate Change. The event brings together scholars, performers, composers, and activists, with the goal of exchanging … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →