All Souls Day Miscellany

– soprano Kameryn Leung is singing my “Cinder” today at the Civic Morning Musicals Vocal Competition in Syracuse, accompanied by pianist Szilvia Mikó. I see the judges for the competition include Marni Nixon. Good luck, Kameryn!

– Two, count ’em, two new music concerts you should be at in Philly tomorrow, Nov. 3, with Orchestra 2001 doing Joan Tower, Schoenberg and Walton – 2:30 at Swarthmore College, followed by Network for New Music doing Daniel Asia, George Rochberg, Philip Maneval, Richard Wernick, and Shulamit Ran at the Ethical Society, 8:00 pm. Some relevant videos from Network:

– Marti Moss-Coane recently hosted Terry Teachout on Radio Times for a discussion of Teachout’s new bio of Duke Ellington – go here to listen. The book is being very well-received, and is definitely on my Christmas wish list.

Fall Reading List

Some items I am hoping to get to this fall:

My Bright Abyss – Christian Wiman

Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington – Terry Teachout

The Leonard Bernstein Letters – edited by Nigel Simeone

Transatlantic – Colum McCann

The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop – Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr.

That last item is by one of my colleagues at the day job – check out his blog here.

Four Russians are…

There’s an old joke about how one Russian is an anarchist, two Russians are a chess game, three Russians are a revolution, and four, well, the traditional completion is that four Russians are the Budapest String Quartet. But Terry Teachout, librettist for Danse Russe, the Paul Moravec “vaudville” opera that premiered tonight in Philadelphia, put a different spin on the joke in his libretto. The setup is the same, but the payoff is the cast of the opera – Nijinsky, Stravinsky, Monteux and Diaghilev, the forces behind the creation of The Rite of Spring. (Yes, Monteux was French, but in this context he was an honorary Russian.) Moravec and Teachout succeeded in their goal of creating a fun piece, with much of the fun in the music with its nods to musicals and sly references to motifs from The Rite. The first note in the opera is the famous first high bassoon note from The Rite – but then it continues in some other direction. At another point the equally famous stomping chord from The Rite dissolves into a music hall waltz – it takes clever craft to do that as well as Moravec did. Center City Opera Theater, with Orchestra 2001 accompanying, did well by the piece, with Jason Switzer as Diaghilev and Christopher Lorge as Stravinsky providing the strongest singing. Bravo to CCOT for their commitment to new work.

Mr. Armstrong’s playlist

Louis Armstrong was in the habit of traveling with a reel-to-reel tape deck when on his endless tours. Although he seemed to prefer Guy Lombardo recordings to lull himself to sleep at night, his tape collection constituted a remarkably varied playlist. According to Terry Teachout’s biography Pops, it included:

“Walter Gieseking playing Debussy, Helen Traubel singing the “Liebestod”, Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Shostakovich’s First Symphony, the original-cast albums of The King and I and South Pacific, recordings of Julius Caesar and Don Juan in Hell, and jazz and pop in profusion: Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berrigan, Bing Crosby, Fats Waller, Bert Williams, and a surprising amount of modern jazz, including albums by Stan Kenton, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, and George Shearing.”

Would you have thought Armstrong’s listening would be that wide-ranging?

Tuesday evening miscellany

-I have finally gotten around to reading Terry Teachout’s biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops. It truly does deserve all the accolades it received when it came out last year. The book is full of fresh insights buttressed by fresh research, all couched in elegant prose.

-Yes, I know the proper way to learn jazz repertoire is by studying the recordings – but for those of us who need a little help, there are transcriptions. I am enjoying reading the Fats Waller transcriptions in Paul Posnak’s collection of piano solo pieces, although enjoyable is not exactly the word for trying to reach some of Waller’s widely spaced left hand voicings. Perhaps I need some help of this kind.

-Dr. Guthrie Ramsey’s blog is now including posts by the professor of MusiQology himself, in addition to an archive of student contributions mentioned here previously. Dig the videos he has posted, including some Cab Calloway. He also found footage of the Nicholas Brothers together with Michael Jackson (I would not have guessed they were alive at the same time.) Congrats, Guy, on co-curating the Apollo Theatre exhibit which recently opened at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

-I have been meaning to write about these discs for a while now, and I do want to post about them in more detail, but let me give a quick mention here of Miranda Cuckson’s superb discs of violin music by Ralph Shapey and Donald Martino. Fascinating repertoire, commanding performances. Much more to say, coming soon.