American Epic: Part 1, The Big Bang

I have been waiting for this Only on PBS music series to be viewable for four years. The production has a magic appeal as a combination of music history, Americana, and the significance of the lacquered phonograph record.

It was fortuitous for the series to begin with the hills of Appalachia and the Carter Family. They are the roots of country music. I love the risks they took to seek out a long distance audition being held at the famed Bristol Sessions with Ralph Peer.

Ralph Peer was an electrical engineer, responsible for the invention of the modern recording equipment.  It was said of him, “He must have been a visionary”, due to the profound impact he had on finding talented artists and recording them.

I loved learning more about the original Carter Family which consisted of Alvin Pleasant “A.P.” Delaney Carter (1891–1960), his wife Sara Dougherty Carter (1898–1979), and his sister-in-law Maybelle Addington Carter (1909–1978).

family

I was moved to see a rare collaboration in color video with Sara and Maybelle Carter perform with Johnny Cash on The Johnny Cash Show, Nov. 18, 1970.

American Epic is beautiful in its curation. The videos are painstakingly articulated as are the graphics and the b&w/color stills.

The episode shifts to the home of the blues, Memphis, Tennessee. The focus here is the seminal influence of the Memphis Jug Band. Another recording find of Ralph Peer

We learn about Will Shade a founding member of the Memphis Jug Band. The jug creates an interesting context on the harmony and backdrop of their music.

We get to see and hear the original 78rpm records”Newport News Blues”, “On The Road Again (1928)”, “Stealin, Stealin”, “Cocaine Habit Blues (1930)”

It was smart to see American Epic incorporate two blues historians, Taj Mahal and Charlie Musselwhite. They each provide us with a firm foundation of the blues curated with all the love in their heart. I was fortunate to write a term paper on Taj Mahal as a roots/blues musician when I minored in music in college.

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You will want to see the segment where Charlie Musslewhite in the Memphis Police building plays the guitar and sings the heartfelt song Will Shade taught him, “I’ll Get A Break Someday”.

Threaded throughout the episode is producer/musician/pressing plant owner Jack White our modern day preservationist of rare music and phonograph records. He performs in the studio with Nas and Lillie Mae on violin and other musicians.

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Jack White’s record company, Third Man Records, is selling the American Epic artists reissues on their Web site. There are lots of great roots musicians to get to know better and hopefully add to your vinyl music collection.

Zev Feldman, Jazz EthnoMusicologist

Zev Feldman is the  jazz ethnomusicologist. His innate discovery  sense is equal to Alan Lomax in folk music circles and Chris Strachwitz with the blues idiom. Zev is a consummate journeyman who secures unreleased jazz treasures for Resonance Records. His jazz subject matter authority role is validated by  the Stereophile November 2016 article, “Finding Neverland, Zev Feldman Becomes the Most Famous Sleuth in Jazz”.

Resonance Records raised my collector consciousness by bringing us, John Coltrane’s “Offering: Live At Temple University” and Larry Young’s “In Paris: The ORTF Recordings”,  in addition to other jazz classics on the label. (Gain further insight via the Resonance sampler, “Various Artists – Jazz Haunts & Magic Vaults: The New Lost Classics of Resonance Records, Volume 1” on Spotify or Apple Music).

Record Store Day 2017

Looking ahead to next Spring’s 2017 Record Store Day (RSD), Zev and Resonance will be issuing a Jaco Pastorius set of previously unreleased big-band recordings made in 1982.

Zev Feldman shared an exciting update on Facebook recently about the future Jaco recording.

On Friday I had the pleasure of interviewing Metallica’s famed bassist extraordinaire, Robert Trujillo. Robert’s been gracious to write liner notes for an upcoming Resonance Jaco Pastorius album I’m producing coming (just in time for the tenth anniversary of Record Store Day, next April 15, 2017). More to come but I’ll disclose we have an epic two-hour recording made of Jaco Pastorius in glorious 24-track audio from 1982. This will be an official release with the Pastorius family. Mr. Trujillo shared with us his personal connection to this iconic artist and he didn’t hold back. We’ll be creating a new video featuring Robert which will celebrate the new album. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to go to Netflix now and watch Trujillo’s documentary “Jaco.” It’s a great film and it’s an honor to work with this passionate, good guy. Stay tuned. More to come. Thanks to my colleagues Zak Shelby-Szysko and Fran Gala for all of their help. Extra special thanks to Michael Kurtz for introducing us.

I own Jaco, The World’s Greatest Bass Player the documentary that Zev mentions above. It is gripping and soulful in scope. My record collection features several Jaco RSD exclusives. I love the steps Zev Feldman is taking to cultivate a well-documented Jaco vinyl package for next years RSD release.

I am thankful for the attention to detail Zev Feldman exercises for jazz music lovers. He’s never stopped being a jazz music fan and his personal sacrifice is our delight. I see another Grammy Award Jazz Reissue in the future for you and Resonance Records Zev!

American Epic Coming to PBS January, 2016

I have written about the documentary, American Epic in the past here on this blog. It is a series of music films focusing on the birth of modern music in the USA.

This film series kindled my interest in musicology. American Epic comprises a three-part historical music documentary, a feature-length performance film, and a set of companion album releases. The project is executive-produced by Jack White, T Bone Burnett, and Robert Redford, directed by Bernard MacMahon and written by Bernard MacMahon, Allison McGourty, and Duke Erikson of Lo-Max Films.

 

Harry Everett Smith – Avant-Garde Museologist

We benefit from musicologists who have an adept skill of collecting, recording and documenting  American musical heritage. Three of the musicologists I respect in this vein are Alan Lomax, Samuel Charters and Harry Smith.

Harry Everett Smith is primarily known as the anthologist of the multi-volume Anthology of American Folk Music for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. The Anthology was comprised entirely of recordings issued between 1927 (the year electronic recording made accurate reproduction possible) and 1932, the period between the realization by the major record companies of distinct regional markets and the Depression’s stifling of folk music sales. Released in three volumes of two discs each, the 84 tracks of the anthology are recognized as having been a seminal inspiration for the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960 (the 1997 reissue by the Smithsonian was embraced with critical acclaim and produced two Grammy awards).

Smith with headphones at Ginsberg’s apartment. 437 East 12th St. NYC, Winter 1987 [Photo by Brian Graham] Courtesy the photographer

Harry Smith’s Archives reside at The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, California. There are three major content resources available to help further your understanding of Harry Everett Smith’s prolific art collections.

Internet Resources

1. Harry Smith Symposium at the Getty

2. Harry Smith Archives

Published Resource

3. The Book In Print – Harry Smith, The Avant-Garde In The American Vernacular, Edited by Andrew Perchuk and Rani Singh

Constituting a first attempt to locate Smith and his diverse endeavors within the history of avant-garde art production in twentieth-century America, the essays in this volume reach across Smith’s artistic oeuvre.

Dave Van Ronk, The Anthology of Folk Music by Harry Smith

Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger
Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been sheer joy listening to Dave Van Ronk‘s memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street on Audio CD. Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald guide readers along like Robin Hood and His Merry Men on a passionate journey through the colorful past of Greenwich Village’s folk music scene. The story has added significance as our son lives right in the heart of the neighborhood. He is next to Washington Square Park and Dave Van Ronk Street across from Sheridan Square.

The book has rekindled my dormant flames of interest in folk music. I got the yearn for musicology when I attended the University of New Haven minoring in music. Thankfully that interest continues to guide my conscious flow. The first album by Dave Van Ronk  that played endlessly on my hi-fi was Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger (Prestige). I had no idea until I heard the book how important Izzy Young‘s Folklore Center (pictured on the cover) was to Dave and the folk music idiom.

Which brings me to the folk music foundation classic, The Anthology of Folk Music by Harry Smith. I first learned about the uniqueness of Harry Smith from Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids. Patti Smith and Harry Smith (no relation) were neighbors and close friends residing at The Chelsea Hotel. Harry Smith was also friends with Allen Ginsberg who captured his image in the last week of his life.

“Harry Smith, painter, archivist, anthropologist, film-maker & hermetic alchemist, his last week at Breslin Hotel Manhattan January 12, 1985, transforming milk into milk.” – Allen Ginsberg, Photo by Allen Ginsberg, Courtesy of Allen Ginsberg Trust and Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles

After hearing Dave Van Ronk speak his praises of this essential box set I have to ask myself why haven’t I seen fit to add these essential recordings to my music collection. Arguably the most important release of all-time (1952), The Anthology is a collection of old-time music from the late 20′s and early 30′s that spawned the folk and blues revival of the 60′s and influenced everyone from Dylan to the Grateful Dead.

I must rectify that situation and trust me I will, soon ;). For the music of our heart is incomplete until I have the works by Harry Smith safely listened to and tucked away in my music library.

Music Journalism A-Z – Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer

There are several music journalists considered the “dean” of music critics. The music journalist community looked favorably upon Robert Palmer in that leadership role.

There was a period of my life where I voraciously read the New York Times along with Rolling Stone Magazine. It was during that time I became captivated by the knowledge imparted by Robert Palmer.

Robert Palmer had an incredible knack in adding jet fuel to my interests. I read his writings with a desired relish that made me very learned in the process. I believe this had to  do with his transferable music interpretive skills.

In the early 1970s, Palmer became a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He became the first full-time rock writer for The New York Times a few years later in 1976, serving as chief pop music critic at the newspaper from 1981 to 1988.

Blues Musicologist

Fat Possum Records
Fat Possum Records (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The part of Robert Palmer’s career that interests me the most was when he began teaching ethnomusicology and American music courses at colleges, including at the University of Mississippi. He made tremendous strides as a blues musicologist.  He produced blues albums for Fat Possum Records with artists like R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.

The book he wrote Deep Blues is a standout publication in the study of the blues. Robert Palmer had a rich analytic side strongly complemented by an ability to synthesize information into discernible form.  His definitive style compels the reader to immerse themselves in the delta and south side blues experiences.

Deep Blues became a living documentary. This is perhaps the best blues documentary.It was filmed in the Northern Mississippi hill country, where Fred McDowell is the figurehead of local tradition.

Deep Blues (1992) Poster

Musician

Robert Palmer was a practitioner of music, which set him apart from many music journalists who wrote about music but lacked that  intricate  detail of performing it with scope and precision.  He and fellow musicians Nancy Jeffries, Bill Barth, and Luke Faust formed a psychedelic music group blending jazz, folk, and blues with rock and roll, called The Insect Trust. The band recorded its first, self-titled album on Capitol Records in 1968. He played alto sax and clarinet.

The Insect Trust and album Hoboken Saturday Night

Tributes

Robert Palmer’s daughter Augusta from the first of his four wives put together a film of discovery and connection with her estranged father entitled, The Hand of Fatima.

An excellent first anthology of Robert Palmer’s writing curated by Anthony DeCurtis who was Robert Palmer’s editor at Rolling Stone in the 90s. Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer