Category Archives: Music

The ‘Well-listened and Well-read’ Diana Krall

In 1995, Terry Teachout wrote the first article for jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall for a national publication. He talks about it and shares his thoughts in a post today.

Twenty years after we met, Diana sent me an e-mail thanking me for writing about her in the Journal. “Of all the many pieces I’ve written through the years, I think I might just be proudest of that one,” I replied. “It means the world to me to know that I was able to help when it mattered.”

From that piece, Teachout offers a reason for calling Krall “well-listened and well-read.”

Like so many younger musicians, Ms. Krall is intensely aware of jazz’s rich tradition, and knowledgeable about it. “My idea of a fun evening,” she says, “is to just sit around with my records and put on one after another: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Miles Davis—anything I can get my hands on, really.”

It ain’t me, babe. But it’s a Minnesotan.

The big news on the literary front today (you’ve doubtless heard already) is that a Minnesota native (unfortunately not me) has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The somewhat mystifying choice is Bob Dylan.

I’ll admit I don’t get it. In fact I never “got” Dylan. Even his much-praised lyrics do nothing for me.

But then I pretty much didn’t get anything that happened from 1965 to 1980 or so.

In other news, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to Keith Richards.

Kidding.

Jack the Beowulf Singer

Jason Craig and Dave Malloy have written a rock opera based on Beowulf, just what you didn’t know you never wanted. A. M. Juster describes it.

We meet the dimwitted hipster Beowulf and the snarkier Hrothgar, who are backed up by a chorus of four female “warriors” who resemble strapping Cyndi Laupers in football pads and Goth makeup. We hear pulsing but mediocre rock, which at least drowns out such dull refrains as “Hey, it’s that guy,” “It’s my body,” and “That was death and then they died.”

It has a few perks, but Juster was not thrilled by the whole.

On another horrific, somewhat more gruesome, note, Otto Penzler has compiled The Big Book of Jack the Ripper. Steve Donoghue says it’s very good. “This editor is an old, practiced hand at picking these kinds of stories; his anthologies are always masterworks of combining old favorites with carefully chosen new surprises.”

The real payoff of Penzler’s book is its opening section, “The True Story,” and the main reason is clear: the raw events of the true story are more bizarre, more sordid, and more horrifying than any concoction a writer could dream up.

(via Prufrock News)

Skenandoa

I got to thinking about the old song, “Oh Shenandoah,” this weekend, for no important reason. It’s one of The Divine Sissel’s favorite numbers (as witness the video above). She says she learned it from a Norwegian sea captain, which is no surprise, since one of its many permutations over the years has been its service as a sea shanty. It’s certainly one of America’s most beautiful native songs, and also one of its most versatile and mysterious.

In fact, one has to ask, “What in Burl Ives’ name is the song about, anyway?” It addresses Shenandoah, which we all know to be a river and a valley in Virginia, but then it talks about “the wide Missouri,” thousands of miles away. This is the question I set out to answer, sparing no expense in consulting a sophisticated new technology called Wikipedia.

Well. Turns out it’s not about the Shenandoah Valley (or river) at all. There was a guy named Shenandoah. Continue reading Skenandoa

Singing with English Nightingales

NightingaleEnglish Nightingales don’t actually exist. They are migrants from Central Africa up in the north country for a bit of holiday. Most of them go to Europe, but some come from families that have always holidayed in England and they aren’t going to upset Grandma by suggesting the Black Forest or the Provence Alps (especially not after Freddie ran off with that scarlet thrush last autumn; Grandma’s barely gotten over that).

Musician Sam Lee holds special performances in the woods of southeast England where the nightingales sing around this time of year.  “Lee’s show presented an opportunity to focus, fully, on what a nightingale actually sounds like, miles from the nearest road,” writes Sam Kinchin-Smith. “Much to my surprise, its stop-starting, self-counterpointing quality reminded me of nothing so much as James Brown’s ‘get on up’ scat.”

Hear that sound and read more about nightingales in Kinchin-Smith’s LRB piece.

What we do with our dreams

Sorry I didn’t post last night. I got into customer service purgatory with my antivirus provider. Oddly, I didn’t have to wait on hold at all; it was the actual work that took forever. Of course I had to yield personal control of my machine to some guy in India, which I wouldn’t gladly do even if he were in Minneapolis. But I’m pretty sure that if I’d tried to follow instructions to do it all myself, I’d have ended up just running to Micro Center and buying a new computer.

The Sensation

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my post on The “Lover’s Concerto” music clip. I’m still watching it – not as many times a day, I guess, but it never fails to run a semi-physical thrill through me, along the shoulders and up my neck to the brain.

I’ve had such reactions to various things in my life – often to music (“The Theme from Exodus”, Roger Whittaker’s “The Last Farewell”). Sometimes to art, such as a painting of a Viking ship in a history book my folks bought us once. Sometimes to books, like a couple of passages in The Lord of the Rings. Sometimes to scenery – my favorite was, and remains, a day when the sky is a leaden blue-gray but the sun shines brightly through a gap onto the trees and grass, so that they glow against the iron background.

If I had to explain my life – the choices I’ve made, the successes and mistakes, I’d say that my lodestar has always been an impossible beauty. One that can never be attained in this world, but that can never be forgotten either, that drives unending effort for something that I know can’t be completed, but which for some reason does not make me despair.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Continue reading What we do with our dreams

A private confession, just between you and me.

My name is Lars, and I’m an addict.

Wait, let me rephrase that.

I’m more… obsessed. Or compulsed. Compulsively obsessed.

With a music video.

No, not a music video. They didn’t exist back in 1965, when this was recorded. It’s a clip from a TV show called Hullabaloo, which I vaguely recall from my teenage years. We didn’t watch it very much.

And I wasn’t actually much aware of this song when it rose to Number Two on the Billboard chart. When I first noticed it, it was already an oldie. What it actually is, is an arrangement of the Minuet in G Major, which was long attributed to Bach but actually appears to have been first composed by a guy named Christian Petzold. The arrangers changed the time signature from 3/4 to 4/4, gave it lyrics and a Motown arrangement, and handed it over to a girl group called The Toys. And this is the result:

Continue reading A private confession, just between you and me.

Church Without the Sermon

The hard-shell Baptist doctrine upon which I was raised plays very little part in my worldview these days. But that church music draws me still, and those singing conventions in my memory were its purest expression. Hundreds of voices coming together in rough harmony, most all of them untrained except perhaps for a weeklong “singing school” at some church. No “program” to dictate the day’s events. The “president” of the local singing convention would just call on a singer from the crowd to stand before the choir and lead the song of his or her choice. After a moment of hymnal browsing, you’d hear something like, “Please turn to page 36 …” A piano player would roll through the first few bars of the song, and off they’d go, making a joyful noise. You never knew what you would hear next.

These Southern singing conventions thrived because the untrained singers, who had to sing from written music, could learn how through a technique called “solfège,” to use the music-school word for it. Plainer folks called it shape notes. You know the system. You’ve heard it a thousand times.

“The thing that I love about Sacred Harp is that when you walk into that church door, you have people from all different kinds of walks of life. You have people from different denominations, you’ve got people that are young, people that are old, people who have grown up loving the Lord their entire life, and you have people that do not know the Lord, who have rejected the Lord. Strong contrast, from any way you look at it.”

The Marvelous Burning Edge of Dawn

Andrew Peterson just released a new album,  The Burning Edge of Dawn. It’s marvelous. He sat down with Jeffrey Overstreet this weekend to talk about it. Overstreet enthuses over the friend.

Peterson’s songs and lyrics are full of sweeping metaphors, making his songs accessible enough for people of all ages and all experiences, even as they are specific enough to speak of his own specific pilgrimage as a musician; as a novelist (his fantasy series had the same editor and publisher as mine, and was released at the same time, which is how I was blessed to meet him); as a Nashville “community organizer” . . . as a sort of folk pastor; as a “book guy” . . .

Hear some of the new music and what the artist has to say about it on Listening Closer.