What can I say? The whistle player is Kevin Crawford of LUNASA . That band performed here in Cranbrook about a year ago. The fiddle player who is doing nothing is Martin Hayes. He is an outstanding fiddle player from Ireland. The guitar player is John Doyle. There’s nobody quite like John Doyle, he is a beautiful driving rhythm player. He plays in Dropped D and he is all over the neck dropping in counter melodies, bass runs and syncopations like you wouldn’t believe. Listen to the switch up just beyond the 6 minute mark. Doesn’t that nearly unseat you? Maybe one day we will get to hear him here in Cranbrook. After all, over the years we have heard some of the great legends here in Cranbrook so why not?
What I like about this music is that there are no false theatrics. Just driving music that speaks for itself.
Get a bunch of musicians together in a room, on a bus, on a train or around a camp fire it is almost inevitable that at some time during the day, the evening or night a song circle will happen. It’s just a natural way to share songs, tunes, new compositions and strut one’s musical chops. It provides an intimate atmosphere for everyone to enjoy and appreciate the music. The usual song circle happening is somewhat spontaneous and not meant to be taken as a professional performance. But, having said that, why not? Why should only musicians have all the fun? So that was the premise of the Song Writers Circle at the Heritage Inn Lounge on Friday December7, 2018. So, with that in mind a group of musicians from a variety of back grounds came together to share their latest offerings with each other before and an appreciative audience. James Neve (song writer and classic folk/rock musician) stepped away from his band The Choice to host the evening and kick off the night with a little social commentary in his song Joe Hill. If I remember correctly Joe Hill was a Swedish immigrant to the USA in the first half of the last century and was a major organizer of the Industrial Workers of the World (The IWW, other wise known as Wobbolies). Joe came to untimely end when he was executed on November 19, 1915 in Salt Lake City Utah on charges of murder. World War I was in full swing, if that’s the right word, and at the time labor unrest was sweeping the world. Capitalist societies were running scared so it is easy to believe that the authorities manufactured a trumped up charge followed by a swift execution to get the likes of Joe Hill out of sight and out of mind. Doug Mitchell is a former educator with a tendency towards songs of social commentary. His first offering of the evening was Laughter of the Heart. Heather Gemmell is an attractive young woman with a back ground in hard rock / blues and mellow Blue Grass pickings on guitar, banjo and dobro. As an employee of the City of Cranbrook she has some responsibility for the maintenance of the the city’s parks and cemetery and that may have been the inspiration for her songs Ghost Town and Resting Place. I haven’t heard Heather perform for a while and for me her guitar picking seems to be going from strength to strength.Tim Ross, for the want of a better description, is an old style cowboy who has been known to rock out in the band The Bison Brothers. He is a singer/songwriter/guitar slinger who hails from Wycliffe. His day job as a natural resources consultant, which translates to “cowboy with a degree”, grants him the privilege of riding the range and making a living in the saddle. He also ranches, raising grass-finished beef. His songwriting influences range from rock n’ roll and blues to rockabilly and cowboy songs. Naturally, as a working cowboy, his song Worktime resonates with his life experiences. Darin Welch is a singer songwriter in the classic Bob Dylan / John Prine tradition and to complete the first round of the circle he offered Transition City.
Round and round the circle went with more songs of social commentary, humor, nostalgia and life experiences. Songs included were I Will Never Know, ANight for Holding on, Seek the Light of Day, Please Take the Wheel (James Neve); Open Happiness – Open up a Coke, Get Use To It, Prairie Oysters, Wish I was Hung Like My Brother Dale (Doug Mitchell); Mountain Home, Kill Them Twice, One Light Sound (Heather Gemmell); Time Flies – When you are Bummed Out Too, Limousine, The Light in Your Eyes, My Baby Won’t Ride in My Truck No More (Tim Ross); A Matter of Time, Wilderness, Sparrow, Pretty Water (Darin Welch). They collectively finished up the evening with group versions of Ry Cooder’s No Banker Left Behind led by Doug Mitchell; Neil Young’s, Heart of Gold, led by James Neve; Rocking in the Free World, led By Tim Ross and finally Bob Dylan’s Wagon Wheels led by Darin Welch. It was a wonderful night of music and one I hope will be repeated again in the near future. Here are more images from the evening:
Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi : “Sonny and Brownie’s Last Train” Stage 64, Kimberley, Sunday October 14, 2018, 3 pm.
They did it again. The organizing committee has this rule not to invite repeat performers. Much to our joy, a few weeks back, they set the rule aside for Gabriel Palatchi for him to perform in this fall’s Jazz and Blues Concert Series. Now they have done the same for Guy Davis. One could make the case that Guy’s previous performance in Kimberley was a solo act and this time around it is not the same thing. He has the Italian Blues Harp player Fabrizio Poggi along for the ride (considering the concert title the pun is intended). The duo is fresh from this year’s Grammy nomination in the Traditional Blues Category for their recording Sonny and Brownie’s Last Train – A look back at Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. The project was recorded in the summer of 2016 in Milan and the album features the original, title track song written by Guy Davis, songs by both Sonny and Brownie, as well as songs known to have been recorded and performed by the famed duo but written by their contemporaries, such as Libba Cotton and Leadbelly. The famous blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee set the standard for the blues harmonica, guitar and vocal combination and were professionally very active when Guy Davis and I were very young men. Guy is an actor, writer, and all round African American renaissance blues man. He plays in a tradition that has been largely rejected by contemporary black musicians as irrelevant and the genre has largely been appropriated by white musicians. A point to note is that at the Grammy Awards Guy’s recording was beaten out by The Rolling Stones Blue and Lonesome – a white band paying tribute to black musicians of a bye gone era. I think there is some irony in that.
Afro-Americans of Guy’s generation mostly favor the urban styles of Soul, Funk, hip-hop and rap. By rights, as a urban black man that should have been his musical route forward. Instead he chose to look back to former times and mine the rich musical mother load of a century of blues traditions. As a harmonica player, guitarist, vocalist and story teller he succeeds at a level unmatched by his contemporaries. Apart from his technical mastery of the musical idiom I think the success of his performances lies in his story telling. All truly great songs tell a story and the blues are no exception.
His sidekick for the project is an Italian and how an Italian could submerge himself so completely in a foreign American tradition is beyond me. I am sure that in his personal blues journey there lies a tale worth hearing.
The duo kicked off the evening with two classic pre-World War II country blues – Tommy Jackson’s Maggie Campbell’s Blues and Blind Boy Fuller’s Step it Up and Go. In the 1960s every blues anthology of note included these performers. They were right up there with Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy. The rest of the concert included Brownie McGee’s Walk on, ‘Cause I’m Evil, Sonny’s Horray, Horray These Women is Killing Me, Robert Johnson’s Walkin’ Blues, Elizabeth Cotton’s Freight Train, Leadbelly’s Midnight Special, Bob Dylan’s Lay, Lady, Lay (complete with some of Bob’s vocal mannerisms), Sleepy John Estes You’ve Got to Give Account (with some really nice guitar picking) and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s PleaseSee that My Grave is KeptClean. As well as all the traditional old time blues Guy performed some of his originals. Including Lime Town, Kokomo Kid, I’m Going to Shake it like Sonny Did, I Wish I Hadn’t Stayed Away So Long, Blackberry Kisses,Sonny and Brownie’s Last Ride and, probably one of the best narrative songs I have heard in a long time, Sugar Belly. It was the story of mixed race girl cursed with great beauty. It was a song so powerful that one of my neighbors was reduced to tears. Here are some more images from the evening.
This is Guy’s third trip to the area. He performed at the Studio / Stage Door in Cranbrook many years ago and more recently, April April 11, 2015 at Centre 64 as part of a concert series. Guy lives in New York so to come to Kootenays at least once is a big deal. To come three times is almost heroic. I have been to all three concerts and if he should walk though the door again over the next couple of weeks for another concert I would be beating down the door to attend.
On behalf of the organizing committee the MC Peter Kearns would like to thank fellow committee members, the many volunteers and the sponsors Burrito Grill and A B&B at 228 for making the concert series possible. Thanks to Guy Davis and Fabrizio Poggi coming all this way to give us a truly wonderful evening of music and stories.
Post Script: The Guy Davis concert ended an East Kootenay “Blue Period”. Over a two weeks there have been four concerts that thematically focused on The Blues. First out the gate was Clinton Swanson / Kelly Fawcett / Doug Stephenson Blues Trio at Stage 64 in Kimberley on September 29, 2018. This was followed by Canada’s Queen of the Blues Rita Chirelli and her band at the Key City, Cranbrook on Friday October 12, 2018 and Tracy K /Jamie Steinhoff Duo in the Saloon Lounge of the Heritage Inn in Cranbrook on Saturday October 13, 2018 and, finally, Guy Davis and Fabrizio Poggi at Stage 64 in Kimberley on Sunday afternoon, October 14, 2018. All told that is a pretty meaty dish of blues fare in a very short period of time.
The saloon bar in the Heritage Inn Convention isn’t a new venue. It has been around for a while and has mostly been used as a venue for stand up comedians. The manager took note of the success of Auntie Barb’s Bakery and Bistro as a music venue and figured “well he could do that”. It was a good move. For music the room is ideal. Perhaps a slightly raised stage could improve the sight lines but apart from that the lighting is reasonable and the sound acceptable. And, more to the point, the room is quiet and the audience respectful. Louis (“Louie”) Cupello has lined up some fine acts to get the ball rolling.
Local singer/song writer Maddi Keiver was back in town following her recent trip to Dublin, Ireland. She opened the evening with some cover tunes before moving onto her original songs Three crows at the Funeral Home,Crystal Clear,Landslide and Hopeless. In between these she squeezed in a version of The House of the Rising Sun.
Once again the Winnipeg / Thunder Bay musical axis strikes another blow. Every once in a while the musicians from that neck of the woods venture out into the wider world and refresh our memories of how central that axis is to the Canadian musical landscape. This time around it was the blues duo of Tracy K (vocals, guitar and blues harp) and her musical side kick Jamie Steinhoff (vocals, guitar and resonator slide guitar). Musically the duo has been around the block for a number of years; traveling back and forth across Canada and down “blues highway 61” into the American south to savor the heartbeat of the blues. Tracy was raised on sixties radio and her brother’s hippie records and began her professional career at twenty five while living in Toronto. She moved back to Beausejour in the 1990s, started a family and, eventually, began her solo career. She is inspired by local blues greats Big Dave Maclean and Brent Parkin, and contemporaries Rita Chiarelli, Sue Foley and Suzie Vinnick. She is currently Nominee for Blues Artist of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards in October 2018. On the other hand (so to speak) Jamie Steinhoff started his musical life as a Blue Grass banjo player. He still has a great love for the style but over the years he has slipped into a role as a blues performer. As a duo Tracy and Jamie have traveled a lot in 2018 for folk festivals and a Home Routes Tour.
Perhaps Tracy is best known for her blues harmonica playing and her affinity for the old time female blues singers of by gone eras. In the first set she paid homage to Sippie Wallace with a version of Everybody Loves My Baby and Memphis Minnie’s Chauffeur Blues (originally recorded in 1941). Here and there throughout the evening Tracy performed some of her original material, a jazz tune here and there and even Anne Murray / Gene MacLellan‘s Snowbird. Her sidekick, Jamie Steinhoff, when not traveling with Tracy, has a real job as a cook. His musical repertoire includes some Blind Blake, Dave Van Ronk and Brownie McGee tunes with great finger picking on both the resonator slide guitar (in open D or open G) and a wonderful Guild F-40 acoustic guitar (I love the shape of that instrument). He also dipped into the country bag with an original song called Too Low Down to Sing the Blues (so I have to sing a country song). His back up slide playing on Nobody Knowns Atlanta Like I Do was outstanding. Here are images from the concert ….
As a venue The Heritage Saloon is great addition to the local music scene and I am looking forward to hearing Ken Hamm perform here on Saturday November 3, 2018.
Tracy and Jamie would like express their thanks to the house staff and the audience for their support of live music. They would especially like to thank Tom Bungay for the sound system and John Bisset for the setting up the stage
The Nelson based Sax player Clinton Swanson has “brand name” recognition here in the East Kootenays. Over the years Clinton with his pork-pie hat and quiver of saxophones has been a frequent visitor to the area. Most recently he was with the Melody Diachun’s “Back to the Groove Tour” and also with Jon and Holly in a Cranbrook Summer Sounds Rotary Park concert. Because of that “Brand Name ” recognition it was understandable that the group was billed as the Clinton Swanson Blues Trio. In actual fact it was more appropriately the Kelly Fawcett Blues Trio with Clinton Swanson on tenor and baritone saxes and Doug Stephenson on bass. Once the concert got going it was easy to hear why Clinton said “we are part of Kelly’s trio and we are here to support him”. Kelly is a new face to most of us but he has been a long time friend and musical associate of Clinton and they have toured together frequently over the years. The other member of the trio, Doug Stephenson is also a well known Nelson musician who has also toured extensively in the Kootenays. He is living proof that to make a living as a professional musician these days one can’t have “too many arrows in one’s quiver”. I first encountered him playing bass guitar behind Gabriel Palatchi, then as a nylon string Bossa Nova guitarist with Melody Diachun, then as full on electric guitarist with Melody Diachun’s “Back to the Groove Tour”. On this particular night with Kelly Fawcett he is a stand up bass player (no pun intended). In every performance circumstance he looks like he is having way too much fun. He excels on all his instruments and that probably explains why he is in such demand. I am not sure how he is able to keep up his superb skill levels on all instruments. He must practice constantly, all day, every day. I must ask him about that.
In this day and age we are used to Blues groups being guitar based. You know the usual configuration – drums, electric bass, rhythm guitar and a screaming lead electric guitar backing up one or more vocalists. Kelly Fawcett is the vocalist and guitarist in the group, Doug is the bass player but there is no drummer. To be honest, the absence of a drummer is a plus. Without a drummer there was lots of space in the music to hear the vocals, the finger picking guitar leads and backups, and Clinton’s and Doug’s superb solos.
The night kicked of with a couple of standard tunes. Dr John’s New Orleans inspired Such a Night from the Martin Scorsese film The Last Waltz and Robert Johnson’s Walking Blues. In the latter Kelly played some excellent open G slide guitar. From then on the night was a mixture of Country Blues, Jump Tunes (Let the Good Times Roll, Crazy About My Baby), old time tunes (Nobody knowns Atlanta Like I Do), a novelty number here and there, a Tom Waits number (Hey Little Bird Fly Away Home) and, to brighten up the sonic landscape, a few original tunes (Numbers Blues / The Gamblers Blues and Cheddar). For me there were a couple of standout tunes namely Kelly’s interpretation of Taj Mahal’s classic Fishing Blues and Clinton Swanson’s baritone Sax exploration of Harlem Nocturne. All in all another classic concert in the Fall Jazz and Blues Series. Here are some images from the evening ……..
As always, thanks must go to the volunteers, the organizing committee, The Burrito Grill for feeding the musicians and “A B&B at 228” for the musicians lodgings.
Tango music came out of Argentina in the very early part of the twentieth century and is mostly associated with the dance of the same name. It’s popularity has waxed and waned though out the century but in more recent times the music has undergone a change into what is now known as Nuevo Tango or Tango Nuevo.This new style evolved from the traditionally sung Argentinian Tango which was played as dance music. It originated in Buenos Aires in the mid 1950s and owes its development to new rhythms, melodies, harmonies, dynamics and the incorporation of elements of Jazz and Classical music into a style more suited to modern times. One of the pioneers of this new style was the Argentinian composer and Bandoneon soloist Astor Piazzolla (March 11, 1921 – July 4, 1992). Piazzolla’s NuevoTango introduced elements of Jazz, used extended harmonies and dissonance, counterpoint, and ventured into extended compositional forms. In the realms of Argentinean music, both Tango and Classical, Astor Piazzolla is a giant. In bringing about the change in Tango style his efforts have not always been met with universal acclaim. There is one story out there about a traditional Tango musician who, on hearing Astor performing music on radio, threatened to go down to the studio and beat up the musicians.
My first encounter with the style was a vinyl recording of Piazzolla’s 1987 New York Central Park Concert and, to be honest, I didn’t get it then and to some extent I am not entirely sure I get it now. The music is so different to everything else that is out there that it is difficult to get a complete sense of the music. The music is structurally very complex, the melodies are different, the rhythms chop and change and have nothing in common with conventional pop, jazz and nearby Brazilian folkloric styles. In performance the music is very virtuosic and an average musician would have great difficulty in performing the music.The configuration of Nuevo Tango ensembles are unique. The conventional drum kit is absent and any percussion accompaniment is restricted to musicians beating on the body of standard acoustic instruments. Piano, guitar, and bass figure prominently in intricate, mostly written, compositions. Improvisation in the conventional jazz sense is limited.
The instrument that is fairly unique to the music is the Bandoneon. It is an instrument that gives the music it’s unique sonic flavor. It is a type of non-chromatic button concertina defined as a wind / free reed / aerophone instrument. It is similar to certain types of concertinas and melodeons in that it produces different notes on either the push or pull of the bellows. The Bandoneon, so named by the German instrument dealer, Heinrich Band (1821–1860), was originally intended as an instrument for the religious and popular musicof the day. Around 1870, German and Italian emigrants and sailors brought the instrument to Argentina, where it was adopted into the nascent genre of tango music, a descendant of the earlier Milonga. By 1910 Bandoneons were being produced expressly for the Argentine and Uruguayan markets, with 25,000 shipping to Argentina in 1930 alone. However, declining popularity and the disruption of German manufacturing during the World War II led to the end of mass production of the instrument. Bandoneons were historically produced primarily in Germany, and, despite its popularity, were never produced in Argentina itself. As a result, by the 2000s, vintage bandoneons had become rare and expensive (US$4,000), there by limiting prospective bandeonists……… Wikipedia
My interest in the style picked up when I came across Nuevo Tango performances by Gary Burton. For me this made the music much more accessible. I am very familiar with Burton’s music and the sound of the vibraphone in jazz. Burton was born in Anderson, Indiana in 1943 and began playing music at the age of six. He mostly taught himself to play marimba and vibraphone. He began studying piano at age sixteen while finishing high school. He attended Berklee College of Music in 1960–61 and the Stan Kenton Clinic at Indiana University in 1960. After establishing his career during the 1960s, he returned to join the staff of Berklee from 1971–2004, serving first as professor, then dean, and executive vice president during his last decade at the college. In 1989, Burton received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee. In the world of Jazz, music in general and in the art of playing four mallet vibraphone Gary Burton is a giant. The Gary Burton Grip is one of a number of standard grips used to play with four mallets. He has cited jazz pianist Bill Evans as the inspiration for his approach to the vibraphone.
Burton first became aware of Piazzolla’s music while visiting Buenos Aires with the Stan Getz Jazz group in 1965. Gary Burton at that time was 25 years old. From the liner notes of one of his recordings Burton chronicles his love for the music. ” Standing at the side of the stage in the Buenos Aires club thirty five years ago, I was swept away by the passion of his (Astor Pizzolla) soaring melodies and rich harmonies and the breathtaking virtuosity of his musicians. But even more surprising, I couldn’t believe this music existed and it was so little known in the United States.”
Here is clip of Gary Burton playing Piazzolla’s Libertango
Libertango is probably one of Astor Piazolla’s most famous compositions and it has been adapted by many performers over the years into solo guitar, guitar duos, guitar quartets, string quartets and other configurations. I think the music is worth a listen and if you are so inclined there is plenty of other examples on YouTube.
Here are a few Gary Burton New Tango recordings to help you to get your head around this music. It may take a while but It is worth the effort.
GARY BURTON – LIBERTANGO – THE MUSIC OF ASTOR PIAZZOLLA Concord Jazz CCD – 4887-2
NEW TANGO – ASTOR PIAZZOLLA & GARY BURTON Atlantic Jazz 7 81823-2
GARY BURTON / ASTOR PIAZZOLLA REUNION Concord Jazz CCD – 47932
post script : more versions of LIBERTANGO
My comment after hearing numerous versions of the piece and this particular guitar duo version….. Holy Frack, what is that ………..
Just a few years back (1993 to 2013) GREAT BIG SEA was an almost unstoppable force in Canadian East Coast music. Over a twenty year period they dominated the scene with their mix of Newfoundland traditional music and rock and roll sensibilities. A founding member, and key performer, in the group was Sean McCann. Sean is very up front about his motivation to perform. It was about “booze, sex and rock and roll”. But every thing has a price and by 2013 he knew, for his health and family situation, he needed to get off the “Party Bus”. He quit the band and relocated to Ottowa – “That’s where all our tax money goes, so why not.” On his retirement from the band he noted he had been on the road with Great Big Sea for 20 years….. He was 46 years old and it was time to make a change. Great Big Sea struggled on for a while but it was not the same . The band is now in happy retirement. The two key performers, Alan Doyle and Sean McCann, while still tipping the hat to the “Great Big Sea Repertoire”, have gone onto solo careers.
For this evening, Sean kicked off the night in true Newfoundland fashion with an acapella sea song and followed that up with a collection varied material from his own stock of original songs and a few Great Big Sea staples thrown into the mix. Like all good singer/song writers Sean is essentially a story teller and the dialogue in, and between the songs wove the evening into a tapestry of his life so far. For the most part of that life he has traveled with his favorite guitar “Brownie”. A beat up old Takamine Dreadnought that shows the many scars of a hard life on the road . It is emblazoned on the deck with Sean’s mantra “Help Your Self”. To round out the team there was his second DADGAD guitar, a Takamine Jumbo, and his Bodhan (an Irish Frame drum). Part of the tapestry of the evening included the drinking song Red Wine and Whiskey and his recovery song Doing Fine. On the later there was some especially fine finger picking on the DADGAD guitar. Here are some images of a fine, intimate evening of story telling……. @@@@@@@@@@@@@@
Amos Garrett and Julian Kerr at Studio 64; March 24, 2018 8pm: This is the first concert of the Spring 2018 concert Series
Amos Garrett is an “in between sort of guy”. He has been on the Canadian and American music scene for “a million years”. He not a Classic Rocker in the strutting long- hair mode, nor a true blue down home country blues player. Although he cites the trumpet player Bix Beiderbecke and pianists Jerry Roll Morton, Fats Waller and the elegant Teddy Wilson as musical influences he isn’t really a classic Jazz player either. As I said he is an “in between guy”. He is a musician who cements all these varied influences into a personal style that can only be Amos Garrett. Apart from his solo ventures he has performed and recorded with over 150 major artists including Stevie Wonder, Todd Rundgren, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Martin Hull, Paul Butterfield and Pearls Before Swine. He was on Anne Murray’s classic recording Snowbird and performed as a founding member of Ian Tyson’s band The Great Speckled Bird. He currently resides in Calgary where he performs with a number of outfits including gigs with keyboard playing neighbor Julian Kerr. At 77 years of age he no longer does “the big tours”. The last big tour of Japan he recalls with great affection for the country and the people of that nation. After touring there he wondered about who actually won the last war. Japan has prospered with peaceful cites and an admirable life style while the North American landscape is littered with crime and violence and inner cities in decline.
Julian Kerr is a professional Calgary musician and is one of Amos’ favorite keyboard players. Julian plays and teaches, bass, and guitar and for over 30 years he has played with many notable musicians including Bo Diddley .
The concert kicked off with Otis Rush’s My Baby is Such a Good One followed by a Curtis Mayfield classic tune, Boz Scaggs Running Blue, and the 1966 soul-jazz classic Mercy Mercy by the Adderley Brothers (Nat and Julian). They then slipped back in time to the early part of the last century for Jelly Roll Morton’sMichigan Waters Blues (“Michigan water tastes like Sherry Wine and the Mississippi water tastes turpentine”). Now Jelly Roll Morton was a schooled Creole musician from New Orleans who claimed to have invented Jazz. Not true of course, but he was a pivotal musician in the transition of ragtime to what we now know as jazz. From the repertoire of Toronto’s Whitely Brothers we were introduced to their jug band style tune Perfume and Tobacco.
Although I lived through the era I pretty well missed out on hearing the Texas band TheJazz Crusaders in the 1970s. I only discovered them last year in a box set of CDs published by Mosiac Records. To hear Amos working on the Larry Carlton guitar parts was a treat. It must have also been a treat for Julian Kerr to dip into the music of pianist/keyboard player Joe Sample who was a co-leader of the band. The Jazz Crusaders eventually dropped Jazz from their name and went onto an even longer career as The Crusaders. Julian dropped some rocking piano into Bob Dylan’s Takes a Train to Cry. Amos performed his signature version of Sleepwalk and entertained us with lots of anecdotal stories from his long career. My favorite was the tale of the Mounties Breakfast – Steak and Beer. For the encore Julian took us home with Booker T and the MGs Green Onions and some lovely “fluffy organ tones” that probably outshone those present on the original recording. As always this was another highly enjoyable concert in the ongoing Blues and Jazz concert series at Studio 64. Thanks must go to the organizers, volunteers and sponsors that make this series such a joy.
I am not so sure about banjos. I don’t care too much for the mechanical five string Bluegrass styles. To my ear they don’t sound very musical, and yet, in the hands of a master like Bela Fleck I am forced to re-evaluate that statement. When he steps outside the Bluegrass box his music is sublime. On another note (pun intended) the Irish adopted the banjo and, being Irish, they changed it by getting rid of the fifth string, tuning it like a mandolin and playing it with a pick. The Irish Tenor Banjo sounds great in Celtic ensembles where it adds punch and drive to the melody line but to hear it practiced solo in one’s basement it sounds frightful. Then there is the the open backed Clawhammer Banjo with the melody floating atop of nice chunking rhythms. It is capable of producing the very best in banjo music. Despite the subversive activities of the Irish the banjo is still the most American of musical instruments. It’s origins may be African but in practice it is absolutely American with a solidly American repertoire. I am so attracted to the sound of the Clawhammer Banjo that I own two and I always have the hope and ambition to one day actually play a tune in the appropriate style. The only thing that puts me off is that I have no real desire to play American tunes. The world does not need another stumbling musician trying to play Old Joe Clark, Cripple Creek or any of the many other standard banjo tunes. So it was nice to come across a video of an Irish tune played on the Clawhammer Banjo. It is a tune composed by Thurlough O’Carolan . For those who don’t know of O’Carolan or his music he was a blind traditional Irish Harper living way back in the late 1600’s. He was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach and he left us with a legacy of many wonderful tunes. They may not have the contrapuntal complexities of a Bach composition but they have a melodic strength that has kept them very much in circulation right up to present times. Acoustic guitar players love O’Carolan tunes and with the introduction of the DADGAD tuning system on the guitar they have adopted O’Carolan tunes with a vengeance. So here it is, Thurlough O’Carolan’s tune Morgan Magan (Morgan Megan) played on the Clawhammer Banjo.
For those who maybe interested here is the melody for the tune.
I haven’t yet managed to get to grips with playing the tune on the Clawhammer banjo but I suspect it will sit well on a banjo tuned ADADE. It’s another one of those things on my ever lengthening wish list. It just might be that one elusive tune that I am destined to play on the banjo.
The Cavaquinho – It looks like a Ukulele and so it should. The Cavaquinho is a Portuguese instrument that has, in one form or another spread around the world. In the hands of Portuguese immigrants it traveled to Hawaii in the nineteenth century and under went some changes. With the adoption of gut (nylon) strings and tuning systems peculiar to the islands it became part of a whole new genre of music – Hawaiian music. The sound of the Ukulele instantly conjures up images of the islands – trade winds, surf, palm trees, grass shirts and hula girls. Of course since that time the instrument has traveled back across the world and, in recent years, has undergone a resurgence in popular interest. In the meantime the original Cavaquinho has remained popular in Portugal, Brazil and the Cape Verde islands. Although Portugal had colonies in Angola and Mozambique the Cavaquinho doesn’t seem to have become part of their folkloric traditions. But it is in Brazilian Choro that the instrument has it’s most noticeable impact. Choro is the most Brazilian of all musical styles and it grew out of the European Salon music tradition imported into Brazil and spiced up with local samba style rhythms. In one form or other the style has been around for a hundred or more years. In that genre of music the Cavaquinho, the Pandiero (Brazilian tambourine), the Seven String Guitar and the Bandolin (5 course mandolin) create music that is very melodic, rhythmic and harmonically sophisticated and somewhat uniquely Brazilian.
Although the instrument is not in common use in Canada, Godin Guitars in Quebec manufactures a unique version of the instrument that can hold its own in the company of the more traditional instruments. It is a hybrid steel strung instrument tuned Brazilian style D G B D. Basically, that is an an open G tuning, a octave higher but almost identical, to the top four strings of the acoustic guitar. The difference is that the top string on the Cavaquinho is tuned down to D. Speaking from experience it was tempting to just tune the guitar like a Cavaquinho and play it as such. It was good idea at the time but basically it doesn’t work. The Cavaquinho has a very short scale length and the normal Cavaquinho Choro stretches from the 1st and 2nd to seventh fret are dam near impossible on the guitar. Beside it does not have the nice high traditional Cavaquinho sound. D’Addario manufactures stainless steel ball end strings (EJ93, gauges 11-13-23w-28w) specifically for the Cavaquinho and are available from a number of on line sites. It is unlikely you will find them in your local music store. The Godin instrument is equipped with their signature on-board electronics that is virtually free of feed back. In that regard, and in other manufacturing details, the Godin Cavaquinho is similar to their acoustic and semi-acoustic Nylon Classical, Multi Oud and Seven String Guitars.
So, that’s the background so now for the sounds. The first three videos below demonstrate, for me, the attraction of the Cavaquinho and Brazilian music in general. These young musicians look like they are having fun. The guitar in the first and third videos are obviously Godins. In the third video the guitarist is throwing in some very interesting chord progressions. All three tunes are pretty well classics in the Brazilian Choro repertoire.
There a lots of Cavaquinho tutorials on YouTube and the approach they use to teach the tunes has, for me, a lot of appeal. The first tutorial, Garota de Ipanema is better known as the The Girl from Ipanema, by the well known Brazilian composer Tom Jobim. The tune is probably the most recorded composition on the planet. I have lost count of the number of Cavaquinho and Brazilian Guitar tutorials that are available on YouTube so there is plenty out there to explore.
I know local musicians aren’t likely to stumble on or acquire a Cavaquinho but the above videos might just attract some interest in the instrument or also in that very rich and varied world of Brazilian music. This is only the tip of the iceberg.