Back in my youth teenagers performing music was not a common phenomena. In Sydney, Australia, while in my 20’s AM top forty radio was the big mover on the local music scene. Of course there were local cover bands of mostly older professional musicians but none of my teen age friends ever gave a thought to actually playing music. I was probably the only one in my peer group who owned an instrument. It was early days and I was at that horrible stumbling period of trying to figure out how to actually play a guitar. It wasn’t until classic rock became “a thing” that things began to change. When I started to pay serious attention to music the late night radio broadcasts were on the tail end of the swing era with big band tributes and crooners like Frank Sinatra ruling the late night air waves. When Bob Dylan, The Beetles and The Rolling Stones, etc kicked off the modern singer/songwriter rock era Modern Jazz and folk music were on the fringe of the local music scene and “Classic Rock” wasn’t even a concept at that stage. By the mid sixties that had changed and every young guy on the planet picked up a guitar and started churning out the new music. For a young guy an electric guitar was an instant “chick magnet”. The era of the guitar god became the order of the day and that is the way it has been ever since. Now, maybe that is changing. Rick Beato, the YouTube music critic and promoter, commented in a recent YouTube video that when young people socialize these days they no longer seem to be interested in playing music. They are more interested in playing video games. So maybe the Electric Guitar era has just about run its course. The legendary performers are dropping like flies and the bands from the classic rock era are populated by really, really old men. It is probably time to move on.
For me, the new thing, and don’t laugh, is the marimba. I know it maybe only be because the YouTube algorithms are selecting from my playlists and that only re-enforces my current interests in performances by young nerdy guys or cute Asian ladies playing marimbas . That seems to be their instrument of choice. For me there is something very appealing about a huge five octave marimba played by two handed musicians with four mallets. The resulting sounds are magical. There seems to be masses of musicians and new composers churning out musically spectacular performances. I was first turned onto marimba music way back in the mid-1980s when I first heard SteveReich’s Six Marimbas.For some audiences the music is an advanced form of sonic Chinese water torture. As a comment I think that is a little unkind. I admit it is very repetitative music but if you really, really listen there is a lot going on in the music. I have been listening to that piece for over thirty years and I it still find it enthralling. It was originally written for six Grand Pianos but I guess getting six grand pianos into a room was a logistical nightmare. For six Marimbas that is still a physical challenge but getting them into a concert space it is doable. Steve Reich is a modern classical composerwho, along with Phillip Glass, Terry Rileyand others has re-invented modern classical music. So while pop/rock music seems to have gone down the rabbit hole of massive arena performances, modern classical musicians seem to have stripped away the excesses of modern pop music to produce miniaturized performances that are both sonically and visually interesting.
So here is a recent performance of Steve Reich’s magical Six Marimbas performed by HAMIRUGE – THE LOUSIANA STATE UNIVERSITY GROUP under the direction of Brett Dietz.
It doesn’t end there. The piece has been re-arranged for Indonesian Gamelan. I think that works almost as well. The Indonesian Gamelan Orchestras were a major influence on Reich’s music.
For a more traditional Classical approach check out the magnificent arrangement of the Chaconne from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004. It was composed in between 1717-1720. The Chaconne reflects Bach’s thorough appreciation for the violin as an instrument of musical expression. At one level it is a simple piece of music – the 256-measure-long work consists of 64 variants on the four-measure phrase heard at the beginning. Check out the dynamics in the performance of this piece.
On a jazzier note check out Mika Stoltzman’s Marimba Madnesswith a combo that included the great drummer Steve Gadd who appears to be faultlessly sight reading the drum parts. Enjoy……
Living surrounded by the snow capped mountains of the East Kootenays in British Columbia, the concept of “wild” is not an unfamiliar notion. After all, on an almost daily basis, it is not unusual to see deer in our yard, herds of elk in adjacent fields, wild turkeys wandering down the street and the occasional moose and black bear. So when Alice Henderson’s environmentally themed novels hit my desk they were avidly devoured.
A Solitude of Wolverines: A Novel of Suspense (Alex Carter Series Book 1)
“The first book in a thrilling series featuring a wildlife biologist who courts trouble as she saves endangered species . . . and a mysterious killer who buries his dead in the land she helps preserve—a fast-paced, action-driven tale of suspense with the atmosphere and propulsive tension of works by Jane Harper, C. J. Box, William Kent Krueger, and Nevada Barr. While studying wolverines on a wildlife sanctuary in Montana, biologist Alex Carter is run off the road and threatened by locals determined to force her off the land. Undeterred in her mission to help save this threatened species, Alex tracks wolverines on foot and by cameras positioned in remote regions of the preserve. But when she reviews the photos, she discovers disturbing images of an animal of a different kind: a severely injured man seemingly lost and wandering in the wilds. After searches for the unknown man come up empty, local law enforcement is strangely set on dismissing the case altogether, raising Alex’s suspicions. Then another invasive predator trespasses onto the preserve. The hunter turns out to be another human—and the prey is the wildlife biologist herself. Alex realizes too late that she has seen too much—she’s stumbled onto a far-reaching illegal operation and now has become the biggest threat. In this wild and dangerous landscape, Alex’s life depends on staying one step ahead—using all she knows about the animal world and what it takes to win the brutal battle for survival.” ……. Amazon Books
A Blizzard of Polar Bears: A Novel of Suspense (Alex Carter Series Book 2)
Wildlife biologist Alex Carter is back, fighting for endangered species in the Canadian Arctic and battling for her life in this action-packed follow-up to A Solitude of Wolverines, “a true stunner of a thriller debut” (James Rollins) and “a great read” (Nevada Barr). Fresh off her wolverine study in Montana, wildlife biologist Alex Carter lands a job studying a threatened population of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic. Embedded with a small team of Arctic researchers, she tracks the majestic bears by air, following them over vast, snowy terrain, spending days leaning precariously out of a helicopter with a tranquilizer gun, until she can get down on the ice to examine them up close. But as her study progresses, and she gathers data on the health of individual bears, things start to go awry. Her helicopter pilot quits unexpectedly, equipment goes missing, and a late-night intruder breaks into her lab and steals the samples she’s collected. She realizes that someone doesn’t want her to complete her study, but Alex is not easily deterred. Managing to find a replacement pilot, she returns to the icy expanses of Hudson Bay. But the helicopter catches fire in mid-flight, forcing the team to land on a vast sheet of white far from civilization. Surviving on the frozen landscape is difficult enough, but as armed assailants close in on snowmobiles, Alex must rely on her skills and tenacity to survive this onslaught and carry out her mission….. Amazon Books
A Ghost of Caribou: A Novel of Suspense (Alex Carter Series Book 3)
There are many threads in this third book in the Alex Carter series. This time our intrepid biologist is living in the forests of the northern U.S., on the borders of Idaho, Washington, and Canada. She is tasked with documenting a possible sighting of the elusive caribou, thought to be absent from the U.S. Alex encounters an ongoing feud between loggers and environmentalists, including a woman who has been living in a tree for months. In addition, a woman is missing, and another’s body has been discovered, leading to FBI and local police involvement. The writing here is as excellent as ever, and all the characters are believable and interesting………. Amazon Books. Some readers may find the issues of environmentalists versus every one else a little to black and white. The location of the novel is just immediately south of the East Kootenays and as such has an immediate appeal.
For me 1971 was a good year. It was the year I arrived in Canada and met my future wife. 1972 was an even a better year. It was the year I got married and, co-incidently, it was the year that the Canadian film The Rowdyman starring Gordon Pinsent hit the big screen. It was also marked the year I first heard Ian Tyson’sSummer Wages and the music of Gordon Lightfoot. There you have it, three major Canadian icons in such a short time. I thought I had hit the mother load of Canadian culture. In the space of a little over a year I had slipped into the mainstream of Canadian life and found a Canadian soundtrack for the characters I met every day. I was just like in the movies. The people I was meeting could have stepped straight out of the Rowdyman. It was art imitating life.
So to hear of Gordon Pinsent’s death it was a reminder of those early days of my immersion and integration into Canadian society and culture. Thank you Gordon.
For people of my generation the name Grace Kelly could only mean the blonde American actress who married Prince Rainer of Monaco way back in April 1956. In a sense she was the Meghan Markle of her day. Both ladies were American actresses who married into European royal families. Until her death in a car crash in 1982 Grace Kelly’s marriage and subsequent royal life had a fairy tale scandal free quality that has remained untarnished to this day.
For the current generation the name could only mean the young Asian-American saxophone player Grace Chung akaGrace Kelly. She is a musician, songwriter, and arranger who has produced and released recordings of her own, scored soundtracks, and tours with her band.
David Sanborn, Grace Kelly and Marcus Miller
Grace Chung was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to Korean parents, she moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, when she was 2 years old. She briefly played clarinet and classical piano before finding her voice on the saxophone. Kelly stated, “Saxophone reminds me of the human voice. And I always felt this very compelling, this feeling, that someone was singing to me. The Girl from Ipanema was on repeat in my household when I was a little girl and thought: ‘I wanna learn this one day.’ It’s one of the instruments that’s closest to expressing the human voice”. Her mother remarried in 1997 to Robert Kelly, who legally adopted Grace a few years later, thus changing her name to Grace Kelly. She wrote her first song “On My Way Home” at age seven. Kelly counts it a major breakthrough in her career when singer/songwriter Fred Taylor approached her after she sat in with vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway at Sculler’s. He offered to book her first headlining show at a major jazz venue. Kelly left Brookline High School at age 16 and earned her GED. After studying in the Jazz Department of the New England Conservatory of Music’s School of Preparatory Education she enrolled at Berklee College of Music, where at the age of 19 she graduated in December 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in professional music. Kelly studies or has studied saxophone with Jeremy Udden, James Merenda, George Garzone, Lee Konitz, Greg Osby, Jerry Bergonzi, and Allan Chase…….. Wikipedia
She was famously mentored by the late, great Phil Woods and has gone on to collaborate and record with many famous musicians. By any standard she is a heavy hitter in the world of Alto Saxophone.
Here are some clips of her work……….
Note: This was recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2011. After a long struggle with the lung disease emphysema, Phil Woods died September 29, 2015. It is amazing that he continued to play at such a high level right up to his death.
Victoria Clark is a writer of non-fiction who has has worked for The Observer in Romania, the former Yugoslavia and Russia from 1990 to 1996, reporting the Croatian, Bosnian and first Chechen wars. I first stumbled onto her book Why Angels Fall in an Australian second hand book shop over 25 years ago. I have read the book twice and. given enough time, I will probably read it again. To have any understanding of the Eastern European mind set this book is an essential read.
Why Angels Fall: A Journey Through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo – Nov. 28 2000
Victoria Clark traveled across most of Eastern Europe to write Why Angels Fall. Having worked for six years as a journalist in Romania, the former Yugoslavia, and Russia, Clark was fascinated by the Eastern Orthodox churches and keen to unravel their histories and beliefs. To do so, she journeyed from Mount Athos, to Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Cyprus, and finally Istanbul, interviewing clergy and other believers. We’re treated to a series of vivid cameos, a few of whose subjects glow almost visibly with holiness, a few terrify, and many show qualities rare and needed in the West. As Clark puts it, after the ancient split between eastern and western Christianity, “each side lost something it could not happily do without … at the risk of oversimplifying for the sake of clarity, western Christendom can be said to have lost its heart, eastern Christendom its mind.” Her keenness to explain Orthodoxy to Westerners stems from a fear that the continent is in the process of fracturing along a 1,000-year-old fault line, between the Catholic and Protestant west and the Orthodox east. The book combines high-quality, highly readable travel writing with a powerful mix of politics and religion. Most of all, perhaps, it demonstrates the power of history, and of different peoples’ conflicting versions of history. Again and again, Clark finds the present in the grip of the past. In Serbia, for example, she cannot escape the legends surrounding the destruction of the Serbs’ medieval empire in 1389, and the death of the venerated Prince Lazar: “the battle of Kosovo’s interruption of Serbia’s golden greatness has become a cataclysm to rival man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the minds of Serbs…. Prince Lazar is the key to understanding the Serbs’ deep conviction that, however many wars they initiate, they remain a nation of victims and martyrs.” –David Pickering, Amazon.co.uk
Far-Farers Hardcover – Dec 31 2004
Just before the year 1000, a young Viking named Thorvald turned his back on the pagan gods of his fathers to preach the Christian gospel. But his Icelandic countrymen mocked and outlawed him. Abandoning his homeland, Thorvald embarked on an epic journey to the heart of all medieval world maps, Jerusalem. A thousand years later, Victoria Clark embarked on the same journey to discover to what extent the dramatic changes and conflicts sweeping Western Europe a millennium ago still resonate today. The Far-Farers is both the story of this twenty-first-century journey and a history of eleventh-century western Christendom.
In this remarkable book Clark illuminates a group of influential eleventh-century characters Thorvald, emperors of eastern and western Christendom, abbots, saints, princesses, Crusaders who form links in a historical chain extending down the century and all the way from Iceland to the Holy Land. Western Europe was struggling to unite then, expanding rapidly and changing utterly. Warfare, peacekeeping, multinational monasticism, institutional power struggles, mass pilgrim travel, and rising religious fundamentalism were a few salient characteristics of this world more like our own than we might imagine. The twenty-first-century people Clark encountered as she traveled through Iceland, central and Western Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East cast fresh light on both worlds. In the ancient capital of Poland, a young Catholic priest scorns the idea of Europe uniting in the name of human rights instead of Christ. At the Crusader stronghold of Krak les Chevaliers, a Syrian playboy highlights the deep and widening gulf between the West and Islam. A richly evocative and beautifully written work, The Far-Farers is neither conventional history nor travel, but a powerful and authoritative demonstration of our enduring connection with the distant past.
Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism Hardcover – Illustrated, Nov. 28 2007
Millions of Christian Zionists in America believe that God requires them to offer Israel unconditional support—moral, financial, political, and military. Guided by a literal reading of the prophetic sections of the Bible, Christian Zionists are convinced that the world is hurtling toward a final Battle of Armageddon. They believe that war in the Middle East is God’s will for the region. In this timely book, Victoria Clark first explores the 400-year history of this powerful political ideology, laying to rest the idea that Christian Zionism is a passing craze or the province of a lunatic fringe. Then Clark surveys the contemporary Christian Zionist scene in Israel and in the United States, where the influence of the religious fundamentalists has never been greater.
Clark engages with Christian Zionism directly, interviewing leaders, attending events, and traveling with Christian Zionists in the Holy Land. She also investigates the Christian Zionist presence in Israel. She finds that the view through the Christian Zionist lens is dangerously simple: President Bush’s War on Terror is a mythic battle between good and evil, and Syria and Iran represent the powers of darkness. Such views are far from rare—an estimated fifteen to twenty million Americans share them. Almost one in three Americans believes Israel was given to the Jews by God as a prelude to the Battle of Armageddon and Jesus’ Second Coming. Clark concludes with an assessment of Christian Zionists’ impact on American foreign policy in the Middle East and on America’s relationships with European allies since the attacks of 9/11.
I currently have this book on my wish list.
Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes Kindle Edition (2010)
Although raised Catholic, Victoria Clark is a self-confessed agnostic who, in four non-fiction works, Why Angels Fall, Far-Farers, Allies for Armageddon, and Holy Fire explores the Christian religious mind set and its impact on history. Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes is a departure from the Christian themes explored in her previous works.
“Yemen is the dark horse of the Middle East. Every so often it enters the headlines for one alarming reason or another—links with al-Qaeda, kidnapped Westerners, explosive population growth—then sinks into obscurity again. But, as Victoria Clark argues in this riveting book, we ignore Yemen at our peril. The poorest state in the Arab world, it is still dominated by its tribal makeup and has become a perfect breeding ground for insurgent and terrorist movements. Clark returns to the country where she was born to discover a perilously fragile state that deserves more of our understanding and attention. On a series of visits to Yemen between 2004 and 2009, she meets politicians, influential tribesmen, oil workers and jihadists as well as ordinary Yemenis. Untangling Yemen’s history before examining the country’s role in both al-Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement today, Clark presents a lively, clear, and up-to-date account of a little-known state whose chronic instability is increasingly engaging the general reader.” ………..Amazon Books
I currently have this book on my wish list.
Holy Fire: The Battle for Christ’s Tomb (2011)
“Holy Fire invades the church, a fast-breeding light transfiguring faces, transforming the dark stone space. I hear gasps and cheers and sobs and tears. The emotion is overwhelming, the heat suffocating . . .’
Every Easter the ‘miracle’ of the Holy Fire is enacted in front of hundreds of the faithful in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. For centuries, Orthodox Christian pilgrims have made the arduous journey to witness it: the proof they need that God favors them far above all other Christians, as well as Jews and Moslems. Holy Fire presents the unending battle waged by various denominations of Christian churchmen for their savior’s empty tomb as the microcosm of centuries of wider Christian power struggles. Victoria Clark deftly weaves history, reportage and religion into a fluid and fascinating account that includes the aggressive campaigns of medieval Crusaders, the empire-building of the nineteenth-century European powers, Britain’s decision to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1917, and today’s zealous, though unlikely, champions of Israel’s cause, the Christian Zionists. She explores the contribution that the Christian world has made to the unfolding tragedy of the Holy Land – at a time when it has never been more urgent for the West to see itself as others see it.
In Innocents Abroad (1869) Mark Twain wrote of the various Christian groups who had chapels in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre: “It has been proven conclusively that they can not worship together around the grave of the Saviour of the World in peace.” Little has changed, and journalist Clark traces the historical reasons why this is so. Skillfully weaving narrative about contemporary Jerusalem and Israel with a history of the political and religious wrangling over the places deemed holy by Christians, Jews and Muslims, Clark’s book reads like a thriller. She follows the various Christian claims to the land (Orthodox and Roman Catholic) as well as the international ones (the Ottoman Empire and the more contemporary interests of England, France, Russia and the United States) from the time of Constantine up to the creation of the state of Israel. Though her personal dislike for evangelicals mars the book slightly, readers will come to understand why small incidents, such as an Egyptian Copt sitting in the Ethiopian section of the rooftop patio of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, can erupt in violence, and why so many nations today continue to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. ………. Amazon Books
I currently have this book on my wish list.
Post-script: After reading Victoria Clark’s books the temptation to go further down the Christian “rabbit hole” was just too overwhelming. So much so that I had to re-read some recent Irish history ….
A New Ireland: How Europe’s Most Conservative Country Became Its Most Liberal …… (2020)
by Niall O’Dowd
Theocracies are never a good idea. Just look at the recent news coming out of Iran. The amalgamation of Church and state seems to be a recipe for pain and violence. It was in Ireland and it continues to be so in Iran. This is an important book about the Irish theocracy of the last 100 years. It is slightly off topic from Victoria Clark’s books but not by much. The historical threads of 2,000 years of Christianity have been played out in the history of the Irish Republic. The very recent demise of the Irish theocracy demonstrates that even in the most entrenched circumstances there is possibilities for progressive change.
“It’s not your father’s Ireland. Not anymore. This is a story of a modern revolution in Ireland told by the founder of Irish Central, Irish America magazine, and The Irish Voice newspaper.
In a May 2019 countrywide referendum, Ireland voted overwhelmingly to make abortion legal; three years earlier, it had done the same with same-sex marriage, becoming the only country in the world to pass such a law by universal suffrage. In 2018 the visit by Pope Francis to Ireland saw protests and a fraction of the emphatic welcome that Pope John Paul had seen forty years earlier. There have been two female heads of state since 1990, the first two in Ireland’s history. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, an openly gay man of Indian heritage, declared that “a quiet revolution had taken place.” It had. For nearly all of its modern history, Ireland was Europe’s most conservative country. The Catholic Church was its most powerful institution and held power over all facets of Irish life. But as scandal eroded the Church’s hold on Irish life, a new Ireland has flourished. War in the North has ended. EU membership and an influx of American multinational corporations have helped Ireland weather economic depression and transform into Europe’s headquarters for Apple, Facebook, and Google. With help from prominent Irish and Irish American voices like historian and bestselling author Tim Pat Coogan and the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd,A New Ireland tells the story of a modern revolution against all odds.”
The Magdalen Girls Kindle Edition (2016)
by V.S. Alexander. This is a novel that explores one of the unsavory facets of the Catholic Church’s grip on Irish politics, culture and mentality.
“Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.
Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.
Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage. ” Amazon Books
In 2010 the band The Carolina Chocolate Drops won a Grammy for best traditional album (Genuine Negro Jigs). Featured in the band was the outstanding vocalist and clawhammer banjo player RhiannonGiddens. This young lady is a native of North Carolina and, although she comes from an academic background (she had even studied opera), she was deeply immersed in the traditional music of her region. She is a unique roots music performer. At the time of this recording there was nobody quite like her. Well, time marches on and another female roots music performer is making her mark. This is the Michigan raised, multi-instrumentalist Laurel Premo (Banjo, Fiddle, Guitar, Lap Steel Guitar).
From her website – “She is a Michigan-based artist who has been writing, arranging, and touring since 2009 with vocal and instrumental roots acts, and is internationally known from her collaborations with Michael Beauchamp-Cohen in the duo Red Tail Ring. Premo holds a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from the Performing Arts Technology Dept. of the University of Michigan School of Music, and has spent half-year stints at both the Sibelius Academy of Music in Helsinki, Finland and the University College of Southeast Norway in Telemark to study traditional music and dance. Important mentors who have helped shape Laurel’s lens in the folk arts have been her parents Bette & Dean Premo (fiddle, guitar, and traditional song, Michigan), Joel Mabus (clawhammer banjo, Michigan), Arto Järvelä (fiddle, Finland), and Ånon Egeland (fiddle, Norway). Alongside several continuing music projects, she is active in organizing community events that connect people with folk art and dance.”
“Laurel Premo is known for her rhythmically deep and rapt delivery of roots music on fiddle, guitar, and vocals. Her solo performances dive deep into traditional and new fiddle music, musically revealing a bloom of underlying harmonic drones, minimalist repetition, and rich polyrhythms. Presenting these sounds on finger style electric guitar and fiddle, Premo fully leans in to the archaic melodies and in-between intonations that connect folk sounds to the mystic and unknown.”
Despite the invention of streaming services my musical medium of choice remains the CD. However, in recent years I have fallen under the spell of YouTube and, although the technical quality of some videos is sub-par, it has the advantage of supplying new artists, new music and vast quantities of archival material. I often stumble on material that is not readily available on CD or DVD. Case in point is the following YouTube clip featuring Laurel Premo and Anna Gustavsson. They are performing ‘Sally In The Garden,’ a traditional American tune, on gourd banjo and nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish instrument).
Laurel has no hesitation in delving into traditional music that is outside her own culture. Here is her interpretation of a classic British folk song.
Michigan is not known as a hot bed of traditional Blues. Never-the-less here is Laurel’s interpretation of a song written by the master blues artist Skip James (1902-1969) . Laurel Premo added several new verses and interludes to his original composition
While exploring the many streams of traditional music Rhiannon Giddens will continue to be a musician who will continue to entertain and inform. At the same time we should remain aware of the musical talents of Laurel Premo. I think her musical explorations will continue to surprise and inspire us.
The Mike Clark Blues Band at Studio 64 in Kimberley
Saturday November 19, 2022 – This was the last concert of the 2022 Fall Jazz and Blues Concert Series.
For a Blues artist being born and growing up in the “Delta” is almost a stamp of authenticity. Well, Mike Clark really is a ”Delta Blues Man” but not of Mississippi river fame. Originally he hails from the Fraser River Delta in Richmond B.C. His musical and geographical domain isn’t one of humid heat, flat lands, cotton fields and Afro-Americans slaving under a hot southern sun. No, it is more like cool temperate weather conditions peopled by South Asian immigrants picking strawberries and blueberries all within reach of the towering snow-capped coastal ranges of British Columbia. The work is still back breaking but without the violent racial overtones of the American South. This is not the usual recipe for Delta Blues. And yet, despite this more genteel environment of his youth, Mike has managed to develop a searing blues based tenor sax and vocal style that would not be out of place in Memphis or New Orleans.
The Studio 64 Organizing Committee managed to pry the Mike Blues Band from it’s home town hang out in Mickey’s on 12th Avenue in Calgary to perform in the wonderful performance space of Studio 64 at the Kimberley Art Council building in down town Kimberley. This band included veteran blues artists Mike Clark on Tenor Sax, Guitar and Vocals, Don Muir on keyboards, Brian Pollock on Bass, Tom Moon on Drums and, holding up the youthful end of the age spectrum, Brett Spaulding on lead Guitar. Brett’s use of guitar pedals was outstanding. This is a solid working blues band with a good repertoire of Willie Dixon tunes (Spoonful, Hoochie Coochie Man), Al Green’s Take Me to the River, some James Brown (I Feel Good), a Ray Charles tune, The Crusaders (Put It Where You want It) and a number of original songs that included Dark Waters and Down Where the River Meets the Sea. All great songs spiced up with searing tenor sax solos, rollicking keyboards and very tasty lead guitar lines that was unpinned by the solid rhythm duo of Tom Moon and Brian Pollock. As I said this is a solid working band that if it returns to Kimberley should not be missed.
For this wonderful night of music, we should thank the Stage 64 Organizing Committee and its Volunteers. Also the corporate sponsor Overtime Beer Works, the City of Kimberley and last but not least the chair of the committee Keith Nicholas who is retiring as the chair person. His replacement will be Peter Kearns.
Here are some images from a rollicking night of music……..
Full disclosure – I play banjo but I am not ” A Banjo Player”…… Understand? I know enough to pick up a banjo and have some understanding of a few of the tuning systems and playing styles, but I am not prepared to play one in public. I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with the instrument. After years of playing guitar I find the banjo heavy and the strings too soft. I love clawhammer, folk music, old times styles and Celtic tunes on tenor banjo but do not care for rapid-fire blue grass. It was once described to me as “heavy metal” played on banjo. I love Bela Fleck’s non-bluegrass performances and the Chris Coole’s clawhammer tunes I regard as gifts from God.
The banjo is a uniquely American instrument with roots that can be traced back to pre- civil war days, the slave trade and further back to Africa. In the film Throw Down Your Heart Bela Fleck tried to do exactly that. It is a full length movie that probably says more about African music and culture than about the modern banjo. However, it is well worth spending 90 minutes to watch.
There are many YouTube tutorials and video performances out there. Most are about the more common aspects of the instrument. However, as people explore the history of the banjo some unusual aspects of the instrument are becoming available. Interest is growing in the Gourd and Civil War Minstrel banjos and several master musicians are now playing the instruments in public. The first clip is by Laurel Premo, a Michigan based multi-instrumentalist with strong academic credentials and folk music roots. She is playing a Gourd banjo. She is accompanied by Anna Gustavsson on the Swedish Nyckelharpa.
The second clip is Rhiannon Giddens, a conservatory trained musician with deep folkloric roots, performing on a reproduction of a Minstrel Banjo.
Both instruments are recognizable as banjos but not the usual music store models that we would readily recognize. Both instruments have fretless necks, nylon strings and sound like they are tuned lower than a conventional banjo. Modern banjos are usually strung with metal strings while the older instruments would have been strung with “gut” strings. In this day and age that is neither practical or even environmentally sensible. There are a number of nylon substitutes now available.
To effectively play a fretless instrument is probably beyond my capabilities. I have an 100 year old Washburn banjo that is a little fragile but maybe could be a suitable candidate for nylon strings. It is an option that I am in the process of exploring. I have done my home work, read the reviews and have decided to try the Aquila Classic Banjo – Red Series. The product information describes “A unique feeling and a strong, consistent sound. Until now, it was necessary to increase the gauge of a string for it to produce a lower-pitched note. But increasing the string’s diameter also increases internal dampening. That makes the string less bright, less responsive and more muffled; the thicker the string, the duller the sound. Our revolutionary new approach — unique to us — changes the specific weight of the material, increasing it progressively to leave the gauge almost unchanged.” Depending on the basic note required for the individual string the composition (density) of the string is designed at the point of manufacture. “The result is amazing: instruments sound brighter, more powerful and more responsive through the entire range of the fret board. The strings also maintain their intonation better, because thicker strings need to be fretted harder, pulling them further out of tune. ” At least that is the claim.
Fresh out of the packet the first thing to notice is that the plastic envelopes for the individual strings are color coded. For a banjo tuned in the traditional G tuning (gDGBD) the coding is (g) yellow, D white, G green, B blue and D red.
The second thing to notice is that the strings do not have the usual loops for attachment at the bottom end. At first sight that is a little disconcerting. However, here is a video demonstrating how to overcome that problem. The solution is pretty simple and straight forward.
Attaching the string at the top end requires threading the string through the tuning peg and cinching as described below.
Here is another video on Nylon Strings.
As an after thought I might try tuning the nylon set down at least a tone to either (fCFAC) a tone down from standard G; or (f Bb F Bb C) a tone down from Double C. The fingering you are used to will be the same. Only the Key will change.
Postscript: Just because of the huge variety of instruments and string sets available it may be difficult to purchase some speciality sets locally so I tend to buy strings on line from https://www.stringsandbeyond.com/ . I have been purchasing strings from this site for years without problems.
Black Umfolosi – The Second 2022 Fall Jazz and Blues Concert; 8pm Saturday, October 29th, 2022.
Some years back I stumbled onto a YouTube video of Bonnie Raitt and slide blues guitarist Roy Rogers performing at a Austin City Limits event. As expected it was a fine performance. But what was unexpected was the second act of the evening performed by a musician from Zimbabwe. Bonnie and Roy are, in essence, blues musicians and up until this particular performance I had never fully realized how much “a downer” the blues can be. Essentially it is “victims” music and has an aura of depression, repression and “Oh Woe is Me”, “My man treats me awful mean”, etc. When the Zimbabwean musician stepped up to the microphone all that depression disappeared. With sinuous bass lines and dancing rhythms there was a monumental shift from depression to joy and, although the songs were in another language, they sounded so happy that one could only feel the same way. When Bonnie and Roy returned to the stage for their second set the music went crashing back down down into instant depression. I have never been able to listen to the blues the same way since. From that time on I have paid attention to the multitude styles of African music and, regardless of geography, that sense of joy and community seems to ring through all African music. When I heard that that the Zimbabwean cappella group Black Umfolosi was going to perform in the newly renovated Centre 64 Theater in Kimberly it would be a rare opportunity to experience music that, in this part of the world, is way out of the ordinary.
“Black Umfolosi are a multi-discipline performing arts group, based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The group began as a means of entertaining themselves while still at school in 1982. They have since become an internationally acclaimed harmonic cappella singing and traditional African dance group The original six members have developed their skills and their organization to a point where the now 18 members provide a multitude of services in the performing arts industry in Zimbabwe and are internationally. compared to the likes of Lady Smith Black Mambazo of South Africa. Black Umfolosi, tour extensively from their homeland Zimbabwe to the UK, Australia, Asia, Europe, Canada and the USA. They have released a number of recordings that feature the singing styles of Imbube, Mbaganga and Township songs. Their dynamic live performances showcase the traditional dancing styles of the Southern African region as well as the more contemporary styles and movements they have developed themselves. Black Umfolosi is much more than a performing group; they are active in training others, particularly the youth, in dance and voice. They try to identify and develop up and coming groups and mentor them along their path to success. They provide workshops and residences in dance, voice, theater, costume design, poetry, mime and also address various issues affecting society today. In short, Black Umfolosi are a community driven organization aiming to give back to people what they themselves have received. The group run various outreach programs both at home and internationally, and does a lot of development educational work with universities, hospitals, prisons, community centers and other arts institutions.” ………. WIKIPEDIA.
Kimberley was the first stop on the Canadian tour and this was the first time the two ladies had been out of Africa. After 45+ days in the UK and the USA their fondest wish for their time in Canada is “to see snow falling from the sky”. In the photo below the featured musicians from left to right are …….
Sotsha Moyo (Lead)
Sandi Dube (Alto/Soprano)
Thomeki Dube (Tenor)
Luzibo Moyo (Alto)
Austin Chisare (Bass)
Here are images from an evening that started with a warmup (note the jackets and sweaters) in “The Green Room” followed by two sets on the main stage that included some active participation by members of the audience.
In The Green Room
The First Set
The Second Set
The Gumboot Song
Black Umfolosi sing in a vocal style from southern Africa called Mbube (Zulu for Lion). It is a style of music that was developed amongst the tribal migrant workers in Southern Africa in the 1930s and on up to the present time. It is just another example of when people are separated from their main cultural roots then they just go on and create and build a “new” culture. It happens all the time and is probably happening as we speak in ways of which we are unaware. Just think back, where did Ragtime, Jazz, Calypso, Salsa, Reggae, etc come from? The most striking feature of the Mbube is that it is entirely vocal and the most well known song in the Mbube style is When the Lion Sleeps Tonight. And everybody knows that song. There is no instrumental component in Mbube music. It is described as “homophonically rhythmic unison vocals” that are used to create intricate harmonies and textures. The nearest to an instrumental accompaniment is the slapping of the “gumboots” in the appropriately name Gumboot Song. Although some of the performances in the concert were in English the majority of the songs were sung in Nguni (a Zulu dialect) and the performers provided enough commentary to inform the audience of the content and meaning of the songs.
Another brilliant concert and once again thanks should go to the Overtime Beer Works, The Kootenay Credit Union, The BC Touring Grant and to the Studio 64 Committee and volunteers that have made this concert possible.
WIL & Heather Gemmell – Centre 64 Gallery and Stage 64 performing space. 8:00 pm, Friday, September 30, 2022. This is the first show of the fall Jazz and Blues Concert Series. The featured act was the Indie Folk-rock duo WIL from Calgary.
The evening’s entertainment was kicked off by Heather Gemmell in the gallery. Over the years this local performer continues to musically grow and develop. At the beginning of her musical career, she was a singer / guitar player in a kind of folksy mold. She morphed into a “Blues Babe”, “Rocker Chick” (with a full-on electric guitar band), “Country Girl” (in the acoustic Rosie Brown Band), “Singer Songwriter” and, now in this instance, to a rootsy banjo playing solo act. Her acoustic set of vocals, original songs and clawhammer banjo tunes was a perfect fit for the gallery.
In Studio 64 WIL, William Mimnaugh on acoustic guitar and vocals was accompanied by drummer Keith Gallant though the two sets that rocked the house though out the evening.
The organizing committee of the Kimberley Arts Council would like to thank the volunteers and the sponsor Overtime Beer Works for another successful concert.