About all this: I started this blog (not my first) in 2008, during one national emergency, and am back at it in earnest in the midst of a new one.
In the intervening years I was fortunate to move from writing about music and culture to keep myself from going insane to writing about music and culture as a freelance professional. Not that the work was enough to support my life on my own, but it was something.
Now, there’s no more work. That’s what happens when live music shuts down. So this post sits at the top, asking for help, because there’s nothing left to do.
You can hit the button below and place a modest monthly contribution, or even hit another button for a one time tip. No amount too small, my thanks great to all.
Be an angel and toss something in the hat, fill in the number that works for you. Donations of $15 and above get a random CD plucked from my collection, sent to you via media mail at no additional cost.
Barzun wrote The Berlioz Century which needs a sequel, something along the lines of The Mahler Epoch. No one in any medium identifies and expresses the glories and dangerous contradictions of Western culture better than Mahler. His symphonies are the story of humanity caught within bourgeois capitalism—the energy needed to stay sane becomes its own drama.
Obituaries are going to be easy to find because when someone like Morricone passes, everyone has an opinion. Mine is that as much as he is loved he is unappreciated.
Think about it this way: By the time Morricone began scoring films, the art had been established and there had already been several great film composers, especially Bernard Herrmann, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Max Steiner. What set Morricone apart is that film music before him, no matter how fine or inventive (like Herrmann’s score for The Day The Earth Stood Still), was still based on the standard, old model of late-romantic era Western art music of the orchestral and operatic variety.
What Morricone did was invent an entirely new way of composing for films. The concept may have been “operatic” in the sense of using different themes for different characters and situations (Once Upon a Time in the West), but what that meant was Morricone had to keep creating new melodic ideas from scratch, with no preceding models. And his genius was that he was one of the great melodists in music history, bar none. Yes, the Spaghetti Westerns, yes Cinema Paradiso and The Mission. But especially, “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears,” “Come Maddalena,” music for the Gialli films that never came to America, the disco tunes, the ballads for Sacco and Vanzetti. He did everything, and he also did so much with so few orchestral resources for so long, that his genius was clothed in the workingman’s garb of practicality. Other fine composers can be imitators, like John Williams, but no one can imitate Morricone.
A reminder: the COVID-19 virus is everywhere and will continue to be everywhere until there’s a vaccine. Sorry, just reporting, I don’t make the rules here, the universe does. Here in New York City we’re in Phase 2, which means you can eat out, as long as you’re outside, and even the Strand is letting in small groups of customers—browsing through used bookstores is the thing I miss the most. Concerts return in Phase 4, but what the statistics from Arizona, Texas, Florida, and California are showing is that Phase 3—indoor dining and half-full bars—is a problem no one has been able to yet navigate. This almost entirely relies on personal behavior, and this is America, where spoiling the commons is a national pastime. So no, I have no confidence that New York City is going to reach Phase 4 and maintain that without a vaccine.
That leaves the streaming landscape, which has been generally unsuccessful. The will is there, but I see very little thinking about this new environment—playing in front of a camera and a microphone just doesn’t cut it. I’m starting to see new thinking though, and can hearily recommend the new Streaming Live at the Village Vanguard series. Sets are Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 2 (EST), sound is quite good (though there’s the classic Vanguard stuffiness in the drums) and the production is excellent, the lighting gives the stage a new look and there’s multi-camera direction, including hand-held work. I wish musicians would stop talking to the non-existent audience, it crashes into the Third Wall, but as far as live jazz goes, it’s a good experience. Access is a modest $7 and this weekend you can catch the Joe Martin Quartet, with Mark Turner, Kevin Hays, and Nasheet Waits.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is going streaming this year, June 27-30. All shows will be free, live at the festival’s Facebook page, then those sets will be available on Facebook, IGTV and YouTube. With COVID-19, the lineup is heavy on Canadian musicians, including guitarist Jordan Officer and Jacques Kuba Séguin, and the festival is augmenting the live music with archival performances from Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughan, and Miles Davis.
Terry Riley is 85 today. His importance can’t be overstated, In C alone is one of the essential works of the 20th century. But what I love most about Riley is just his playing, the man can play, and the albums that feature his musicians ship, like Persian Surgery Dervishes, are desert island discs. Here’s a review I wrote of his appearance at Pioneer Works late in 2019.
Harry Partch’s music may not sound particularly American, but he’s one of the quintessential American musicians—inventing himself and living in a way that would put to shame self-consciously outsider/underground artists. He was the real deal.
I’m not a Cynic, I’m a Pessimist. Give me the time to sit and work through the logic, and I’ll get to the satisfying conclusion that there’s no point to being born, and that’s even before I toss in all the malevolence humanity has shown to the universe and to itself.
But I can only take it so far—I’m a father and so I can’t help but look to the future as something possible, if not for me than for someone younger and far more promising. And for whatever reason, my soul and body are entwined with music and there is something about the way sounds come together one after another that takes me out of time into a space where, again, good things are possible.
And now, a mass movement makes it look like good things, concrete things, are possible in real time, a new set of building blocks for a new possible future. We still have a problem with the media-political industrial complex’s inability to call a spade a fucking shovel—their power rests on avoiding articulating any fact or truth—and we’re unlikely to ever see Juneteenth as a federal holiday (I’m old enough to remember St. John McCain fighting tooth and nail to hold back Martin Luther King Day) but people are voting with their feet and timorous corporations are trying to hold on to their wallets, so today starts the de facto holiday, and I see a possible season between it and Memorial Day where we might, as a country, take the Civil War out of Ken Burns’ misty bourgeois mythologizing and see it as the second act in building this nation, with the third still to come.
In the great American tradition of using a holiday as an excuse to shop, I want to point you over to Bandcamp, where all their proceeds today are going to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. If you want to look specifically for Black artists, here’s a place to start. My recommendations are:
Igor Stravinsky was born this day in 1882. Imagine a world where one of the greatest practitioners of an abstract art was also a major, popular, public figure. I know, right…
Everyone’s dropping Le Sacre today, but I’m going to go with his most astonishing pure composition, Agon. And if you ever wonder what to listen to with Igor, just expect everything to be a masterpiece and go from there, because pretty much everything was a masterpiece.
The second Bang on a Can Marathon of the COVID-19 era hits the the ground this afternoon, 3pm-9pm EST. You can view it via this link or with the embedded stream below:
Viewing is free, but as always if you can, please help out the musicians and Bang on a Can by buying a ticket (it amounts to a donation for the cause). Bang on a Can is donating 10% of today’s ticket revenue to the Equal Justice Initiative. Hourly schedule (approximate) follows at the bottom of this post.
And in what I hope is good news, live jazz has returned to the Village Vanguard. This weekend the club has started a live-streaming schedule, Saturday nights at 7 and Sunday matinées at 2. Tickets to the streaming portal are $7. Most promising is that the Vanguard is presenting ensembles—Billy Hart’s Quartet this weekend, with Mark Turner, Ethan Iverson, and Ben Street—which at the very least indicates these musicians are healthy and hints at the possibilities of just how many musicians might be allowed on stage when phase four of New York State’s reopening arrives here in the city, which right now looks to be, maybe, sometime in September at the earliest (though if there are more scenes like this one from St. Mark’s Place in the East Village the evening of June 12 then we’re not getting to phase four until there’s a vaccine. Culture is not going to survive humanity.).
The one caveat to all this is that the live-streaming experience for the past few months has mostly been piss-poor—even without the often mediocre technical quality, snafus, and the fact that listeners are limited by the quality of their sound reproduction equipment, music played in isolation for isolated audiences is just that, isolating, alienating, cold. I’m hoping the Vanguard experience is different, and the Bang on a Can lineup has some performers who might be able to shine in the solo, isolated environment, Iva Bittová and Nik Bärtsch. Give it a try, and donate if you can.