Archive for December, 2008


George & Ira Gershwin: The Brothers Songwriting Team

Monday, December 29th, 2008
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George Gershwin was born on the 26th of September, 1986 in Brooklyn, New York. His roots were a mix of Ukrainian and Jewish roots, from Russia. The key to his interest was a violin recital by his childhood pal Max Rozen. He liked what he had heard. His parents bought a piano for his brother and future lyricist, Ira Gershwin. He took it from there and took to it more than his brother Ira.

Gershwin came from a family that had music in their blood. In addition to his brother getting into music, his sister too, started taking it up early in life, but gave it up in favor of a family life. Gershwin was tutored by a number of tutors who didn’t make much of an impact on him and his music until he met his last piano teacher – Charles Hambitzer. Hambitzer taught him to the proper way of playing a piano.

Paving his knowledge of European music history, introduced him to the music of the past and encouraged him to attend a concert when he could. When he eventually did this, he was quick at reproducing the same music note of note after returning home after the concert. He also studied with Rubin Goldmark and Henry Cowell.

When 15, George quit school and started working at Jerome H. Remick and Company as a ‘song-plugger’ where he took a salary of $15 a week. His first commercial success was tasted with Rialto Ripples in 1917 but he really hit it big time in 1919 with his composition Swanee, which shot him to fame all over the United States.

In 1916, he worked with Aeolian Company and Standard Music Rolls doing the recording and arranging piano rolls. There is no official count of the rolls that he came up with, but it is said that he has hundreds of piano rolls to his credit. He credited his work here with number of aliases – some which were Fred Murtha and Bert Wynn. He made rolls for reproducing pianos made by Duo Art and Welte Mignon. He had a small little stint getting into vaudevilles playing pieces by Nora Bayes and Louise Dresser most often at the vaudeville shows that he performed at.

In 1924, he and brother Ira worked on their first musical together – a comedy – Lady be Good. The songs from Lady Be Good – Fascinating Rhythm and the title track Lady Be Good – were soon to be standards. Then on, a string of musical followed with most of them being very successful. Some of them are Girl Crazy, Strike Up the Band, Funny Face, Show Girl and Oh, Kay!. From among these, Girl Crazy became the first ever musical to win a Pulitzer Prize apart from spurning the hits I Got Rhythm and Of Thee I Sing.

The same year he made music for a musical, he also composed his first classical piece – Rhapsody In Blue. The piece was, orchestrated by Ferde Grofe, played by Paul Whiteman’s band. He tried a hand at learning something from greats like Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Ravel rejected the proposition to teach him saying that bring his technique mainstream would ruin his jazz specialty.

His stay there inspired the piece An American In Paris. The piece didn’t do well at the press and with critics, when he played for the first time on the 13th of April in Carnegie Hall. But it, like some of his other early hits, became many jazz band’s standard repertoire.

After getting fed up with the music scene in Paris, he decided to return home to the United States. His best was yet to come. Two years before his death in 1937, he composed his most appreciated work yet. Porgy and Bess premièred on Broadway in 1935. The music was a hit mainly because it had a little bit of all kinds of musical culture of the time – a little black music, opera induced recitative and leitmotifs – which was understandable as all the characters were black people.

In 1937, Gershwin began complaining of being able to smell burnt rubber and of headaches. He was diagnosed with a condition of a brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme. Despite the condition, he continued to work. He played with the San Francisco Philharmonic Orchestra in the same year. This was his last performance before he collapsed and died and dies while working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies.

Two months after his death, the score of They Can’t Take That Away From Me, from the film Shall We Dance won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

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Auld Lang Syne (Short Video)

Saturday, December 27th, 2008
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Auld Lang Syne

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Color Tones in “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”

Friday, December 26th, 2008
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By adding color tones to your chords you can create a much fuller sound in most any song:

Color Tones in “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”

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Basic Training in the US Army Band

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
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US Army Band

US Army Band

You have likely seen the US Army band “Pershing’s Own” at various occasions or playing taps, the beautiful and stirring music played as a final tribute to fallen soldiers. Started in 1922, the US Army Band has played a significant role in major US events and happenings.

The band plays at the White House and events such as the visit of a leader of a foreign country. The band also performs on official occasions as the need arises. The main mission of the Army band is to provide “musical support to the US troops both at home and abroad as well as for the citizens of the USA.”

There are four special army bands that have the honor of performing at special functions. These are Pershing’s Own, Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, US Army Field Band and US Military Academy Band. These special units are comprised of the best musicians in the US Army.

There are several other musical units in the US Army Band. The jazz group called the US Army Blues plays original American jazz music.  The US Army Chorus is an all-male group, which as the name suggests, is the vocalist arm of the band.  Other support units within the main band are the Brass Quintet, Rock and Pop Band, and Stage Band.

How to Join the Band

Before being accepted into the US Army Band, you have to meet regular army enlistment requirements. As such, if you are considering joining the US Army Band, get in touch with the recruiting office in your area.  Once you meet the standard enlistment criteria, you will need to audition. Only proficient musicians are accepted. So what does being proficient mean? You must sight read music and have an understanding of scales, tone, rhythm and other related areas. The audition is generally administered by a band recruiting officer or a band commander.

The US Army website provides valuable information on what’s expected in your audition based on your musical instrument of choice. For instance, to pass the audition for the keyboard, the following requirement must be met, according to www.goarmy.com:

* Prepare selections from each of the following: swing, pop/rock, ballad and Latin and classical (optional). This is valued at 40 percent.
* Sight read representative literature and chord changes, for another 50 percent
* Play major scales with arpeggios, three octaves, memorized, use both hands for 10 percent.
* Should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the following chords: Maj 7, Min 7, Dom 7 and the ii-V7-I chord progression.

In order to be accepted, you have to audition with a specific instrument. You must be able to play one or more of the following:

* Bassoon
* Clarinet
* Electric bass
* Electric guitar
* Euphonium
* Flute
* French horn
* Keyboard
* Percussion
* Saxophone
* Trombone
* Trumpet
* Tuba

According to Jeremiah Keillor, Director of the Fort Knox’s 113th Army Band known as the Dragoons, “Band soldiers come in at a higher rank as part of the Army Civilian Acquired Skills Program.” The reason for obtaining a higher ranking when you join the U.S. Army Band is to acknowledge your years of training and experience in music.

Once a musician is accepted into the US Army Band, they are required to learn the basics of being a soldier in the US Army. This means that they have to complete a total of nine weeks of Basic Compact Training.

There are 30 U.S army bands spread across the USA and internationally. So, do you have what it takes to play in the US Army Band?

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Thelonious Monk: One Of The Pioneers Of Bebop

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008
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From amongst all the jazz legends and pop legendary pianists, Thelonious Monk is most known for what can be called ‘straight forward jazz’. Born Thelonious Sphere Monk on the 10th of October 1917, Monk began playing the piano at the tender age of nine. Most of what he knew on the piano was self taught in addition to the tricks he learned while slyly dropping in on his elder sister Marian’s piano classes and a little formal training.He dropped out of Stuyvesant High School where he was doing his schooling to start playing the piano professionally. He toured with an evangelist for whose meetings he played the church organ. In his later teens, he got gigs playing jazz piano. He was the house pianist at a club – Minton’s Playhouse – in the early 40’s. His influences at the time were most the stride pianists of the era – Duke Ellington, James P Johnson and the likes.
His trademark style of playing was something that he polished incessantly during the cutting competitions that took place at the club late at night featuring all the piano greats of the time. His stint at Minton’s Playhouse brought him in touch with the other exponents of Bebop – Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Kenny Clarke. It is this period of time that the bebop style of playing was created . He influenced the the bebop style of playing so much that he has arguably been referred to as the founder of bebop.

Monk then moved on to playing for groups. His first ever studio recording was made featuring the Coleman Hawkins quartet in 1944. He became the leader of the Blue Note three years later. His recordings with Blue Note displayed his penchant for coming up with composing music with strong melodies. The same year saw his marriage to Nellie Smith, with whom he had two children. His son TS Monk was born in 1949. He is a jazz drummer, composer and band leader. His daughter Barbara was born in 1953.

In 1951, Monk ran into trouble with the police. A car in which he and fellow pianist Bud Powell was found to contain narcotics. During the trial against Bud Powell, he refused serve as witness testifying against Bud Powell. As a result, his New York City Cabaret Card was taken away by the police. Thus not being able to play in New York where there was liquor being served. He continued to play in other places though.

He continued recording, touring and composing. After his contract with Blue Note Records lapsed, he moves to prestige records. At Prestige, he recorded some not-so-successful but critically acclaimed albums with Sonny Rollins on saxophone and Art Blakey on drums. It was around this time that the famous Christmas Eve sessions were recorded which were released in the form of the two albums – The Modern Jazz Giants and Bags Groove and Miles Davis – both of these by Miles Davis.

He visited Europe in 1954. He went to Paris to record and perform. He met jazz patron and member of the Rothschild family, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, with whom he struck a friendship that lasted his life long.

Though Monk was well recognized in jazz circles by his contemporaries and the jazz audience , his records didn’t sell as well. He shifted from Prestige Records to Riverside Records, who bought out his contract. In an effort to get the masses in tune with his style of music (which was thought to be too difficult at the time for the average listener), Riverside asked him to record an album two album of his own versions of the jazz standards of the time.

Thus Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington was released with the intention of increasing Monk’s market. The album has Duke Wellington’s tunes redone by Monk for which he had to study Duke Ellington’s pieces from scratch. On his next release, Brilliant Corners, he got a chance to actually record his own tunes. Expectedly the title track of the album was so difficult that it had to be put together from a total of three takes. Sony Rollins accompanied him on the album.

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