Music

I’d Love to Be on the Danforth Tonight

—mainly so I could share a glass and perhaps a meal with one of my dearest friends I have never met. Bookseller, philosopher, writer (the music of whose prose rivals that of Thomas Hardy and Llewelyn Powys), papa to the polydactyl Alfie and the late and most beloved Fanny. Deloney, the happiest of birthdays to you.

Of course I had to celebrate your day with music. Here are two geniuses for you.

Categories: Blogroll, Music | 2 Comments

A Little Touch of Libertango in the Night

The tango originated in the 19th century Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Montevideo, Uruguay, and spread to the rest of the world soon after that. It was based on ancient African dance forms, and the word “tango” comes from the Niger Congo. Most historians say the tango really took hold in the brothels of Buenos Aires. Certainly the overtly sexual energy of the dance tends to lend credence to the idea.

I am absolutely insane about the Argentine tango. It should not be confused with ballroom tango, which developed in European and American ballrooms, and uses different music and styling, with more staccato movements and characteristic “head snaps.” Phony and ugly, to my mind.

Tango music is traditionally played by a sextet, known as the orquesta típica, which includes two violins, a piano, a double bass, and two bandoneons (handheld accordions).

A revolution in tango came in the 1950s with the work of Ástor Piazzolla. He is widely considered the most important tango composer of the latter half of the twentieth century. A formidable bandoneonist, he continuously performed his own compositions with different ensembles. He is known in Argentina as “El Gran Ástor” (“The Great Astor”).

Piazzolla incorporated elements from jazz and classical music, morphing the traditional tango into a new style called Tango Nuevo. The style brings new forms of harmonic and melodic structure into the traditional tango ensemble and includes the fusion of electronic and acoustic sounds.

In 1974 Piazzolla did an album called Libertango, featuring the song by the same name. The title is a portmanteau merging “Libertad” (Spanish for liberty) and “Tango,” symbolizing Piazzolla’s break from classical tango to Tango Nuevo. In 1999 the renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma did an album called Soul of the Tango, and this video has become the definitive performance of the piece:

This past week, one of my favorite television shows, So You Think You Can Dance, featured the Argentine tango—and Piazzolla’s “Libertango”—danced by Brandon Bryant and Janette Manrara.

Now, a quick note about the title of this post. It has nothing whatever to do with tango music. In 1973, American songwriter, singer, pianist, and guitarist Harry Nillson did an album called A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, which was itself a reference to a line from Shakespeare’s Henry V. It’s one of my favorite albums ever. EVER. Performing a selection of pop standards by the likes of Irving Berlin, Gus Kahn, and Sylvia Fine, with the help of Sinatra’s old arranger, Gordon Jenkins, Nillson did a crazygood version of “Over the Rainbow” and a version of “Makin’ Whoopee” that is simultaneously hysterical and touching. My favorite track: “It Had to be You,” the only recording to feature Cole Porter’s banned lyrics. The BBC made a documentary of it, which is preserved on YouTube. I’ve linked them together into a single Playlist for you.

Categories: Music | 7 Comments

Squeaking and Squonking on White Rabbit Day

In high school, a math teacher once asked us if we’d said “White Rabbit!” that morning. When we looked at him blankly, he explained that if the first words out of your mouth on the first day of a new month were “White Rabbit,” you’d have good luck for the entire month.

This morning, New Year’s Day, I said “White Rabbit.” Does that mean I’ll have good luck for the entire year? Or will I, like Alice’s rabbit, just be late for everything?

I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, but today I decided that I’m going to make a few changes that are long overdue. One is to take up the recorder. Or rather, take it up again.

My dear friend Tim, who besides being the most amazing watercolorist (his work in oils is pretty fine too, but the watercolors really speak to me) is a lovely lyrical recorder player, had been prodding me for years to get a recorder of my own. In August of 2004 I finally broke down and bought an alto Yamaha. And I got the two beginners’ books he recommended.

A month later, when we evacuated to Tampa as Hurricane Frances was bearing down on us, I took the recorder with me. That week the recorder and I got to know one another, and I made satisfying progress. Continue reading

Categories: Getting Organized, Holidays, Music | 7 Comments

Earwig

Will someone please tell me why in the world this song from the Broadway musical Hair should play over and over and over and over and over in my sleep all night long?

Folding the flag is taking care of the nation;
Folding the flag is putting it to bed for the night.
I fell through a hole in the flag,
I’m falling through a hole in the flag!
Helllllllllllllllp!

Don’t put it down—
Best one around!
Crazy for the red, blue, and white
Crazy for the red, blue, and white

You look at me,
What do you see?
Crazy for the white, red, and blue
Crazy for the white, red, and blue

‘Cause I look different
You think I’m subversive.
Crazy for the blue, white, and red
Crazy for the blue, white, and red

My heart beats true
For the red, white and blue!
Crazy for the blue, white, and red
Crazy for the blue, white, and red
And yellow . . . fringe!
Crazy for the blue, white, red, and yellow!

Categories: Brain, Music | 11 Comments

Ubiquitous Pachelbel

Categories: Humor, Music | 1 Comment

Sssssunday Sssssurealism

Leave it to Tin Pan Alley to turn centuries of ethnic and religious struggles into a catchy ditty. This song, though copyrighted by Jimmy Kennedy (lyrics) and Nat Simon (music), is a direct descendant of the humorous piece “Al-Bar the Bubul Emir” that was found in the pages of Captain Billy’s Whizbang, an early 20th century precursor to Mad Magazine.

Written in 1953, it was released the same year by the Canadian group The Four Lads, and covered by many others including the marvelous Bette Midler (where it originally came to my attention) and They Might Be Giants. The music bears an uncanny resemblance to Irving Berlin’s “Putting on the Ritz.” Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Music | 3 Comments

Mambo!

Just in case you missed it over on my other blog (which I think a lot of people did because it was sandwiched in between a couple of regular daily posts), I thought you might enjoy this little weekend musical offering. It always makes me smile. Maybe it will make you smile too.

It’s a spectacular version of “Mambo” from Bernstein’s West Side Story as performed in the Proms at Albert Hall by Gustavo Dudamel & the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra:

Categories: Fun, Music | Leave a comment

Don’t Make Me Beg

C’mon, don’t you wanna take a gander at my new song-a-day blog? Really, I think you’ll find it quite nifty. The first post is up and ready for viewing. September Songs can be found at septembersongs.wordpress.com. One month only. Hope you like it.

Categories: Music | 2 Comments

September Songs

Blame Indigo Bunting. It’s all her fault. OK, you can blame it on Elvis Costello instead, if you want. He wrote, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture — it’s a really stupid thing to want to do.”

So, just to prove his point, one dear creative soul, Lisa Otter, started a blog project called Dancing about Architecture, and now a whole bunch of people are writing about their favorite songs, mostly one every day. (My friend Indigo Bunting was the one who told me about it, which is why it’s actually all her fault.)

Me, I don’t have that kind of stamina. I blogged every day for a the better part of a year with my 50 Words, 210 People project. It was a nifty writing experiment, now completed, in which I wrote exactly fifty words a day about 210 different people who had touched my life in some way. It was fun, but exhausting.

So I’m not officially joining that august group of daily song bloggers, but will emulate them by writing about the music that has meant the most to me, one post per day, for one month — September. (Get it? “Not august”? September?)

Tomorrow is September 1, and the first post will be online by 5:30 a.m. EDT. Please visit my new (but short-term) blog, September Songs, for some nifty musical history and, I hope, a bit of serious fun. (I’ll still be writing this one as well during the month of September, so don’t worry.)

Each post will have at least one YouTube video (most will have a whole bunch of them), and many will have lyrics. I’ll often have two versions of the same song, or a couple of songs that are related to one another somehow. And if I can pull it off, I hope each day’s song will be linked in some way to the previous day’s. We’ll see.

I don’t have time for this, I really don’t. Damn that Indigo Bunting.

Categories: Music | 3 Comments

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