Hear, There, Everywhere: Part One

Hear, There, Everywhere: Part One

Written by Don Kaplan

One of the many wonderful things about music is its ability to help us discover and appreciate musical styles from around the world. Some composers and performers assimilate styles from their native cultures, often passed down from one generation to another; some composers and performers reflect cultures other than their own that have a special meaning for them. Whatever it reflects, world music can provide us with starting points for more enjoyable listening.

Jim Kweskin and The Jug Band (Vanguard VRS-9139 mono and VSD-2158 stereo, 1963 LP) There are many popular American music genres – e.g., jazz, blues, rock, soul, disco, doo-wop, country, bluegrass, etc. One of our home-grown genres is the jug band, a small group of musicians that usually consists of a jug player plus conventional and homemade instruments. According to The New York Times, [1]“ragtime and jug band music, two popular styles that flourished consecutively from the 1890s to about 1930, disappeared for a while but were ‘brought back to life’ by folk musicians during the summer of 1963.”

Jim Kweskin became the unofficial leader of this revival which led, in turn, to the formation of his “ragtime-jug band.” The band's group of four musicians performed vocal music and played a variety of instruments including guitars, a washboard, washtub bass, standard kazoo (otherwise known as a membranophone – an instrument that creates sound by vibrating a stretched membrane) and homemade comb-and-tissue paper kazoo; a harmonica, Morier (a wooden salad fork and spoon struck against each other inspired by the vaudeville tradition called “the spoons”), banjo, mandolin, and of course, a jug. (Oddly no one on the album cover is pictured playing the jug although there is one on the floor.) According to Kweskin, this “is fun music...we take it very seriously but we don't take it seriously at all. We take it seriously in the sense that music is a very important part of our lives; but on the other hand, in performing in the ragtime-jug band idiom, if it is taken seriously it becomes overly self-conscious. The whole point of this style is that it's happy, good-time music.” [2]

Salad utensils used as instruments? Vaudeville influences? Songs with titles like “Washington at Valley Forge,” “Coney Island Washboard,” and “Sweet Sue”? What could be more American? So set your time machine for 1963, take a break from teasing your beehive or styling your pompadour, and put your comb to even better use by playing along with this all-American band. Don't forget to boodle and shake while you play.

“Boodle am Shake”

Fred Hersch Plays Jobim (Sunnyside Communications, Inc. SSC 1223 CD) Ask most people which country they associate with bossa nova and they're likely to say Brazil – the home of the “Girl from Ipanema.” Antônio Carlos Jobim's song, along with his “Desafinado, [3] has been a music standard for years.

In his album notes, Hersch writes about his special connection to the Brazilian composer:

Over the last 25 years, I have increased my knowledge of Brazilian music by listening and studying extensively. I have had the great pleasure to go to Brazil on three occasions – and I have collaborated with the legendary Brazilian jazz singer Leny Andrade as well as with the wonderful vocalist Luciana Souza. I am a huge fan of chorinhos – the equivalent of Brazilian ragtime...I played briefly with Stan Getz in the mid-1980s [so] I had a good basic Jobim repertoire under my hands. But in approaching this project I wanted to find some of the lesser-known Jobim...Reading through so much of his music reinforced my belief that Jobim is one of the great composers of the 20th century regardless of genre. His bittersweet harmonies, fabulous melodies and superb craftsmanship are evident in everything he writes...I have attempted to retain the essence of Jobim's music, while filtering it through my own perspective. I have always enjoyed playing solo piano, and his implied counterpoint and moving inner voices have always appealed to me. This disc is my loving and personal tribute to a true compositional genius.”

After your upbeat experience with the Jug Band, relax with some of Jobim's music performed by one of our most outstanding jazz pianists.


Sona Jobarteh & Band: Kora Music from West Africa (Video) The kora, an instrument played by the Mandinka people of West Africa, could be described as a cross between a harp, lute, and guitar. The instrument's body is composed of a long hardwood neck that passes through a gourd resonator, itself covered by a leather soundboard. 21 leather or nylon strings are attached to the top of the neck with leather tuning rings, are passed over a notched bridge (10 strings on one side of the bridge, 11 on the other) and anchored to the bottom of the neck with a metal ring. The kora rests on the ground in a vertical position, and the musician plays it while seated. He plucks the strings with the thumb and forefinger of each hand, while the remaining fingers hold two hand posts drilled through the top of the gourd. The instrument has a range of just over three octaves, and is tuned by moving the leather rings located on the top of the neck.

The Gambia River valley is one of the main centers where the instrument is played. Its origins are usually associated with royalty, the ruling classes, or religious practices and it has traditionally been played only by male musicians passed down from father to son. Today the kora is used to accompany narrations, recitations, and songs in honor of a patron.

Playing is reserved only to certain families called griot. [4] Sona Jobarteh is the first female professional kora player from one of the five principal kora-playing griot families of West Africa. She has studied the kora since the age of three, first taught by her brother with whom she traveled several times a year to Gambia as a child, and then by her father. Sona is a terrific instrumentalist, singer, composer, and educator: you can find out more about this wonderful performer by watching her interview on a recent 60 Minutes broadcast. Or, treat yourself by going directly to Sona Jobarteh and Band: Kora Music from West Africa for her version of the love song “Jarabi.”

60 Minutes Lesley Stahl report


The Cries of London/Theatre of Voices and Fretwork (Harmonia Mundi 907214 CD) If you had lived in London during the 16th- century you almost certainly would have heard the raucous cries of London's street vendors, beggars, tradesmen and river workers selling their food and wares. Those cries are performed here by the internationally-known Theatre of Voices. The equally accomplished Fretwork viol consort performs music written by Orlando Gibbons that brings the following examples and other street cries to life: 

“God give you good morrow my masters, past three o'clock and a fair morning. New mussels, new lilywhite mussels...Hot codlings, hot. New cockles, new great cockles...New great sprats, new...New great lampreys, New fresh herrings, New great smelts, new....”

Now that your appetite has been piqued, listen to the Harmonia Mundi recording. Harmonia Mundi (“harmony of the world”) has done it again: Unusual content, excellent sound, and a booklet that includes scholarly notes, texts, and wonderful illustrations.

“The Cries of London I & II”/Music by Orlando Gibbons

World Keys: Joel Fan (Reference Recordings RR-106 CD) Some time ago, the Reference Recordings label recorded Joel Fan performing a program that, in Fan's own words, “navigates a diverse cultural path around the globe, with the piano as ambassador, enabling a polyphony of musical and cultural voices.” One standout is Syrian composer Dia Succari's “La Nuit du Destin (The Night of Destiny).” Succari is inspired by his homeland: his compositions include native rhythms and traditional folk themes, indigenous instruments such as the santour (hammered dulcimer), and melodies derived from maqam, a system of modal music that is based in Persian and Arabian traditions. Fan explains:

“Succari's 'La Nuit du Destin' refers to a night of prayer and spiritual illumination. This work combines traditional Western compositional style – where notes and rhythms are specifically notated – with interior sections where the pianist has the liberty to improvise in a [genre] called taksim (or taqsīm). The timbre of the taksim sections call forth Persian instruments such as the santour – in the soft, left hand of the piano – and the plucked intensity of the ud, a Persian lute.... Emotional power derives not from the development of its lovely themes, but from the repeated incantations and improvisations of the core melodic material.”

“La Nuit du Destin” (video w/Joel Fan performing)

Ernest Bloch/Schelomo (Rhapsodie hébraïque)/ Mistlav Rostropovich, cello/Orchestre National de France/Leonard Bernstein, cond. (Video) With artists like Rostropovich and Bernstein, this is a great performance of Bloch's cello rhapsody. (Read some of the listener comments for reactions to the music and presentation.) Bloch, born in Switzerland to Jewish parents, wrote music that reflected Jewish cultural and liturgical themes as well as music following European post-Romantic traditions. Natalie Clein, the cellist who performs with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on the Hyperion label (CDA67910), provides a quote from Bloch she thinks captures the essence of the composer and his music:

“I do not propose or desire to attempt a reconstruction of the music of Jewish music...or to base my work on melodies more or less authentic. I am not an archaeologist. I believe that the most important thing is to write good and sincere music – my music. It is rather the Hebrew spirit that interests me, the complex, ardent, agitated soul that vibrates for me in the Bible. The vigor...of the Patriarchs, the violence...in the books of the Prophets, the burning love of justice...the sorrow and the grandeur of the Book of Job, the sensuality of the Song of Songs. All this is in us, all this is in me, and it is the better part of me.” [5]


Miklós Rózsa/Hungarian Nocturne/Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV/Mariusz Smolij, cond. (Naxos 8.572285 CD) Yes, he's the same Hungarian composer of music for films including Ben Hur and King of Kings. Rózsa wrote a substantial amount of concert music and this CD contains several examples including the “Nocturne.” It could easily be mistaken (if played at a faster pace with a bit more drive like the Saygun selection below) for a composition by Bartók or Kodály, two other Hungarian composers who inspired him and shared his taste for Hungarian folk music.

“Hungarian Nocturne”

Adnan Saygun/Piano Concertos/Gülsin Onay, piano/Rundfunkorchester Hannover/Gürer Aykal, cond. (Koch 3-1350-2 CD) [6] I wasn't familiar with Saygun, one of Turkey's leading composers, until I read that some of his music was similar to Bartók's. Since Bartók is one of my favorite composers I bought the disk and, sure enough, both composers' works have similarities – music with drive, chromatic lines, distinctive harmonies and rhythms, and folk music elements – all present in the last movement of Saygun's second piano concerto. [7]

Piano Concerto No. 2, third movement

Ferran Savall/Mireu el nostre mar/Ferran Savall, voice, piano, and guitar (AliaVox AV9858 CD) 

Ferran Savall is another musician who uses folk music as a basis for his performances and compositions. He has also been greatly influenced by his Spanish parents, Jordi Savall and the late Montserrat Figueras, both known worldwide for their performances of early music.

The disc includes arrangements, new compositions, South American pieces, traditional songs, and old Catalan melodies played and sung by Savall and his small group of musicians. According to Ferran these pieces have been “reawakened by infusing them with the musical and multicultural influences of our own time.” “La Cançó Del Lladre” has been infused with a calm feeling and is one of the most beautiful pieces on the program.

“La Canço Del Lladre”

Jim Kweskin and The Jug Band (Video) To conclude the first part of our world tour we return to America for a reprise of “Boodle am Shake.” The selection is taken from the final live performance of The Jug Band's 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour in 2013 and even with an audience is still missing a jug player!

“Boodle am Shake”

[1] Robert Shelton, The New York Times, 1963.

[2] As quoted in the album notes.

[3] “Desafinado” was composed along with Newton Mendonça.

[4] A class of traveling poets, musicians, and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa.

[5] From a letter Bloch wrote to the American music critic Philip Hale.

[6] Recommended recording, not available on YouTube. The available recording is performed by the same soloist.

[7] I later discovered Saygun was a colleague of Bartók and often collaborated with him.

Header image of Joel Fan courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joel Fan.

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