Category Archives: Music

How Deep Is Your Love: The Bee Gees’ first hit song for “Saturday Night Fever” still defines the Disco Age.

By John P. Walsh

How Deep Is Your Love (1977) by the Bee Gees ranks number 375 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.1 It sits between White Room (1968) by Cream and Unchained Melody (1965) by The Righteous Brothers. Barry Gibb, the lone surviving Bee Gee today, reportedly said that How Deep Is Your Love is his favorite Bee Gees song. 2 In 2011 it was voted in a TV poll as the UK’s favorite.3 Recorded in the spring of 1977 in anticipation of the album and film Saturday Night Fever to be released later that year— How Deep Is Your Love was released in the U.S. as a single in September 1977. Three months later, after the smash-hit film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta was released, How Deep Is Your Love became the number one song in the U.S. on Christmas Eve 1977 and stayed in the top spot for three weeks. Although the song had started on the charts in October 1977, when it reached number one it stayed in the top 10 for four months until April 1978 which, at that time, set a longevity record. There are two official music videos for How Deep Is Your Love featuring the Bee Gees.4

This is the later of two official music videos performed by the Bee Gees of How Deep is Your Love.

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The music of the Bee Gees (left to right: Robin, Barry, and Maurice Gibb) and the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta breathed fire into the disco music craze and helped define the disco era in the late 1970’s.
albumA huge international pop music hit starting in late 1977, How Deep is Your Love written and performed by the Bee Gees made its way into the Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track album that went Platinum on January 3, 1978 and was certified 16x Multi-Platinum on November 16, 2017.  It remains one of the top ten-selling albums of all time.

When the Bee Gees were asked by film producer Robert Stigwood to provide five songs for a film tentatively titled Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night based on the 1975 New York magazine fiction article about the urban disco scene, they didn’t want to compose music specifically for a film (although Barry did write the title song for Stigwood’s follow-up picture, Grease). It didn’t help that the Bee Gees were given neither a script nor hardly told what the movie plot was about. They offered Stigwood, their longtime manager, songs that they were already working on, namely, Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, If I Can’t Have You (later sung by Yvonne Elliman), More Than A Woman, and How Deep is Your Love.5 At one early screening with John Travolta and director John Badham, among others, the Bee Gees were pleased though a little surprised when they saw for the first time scenes of the re-titled Saturday Night Fever with their music and lyrics to back it up. Although the music soundtrack at this juncture was demo cuts, the songs they wrote and performed meshed perfectly with the film’s scenes about which they had never been told very much. To be added to their astonishment—as much as anyone else’s there attending that rough cut – is that the Bee Gees had no idea they had embarked on a motion picture that would soon prove to be a milestone in film history.  Saturday Night Fever would perfectly capture a moment in time and forever define the disco age.

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John Travolta arriving at the London premiere of Saturday Night Fever on March 22, 1978 with companion Kay Edwards.

Following its world premiere in Hollywood on December 7, 1977, Saturday Night Fever became an enormous success. It became Chicago film critic Gene Siskel’s favorite film—soon after, Siskel famously bought Tony Manero’s white suit at a charity auction in 1978 for $2,000. Colleague and friend Roger Ebert writing shortly after Siskel’s death in 1999, believed that Saturday Night Fever had struck Siskel mainly on an emotional level but also for its themes that had impressed him. Other influential film critics were similarly praiseworthy of the film’s subject matter. At the 50th Academy Awards on April 3, 1978 Saturday Night Fever had received only one nomination (John Travolta for Best Actor) in a year where Annie Hall and Star Wars dominated the competition. Robin Gibb later observed that Saturday Night Fever was made on a very low budget, released very late in the year and had no expensive promotion. The film’s word of mouth was good, however, which even included its star, John Travolta, who at its world premiere at then-Mann’s Chinese Theatre admitted watching the musical film on the big screen as if seeing a fantasy or dream for the first time.6

Stigwood and Bee Gees

Producer Robert Stigwood with the Bee Gees at the peak of their careers. Australian Stigwood managed the English-Australian pop-rock band for a decade before Saturday Night Fever launched them into global superstardom.

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Tony Manero’s shiny white polyester suit – bought off the rack in Brooklyn for the making of the film Saturday Night Fever- has been compared to a symbol of aspiration and hope in what is otherwise a dark movie.

Conceptually the song How Deep Is Your Love materialized when, working with collaborator Blue Weaver, Barry Gibb’s instigating question to him in beginning to compose it was: “What is the most beautiful chord that you know?”7 It was the first song the Bee Gees composed that ended up in the film Saturday Night Fever. After a creative hit-and-miss process at the piano – and further collaboration with Robin and Maurice – the song was put together in the middle of night in about four hours at the Château d’Hérouville studios in France.8 This was part of the Bee Gees’ usual working process – arriving into the studio around three o’clock in the afternoon and ending their workday near or after midnight – resulting in all of the film’s songs written quickly, with the lyrics finished later and the disco music taking longer.9 The Bee Gees’ falsetto singing had always been emotional, and it was often by way of collaborating with industry talent— other musicians, producers, and the like—that their music developed in new directions. By the time How Deep is Your Love came about, the Bee Gees had a reputation for being open to suggestions, including the personally emotional piano chords Blue Weaver offered the Brothers Gibb that night.10 The creation of How Deep Is Your Love followed a course already prevalent in the Bee Gees musical career – an attitude of collaboration and creativity in the studio that allowed ideas to be suggested, and beautiful melodies to quickly emerge as the result. Though How Deep is Your Love was composed in one sitting, its arrangement and production took longer which changed some of the song’s original structure. The title was based on what the Bee Gees simply maintained was the variety of connections listeners could make with the phrase How Deep is Your Love – and so providing the song with further universal appeal.11 Following the film’s U.S. release by Paramount Pictures on December 14, 1977 Maurice Gibb believed its ultimate success was the combination of its phenomenal 23-year-old star John Travolta and the music soundtrack whose album had already been certified Gold on November 22, 1977 and certified Platinum on January 3, 1978. The combination of  star power and music –  along with stunning word of mouth and critical acclaim – created a record-shattering synergy for both film and soundtrack album featuring Bee Gees songs making the cultural impact of Saturday Night Fever swift and enduring. How Deep is Your Love remains one of the most anthologized love songs of the modern era. As recently as November 16, 2017, the soundtrack album was certified 16x Multi-Platinum.12

John Travolta.
John Travolta in the 1970’s. Playing 19-year-old Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever about a teen with a good job at the local hardware store in Brooklyn who is trying to dance his way to a better life. His performance earned the 23-year-old Travolta an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role that year.  
Donna Pescow and John Travolta
Donna Pescow as Annette and John Travolta as Tony. In Saturday Night Fever, Annette is Tony’s former dance partner and would-be girlfriend.

Karen Lynn Gorney and John Travolta.

Like Brooklyn-born Donna Pescow and others in the cast of Saturday Night Fever, co-star Karen Lynn Gorney, John Travolta’s love interest in the film,  was a newcomer. Even Travolta who had a swelling fan base because of his ongoing role as Vinnie Barbarino in the popular late 1970’s TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, was not seen as a dance man. Hungry to take his acting career to the next level, Travolta’s energetic dance scenes had critics praising his performance as among the best ever filmed.
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This two-minute scene of disco dancing by John Travolta thrust his energetic performance into the annals of film history.

John Travolta as Tony Manero

“Robert Stigwood explained to the Bee Gees about this young guy, who every weekend blows his wages at a disco in Brooklyn. He’s got a really truly Catholic family, and he’s got a good job, but he blows his wages every Saturday night. He has his mates with him. Then he comes back and starts the week again, and this goes on every Saturday night. But it’s just this one Saturday night that’s filmed. So that’s what we knew (about a film we were writing music for) except it was John Travolta playing the part…” Maurice Gibb in Bee Gees: The Authorized Biography.
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Tony Manero’s mother and father (Flo Bovasso and Val Bisoglio) had other priorities than Tony’s future.
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Tony’s friends Bobby C. (Barry Miller), Double J. (Paul Pape), and Joey (Joseph Cali).

How Deep Is Your Love quickly reached number one internationally in countries such as Canada, Brazil, Finland, Chile, and France. In the Bee Gees’ native England it reached number three which delighted the newly–resurgent pop music group in that they had a top five hit in a country that by the mid-to-late 1970’s saw Punk and New wave rock in the ascendant.13 The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, also released in 1977, was banned on the airwaves by the BBC for its “gross bad taste” though today it ranks number 175 on the Rolling Stone’s Greatest Hits list – 200 slots higher than the Bee Gees’ disco ballad, How Deep Is Your Love. How Deep Is Your Love and the Saturday Night Fever album provided superstar momentum for the Bee Gees’ next projects, but like their careers up to that point, the English-Australian pop-rock band simply continued their readiness to create music. In The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees, Blue Weaver understood the Bee Gees’ success during this period was not due to their “virtuosity,” although their falsetto vocals were “brilliant,” but their collaborative working method which they pursued until reaching the final product that satisfied them – and clearly satisfied some part of the rest of the world.14

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The Bee Gees in 1977.
Bee Gees 1978.
Robin, Maurice, and Barry Gibb in 1978. Barry said that year: “When we were kids, we’d sit on each other’s beds all night and plan our careers. We decided that when we got to the top, we’d have our own office. We wanted to get to a point where we wouldn’t have to ever work again so we could sit back and enjoy everything we had accomplished. A few years ago that seemed forever out of reach. Sometimes I think I’m living that dream now. We’ve never really made it before. If this is indeed the top, then it’s better than what we imagined. It’s a lot of fun.” Bee Gees: The Authorized Biography.
Barry Gibb 2017.
As the Bee Gees, Barry and twins Maurice and Robin became one of the world’s biggest bands ever selling more than 220 million records. In 1997 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Maurice died in 2003 and Robin in 2012. In 2017 Barry told CBS News: “So when I lost them all, I didn’t know whether I wanted to go on. ”
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70-year-old Barry Gibb was honored during Stayin’ Alive: A Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees in April 2017 where he got up on stage to close out the show to perform a few hit songs.
Barry Gibb 2012
Barry at his brother Robin’s funeral in England in June 2012.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrkjaONJRcA

During one visit to the hospital while Robin was in a coma, Barry sang a song that he had written for him called The End Of The Rainbow.
John Travolta and Barry Gibb Bee Gees Tribute Grammys 2017.

 

NOTES:

  1. Rolling Stones List – https://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-500-greatest-songs-of-all-time-20110407 – Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  2. Barry Gibb’s favorite song – The Bee Gees: 35 Years of Music, Billboard: 27. March 24, 2001.  – Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  3. TV poll – https://web.archive.org/web/20121019120053/http://www.itv.com/beegees/ – Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  4. Song’s recording and release dates – Bee Gees Anthology (songbook) by the Bee Gees, Hal Leonard (1991) and Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.116.
  5. Didn’t want to compose music for a film – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411; Hardly told the film plot – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.110.
  6. Surprised music with unseen film meshed – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.111; Ebert on Siskel’s favorite film – https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-saturday-night-fever-1977 – Retrieved January 24, 2018; other critics’ praise of film- see Pauline Kael, “Nirvana,” The New Yorker, December 26, 1977, pp. 59-60; film low budget, released late- The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411. Regarding the white suit that had been bought off the rack in Brooklyn for the film, its symbolism in Saturday Night Fever has been postulated. Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a designer and historian of film costume stated that the white suit was a symbol of aspiration and hope in an otherwise “dark little movie” – see https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/aug/06/john-travolta-white-suit-v-and-a – retrieved January 25, 2018.
  7. Song’s musical concept – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 411-412.
  8. First song composed for Saturday Night Fever, Château d’Hérouville – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.109.
  9. Songs written quickly – Ibid., p.109; lyrics later – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, p. 415.
  10. Open to suggestions – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.107. emotional piano chords – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, p. 411-12.
  11. song composing, arrangement, and production – The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 409 and 412. Title chose Ibid. p. 412.
  12. Movie’s ultimate success – Bee Gees The Authorized Biography, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (as told to David Leaf), Delilah Communications/A Delta special, 1979, p.112. Costing $3.5 million to make, Saturday Night Fever earned an impressive $237.1 million –see “Saturday Night Fever, Box Office Information”Box Office Mojo – retrieved May 26, 2014. Soundtrack album certified God and Platinum -http://www.beegees-world.com/bio_gplat.html -Retrieved February 1 , 2018. certified 16x Multi-Platinum on November 16, 2017 – see https://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/- retrieved January 24, 2018.
  13. Number one hit internationally – “Songs Written by the Gibb Family on the International Charts – Part 3”(PDF). http://www.brothersgibb.org/download/page-3.pdf – Retrieved January 24, 2018; number 3 in Britain – The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, p. 421.
  14. Continued with their readiness to work – The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb, By Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook, Andrew Môn Hughes, 2001, Omnibus Press, London, pp. 467.©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Anglo-American musical duo: Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White.

English singer and songwriter Flo Morrissey (b. 1994) and Richmond, Virginia-based producer and musician Matthew E. White (b. 1982) teamed up for a collaborative full duet album of ten cover songs called Gentlewoman, Ruby Man. It was released in January 2017 by Glassnote Records. Following months of preparation, the cover songs were selected from a wide range of musical artists and recorded in 10 days at White’s Spacebomb Studios in downtown Richmond. The album’s first track is their cover version of Little Wings’ Look At What The Light Did Now (3:21 minutes). Little Wings is a band founded in the late 1990’s in San Luis Obispo, California, by Alabama-born indie rocker Kyle Field (b. 1972). The original Little Wings version of the song is a vocal duet with acoustic guitar released in 2002.

Meeting at a music event in London in October 2015Matthew White had first learned about Flo Morrissey from an article about her on The Guardian websitethe busy English and American artist each signed to two different record labels found out they worked well together. Both of them liked recording cover versions of great but also personally resonating songs as it allowed them to reach a new generation of listeners as well as to focus on their vocal performances and the songs’ production values. After the duo compiled a list on Spotify of around 500 songs they chose their own list of ten songs based not so much on what they went into the project expecting to do but newer material and even R&B resulting in a diverse group of musical artists, such as Leonard Cohen, Frank Ocean, the Bee Gees, and James Blake.

Gentlewoman, Ruby Man tracklist:
1. Look At What The Light Did Now (Little Wings Cover)
2. Thinking ‘Bout You (Frank Ocean Cover)
3. Looking For You (Nino Ferrer Cover)
4. Color Of Anything (James Blake Cover)
5. Everybody Loves The Sunshine (Roy Ayers Cover)
6. Grease (Bee Gees Cover)
7. Suzanne (Leonard Cohen Cover)
8. Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground Cover)
9. Heaven Can Wait (Charlotte Gainsbourg Cover)
10. Govindam (George Harrison Cover)

 

5 African-American Classical Composers: William Grant Still, Florence B. Price, Harry T. Burleigh, William Levi Dawson, and Mary Lou Williams.

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African American pianist, composer and arranger, and vocalist Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). She  demonstrated remarkable musical talent in modern genres as diverse as classical, free jazz, hard bop, swing, big band, and gospel.

By John P. Walsh

Following the tradition set down by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the White House officially announced that June 2017 was to be African American Music Month. The proclamation in part reads: “During June, we pay tribute to the contributions African Americans have made and continue to make to American music. The indelible legacy of these musicians who have witnessed our Nation’s greatest achievements, as well as its greatest injustices give all Americans a richer, deeper understanding of American culture. Their creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and rap.” A very nice tribute although I would hasten to attach onto its last sentence – “and all other American musical genres.” This could then include the significant contributions by African American artists to classical music such as William Grant Still (1895-1978), Florence B. Price (1887-1953), Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990), and Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). 

William Grant Still (1895-1978).

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WILLIAM GRANT STILL (1895-1978) is the “dean” of African-American classical music composers. Born in Mississippi, William Grant Still grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, both in Ohio. In addition to composing over 150 works— including five symphonies and eight operas— William Grant Still is the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936); the first to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra (his 1930 Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, “Afro-American” by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1931); the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company (his 1939 Troubled Island by The New York Opera Company in 1949), and the first to have an opera performed on national television (his 1941 A Bayou Legend in 1981).

WILLIAM GRANT STILL (1895-1978): In Memoriam of the Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy (1944). Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Szell.

Florence B. Price (1887-1953).

Florence B. Price.

FLORENCE B. PRICE (1887-1953) became the first African-American female composer to have a major symphonic composition performed by a leading American symphony orchestra. It was on June 15, 1933—in conjunction with A Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago— that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the world premiere of Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E minor at The Auditorium Theatre on Michigan Avenue conducted by music director Frederick Stock. The concert included works by Harry T. Burleigh, tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977), English mixed-race composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), sometimes called the “African Mahler,” and others. Price, who was born into a mixed-race family in Little Rock, Arkansas, studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and later taught piano, organ and voice both at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia and privately. She moved to Chicago in 1927 where, in a career which produced over 300 works, Price incorporated rhythms expressed in Africa-based musical traditions along with African-American spirituals and folk tunes, and the orchestrations of European Romantic composers. In addition to Symphony No. 1 in E minor, some of her best known works include Sonata in E MinorFantasie NegreMississippi River suite, and Symphony No. 3 in C Minor. In 1940 Florence B. Price was inducted into ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).

Mississippi River by Florence B. Price was composed in 1934 and dedicated to a prominent teacher at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music where Price continued her musical studies after she arrived to Chicago. The suite uses the contrivance of a boat navigating the Mississippi River and experiencing its various expressions of human life and history along its path told in musical sections. The first part depicts dawn on the river; the second part its American Indian heritage via an array of percussion; the third part the African American experience utilizing traditional negro spirituals (Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen; Stand Still Jordan; Go Down, Moses; and Deep River). The suite concludes in a melodic cacophony of then-contemporary tunes such as River Song, Lalotte, and Steamboat Bill.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes (1902-1967).

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Hughes had said he was crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois in 1919 when inspiration struck just outside of St. Louis and he wrote the poem. Hughes, who was born in Joplin, Missouri, and raised in various places in Kansas, Illinois, and Ohio, always knew best the landscape of the American Midwest even after he helped to lead the Harlem Renaissance in New York City as a poet, novelist, and playwright in the 1920’s.

William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990).

William L. Dawson American composer

WILLIAM L. DAWSON (1899-1990), born in Alabama, was a composer and arranger, trombonist, and music educator. He continually was learning so to use the rich heritage of African American music and later African music as the basis for many types of music that he composed and arranged. After graduating with highest honors from Tuskegee Institute he studied music and composition in Kansas City and Chicago and performed for many years as first trombonist with the Chicago Civic Orchestra. It is Dawson’s work as music director with the 100-voice Tuskegee Institute Choir that led to many distinguished and fêted national and international choral engagements throughout the mid-twentieth century. William Dawson is most famous perhaps as the composer of his Negro Folk Symphony which he wrote in 1934 but revised in 1952 after studying indigenous African music throughout West Africa. The three movements of the symphony are entitled: “The Bond of Africa,” “Hope in the Night” and “O, le’ me shine, shine like a Morning Star!”

William Dawson conducts the Tuskegee Institute Choir in 1955 in his arrangement of the negro spiritual Listen to the Lambs written by R. Nathaniel Dett first performed in 1913.

In 1952, Dawson visited several countries in West Africa to study indigenous African music. The experience inspired him to revise his Negro Folk Symphony which was first written in 1934. The new work was recorded in 1961 by Leopold Stokowski for Decca Records.

Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949).

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HARRY BURLEIGH (1866–1949), born in Erie, Pennsylvania, was an eminent African-American baritone, and influential classical composer and arranger. As a student at New York City’s National Conservatory of Music of America, Burleigh became associated with Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) who heard the baritone sing spirituals and encouraged him to create arrangements for these melodies. With the Czech composer’s active interest, Burleigh developed into one of America’s most important composers and arrangers of spirituals. He created arrangements for more than 100 songs including “Deep River,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” which are classics today. Burleigh’s “In Christ there is no East or West” remains a church hymnal standard. Burleigh set poems by Walt Whitman to music also. When Burleigh was accepted in 1894 as baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan—a post where he stayed for over 50 years—the tie vote of the congregation which had never allowed African-Americans to worship there before—was broken by J. P. Morgan in Burleigh’s favor. While Burleigh’s advocacy of negro melodies through writing, speaking engagements and new arrangements remained indefatigable, he found time to coach many well-known singers, including Caruso, Roland Hayes, Marion Anderson, and Paul Robeson.

Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).

Mary Lou Williams,

A self-taught pianist, by the time she was 20 years old MARY LOU WILLIAMS  was a professional musician and touring bandleader. In these formative years she looked for inspiration to Chicago bandleader and composer “Lovie” Austin (1887–1972) but Williams’ own records as a pianist and arranger began to sell briskly. In a 50-year-plus career she wrote and arranged music for bandleaders as famous as Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and Benny Goodman (1909-1986) and was a beloved mentor to slightly younger African-American musical artists who became household names in the world of jazz: Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), Miles Davis (1926-1991), Tadd Dameron (1917-1965), Bud Powell (1924-1966), and Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), to name a few. Though Mary Lou Williams’ musical talents fly under the popular culture radar almost 40 years after her death, to her admirers—many of which are artists and institutions—her recordings remain a treasure to listen to and she is much honored for her inspiring work

Mary Lou Williams’ album, Zodiac Suite, released in 1945 and remastered here from the original acetates, is a 12-part interpretation of the astrological zodiac composed and performed on the piano by Mary Lou Williams who is accompanied by two of her hand-picked session musicians—all innovators from the clubs of New York—namely, Canadian jazz double-bassist Al Lucas (1912-1983) and American jazz and rhythm & blues drummer Jack “The Bear” Parker. Each movement is a set of classically-inspired jazz tone poems for the signs of the horoscope: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Irish Folk Song: Bríd Óg Ní Mháille (Young Bridget O’Malley).

 

Featured Image is La Ghirlandata. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). 1873. Oil on canvas. 124 x 85 cm. Guildhall Gallery, London. City of London Corporation.

 

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Bríd Óg Ní Mháille is an Irish Gaelic folk song about a young man who lost his love, “the beauty of Oriel,” to another suitor. This painting is Clytie by French (born English) Symbolist painter Louise Welden Hawkins (1849-1910). Clytie is a Greek mythological figure whose love was unrequited by Helios, the Sun god.

By John P. Walsh

In Ireland a generation ago the girl’s first name of Brigid (along with Mary) was one of the island’s most popular. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed that a lot of Irish-American girls were named Brigid, or wished to be. By the 2010s the name of Brigid was no longer, in Ireland at least, very popular as other girls’ names replaced it.1 In Ireland the name Brigid is rendered in a healthy variety of ways. The well-known Bridget is the English variant. In this Irish folk song Bríd Óg Ní Mháille (Young Brigid O’Malley), it is the Irish language Brid (pronounced Breed). Irish also offers Bride, Brídín, Brighid, Brighidín, Brigit, Breeda, and others. With so many alternatives for a very ancient name it may be surprising that none of them rank high on the popularity charts although their accumulated usage may do so.2 With its root word being breo (which means fire), all variations of Brigid have the Irish word brígh in common. According to the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language, brígh has multiple definitions and meanings. It primarily connotes “power, strength, force, and authority” but also translates as “vigor, virtue and fortitude.” In medicine, brígh refers to the antidote which proves to be strongly effective.3 As Brid is sometimes translated as “strong-willed” and “high born,” it becomes clear that this girl’s appellation possesses excellent qualities that, along with the beauty of its sound when spoken and its venerable ancient history,  may presume to reach into the top 100 Irish names for girls some time in the future.

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Saint Brigid of Ireland (c. 451 – 525) with St. Patrick and St. Columba is one of today’s three patron saints of Ireland. From the moment of her birth in the mid-fifth century her story is shrouded in Christian legends and tales. St. Brid is a direct descendant of the older pagan Celtic goddess of the same name. St. Brid’s fire – a flame kept constantly alight in her honor by nuns in the monastery she founded – burned for 1000 years until her monastery along with most others was closed during the Protestant Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century.

The first Irish historical figure directly associated with the name Brid or Brigid that is most relevant to the name in Ireland today is St. Brigid (c. 451 – 525). Along with Sts. Patrick (418-493) and Columba (540-615), she is one of Ireland’s three patron saints. Legends swirl around this early Christian figure from the moment of her birth, including the story of angels seen hovering over the Irish cottage where she was born near Dundalk at the foot of the Cooley Mountains. History records that her mother was a Christian slave and her father was a pagan chief. Soon after Brid’s birth, her mother was sold and had to leave her father’s house although young Brid stayed. There are many Irish fioretti relating Brid’s fantastical holy exploits during this period of her early youth. One appealing story among many tells of her disobeying her father so to journey to visit her enslaved mother. Traveling alone along Ireland’s wild pathways, Brid located her mother who was tending her owner’s cattle.  Mother and daughter worked side-by-side until their labors’ fruit proved so abundant that Brid was able to secure her mother’s freedom. How Brid later chose to consecrate her life to God as a nun which led to her founding Ireland’s first monastic community of women is also explained in legends.4

St. Brigid of Ireland’s misty past is informed by a pre-Christian Celtic goddess named Brigid whose mythology as we know it today was first recorded, ironically perhaps, by early Irish Christian monks. As in St. Brid’s story of liberating her enslaved mother, the pagan goddess Brid is closely aligned to the cow as well as the sheep, but also animals with mythological qualities of regeneration such as the rooster and snake. Surrounding this more remote Brid is a panoply of supernatural qualities and events told in legends and folklore.5 Yet this ancient pagan Celtic goddess has her older forebears in the Proto-Indo-European goddesses that are over 5,000 years old. In ancient Mesopotamia one finds a certain Brid who was deity of the hearth.6

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Brigit is a powerful religious form in Irish history, as she is one of the most complex and contradictory goddesses of the Celts. The pagan goddess is patroness to healers, poets, metal workers – all the practical and inspired civilized arts. Associated with fire and light she is also guardian of inner vital energy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9a9SBdJNCo

Bríd Óg Ní Mháille is an Irish folk song in a long line of Irish musical taste about forsaken love. It is performed here brilliantly in the Irish by singer Gillian Fenton who is accompanied on traditional Irish harp by Fiachra O’ Corragáin. There are many traditional and contemporary renditions, however, of this popular late nineteenth-century Irish Gaelic song. Its surge of popularity is an entirely local Irish story.  There was a certain young man in mid-20th-century County Mayo who was a Gaelic teacher. He took particular fancy to this tune about a young Irishman who lost his love – the titular Bridget O’Malley – to another suitor and was left “heartbroken…the arrows of death…piercing my heart.”7 The Gaelic teacher, armed with this air about “the beauty of Oriel without any doubt…now married to another…” took it with him back to the county just next door, his native Donegal, where its popularity first flourished.

Edward_Burne-Jones_-_The_Beguiling_of_Merlin

The Beguiling of Merlin, Edward Burne-Jones, 1872–77, Oil on canvas, 186 cm × 111 cm (73 in × 44 in), Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside. There is a 12th century story in which Merlin is beguiled by a female figure whose vision thereof inspires or causes History. This female form is sometimes associated with Brigantia. In some stories she is the one who nurtures development of human potential.

There is another Irish Gaelic song referencing the name Brid that is titled Fair Bridget (Brid Bhan) and also emanates out of Donegal. It is not as popular as Bríd Óg Ní Mháille, but speaks about a modern young Brid – similar to the mother of ancient St. Brid – who is taken out of her home to tend cattle in a far-away place not her own. It is heartbreak for this fair Brid to begin a new life where the cows graze on the “sour grass” of the mountain sides. Like St. Brid’s mother, this fair Brid, it is told, eventually returned to her native place, although the song doesn’t tell us, only local legend. The listener, however, can be assured of the veracity of these melancholy verses for in Bríd Óg Ní Mháille it says: “There is nothing more beautiful than the moon over the sea or the white blossom, and my love is like that with her golden tresses and her honey-mouth that has never deceived anybody.”

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La Ghirlandata. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). 1873. Oil on canvas. 124 x 85 cm. Guildhall Gallery, London. City of London Corporation.

Oh Bríd O’Malley
You have left my heart breaking 
You’ve sent the death pangs
Of sorrow to pierce my heart sore
A hundred men are craving
For your breathtaking beauty
You’re the fairest of maidens
In Oriel for sure

I’m a handsome young fellow
Who is thinking of wedlock
But my life will be shortened
If I don’t get my dear
My love and my darling
Prepare now to meet me
On next Sunday evening
On the road to Drum Slieve

‘Tis sadly and lonely
I pass the time on Sunday
My head bowed in sorrow
My sights heavy with woe
As I gaze upon the byways
That my true love walks over
Now she’s wed to another
And left me forlorn

(2.49 minutes).

Notes

  1. Topping the list of the 100 most popular girls’ names in Ireland today are Emily, Emma, Sophie, Ella, and Amelia, in that order. Mary ranks number 84 and Bridget is not even on the list. See – http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-girl-names.html
  2. In 2015, within the family of girl names directly related to Brígh, Brianna was the most widely used. Brian is the male form of the name.
  3. http://edil.qub.ac.uk/6813 retrieved March 29, 2017.
  4. See Irish Saints, Robert T. Reilly, Avenel Books, New York, 1981, pp. 16-26.
  5. Carey, John. “Tuath Dé” inThe Celts: History, Life, and Culture, edited by John T. Koch. ABC-CLIO, 2012. pp.751-753.
  6. See The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, J.P. Mallory; D.Q. Adams, 2006, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  7. Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, edited by Peter Kennedy, Schirmer Books, New York, 1975, p. 82.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

 

Irish Folk Song: “Weile Weile Waila” as performed by The Dubliners.

By John P. Walsh

There are thousands of Irish folk songs, a traditional and often nationalistic musical genre that is experiencing today a renaissance and renewal as song collections are widely available that began to be compiled in the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth century at a productive pace. These folk song collections include the Francis James Child collection of 305 Scottish and English ballads (which has ramifications for the first Irish song discussed here) from the final decades of the nineteenth century to more recent collections including Folksongs of Britain and Ireland compiled by Peter Kennedy in 1975.1 The popularization of an extensive range of Irish folk songs proliferated in the last century with the inclusion of sound recordings and broadcast programs on mass media such as radio and television. Music and words that started in local communities returned to them by way of mass media such as the popularity of “Beidh ceol, caint agus craic again” (“We’ll have music, chat and craic”) used by Seán Bán Breathnach for his Irish-language chat show SBB inaShuí, broadcast on RTÉ from 1976 to 1982. Folk songs, local songs, are experiencing a twenty-first century renaissance with a return to traditional, local cultural sources through the prism of contemporary interpretations and arrangements by established and new musical performers in Ireland and other countries around the world including the United States. These artists find commercial value in performing mainly traditional material on their own terms.3

the-dubliners-c-1970
The Dubliners, ca. 1970 (left to right. top: Ciarán Bourke, Barney Mckenna, Luke Kelly; front: John Sheahan, Ronnie Drew).
craicing-selfie-with-sean-ban-breathnach
Craicing Selfie with Seán Bán Breathnach.
1-mnm_casey_sisters_lo
The Casey Sisters (Nollaig Casey, Mairéad Ní Chathasaigh, and Irish harper Mairé Ní Chathasaigh). With UK acoustic guitarist Chris Newman, Mairé Ní Chathasaigh has performed in over 20 countries on 5 continents.
wilson-with-the-clancy-brothers-and-tommy-makem-bassist-bill-lee-ca-1964-photo-don-hunstein
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem with bassist Bill Lee, ca. 1964. Photo: Don Hunstein.

Weile Weile Waila is a folk song that emerged in Ireland during the hardship of the Great Hunger of the 1840s and early 1850s when by necessity hundreds of thousands unto millions of Irish emigrated to the United States and Canada and to many other parts of the world out of sheer desperation.4  Weile Weile Waila is a children’s nursery rhyme specific to Ireland first catalogued by Harvard English professor and folklorist Francis James Child (1825-1896) who discovered over a dozen variants for this song titling them “The Cruel Mother.”5 In Child’s incomplete catalogue of ballads – his project interest in the British Isles in the 1880s and 1890s was more literary than musical – its overall subject offerings range from romance and legends, the supernatural, history, morality tales, and riddles, and in no way precludes even darker subjects and themes as is found in Weile Weile Waila. This folk song could be called a “murder” ballad as well as a “family strife” ballad or “abuse of authority” ballad, all of which are considered “Child” ballads named for Francis James Child who catalogued their type. Which of the 17 versions of this song that Child collected as“The Cruel Mother” best meshes with this Irish ditty belies traits they all appear to share: a woman gives birth and using a pen-knife kills the child, often with the descriptive relish to tear “the tender heart.”6

the-english-and-scottish-popular-ballads-5-volume-set
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882–1898 of Francis James Child.
an-undated-engraving-of-child-by-gustav-kruell-note-the-rose-at-the-upper-right
An undated engraving of Child, by Gustav Kruell (German, 1843-1907). Note the rose at the upper right.

The song’s title phrase Weile Weile Waila is itself murky. Likely medieval in origin, the term’s original meaning is lost to history although in Ireland in the nineteenth century it was primarily used for a popular exclamation of grief – an emotion much roused and justified on the island in that time period.7 This Irish version of Francis James Child’s “The Cruel Mother” poses its own specific plot. An “old” (no longer “cruel”) woman who “lived in the woods” stabs an infant “three months old” to death along the banks of the River Saile, a stream which may refer to one that flows today in and near Dublin.

poddle-tongue
The River Saile that features in the Irish folk song Weile Weile Waila may be a local name given to the River Poddle in the city of Dublin. The River Poddle is a tributary of the Liffey, rising in Cookstown to the north of Tallaght. From its source, it flows into Dublin City, and splits at Mount Argus at what is known as the “Tongue” or “stone boat” pictured above. 

In the Irish version, the old woman is probably not the mother of the baby which provides a remarkable variant to a historic song that extensively describes a cruel mother. Yet the old folk song’s dark flavor is retained for use as a nursery rhyme obviously sung by a young mother to her child perhaps with humor and loving, benign menace. The old woman uses the song’s prevalent pen-knife (here made “long and sharp”) and is quickly approached and arrested by “two policemen” and “a man” to be “sent to jail” where she is dispatched to the gallows and executed for the crime. This series of events unique to the Irish lyric (some of it updated as recently as the 1970s) is that the cruel mother’s hope for eternal mercy or fear of eternal damnation that ends the many Child Ballad versions is replaced with harsh justice for the old woman in the here and now. The death of the baby also is specifically lamented.

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Suffering associated with The Irish Famine of 1845-50 depicted in a contemporary sculpture (1997) called Famine by Rowan Gillespie in Dublin. While causes and numbers are hotly debated, approximately one million people died and at least one million more emigrated from Ireland according to David Ross in Ireland: History of a Nation (2002, Geddes & Grosset, New Lanark).

The song retains in each verse that popular Irish exclamation of grief – Weile Weile Waila –injecting into its dark proceedings, now made into a nursery ditty, a forlorn lyric that stands on the precipice to describe with open eyes shocking and oftentimes glossed-over ancillary misfortunes in Ireland during years of mass starvation and disease in the mid-nineteenth century. Its specificity of Irish suffering –  the “end” of the old woman and the baby – describes a cycle of viciousness met by harsh earthly justice that makes for a sobering two minutes of Irish folk music. The song’s material carries forward to the present a sharp slice of  Ireland’s former meaner times when members of local communities could be driven to despicable acts when necessary resources for survival are long delayed. In this short nursery rhyme with an ample and well-documented folk song history (and popularized in the 1970s by the folk band The Dubliners) Irish parents and children alike could be entertained by others’ calamities where the guilty are meted out justice and the innocent are bemoaned.

woman_begging_at_clonakilty_ireland
(“There was an old woman and she lived in the woods…”) Woman begging with baby in Clonakilty (County Cork), Ireland. Portrait print of a destitute mother holding her baby in one arm and a begging bowl in the other. These miserable conditions were brought on by the Great Famine and compounded by socio-economic practices such as forced evictions of poverty-stricken peasants from their homes and farms.

The Dubliners featuring Ronnie Drew perform Weila Weila Waila in a 1988 television performance (2:19 minutes). Twenty years later, at Ronnie Drew’s funeral in 2008, the large gathering of mourners sang this song to his memory in unison clapping and stamping their feet.8

LYRICS:

And there was an old woman and she lived in the woods
A weila weila waila
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods
Down by the River Saile

She had a baby three months old
A weila weila waila
She had a baby three months old
Down by the River Saile

She had a penknife long and sharp
A weila weila waila
She had a penknife long and sharp
Down by the River Saile

She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart
A weila weila waila
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart
Down by the River Saile

Three loud knocks came knocking on the door
A weila weila waila
Three loud knocks came knocking on the door
Down by the River Saile

There was two policeman and a man
A weila weila waila
There was two policeman and a man
Down by the River Saile

They took her away and they put her into jail
A weila weila waila
They took her away and they put her into jail
Down by the River Saile

They put a rope around her neck
A weila weila waila
They put a rope around her neck
Down by the River Saile

They pulled the rope she got hung
A weila weila waila
They pulled the rope she got hung
Down by the River Saile

Now that was the end of the woman in the woods
A weila weila waila
And that was the end of the baby too
Down by the River Saile

NOTES –

  1. Child collection – see http://harvardmagazine.com/2006/05/francis-james-child.html; Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, Peter Kennedy, Schirmer Books, New York, 1975.
  2. Quote Seán Bán Breathnach – Fintan Vallely, Companion to Irish Traditional Music, New York University Press, New York, 1999, p. 9.
  3. New bands recording Irish folk songs include, in Ireland, The Corrs; in Britain, The Pogues; and in the United States, Dropkick Murphys as well as Flogging Molly. There are many others.
  1. There are many sources on the subject of Irish emigration in the mid-nineteenth century. What is noteworthy is that the causes for it and numbers involved in it frequently remain intensely debated.
  2. On the subject of Child Ballads – see Mary Ellen Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2011 and E. Housman, British Popular Ballads, Ayer Publishing, 1969.
  3. Child’s 17 versions of “The Cruel Mother” – http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch020.htm.
  4. Meaning of term weila weila waila – Robert E. Lewis, Middle English Dictionary, 1999, University of Michigan Press. p. 232.
  5. Drew funeral – http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/mourners-give-ronnie-a-rare-ould-sendoff-26470805.html

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

 

Gato Barbieri, “Last Tango in Paris” composer, was one talented “Cat.”

By John P. Walsh

Latin jazz ballad “Beautiful Walk” is from Argentine-born saxophonist Leandro “Gato” (the “Cat”) Barbieri’s 50th album, Shadow of the Cat released in September 2002 on Peak Records. In a six-decade career (Barbieri died in April 2016 at 83 years old) Shadow of the Cat – a Grammy-nominated album for Best Latin Jazz – looked to two major sources for its inspiration: the 30th anniversary of Last Tango in Paris (1972) for which Barbieri won a Grammy Award for his film score and to Barbieri’s huge-toned, raucous yet smooth jazz-pop sound in five albums he made at A&M Records in the mid-to-late-1970’s. In November 2015 Gato Barbieri received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his music that has been described as “mystical yet fiery, passionately romantic yet supremely cool.” Around the same time, according to the Blue Note club in Greenwich Village – where the “Cat” first performed in 1985 and, still sporting his trademark black fedora hat, had been regularly performing there monthly since 2013—gave his final concert on November 23, 2015. In 2006 Gato Barbieri was content that in his long musical career he pursued playing different musical styles—jazz, Latin, film orchestration, etc.—and did not limit himself to a single genre. “The jazz people they don’t consider me a jazz musician. If I am Latin, they don’t consider me Latin. So I am here in the middle,” he said. “It’s a good thing. You know why? Because they say, ‘What do you play?’ I say, ‘I play my music — Gato Barbieri.’”

Gato Barbieri.
The year is 1966. Tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri is joined by trumpeter Don Cherry, jazz vibraphonist Karl Berger (German, b. 1935) and bassist Bo Stief (Danish, b. 1946). In the mid 1960’s Barbieri and Cherry recorded two albums for Blue Note: Complete Communion and Symphony For Improvisors. In that era Gato also recorded with jazz saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy (1934-2004) and South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (b. 1934). Barbieri’s free jazz meant playing with American jazz double bass player Charlie Haden (1937-2014), American jazz pianist Carla Bley (B. 1936), and many others. The Cat was also found jamming with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke (b. 1951), Brazilian jazz drummer and percussionist Airto Moreira (b. 1941), Cuban composer Chico O’Farrill (1921-2001) and American jazz musician Lonnie Liston Smith (b.1940).
Gato Barbieri.
After the death of his wife and closest confidante Michelle from a long illness in 1995, Barbieri returned with one of the top selling contemporary jazz albums in 1997: Que Pasa on Columbia Records.
Gato Barbieri.
Barbieri recorded a handful of albums on the Flying Dutchman label in the early 1970s and then signed with Impulse where he recorded his classic “Chapter Series” which included Latin America, Hasta Siempre, Viva Emiliano Zapata and Alive in New York.
Gato Barbieri.
In 2015 Gato Barbieri received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His music is described as “mystical yet fiery, passionately romantic yet supremely cool.”
Gato barbieri.
Gato Barbieri in 1972.
Gato Barbieri.
Friends of Chile benefit concert, Madison Square Garden, May 6, 1974. Gato Barbieri’s five albums on A&M Records in the late 1970s featured a more soothing jazz-pop sound. In the 1980s the “cat” kicked it up a notch for Para Los Amigos (1984), an album which spotlighted the rock-influenced South American sound. 
Gato Barbieri.
In 1996 Gato Barbieri married his wife Laura and they soon had Christian, their son. After Gato’s death on April 2, 2016 at 83 years old, Laura Barbieri told The Associated Press: “Music was a mystery to Gato, and each time he played was a new experience for him, and he wanted it to be that way for his audience.” This photo is from 2000.
Gato Barbieri.
Gato Barbieri in 1970.
Gato Barbieri.
Gato Barbieri and Italian-born wife Michelle. Married in 1960 they moved to Rome in 1962, where Gato began collaborating with American jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (1936-1995). This photo was taken in New York City 1974.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2ezUZAaeAI&t=1848s

Gato Barbieri’s free-jazz playing in the late 1960s and early 1970s along with his audacity to blend the improvised style with a cutting-edge mining of Latin jazz in multi-artist projects attracted Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci to recruit Barbieri to compose the score for his 1972 film Last Tango in Paris starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. Bertolucci was seeking his own musical blend from the young Argentine musician who could incorporate jazz,  strings, and tangos into his score to embody the film’s chaos of spirit and ferocious sexuality with a nod to European intellectualism and Hollywood popularity. Gato’s musical score became an instant international sensation and professional triumph for the 41-year-old musician winning a Grammy Award for best instrumental composition in 1973.

Fireflies is the lead track from Gato’s best-selling Caliente! album for A&M 1976 produced by Herb Alpert. Released at the beginning of the peak of the jazz-fusion and disco eras, Gato Barbieri plays with sizzling heat relying on tango-infused Argentine fluency and as well as the influence of Sonny Rollins (b.1930), John Coltrane (1926-1967) and Pharoah Sanders (b. 1940). “Always in the tango is tragedy,” said Barbieri in 1997. “She leaves him, she kills him. It’s like an opera – but it’s called tango.” Caliente! is beautifully arranged and executed which makes for enjoyable listening. The concept of strings combined with rhythmic danceable funk anted up Barbieri’s raucous sound and made Caliente! a successful primogeniture to Herb Alpert’s instrumental Rise in 1979 which became a very big international hit.

SOURCES:
Barbieri’s 50th album, “Shadow of the Cat” released in September 2002 on Peak Records – http://www.allmusic.com/album/the-shadow-of-the-cat-mw0000225929

two sources for its inspiration… – http://www.allmusic.com/album/the-shadow-of-the-cat-mw0000225929

won a Grammy Award for his film score – http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/7318824/gato-barbieri-dead

five albums at A&M Records in mid-to-late-1970’s. – http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/gato-barbieri/

in 2015 Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award  – http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/7318824/gato-barbieri-dead

“Mystical yet fiery…” quotation – http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/gato-barbieri/

First performed at Blue Note – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/arts/music/gato-barbieri-latin-jazz-trailblazer-dies-at-83.html

Perform monthly since 2013 – http://highlighthollywood.com/2016/04/latin-jazz-saxophonist-gato-barbieri-dies-at-age-83-highlight-hollywood-news/

gives his final concert – http://www.tff.gr/nea/arthro/to_teleutaio_tangko_tou_leantro_gkato_mparmpieri_vds-130329325/

“‘I play my music — Gato Barbieri’” quotation – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/arts/music/gato-barbieri-latin-jazz-trailblazer-dies-at-83.html

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

 

Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, & Georg Solti: A Critical Look at the Modern Music Directors of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Part 1.

By John P. Walsh

PART I: Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, & Georg Solti.

In 2013 just ahead of Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals the principal conductor and music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra dressed up in a Chicago Blackhawk’s sweater to conduct his orchestral version of their pep rally song.1 Riccardo Muti (Italian, born 1941) has worn many hats as opera and classical music conductor in a forty-year career but perhaps none with such hometown flair.

In the decades before his 2010 CSO appointment Riccardo Muti appeared to have had a knack for getting into all sorts of fine arts trouble – his resignation as music director from La Scala in summer 2005 is recent although early in his career Muti walked away from productions in Florence, Milan, and Paris because of irreconcilable differences over artistic questions. Despite these encounters, Muti continues to be one of today’s celebrated Mozart and Verdi specialists while unconventionally asserting his prestige by mounting major productions of lesser known composers. From his earliest days as principal conductor of the opera festival Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 1968 to his appointment as chief conductor of the London Philharmonia in 1972 – both posts held into the early 1980s – as well as a longstanding association with the Salzburg Festival starting in 1971, Muti is only recently being acclaimed in America for what he has long been famous for in Europe – as a first order musical firebrand who makes opera scores spring to vivid life.2

When Riccardo Muti was made music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980 – a prestigious post with an American orchestra which had had only two previous music directors since 1912 (namely, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy) – Muti almost immediately stepped into the annals of controversy as a conductor in America. Classical music lovers bred on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s broad, brilliant live and recorded performances under Stokowski and Ormandy found a nemesis in Muti. Verging on his 40s, the new conductor’s ideas for this venerable orchestra with a traditionally lush and enveloping string sound were received by Philadelphia audiences with dismay. It seemed that Muti strictly observed notated musical scores and shaped distinctive interpretations from them which altered a 75-year-old sound brand. Still touting its “distinctive sound”3 today as well as other past glories, the Philadelphia Orchestra under the 44-year reign of Eugene Ormandy (1936–1980) earned 3 Gold records and 2 Grammy Awards.4  In 2014, more than 20 years after Muti’s resignation from Philadelphia, critics continue to weigh in on his enduring influence. One hears the heaving sigh of relief that Muti revolutionized less than they feared.5 Musical idealism remains Muti’s calling card coming into Chicago. Do his efforts at parceling annotated music merit negative criticism? The “very clean sound” which CSO musical director Fritz Reiner (1953-1963) brought to Chicago at a time when the orchestra was looking for stable leadership is praised; the “lean sound” which Muti brought to Philadelphia following 70 years of stable leadership produced misgivings.6 At the October 3, 2014 CSO matinée performance of Polish-themed music (Panufnik, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony) it is evident that Chicago’s premier group of players is subjected to a similar set of permuted articulations under Muti’s command. Yet these CSO musicians are mindful of their musical worth and perform at a high level whoever appears on the podium responding to what is asked of them.

Eugene Ormandy and Orchestra Members, 1960s

Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy (Hungary, 1899-1985) with orchestra membersin the 1960s.

Riccardo Muti (Italy, born 1941) rehearsing the Philadelphia Orchestra for his 1972 guest conductor debut with the ensemble.

Under music director Fritz Reiner the CSO’s celebrated brass section was born; later, Sir Georg Solti (1969-1991) gave it luster and clarity while Daniel Barenboim (1991-2006) added richness and depth. What is Muti doing?7 Since its founding in 1891  Riccardo Muti is the CSO’s tenth music director. Each of his predecessors had their own style but not all had the same impact or influence on the orchestra which harbors its own strong personality.8 I began my CSO concert subscription when today’s Symphony Center was Orchestra Hall and Sir Georg Solti was its music director. Like most everyone else in Chicago I was in awe of Solti. By 1985 he had with the CSO and chorus won 7 Grammy Awards for a succession of Mahler symphonic recordings plus 15 more Grammys for his Verdi, Puccini, Schoenberg, Berlioz, Mozart, Haydn, Bruckner, and Brahms. Over the next six years when I was regularly in the Hall Solti’s CSO won another 6 Grammy Awards – for his Liszt, Beethoven, Bartók, Wagner, Bach and Richard Strauss. Solti’s accomplishment in this area is wonderfully mind boggling.9 Both music director Fritz Reiner and Jean Martinon (1963-1968) wished to heighten the orchestra’s national and international profile by recordings and tours but it was maestro Solti who fulfilled and then surpassed these earlier objectives. When Solti finally left his post as music director in 1991 after 22 years at its helm he had the legacy of having established Chicago as one of the very best orchestras in the world.

Fritz Reiner (Hungary, 1888-1963) was the sixth music director of the CSO from 1953 to 1963. Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) said that Reiner “made the Chicago Symphony into the most precise and flexible orchestra in the world.”

The CSO’s seventh music director (1963-1968) was talented composer Jean Martinon (French, 1910-1976). Never gaining the complete acceptance of orchestra members, Martinon improved the musicians’ work conditions and introduced the CSO to a new repertoire of French and contemporary classical music.

While music director in the early 1960s at Covent Garden George Solti (Hungary, 1912-1997) was known as “the screaming skull” for his outbursts in rehearsals.

As music director at Covent Garden for ten years starting in 1961 Solti generated a reputation for being “the screaming skull”10 because of his intense and at times bruising style. But musicians not much later in Chicago saw a different and more complex man. Solti did not bait or act harshly toward them as Reiner had done in the mode of Arturo Toscanini (Italy, 1867-1957). Reiner, in the first hour of the first rehearsal as music director, fired one of the musicians. He  worked constantly after that to instill fear into his orchestra. He insisted on being called “Dr. Reiner” and inflicted cruel verbal tests onto his men to test, to his mind, their character.  While believed to be utterly lacking in ready wit or sensitivity as sometimes displayed by the combustible Reiner, Solti was seen by his musicians to turn inwards into a private world.11 Unlike Leonard Bernstein, Solti could appear fashion challenged – he showed up at rehearsal in baggy pants and a simple coat thrown over a rumpled shirt. Nor did Solti drive a flashy sports car à la von Karajan or act podium showman like Stokowski. While Martinon and Solti were “late starters” to music, a 53-year-old Martinon came to the orchestra fully formed while 57-year-old Solti continued an intense drive to advance.12

The 1970s underway, Solti proved to be not the terror in rehearsal Reiner had been nor seeking anyone’s approval like Martinon.  And while Solti was accessible and sometimes sought to be an intermediary to certain first-rank players’ intramural conflicts, he remained markedly tense. Solti did admit to “gentle bullying”13 in Chicago but only to get his way with the music. Respect for the CSO is high among its music directors while at Covent Garden Solti admiited he had been “a narrow-minded little dictator.”14 Under Solti’s leadership the CSO’s technical brilliance produced clear, lustrous, and notably loud sound – known as “Der Solti-Klang.” With Solti the CSO’s 1970 appearance at Carnegie Hall was a rousing success and for its first European tour in 1971 the orchestra basked in stellar reviews. In six weeks they played in Scotland, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Italy, France and England. By 1972 the CSO won its first Grammy Awards under Solti for Mahler Symphonies 7 and 8, whose music was first suggested to Solti to conduct by Theodor Adorno. Sir Georg Solti and Chicago made for a winning team and the city shared in its glory.15

Louis Sudler (1903-1992) president of the Orchestral Association from 1966 to 1971, chairman from 1971 to 1977 and chairman emeritus from 1977 until 1992 announces that Georg Solti will become the CSO’s eighth music director beginning with the 1969-70 season.

Sir Georg Solti conducting the CSO in Orchestra Hall for the three-act opera (third act unfinished) “Moses and Aaron” by Arnold Schoenberg (Austrian, 1874-1951) on November 13, 1971.

Ticker tape parade in downtown Chicago after musicians of the CSO returned following their autumn 1971 European concert tour, the first such international event in the orchestra’s history.

In performance Solti’s large conducting gestures could appear stiff and stylized – one more aspect of the Toscanini temperament he dismissed. As Solti espoused Toscanini’s belief that music cannot be chopped up and must relax and flow Solti did not follow Toscanini’s lead – as Riccardo Muti, a Toscanini admirer, does not-  to forego the written musical score on the conductor’s podium during a concert. If Muti’s reason is to read and interpret a score’s annotations, Solti’s was a psychological one. Like Toscanini Solti committed the music to memory but kept the annotated score ever-present to serve as an insurance policy for musicians, especially singers, who Solti believed needed reassurance that the conductor had everything under control during a performance. Despite this careful preparation, a recurring criticism of Solti’s work is that it “lack[ed] refinement…finesse and, above all, attention to detail.” 16 For the keen musical mind of Daniel Barenboim who brought neither Solti’s or Muti’s purpose to the podium he nearly always conducted like Toscanini with no score.

Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) demonstrating conducting gestures for a crescendo.

n rehearsal with British mezzo-sporano Josephine Veasey in Covent Garden, 1966

Sir Georg Solti in rehearsal with mezzo-soprano Josephine Veasey (British, born 1930) in Covent Garden, 1966.

Daniel Barenboim in a typical conducting stance at the Veranos de la Villa Festival in Madrid.

Riccardo Muti conducts the CSO in an October 4, 2012 performance at Carnegie Hall.

When Sir Georg Solti died suddenly in September 1997 there was the critical reaction linking him to the passing of an era – an erstwhile time of “old school toughness” when a conductor was a “super-hero” who did not negotiate musical interpretation but demanded it and never shared credit or fame with any musician. But this, of course, is largely myth. The era of “democratic playing” which is criticized as today’s musical model – that is, one of dialogue and partnership between conductor and ensemble – is in fact something that started in the United States and elsewhere around 1960 when Solti was embarking on the next four decades of his best work.17 In what ways is Muti’s directorship affecting “the Chicago sound”? How is this new and highly experienced, talented and forceful conductor – conducting Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” on October 3, 2014 Muti jabbed the air like a boxer – an old Solti gesture – changing this vital orchestra? CSO’s future lies in Muti’s head, heart and hands and while players are incredibly talented (no orchestra plays Strauss and Mahler better) Muti keeps them on a tight leash. How do the musicians respond to his direction? Results from such control and semiotic interpolation of a composer’s intention in the score should be the grounds on which the public will judge Riccardo Muti over time. The CSO strives to play to its Chicago audience, not to one in Asia or Europe, and so the case for Muti’s rise or fall will essentially be local.

NEXT: Daniel Barenboim.

Footnotes:

1 Huff post Chicago, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra Plays ‘Chelsea Dagger’ In A Classy Show Of Support For The Hawks,” 06/20/2013. Retrieved October 2014.

2 irreconcilable differences – http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Riccardo_Muti.aspx. Retrieved October 2014; makes opera scores spring to vivid life – Peter G. Davis, “The Purist,” Opera News, October 2014, vol. 79, no. 4. Retrieved October 2014.

3 https://www.philorch.org/history#/ and http://www.spac.org/events/orchestra. Retrieved October 2014.

4 3 Gold records; 2 Grammy Awards – Townsend, Dorothy (13 March 1985). “Philadelphia Orchestra’s Eugene Ormandy, 85, Dies”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 2014. See also http://www.grammy.com.

5James R. Oestreich, “The Big Five Orchestras No Longer Add Up,” New York Times, June 14, 2013. Retrieved October 2014.

6 William Barry Furlong, Season With Solti: A Year in the Life of the Chicago Symphony, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974, p. 52.

7 whatever is asked of them – Donald Peck, The Right Place, the Right Time: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2007, p. 6;  brass born under Reiner – Oestreich; luster and clarity – Furlong, p. 84; richness and depth – Emanuel Ax, http://www.gramophone.co.uk/editorial/the-world%E2%80%99s-greatest-orchestras.

8Furlong, p. 62.

9 See http://www.grammy.com.

10 Furlong, p. 86.

11 insisted on being called “Dr. Reiner” – Peck, p. 2; private world – Furlong, p. 52.

12 flashy sports car – Furlong, p.79; podium showman – Furlong, p.81; “late starters” – Furlong, pp. 58 and 87; fully formed – Furlong, p.60; intensely driven – Furlong, p. 83, 141.

13 Furlong,  p.86.

14 Furlong, p. 88.

15 technical brilliance – Furlong p.81; “Der Solti-Klang” – Furlong, p. 85; “stellar reviews” – Review of ”The Chicago Symphony Orchestra by Robert M. Lightfoot; Thomas Willis,” by M. L. M., Music Educators Journal, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Dec., 1974), pp. 87-88; European itinerary – http://csoarchives.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/solti-26-1971-tour-to-europe/. Retrieved October 2014; suggested to Solti by Theodor Adorno – Sir Georg Solti, Memoirs, Knopf, NY 1997, p. 100.

16 On Solti’s and Toscanini’s relationship – see Furlong, pp. 86; 93-94, 141; for quote “lack[ed] refinement…” – Furlong, p. 85. Solti first worked with Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and was invited by him to New York in 1939.

17 Old school toughness – Review of “The Right Place, the Right Time! Tales of the Chicago Symphony Days by Donald Peck,” by Lauren Baker Murray, Music Educators Journal, Vol. 95, No. 1 (Sep., 2008), pp. 21-22; “super hero” – “Editorial: Leading from the Front,” The Musical Times, Vol. 138, No. 1857 (Nov., 1997), p. 3; dialogue and partnership… started in…1960 – Furlong, p.110.

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