A 50 minute documentary about Maxwell Street Market and musicians in Chicago (I interpret the title with an implicit accusatory question mark.) Mike Shea—previously a photographer for Life, Look and Time—directed this exquisitely composed, Frederick Wiseman-esque documentary that lurches between the wiles and complaints of street vendors to some astoundingly well-recorded street side blues performances—recorded by Gordon Quinn. Most notably numerous songs by Robert Nighthawk and one electrifying performance by Carrie Robinson. There's also one seriously awesome-looking house party. [more inside]
...The cult of and luster for country blues among these record collectors came about because not only were recordings by Charley Patton, Son House, Skip James and Robert Johnson not successfully sold to African Americans, but other record collectors were not interested in them either. There were so many collectors of New Orleans jazz that not only did the recordings became too expensive to collect, they also didn't want them -- they wanted to find something that required more energy to uncover, and more energy to actually appreciate. Anyone who has ever listened to Charley Patton knows that you have to learn how to listen to him, you have to really struggle -- it is a work of archeology, really, to make out what he is saying. It is powerful, and I don't want to deny its power, but you have to learn how to hear that power, and African Americans, when these records came out, didn't necessarily hear that.From an interview with Marybeth Hamilton, author of In Search of the Blues [more inside]
...The narrative of the blues got hijacked by rock ’n’ roll, which rode a wave of youth consumers to global domination. Back behind the split, there was something else: a deeper, riper source. Many people who have written about this body of music have noticed it. Robert Palmer called it Deep Blues. We’re talking about strains within strains, sure, but listen to something like Ishman Bracey’s ''Woman Woman Blues,'' his tattered yet somehow impeccable falsetto when he sings, ''She got coal-black curly hair.'' Songs like that were not made for dancing. Not even for singing along. They were made for listening. For grown-ups. They were chamber compositions. Listen to Blind Willie Johnson’s "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.'' It has no words. It’s hummed by a blind preacher incapable of playing an impure note on the guitar. We have to go against our training here and suspend anthropological thinking; it doesn’t serve at these strata. The noble ambition not to be the kind of people who unwittingly fetishize and exoticize black or poor-white folk poverty has allowed us to remain the kind of people who don’t stop to wonder whether the serious treatment of certain folk forms as essentially high- or higher-art forms might have originated with the folk themselves.From Unknown Bards: The blues becomes apparent to itself by one John Jeremiah Sullivan. I came across it while browsing Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers On The Albums That Changed Their Lives. For Sullivan, that album was American Primitive, Vol. II: Pre-War Revenants (1897 - 1939), which is my favorite CD of the year. Which came out in 2005 while I just got around to buying it this year. Foolish me. It is a piece of art in itself in every respect--all CDs should have such production values. [more inside]
Harlem Variety Revue. Pre-rock & roll TV show featuring swing from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, and Sarah Vaughan. Rhythm & blues from Amos Milburn, Ruth Brown, Joe Turner, Martha Davis and Larry Darnell. Jazz & calypso from Nat Cole. Ballad by Dinah Washington. Doo wop from The Clovers. Harmony from the Larks and the Delta Rhythm Boys (complete with exciting choreography). Comedy provided by Nipsey Russell & Mantan Moreland, tapdancing by Coles & Atkins and Bill Bailey (check out that 1955 Moonwalk at the end!) Hosted by Willie Bryant.
...In 1924 New York Recording Laboratory decided to expand its reach into that market by purchasing the Black Swan label. Founded in 1920 or 1921 by black entrepreneur Harry H. Pace, the pioneering company recorded everything from ragtime to grand opera, as long as it was sung by African-Americans... Paramount's biggest star was Ma Rainey, a blues moaner who influenced the legendary singer Bessie Smith... Paramount did not neglect male blues singers, who tended to be folk artists in the sense that their music was made initially for the entertainment of isolated rural communities. These included the singers and guitarists Charlie Patton... Blind Lemon Jefferson...Compliments of the Season from ParamountsHome--where, among many other things, one can find an online copy of David Evans's biography Charley Patton in Parts 1, 2 and 3 or look at a picture of Skip James in 1932, not to mention a view of Paramount's promotion of Patton as the Masked Marvel. And that is not, as they say, all...