A highly subjective musical take on what it means not only to write an opera, but to encompass and even embody one in the modern age of internet witnessed its world premiere launching on April 5th at Dixon Place, New York City’s “Laboratory for Performance.” Written, composed and performed by ASCAP member Joseph Keckler, this conceptual tour-de-force also provided a vehicle for fellow ASCAP member Patrick Grant, collaborating as music producer, with violin arrangements added to the artistic mix by Dan Bartfield. Directed by Uwe Mengel, this highly operatic exposure of Keckler’s inner subconscious, transparent at its most ridiculous and sublime, is propelled through a multi-media series of phantasmagoric tableaux with many an unexpected turn. “I Am an Opera” steadily escalates with its unspoken pronouncement that life, especially at its most primal and personal, is supreme artistic game. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the month of April.
Ever wonder where Tilted Axes creator Patrick Grant finds inspiration for those infectious riffs? We’ll find out on this edition of BACKTRACKS, when a 4 year old future composer discovers his musical destiny on TV.
Listen to Patrick’s story here:
Now that I’m a professional composer and performer, there’s supposed to be this stark moment of epiphany. I was always jealous of my schoolmates, who, by the time they were 9 knew all four symphonies of Brahms and other works by Beethoven and such, and they were exposed to that. So I didn’t get a lot of that, but I got a lot of other stuff. After years of thinking, oh, I wish I had more of a classical education, it came back to me that, no, I really grew up listening to a lot of cool music. And it really goes back to this theme. Once I stopped fighting the feeling that I should be embarrassed by this, things really started to kick in the last 5 years, things really started to flow. This really is the most formidable piece of music that I can recall in my formative years.
Composed by American jazz trumpeter, composer and arranger Neal Hefti, the Batman television theme featured “bass guitar, low brass and percussion to create a driving rhythm, while an eight-voice chorus sings ‘Batman!’ in harmony with the trumpets”, according to Jon Burlingame, author of TV’s Biggest Hits. Hefti began his professional career writing charts for Nat Towles, went on to play trumpet for Woody Herman and then a composer/arranger for Count Basie. He led his own bands as well, but chose to focus on scoring and conducting in the mid-fifties, where he found great success writing music for films such as Sex and the Single Girl, How to Murder Your Wife, Lord Love a Duck and Barefoot in the Park, among others. Besides creating the theme for the Batman series, he scored the film and television versions of The Odd Couple.
It’s no secret that Hefti’s classic television theme spawned a host of imitators and Caped Crusader-themed groups and albums during its heyday, such as “Batman and Robin – The Sensational Guitars of Dan & Dale”, and The Dynamic Batmen. Along with the Bat lunchboxes and posters and toy cars, it seems the theme music was licensed out just as freely to musicians looking to cash in on the Bat-craze. And with all due respect to the masterful Dark Knight scores of Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer, it’s really the old TV tune that’s been re-recorded and re-interpreted over and over to this day. Here are some of our favorite renditions to close out this installment of BACKTRACKS.
Tilted Axes Detroit: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars
Procession for the First Day of Spring, March 20, 2013
DETROIT FREE PRESS
Names & Faces – http://tinyurl.com/bppvt4a
Video – http://www.freep.com/videonetwork000000000004000400/2240869511001/Tilted-Axes-Detroit
Photo set – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimba2/sets/72157633053138413/with/8579059316/
Cover story – http://metrotimes.com/covers/rocking-in-the-streets-1.1457524
Follow-up – http://blogs.metrotimes.com/index.php/2013/03/tilted-axes-detroit-brings-it-home/
B&W photo essay – http://photos.mlive.com/mlivecom_photo_essays/2013/03/tilted_axes_detroit_music_for.html
Events – http://www.positivedetroit.net/2013/03/this-will-be-happening-between-1230-200.html
Events – http://wdet.org/events/208/tilted-axes-detroit/
Ann Delisi’s Essential Music – http://www.peppergreenmedia.com/TAD-Delisi.mp3
Craig Fahle Show – http://www.wdet.org/shows/craig-fahle-show/episode/tilted-axes-brings-strolling-guitars/
Current State interview – http://wkar.org/post/detroit-parade-shredding-electric-guitars-ushers-spring
This time on BACKTRACKS, the thought of a grade-schooler rocking out to a bluegrass record is not quite the image of youthful rebellion we’ve become accustomed to. For J.D. Biersdorfer, author, tech guru and co-host of the online radio show Pop Tech Jam, digging around in her parents’ record stacks took her on an unexpected journey through the music of the Appalachians.
Listen to her story here:
As J.D. tells it, the record which so captivated her was a collection of field recordings made by ethno-musicologist Diane Hamilton (daughter of the millionaire Harry Frank Guggenheim) during a trip to Virginia and North Carolina in 1956. The recordings were gathered into a 20-song collection called “Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians”.
Of the first song appearing on that album, a rendition of “Cripple Creek” by virtuoso banjoist and fiddler, Hobart Smith, J.D. says:
The history of the song is clouded as is the history of most of the Appalachian stuff. Cripple Creek I think is a place; I think it’s old country language for a crooked stream. There is a Cripple Creek in Virginia, there’s also one in Colorado and so there’s been this fight over which Cripple Creek the song is about. It’s got alternating lyrics, people make up their own words and they’re very tied to a certain region.
I forget the lyrics because they are so variable, but it’s basically, you’re going up to Cripple Creek and there’s a girl involved. In one version you roll up your pants and wade into Cripple Creek. If we go with the Appalachian background of it, a lot of those songs are very sad. In fact, my banjo teacher says the core of most Appalachian ballads is: you come home, everyone you know and love is dead; you come home and you make sure that everyone you know and love is dead; or you come home dead. “Cripple Creek” could fit in with that because with some of the versions that I’ve heard, something bad happens with the girl.
Steve Martin wrote this pretty famous essay to the banjo community about his history with the instrument and he has a whole paragraph about “Cripple Creek” – I play it all the time, you can play it slow, you can play it fast. Tony Trischka tells the story of Steve Martin’s essay when he’s on stage. Buffy Saint Marie does a version of it with a mouth bow, I think it was on Sesame Street. So it’s out there, even Etta Baker, the Piedmont guitarist who passed away not too long ago, had a nice slow rendition of it, and people didn’t know she played the banjo but she did.
So, with thanks to J.D. for picking away at the tune for us, and in honor of banjo legend Earl Scruggs, who passed away last year, we’ll leave off with Flatt and Scruggs’ version of the classic “Cripple Creek”.
Just a few more snaps from Tilted Axes 2012:
This time around on BACKTRACKS, newsroom developer and tech expert Thomas Holcomb tells us how a piece of music became his constant companion at a time when he felt cut off from the rest of his family and friends.
LISTEN to his story here:
It was the music of Argentinian saxophonist and composer Gato Barbieri that guided Thomas’ daily journey from darkness to light. Out of print until its reissue in 2007, Barbieri’s 1977 album Ruby Ruby was a romantic collection of Latin jazz compositions produced by Herb Alpert. The record moved from soothing balladry to energetic jams, driven by Barbieri’s warm-blooded sax melodies. The track Thomas talks about here featured guitar work by Lee Ritenour with drummer Steve Gadd and Brazilian percussionist Paulinho Da Costa.
Here then is the full recording to keep you company as you head out into your day:
On this third edition of BACKTRACKS, actor and poet Francis Mateo takes us back to his childhood in the Dominican Republic, where a Cuban love song inspires tears during a blackout, and an American pop song gets the kids scatting at a family party.
Listen to Francis here:
The first song Francis discusses is “Veinte Anos” as performed by Omara Portuondo with The Buena Vista Social Club. Omara was the only female member of the ensemble. “Veinte Anos” is a Cuban form of the bolero-son, originally written by singer, guitarist and composer María Teresa Vera, whose career began in the early 1900s and spanned decades until her retirement in 1962. She was a renowned practitioner of Cuban roots music called trova, after the trovadores who traveled around earning a living by singing and playing guitar. Vera passed away in late 1965.
Here is a recording of Veinte Anos by Maria Teresa Vera, recorded around 1958:
Our BACKTRACKS guest, Francis Mateo remains inspired by both Latin and American music, especially when it comes to his writing:
Ten or fifteen years ago, I was hooked on Silvio Rodriguez, this Cuban singer songwriter. To listen to his voice, to listen to how he made these lines, these verses, it was really great for me. I have his whole collection. The thing is there are days when I just want to listen to Bach…but there are days when I just want to hear some lyrics. I like stories better, like Bob Dylan. I mean to me, Bob Dylan was amazing, and Bob Marley. Just the mood that it puts you in, that’s the main thing, this mood of opening yourself to the world and just receiving everything. And hopefully you can give something back. I’m a writer, and what I write is nothing compared to these people I mentioned. And yet, I can’t stop writing because it’s something that I need to do.
We’ll leave you with a sample of Francis Mateo performing his poetry: