I’ve sung the praises of (and been inspired to take up the guitar by) Eden & John’s East River String Band before. Unfortunately their local appearances are rare, but you’ll have a chance to see and hear Eden and John (as well as Ernesto Gomez) on Tuesday, November 5, at the Jalopy Tavern in Brooklyn. The trouble begins at 8:30, though if you miss it, you’ll have another chance to catch them on December 10. Join them for a casual evening of fine American music — stretch out your legs and stay awhile. To whet your appetite, listen to “He’s Funny That Way,” the 1929 standard by Neil Moret and Richard Whiting, from their most recent album Coney Island Baby below; that’s Eden Brower on vocals, John Heneghan on guitar, and special guest R. Crumb on ukelele. More information about the lovely evening can be found on Facebook.
Later this week I’ll be resuming my guitar lessons, about which I first wrote here. I seem to be heading forward into the past as I get older, and not my own past either, but much further back. My enthusiasm for ragtime and Piedmont blues as well as other early American music appears to tie together with my newfound enthusiasm for Mark Twain and even that archaic writing instrument the pencil. I suppose I can be faulted for being out of touch with my times. “They say Wilder is out of touch with his times,” director Billy Wilder once said of himself. “Frankly, I regard it as a compliment. Who the hell wants to be in touch with these times?”
You can read more about Piedmont blues in Samuel Charters’ classic study of this music, The Country Blues. A few years back, PBS aired the below documentary about the style.
Anybody who is aware of Leon Redbone is by this time similarly aware that the musician “crossed the delta for that beautiful shore” yesterday morning. I don’t have much to add to the obituaries and appreciations that have been appearing here and there (especially Megan Pugh’s exemplary profile of Redbone that appeared in March in the Oxford American). Two things worth noting, though: First, that Redbone was himself an anti-celebrity, whose self-conscious eccentricities served solely to foreground the early American music that seemed to be the love of his life; it’s a rare thing. Second, there is a vibrant if small subculture of other American musicians who are doing their best to keep this kind of music alive; Redbone was far from alone, if he was the most visible representative of this subculture. I recommend checking out these fine people.
Social media and the internet are littered with Redbone clips and tributes, so instead I offer something in his memory that I hope would meet with his approval, Laurel and Hardy’s performance of “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” one of Redbone’s signature songs, from their 1939 film The Flying Deuces; it’s a charming two-and-a-half minutes from the past, featuring Stan’s light and loose-limbed dance and Ollie’s very pleasant Georgia baritone. I’ll be lifting my glass to Mr. Redbone and Messrs. Laurel and Hardy at Cafe Katja this afternoon. See you there.
Ragtime composer Scott Joplin is buried at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens, and this Saturday, May 18, he’ll be remembered at his gravesite with a memorial concert and barbeque. The event, a 15-year tradition, begins at 2:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public. More information can be found in this flyer.
Joplin biographer Ed Berlin, who helps to organize the event, will give a pre-concert talk about the transition from ragtime to jazz in the St. Michael’s chapel on the cemetery grounds. Berlin was also present at last year’s memorial, which was covered by the New York Times.
I hope you’ll join me tomorrow, Sunday, May 5, at 2:30 p.m., for American Voices of the 20th Century, Marilyn Nonken‘s program of Scott Joplin’s sublime, melancholy concert waltz “Bethena” (1904) and Charles Ives’ majestic Concord Sonata (1911), which, as the program description has it, “weaves together popular music from the Civil War, along with quotes from Beethoven, Wagner, and Debussy.” (I contributed the program notes for the Joplin work.) It’ll take place at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in Manhattan.
Ives himself keenly appreciated ragtime, and listening to Joplin’s opera (as well as some lovely performances of the rags from the late William Albright) confirms that Joplin was one of the great early 20th-century composers — and perhaps the greatest — that America produced. Treemonisha itself, far from being a “ragtime opera,” brings together spirituals and call-and-response choral music along with rags and other varieties of indigenous folk music to produce a rather astonishing work. Earlier this year at the WQXR blog, Jenny Houser and George Grella went one step further and said of the opera, “As a work that carves out a new, American, classical genre, it’s equal in quality to anything by Charles Ives.”