A good time will be had by all

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.

Paul Nauert: Memory and Music

Paul Nauert (1966-2019)

My lovely wife Marilyn Nonken will present Paul Nauert: Memory and Music (1966-2019), a tribute to the composer who passed away earlier this year, at Spectrum in Brooklyn on Sunday, October 27. (She’ll be presenting the same program at Brandeis University on October 19.) Her program features music written specifically for Marilyn by Nauert and his friends and acquaintances, along with “farewell pieces” by other composers. It will include:

  • Olivier Messiaen: Cloches d’angoisses et larmes d’adieu (1929)
  • Richard Carrick: La touche sonore sous l’eau (2015)
  • Yu-Hui Chang: Lonebird (2006)
  • Eric Chasalow: A Solution in Search of a Problem (2015)
  • David Rakowski: Billie Sizzle (2013), Solid Goldie (2009) (these two etudes were written specifically for our daughters)
  • Paul Nauert: Episodes & Elegies (2010)
  • Michael Levinas: Les larmes des sons (2012)

You can read a brief obituary about Paul Nauert at the Columbia University web site.

I was honored to attend the premiere of Episodes & Elegies when Marilyn (for whom it was written) performed it at NYU in 2011. The composer was in attendance. By then, Nauert had been living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) for two years and was confined to a wheelchair. The diagnosis had a profound effect on Nauert’s compositional style. He wrote:

My music changed in response to the disease. I explored new ideas, new techniques, and points of contact with other music I love (Mel Powell, Harrison Birtwistle—J.S. Bach, in far more abstract terms) out of a sense that these things couldn’t be postponed until later. My customary algorithmic techniques gave way to more intuitive processes, and elaborate compositional designs were replaced by patterns I could retain fully in my memory, as the physical act of composition grew slower, and as my external workspace became limited to my view of the computer screen positioned in front of my eyes by an assistant. No more sketching on paper!

In the album notes for A Distant Music, Amy Sohn continued:

Nauert was impressed with what he has called Nonken’s fearlessness “in the face of complex rhythms and finger-tangling passage work,” and as a result, he wrote “an uncharacteristically dense and extroverted score.” For the new piece, Nauert placed a greater emphasis on lyrical writing, in order to highlight Nonken’s “equally brilliant abilities as a colorist”—while sacrificing none of the virtuosic demands of the earlier work. Episodes and Elegies, Nauert writes, “is structured around two relatively somber elegies. The first of these is spun out of long, expressive lines, and it suggests a mood of quiet resignation. The second is pieced together from much more fragmentary material, and it offers glimpses of anger and defiance. Four shorter and generally livelier episodes are distributed before and between the two elegies, and a prologue and epilogue frame the entire cycle. These shorter movements often play with different rates of pulsation and with contrasting textures and types of keyboard figuration.”

Spectrum has no advance ticket sales; tickets will be available at the door on the evening of the performance, which begins at 7:00 p.m. It’s located at 70 Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn.

Below, Marilyn plays Elegy I from Nauert’s Episodes & Elegies, which she recorded for his album A Distant Music. Amy Beal’s full album notes can be found here.

Forward into the past

R. Crumb’s “A Short History of America,” a glicee print of which hangs on the wall of my apartment.

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.

A toast to … Leon Redbone

This week I delighted in my daughters’ first launch into the field of nihilistic satire, then explained how it probably had a genetic origin.

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.