Music Notes


When I was a kid, my father was in a country music band.  Many times I heard him sing songs by Jimmie Rodgers – the Father of Country Music.  I also heard Rodgers sing his songs on 78 rpm records and then on eight different LPs that we bought.  Dad used to talk about how excited people were every time a new Jimmie Rodgers recording was issued back in the 1920s and early 1930s.  Someone in Dad’s neighborhood would buy it and everyone would gather around a record player to hear it.  Everyone was stunned when Rodgers died from tuberculosis on May 26, 1933.  He was only 35 years old.

His last recording session began on May 17, 1933 in a studio in New York City.  He was weak, but continued recording songs until two days before his death.  As he recorded he got weaker and weaker, so a cot was put in the recording studio so he could rest between takes.  On one of his last recordings, “Somewhere Down Below the Dixon Line,” he was so weak that he failed to begin singing a couple of verses when he was supposed to.

One of Rodgers’ most interesting recordings was his “Blue Yodel No. 9” also known as “Standing on the Corner.”  It was recorded in Los Angeles on July 16, 1930.  Jimmie, who was in fine voice, was accompanied by piano and trumpet.  The trumpeter, who was spectacular on the recording, was uncredited on the original record.  That oversight was probably due, at least in part, to the fact that the trumpeter was a black man named Louis Armstrong.  On Johnny Cash’s TV show in 1970 he asked Armstrong if he was the trumpeter on the recording, and Armstrong confirmed that he was.  He also said that Jimmie told him that day, “Man, I feel like singing some blues.”  And sing he did – and Louis blew like Gabriel.

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James Elroy just published a novel entitled Perfidia.  In a Wall Street Journal article he talks about Glenn Miller’s 1941 recording of that song and about how a book by Jack Webb influenced him.

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Fall is almost here, and the concert season is cranking up.  Here are 20 classical music concerts to consider

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“Loss of Memory is a terrible thing. Some [Alzheimer’s] patients couldn’t remember their own names, let alone their wives, husbands, or carers’ names. But as soon as the soprano struck up a tune from My Fair Lady, many started singing along spontaneously, remembering the words and tune without the aid of any lyric sheet or music. One man who had quite severe dementia even got up and danced. The music had brought him to life again. He completely connected with it. But when the music stopped, he stood there – lost – in the centre of the room.”

That is one startling item in a Gramophone article about music and the human brain.

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“In so many ways he [Beethoven] was a pain in the ass, absolutely incompetent at the usual business of life and friendship and love, but he had the most incredible resilience and courage. As he once said: ‘I’m bad at everything but music.’ ”

Composer and author Jan Swafford has recently completed a 1,000 page book about Beethoven.  The above quote is from an NPR article in which Swafford offers us some surprising facts about the great composer.

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