While I don't normally post two music videos in consecutive days, I just couldn't resist this - an extract from the first movement of Bach's D minor concerto, recorded in the early 1960s. Leonard Bernstein conducts the NY Philharmonic.
Had a very enjoyable phone interview yesterday with Andy Garcia, the film actor, who also happens to be a passionate and extremely knowledgeable fan of Cuban music. We were talking about a feature I'm writing on the patriarch of the double-bass, Israel López - known to all and sundry as Cachao - who's due to make his London debut later this month at the tender age of 88. Garcia rescued him from obscurity a decade and a half ago when he made the concert documentary, Cachao ... Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos (Like His Rhythm, There Is No Other). Garcia also produced Cachao's brilliant Master Sessions albums, the glossier Cuban expat precursors of the Buena Vista Social Club. (Cachaito Lopez, the venerable Buena Vista bassist, is actually Cachao's nephew.)
Here's the grand old man in a more recent performance, playing the evergreen, Lágrimas Negras alongside another Cuban master, the pianist Bebo Valdés. Beautiful, just beautiful...
It's said that Glenn Gould had a low opinion of Bach's Italian Concerto. (He didn't care for Beethoven's Emperor either, and he seems to have been positively allergic to Mozart.) Still, there's lots to enjoy in this mesmerising fly-on-the-wall footage of the young Gould recording the final movement of the Italian and indulging in some spirited repartee with his producer. I assume it dates from the summer of '59, but Gould experts may be able to correct me on that.
How I used to groan whenever Terry Jacks'sSeasons in the Sun was played on Top of the Tops. (It seemed to be a fixture there for weeks on end, although I'm not sure that Jacks ever showed his face. Did the producers let Pan's People loose on it instead? There's a thought.) If I'd known I was really listening to an adaptation of Jacques Brel's Le Moribond (The Dying Man), I could have earned myself extra marks in my French class. His version is that little bit sharper - and bleaker.
Slightly too late for St Patrick's Day, but never mind... The ethereal bluegrass singer Alison Krauss performs the traditional ballad, "Molly Brown" (otherwise known as "Molly Ban"), accompanied by Ireland's most enduring folk band.
Arguably the greatest post-war musical of them all turns fifty this year. I don't mind admitting that whenever I hear America I still get tears in my eyes. How many baby-boomers had their first feverish glimpse of New York life, warts and all, courtesy of this song?
Was the show an instant popular favourite? Well, it ran for nearly a thousand performances on Broadway, and there were all those Oscars for the film version a few years later. But Meryle Secrest's biography of Bernstein's lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, presents a much more mixed picture of the early response:
If West Side Story had never become a film, its score would have languished in obscurity because, despite the reviews, the musical was not successful, as [Hal] Prince and Sondheim have testified. "It got excellent critical press and people left in droves," Sondheim said. That, he thought, was because people did not go to musicals expecting experimental work. They went for an evening's diversion, and when a musical did not meet those expectations, audiences felt cheated. Sondheim recalledstanding at the side of the aisle during the second night. "And I was so proud, you now, of my first show on Broadway. I'd been savaged and/or ignored in the reviews, but nevertheless I had a show on Broadway! So I'm standing on the side, the curtain goes up, there are six guyson stage." He started snapping his fingers and humming the opening bars of the Prologue. "About two minutes into the number I see a guy in the rear of the orchestra, "Excuse me, excuse me." And I think he's going to the bathroom, but he has a coat over his arm. "Excuse me, excuse me." And he came out to the aisle and caught my eye. He knew I must be connected with the show, because I was standing there instead of sitting in a seat, and he just said, "Don't ask."
BTW, I don't know whether it's easy to get tickets - they tend to sell out pretty quickly - but if you happen to be a show tune person, a new run of Ian Marshall Fisher's invaluable series, The Lost Musicals, starts at Sadlers Wells on April 1, continuing on each Sunday for the rest of the month. The idea is brilliantly simple: exhume a show that hasn't been in seen in London for decades (sometimes never, in fact), gather a group of actors on a stage with the scripts, no sets and a pianist, and then let rip. Next up is Cole Porter's Can-Can. (Silk Stockings, his re-working of Ninotchka, came magnificently to life last summer.) The perfect antidote to Lloyd Webberisms. As for where the new British musicals, if any, are coming from, critic-blogger Mark Shenton has been eavesdropping.
In London last week, a rousing concert by the musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club. Much as I enjoyed myself, though, I couldn't help missing the singing of the late Ibrahim Ferrer. Here he's in mellow form, performing Silencio with the ageless Omara Portuondo, Cuba's answer to Edith Piaf, if you will.
Beautiful. Ferrer's posthumous album, Mi Sueño, a collection of boleros, is out later this month.
Thomas Lauderdale's laid-back, West Coast lounge band is touring Europe this month (the London show takes place on the 21st.) Sympathique, a homage to the golden age of romantic French song, remains most people's favourite. Cute video too.
"Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show...." Following on from Wednesday's adult version of You're the Top, here's some more, um, creative transgression, this time from Randy Newman. One of the very, very few examples of a white singer getting away with using the N-word. (Don't say you weren't warned.) Great piano-playing too.
Meanwhile, Wynton Marsalis lays into hip-hop in an interview with the Guardian's John Lewis. Last time I saw the trumpeter and Lincoln Center guru being interviewed on TV he refused to be drawn on the subject. For a moment, I assumed he'd had a change of heart. Now he's steaming again:
"I call it 'ghetto minstrelsy'," he says. "Old school minstrels used to say they were 'real darkies from the real plantation'. Hip-hop substitutes the plantation for the streets. Now you have to say that you're from the streets, you shot some brothers, you went to jail. Rappers have to display the correct pathology. Rap has become a safari for people who get their thrills from watching African-American people debase themselves..."
At which point, Lewis intervenes to ask if Marsalis is using one strain of hip-hop to attack an entire genre?
"Listen, I don't have to attack hip-hop. Hip-hop attacks itself. It has no merit, rhythmically, musically, lyrically. What is there to discuss?"
Flow? Rhymes? Assonance? Scansion? Lyrical dexterity? Rhythmic complexity? The use of samples that explore African-American musical history?
"Yeah yeah," he snorts. "It's mostly sung in triplets. So what? And as for sampling, it just shows you that the drummer has been replaced by a loop. The drum - the central instrument in African-American music, the sound of freedom - has been replaced by a repetitive loop. What does that tell you about hip-hop's respect for African-American tradition?"
I agree with him, by and large. The question is, whether Marsalis's own music can fill the gaping hole in the landscape. A quarter of a century after he cut his first records, the jury is still out.
I was really hoping to find a clip of Song For My Father to complement my build-a-jazz-library list, but no joy. Never mind, this 1959 footage of the pianist's quintet performing another of his classics, Señor Blues, is a stunner. Hard bop doesn't get much funkier.