#53 Leo Brower con Irakere

Visited the Bop Shop the other day, and thought I would spend some time to dig through the classical guitar and “world” sections. It turned out I did not check any classical guitar records at all, because there were already too many cool “world” records I would like to buy. Of the 4 records I purchased (out of 9 that I picked out originally), I was most enthused by this one – who can say no to a jazz record by Leo Brower (sic)?

I spent some time googling around to confirm there isn’t a musician with such a similar name to the maestro. Perhaps it’s a clever publicity trick for a musician to make some quick money? There’s gotta be something I don’t understand here…

It’s not the first time I saw the maestro’s name mispelled. And speaking of mispelling, I was one lucky bidder of the beautiful Casiotone CT 701 many years ago. I got this keyboard a lot cheaper than its usual price, because the seller mislabelled “701” as “710” on Ebay. I still have the keyboard (as one friend puts it, never sell any gear you own), and hope to use it in my future synth band.

Back to the album – everything aside from the misspelling is terrific – the lineup, musical selections, and arrangements. There are some classical guitar music being rearranged into a band format (such as Canario, Danza Caracaterística, La Catedral) , but this album from 1978 is just otherworldly. Every piece evolves unexpectedly, and I can’t really explain too much. Here is a documentary, with footages of the concert (this album must be the complete recording). Brouwer was shredding on Aranjuez, and conducting with his guitar in hand!

Here is a brief info about the album.

#32 All By Myself

Over the years, I have compiled a list of music called “music that makes me cry”. On the top of the list is Glenn Gould’s arrangement of the Prelude to Act 1 of Meistersinger by Wagner.

Toward the end of the piece, Gould overdubbed a second piano part to the prelude. In a Rolling Stone interview, he explained:

“The Meistersinger is not a problem because it’s so contrapuntal that it plays itself, although I must say it’s the only place where I’m going to have to cheat, because I’m going to have to put earphones on for the last three minutes, for the place where he brings back all the themes, and you have to play it four hands. It’s a piece that I’ve played just as a party piece all my life, and you can get through the first seven minutes fine, and then you say, “OK, which themes are we leaving out tonight?” — there’s just no way. So I will do it as an overdub.”

It was certainly possible to feature a guest artist to play that second part. But Gould did it himself anyways. In a way, it makes sense – why involve another pianist for just 3 minutes of music? What if Gould wanted to play this live? Would the other pianist just sit there and wait? And maybe this was not meant to be performed live? And sure, it’s fun to play with others, but you know yourself best (or, do we really know ourselves?) and it was a good chance to carry our an entire concept all on your own.

It’s quite easy to “make music with yourself” today, with a loop pedal or an app. But back then, why would artists go to studio and record a full album all by themselves? For maximum control? Because it was a novel idea and not many have done that? It’s a challenge to play with oneself? An opportunity to reflect different sides of the artist?

I don’t have an answer (what do I have answers for?). And different people do the same thing for different reasons. I do hope to make an album all by myself in the future. I will let you know how it feels when the album is finished. But until then, I would like to share a few older recordings I know of that are studio productions, with artists performing with themselves.

Sabicas – Flamenco Variations on Three Guitars from 1960. The album cover is pretty clever, right? An album review from the April 1960 issue of Billboard says the following:

Should flamenco be categorized as folk…? If not, what should it be labelled as? Should music be categorized? I went to far… Let’s just say, three guitars playing tremolo sounds amazing, and it is great to see it was a guitarist who made a trio recording with himself?

(See the April 1960 issue of Billboard here, and see another post about a few things I found interesting from the same issue here.)

And allow me to digress – the solo guitar album Ole, La Mano!, by Juan Serrano:

I just find it funny that these two flamenco albums have the same color scheme and overlay image… The Sabicas album was released by Decca, and the Serrano released by Elektra. Was there a consensus for flamenco album covers?

After the Sabicas “trio” album, Conversations with Myself by Bill Evans from 1963 “followed”:

Like the Sabicas album, this is also a “trio” album, with Evans overdubbing two tracks over himself. Sure… while you were in the studio, why not? Evans would later release two more albums with self-overdubs: Further Conversations with Myself (1967) and New Conversations (1978).

Another guitar album came in 1966: Music for Two Guitars/Music for One Guitar by Rey de la Torre (released by Epic Records):

My friend Anthony LaLena told me about this album. I was so glad to know yet another “play-with-yourself” album made by a guitarist. This album has a very long descriptive (but not very poetic) title, because one side 1 of the album contains three duet pieces, and side 2 has the solo pieces. Must Spanish guitar albums all share the same color scheme and “repetition” aesthetics for their covers?

The aforementioned Wagner arrangement by Glenn Gould came from the 1973 album Glenn Gould Plays His Own Transcriptions of Wagner Orchestral Showpieces:

Jimmy Raney album, Solo, from 1976 is the last “self-duo” album I would like to mention:

This album has the best title…! The back cover explains the rationale:

Bonus: this one is not really a full recording. It’s a video of Julian Bream (RIP) playing Luigi Boccherini’s Fandango with himself. Musicality aside, it is very dramatic – two Breams in suits of contrasting colors, throwing dirty looks at each other, as if they were in a competition, trading licks and trying to out play their opponents. The footage comes from the documentary, ¡Guitarra! from 1985.

#24 The failed hip hop DJ

A birthday card from IU, celebrating my 21st, and reminding me to act wisely.

The legal drinking age in Hong Kong is 18, so it felt quite strange that I was not allowed to drink when I came to the States at 19. It didn’t matter too much though, as I am not a heavy drinker anyways. But turning 21 was still a happy event, because I started going out a lot more to see live shows at different bars and venues. I was really into hip hop at the time, and I still remember seeing performances of DJ Mike Relm, Yuri Lane, and Del the Funky Homosapien. It sounds a bit “wrong”, but I took a class on hip hop offered by the anthropology department. I ended up writing my final paper about bboys in Bloomington.

Although rap might be the most direct link to hip hop for most people, it seemed so distant to me. Writing good Chinese was already tough, and I couldn’t imagine how would I ever be able to write cool lines and rhymes in English, let alone rapping with a flow. No talent in visual arts either, so grafitti was out too. Break dance was too physical. Dj-ing, on the other hand, was enticing: sampling is economic (create new music from the old) and efficient (picking out the coolest/catchiest/most groovy part of a record); beat juggling and scratching just sounded so cool; and a DJ must know a lot of songs (always in search of the most unique/obscure record and breaks that no one else have heard).

I can’t remember what year it was (2009?), but not knowing what to expect, I went to the DMC World DJ Championship in Chicago and saw C2C. I started making a few DJ friends, mostly moving records and equipment for them at parties. I quickly learned that being a DJ would be quite impossible too, because I could not afford the gear and the constant need of acquiring new records (most DJs probably don’t mix vinyls, but a vinyl DJ is still my ideal of a “real DJ” to this day). I still started buying records anyways, thinking they might become useful some day.

The coolest thing I learned from this period was The 45 King, who mixes 45s! And naturally so I started buying lots and lots of RnB 45s on ebay. As I seriously began my classical guitar studies, I put my DJ dream aside, and slowly forgot about these 45s…

Last year, a good friend of mine asked to see my 45 collection. She got into Djing, and started doing her own shows. She would like to see if there were any 45s she could borrow for one of her upcoming shows. We started digging through these forgotten discs, which included many Motown, soul, disco, and RnB tunes. But embbeded in the collection was a small stack of Ranchera records that I didn’t even realize were part of the collection. I must have not paid attention to them back then, since they were not something I could use for a hip hop set (or maybe I could have?). We put these records on, and they were just THE BEST MUSIC. I wish I understand Spanish to know the songs even better, but one can feel the passion and emotions even if you were listening to the expressions of the singers alone.

My purchase of 45s has since then been resumed, and mostly ranchera produced by Bego Records! (oh well, with some reggae and dancehall too) When things get back to normal, I hope to ask my Dj friend to spin these Ranchera records, maybe at a local Mexician restaurant, and maybe a benefit show of some sort?

#14 Guitar de Mexico – Dona-Dio Quartet

I love this record. The arrangements are amazing. And a quartet versoin of Recuerdos is just epic… But I couldn’t find much info about the quartet. There’s a short writeup of the album from the 1960’s Billboard:

“Low price Latin American”?!

Apparently, records were categorized by genres, and their potential to sell: “very strong sales potential”, “good sales potential”, “moderate sales potential”, “low price classical”, low price popular”, “low price international”. I have never read an issue of Billboard till this one. Do they still do that?

1960. The Sound of Music was #1. I was skimming through the issue, couldn’t see any classical guitar album… a few flamenco albums are mentioned, such as Flamenco Variations on Three Guitars by Sabicas.

I was surprised to fine the following ad – I have a 4-CD compilation of the Persuasive Percussion. Never realized it came out as early as 1960. I remember playing the CD before a music theory final exam as students were settling in.

There are many cool advertisements:

#13 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings – a mandolin orchestra from Rochester?

Amongst the instructional vinyls/booklets from the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the Mandolin Instruction: Old Time, Country & Fiddle Tunes by Michael Holmes is worth a separate post, because it contains a picture of a mandolin group from Rochester in 1927!

I was told by Mr. John Bernunzio – owner of Bernunzio Uptown Music, that the mandolin was popular in Rochester back in the day, but a google search of “Rochester Mandolin Orchestra” does not yield much. On his blog, John showed a picture of a mandolin orchestra from Rochester ca. 1920 . I tried comparing personnel in John’s picture with the one above… I am not at all good at recognizing faces, and I don’t think they are the same group. What do you think?

The group name “Arabella F. Krug and Orchestra” is also interesting. Why were they not the “Rochester Mandolin Orchestra”? It’s easy to name a group after the town/city one resides in, and I understand it usually comes with good intention: to build something for the community. But, I have heard stories of people resenting groups named after a city/town – do the groups really represent everyone in town?

Anyhow, the Folkways vinyl booklet also contain a lot of pictures of other musical/mandolin groups and advertisements between 1890 to 1927. Pictures of musical groups include:

  • South’s greatest “Old-time string band” from “Old Virginny”
  • Bellson Plectral Orchestra, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Killgore’s Orchestra, Grand Rapids, Michgan
  • M.E. Sunday School String Orchestra, Galena, Kansas
  • The Lavery Gibson Club, Detriot, Michigan
  • Terrace Garden Quartet, Chicago, Illinois
  • Rybka’s Orchestra, Portland, Oregon
  • Silk City Plectral Sextet, Paterson, New Jersey
  • Gibson Mandolin Club, Hagerstown, Maryland
  • Floreine Mandolin Club, St. Louis, Missouri
  • The Cadenza Mandolin Orchestra, Spokane, Washington
  • The Monroe Brothers and Byron Parker (The Old Hired Hand)
  • Hoyt Ming & the Pepsteppers

John mentioned about taking mandolin lessons from Veda Santos, and kindly lent me a few mandolin method books from Don Santos (Veda’s husband). Naturally, I had to look them up. Not much could be found about Veda other than a few blog posts from John, but a few interesting things came along by looking up Don Santos: a) he published method books for many instruments – plectrum guitar, tenor banjo, mandolin, Hawaiian guitar, and accordion (by William Turnboo) (could there be more?); b) a front cover picture on the Crescendo magazine from 1925 that praised him as a sought after teacher and performer; c) reports from the Music Trade Review on the annual Santos contest for banjos, guitars and mandolin bands in Rochester, with banjo bands, mandolin orchestras, Hawaiian guitar bands, and Spanish guitar bands(!?); and d) banjo virtuoso Frederick J. Bacon published music through Santos’s publishing company (various footnotes in Fred Bacon’s Wikipedia page).

#12 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings – teach yourself guitar?

Like many, I began playing guitar by teaching myself – thanks to my training in violin, at least the left hand (thought it) knew what to do. That was before the age of the internet, and I spent much time, rewinding videos of my favorite guitarists, trying to learn solos note for note. As Youtube became part of life, much of my non-classical guitar knowledge was acquired through “Youtube University”. But how did people learn guitar on their own back then?

My friend and idol Kinloch Nelson once told me, in the past, if words got out about someone who knows how to play a chord you don’t, you would just go knock on that guy’s door. You get to learn something new, and you make a new friend. The community was small and everyone helped one another.

My relatively new hobby of collecting vinyl revealed yet another way of music instructions. As I was digging through folk records, I came across the album, How to Play the 5-string Banjo by Pete Seeger. Turns out the record came with a small booklet (8 pages), with instructions and sheet music in the tiniest typeset. It discussed fingerings, strumming patterns, meters, musical styles etc., with accompanying tracks.

The record was released by Folkways Records, which has been part of the Smithsonian since 1987. What’s better yet is that today you can find this instructional booklet (and many others) online as a PDF, as the whole Folkways catalog is online.

But I digress. I have not made up my mind yet to learn the banjo. So I spent some time to look for records of guitar instructions, and there are quite a few. I have since then used Ed Badeaux’s American Guitar in my folk guitar class – it has great summary of different styles of guitar playing. Pete Seeger’s 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly seems really intriguing… great excuse to get a 12-string guitar?

#6 The Nimble Fingers of Jean Pierre Jumez. Spanish Romance

(listening to Paul O’Dette’s live stream as I was writing this)

This obviously belongs to the category of funny album covers, and many have posted about this before. But I did find out quite a lot of fun facts through this album.

1. According to Jumez’s website, “ABC records may have had the rights to distribute the artist’s music, but a New York court ruled that the artist suffered a damage from this very “tasteful” cover. Jean-Pierre Jumez was awarded $ 140,000 in 1975.”

2. Jumez is still putting out new recordings today…! You can find the Fifteen Shades of Guitar on Youtube.

3. He also published a book, detailing his performances around the world. The first few chapters are free to read, and of course, free chapters stopped right where I wanted to read the most – his travels to Hong Kong.

4. Westminster Gold, the label that realeased this record has tons of hilarious record covers. Juliam Bream also has a record on this label (this will be a separate post)

5. The first track of the album is called “Jeux Interdits (anon. arr. Yepes/Jumez)” – which was Spanish Romance with added variations by Jumez. Apparently, as one of the most popular classical guitar tunes, the authorship of the piece led to much controversy

#3 Double Bass and Guitar, David Russell and Dennis Milne

What made David Russell decide to record a guitar/double bass album as his debut in 1978? Why not a solo album?

More info on the album here.

It was my first year in Rochester, and I had a chance to see David Russell up close – he was one of the guests of the guitar festival at Eastman. The other guest was Pepe Romero! Pretty big deal for m, as I had just began my classical guitar studies. I didn’t get to play in any of the master classes, but there are things I learned from those classes that I would still tell my students today. David Russell taught two classes and a total of 8 students. He was tireless and personable. I guess he still is. I would love to meet him in person one day.