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!
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.
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.
(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…
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.