Fate's Piano Adventures – Unexpected Discoveries in American Music History

I don’t often venture into ‘race’ here, but I thought I’d take a few moments to write about my current piano adventures, and the topic seems even more appropriate given that it’s currently Black History Month.

Getting back into piano, I’ve found a strong desire to learn more than simply old-school “classical” music (Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Mozart…) Last weekend, my wife and I visited a rather large estate sale, and I happened to stumble upon a collection of sheet music. Thinking some of the pieces looked interesting, I grabbed the stack and took it home. Out of the entire stack, one piece in particular drew me in. Yellowed paper, much older than I, marked on the top as “The St. Louis Blues.”

Now, while I may have a significant degree of knowledge on classical music, modern music (past the early 1900s) is not my strong point. My radio does stay tuned to stations playing mostly recent stuff, but I’m not a music historian or ‘nerd’ beyond my little bit of piano. And really, if I had been, I would have immediately recognized the title.

Interested in learning what the song should “actually” sound like after pounding it on the piano for a week, I began doing some research. Quickly, I discovered that this particular song was created by the “Father of the Blues” himself, W.C. Handy. As musician, I can easily recognize the influence of Blues in modern Rock, Metal, Country, and so on. But, I find it fairly amazing that I never really stopped to consider the Blues itself and how it developed. Or the person(s) responsible for its popularization and push into the American mainstream.

The Blues was around before Handy came on the scene, but it was musicians like him that helped popularize and influence American music history as a whole. As time moved on, the St. Louis Blues would become a standard part of Jazz reportoire, played by the likes of Louis Armstrong.

The more I learn of 20th century music history, the more interesting I find the various cross-overs of cultural and racial divides. Even in the past decade, modern music genres have obvious roots in the past crossing racial boundaries:

Studying early and mid 20th century artists like Oscar Peterson, Ray Charles, and now earlier links as well, has definitely aided in understanding how ‘Piano’ works with modern music, and is helping me, I feel, be better at what I do. Interestingly enough, even some of the most stereotypically “white” music – country – has obvious and traceable influences.

Anyway, I leave you with a video on the cross-over between two of my all time favorite musicians – Johnny Cash and Ray Charles.

More on W.C. Handy:
[1] http://www.una.edu/library/about/collections/handy/
[2] http://www.wchandymusicfestival.org/history.html
[3] http://www.biography.com/articles/W.C.-Handy-39700

NFL shows no talent in finding talent

I like watching the ads and the game. Unlike most people, I’m also interested in the half-time show and the national anthem. Mostly, I’m curious how the singer will present the national anthem, and what tweaks they’ll do to it. I also like live music, so I’ll pay attention to the half-time show.

I’m not a tweed wearing patchouli splashed hipster who discusses obscure indie-bands in some sorta effort to win a pissing content on being anti-establishment. Nor am I some conservatory trained brat that discusses at length how Lang Lang is an overrated pianist and that any real musician would understand the proper interpretation of some obscure classical piece (and then gripe it wasn’t actually classical). I have no aspirations of being a professional musician. I simply enjoy music – I don’t really care what form or if it’s popular or not. I like major commercial labels, indy, and stuff played at smokey bars in scary areas of town.

I should know now to not expect much from the clowns that run these shows, but year after year has shown nothing but disappointments. I’m not sure what made this year so much more remarkable to me, enough to write about it. Perhaps the butchering of the national anthem. Frilly, showoff singing, while butchering the words. To the performer’s credit, at least she kept going. That ability is one of the big separators between amateurs and the pros’.

The halftime show was a disgrace. Hardware issues in performances happen, but at some point I must wonder what’s going on. In general, it sounded like whoever ran the mixing board smoked a bit much before the show, passed out, and managed to flop across the board leaving all the levels set randomly. One overly auto-tuned main singer, and then another that cut in and out all the while being out of tune. I almost wonder if some software error forced us to hear uncorrected audio.

I must admit to being partial to the 80’s costumes, but the dull lifeless performance put a sour taste in my mouth for a band I occasionally like… I’m not sure exactly why the Halftime shows continue to suck. I thought it was the continued usage of bands well past their prime, but today’s show throws that basic assumption in doubt as well. At this point, I’d rather see a college marching band… Maybe something about the huge stage takes a band like the Black Eyed Peas and zaps them of talent, leaving them a group of lifeless zombies stumbling through set after set.

I’m not a big fan of country, but maybe they should consider throwing country acts at it for SuperBowl 46. Hey, they’d probably at least get the words to the national anthem right…