Swing, Baby, Swing!

“Jazz is the red-headed third cousin
riding a bull elephant through
your teapot-laden drawing room.”
~ Ron Averill

Jazz is not popular with everyone. Many find it too academic, difficult to understand. But let us remember that there are as many types of jazz as there are flavors of M&Ms. At least as many. Myself, I prefer pre-WWII jive (as the hepcats say): swing, Dixieland, hot jazz, ragtime… Subgenres that soothe my soul.

Which leads to the question: What’s up with early jazz at Everett Public Library? Let’s find out, shall we?

Group 1

If you want to check out some early jazz, Hot Dance Bands from Okeh, 1923-1931 is an excellent starting point. The musicians featured on this album have mostly disappeared into the mists of time, the songs are not particularly well-known, but the music gives a clear idea of what was going down in the formative years of jazz. Billie Holiday adds her silky smooth voice to a musical backdrop that is clearly related to those hot dance bands but is perhaps more recognizable to modern-day listeners. And Fats Waller pumps them ivories like nobody else, providing a mesmerizing piano-centric take on early jazz.

Group2

And time marches on. Your Hit Parade: The Late 40s provides a hipster’s overview of those fabulous big band years. It’s an excellent starting point for the swing-curious. If it’s a chanteuse you’re wanting, you’d be hard pressed to find a better interpreter than Peggy Lee. Perhaps best known for Fever, Lee turns everything she sings into a sultry hot springs of passion and fortitude. And the ever-smooth Nat King Cole? His early work with the Nat King Cole Trio ranks up there with the best that swing has to offer.

Group3

You say you like the big band swing thing but refuse to watch black and white films or listen to music made before 1966? There are still excellent options available to you! Whether she’s belting out hits from the 30s and 40s or insinuating her way into your brain with hand-penned originals, Madeleine Peyroux is a bonafide contemporary jazz gem. Each and every album she drops is a genuine pleasure. Diana Krall, another modern-day siren, kicks it laid-back style with her sweltering contralto voice. Winner of numerous accolades and record-setting album sales, Krall can scratch that itch that Ms. Peyroux couldn’t quite reach. And finally, as we approach Christmas, the Brian Setzer Orchestra brings songs of joy and anticipation, in a swingin’ mood, straight to your pleasure center. If you’ve not heard Setzer play guitar, prepare for many notes. Many. Notes. And they’re all the right ones! One of the most fabulous purveyors of modern swing and Christmas music, check these fellas out.

So no more excuses. Buy a beret. Listen to some jazz. Maybe invest in cigars and culottes. Swing, baby, swing!

Music and Pictures

Lately I’ve discovered some new-to-me cable TV shows that have amazing soundtracks filled with songs I’ve never heard, and I’ve heard a lot of songs. This has caused me to ponder the purpose of soundtracks, the effects that movies and TV have on songs that already exist. At the minimum, soundtracks can expose one to music that one would not otherwise encounter. And this can be exciting.

One trend I’ve noticed in recent-ish television programs is that the soundtracks are made up of songs that are not particularly well-known. Somebody out there is spending a lot of time finding quirky hidden gems of music. But the brilliance doesn’t stop there. The songs are used skillfully to create moments that the visuals or text or music could not create alone. This leads seamlessly to my philosophy of soundtracks.

Songs enhance movies, movies enhance songs.

It’s a simple philosophy but one that I think about frequently. I’ll use Tin Cup, one of my favorite movies, as an example. Its soundtrack is made up of music that I would not typically listen to or enjoy. Yet, because of the songs’ associations with the beloved movie, I enjoy them. The songs make me picture scenes from the movie, remember funny lines. The two art forms are more powerful together than each is alone.

US of Tara

United States of Tara examines how a family copes with the mother’s dissociative identity disorder (known as multiple personalities for many years). The show is part funny, part traumatic and all excellent. The closing credits are always accompanied by a different weird-ish song that somehow relates to the episode. Thanks to Al Gore’s interwebs, it’s possible to quickly find out song titles and performer names. For a musically curious guy like me, this creates a Christmas-like situation where I can discover enjoyable music that’s new to me.

Here are a few of the artists used in United States of Tara:

Billie Holiday is one of the all-time greatest purveyors of vocal jazz and blues. Not a new listening experience for me, but a noteworthy one.

Group 1

Bon Iver is an indie folk group that has enjoyed critical acclaim and success. Acoustic-ish, using some unusual instrumentation, often quiet, worth a listen.

Chairlift delivers sparse and delicate synthpop with amazing vocals.

Group2

Hanni El Khatib is my favorite find from the United States of Tara soundtrack. His style is all over the place, but his music is always energetic and engaging. Acoustic guitar in a rock format, well worth the price of admission.

Weeds

Another show that has led me to fabulous music through its soundtrack is Weeds. A recently widowed suburban mom tries to make ends meet by selling marijuana. She quickly learns the depths of her naiveté and attempts to turn her business into a steady income, all while raising two teenage boys who bring their own problems into the mix.

Here are a few of the artists used in Weeds:

Malvina Reynolds was an American folk singer and political activist. Her song Little Boxes, an examination of the conformity that swallows suburbia, was used as the theme song for Weeds.

Group3

Sufjan Stevens writes in a variety of styles, focusing on lo-fi, sparse indie folk. His music runs the gamut from the overly-precious to the sublime.

Abigail Washburn is an old timey banjo player who delivers haunting ballads as well as upbeat knee slappers.

Group4

Flogging Molly performs a brilliant brand of Celtic pop rock. If you like Irish folk music, check out this group.

So it’s two for the price of one, brilliant television series as well as fun musical discoveries. All courtesy of the library! Take a chance on something new, dare to be pleasantly surprised.