Rhapsody in Blue is to jazz what Sgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band is to rock and roll.
It premiered in an afternoon concert on February 12, 1924, held by Paul Whiteman and his band at Aeolian Hall in New York City before a packed house. . The version performed that afternoon was for a 24-piece jazz band, not for full orchestra.
George Gershwin at the piano.Library of Congress
Billed as an “Experiment In Modern Music” the concert’s purpose was to demonstrate that the relatively new form of music called jazz deserved to be regarded as a serious and sophisticated art form. A young man named George Gershwin, then known only as a composer of Broadway songs, seated himself at the piano to accompany the orchestra in the performance of a brand new piece of his own composition.
New York Times critic Olin Downes wrote:
It starts with an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet. It has subsidiary phrases, logically growing out of it…often metamorphosed by devices of rhythm and instrumentation. This is no mere dance-tune set for piano and other instruments. This composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk.
For all its mastery and subsequent acclaim, Rhapsody in Blue was put together very hastily. Just five weeks prior to the concert, Gershwin had not yet committed to writing a piece for it. His brother Ira read a report in the New York Tribune stating that George was “at work on a jazz concerto” for the program. Thus, in some desperation, Gershwin pieced Rhapsody In Blue together as best he could in the time available. On the day of the concert his own piano part had yet to written; it was improvised by Gershwin during the world premiere.
Rhapsody is important because it helped change people’s perception of jazz from “low dance (and race) music, and it opened the door for a whole generation of “serious” composers, like Copland and Brech, to draw on jazz elements in their own important works.
Tom Delaney was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1889 and raised at the Jenkins Orphanage. Founded in 1891 by Rev. Daniel Jenkins, it became one of the most successful orphanages for black children in the South. One of the most famous features of the orphanage was the Jenkins Band, which performed military marching music on street corners and “passed-the-hat” for donations. Delaney performed with the band until 1910. At age 21 he was living in New York City and working as a “whorehouse professor,” playing piano, writing songs and singing in saloons, gin joints and whorehouses in the seedy sections of Manhattan.
His first big break came when he was thirty-two years old, in 1921. Delaney’s song “Jazz Me Blues” attracted the attention of professional musicians and, more importantly, people who owned recording studios. They were always looking for songs to record, especially now that there was money to be made with “black” songs. “Jazz Me Blues” combined risqué lyrics about sex with a swinging ragtime feel.
The year before, 1920, Perry Bradford convinced a New York record company to record a “black blues” song. Mamie Smith recorded Bradford’s “Crazy Blues.” It sold more than a million copies in less than a year. Suddenly, “black blues” songs were hot. Delaney had written hundreds of blues songs by then, so he began to peddle them to record companies.
During this time he met a young singer named Ethel Waters. She performed in vaudeville shows for years as a dancer billed as “Sweet Mama Stringbean.” Waters, however, preferred singing to dancing, and on March 21, 1921, she recorded two of Delaney’s songs for the Pace & Handy Music Company, “Down Home Blues” and “At The Jump Steady Ball.” A twenty-three year old former chemistry student named Fletcher Henderson played the piano for the session. “Down Home Blues” became a hit. Pace & Handy paired Waters and Delaney together and sent them out on tour, Waters on vocals and Delaney on piano.
Two months later an act called Lillyn Brown and Her Jazz-Bo Syncopaters recorded “Jazz Me Blues.” That was followed quickly by an instrumental version of the song by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Both versions sold thousands of copies. Through the years more than 100 of Delaney’s songs were recorded by the most popular artists of the day. “Jazz Me Blues” became a standard recorded by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Count Basie, Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman.
“Jazz Me Blues” lyrics
Down in Louisiana in that sunny clime, They play a class of music that is super fine, And it makes no difference if it’s rain or shine, You can hear that jazzin’ music playin’ all the time.
It sounds so peculiar ’cause it’s really queer, How its sweet vibrations seems to fill the air, Then to you the whole world seems to be in rhyme; You’ll want nothin’ else but jazzin’, jazzin’ all the time.
Every one that I ever came to spy, hear them loudly cry: Oh, jazz me! Come on, Professor, and jazz me! Jazz me! You know I like my dancing both day and night, And if I don’t get my jazzin’, I don’t feel right, Now if it’s ragtime, take a lick, play it in jazz time, Jazz time! Don’t want it fast, don’t want it slow; Take your time, Professor, play it sweet and low! I got those doggone, low-down jazz-me jazz-me blues!
Jazz me! Come on, Professor, and jazz me! Jazz me! You know I like my dancing both day and night, And if I don’t get my jazzin’, I don’t feel right, Now if it’s ragtime, take a lick, play it in jazz time, Jazz time! Don’t want it fast, don’t want it slow; Take your time, Professor, play it sweet and low! I got those doggone, low-down jazz-me, jazz-me blues!
To read the entire story of “Jazz Me Blues” and the beginning of American popular music read Mark’s book, Doin’ The Charleston: Black Roots of American Popular Music & the Jenkins Orpahange Legacy.
Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! was the tenth studio album recorded by Frank Sinatra, his fourth for Capitol Records, arranged by Nelson Riddle and released in March 1956. It helped to complete Sinatra’s “comeback.”
During the 1940s Sinatra had been one of the biggest stars in America – as a crooner for the bobbysoxers with Tommy Dorsey and as a solo artist. He had also transitioned easily into a successful movie career in a couple of musicals with Gene Kelly. However, by 1951, his career was waning. In February he was walking through Times Square and the Paramount Theater marquee glowed in announcement of Eddie Fisher in concert. Swarms of teen-age girls had gathered in frenzy, swooning over the current singing idol. For Sinatra this display of enthusiasm for Fisher validated a long-time fear – he was washed up. In a moment of sheer despair he attempted suicide by sticking his head in the oven and turning on the gas. A friend found him in the apartment, lying on the floor sobbing. He claimed he was such a failure that he could not even commit suicide.
In September, Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut at the Desert Inn which led to a career boost. Two years later, 1953, he appeared in the eve-of-Pearl Harbor drama From Here to Eternity (1953), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. This role and performance marked a turnaround in Sinatra’s career. He signed with Capital Records and was paired with orchestra director / arranger Nelson Riddle.
Frank Sinatra & Nelson Riddle
After the ballad-heavy and moody In the Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle returned with an LP of up-tempo, swinging material called Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! The LP was filled with reinterpreted pop standards (by Riddle), whose inspired arrangements turned these older songs into something new, hip and joyful.
Riddle’s arrangements obviously inspired and invigorated Sinatra. He sings with supreme confidence, authority, wit and joy, turning in creative and iconic renderings of well-known lyrics. The LP’s centerpiece is a breathtaking, re-defining version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” – a bone fide musical classic. No other version of this song ever sounds right after you’ve heard Sinatra and Riddle’s version.
In 2000 the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and ranked #306 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Almost fifty years later it is still 45 minutes of sheer musical bliss.
Songs For Swingin’ Lovers / Frank Sinatra
Recorded: October 17, 1955 – January 16, 1956. Released, March 1956
“You Make Me Feel So Young” (Mack Gordon, Josef Myrow) – 2:57
In November 1975, the most audacious rock and roll / pop album since The Beatles’ Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released – A Night at the Opera by Queen. It was a spirited shot across the bow of the 1970s excesses of the glam-glitter-psychedelic rock and roll world by being cheekily glam and outrageous with their tongue firmly in cheek.
At the time my musical world was mainly confined to the wonderful world of 1970s AM pop radio. Within one hour we were able to hear: The Beatles (as well as solo songs by John-Paul-George-Ringo), Carol King, Three Dog Night, Jerry Reed, Stevie Wonder, John Denver, Carly Simon, the Temptations, the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Tammy Wynette, Doobie Brothers, the Osmonds, etc … a diversity that is unfathomable in today’s fractured broadcast world. Then, in 1973 (age 13), I got my first job delivering newspapers and purchased two magazine subscriptions, Rolling Stone and Circus. I was also able to purchase the Holy Grail for a 1970s teenager – a stereo system complete with turntable and speakers.
My first LP purchases included all the usual suspects: Beatles, Deep Purple, Led Zep, Foghat and Pink Floyd. And then, based on the stories I was reading in Circus, I took a leap of faith and ordered an import copy of the debut LP by a new band from England called Queen. Three weeks later it arrived; when the needle dropped and the opening guitar riff from “Keep Yourself Alive” filled my bedroom I knew I had found a new favorite band.
Problem was: I could not convince any of my friends of their brilliance. They preferred Carly Simon, Chicago, the Eagles and (God help them) Tony Orlando and Dawn. Next year, Queen II arrived and with its dense sound and elaborate arrangements I made no headway in convincing my friends to embrace this band. The thaw began with the third LP, Sheer Heart Attack and the hit song “Killer Queen.”
And then A Night at the Opera arrived. The album took its name from the classic Marx Brothers movie of the same name, which the band watched one night at the studio complex during recording. The music contained within was an astonishingly mixed bag – one song could be Led Zep, the next Spike Jones and the next Yes. It covered musical styles from heavy metal to pop to folk to mystical sci-fi to 1920s jazz and old English music hall ditties – all performed with exquisite gloss and panache, with a sly wink.
At the time, A Night at the Opera was the most expensive album ever recorded and it turned Queen into one of the biggest bands in the world, paving their path into becoming English rock and roll royalty on the same dias with the Beatles, the Stones and The Who. It also finally convinced my high school friends that Queen were, after all, a pretty damn good band.
LP Cover opened
At the start of 1975, despite having two Top Ten albums and two Top Ten singles to their name, Queen found themselves in serious dire financial straits. They had been touring and recording relentlessly for five years, and none of their hard work had started to pay off yet, which raised concerns for the band members. So they threw themselves into the recording of A Night at the Opera with gusto. They knew rather early on that they had something special on their hands, and invited the press for a special hearing of the album only days before they were due to go on tour again. The feeling among the band was that the LP was going to change their lives one way or the other – either it was going to be a hit or become a massive failure and kill the band’s career. The album was still being mixed hours before the playback, and further tweaks and edits were made afterward, but the general consensus was that Queen had recorded a masterpiece, and that it was a major step forward from their previous three albums. Thirty-eight years later, it’s hard to disagree.
SIDE ONE (remember, LPs have two sides; you have to flip it over to listen to the entire album.)
“Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)”
Composed by Freddie Mercury. Vocal by Mercury. This is Freddie’s vitriolic letter towards Queen’s ex-manager, Norman Sheffield, who, from 1972 to 75, was reputed to have mistreated the band and abused his role. Prior to the recording of A Night at the Opera the band fired Sheffield and began legal proceedings against him. Though the song never mentions him by name, upon listening to a playback of the song Sheffield was appalled and sued the band and the record label for defamation which resulted in an out of court settlement. In the Classic Albums documentary about the making of A Night at the Opera, Brian May stated that the band at first was somewhat taken aback by the incisiveness of Mercury’s lyrics and described by Mercury as being, “so vindictive that I felt bad singing it.”During live performances, Mercury would usually rededicate the song to “a real motherfucker of a gentleman.”
The song fades in with Mercury’s ominous piano (straight out of a 1950s horror soundtrack) accented by May’s death-toll style guitar chords. Most of the guitar parts on this song were initially played on piano by Mercury, to demonstrate to May how they needed to be played on guitar.
Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
Composed by Freddie Mercury. All vocals by Mercury. One of Mercury’s silliest upbeat ditties, v-e-r-y English. To create the 1920s “megaphone” sound, Mercury’s lead vocal was sung in the studio and reproduced through headphones sitting in a tin bucket elsewhere in the studio. A microphone then picked up the sound from the bucket which gave it the “hollow” sound.
I’m in Love with My Car
Composed and sung by drummer Roger Taylor with a “driving” (a-hem) beat. It is probably Taylor’s most famous song in the Queen catalogue. The song was initially taken as a joke by guitarist Brian May, who after first hearing the demo thought that Taylor couldn’t be serious. The revving sounds at the conclusion of the song come from Taylor’s current car at the time, an Alfa Romeo. The lyrics were inspired by one of the band’s roadies, Jonathan Harris, whose Triumph TR4 was evidently the “love of his life”. The song is dedicated to him, the album says: “Dedicated to Johnathan Harris, boy racer to the end”. Taylor played the guitars in the original demo, but they were later re-recorded by May.
You’re My Best Friend
Composed by bassist John Deacon. Vocals by Freddie Mercury. “You’re My Best Friend” was written by bass player John Deacon for his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff. It was a catchy bit of pop shuffle which reached the Top Ten on the charts. Deacon composed the song while he was learning to play the Wurlitzer Electric Piano on the recording and overdubbed the bass later on. On stage Mercury refused to play a Wurlitzer piano; he called it a “horrible” instrument in an interview. “Why play that thing when you have a grand piano available?” Freddie quipped.
Composed and sung by Brian May. This may the first rock song that accurately uses Einstein’s special theory of relativity as a theme. May graduated from Imperial College with a degree in mathematics and physics and was working on his Ph.D. when Queen became successful, so he abandoned his doctoral work (which he completed in 2007).
“’39” is a sci-fi folk-rock skiffle that relates the tale of a group of space explorers who embark on what is, from their perspective, a year-long voyage. Upon their return, however, they realize that a hundred years have passed and because of the time dilation the loved ones they left behind are now all dead. A haunting song, and a bone fide Queen classic.
NOTES: George Michael claimed that “’39” was his favorite Queen song, and that he used to busk the song in the London Underground as a teenager. He later performed “’39” at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in April 1992.
While Queen was on their 1977 American tour, they were invited by Groucho Marx to visit him at his LA home. He wanted to thank them personally for naming their two most popular LPs after the two most successful Marx brother’s films – A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. During the band’s visit they performed “’39” a cappella for the ill comedian, who died five months later.
Written by Brian May. Sung by Freddie Mercury. “Sweet Lady” is an unusual distorted guitar crunching rocker. What makes it unusual? It’s written in 3/4 meter (which gives way to 4/4 at the bridge) which is not a typical time signature for a rock and roll song. Roger Taylor called this the most difficult drumming part he ever recorded. The song’s crunchy guitar chords have an early “We Will Rock You” feel to them.
Written by Freddie Mercury. Vocals by Mercury. Another classic Mercury cheeky ditty. The song is notable for the “instrumental” bridge section which begins at around 0:51 into the song. It is performed entirely by Mercury and Taylor using their voices alone. Mercury imitates woodwind instruments including a clarinet and Taylor mostly brass instruments, including tubas and trumpets, and even a kazoo. The “tap dance” segment is performed by Mercury and Taylor on the mixing desk with thimbles on their fingers. Mercury plays both grand piano and jangle honky-tonk.
The Prophet’s Song
Composed by Brian May. Vocals by Freddie Mercury. It is a heavy and dark number with a strong progressive rock influence. On the show In the Studio with Redbeard, May explained that he wrote the song after a dream he’d had about a great flood while he was recovering from being ill while recording the Sheer Heart Attack album.
The overt Biblical references (the great flood) should also be filtered through May’s astrophysics background. In 1974 – a massive human skeleton was found somewhere in the Sahara Desert (36 ft. tall). Some speculated it could be one of the Fallen Angels that God kicked from Heaven, along with Satan. At the time, an archeological / astronomical theory was being postulated of the “lost” planet Nibiru, whose humanlike creatures once lived on Earth. Due to an internal struggle for power they destroyed everything and everyone on earth, except Noah and his family, in a great flood.
The song includes the dazzling centerpiece – an amazing vocal canon sung by Mercury. The vocal, and later instrumental canon, was produced by early tape delay devices. At over eight minutes in length, is also Queen’s longest song.
Love of My Life
Written by Freddie Mercury. Vocals by Mercury. Written for Mercury’s girlfriend at the time, Mary Austin, it is one of Queen’s most covered songs Mercury plays piano and did all of the vocals with multi-tracking precision. May played the harp, doing it chord by chord and pasting the takes to form the entire part. He eventually arranged the song so it could be played on an acoustic 12 string for live performances.
“Love of My Life” became one of Queen’s concert favorites. During performances Mercury often stopped singing and allowed the audience to take over.
10. Good Company
Composed and sung by Brian May. It is a narrative tale of a man who in young age was advised by his father to “take care of those you call your own, and keep good company”. In his younger years, the singer follows his father’s advice, keeping his friends and marrying a girl named Sally. As he grows older, he becomes increasingly skilled at and dedicated to his occupation, working long nights and neglecting his family and friends. Eventually, the man’s efforts are rewarded, he begins his own Limited Company (a pun) and becomes so dedicated to his business, he hardly notices as his wife leaves him. The song concludes with the speaker as an elderly man, puffing on his pipe and pondering the lessons of his life, which he has no one left to share with.
May provides all vocals and plays a “Genuine Aloha” ukulele, and remarkably recreates a Dixieland-style jazz band, on his homemade Red Special guitar and Deacy Amp.
11. Bohemian Rhapsody
Composed by Freddie Mercury. Vocals by Mercury. This song is Queen’s “Stairway to Heaven” and “Freebird.” It was a massive hit in 1975-76, and sixteen years later it was introduced to another generation of listeners when it was featured in the hit movie “Wayne’s World.” In 2004 it was inducted into the Grammy hall of Fame and in 2012 it was voted the UK’s “Favorite Number One Song” of the past 60 years.
It is also one of the most unusual and complex rock and roll songs ever to become a hit. It has no chorus, and consists of several sections: a ballad segment ending with a guitar solo, an operatic passage, and a hard rock section. At the time, it was the most expensive single ever made and it remains one of the most elaborate recordings in popular music history.
All piano, bass and drum parts, as well as the vocal arrangements, were thought up by Mercury on a daily basis and written down “in blocks” on a phonebook. The other members of Queen recorded their respective instruments for each “section” of the song with no concept of what the final mix would sound like. The sections were held together by a drum click to keep all layers synchronized The now famous operatic section was originally intended to be only a short interlude of “Galileos” that connected the ballad and hard rock portions of the song.
The entire piece took three weeks to record, and in some sections featured 180 separate overdubs. Since the studios of the time only offered 24-track analogue tape, it was necessary for the three to overdub themselves many times and “bounce” these down to successive sub-mixes. Mercury, May and Taylor reportedly sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day.
Mercury wrote most of “Bohemian Rhapsody” at his home in Holland Road, Kensington, in west London. Much of Queen’s material was written in the studio according to Brian May, but this song “was all in Freddie’s mind” before they started., Judith Peraino said that “Mercury intended… [this song] to be a ‘mock opera’, something outside the norm of rock songs, and it does follow a certain operatic logic: choruses of multi-tracked voices alternate with aria-like solos, the emotions are excessive, the plot confusing.”
Mercury refused to explain his lyrics other than saying it was about relationships. “It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them … it didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not?”
Brian May supports suggestions that the song contained veiled references to Mercury’s personal traumas. He recalls “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.” In a BBC Three documentary about the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Roger Taylor maintains that the true meaning of the song is “fairly self-explanatory with just a bit of nonsense in the middle.
Basically, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is about a young man who has accidentally kills someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil. On the night before his execution, he calls for God in Arabic, “Bismillah”, and with the help of angels, regains his soul from Shaitan.
Still others interpreted them as Mercury’s way of dealing with personal issues. Music scholar Sheila Whiteley observes that Mercury reached a turning point in his personal life in the year he wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody”. He had been living with Mary Austin for seven years but had just embarked on his first gay love affair. She suggests that the song provides an insight into Mercury’s emotional state at the time, “living with Mary (‘Mamma’, as in Mother Mary) and wanting to break away (‘Mamma Mia let me go’).”
The a cappella opening was too complex to perform live, mainly the operatic middle section proved a problem. Because of extensive multi-tracking, it could not be performed on stage. Starting in 1977 the band adopted their lasting way of playing the song live. The opening ballad section would be played live on stage, and after Brian May’s guitar solo, the lights would go down, the band would leave the stage, and the operatic section would be played from tape, while stage lights provided a light show based around the voices of the opera section. A blast of pyrotechnics after Roger Taylor’s high note on the final “for me” would announce the band’s return for the hard rock section and closing ballad.
12. God Save the Queen
Brian May recorded the anthem in 1974 before their Sheer Heart Attack tour. He played a guide piano which was edited out later and added several layers of guitars. Guitar layering is one of May’s distinctive techniques as a rock guitarist. He has said that the technique was developed whilst looking for a violin sound. After the song was completed it was played as an outro at virtually every concert while the band was taking their bows. May has stated that he performed the song on roof of Buckingham Palace as an homage to Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
A Night At The Opera by Queen
Freddie Mercury – vocals, vocals, Bechstein Debauchery, and more vocals, jangle piano and vocal orchestration of woodwinds on Seaside Rendezvous, operatic vocals on Bohemian Rhapsody.
Brian May – guitars, orchestral backdrops, vocals, lead vocals on ‘39 and Good Company, toy koto on The Prophets Song, orchestral harp on Love Of My Life, genuine ‘aloha’ ukulele (made in Japan) and guitar jazz band on Good Company, operatic vocals on Bohemian Rhapsody.
Roger Taylor – drums, percussion, vocals, lead vocals on I’m In Love With My Car, bass drum and tambourine on ’39, vocal orchestrations of brass on Seaside Rendezvous, operatic vocals on Bohemian Rhapsody, timpani and gong on Bohemian Rhapsody and God Save The Queen, orchestral cymbals on God Save The Queen.
John Deacon – bass guitar, electric piano on You’re My Best Friend, double bass on ’39.
Produced by: Queen and Roy Thomas Baker.
Recorded: August – November 1975 at Sarm Studios, Olympic Studios, Scorpio Studios, Lansdowne Studios, Roundhouse Studios, London; Rockfield Studios, Monmouth. (God Save The Queen recorded July – October 1974 at Wessex Studios.)
Revolver announced to the world that a new Beatles had replaced the fresh-faced pop stars. Performing live concerts was a thing in the past. The loveable moptops had grown up and were now free to explore and push musical boundaries from within the studio. They were artists, not just performers.
Revolver was the first step toward the extensive experimentation on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am The Walrus” and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Despite Pepper’s lofty status as the greatest rock and roll record of all time, Revolver is better. It shows all four members of The Beatles working together, equally for the first time, at their creative peak. It is also the record in which George steps up and produces songs that stand equal with those of Lennon and McCartney.
McCartney noted about the recording process:
This album has taken longer than the others because, normally, we go into the studios with, say, eight numbers of our own and some old numbers, like Mr Moonlight or some numbers we used to know, which we just do up a bit. This time, we had all our own numbers, including three of George’s, and so we had to work them all out. We haven’t had a basis to work on, just one guitar melody and a few chords and so we’ve really had to work on them. I think it’ll be our best album yet. They’ll never be able to copy this!
The Beatles’ previous album, Rubber Soul, had also been a change – exploring R&B and folk stylings (“Nowhere Man,” “Norwegian Wood”), Revolver took the experimentation further, bringing in influences such as Motown, classical Indian music, children’s songs and full orchestration. George Harrison once commented:
I don’t see too much different between Rubber Soul and Revolver. To me, they could be Volume One and Volume Two.
Revolver – back cover LP
The LP showed remarkable songwriting leaps by McCartney, Lennon and Harrison. Harrison, with “Taxman,” “I Want to Tell You” and “Love You To” challenged Lennon and McCartney. Paul responded with “Eleanor Rigby,” “Tell No One,” “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “Got To Get You Into My Life.”
But, of course, it was Lennon who was the most innovative with “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said, She Said” and the remarkable “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Attempting to distill an LSD trip into a three-minute song, Lennon borrowed lyrics from Timothy Leary’s version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and recorded his vocal to sound like “the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountaintop.”
Revolver was the Beatles’ artistic high-water mark, and unlike Sgt. Pepper, it was the product of a collaborative effort, the group fully vested in creating “Beatle music.“ Revolver announced to the pop world (and the world at large) that the 1960s had arrived and everything that followed was going to be different.
The Newport Folk Festival was founded in 1959 by George Wein, founder of the already-well-established Newport Jazz Festival. Members of the supporting board included Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman.
The festival introduced a number of performers who went on to become major stars, most notably Joan Baez in 1959, and Bob Dylan at the 1963 festival. It also featured many country-blues artists like Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. However, the 1965 festival became famous as one of the watershed events in modern American music.
On Saturday, July 24, 1965, Bob Dylan performed three solo acoustic numbers, “All I Really Want to Do”, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” at a Newport workshop. Dylan was irritated by what he considered condescending remarks about the Paul Butterfield Blues Band made by Newport Folk Festival organizer Alan Lomax. Dylan made a spontaneous decision that day that he would challenge the Festival by performing with a fully amplified band.
Dylan performs an acoustic set at Newport.
On the night of Sunday, July 25, Dylan’s appearance was sandwiched between Cousin Emmy and the Sea Island Singers, two very traditional folk acts. The band that went on stage with Dylan included two musicians who had played on his recently released single, “Like a Rolling Stone”: Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar and Al Kooper on organ.
Master of Ceremonies Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary, introduced Dylan with, “Ladies and gentlemen, the person that’s going to come up now has a limited amount of time … His name is Bob Dylan.” The band took the stage, plugged in their electric guitars and launched into a blistering version of “Maggie’s Farm.” Within a few bars of the song, the boos began from the audience and continued throughout the three song set. After playing “Like a Rolling Stone.” Dylan closed with an early version of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” titled “Phantom Engineer.” As the band left the stage there was a mixture of booing and clapping from the audience. Peter Yarrow returned to the microphone and begged Dylan to continue performing., Dylan returned to the stage and performed two songs on acoustic guitar for the audience: “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and then, as his farewell to Newport, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.
It has been argued for years that the boos were from outraged folk fans, who disliked Dylan playing an electric guitar. Al Kooper, and others present at Newport, have disagreed with this interpretation, and argued that the audience was upset by poor sound quality, and the boos were brought on by Dylan’s short set, not the fact that Dylan had gone electric. Kooper said: “The reason they booed is because he only played for fifteen minutes, when everybody else played for forty-five minutes or an hour. They were feeling ripped off. Wouldn’t you? They didn’t give a shit about us being electric. They just wanted more.”
Poor sound quality was the reason Pete Seeger gave for disliking the performance. He was watching the performance backstage and says he told the audio technicians, “Get that distortion out of his voice … It’s terrible. If I had an axe, I’d chop the microphone cable right now.” Seeger has also said, however, that he only wanted to cut the cables because he wanted the audience to hear Dylan’s lyrics properly, because he thought they were important.
Joe Boyd, responsible for the sound mixing at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, said, “I think there were a lot of people who were upset about the rock band, but I think it was pretty split. I think probably more people liked it than didn’t.”
In an interview in Mojo magazine, Murray Lerner, director the documentary The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 said,
“I think they were definitely booing Dylan and a little bit Pete Yarrow because he was so flustered. He was not expecting that audience’s reaction and he was concerned about Bob’s image, since they were part of the same family of artists through Al Grossman. But I absolutely think that they were booing Dylan going electric.”
Three months before Dylan’s performance, the rock band, The Byrds, released an electric version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The Byrds’ version featured traditional folk harmonies soaring over Roger McGuinn’s jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar and a driving beat, which hit #1 in late June 1965, three weeks before Dylan’s performance. The combination of those two events unleashed the folk-rock explosion in popular music. The Beatles’ George Harrison introduced his 12-string guitar and the Fab Four created a Byrds-like sound on their Rubber Soul and Revolver LPs. This opened the floodgates for artists like The Searchers, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Mamas and the Papas, Donovan, the Turtles, Sonny & Cher and Simon & Garfunkel.
If Bob Dylan had faded into obscurity during the 1970s, he would still be considered as one of the most important artists of the 20th century based on his output of dozens of classic songs and his electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
By the mid-1950s many of the big bands had folded. Jazz music had been brought to its knees by the explosion of rock ‘n roll – Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Elvis. In addition, jazz was going through a radical change. The traditional swing big bands were being usurped by the harder-edged Be Bop and smooth West Coast Cool schools of music.
Duke Ellington had managed to financially keep his band together through the royalties of his popular compositions in the 1920s and 40s. They occasionally played shows at ice-skating rinks. In 1956 Ellington did not even have a recording contract.
On the night of July 7, 1956 at the Newport Jazz Festival, after a series of thunderstorms had dampened the collective spirits of the Eastern Seaboard patrons, The Duke Ellington Orchestra took the stage. Ellington paid for the performance to be recorded out of his own pocket.
Ellington at Newport 1956 was to become Ellington’s biggest selling recording, although only about 40% of the original recording was actually live. The remainder was recorded in the studio to provide “patches” and filler for the less than perfect live portions.
Ellington Orchestra on the Newport stage
During the concert the Duke announced that they were pulling out “some of our 1938 vintage.” It was a pair of blues, “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue.” The two songs were to be joined by an improvised interval played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. Ellington had been experimenting and reworking the songs for several years before the Newport performance. The night of the show, Ellington told Gonsalves to “blow as long as you feel like blowing.”
As performed at Newport, the new version kick-started Ellington’s waning career and secured the band financially for the rest of Ellington’s life. Gonsalves played a 27-chorus solo backed only by bassist Jimmy Woode, drummer Sam Woodyard, and Ellington himself punctuating piano chords. Through-out the song there are several audible comments from the band members. The Duke himself is often heard urging the saxophonist, shouting “Come on, Paul — dig in! Dig in!” About five minutes into Gonsalves’ solo, the sedate wine-and-cheese crowd realized they were witnessing a magical moment. They started dancing in the aisles and can be heard cheering and shouting at the band.
The usually sedate wine-and-cheese crowd at Newport dancing to Gonsalves’ solo
When the solo ended Gonsalves collapsed in exhaustion, and the full band returned for the “Crescendo in Blue” portion. The real crescendo of “Crescendo in Blue” however starts at the 13:15 minute mark, as trumpet player Cat Anderson (of Charleston, SC) stands up and begins to play several octaves above the Orchestra for the final minute of the song. In a moment worthy of any classic rock concert, the already excited crowd is brought to the edge of hysteria by Anderson’s screaming trumpet. When the song ends, pandemonium ensues for several moments as the Duke tries to quiet the crowd.
Truly one of the most classic recorded moments in jazz history.
“Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue”
Remastered 1999 CD: Ellington at Newport (Complete)
“The Star Spangled Banner” – 1:10
Father Norman O’Connor Introduces Duke & the Orchestra / Duke Introduces Tune & Anderson, Jackson & Procope – 3:36
Why are there no members of the world famous Jenkins Orphanage Band in the South Carolina Entertainment and Music Hall of Fame, or the Lowcountry Music Hall Of Fame? The Hall has such luminaries as Andie McDowell (we still watch “Groundhog Day” despite her being in it), Leeza Gibbons (celebrity-news reader) and Vanna White (the only professional letter-turner in the Hall of Fame.) The Hall also counts as members Rob Crosby, Bill Trader and Buddy Brock. (Yeah, I know, you’ll probably have to Google them to find out who they are too.)
I am not saying that any of these people don’t deserve to be in the Hall – they probably do. But not to the exclusion of more deserving artists. I would like to nominate several artists currently not in the Hall who influenced and enriched American culture in more deserving ways than interviewing celebrities on “Entertainment Tonight” or being eye candy for a game show.
From the 1890s to the 1940s the Jenkins Orphanage Band traveled across the United States and across Europe performing on street corners, on Broadway and for royalty. Members of the Jenkins Band were instrumental in transforming the music performed during 19th century minstrel shows into blues, ragtime and ultimately, jazz. My nominees are:
EDMUND THORNTON JENKINS
Edmund Thorton Jenkins
Born – April 9, 1894, Charleston, South Carolina Died- September 12, 1926, Paris, France
His father, Rev. Daniel Jenkins operated the Orphan Aid Society (a.k.a. the Jenkins Orphanage) which operated a boy’s brass band as a fundraising tool, as a kind of minstrel show on the sidewalks of towns up and down the East Coast. Called “Jenks” by everyone, he received private piano lessons from a white man in Charleston, Mr. Dorsey, and quickly mastered the piano, clarinet and violin. His father insisted that he work as a music instructor for the Jenkins Band, and also travel with them. Jenks resented having to lead a group of ragamuffin orphans who mugged, strutted and played-the-fool during their street performances. He felt it was beneath him. He wanted to play serious music. The kids, of course, made fun of the prim and dandified Jenks.
In 1910 Jenks enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia to study music. Two years later he was forced by his father to leave college in order to accompany the Jenkins Band to London, where it was a featured act at the Anglo-American Expo. When the Expo came to an abrupt close, due to the outbreak of World War I, Jenks convinced his father to pay his tuition to the Royal Academy of London. For seven years Jenks excelled in his studies, winning awards for composition, and becoming a master in several instruments. During his time at the Academy he composed “Charlestonia: A Rhapsody.”
After graduation he moved to Paris where he became one of the most sought after musicians in the most popular Parisian nightclubs. Paris was “jazz mad” in the 1920s and for several years Jenks embraced the glamorous, hedonistic life of Paris. However, in 1925 he began to compose an opera, “Afram” and expanded and orchestrated “Charlestonia: A Rhapsody” which he conducted successfully in Belgium with a full orchestra. In July 1926, he was admitted to a Parisian hospital for appendicitis. He contracted pneumonia and died on September 12, 1926, cutting short the career of a promising young black composer. He is buried at the Humane Friendly Cemetery in Charleston, SC.
Listen to “Charlestonia”, composed by Edmund Thornton Jenkins.
Tommy Benford in 1978
Born – April 19, 1905, Charleston, West Virginia. Died – March 24, 1994, Mount Vernon, New York.
Benford became the Jenkins Orphanage Band’s ace drummer. In 1920 he was playing in New York City and gave drumming lessons to a young wunderkind named Chick Webb. In 1928, he was the drummer for some of the most influential jazz music ever recorded as part of Jelly Roll Morton’s Victor Records sessions.
During the Depression Benford moved to Europe and for the next 30 years recorded hundreds of songs with more than a dozen bands. His most famous recording session was with Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grapelli and Bennie Carter, released as Coleman Hawkin’s All-Stars.
He continued to play music until his death in 1994, a career that spanned seventy years.
Watch/listen here: “Sweet Georgia Brown” by Coleman Hawkins’s All-Stars (featuring Tommy Benford).
Born – December 25, 1908, Pembroke, Georgia. Died, New York City – January 1991.
Raised in the Jenkins Orphanage, Jabbo quickly became one of the best Jenkins Band musicians during the years of 1915-1924. Brash and flamboyant, he was a natural performer. At age 17 he was playing in New York City at Smalls Paradise, the second most popular club in Harlem (most popular was the Cotton Club.) He became the hottest trumpet player in the city, which is like being the hottest guitar player in the hottest rock and roll band (think Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen.)
In 1927 he recorded one track with the Duke Ellington orchestra (“Black and Tan Fantasy”) filling in for the ailing Bubber Miley. Duke offered him a permanent job with the Ellington Orchestra, which Jabbo turned down because Duke only offered $90 a week, and Smith was making $150 with the Paradise Orchestra.
In 1928-29 Jabbo played with James P. Johnson (composer of the song “Charleston”) and Fats Waller in the Broadway show Keep Shufflin. When the show closed in Chicago Jabbo recorded nineteen historic songs for the Brunswick Record Company that are still considered some of the most influential jazz recordings. They are considered to be the first cool jazz improvisations and be-bop style playing.
By the 1950s Jabbo Smith was out of music, living in Wisconsin. As a swan song, in the 1980s he returned to Broadway in the show One Mo’Time and became the darling of New York for several months. Jabbo is a key link in the development of modern jazz trumpet playing: Louis Armstrong →Jabbo Smith →Roy Eldridge →Dizzy Gillespie→Miles Davis→Wynton Marsalis.
Watch/listen here: “Lina Blues” by Jabbo Smith.
Born – March 31, 1911, Charleston, S.C. Died – March 1, 1987, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Freddie Green had the longest job in jazz history, guitar player for the Count Basie Orchestra from 1937 to his death in 1987 – fifty years. He was in the Basie Orchestra longer than Count Basie himself!
As a child Freddie used to sing and dance on the streets of Charleston and became friends with members of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. Though never an orphan, he played with the Band and remained in New York City during their tour in 1932. Five years later he was discovered playing at the Black Cat Club in Harlem and asked to join the Basie Orchestra, forming what became known as the All-American Rhythm section: Basie-piano, Green-guitar, Walter Page – bass, and Jo Jones-drums.
For the next 50 years Freddie Green became the “left hand” of the Basie Orchestra, the spiritual force that held the music together. Across the world he became known a “Mr. Rhythm,” the greatest rhythm guitar player in jazz history. It is almost impossible to find a photo of the Basie Orchestra that does not include Green.
He became a composer and arranger for the orchestra and the arbitrator of good music. Byron Stripling, trumpet player for Basie said, “If an arranger comes in and his work is jive, Freddie just shakes his head and it’s all over.”
Green died in Las Vegas after a Basie Orchestra performance ending one of the quietest most legendary musical careers of the 20th century. Irving Ashby described Freddie Green’s influence on music as: “Rhythm guitar is like vanilla extract in cake, you can’t taste it when it’s there, but you know when it’s left out.”
Watch/listen here: “Corner Pocket” by the Count Basie Orchestra (written and arranged by Freddie Green.)
September 12, 1916, Greenville, South Carolina.
Died – April 29, 1981, Los Angeles, California.
During the late 1930s, Anderson became the latest in a line of hot trumpet players in the Jenkins Band. He developed a technique of playing in high registers, two octaves above the rest of the band. It was Anderson’s way of showing off, and getting the girls in the audience to notice him. Wynton Marsalis called Anderson “one of the best” scream trumpet players ever.
After leaving the Jenkins Band in 1937, Anderson played for several bands, and performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. During World War Two, Anderson played in a Special Services Army Band, performing for troops on bases across the world.
In 1945, he joined Lionel Hampton’s Band and then was hired by Duke Ellington, and became a featured player for the Duke during the next 20 years. Ellington re-arranged many of his classic songs to take advantage of Anderson’s talent for “scream” trumpet playing. Anderson is heavily featured in one of the most popular jazz recordings ever, the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.
Through the 50s, 60s and 70s Anderson led several bands himself, and recorded several solo classic LPs with various Ellington sidemen.
Watch/listen here: Cat Anderson trumpet solo w/ the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
If you agree these men should be in the South Carolina Entertainment Music Hall of Fame, please forward/share/like /comment this article. You can read the entire story of the Jenkins Orphanage in my book, DOIN’ THE CHARLESTON.