No one disputes that The Beatles or Rolling Stones aren’t iconic. Did you know that Rush formed in 1968 and is third behind them by amassing 24 gold records and 14 platinum records? They are the best export from Canada, starring bassist/tenor Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart—the BEST drummer out there. I just saw them in Phoenix in late November, and I was stunned watching them play such powerful, complicated pieces. Even after forty years, you’d think their joints would keep them from playing so effortlessly. Forty years! It’s about time they will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
I have an affinity for any music, any style, when musicians play their instruments well. I admire complexity, layers fused together, an expression of an idea—hhmm, wouldn’t you say that’s the definition of art? Progressive Rock born in the 60s and 70s bowls me over and gets my undying respect.
Here’s three of my favorite examples.
Listen to the cadenza in Würm, from “Startrip Trooper”. It was recorded in stereo when instruments flipped-flopped from the left to the right stereo channel. “Würm” is an ad-lib containing the electric guitar on the right, then acoustic guitar, bass pedals and drums from the middle channel, followed by an electric keyboard, and then the guitar solo flight to ecstasy. It’s the layering until you hear a chorus of instruments that makes it great. Like classical music, it’s best to listen to this piece in the dark. Allow your ears to hear the complexity without your other senses competing. It’s a wonderful ride!
I never get tired of hearing “YYZ”. Even if you dislike the sound of electric guitars, watch this video and marvel at their dexterity. I dare you to alert me of any band out there today who can play their rock instruments like Rush!
I think Tony Banks was underrated. Was he as good as Rick Wakeman? The members of Genesis were leaders of progressive rock and I loved all their albums. I was not introduced to Genesis until the early 80s after they shifted toward pop, and it was okay—but when they showed off their musicianship from the late 60s and 70s, when they created their compositional albums, they were fantastic story tellers. I never tire of “Firth of Fifth”.
When Rock veered down the progressive path, it was a beautiful detour.
In class recently, my students and I dove into the “Roaring 20s” and concentrated on all that Jazz. Hail to Billie and Ella and the Duke! What fun to introduce students to the Cotton Club, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong. Each year, I am shocked most students are unfamiliar with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. At first this saddens me, like a few years back when a freshman of mine did not know who George Harrison was. Really? An hour ago, I heard the Donny Iris “classic”, “Ah, Leah” for the hundredth time.
I still think it’s a great pop song and wish my name were Leah instead of Cindy. The point is, I have to remember that I don’t know or appreciate much of the music my students listen to today. Why should they care about Jazz or my favorite pop songs? The singers of today will become sentimental heroes of my students tomorrow. In thirty years, their music will be classic. That I still love Donny’s silly, simple, delicious song is perfectly okay. The emotional connection adds a powerful dimension to the song. It makes me happy and transports me back in time and I’m instantly seventeen. Does the song compare with the Beatles or Benny Goodman? Of course not, but I still jump up and dance around the room to Donny, so I say, thanks, for that one-hit wonder. It’s been a companion of mine for 30 years.
I have blind faith introducing the classics to the next generation. Whatever medium, whatever art form, if it’s universally appealing, it will stand the test of time. I believe Jazz is better than most music forms–it’s a shinier, richer, influential treasure swinging on the chestnut tree.
Well, trying to explain the essence of Jazz and tracing its roots to cover the evolution of Jazz is a daunting task. I’m a big Ken Burns fan, so I showed my students the intro to his Jazz documentary. I love how trumpeter Wynton Marsalis glorifies Jazz in a way that anyone can appreciate. As students worked on their classroom activities over the week, I played different Jazz pieces and heard students comment “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that” or tried to mimic Ella Fitzgerald’s scat in “Blue Skies”. They loved the lilting voice of Holliday’s voice and I caught most of the class tapping to “Sing, Sing, Sing” or smile to Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. One could say pop-culture is born in the 20s. What could be bigger than Walt Disney, Babe Ruth, and the movies? It was endearing to hear the students of today understand the importance of the Jazz Age and how it influenced, well, everything thereafter!
All week, all I seemed to hear and notice was everything Jazz. I happened to catch Chicago on a movie channel and there was Queen Latifa on stage in all her glory. I got it this time around; she was Bessie Smith.
Jazz is the musical symbol of America. It’s certainly one of our best inventions. When one of my students completed her investigation of Jazz, she requested I play “Sing, Sing, Sing” and concluded shaking her head, “I know now I was born in the wrong decade.” How heartwarming coming from a fifteen year old.
If you haven’t seen this documentary by Ken Burns, take a look at his introduction. Why is Jazz important? Take a look….