Arcangelo Corelli

Arcangelo Corelli, Concerto in D Major Op. 6 No. 4, 1714, Performed by the Voices of Music Ensemble

Born on February 17, 1653 in Fusignano, Papal States, Italy, Arcangelo Corelli was a violinist and composer of the Italian Baroque era, whose  family were prosperous landowners, but not of the nobility. Known chiefly for his influence on the development of violin style and for his sonatas, Corelli’s “12 Concert Grossi “ established the contrast between a small group of soloists and the full orchestra as a popular compositional medium. 

Historical records of the poet Giovanni Mario Crescimbeni, founder of the celebrated Academy of Arcadians, state Arcangelo Corelli initially studied music under priests, first in the city of Faenza and then in Lugo, before he moved in 1666 to Bologna, a major center of musical culture. Plausible, but largely unconfirmed, historical accounts link his musical education with several master violinists, including Giovanni Benvenuti, Bartolomeo Laurenti, and Giovanni Battista Bassani. 

Although it is unclear exactly when Corelli arrived in Rome, it is known that he was actively engaged as a violinist in 1675. He played as one of the supporting violinists in three Lenten oratorios: one at the church of San Giovanni dei Florentini, one held on August 25th for a celebration at the church San Luigi dei Francesi, and one for the ordination ceremony of a noble Chigi family member held at the church Santi Domenico e Sisto. By February of 1675, Corelli was third violinist in the Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi’s orchestra in Rome; by the following year Corelli was second violinist.

Corelli rapidly gain a reputation by playing in a number of ensembles sponsored by wealthy patrons at San Marcello al Corso, for whom he played in oratorios during the Lenten seasons from 1671 to 1679. In June of 1677, Corelli completed and sent his first composition “Sonata for Violin and Lute” to Count Fabrizio Laderchi, a noble in Faenza attached to the household of Prince Francesco Maria de Medici. Corelli’s “Twelve  Trio Sonatas (Two Violins and Cello, with Organ Basso Continuo), Opus 1”, dedicated to Queen Christina of Sweden, was published in 1681. 

From September 1687 to November 1690, Arcangelo Corelli was musical director at the Palazzo Pamphili, where he performed and conducted important musical events, Including conducting an orchestra of one hundred fifty strings for Queen Christina. A favorite of the great music patron Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, Corelli in 1690 entered into the Cardinal’s service where he performed in concerts at Ottoboni’s Palazzo della Cancelleria. Joining him at these concerts were the violinist Matteo Fornari, the cellist G. B. Lulier from Spain, and the harpsichordist Bernardo Pasquini, and other orchestral players.

Corelli had first met Matteo Fornari in 1682, and they soon developed an intimate relationship which lasted until Corelli’s death. Socially protected by Ottoboni and living discreetly among male friends, they devoted their time together to the pursuit of their music which included many performances played together. Their relationship became the inspiration for two compositions by their friend Giuseppe Valentini, who dedicated his trio sonatas to both Corelli and Fornari. During this period, Corelli quietly developed his best-known and most influential works, the orchestral “Concerti Grossi”, and also became one of the most renowned violin teachers, who taught such students as Gasparini, Castrucci, and Locatelli.

In 1702, Corelli went to Naples and performed a composition by the Italian composer Alessandro Scarlatti, a performance which was probably performed  in the presence of its regent, King Philip IV.  In 1706, together with composer Bernardo Pasquini and Scarlatti, Corelli was received into the Pontifical Academy of Arcadia in Rome and conducted a concert for the occasion. By 1708 he withdrew from public view and began to revise his compositions. A contemporary of both Lully and Handel, Corelli died in Rome on the 8th of January in 1713. 

Arcangelo Corelli left his large art collection of paintings, all his instruments and music, and all future proceeds from it, to Matteo Fornari who readied Corelli’s unpublished “Op. 6 Concertos” for publication with Estienne Roger of Amsterdam. By special decree from the Pope, Corelli was buried next to Raphael in the section of the Pantheon in Rome that holds the remains of painters and architects.

Arcangelo Corelli’s “Concerto in D Major Op. 6”, was published in 1714 in Amsterdam and dramatically affected the style of the baroque concerto for the next generation of composers. The reception of this collection, considered one of the crown jewels of baroque instrumental music, owes a portion of its success to the music publishing boom which began around 1690. Corelli’s signature violin sonata set, “Opus 5”, also widely published, appeared in at least forty-two editions by 1800. 

Corelli’s concertos are written in an expanded trio sonata style, in which the two solo violins and cello form a small ensemble within the larger tutti framework, which is performed with all instruments together. The fourth concerto, played in the video linked above, is noteworthy for its suave and serene introduction, the gracefulness of the dance movement, the exceptionally well-balanced counterpoint and harmony, and the furious concluding coda which flows out of the second ending of the last movement.

Note: The video is from the Voices of Music Lamentations of Jeremiah concert held in April of 2014. Played with period instruments and practice,, there isn’t any conductor present at the performance. Kati Kyme and Elizabeth Blumenstock play solo baroque violins; Shirley Edith Hunt plays solo baroque cello; Gabrielle Wunsch and Maxine Nemerovski play ripieno baroque violins; Lisa Grodin plays baroque viola; Farley Pearce plays violone; Hanneke van Proosdij plays baroque organ; and David Tayler plays the archlute.

Ólafur Arnalds, “Woven Song”

Ólafur Arnalds, “Woven Song”, 2020, From the Album “Some Kind of Peace”

Born in Mosfellsbaer, Iceland, in November of 1986, Ólafur Arnalds is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer. A former drummer, he mixes strings and piano with loops and beats to produce sounds from ambient and electronic to pop. He has produced five albums, multiple singles and extended plays, and soundtracks for films and drama seroes, such as the 2013 “Gimme Shelter:, the 2015 series “Broadchurch”, and the 2020 “Defending Jacob”

Ólafur Arnalds released his single “Woven Song” on September 24, 2020. The song is from his new album “Some Kind of Peace”, which was released on November 6th. The fractal shapes of the video effects were produced by director Thomas Vanz using an acrylic pouring process called “viscous fingering”. 

One of the influential musicians of modern times, Ólafur Arnalds has combined the electronic and classical worlds in his productions, often weaving pieces of his life into the songs. Collaborators on the new album include British musician Bonobo, Icelandic singer and instrumentalist JFDR, and German singer and songwriter Josin. 

“This album is about what it means to be alive, daring to be vulnerable and the importance of rituals. It is a personal album, my most personal to date, set against a background of a world thrown into chaos. I’ve poured all my love, dreams and fears into this album through a magical but difficult process, but the result is something that makes me immensely proud and happy to be doing what I do.” —Ólafur Arnalds

“Some Kind of Peace” is available in multiple mediums at: https://mkx.lnk.to/OASKOP

Franz Betz

Photographer Unknown, “Franz Betz in His Role as Wotan”, 1876

Born in March of 1835 at the Rhine River city of Mainz, Germany, Franz Betz was a bass-baritone opera singer known for his performances in operas by Richard Wagner. He received his training in the city of Karlsruhe, home of the Baden State Theatre opera house. Betz made his debut, at the age of twenty-one, in 1856 at the Court Theater of Hanover in Wagner’s “Lohengrin”, part of the “Knight of the Swan”legend, but most recognizable for the”Bridal Chorus”, still played at weddings today.

Framz Betz’s successful performance in 1859 at the Berlin State Opera, singing the role of Don Carlo in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Emani”, resulted in a permanent contract with the company and his becoming one of Wagner’s most trusted singers. He sang the role of Hans Sachs in the world premier of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nümberg” at Munich in 1868, eventually singing the role over one hundred times.

Im May of 1872, Betz was one of the four soloists in the performance of “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony” to mark the laying of the foundation stone for the Bayreuth Festival Theater, built by Richard Wagner for the sole use of his works. At the Beyreuth Theater in 1876, Betz sang the role of Wotan in the operas “Das Rheingold” and “Die Ring des Nibelungen”.

Franz Betz continued to sing lyric and lyric-dramatic roles well into his career as a singer of Wagner’s operas. For instance, he sang, in the same season of 1863, both the role of Telramund, a heavy dramatic part, and the lyric part of Valentin in “Faust”. Betz’s voice deepened as he grew older; and in consequence, Wagner added to his operas the role of König Marke, a lyrical bass role without a low tessitura and, in the same year, the role of Wotan. Betz’s enormous repertoire ranged from the roles of Don Giovanni and Wolfram, through Pizarro and Posa, to the roles of Holländer, Amonasro, Sachs and Wotan, expanding finally to Falstaff in 1894. 

During the period from 1882 to 1890, Betz held the position of president of the German trade union for stage artists, technicians and administrative staff, the Genossenschaft Deutscher Bühren-Angelhöger. Although singing in a few London concerts in 1882 and 1889, he never sang elsewhere outside of Germany. Franz Betz died in Berlin on the 11th of August in 1900 and is buried at the Protestant Wilhelm Memorial Cemetery in the Westend district of Berlin.

Note: The photographs show Franz Betz as Wotan, bearded and with shield,  in Richard Wagner’s opera “Die Ring des Nibelungen” performed in Bayreuth. The photo card is entitled Costume Portraits of the Bayreuther Festival Thater, and was published by Joseph Albert, Munich, in 1876. 

Jimmy Scott

Jimmy Scott, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, 1986, From the Album “All the Way”

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in July of 1925, James Victor Scott was an American jazz vocalist known for his sensitivity on ballads and for his high countertenor voice. The high range of his singing voice was due to a rare genetic disease, the Kallmann syndrome, which prevented him from reaching classic puberty and limited his physical height. 

Given the nickname of “Little Jimmy Scott” by jazz musician and band leader Lionel Hampton, Scott achieved prominence as the lead singer in Hampton’s band when he recorded “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” in December of 1949. This song became a top rhythm and blues hit in 1959. Scott sang the vocals on Charlie Parker’s adaption of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” in 1947; however, his vocals was credited to the female vocalist Chubby Newsom on the album.

Jimmy Scott signed in 1963 with Tangerine Records, a record label owned by Ray Charles and distributed by ABC-Paramount Records. Under that label, he recorded the album “Falling in Love is Wonderful”, with Ray Charles interplaying on the piano. This ranks as one of the best works of Scott’s career, showing his range of emotions and his hitting all the notes with perfection on such classics as “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Someone to Watch Over Me”.

By the late 1960s, Jimmy Scott’s career had faded; he returned to his native Cleveland and worked in several menial labor positions. It wasn’t until 1989 that he returned to music, sharing a late-night billing with singer and pianist Johnnie Ray at the famed New York’s Ballroom. Singing at the funeral of his friend, blues singer and songwriter Doc Pomus, gained him further recognition and an opportunity with Sire Records. 

Sire Records, an arm of the Warner Records group, released Jimmy Scott’s 1992 album “All the Way” which earned Scott a nomination for a Grammy Award. Between 1994 and 1998, Jimmy Scott released three albums: the 1994 “Dreams”, “Heaven” released in 1996, and an album of pop/ rock interpretations entitled “Holding Back the Years”. This last album earned an award for Best Jazz Album of 2000, and included covers of songs written by Prince, Lennon, Elvis Costello, and Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Jimmy Scott’s early recordings for Decca Records and Savoy Records were re-released as a box set in 1999. He signed with Milestone Records in 2000 and recorded four albums with guests such as Wynton Marsalis, Renne Rosnes, and Lewis Nash. His final recording took place at his home in May of 2014, a track written for him by Grégoire Maret titled “The 26th of May” which appears on Maret’s album “Wanted”.

Scott performed at the inaugurations of both President Eisenhower and William Clinton, singing “Why Was I Born”. He received the NEA Jazz Masters award in 2007, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America in 2010. Jimmy Scott was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2013. He died in his sleep at his home in Las Vegas on June 12, 2014 at the age of eighty-eight years. He is buried in Knollwood Cemetery in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

“As singers, we all deal in pain. We’re all trying to push the pain through the music and make it sound pretty. Jimmy Scott has more pain and prettiness in his voice than any singer anywhere”

– Ray Charles

 

 

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 31st of October, Solar Year 2018

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

October 31, 1896 was the birthdate of American actress and singer Ethel Walters.

Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, growing up in extreme poverty. At the age of thirteen in 1909, she was already working as a chambermaid in a Philadelphia hotel. Later that year, Waters sang in public for the first time at a local Philadelphia night club. She started singing professionally in 1913, billing herself as “Sweet Mama Stringbean”, in Baltimore, Maryland, clubs. It was in Baltimore that she became the first woman to sing W.C Hardy’s classic “Saint Louis Blues”.

Ethel Waters professional career as a singer rose rapidly; so she decided to move to New York City. In 1925, she appeared at the Plantation Club in Harlem, where the response to her voice led to performances on Broadway. She appeared in the all-black revue “Africana”, and started dividing her time between the stage, nightclubs, and eventually movies. In 1930 Waters was on the Broadway stage again in the revival of the popular 1924 musical “Blackbirds”, followed by a starring role in the 1925 “Rhapsody in Black”.

In 1933 Waters appeared with Marilyn Miller, one of the most popular American musical comedy actress of the 1920s, in Irving Berlin’s musical “As Thousands Cheer”. This was Waters’s first departure from shows with all-black casts. Her rendition of “Heat Wave” in that show linked the song permanently to her. Considered one of the great blues singers, Ethel Waters also performed and recorded with such jazz greats as Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. Several composers wrote songs especially for her, and she was particularly identified with the songs “Dinah” and “Stormy Weather.”

Waters’s first straight dramatic role was in the 1939 production of DuBose and Dorothy Heyward’s “Mamba’s Daughters” which the Heywards wrote specifically for her. The show ran initially for 162 performances and again in 1940 for 17 more performances at the Broadway Theater. Later in 1940, Waters spent a season on Broadway in the hit musical “Cabin in the Sky”; she also appeared in the 1943 film version with lyrics by John Latouche.

Probably Waters’s greatest dramatic success was in the 1950 stage version of Carson McCullers’s “The Member of the Wedding”, a performance for which she won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. She also starred in the 1952 movie version with Julie Harris and Brandon De Wilde. Among Waters’s other films are the 1942 musical comedy “Cairo”; “Pinky”, a 1949 race-drama film; and the 1959 drama film“The Sound and the Fury”.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 21st of October, Solar Year 2018

The Art and the Man

October 21, 1925 was the birthdate of Cuban singer Ursula Hilaria Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso.

Celia Cruz was born in the diverse, working-class neighborhood of Santos Suárez in Havana, Cuba. While growing up in Cuba’s 1930s musical climate, Cruz listened to many musicians who influenced her adult career; Fernando Collazo, Pablo Quevedo and Arsenio Rodriguez among others. As a child, despite her father’s objections, she learned Santeria songs from a neighbor who practiced Santeria; she also studied Yoruba songs and made various recordings of this religious genre.

From 1947, Celia Cruz studied music theory, voice, and piano at Havana’s National Conservatory of Music. She began singing on Havana’s radio station Radio Garcia-Serra, winning first place on the station’s “Hora del Te” show for her tango song “Nostalgias”. Cruz’s big break came in 1950 when the Cuban band Sonora Matancera decided to give her a chance. She won the support of the band’s leader. Rogelio Martinez and recorded hit songs including “Yembe Laroco’ and “Caramelo”.

Celia Cruz toured with the band for fifteen years. During that time, she also appeared in cameo roles in Mexican films: the 1950 “Rincon Criollo”, “Una Gallega en la Habana”, and “Amorcito” released in 1961. After Fidel Castro assumed control of Cuba in 1959, the band left Cuba to perform in Mexico. Refused permission to return to Cuba by Castro, Celia Cruz and her husband, Cuban musician Pedro Knight, became United States citizens. In 1965, Cruz left the Sonora Matancera band, and with fellow musician Tito Puente, joined the Vaya Records label. Soon after that, she was headlining a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

In 1969, Celia Cruz won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Performance. Celia Cruz’s 1974 album “Celia y Johnny”, a collaboration with musician Johnny Pacheco, was very successful, particularly the song “Quimbara” which became one of her signature songs. Touring with the ensemble group “Fania All-Stars”, she sang in England, France, the DR Congo and in Latin America.

With a voice described as operatic, Celia Cruz moved through high and low pitches with an ease that belied her age, and her style improvising rhymed lyrics added a distinctive flavor to salsa. Her flamboyant costume, which included: various colored wigs, tight sequined dresses, and very high heels, became so famous that one of them was acquired by the Smithsonian institution.

Through a formidable work ethic, Cruz rose to the very top in her genre; a genre that was traditionally male dominated. Celia Cruz died at her home on July 16, 2003 at the age of 77. After her death, her body was taken to Miami’s Freedom Tower, where more than two hundred-thousand fans paid their respects. Her last album, “Regalo del Alma”, won a posthumous award at the 2004 Premios Lo Nuestro for best salsa release of the year.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 24th of September, Solar Year 2018

Attention Caught

September 24, 1893 was the birthdate of American blues and gospel singer Lemon Henry Jefferson.

Born blind, Lemon Henry Jefferson, known as “Blind Lemon” Jefferson, started playing guitar in his early teens. In the early 1910s, he traveled to Dallas, where met and played with the blues musician Lead Belly. Jefferson was one of the earliest and most prominent figures in the blues movement that developed in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas. It was here he met Aaron Thibeaux Walker, also known as T-Bone Walker. Jefferson taught Walker the basics of playing blues guitar in exchange for Walker’s occasional service as a guide.

Jefferson’s music was uninhibited and represented the classic sounds of everyday life from street corner blues to honky-tonk and gospel. Prior to Jefferson, few artists had recorded solo voice and blues guitar; but he became a successful solo guitarist and male vocalist in the commercial recording world. Jefferson was taken to Chicago in late 1925 by Paramount Records to record his songs. The first releases under his name were “Booster Blues” and “Dry Southern Blues”, both hit songs. Two other songs from the same session “Got the Blues” and “Long Lonesome Blues” also became hits, with sales in the six figures.

Jefferson recorded about one hundred tracks with Paramount between 1926 and 1929: forty-three records were issued. His sound and confident musicianship appealed to his audiences. Jefferson never stayed with any one musical convention, varying his riffs and rhythm and singing complex and heartfelt lyrics exceptional for that period of time.

Mayo Williams, Paramount’s connection with the black community, moved in 1927 to Okeh Records and took Jefferson with him. Okeh Records quickly recorded and released Jefferson’s “Matchbox Blues” with his “Black Snake Moan” on the obverse of the record. Jefferson, because of contract obligations, returned to Paramount, who because “Matchbox Blues” had become such a hit, released two new versions of the same song. In 1927 Jefferson recorded another of his classics “See That My Grave iI Kept Clean”, under the name of Deacon LJ Bates. That song was so successful that it was re-recorded and released again in 1928.

Blind Lemon Jefferson died in Chicago on December 19, 1929 at the age of thirty-six. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Wortham Black Cemetery in Freestone County, Texas. In 1967 a Texas historical marker was erected in the general area of his plot; the precise location is unknown. A new granite headstone was erected in 1997 with the inscription “Lord, it’s one kind favour I’ll ask of you, see that my grave is kept clean”. The cemetery’s name is now the Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery, maintained by a committee of citizens of Wortham.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 8th of August, Solar Year 2018

Lounging on White Cotton

August 8, 1907 was the birthdate of jazz saxophonist Bennett Lester Carter.

Bennett Carter appeared on record for the first time in 1927 as a member of the Paradise Ten led by Charlie Johnson. He did arrangement work for recordings by Fletcher Henderson and his band. Carter’s arrangement of the 1930 “Keep a Song in Your Soul” for Henderson was very complex and a significant song in his career. After leaving Fletcher, Carter became leader of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in Detroit until he formed his own band in New York City. The songs “Lonesome Nights” and Symphony in Riffs” written in 1933 show Carter’s masterful writing for saxophones.

By the early 1930s Bennett Carter was considered one of the leading alto saxophonists. He also became known as a leading trumpet player, having rediscovered the instrument from his childhood. Carter’s orchestra played the Harlem Club in New York but only recorded a few records for Columbia, Okeh (under the name of “The Chocolate Dandies”), and Vocalion.

In the middle 1940s, Bennett Carter made Los Angeles his home, forming another big band, which at times included Max Roach, JJ Johnson, and Miles Davis. But this would be the last big bands he would lead. With the exception of occasional concerts, performing with Jazz at the Philharmonic, and recording, he ceased working as a touring big band bandleader. Los Angeles provided him many opportunities for studio work, and these dominated his time during the next decades. He wrote music and arrangements for television and films, such as “Stormy Weather” in 1943. During the 1950s and ‘60s, he wrote many arrangements for vocalists such as Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Peggy Lee.

In 1969, Carter was persuaded to spend a weekend at Princeton University by Monroe Berger, a sociology professor at Princeton who wrote about jazz. This led to a new outlet for Carter’s talent: teaching. For the next nine years he visited Princeton five times, most of them brief stays except for one in 1973 when he spent a semester there as a visiting professor. In 1974 Princeton gave him an honorary doctorate. He conducted teaching at workshops and seminars at several other universities and was a visiting lecturer at Harvard.

Bennett Carter had an unusually long career. He was perhaps the only musician to have recorded in eight different decades. Another characteristic of his career was its versatility as musician, bandleader, arranger, and composer. He helped define the sound of alto saxophone, but he also performed and recorded on soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, and piano. Carter received the Jazz Masters Award in 1986 given by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts created by the United States Congress.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of May, Solar Year 2018

Dani Perched on a Chair

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the eighth studio album by the Beatles, is released in the United Kingdom on May 26, 1967.

In August of 1966, the Beatles permanently retired from touring and began a three month individual holiday. During a return flight to London in November from a Kenya holiday with tour manager Mal Evans, Paul McCartney had an idea for a song that eventually formed the impetus of the “Sgt. Pepper” concept. His idea involved an Edwardian military band, for which Evans invented a name in the style of contemporary San Francisco-based groups.

In February of 1967, after recording the title track “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, McCartney suggested releasing an entire album representing a performance by the fictional Sgt. Peppers band. This alter-ego group would give them the freedom to experiment musically. During the recording sessions, the band furthered the technological progression they had made with their 1966 album “Revolver”. Knowing they would not have to perform the tracks live, they adopted an experimental approach to composition and recording on songs such as “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.

Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick helped realize the group’s ideas by approaching the studio as an instrument, applying overdubs of an orchestra, sound effects and other methods of tape manipulation. Recording was completed on 21 April 1967. The cover, depicting the Beatles posing in front of a tableau of celebrities and historical figures, was designed by the British pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth. The album was released in the United Kingdom on May 26 and in the United States on June 2nd of 1967.

“Sgt. Pepper” is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the use of extended format in popular music while continuing the artistic maturation seen on the Beatles’ preceding releases. It is described as one of the first art rock long playing albums, aiding the development of progressive rock, and is credited with marking the beginning of the album era. For several years following the album’s release, straightforward rock and roll was supplanted by a growing interest in extended form, and for the first time in the history of the music industry sales of albums outpaced sales of singles.

With certified sales of 5.1 million copies, “Sgt. Pepper’ is the third best-selling album in the United Kingdoms’s chart history. In the United States, the Record Industry Association of America in 1997 certified 11 million album sales, making it one of the most commercially successful albums in the United States.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 16th of May, Solar Year 2018

The Master Chef in His Element

May 16, 1919 was the birthdate of Wladziu Valentino Liberace, the American singer, pianist and actor.

Liberace was born in West Allis, Wisconsin. His father was an immigrant from central Italy and his mother was of Polish descent. Liberace was born ‘en caul”, which in some cultures is indicative of genius, good luck or the promise of a prosperous future. He began playing the piano at age four. By the age of seven he was already memorizing difficult pieces and studying the technique of the Polish pianist Ignacy Pederewski.

In 1934 at age 15, he played jazz piano with a school group called “The Mixers” and later with other groups. He also showed an interest in draftsmanship, design, and painting, and became a fastidious dresser and follower of fashion. By this time, he was already displaying a penchant for turning eccentricities into attention-getting practices, and earned popularity at school.

Liberace, at the age of twenty, played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 15, 1940, at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, performing Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto under the baton of Hans Lange, for which he received strong reviews. By the late 1940s he changed from a classical pianist to an entertainer and showman, unpredictably and whimsically mixing the serious with light fare. He also added interaction with the audience—taking requests, talking with the patrons and making jokes. He began to pay greater attention to such details as staging, lighting, and presentation. The transformation to entertainer was driven by Liberace’s desire to connect directly with his audiences, and secondarily from the reality of the difficult competition in the classical piano world.

In 1956, Liberace had his first international engagement, playing successfully in Havana, Cuba. He followed up with a European tour later that year. Always a devout Catholic, Liberace considered his meeting with Pope Pius XII a highlight of his life. In 1960, Liberace performed at the London Palladium with Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. This was the first televised ‘command performance’, now known as the Royal Variety Performance, for Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

Liberace died on the late morning of February 4, 1987 at his retreat home in Palm Springs, California. He was 67 years old. His body is entombed at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. In 1994 the Palm Springs Walk of Stars dedicated a Golden Palm Star to him. Liberace was recognized during his career with two Emmy Awards, six gold albums, and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of April, Solar Year 2018

Lazy Sunday Morning

A pivotal figure in the history of jazz, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C.

Duke Ellington wrote his first composition “Soda Fountain Rag” in the summer of 1914 while working as soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Cafe. This piece was created by ear, as he had not yet mastered reading and writing music. At the age of 14, he began sneaking into poolrooms to listen to the poolroom pianists play, causing him to get serious about his piano lessons. With the guidance of Washington pianist and band leader Oliver “Doc” Perry, Ellington learned to read sheet music, project a professional style and improve his technique.

Ellington played in other band ensembles while at the same time working several day jobs. In late 1917 he formed and acted as booking agent for his first group “The Duke’s Serenaders”. He had a successful career in Washington D.C. playing for private society balls and embassy parties. When his drummer Sonny Greer was invited to join the Wilber Sweatman Orchestra in New York City, Ellington made the fateful decision to leave behind his successful career in Washington, D.C., and moved to Harlem, New York, ultimately becoming part of the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1925 Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra grew to a group of ten players; they developed their own sound by displaying the non-traditional expression of Ellington’s arrangements, the street rhythms of Harlem, and the exotic-sounding trombone growls and wah-wahs, high-squealing trumpets, and sultry saxophone blues licks of the band members.

In the late 1950s Ellington began to work directly on scoring for film soundtracks; one was the 1959 film “Anatomy of a Murder”, in which Ellington appeared fronting a roadhouse comb. Film historians have recognized the soundtrack of “Anatomy of a Murder” as a landmark – the first significant Hollywood film music by African Americans comprising non-diegetic music, that is, music whose source is not visible or implied by action in the film, like an on-screen band. The score avoided the cultural stereotypes which previously characterized jazz scores and rejected a strict adherence to visuals in ways that presaged the New Wave cinema of the 1960s.

Despite his advancing age in the 1960s and 70s, Ellington showed no sign of slowing down as he continued to make vital and innovative recordings: ‘The Far East Suite’, ‘New Orlean Suite’, ‘The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse’, and ‘Francis A and Edward K’, his only album recorded with Frank Sinatra. Ellington performed what is considered his final full concert in a ballroom at Northern Illinois University on March 20, 1974. At his funeral, attended by over 12.000 people at the cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion, saying “It’s a very sad day. A genius has passed”.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 1st of April, Solar Year 2018

Sea Adventure

April 1, 1895 is the birthdate of the American jazz singer and songwriter Alberta Hunter.

In her early teens Alberta Hunter began her singing career in small clubs in Chicago, Illinois. By 1914 she was receiving lessons from the prominent jazz pianist Tony Jackson who helped her expand her repertoire and compose her own songs. One of Hunter’s first notable experiences was singing at the Panama Club, a white-owned club with a white-only clientele. Her act was in the upstairs room where she began her developement as an artist in front of a cabaret crowd of patrons. Her big break came when she was booked at Dreamland Cafe, singing with the cornet jazz musician King Oliver and his band.

Alberta Hunter first toured Europe in 1917, performing in Paris and London. Her career as a singer and songwriter flourished in the 1920s and 30s; she appearred in clubs and on stage in musicals both in London and New York. At this time she wrote the critically acclaimed song “Downhearted Blues” (1922). Alberta Hunter recorded prolifically during the 1920s, starting with sessions for Black Swan in 1921, Paramount in 1922-24, Gennett in 1924, Okeh in 1925-26, Victor in 1927 and Columbia in 1929.

In 1928, Hunter played Queenie opposite Paul Robeson in the first London production of “Show Boat” at Drury Lane. She later performed in nightclubs throughout Europe and appeared in 1934 with Jack Jackson’s society orchestra in London. One of her recordings with Jackson is the famous song “Miss Otis Regrets”. She later moved to New York City, performing with Bricktop, the American female dancer and jazz singer, and recording with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet.

In the summer of 1976 , Alberta Hunter was connected with Barney Josephson, the legendary owner of the Greenwich Village club, The Cookery. He offered her a limited engagement at the club, which turned into a six year engagement and a revival of her music career after a fifteen year absence from the profession. Impressed by her press reviews, John Hammond signed Hunter to Columbia Records, where she made three albums.

Alberta Hunter was inducted to the Blues hall of Fame in 2011 and the Memphis Music Hall fo Fame in 2015. Her comeback album produced by Columbia Records, “Amtrack Blues”, was honored by the Blues Hall of Fame in 2009.

Down by the Old Mill Stream

Photographer Unknown, (Down by the Old Mill Stream)

“Down by the Old Mill Steam”, written by Tell Taylor, became one of the most popular songs of the 1900s. The publisher, Forster Music Publisher, Inc., sold four million copies.

Taylor wrote the song in 1908 while sitting on the banks of the Blanchard River in Findlay, Ohio. It is said that his friends persuaded him not to publish the song, believing it had no commercial value. Forster Music published it in 1910 and introduced it to the public with performances by the vaudeville quartet ‘The Orpheus Comedy Four’. The group performed it at a Woolworh store in Kansas City, selling all one thousand copies of its sheet music that Taylor had brought to the event. It is now a staple song for barbershop quartets.