The Boston Pops files: Encore (Fiedler’s Greatest Hits)

I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.

In yesterday’s post, we looked at the impact of the long running Evening at Pops series on the Pops’s repertoire and programs: namely, more pop music and celebrity involvement. (Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that these trends contributed to Evening at Pops, which then accelerated the pop music.) The shift was profound, so much so that when the Pops changed their recording contract from RCA to Deutsche Grammophon in 1970, they issued only their more “classical” recordings on DG; and issued their “pop audience” recordings, like yesterday’s and today’s, on DG’s child imprint Polydor. So records like today’s, 1971’s Encore: Fiedler’s Greatest Hits, automatically tip off which part of the Pops they represent simply by checking the label. (It’s probably not surprising that I haven’t come across a single “serious” DG-label Pops recording, but have several of the Polydor ones.)

So, Encore. If you read yesterday’s post about Julia Child’s Evening at Pops record, the format for Encore will look familiar: a side of pop material, a side of light classics. And the pop material is even more pop than usual: we get the “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet,” two Bacharach/David tunes (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”), the theme from Midnight Cowboy (presumably the only time the Pops has programmed the theme song to an X-rated motion picture), and “Aquarius” from Hair. (Yes, really.)

Side B finds us in more familiar Pops territory: samba, waltzes (Strauss and Richard Rodgers), a Sousa march, and, the sole non-dance “light classic” on the program, Khatchaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” Compared to the version that appears on Pops Festival (which was in turn anthologized from elsewhere), this version wears Army boots — it’s heavy, driving (at least 20% faster than the older take), and with a corresponding lack of detail in the performance. “Sabre Dance” was a “greatest hit” and appears to have suffered one of the fates of greatest hits—a certain fatigue and contempt on the part of the performers.

Here’s the Pops’ take on “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” Enjoy!

The Boston Pops files: Evening at Pops with Narration by Julia Child

I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.

In yesterday’s review of American Salute, we started to see the Boston Pops crossover machine in full swing as Chet Atkins joined the Pops and Arthur Fiedler for a few tracks on this album of Americana. Today’s 1972 record—a recent eBay find for me—is deep in the heart of crossover-land: it’s a document from a 1971 performance of Evening at Pops with a headliner celebrity narrator—the inimitable Julia Child, no less—and a bunch of lowercase-p pop songs, alongside the lightest of light classics.

Let’s start with Evening at Pops. Most modern audiences outside the Boston area probably trace their knowledge of the Boston Pops to this television program, which aired over PBS from 1970 to 2005 (that this is the year I joined the Tanglewood Festival Chorus can only be ironic coincidence). Wikipedia calls the program “the public television version of a variety show,” and this is a fair description, judging both from the contents of this record and the curiously wistful timeline captured on the program’s last website.

(Aside: I remember watching with my parents when I was a kid. It was one of a handful of true “hi-fi” TV experiences I had as a kid; since the program was often simulcast on both public television and public radio, my dad would turn down the TV volume and turn up the radio volume so we could get the program in full stereo accompanying the cramped visuals on our little 19″ TV. Ah, those were the days…)

In terms of programming, there are a few surprises here. The opening is a full-orchestra arrangement of John Morris’s great (second) theme song for The French Chef, Julia Child’s breakthrough PBS cooking show. I don’t know how many times the Pops performed the kids’ classic “Tubby the Tuba,” but Julia makes a hysterically sympathetic narrator in her trademark burbling tones—and adds a unique punchline all her own at the end. The Sesame Street gang also appeared in the 1971 Evening at Pops lineup, so an arrangement of the theme song follows “Tubby.” It’s in turn followed by “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” in an incredibly timely arrangement of the November 1971 hit based on a Coke jingle.

The second half of the record is more familiar Pops fare: we get two Leroy Anderson numbers (“Bugler’s Holiday” and “A Trumpeter’s Lullaby”), “Jalousie,” two Tchaikovsky movements from the Nutcracker (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Dance of the Toy Flutes”), and as a closer, “76 Trombones.” Almost all this fare could be found on earlier Pops recordings like Pops Festival.

So if you look at the overall program, it’s really a standard Pops program, with the celebrity narrator guest elevated to headliner. But by this time “standard Pops” was only about 50% light classics and was relying increasingly on pop songs and other pop-crossover fare. We’ll see that in tomorrow’s record as well.

Here’s Julia Child reading “Tubby the Tuba” from the TV broadcast. Enjoy!

The Boston Pops files: American Salute

I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.

We’re nearing the end of the Boston Pops records; just a handful more to go. And this is where it gets interesting, folks. We’re in the early 1970s and this is when the Pops really put the pop in their name. On the surface, 1972’s American Salute doesn’t seem that different from the 1971 Fiedler’s Favorite Marches compilation I reviewed last week, but there’s a very interesting difference lurking behind the cover…

Both covers feature Al Hirschfeld caricatures of Fiedler—this one in an attractive Statue of Liberty get-up. Both have some marches — in this case, “American Patrol,” an 1885 march by F.W. Meacham. Both even feature some lesser known classical works, in this case Morton Gould‘s 1942 “American Salute” and William Schuman’s “Chester” from New England Triptych. And then there’s the tracks on either side of “Chester” — the “Tennessee Waltz” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” both of which feature the guitar of Chet “Mr. Guitar” Atkins.

Let’s let that sentence sink in for a minute. Not only did Richard Hayman arrange Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” but Chet Atkins played guitar on it, as well as on “Galveston” and “Alabama Jubilee.” What happened?

As it happens, this album was the third to feature a collaboration between Atkins and Fiedler’s Pops, following The Pops Goes Country and Chet Picks on the Pops. Fiedler and Atkins shared a common interest in bursting free of their genre restrictions and “crossing over.” In these recordings, Atkins took his “Nashville Sound” to its logical conclusion: replacing anonymous backing string players with a full orchestra. And Fiedler was canny enough to recognize a collaborator who would broaden the audience for his Pops orchestra far beyond fans of “light classics”… though, some would argue, not without a cost.

Here’s the recording from the album of that “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” When we get back, we’ll be in the thick of the Pops’ mass popularity, with a visit from a very special guest and a whole new venue.

The Boston Pops files: Fiedler’s Favorite Marches

I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.

By the early 1970s there was beginning to be a shift in the way that the Pops records were marketed. Compare the cover of Fiddle-Faddle or Light Classics to this one, and it’s immediately apparent that Fiedler was starting to have a brand of his own. He had shown up on album covers before now, but the 1971 compilation Fiedler’s Favorite Marches puts him front and center—and as a Hirschfeld drawing, no less.

You’d expect a two-LP set of marches to be all Sousa all the time, and certainly Sousa compositions appear several times throughout. But, true to form, Fiedler’s selections also include non-obvious marches, like the march from Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges suite, the grand march from Aïda (also anthologized on Pops Festival), and even the erstwhile Hitchcock theme “Funeral March of a Marionette.” Grieg’s “March of the Dwarfs” (from the Lyric Suite) is a great example from the album: the intersection between familiar theme and light classical repertoire, in performances both immediate and engaging.

iTunes (finally) does better classical metadata

If, like me, you have a lot of classical music in your iTunes library, and, like me, you’ve despaired of organizing your music because of the limited support for classical-relevant digital audio file tags (conductor, anyone?), there’s a mild note of surprise in the latest round of iTunes updates.

One of the big challenges for me has been tagging and naming tracks that represent movements of a classical work. Do I use the rudimentary “Grouping” tag? Do I just put the work name and movement name in the Name tag (and lose the ability to view the name of the movement on my car display because the tag is too long)?

Well, as of iTunes 12.5, you can select the tracks that belong to the work, Get Info, and you’ll see a new checkbox at the top of the list: Use work and movement. Check that and you can enter the work and movement information and it will be neatly displayed when you’re browsing in iTunes or playing the tracks back on your iPhone or iPad.

It’s not perfect; Kirk McElhearn of MacWorld details some usability challenges with the feature (hint: copy the movement names down before you make the switch). But after many years with no new features in support of classical listeners, even a flawed metadata feature is like a breath of fresh air.

The Boston Pops files: Fiddle-Faddle

I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.

Monday’s post, about the Pops’ 1961 Light Classics album, addressed one big chunk of 1960s and 1970s Pops repertoire, the so-called “light classic” (about which more later). Missing from that album: distinctive original compositions written specifically for the Pops, which constitute a big part of the Pops DNA (if not always its active repertoire). One of the big contributors to this “Pops originals” set of compositions was composer and arranger Leroy Anderson. ; this 1962 Pops recording, Fiddle-Faddle, is devoted to his work.

Unless you follow the work of a Pops orchestra closely, the importance of the role of the arranger is hard to appreciate. Having now sung in the Holiday Pops for twelve seasons, it becomes clear that arrangers make or break an orchestra’s repertoire, and have a significant impact on whether the show delights and transports the audience or just leaves them cold. These days the Pops has David Chase (he of the “Twelve Days of Christmas“); in the 1960s they had Richard Hayman. And in the 1930s through the 1950s they had Leroy Anderson.

Boston Pops audiences these days are probably most familiar with Anderson’s work through “Sleigh Ride,” but he had a whole string of hits. His first hit, “Blue Tango,” went to Number One on the Billboard charts and was the first instrumental recording ever to sell one million copies. “Syncopated Clock” and “Plink, Plank, Plunk!” became theme songs for CBS television shows. Heck, I played “Syncopated Clock” in my long-past student string orchestra days (though I can’t remember if it was in middle or high school).

All of these compositions are here, along with a few I didn’t know but which are just as witty and winning (example: “Classical Juke Box,” which opens with a march treatment of “Music, Music, Music” and proceeds through a series of variations, separated by an ingenious percussion effect that mimics the sound of the record changing mechanism—and a section that mimics a skipping record). The only significant Anderson Pops work missing is “The Typewriter,” but never fear, I have a copy courtesy of Pops Festival.

That “light classics” aside: My TFC colleague Steve Owades pointed me to a 2016 article in the New York Times discussing the disappearance of “light classics” from Pops orchestra repertoire nationwide as those orchestras chase dwindling audiences with movie nights and pop artist crossovers. Our next Pops Files post will look at an early example of such a crossover.

Here’s the performance of “Classical Juke Box” from Fiddle-Faddle.

The Boston Pops files: Light Classics

I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.

I mentioned in Thursday’s post about Pops Festival, the massive 10-LP compilation that started my journey down this particular rabbit hole, that it had been compiled—er, “pleasure programmed“— from a number of other Pops LPs of the period, including today’s record, Light Classics (1961). How can I be sure? The giveaway is “In a Persian Market.”

I’ve previously said that a mainstay of the midcentury Boston Pops repertoire was lesser known classics from 19th and early 20th century European composers. “In a Persian Market,” by Albert William Ketèlbey (1875-1959), is a perfect poster child for the typical work. Romantic melodies are bookended by a faux-exotic street scene featuring “a chorus of beggars [singing] ‘baksheesh, baksheesh Allah,'” at least according to Wikipedia. On this Pops recording, the words of the beggars are sung by the orchestra, and are performed as “nyaah nyaah nyaah”s rather than distinguishable words. It’s the “nyaah nyaah nyaah”s that are the identifying feature confirming that the same recording is used for Pops Festival.

The rest of the set is, for “light classics,” amazingly solid and surprisingly varied. “Flight of the Bumblebee” and “Ride of the Valkyries,” while both well-known to the point of cliché today, are briskly but convincingly performed, while Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” is a widescreen opening number featuring nearly every section of the orchestra in turn. “Hora Staccato,” while credited to Dinicu and Heifetz, is presented in a full orchestral arrangement which diminishes some of the purely virtuosic elements required of the performers, instead bringing a spotlight on the melody. The seemingly mandatory dance number, rather than a popular ballad or Viennese waltz, is by Bolzoni, and appears to have been a favorite of Fiedler’s who had previously programmed it on the 1958 Boston Tea Party record. The closing “Merry Wives of Windsor Overture” brings the record to a pleasant conclusion.

An aside about provenance: I had actually forgotten I owned this record until I went to shelve some of the newer LPs and found it waiting unplayed in its sleeve. I believe I purchased it in the late 2000s from a (now closed) used record shop at the corner of Mass Ave and Boylston, which was notable both for its proximity to the Berklee College of Music and for its immense stock of old Boston Pops and Boston Symphony records. This one was virtually unplayed, and no matter how “light” is a delight to listen to.

The recording below of “In a Persian Market” is the same one on this recording, and illustrates one of the challenges of writing about the Pops’ recorded output—with so many compilations and reissues of their recordings, it’s hard to tell what was recorded and released when. But it’s still a fun listen!

The Boston Pops files: Pops Festival

I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.

This is it. This is the record (er, 10 record set) that got me started down this slippery slope. Pops Festival is a “Reader’s Digest Pleasure Programming” boxed set of ten LPs containing what appear to be reissues of many Pops records and recordings from the 1960s on up.  It’s a truly massive set that hits huge chunks of the Pops’ repertoire (light European classics and waltzes, American orchestral works, pop favorites), only omitting Christmas music.A gift from my mother-in-law from my late father-in-law’s collection, I had only looked at bits of it until recently when I decided to buckle down and listen to the whole thing (and digitize it for easier review later).

While I haven’t been able to listen to all the records, I believe the set has tracks from at least the following Fiedler/Pops recordings:

And that’s just the first few that I checked. Of course, there’s a lot of room on two sides of 10 LPs.

Which leads to the best and worst things about this monumental set. It’s tremendously rewarding to immerse yourself in this set. It’s also impossible to consume in one sitting. But the just under 100 (!) selections in the set are a fascinating cross section of Pops repertoire, opening with Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris, cheek by jowl with selections from My Fair Lady and Bernstein’s Fancy Free. Ferdé Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite sits on one side of disc 2; a set of Leroy Anderson favorites (“The Typewriter,” “The Syncopated Clock,” “Chicken Reel”) on the other. Victory at Sea tunes are opposite a side of Latin dance music. Other records have family-friendly light classical repertoire, Viennese waltzes, and a side of dance tunes that concludes with the Pops’ arrangement of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

Though I’m fairly sure that it was Readers’ Digest editors, not Fiedler himself, who selected and sequenced the anthology, the breadth and range of the repertoire makes a strong argument that the distinction between “high” and “low” art — or brow, if you will — is largely imaginary. If it’s good, Fiedler’s performances seem to say, it’s worth playing, regardless of where it comes from. There a spirit of generosity, and even more broadly, of democracy in the collective weight of this set. It’s an argument that would be interesting to revisit in the repertoire of the current Pops.

The Boston Pops files: Liebestraum

As I mentioned yesterday, I found myself recently in possession of a whole pile of Arthur Fiedler/Boston Pops records. Not all of them were the pure pop crossover of the Paul Simon album; many contained material that more neatly met my imagination of what a Pops album from the 1960s could be. But I learned in the process of putting these records to digital just how impoverished my imagination was with regards to the art of the possible. Let’s explore how broad Fiedler’s vision was for the Pops with the 1961 recording Liebestraum, in many respects the most conventional of the albums I got.

The tracklist for Liebestraum falls broadly into two categories: works composed or arranged for orchestra by various 19th and 20th century European composers, and dance and pop tunes arranged for the orchestra by the house arrangers. In the former camp is the title tune, a Liszt piano work that receives a full orchestral arrangement; the “Lullaby” from the Gayne ballet suite by Khatchaturian (from whence also comes the insanely catchy and very different “Sabre Dance”); a remarkably tender performance of Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” and the overture to The Bohemian Girl by Balfe.

It’s the latter camp that makes up the bulk of the album, with romantic dance numbers (“Moonglow and the Theme from Picnic” and a remarkably straight faced “Hernando’s Hideaway”) sitting alongside more uptempo dance numbers, including the “Dancing Through the Years” medley (which touches the Charleston, the tango, square dance, and others) and “Jalousie,” a tango that Fiedler famously picked up in sheet music form in a Boston store and turned into a hit record.

The performance is uniformly of a high level and repays careful listening—remember, this Boston Pops’ alter ego was Charles Munch’s Boston Symphony Orchestra. But it also works well as highbrow background music for dinner or dancing—which, judging from my father-in-law’s record collection, was an extremely good match for the record-buying public’s tastes at the time.

Here’s the first few tracks of the record.

The Boston Pops files: Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops Play the Music of Paul Simon

In my not-so-copious spare time, I’ve been going through and starting to really focus on digging into the vinyl I’ve accumulated over the years. The trigger this time was a double whammy: the cataloguing of a bunch of records from my father-in-law and his brother, and the gift of a bunch of records in dubious condition from our most recent Hackathon. I don’t know if the Great Record Rip will ever be finished, but I’m pretty sure it won’t get done if I don’t start doing it.

So one of the subthemes I ran across in all three sets was records by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. There are a lot of these that were released over the years—many more than I realized when I started the project. And the one that really made me sit up and take notice is this one: Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Play the Music of Paul SimonIt happened like this:

My good friend and colleague Mark Kriegsman is talking to me about two months ago about Hackathon and is clearly excited about something. He invites me into the Hack Lab (a large storage space containing Hackathon preparation and relics) and points me to a record player and about 14 egg crates full of LPs. I start flipping through, and there’s the Pops/Paul Simon record.

I am a huge Paul Simon fan. But I’ve heard my share of poor Paul Simon covers, so I just had to drop the needle on Side 2. “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” And it’s brilliant. Great orchestration by Richard Hayman, sprightly and not above being a little ridiculous—the pizzicato strings transition into vocal melody carried by the woodwinds, and I think there’s an electric piano in the mix. The brass take the second verse, and the third verse has everybody and a tambourine. I had to have the record.

The rest of the record veers between the playful and serious. “Cecilia” is awesome as well, with hand percussion opening and the orchestra settling into a hoedown rhythm led by the lower brass. Bongos make an appearance in the final coda. “Homeward Bound” feels like it could have been one of the Pops’ crossover country numbers with Chet Atkins (about which more later). Some of the numbers are a little more solemn, and in fact the closing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a little lugubrious. But overall the record brings a smile, and what more could you ask?

As to why the Pops was devoting a whole album to the music of Paul Simon? That’s a whole different story.

Here’s the Pops arrangement of the “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).”

Cocktail Friday: Remember the Maine

While traveling in Las Vegas last week, I had an opportunity to revisit my favorite advice about Las Vegas: whenever possible, get off the Strip. In this case, we led a pilgrimage to Herbs & Rye, likely my second favorite cocktail bar in town and one of my top 10 anywhere. It was near the end of a long week so I didn’t play my usual game of “stump the bartender” and try to find something off the menu. And I didn’t need to, because smack in the middle of the first page was this classic.

The Remember the Maine, in addition to recalling one of the earliest and most notorious episodes of yellow journalism, is a delightful cocktail. What on paper appears to be a minor variation on the rye Manhattan tastes like an entirely new drink thanks to the combination of the sweetness of the cherry liqueur (Herbs & Rye and I both use Cherry Heering) and the bracing absinthe (I used Herbsaint).

And the drink has a wonderful backstory. Coming from Charles H. Baker’s 1939 book A Gentleman’s Companion is this description of the drink:

REMEMBER the MAINE, a Hazy Memory of a Night in Havana during the Unpleasantnesses of 1933, when Each Swallow Was Punctuated with Bombs Going off on the Prado, or the Sound of 3″ Shells Being Fired at the Hotel NACIONAL, then Haven for Certain Anti-Revolutionary Officers.

As always, if you want to try the recipe, here’s the Highball recipe card. Enjoy!

Veterans Day 2017: remembering Uncle Reeves

Uncle Reeves and Aunt Jewell, early 1970s

My family has about the average number of veterans and career military personnel. I’ll write another day about the long career of my mom’s brother John Brackbill and his service in the Army and Navy. But on this particular day-before-Veterans Day, I’m thinking about my Uncle Reeves.

Reeves Dennis Church enlisted in August 1941, leaving his life as a merchant in Hot Springs, North Carolina. He trained in Boston; near the end of his life he told us highly abbreviated and edited stories of the infamous Scollay Square. In June 1942 he sailed to New York on the USS Siren as a seaman first class. By September he was sailing from Key West to Cuba, still on the Siren, having been promoted to yeoman third class. He was still serving on the Siren in March 1944, but had been promoted to Yeoman First Class. By May of that year he headed back to New York, when the Siren was decommissioned, and he was discharged in 1945.

USS Siren was a patrol yacht, originally assigned to coastal defense in New England, then redeployed to convoy duty along the southeastern US coast and in the Caribbean. As part of the crew, Reeves traveled to Trinidad, Jamaica, Key West, Cuba, and even to Brazil, and helped to rescue survivors of a U-Boat sunk by a Navy patrol plane.

That was the most excitement my uncle had. After the war, he returned home and married my Aunt Jewell, and settled into a quiet life, working for the NC state highway department. After retiring he would frequently give Appalachian Trail hikers seeking a zero a lift from the trail into Hot Springs. By the time I got to know him, thirty years after his discharge, you’d never have known that he spent the war keeping our country safe.

Which is one of the unique privileges we have had in America: to be kept safe by those ordinary people who volunteered to do extraordinary things.

Dave Brubeck and me

Back cover of the Telarc recording of To Hope! I’m in the mass of choristers in white on the steps in the back.

As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post and have previously alluded, there’s a musical story that I haven’t told about my life. It’s tied up with Reilly Lewis and the Cathedral Choral Society, and marks my first brush with a celebrity musician (at least, outside the classical world; the first was with the great Robert Shaw, with whom I sang Hindemith’s When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom’d the previous season).

We were performing Brubeck’s To Hope! A Celebration, a most unusual work that combined jazz with traditional mass structure—if not traditional mass texts. It’s still the only work of which I’m aware that incorporates both a fugue and a gospel stride piano number. The music didn’t make a lot of sense with just rehearsal piano, but everything was about to change.

It was spring at the National Cathedral, which meant rehearsal space conflicts. So we were across the street in the gymnasium of the National Cathedral School running through the music again. At one point, while Reilly Lewis was addressing the chorus, the door opened in the corner and I saw out of the corner of my eye two men enter: Russell Gloyd, who would conduct the chorus and orchestra, and a tall, white-haired man with a wide grin: Dave Brubeck.

After everyone applauded, Reilly said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to do this,” and sprinted to the piano where he played the first three bars of “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” Everybody cracked up, and Brubeck said, “Keep going!” That moment set the tone for the collaboration.

When it came to the day of the performance, it was odd to see large numbers of microphones and a large sound console halfway down the nave. It was then that the magnitude of what we were doing hit me: this was the recording team from Telarc, Brubeck’s label, who were going to record us. We got through the performance, about which I remember very little except for Brubeck’s introduction of his band—Bobby Millitello on sax, Rodney Richards on drums, and Jack Six (“S-I-X!”) on bass—and then got out of our performance clothes and got comfortable.

We had been told that we would record “patches” to cover over places where outside noise or glitches in the performance marred the live take. “Patches” ended up taking hours. At one point we needed to do a couple takes of one particularly tricky moment for the chorus that had been garbled in the performance, and the band (except for Brubeck) took a break. We nailed the take, and then the producer called for the band again. Apparently they had stepped outside for a cigarette; someone had to be sent to fetch them through the outside door located in the far end of the nave from our recording location in the transept.

When they came back in, doing the long march up a side aisle along the nave, Brubeck dryly broke into “When The Saints Go Marching In.” And the chorus sang along. It’s the only time that I ever improvised with a jazz legend.

The live recording was issued as To Hope! A Celebration by Telarc and remains the only jazz album on which I’ve performed.

Dipping into the Brubeck discography

I’ve been a fan of Dave Brubeck’s jazz since I first listened to my parents’ copy of Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits, which is how I discovered “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” Since then I picked up many of the great man’s recordings (including A Dave Brubeck Christmas, which I reviewed for Blogcritics back in the day), and even got a chance to sing with him. Which, apparently, is a story I haven’t told in much detail (though some parts are here and here).

But I hadn’t dug systematically into his discography, at least not in the same way that I had Coltrane or Miles. So when, during this fall’s Veracode Hackathon, a small truckload of vinyl showed up, I was thrilled to find some Brubeck records I hadn’t yet listened to. And then to pick them up for a dollar apiece at the end-of-Hackathon fire sale/fundraiser.

The three records are all different and all interesting. Gone With the Wind is a Georgia-themed recording, and Dave and the quartet dip into a bunch of different Deep South themed material, including works by Stephen Foster (“Swanee River,” aka “Old Folks at Home,””Camptown Races”) and works by non-Southerners that have grown deeply associated with the region (“Ol’ Man River,” “Shortnin’ Bread”). There’s no way in hell you’d get this record made today, given the echoes of slavery, minstrelsy, and other signs of our original national sin. But Brubeck and Paul Desmond turn in a convincing reading of the material.

What’s fascinating is that the record, which was released in 1959, was recorded after Brubeck had recorded Time Out. Columbia was apparently nervous about the odd time signatures the group was researching for the latter record and demanded something more conventional as insurance. Of course, Time Out turned out to be one of the great jazz classics of all time, while Gone With the Wind has been largely forgotten. It’s also fascinating to realize that this pleasant but largely inconsequential record was produced by Teo Macero, who was Miles Davis’s producer at Columbia—and that Teo recorded sessions with both Miles and Brubeck on the same day, April 22, 1959, for these very different albums.

The other two albums are less substantial still. Southern Scene features quartet, trio and solo performances of more Southern-adjacent standards, while Jazz: Red Hot and Cool marks a pleasant but ordinary set of live recordings of the quartet prior to the arrival of Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass.

But the delightful thing is that all three albums were well maintained, despite their bargain sale price, and sounded fantastic on the turntable. I think this vinyl hunting could get to be a habit …

Catching up

A List Apart: Web Typography: Designing Tables to be Read, Not Looked At. One of my pet peeves is tables that can’t be scanned easily. There are some great tips here, including some CSS features I didn’t know about (like td { text-align: “.” center; to align a column of numbers at a decimal point!).

Talking Points Memo: Compromise and the Civil War. Short essay by Josh Marshall outlining the insanity behind John Kelly’s remarks on how the failure to “compromise” led to the Civil War. In fact, it was the South’s refusal to accept any compromise on slavery that led directly to the conflict.

Amadeus Pro: Elimination of a continuous background noise. I’m digitizing a lot more vinyl these days and need to check into this feature to “denoise” a track based on a sample of, for instance, needle hiss.

Archive.org: 78rpm Records Digitized by George Blood, L.P. Definitely going to dig into this. There’s a Twitter feed too.

Numero Group records. The makers of the “Eccentric Soul” series, which blew the top of my head off the first time I heard it (“You Can’t Blame Me,” anyone?).