Building (Old) Cabell Hall

Old Cabell Hall at UVA under construction, courtesy Columbia University Libraries

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole on the University of Virginia’s Old Cabell Hall recently. I was originally looking for the origin of the statues that originally lined the lobby, and ended up finding something even more interesting.

First, those statues. When I was first doing research almost two decades ago on the University of Virginia and the Glee Club, I came across a series of photos in the UVA Library digital collections that showed marble statues lining the railing of the basement stairs in Cabell Hall:

Rufus W. Holsinger. Cabell Hall University of Virginia.

The photo dates to 1915, so about 15-18 years after the construction of the building. I haven’t been able to find a lot of other evidence regarding the statues, save for one additional photo (present in a couple of different prints and transparencies):

Lobby of Old Cabell Hall. Courtesy University of Virginia Library.

This latter photo was taken eight years later, in 1923. A UVA Magazine feature from 2016 discusses the statues, naming them as copies of the most famous Greek statues (Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, the Venus de Milo, the Discobolus, and the Apollo Belvedere), but does not disclose their origin. However, they do name their source, and Philip Alexander Bruce’s 1922 History of the University of Virginia offers a clue as to their disappearance:

An acute need was felt about 1911—12 for classical scholarships which would enable the most promising students in the School of Latin to undertake an advanced course without leaving the University of Virginia. A costly stereopticon was now regularly used by the head of the school, in the course of his lectures, in illustration of classical art and life, while plaster-casts of several of the most beautiful statues of the Roman and Greek civilizations had been bought and put in place in Cabell Hall for public exhibition. (V: 121)

So apparently the statues were only plaster, explaining both their sudden appearance without any note in the Board of Visitors records and their seeming disappearance later.

In the course of looking for the statues, though, I found even more interesting info about the construction of the hall, in the form of a series of photographs from a collection of photos of the works of McKim, Mead and White that is housed at Columbia University. There you can see details of the construction of the building, including the Guastavino tiled vaults in the basement and the use of structural steel in the construction, as well as the amphitheater levels under construction.

Previously: The Old Cabell Hall skylight.

New Glee Club live recording: 53rd Annual Christmas Concert

When I was at my reunion earlier this month at the University of Virginia, we hosted a Virginia Glee Club and Virginia Women’s Chorus reception at 3 and 5 West Lawn. The Club’s manager Travis brought some refreshments (we had an abundance of charcuterie for some strange reason) and some Club swag – stuffed Wafnas (Wafnæ?), branded stress balls, etc. He also had a tattered cardboard box that had been in the Club’s storage unit for years.

He said, “I think you might be able to make use of this.”

Inside? Cassettes, CDs, two VHS tapes (!) and a handful of DATs. Including this one—the recording of the second night of the Glee Club’s Christmas concerts from my fourth and final year in the group, recorded December 11, 1993 at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville.

As Stefon would say, this one has it all: many settings of the Ave Maria including a world premiere of a setting by Alice Parker; almost the entire Missa Ave Maria by Cristóbal de Morales (the group hadn’t learned the “Credo” yet at this point in the season); and an incandescent version of “Betelehemu” by Babatunde Olatunji with William Whalen that included polyrhythmic drumming, forthright vocal performances and some … eccentric solos.

Aside: I previously wrote about how listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan informed my solo strategy for this work. The other part of my strategy consisted of picking a couple of words in Yoruba that looked like they belonged together and improvising vocally on those. It must have worked since a young woman from Nigeria came up to me after the show and thanked me for singing in her language.

The other soloists on “Betelehemu” were Tyler Magill, who memorably flubbed part of his solo and shouted “Whoopee!” before recovering and doing an extended improvised trio with me and the third soloist (uncredited, but we think it was probably Tom Nassif).

There were no recordings released from my fourth year. Club director John Liepold intended to produce a CD (which would have been our first) of music commissioned by the Glee Club around the Ave Maria theme, but the project never came to fruition. Releasing this live recording from that Christmas concert feels a little like correcting a long-overdue imbalance, as well as revisiting voices I haven’t heard in many years.

You can stream the album below or purchase it on Bandcamp.

Johnny Hartman, This One’s for Tedi

Album of the Week, June 12, 2024

Singers are unique in that their instrument ages with them. For instance, Ron Carter’s bass has no less range than it did when he was a twenty-something playing with Miles. (A flawed comparison, I suppose, since you can hear the effects of age on brass and wind players as their lung capacity and embouchure age.) But with singers you can hear every effect of age on the instrument—even if the singer is as careful a performer as Johnny Hartman.

In 1980, fifteen hears after we last heard him, Hartman was 57 years old—not what you might consider “old” today, but you could definitely hear the almost 20 years of additional age in his voice. The phrases are less carefree, less burnished. And they’re shorter; one of the biggest impacts of his life on his instrument was the emphysema from years of smoking that would claim his life three years later, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York. But they’re still recognizably Hartman, and the way he uses the low range of his voice for emphasis and turns a phrase into gold with dynamics and rubato is still as magical here—even if he leaves you anxious to hear how he’ll get some of the longer phrases across the finish line. The accompaniment is simple, with Lorne Lofsky (who would spend much of the subsequent decade performing with Oscar Peterson) on guitar, Chris Conner on bass, Craig “Buff” Allen on drums, and Tony Monte on piano and arranging. The recording was apparently the first all-digital recording (which was then a desirable thing!) to be made in Canada.

Hartman’s performance of the Alan Brandt/Bob Haymes standard “That’s All” displays some of the weaknesses of his voice as well as the remaining strengths. Hartman’s voice is less present the higher it climbs above the staff, and there is some minor inaccuracy in pitch in a few places. But his lower register is still rich and resonant, and the ensemble provides sympathetic backing that supports rather than overwhelms his voice, particularly from Lofsky’s guitar.

By contrast, his performance of the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is surer, and rendered infinitely cooler by Chris Conner’s walking bass line, which is his only accompaniment for the first verse. Monte gets in a solid verse of a piano solo, cuing up Hartman’s re-entry on the bridge. His swing at “we may never, never meet again” is loose and fluid, and his final “they can’t take that away from me,” which unexpectedly lands on the leading tone, leaving the question, and the chord, teasingly unresolved.

More I Cannot Wish You” (by Frank Loesser, from Guys and Dolls) has one of the most subtle and affecting performances on the album. With just Monte’s piano behind him, Hartman tells the story of an aging man wistfully wishing that his young beloved will find her own love and “strong arms to carry you away.” Paul McCartney, on his standards album (hilariously entitled Kisses on the Bottom), talked about this song as though it were sung by a father to his daughter. Perhaps; there’s an awful lot of regret in Hartman’s reading that suggests a different relationship.

Rodgers and Hart’s supple “Wait Til You See Her” might be the most accomplished of all the performances on the album. Monte’s piano keeps things moving through in a brisk 6/8, which Hartman’s voice nimbly dances through on the first verse. Lofsky’s solo sneaks in a deft quotation from Sonny Rollins’ “Valse Hot,” moving the arrangement quickly into Hartman’s reprise. It’s a delightful reading and shows that Hartman still had some fire in him.

Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” has been covered many different ways, including Kirsty MacColl’s cockeyed waltz (leading into the brilliant headlong swirl of the Pogues’ “Just One of Those Things”) on the Red Hot and Blue compilation. Hartman starts it as a tender ballad, then transitions it into a swinging waltz worthy of Sinatra.

Then I’ll Be Tired of You,” by Arthur Schwartz and “Yip” Harburg, gives away the central theme of the album as it starts side two: “If my throbbing heart/Should ever start repeating/That it is tired, tired of beating/Then I’ll be tired… then I’ll be tired of you.” It helps to know that Tedi was Hartman’s wife of many years. This is a deeply tender performance by the whole band. The performance seems tenderer in contrast to the more uptempo “It Could Happen to You” (Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke).

A contemporary review of the album in Fanfare noted that it featured a “haunting fresh rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’ with a truly singular piano accompaniment by Monte,” and it’s hard to argue. This is one of the standards that I’ve always struggled with, having heard many hackneyed versions thanks to easy listening radio in the early 1980s, but here it’s truly affecting thanks to the depths of Hartman’s voice, his powerful rubato, and the accents from Monte’s piano.

You Stepped Out of a Dream,” by Nacio Herb Brown and Gus Kahn, brings the tempo back up, featuring a briskly brilliant guitar solo from Lofsky. Here Hartman seems weightless, especially on the line “Have you all to myself, alone and apart/Out of a dream, safe in my heart.” Only the slightly abrupt end of his final sustained note gives away the great singer’s vocal challenges.

The Ballad of the Sad Young Men” is the most challenging song, lyrically, on the album. Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf’s ballad could be read of a piece with the great Sinatra dark ballads on In the Wee Small Hours or No One Cares. But Hartman’s voice imbues not only pathos into the song (“Sad young men are growing old/That’s the saddest part”) but also benediction (“Misbegotten moon shine for sad young men/Let your gentle light guide them home again”), before the final “All the sad young men” betrays a slight smile in Hartman’s voice as he looks back at the inevitable dramas of youth from the perspective of age.

Hartman’s passing came at something of an inflection point in jazz song, as the old guard of singers were retiring, passing the torch, and passing on. My highly selective survey jumps forward next time to some folks who are carrying the art along in some very distinctive ways.

You can hear this week’s album here:

Johnny Hartman, The Voice That Is!

Album of the Week, June 15, 2024

Johnny Hartman, as we’ve discussed before, was essentially plucked from obscurity by John Coltrane in March of 1963 and catapulted to the next tier of jazz prominence—not exactly to stardom but at least much closer to being a household name. Among other effects on his life, the success of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman got him a brief recording contract on Impulse! Records, this week’s album is the final entry in that series. Recorded in two separate sessions on September 22 and 24, 1964 at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, the sessions were backed by the Hank Jones quartet and by an octet arranged by Bob Hammer.

The More I See You,” a Mack Gordon/Harry Warren song from the film Diamond Horseshoe and subsequently a jazz standard. is one of the quartet sessions. Hartman’s cheery, easy delivery is underscored by Hank Jones’ piano and the breezy guitar of Barry Galbraith. The performance stays mostly in Hartman’s mid-range, only occasionally dipping into the velvet end of the baritone that made his performances with Coltrane so memorable. But there’s still some signs of the distinctive performance style, especially his tendency to dip down into the low end of his range (rather than the high) to emphasize a musical idea on the last chorus.

The jacket calls the next track, an octet performance, “the first vocal interpretation” of “A Slow Hot Wind,” a Henry Mancini track with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. The track features a percussive idiophone part, originally performed on the lujon and here played on the marimba by Phil Kraus, and a vocal line anchored in that deep end where Hartman’s voice is so effective. The second chorus after the sax solo is brilliantly phrased: “There in the shade with a cool drink … waiting…”

Bart Howard, who authored the next track “Let Me Love You,” also wrote “Fly Me to the Moon,” and the walking bass intro shows it. This is Hartman in upbeat swinging mode, and it’s pleasant enough, but doesn’t show off his strengths nearly as well as the next track. “Funny World (the theme from Malamondo)” is an Ennio Morricone composition given a gentle exotic tinge by the octet, especially the maracas and other “Latin percussion” by Willie Rodriguez and by Howard Collins’ guitar. Hartman’s entrance reveals that the tune is actually in 6/8, and more surprises lie ahead, including a brilliant flute line from Dick Hafer and the brilliant dip down to the tonic in Hartman’s bridge as he sings “Funny thing, I should choose you.” This song was later performed by Astrud Gilberto, and it sounds at once idiomatically Brazilian and naturally Hartman in this performance.

I can’t listen to “These Foolish Things,” by Jack Strachey and Holt Marvell with Harry Link, without thinking of the perfume ad for “Nostalgia” in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ The Watchmen, thanks to the lyric “Silk stockings thrown aside/Dance invitations/Oh how the ghost of you clings.” But that’s not the most jaw-dropping lyrical moment in the song; that would have to be: “You came/You saw/You conquered me… When you did that to me/I knew somehow this had to be/The winds of march that made my heart a dancer/A telephone that rings but who’s to answer…” It’s a brilliant ballad performance by Hartman throughout, with sensitive timing and that brilliant voice.

My Ship,” by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Ira Gershwin from the musical Lady in the Dark, is another great ballad given greater scope by Hartman’s lyric timing. When he sings “the sun sits high/in a sapphire sky,” it’s a perfect word painting. He starts “the sun” a fourth below the tonic, comes up a whole step, and then jumps an octave on “sits high” but is still in his upper middle range thanks to that low start. He never uncorks his high range until the end: “If the ship I sing/Doesn’t also bring/My own true love to me.”

The Day The World Stopped Turning,” by Buddy Kaye and Phillip Springer, is more richly orchestrated, with a flute part that seems to flutter out of tune for a half a measure until the rest of the arrangement shows that the whole band is shifting through key changes with every measure. The gentle Latin flavor is here in spades, but the song comes and goes quickly. The Frank Loesser standard “Joey, Joey, Joey,” by contrast, is given a one minute intro by just Hartman and Rodriguez, the former singing through the verse phrase by phrase and receiving answers from Rodriguez’s percussion. When the chorus comes, Hartman shifts into a slow samba, then back into the free unaccompanied rhythm of the second verse.

Sunrise, Sunset” is surely one of the better-known (and newest) standards in this collection. Written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock for Fiddler on the Roof, the song here opens with guitar alone accompanying Hartman on the verse. Hartman unsurprisingly finds new depths of pathos even in this saddest of the songs from the musical; his reading of “When did he grow to be … so tall” wrecks me. On the verse the rest of the band is subtle, with careful addition of marimba and bass to the guitar so as to not crowd the great voice. It’s a devastating performance.

Waltz for Debby,” the Bill Evans classic here given lyrics by Evans’ friend Gene Lees, continues the theme of childhood in a somewhat happier though still nostalgic vein. His line “they will miss her I know/but then so will I” is given more bounce and less poignancy by the drums of Osie Johnson, who seems to skitter and bounce along the outlines of the great tune.

Hartman closes the album with “It Never Entered My Mind,” the Rodgers and Hart classic from Higher and Higher. It’s a bluesy ballad written for Hartman’s strengths with the dip down below the tonic on “If you scorn me/I’ll sing a loser’s prayer again.” His time-stopping cadenza on the closing “It never entered my mind” is breathtaking. I find myself flipping the record (or, honestly, just replaying the album on Apple Music) to hear it all again.

After this album, the singer moved to Impulse’s parent label, ABC-Paramount, to try to reach a wider audience. He was dropped after his second album for ABC in 1967 flopped, and recorded albums for several smaller labels in the following decade-plus. Next week we’ll listen to a studio recording from the end of his career.

You can listen to this week’s album here:

P.D.Q. Bach, A Little Nightmare Music

Album of the Week, June 8, 2024

No one can execute perfectly, every time, along the arc of a career. Shostakovich had Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which got him exiled. Mariah Carey had Glitter and Charmbracelet. And Peter Schickele had A Little Nightmare Music. It’s not that this, his last album for Vanguard Records, was bad, exactly; it’s just that the jokes don’t land.

Schickele was in a different place by 1983 when this album was released. The music was recorded in the studio, so didn’t have any “punch” from the audience laughing. Also, longtime collaborator and “bargain counter tenor” John Ferrante is not to be found on the recording. I used to wonder \ if he had died, but he was still performing later in 1983; a falling out? At any rate, his absence is felt.

(Ferrante would, in fact, pass away four years later, on May 28, 1987, so perhaps he was simply not well enough to record. I always find it sad that I have to search for that newspaper article; if any countertenor deserves a Wikipedia page, it’s him. Hmm…)

At any rate, hot on the heels of the 1979 Broadway production of Amadeus (and actually anticipating the theatrical release of the movie adaptation by a few months), which clearly inspired the cover art, we have “A Little Nightmare Music” (S.35), representing a purported actual nightmare of P.D.Q. Bach. In the dream, he was a servant at a meeting between Mozart, Salieri, and the mysterious writer Peter Schlafer, who appears by his dress to have come from another century, “perhaps the twentieth.” Schlafer irritates Salieri by casting aspersions on his compositional career and unfavorably comparing him to Mozart, and Salieri is finally enraged enough to pour poison into Schlafer’s wine—only to watch horrified as the buffoonish P.D.Q. trips and accidentally gives the poisoned wine to Mozart instead. There are recriminations and violence all around.

The actual work is composed almost entirely of the actual “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” with vocal lines for Salieri (James Billings, baritone) and Schlafer (Bruce Ford, tenor) above. The lines are occasionally funny, but the burden of the plot and the lack of swerves into the rich nonsense that characterized some of the earlier P.D.Q. outings make it one of the lesser numbers in the Schickele catalog.

Which is a shame, because “Octoot” (S. 8) is a genuine riot. Written for a woodwind octet, the writing is sharp and funny, and Schickele brings back some of the brilliant instrumentation for which his best P.D.Q. numbers were famous. The writing for double reeds without the use of the oboes in the fourth movement “Chanson: ‘Tout l’année, hey, hey, hey” brings back a favorite P.D.Q. weird timbre, as does the requirement for the first bassoonist to play her reed and bocal alone and the second bassoonist to play the last two joints of the instrument by itself. And if you can get through the final movement, “Tout à coup le bout,” without reciting “Shave and a haircut” alongside the instrumentalists, you’re a better man than I am (Gunga Din).

The final composition, “Royal Firewater Musick” (S. 1/5), is five movements of more ambitious writing and orchestration. The first, “Long, neat, long,” seems as though it’s destined to play on indefinitely into the sunset, as what starts out as a nifty bit of imitative writing for the winds goes off the rails in its reprise, finally requiring a conductorial intervention to land. The “March on the rocks” is a more straightforward number, as is the “Minuet with a twist” (the twist is a massive blow on the gran cassa). The “Sarabande straight up” is an unexpectedly sweet melancholic bit of writing, or at least it would be without the solo parts for double reeds without the encumbrance of oboes or bassoons. In “One for the road” we find a rare bit of orchestral writing for ten wine bottlists, playing an assortment of sizes of wine bottles (and occasionally de-tuning the instruments). There is some virtuoso writing for the bottlists between all the other bits, including quotations from “Aloha ‘Oe” and additional solo parts for duck call. It’s a good choice to close the record, and the Vanguard chapter of P.D.Q. Bach.

Schickele would continue to record P.D.Q. Bach records after a six year hiatus, signing with the Telarc label and releasing six more studio albums, two compilations, and a live recording of newly discovered P.D.Q. music in the years between 1989 and 2007. Some of the individual works along the way were absolutely brilliant (“Einstein on the Fritz,” “Four Folk Song Upsettings,” “Lip My Reeds,” and Schickele’s own “Last Tango in Bayreuth,” which I think highly enough of to have put it on a mix years ago,) but some of the albums were unlistenable due to the run-amuck sketches that fight for time with the compositions (I’m lookin’ at you, WTWP: Classical Talkety-Talk Radio, though I have to admit that the central conceit, a relentlessly upbeat classical music station whose programming is literally WTWP, “wall to wall Pachelbel,” is kind of brilliant).

I remain disappointed that I never got to perform in one of Schickele’s performances; I would have given anything to get a group together to work on the “Missa Hilarious” or “Consort of Choral Christmas Carols,” or “The Art of the Ground Round.” It’s too late to collaborate with the man himself, who passed away on January 16, 2024, but I have the sheet music for some of his works somewhere in my basement. Hmmm…

You can listen to this week’s album here:

P.D.Q. Bach, Portrait of P.D.Q. Bach

Album of the Week, June 1, 2024

I meant for there to be a trilogy of P.D.Q. Bach reviews and knew that I would come back to the last record in my collection when the time was right. Now, five months later, having finished the Coltrane series, I return to my P.D.Q. Bach records only to find that they’ve multiplied in the interim. So the series becomes a quartet. I’m not sad about it, though, because Portrait of P.D.Q. Bach was the first of the great(?) composer’s albums I ever heard, at the tender age of about six or seven.

Our family affinity for this particular album was almost certainly due to the musical contents: a full album of choral music. My background in choral music was seemingly predestined, since my parents were both directing church choirs when they met at a music and worship conference at Montreat, and I ended up singing in the church choir alongside them by the time I was in high school. So we were primed for the utter silliness of the P.D.Q. musical lens applied to the latent silliness that lurked beneath the seriousness of sacred choral music.

We were also primed for the visual humor on the jacket. The “portrait,” shown in the garbage outside a New York City restaurant from which it was “rescued,” is of course the same image used on The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach, published the year before. And the back jacket photo, showing Schickele demonstrating how to play organ music on the piano, with his bare toes performing the pedal notes on the keyboard, is unforgettable. I should know; I’ve been trying to forget it for over 40 years.

As he did for many of the 1970s P.D.Q. albums, discoverer and impresario Peter Schickele introduces each of the works in turn, beginning with the Missa Hilarious (S. N2O). The mass begins, as is traditional, with a Kyrie, though here sung in Pig Latin as “Yriekay.” The music begins as a parody of baroque mass settings, but following the Christe, the reprise of the Kyrie is sung as a parody of “K-k-k-Katy.”

The “Gloria,” sung as a duet—or maybe more accurately, a hand-off—between basso blotto Harris Poor and bargain counter-tenor John Ferrante incorporates bits of West Side Story and “Laugh-In” in one neat little bundle. It leads into the “Credo,” which begins as a fugue that progresses from Credo to Cre-so to Cre-le to Cre-fa as the fugue subject progresses around the scale. There follows a very funny, very weird solo by Ferrante, accompanied by the “corrugahorn,” a piece of corrugated tubing that serves as an odd wind instrument. As this is the only substantial text in the piece, I reproduce it here: “Et in spirito inner sanctum, et in spirit gum inner sanc-Tums, et in Spiro Agnew.”

The “Sanctus” features an extended introduction on odd reeds and a parody of the “Hare Krishna” from Hair, with a little “ho-jo-to-yo” thrown in. To say there is something for everyone in this movement is an understatement. Maybe it’s more accurate to say there’s at least one thing in this movement for everyone to grimace at. It’s also the only movement that has no significant part for the chorus.

I blame the final movement of the Missa, “Angus Dei,” for my tendency even still to misspell the Agnus Dei in normal masses. But the work’s cockeyed take on the text, sung to a variation of the “Hallelujah Chorus”—“Angus Dei! Angus Dei! She looks so nice just standing there/All covered with the dew! Angus Dei! Angus Dei! She’s the prettiest cow I’ve ever seen and I have seen a few!”—redefines “commitment to the bit.” Add in interpolations of the Batman theme and you have something that still brings me almost to tears laughing. Ultimately it’s no wonder that, as Schickele claims during the introduction, that not only was the Missa Hilarious the reason for P.D.Q.’s excommunication, but that he became the only composer to have all his works placed on the Index by the Vatican.

Eine Kleine Nichtmusik” is the one work on the album for which Schickele claims compositional credit. A purely orchestral pastiche, it incorporates so many different classical works over top (literally—look at the score in the linked video above) Mozart’s classic work that it can become a party game of “Name That Sample.”

The “Echo Sonata for Two Unfriendly Groups of Instruments” (S. 99999999) is something of a retread from an earlier P.D.Q. recording, Report from Hoople: P.D.Q. Bach on the Air. However, where the earlier recording leaned heavily on tape manipulation and sound effects to achieve the humor, here Schickele wisely lets the woodwinds and brass fight it out among themselves.

The record closes with something of a family favorite, “A Consort of Choral Christmas Carols” (S. 359). The unaccompanied performance by Duh Brooklyn Boys Chorus of “Throw the Yule Log On, Uncle John,” “O Little Town of Hackensack,” and “Good King Kong Looked Out” was among the first choral works I could sing with from beginning to end from memory, much to my parents’ chagrin. (It helped that I really did have an Uncle John.)

For a choral singer, Portrait of P.D.Q. Bach gives the listener something to aspire to, if only that something is making it stop. But in all seriousness, I think I could still sing most of the parts of the album by heart, and to my ear it’s one of the most consistently funny recordings in his oeuvre. Next week we’ll get a listen to the end of Schickele’s (and P.D.Q.’s) run on Vanguard Records, with another work of great plagiarism composition from the last and oddest of Johann Sebastian Bach’s twenty-odd children.

You can listen to this week’s album here: