Nov 12, 2017

Paul Pone, clarinetist

A few days ago I received an email with a subject line reading “Paul Pone,” from someone I didn’t know. I took private lessons from “Mr. Pone” through middle school and high school, back in the 1960s. All I knew about his background was that he had received his musical training in Italy, and had come to the United States as a young man. He passed away in 1984 at the age of 90.

The email was from a local guy, Dave, who had acquired some of Paul’s personal documents at an estate sale (not Paul's estate, though). Dave thought the documents should go to Paul's family, but he had no luck locating them (Paul had no children). On my studio website I had listed Paul Pone as one of my teachers, so Dave contacted me, and decided I should have the documents.

The documents are really interesting - in particular, a two-page memoir that Paul typed up in 1977. He wrote about both his family background, and the story of how he came to the U.S. and became a music teacher. It’s a great story. Here’s a summary:

Paulo Pone was born in 1894. The Pone family lived in Pacentro, Italy. Paul was one of five children. He attended school through high school, also apprenticed to be a tailor, and studied music at the Sulmona Conservatory. After high school he studied in Naples at the Music Conservatory of San Pietro A Majella, and also studied tailoring in Naples at the “Italo-American School of Cutting.”

When he got back to Pacentro he decided he didn’t want to stay. Two of his sisters had emigrated to the United States. His mother told him that he could go to the U.S. also, as long as he stayed with his sister Christina and her husband Joe. Paul embarked for the U.S. from Naples in March, 1913.

Joe lived in a coal mining camp in Brilliant, New Mexico. The camp supplied coal for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (Brilliant is now a ghost town). Joe was working as the manager of a company saloon, but had bought a saloon in Suffield, Colorado, and was about to move. Paul describes his work:

I began to work with Joe in the saloon, from 7 am to 10 pm, first had to put beer on tap then fill bottles of liquor to serve, put bottle beer on ice, two different kinds, then sweep the saloon, wash and clean spitoons, wash all glasses behind the bar. The saloon was about a quarter of a mile North from camp in the valley close to the railroad track. I slept in it at night. I used to hear bumps and knocks on the door at night, but I was not afraid…had two .45 pistols with me.
After about four months in Suffield the 1913 miners' strike now known as the Colorado Coalfield War occurred, culminating in the Ludlow MassacreJoe, Christina and Paul moved again, to Raton, New Mexico, where Joe opened up another saloon. Paul was in debt, and worked even longer days for Joe, including playing a show at the saloon until 11 at night:
…got up at five and did the same job, janitor and bartending, for 50 per month…sweep and wash the floor with the rest of the work, also wash the big mirror back of the bar, 5 to 7 a bite to eat and then play the show at night till 11, then to bed and up at 5 the next morning. By working day and night I paid my bills and sent money to mother and dad in Italy.
When the US declared war in 1917, Paul "thought I should do something for my adopted country." He joined the Army, and was assigned to an Army band. The armistice was signed in 1918, so he never was sent overseas. He was discharged in 1919, and at the suggestion of a fellow musician, came to San Francisco.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, Paul played in Bay Area theatres, with the Golden Gate Park Band (it still exists today), and in occasional radio performances. He married his wife, Edith, who I remember, in 1923.

Around 1940, with music jobs scarce due to the depression, he drew on his tailoring training, and took a job as foreman of the clothing factory at Alcatraz Penitentiary for a couple of years. During WWII he worked at the Oakland shipyards. In 1943, Paul saw a notice in the AFM Musician paper advertising a teaching position with the San Francisco School District. He auditioned for a professor at SF State, obtained an emergency teaching credential, and “that was the beginning of my teaching career.”

Paul's memoir ends there. When I studied with Mr. Pone in the 1960s, he had moved to Los Altos, and had a busy private teaching schedule. I'm pretty sure that he still played with the Golden Gate Park Band in SF on Sundays.

Paul was a fine classical clarinetist. He showed me the basics of saxophone, and could read jazz charts well, but classical clarinet was really his forte. He was an incredibly patient teacher, and never gave me a hard time for a bad practice week. 

San Francisco State University offers a scholarship for talented music students called the "Paul Pone Forgivable Loan." I'm guessing that he endowed this program in his will. I recall that Paul liked to play the stock market; I think he started early.

It was pretty amazing that those papers found their way to me (many thanks, Dave!). The company that staged the estate sale had no idea how the papers came into their possession. The memoir goes into more detail than I have summarized here, and there are a few other interesting documents dating from as early as 1913. 
If anyone in Paul’s family reads this post, I hope you will contact me. My contact info is here.

Oct 5, 2017

Charlie Parker's "Cool Blues" and Bizet's "Carmen"

Charlie Parker's "Cool Blues" is a "riff blues" in C, first recorded in 1947. 

The riff itself was in Parker's vocabulary at least as early as his March 28, 1946 recording session in Los Angeles for Ross Russell's Dial label; he uses the lick in his "Yardbird Suite" solo. About a year later, on February 19, 1947, Russell set up a recording session with Parker, pianist Errol Garner, and Garner's rhythm section. Parker had recently been released from Camarillo State Hospital. He was relaxed and refreshed, and playing beautifully. One of the tunes recorded was "Cool Blues," a setting of the riff as a 12-bar blues. Here are the four takes from this session:               

These recordings of "Cool Blues" were titled differently in various Dial releases: "Cool Blues," "Hot Blues," and "Blowtop Blues."

In the biography Charlie Parker: His Music and Life, author Carl Woideck mentions some possible sources of the "Cool Blues" riff. One possibility is the very brief use of a similar lick in Duke Ellington's "Blue Ramble" (1932). The riff occurs at 1:40 and 1:58:

Woideck also quotes Phil Schapp's liner notes for The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings of Charlie Parker as stating that "Cool Blues" is "similar to a set-closing theme...reportedly used several years beforehand by bassist John Kirby's sextet." In a telephone conversation with Woideck, Schaap also mentioned that "at least one musician who remembered the Kirby theme sang it to Schaap in a way similar, but not identical to, Parker's version."

A footnote in Schapp's liner notes:
Bird told Benedetti that his title for "Cool Blues" was "Blues Up and Down." This same blues theme was used earlier by the John Kirby Sextet to take the "Biggest [Little] Band in the Land" off the stand. Bird learned it by hearing the Kirby Sextet and through his friendship with Russell Procope, that group's alto saxophonist.
This speculation on the origin of the tune does seem credible. However, there is another likely source, in Georges Bizet's opera, "Carmen."

The "Cool Blues" riff shows up briefly, but unmistakably, in Act 2 of "Carmen." In this recording, it occurs from 1:16:22 to 1:16:52:

Woideck added the Bizet information in the (later) Italian edition of his Parker biography, mentioning also that the Kirby group was known for its jazz interpretations of European classical music. The Italian edition also mentions that "[the Kirby set-closing theme] does not appear in any of the official records of the orchestra for various labels, and the search for live performances and radio tunes for the band has not identified any version as yet."

Schaap makes a good case that Parker might have adapted the Kirby melody. But Parker might equally well have lifted the theme directly from "Carmen" - he was definitely a classical music fan. Or both, or neither. The Ellington fragment is pretty fleeting, and seems less likely as a source.

Quite a few recorded live versions of "Cool Blues" exist; below are four from Youtube:

With Fats Navarro and Bud Powell (1950):

 "The Washington Concerts" (1953) (note the "Habanera" quote):

"Summit Meeting at Birdland" (1953), with John Lewis:

With a very young Chet Baker (1953):

Sep 10, 2017

Review: "Choro: A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music"

Since this blog is primarily aimed at jazz players, I am guessing that some readers may have some familiarity with choro, others perhaps not. Choro is a Brazilian musical genre that - like jazz - began to take shape in the late 1800s, evolved stylistically over the years and through several periods of popularity, and continues today. It has always involved an element of improvisation, and incorporates Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Choro as performed today may take a form that is traditional (that is, retrospective to some earlier period in its evolution), or may take a more modern direction.

Here is Anat Cohen and the group "Choro Aventuroso," with a modern take on the 1937 standard by Severino Araujo, "Espinha de Bacalhau":

Although this book came out in 2005, I had not gotten around to it until just now: Choro: A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music, by Tamara Elena Livingston-Isenhour and Thomas George Caracas Garcia. It's a well-written and well-researched account of the origins of choro and its evolution over the last 150+ years, with particular regard to the place of the genre in Brazilian culture, including a discussion of the role of historical Brazilian attitudes towards race and popular music.

The book is meticulously organized, which makes a review pretty easy. Here are the chapter titles, with a few comments on the contents:

1) Introduction

An overview of the book. Describes the defining features of choro in terms of style, melodic characteristics, bass, rhythm, and spirit ("malicia").

2)  Race, Class, and Nineteenth-Century Popular Music: The Modinha, the Lundu, and the Maxixe

These were the musical antecedents of choro. The modinha, a sentimental song genre, contributed lyricism to Brazilian popular styles, and contributed the basic instrumentation to choro: the "terno" of guitar, flute, and cavaquinho. The lundu was an African-influenced rhythmic dance and music style; the maxixe was a popular dance and music style that began in the 1870s. "Some believe the maxixe to be the link in the stylistic continuum between the old lundu dance and the modern urban samba."

3) The Roda de Choro: Heart and Soul of Choro

The "roda de choro" is a informal gathering to play music - a jam session - a tradition that began long before choro reached the "respectability" of recordings and radio broadcasts. The roda de choro is still an essential part of the choro ethos. A quote from Villa-Lobos biographer Vasco Mariz: "The chorão [choro devotee] had a deep feeling for spontaneous improvisation. He would put his entire soul into playing. He had a true religious feeling for the cult of choro, in which one lives to play, compose, and sing."

4) From Plantation to the City: The Rise and Development of Early Choro in Rio de Janeiro (1870-1920)

Many black musicians received musical training as slaves, in order to serve in plantation bands, which were a status symbol for the owners. After Brazilian emancipation in 1888, former slave musicians moved to the city, combining their talents with city musicians. It was in this period that the music and the term "choro" developed. Although many musicians today believe that "choro" derives from "chorar" (to cry), the authors believe it derives from "choromeleiro," a type of ensemble in colonial Brazil.

In Rio de Janeiro, choro developed as a middle-class music. "The middle-class aspects of choro practice were order to be able to buy an instrument, whether, flute, cavaquinho, or guitar, one had to have at lease a modicum of disposable income. Secondly, the locations where choro gatherings took place were characteristic of middle-class dwellings and venues..." In this environment, choro developed as a primarily instrumental music, based on the form and harmonic structure of the polka, played by terno-type ensembles, wind bands, or piano. Early published choros were called "polca serenata" or "polca ligeira"; the first use of the term "choro" in published music was in 1889. This chapter includes sections on several of the most important figures in early choro: Chiquinha Gonzaga, Ernesto Nazaré, and others.

5) From the Terno to the Regional: The Professionalization of Choro

The terno, a trio of flute, guitar, and cavaquinho, was the original core choro ensemble. With the advent of silent films (requiring theater musicians), followed by recordings and radio, professional groups were formed. Choros were written in a more technical style, to show off the virtuosity of the musicians. Groups were larger (this was the period when the pandeiro and seven-string guitar came to be a standard part of the ensemble); these groups were called "regionals." The career of the legendary choro composer and bandleader Pixinguinha began in this period, c. 1915. Under the regime of dictator Gétulio Vargas (1937-1945) choro was encouraged and promoted by the government, particularly on the radio, to instill a sense of national identity and pride.

6) The Velha Guarda in the New Brazil: Choro in the 1950s and 1960s

"Velha guarda" means "old guard." As American and American-influenced music increased in popularity in Brazil in the 1950s, choro came to be regarded by the general public as a music of the past. Bossa nova emerged in the late 1950s as a music of "modernity." In the 1960s, increasing social awareness led to an increased interest in "samba de morro" (samba of the favelas) and other "roots" music. "Choro is conspicuously absent from the cultural resistance movement even though it had been strongly accociated with Brazilian nationalism since the 1920s." The authors give several reasons for this: that "as an instrumental genre, choro could not serve as a vehicle for protest lyrics"; that as a middle-class music, "choro was not associated with an oppressed class of people"; that "the Americanized style and instrumentation in the late 1940s and 1950s had come to be viewed as mainstream music without political value."

At the same time, however, "velha guarda" figures such as Garoto, Jacó do Bandolim, and Waldir de Azevedo were pushing the choro genre towards "increasing professionalism," and adding new compositions to the repertoire.

7) The Choro Revival

The 1970s saw a return of popularity of choro among young musicians and listeners, including rodas de choro, and competitions with awards. The military government of 1964-1985 played a role in supporting the choro revival; as a mostly instrumental music, choro did not have a protest content. The authors discuss the nature of musical revivals generally, and why a choro revival came about at that point in time. This choro revival ebbed in the 1980s.

8) Contemporary Choro

"By the late 1990s, choro had rebounded with a force that still shows no sign of weakening." This chapter considers stylistic trends, choro publications, pedagogy, choro on the Web, and choro abroad. A description of then-current (2005) activity presents a snapshot of the revival at the time of the book's publication.

9) Choro and the Brazilian Classical Tradition

The Brazilian classical music culture before the 1920s looked to France and Italy for a stylistic model. Beginning in the 1920s, Brazilian composers began to look to their own rich national musical traditions, including choro. Co-author Thomas Garcia is a guitarist and Villa-Lobos scholar, and Villa-Lobos' work is covered in some detail.

If you are interested in learning more about this music, I highly recommend Choro: A Social History of a Brazilian Popular Music. Click on the link, and you can order it from Amazon. It's been especially valuable to me, since I don't read or speak Portuguese; I haven't seen a better English-language book on the subject.

Far more importantly, though, you need to listen to this music. The history of recorded choro is on Youtube, and plenty of great contemporary performances. Here are just a few tracks, to get started:

A broadcast featuring some great players, playing Jacó do Bandolim's "Noitas Cariocas":

A backyard party, with Romualdo Costa (sax) and Leo Lima (accordian) playing "Espinha de Bacalhau":

Yamandu Costa and Dominguez, playing Pixinguinha's "Lamentos"

A classic video - Armandinho with the group Epoca de Ouro, playing Jacó's "Assanhado"

Aug 7, 2017

Review: "The Best 101 Children's Songs," arranged by Dr. Bugs Bower

Dr. "Bugs" Bower has quite a variety of musical accomplishments over his long career. He is the author of a number of printed educational methods, and as a record producer, has had eight million-seller "Gold Records" and two Grammies. He has produced jazz, rock and roll, Broadway, spoken word, and children's records.

One of his more recent productions is a 3-CD set called "The Best 101 Children's Songs." It's available on CD from Bugs' website. Amazon has it too, including an MP3 version and a streaming version.

At my music lesson business, Hope Street Music Studios, I'm the person assigned to answering email inquiries (when I'm not teaching saxophone or clarinet). We regularly get inquiries from parents of very young children, who want advice on how to get their kids started on an instrument. My answer is that the best thing they can do is to get the kids singing. It's the most natural way to begin making music - no matter how young - and will provide a foundation for any instrument they may choose later, when they are old enough (issues of coordination, hand size, and attention span are the reasons that school instrumental music usually starts in fourth or fifth grade...although with the right teacher, piano, violin, or voice lessons can be started earlier).

When I put up my last post, a review of Bugs' book of music biz stories, I sent Bugs an email as a courtesy, to let him know. The next day, I received an email back from him, thanking me for the post. Not long after that, I got a phone call from Bugs, and we had a nice chat. Among other things, he mentioned an idea he had: using childrens' songs to learn English (adults or kids). My reaction was, sure - why not? People often use comic books and sitcoms to learn foreign languages. Kids' songs use entry-level vocabulary and grammar, and are also a basic part of the culture.

Besides just about every well-known American kids' song and many folk songs, "The Best 101 Children's Songs" includes originals that use "finger games" to teach addition and subtraction, plus jokes and riddles here and there. The content is intelligent and educational, as well as entertaining.

Whether you use this with your kids or grandkids, or perhaps even as an aid to learning English, this is a great product. Here's a sample:

Jul 31, 2017

Review: "Nice Stories About Nice People," by Dr. Bugs Bower

I've been a fan of Maurice "Bugs" Bower's work for years, before I really knew anything about the guy. Back in the 1970s, a friend hipped me to his Bop Duets book, and I've been using it for teaching ever since. (I've also used his Rhythms Complete book).

Some years later, I got to know an older-generation sax player who, as it happened, had served in the 89th Infantry Division band with Bugs during World War II, and had a story about him (see this post). Subsequently, I learned a bit more about Bugs - he was not just the author of educational materials, but had been quite active in the recording business as a producer, with eight gold records (i.e., they sold a million copies each), and two Grammies.

So when I learned that Bugs had written a book of his reminiscences about the music business, I had to get a copy. It's called Nice Stories About Nice People. This little book (93 pages) is, as the title indicates, entirely positive and upbeat. It includes short chapters about recording with Cab Calloway, Perry Como, Kool and the Gang, and Steve Allen; the time he turned down a job directing merchandise sales for a rock group (they turned out to be the Beatles - but who knew?); the recording of "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," which earned him a gold record as producer as well as royalties for the song on the flip side; musings about famous musicians with perfect pitch; his creative brainstorms for various commercially successful recordings (e.g., aerobics, children's records, "Tijuana Christmas"); and advice to the reader for a happy life and how to get started in the music business. It's a fun read.

Bugs' 95th birthday was this past July 16.

Here's a short video made for the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Program, in which Bugs describes how he used the Schillinger system to write his "Rhythms" book in the late 1940s. I'm pretty sure he used the same approach in Bop Duets, as he often sets licks to varied rhythmic patterns. And actually, that's a great pedagogical approach in teaching students to read rhythms. It's also a great technique for jazz players: using different rhythms to get many different licks from one basic one.

Judging from the number of Youtube videos, Bugs' bop duets are still quite popular for teachers, on a number of different instruments. They were probably written originally for trumpet, as that was Bugs' main instrument, but they certainly work well for sax and clarinet.

Here's a link to an excellent article about Bugs in the Jacksonville (Fla.) Times-Union, with a lot more biographical information.

Here's a link to Bugs' own music book website.

Here's Cab Calloway at age 85, singing with a big band arrangement that Bugs did for a recording of Cab's, and that Cab used for years afterwards (the story is in the book) (BTW, I have a feeling that I've played a knockoff of this arrangement in some big band or other):

Finally, here is a 1964 recording by Donna Lynn of a tune written, and I assume produced, by Bugs: "My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut." Cute, but it did not go gold.

Jul 4, 2017

Saxophonist Fred Staton

Check out this New York Times article on tenor saxophonist Fred Staton, still gigging in New York at age 102.

There are a few videos featuring Fred Staton on Youtube; here's a studio recording with vocalist Catherine Russell. Everyone sounds terrific. Fred was 100 years old at the time of the recording. What an inspiration!

Here's one with Fred talking a bit about his life: