I have deeply missed putting out my weekly Listening Log. October has been an intense month as school and work have ramped up. I also released a new single with Henry Godfrey called Cabin Fever. To make my posts less daunting to write, I decided to trim down my log to three entries rather than five. I’m ready to bring back the Listening Log and look forward to sharing more wonderful music with you.
Ragtime Dance No 1 — Charles Ives
I am fortunate to be taking an incredible class about the music of Charles Ives. I am just beginning to explore his Ragtime Dances and am fascinated by how he honors the aesthetic of the music yet carries it forward in a new direction with rhythm, form, and orchestration.
Eubie Blake, along with Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Luckey Roberts, pioneered the Eastern take on Ragtime, which evolved into the stride piano style. Preceding his performance of Charleston Rag on the album The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake, he shares that he composed the rag in 1899, the same year that Scott Joplin’s groundbreaking Maple Leaf Rag was published by Stark & Son. Blake also explains how he combined the walking bass line (sometimes referred to as a boogie-woogie bass, but Blake preferred the term walking bass) with ragtime rhythmic ideas.
I was also able to find this incredible live performance of Charleston Rag as played by Blake at the age of 85.
This blog post is part of my Ragtime Project, which encompasses an upcoming EP of Ragtime-inspired music, blog posts about the history of the music, and a forthcoming self-published collection of essay about what in this music and its history resonates with me as a performer and composer.
Ragtime is often considered the first popular music originating from the United States, reigning prominent from the 1890s until the mid-1910s.  Its popularity was displaced by Jazz, though the nature of this transition is disputed (Schuller, Early Jazz, p. 63). (I intend for this to be the topic of a future blog post.) There was a brief revival of Ragtime in the 1950s, but much of the music was highly commercialized and played on out-of-tune pianos to mimic old-time saloons. 1950 was also the year in which scholars Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis published their seminal history book entitled They All Played Ragtime. However, the most impactful Ragtime revival occurred in the 1970s, the events of this time truly securing the art form’s place in the United States culture.
There are several important projects that contributed to the Ragtime revival of the 1970s, several of which will be outlined here.
1. The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake
In 1969, Columbia Records released The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake. Prior to this double-LP, Blake had a successful career as a songwriter with hits such as Charleston Rag (1899), I’m Just Wild About Harry (1921), and Memories of You (1930).  He collaborated with Noble Sissle on the Broadway musical Shuffle Along (1921), which renewed the popularity of Black musical comedies and launched the careers of many Black actors including Josephine Baker, Florence Mills, and Paul Robeson.  The release of The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake gave Blake’s career a second wind.  As one of the few surviving musicians from the Ragtime era, Blake became a beloved celebrity and torchbearer for the music. 
2. Piano Rags by Scott Joplin
In 1970, pianist/conductor Joshua Rifkin released Piano Rags by Scott Joplin on the Nonesuch label. In contrast to the Ragtime recordings of the 1950s which featured out-of-tune pianos to caricaturize a by-gone era , Rifkin treated Joplin’s music with the utmost respect and taking into account all of Joplin’s directions.  In 1971, the album was nominated for two Grammy awards for Best Album Notes and Best Classical Performance – Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (Without Orchestra).  It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame this year. 
3. The Red Back Book
In 1973, the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, under the direction of Gunther Schuller, released The Red Back Book. The album won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance that year. The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble became in-demand for performances and events across the country. The collection of Joplin pieces featured on the album was thought to be lost, but Schuller came into contact with someone who had possibly the last surviving copy of the Red Back Book. 
4. The Sting
The contribution that had perhaps the most broad impact on the Ragtime revival was the film The String (1974). The soundtrack featured an abridged version of Joplin’s The Entertainer (1902), which rose to the top of the pop record charts. 
5. Producing Treemonisha
The 1970s also saw the first performances of Joplin’s second, though only surviving, opera entitled Treemonisha (c. 1911).  In 1972, the Atlanta Symphony and the Morehouse College Music Department gave the first full performance of the opera.  In 1975, the Houston Opera gave the first fully produced performance of Treemonisha. Gunther Schuller was responsible for the orchestration for the performance and the subsequently released recording on the Deutsche Grammophon label. In his lifetime, Joplin did not orchestrate the opera. He self-published the piano score, which he played in a reading of the opera for potential financial supporters in 1915.  Joplin tragically passed away at the age of 49 without living to see his opera produced.
Because of these key events and the public’s overall positive reception to them, Ragtime music will continue to be a remembered and cherished part of the unique musical heritage of the United States.
I hope this email finds you well during these uncertain times.
This time has given me an opportunity to reflect on my life – how things are going and how I would like them to go. I loved my life before the pandemic. New England Conservatory became my happy place; I felt whole when I was surrounded by my peers and professors in our hallowed, historic school. I enjoyed working my four jobs – library aid, Jazz Orchestra librarian, Symphony Hall Usher, and teaching fellow with the Boston Public Schools. It was a lot happening at once and sometimes felt like too much for one person to handle. But I managed, until I couldn’t anymore.
Almost two months ago, I first came down with a cold. It improved, but then I had a fever. Once that improved, I had another fever. That improved and now I am beginning to feel my health decline once again. Being sick is never fun, but this is an especially difficult time. What was a minor cold became a massive infection because I was given insufficient medical advice over the phone and was discouraged from scheduling an in-person appointment until the symptoms became more severe. I cannot even begin to imagine how many people worldwide are facing similar challenges accessing the care they need during this time.
I am using this moment to think about how I want to move toward a healthier, more sustainable life with my music leading the way. How can I use my music to bring healing to myself and togetherness to my community when we are all forced to stay apart?
I am also excited to share that I have launched my Patreon page! For a monthly subscription, I will share exclusive behind-the-scenes videos, music tips, early releases, discounted sheet music, and more. Let me know what kinds of rewards would interest you.
Thank you for your continued support during this uncertain time for us all. I hope we can connect again soon in the physical world, but for now, I look forward to hearing from you on the interweb.
Encountering Gunther: Celebrating MBS – It was an honor to perform a concert with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra celebrating the life and legacy of Gunther Schuller. … [Read More]
Encountering Gunther: My First Encounter With His Music – As part of New England Conservatory’s Jazz50 Celebration, the NEC Philharmonia and NEC Jazz Orchestra combined forces to produce the third performance of Gunther’s tour-de-force Encounters (2003)…. [Read More]
February 2020 Newsletter – What I was up to a couple months ago … [Read More]
It was an honor to perform a concert with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra celebrating the life and legacy of Gunther Schuller. We were joined on a couple pieces by special guest George Schuller, Gunther’s youngest son. This video is of George’s composition MBS, in memory of his mother (Gunther’s wife and pillar of strength and inspiration), Marjorie Black Schuller. After reading Gunther’s autobiography, A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty, it was clear to me that he would never be satisfied with a celebration of his life that didn’t acknowledge his cherished counterpart. It was a great honor to be featured on this moving memorial to a strong woman.
There were many challenges involved with putting together Encounters. The first is the sheer number of people required to perform the piece, approximately 150 musicians (comprising an orchestra, a jazz orchestra, three jazz soloists, and a 6-piece jazz choir). It was difficult to schedule sufficient rehearsals for the full ensemble and to fit everyone and their instruments comfortably on stage.
Further, Gunther calls for the use of some more obscure instruments such as Heckelphone, Bb Contrabass Clarinet, Bass Trumpet, and a Quarter Tone Piano. At first, I thought this to be somewhat excessive, but as I became more familiar with the piece, I came to appreciate the unique colors that only these instruments could provide to the piece. Through reading his autobiography, I learned of Gunther’s passion to create repertoire for underrepresented instruments. I also admire Gunther’s ambition to take advantage of the resources he had. He knew that NEC had access these rare instruments and was teeming with many students and faculty eager to play boundary-busting new music. Gunther puts it best in his program notes:
One doesn’t have an opportunity very often (if at all) to write a work for a “symphony” (classical) orchestra and jazz orchestra (“big band”). My earlier Third Stream pieces in the 1960s were either composed for one or the other, or for a classical group with jazz soloists (e.g. Modern Jazz Quartet). I must say that the chance to write for the two just-mentioned types of orchestra was most inspiring, to the point that it caused me to write various things (gestures, phrases, instrumental combinations, “classical” ideas played by jazz musicians and vice versa, etc.), that is, musical ideas which A) I would probably never have thought of had I only had one or the other orchestra at my disposal, and B) ideas which I could only have had if both types of orchestras and musicians were available to me.
Each group of musicians rehearsed separately at first. Once we were ready to rehearse as a full ensemble, new challenges emerged. We had to learn how to balance and blend our sounds, how to come together as one unified orchestra. Us jazz musicians struggled at first to follow the orchestral conducting style, being ahead of the beat (customary for orchestral conducting), went against much of our training. The classical musicians were not accustomed to accompanying improvisers. We navigated these challenges together, with patience. This was an opportunity for us all to learn new musical customs and be exposed to new sounds.
While the process of putting Encounters together was intense, it was a rewarding pursuit. When I stumbled upon the video of our performance (embedded below), I enjoyed listening and watching, reminiscing about the experience. While we may have not perfected every minutia, I would like to think that Gunther would have still found delight in knowing that his music continues to bring together young musicians of two streams (“jazz” and “classical”) together to create something monumental.
I can’t believe we are nearing mid-February in this new decade. Time seems to be slipping by so quickly, but I work hard each day to feel like the time was well spent. January was a whirlwind of school, work, research, and setting the building blocks for a great year.
A few weeks ago, I finished reading Gunther Schuller’s autobiography entitled A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty. I thought it was important for me to have a good understanding of the person who established the jazz program I am in at New England Conservatory. While the book does not cover Gunther’s time as president of the Conservatory, I still learned a lot about him and about American music from the 1920s-1950s. I became fascinated with Gunther’s stories and he brought a lot of curiosity out of me so I began doing some research and started a new blog series about it.
I started my second semester in New England Conservatory’s Jazz Studies program. It has been great to continue learning with my classmates and from my professors. I am excited to be having a piece performed by the Jazz Composition Workshop Orchestra at the end of the semester. It has been an important experience to rehearse my piece with the band and learn about being a leader. I am also looking forward to several performances with the NEC Jazz Orchestra. For one of our performances, I will be playing five instruments – Alto Sax, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Flute, and – this one is completely new to me – E-Flat Clarinet!
I have continued my teaching fellowship with the Boston Public Schools, always a highlight of my week. I enjoy sharing my passion for music with the students and helping them see the potential they have. I am proud of their progress and perseverance.
One more update – I am excited to be making more of my large ensemble music available for purchase on my new Sheet Music Plus store! These will be in downloadable PDF format. I will still be keeping up my store on Noteflight Marketplace, where my small ensemble works are available for purchase as adaptable Noteflight files. Both are great platforms with their own advantages for music creators and buyers. Keep an eye out on social media for when I upload new scores.
I hope you have a wonderful weekend and a fabulous February!
2/27- Cosmosis: The Music of Dave Holland with Jim McNeely, More Info
3/3 – Ester Wiesnerova’s Senior Recital, More Info
4/16 – Invisible Choir: The Music of Ken Schaphorst, More Info
Encountering Gunther: Charlie Parker’s Lament – He played so convincingly that I could not imagine that he would rather be playing another song, another note than the one he was playing right in that moment. Bit it was only an illusion. … [Read More]
Introducing Encountering Gunther – Gunther’s narrative opened more questions for me than he answered and this has inspired me to conduct some of my own research. … [Read More]
January 2020 Newsletter – How I ushered in the new year [Read More]
When I knew I wanted to attend New England Conservatory (NEC), I wanted to understand the history behind America’s first private music school and the first to have a full-fledged jazz department. I quickly found that perhaps the most influential figure in NEC’s recent history was horn player/composer/conductor/historian/author Gunther Schuller. I wrote a paper about him in my final semester at Berklee College of Music. I then began reading his monstrous autobiography A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beautyover the summer. After being “sidetracked” by my first semester in graduate school, I prioritized the completion of the book over winter break, and just finished it two nights ago. As I neared the end of the book, I realized that my journey with Gunther was far from over.
Gunther’s narrative opened more questions for me than he answered and this has inspired me to conduct some of my own research. As a name for my project, I came up with Encountering Gunther (or #EncounteringGunther in hashtag form, which I also intend to use). I chose this name for two reasons. 1) Gunther used the word “encounter” and its variants frequently throughout his autobiography. 2) Gunther wrote a demanding piece called Encounters for the centennial celebration of Jordan Hall. I was fortunate to be in an ensemble that performed it last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of NEC’s jazz department (one of Gunther’s major accomplishments as the president of NEC).
I have many plans for the directions of the research. Some writings will focus on specific musicians or albums while others will be more philosophical or ideological. I look forward to sharing my “encounters” with this American icon and hope others will be as interested in this exploration as I have been.
Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful celebration surrounded by family, friends, amazing music, and delicious food.
One of my most important New Years Resolutions is to get back into sending out my monthly newsletters and more frequent social media posts. I became very caught up in my first semester of my graduate studies, working as many as six jobs at one time, and countless other commitments. But I am ready to regain focus and clarity!
I am making big plans for this year – new music, more gigs, and more sharing my jazz research and musings on my blog.
So many exciting things happened in the final stretch of 2019. I finished my first semester at New England Conservatory with honors. I was involved in many wonderful performances with the NEC Jazz Orchestra with guest artists including Alan Pasqua, Antonio Sanchez, Carl Atkins, Luciana Souza, George Schuller, and Ran Blake. I met a lot of incredible people, had countless special musical experiences, and settled into my jobs. I have also enjoyed teaching one day a week at a Boston Public School through NEC’s Community Performances and Partnerships department.
I am also excited to share that Jazzhers is being officially incorporating as a non-profit with the mission of creating community for middle and high school girls who play jazz in the Boston area. We had a very special masterclass with Grammy nominated saxophonist Tia Fuller and look forward to offering more great programs this spring.
I’m sorry it has been a while since you last heard from me. I will resolve to do better in 2020!
Have a lovely rest of the weekend, Sam
2/27- Cosmosis: The Music of Dave Holland with Jim McNeely, More Info
4/16 – Invisible Choir: The Music of Ken Schaphorst, More Info
I can’t believe it’s already September. The summer has once again flown by, but I am so excited for the adventures up ahead. Today is my first day as a student at New England Conservatory! I am so honored to be a part of this talented and friendly community. It is also my first day in my role as a music theory teaching assistant. So many new beginnings!
I have been working on revamping my blog. I am writing more content including announcements, obscure jazz history, music tips, and more. Check it out and let me know what you think!
Lastly, I have been spending a lot of time expanding my Women in Jazz Directory. The list of musicians includes well over 100 artists now. I also added a section for industry members who are not (at least primarily known as) performers or composers.
There are so many exciting things in the work and I can’t wait to share more soon. Happy September!
Upcoming Performances In the works! Stay tuned on social media for announcements!
New Scores For Sale Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace!