Sunday, November 1, 2015

Listening Journal, Week 2

I really enjoyed the listening exercises this week. Several of these songs were familiar to me prior to listening.  This week's listening focused on early jazz, ragtime, and crooners.

Castle House Rag was very typical of most ragtime.  It is quick in tempo, includes a great deal of syncopation, and included quite a few instruments.  It is interesting to me that there was not a whole lot of low voiced instruments used in recordings, due to the fact that the low sounds would cause the needle to jump on a phonograph.  This fact makes many pieces, including this one sound shrill in quality.  Speaking of quality, the musicianship is very good with the recording (James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra).  However, the quality of the recording, or quality of the music instruments, or both makes the group sound very out of tune, causing it to be difficult to listen to at times.  The Tiger Rag is a piece that I have heard before, having heard the Canadian Brass perform it multiple times live.  The recording that I listened to of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band had an amazing clarinets player.

The Dipper Mouth Blues reminds me of my short visit to New Orleans a few years ago.  On that visit, I took a riverboat cruise that had a Dixieland band playing.  I enjoyed the use of all of the instrumental soloists in this song.  I am unsure as to whether any improvisation was happening.  It sounds like the band was on the cusp of wanting to swing this music.  The beginning of the East St. Louis Toodle-Oo is intriguing as it is very mysterious sounding in the minor key.  The trumpet soloist is fantastic, using several plunger techniques and growling.  There is a lot more solo playing in this piece than in the previously mentioned.  The piece eventually steers toward more section playing.

The crooners were very interesting to me in that they all had very distinct and different styles.  My Blue Heaven is a piece that I have heard many times, but not performed by Gene Austin.  His voice is so light, and vibrato is subtle.  The cello is a great instrument to use at the beginning of the song as it sets up Austin's singing style to perfection.  The bird sounds are somewhat startling as they did not really sound like birds at all.  Maybe he should have used the bird sounds that you can hear in Respighi's Pines of Rome instead.  Al Jolson's style is a complete opposite of Gene Austin's.  Like Blue Heaven, April Showers opens with the string family.  Jolson's voice is very intense and more dramatic than Austin's.  He sounds more throaty and has a wider vibrato.

How Deep is the Ocean was my least favorite song in the listening.  I felt like the piece lacked a hook and I found myself drifting to other thoughts outside of listening.  Bing Crosby is my favorite crooner and he demonstrates a style that is right in the middle of the previously mentioned crooners.  Crosby can be bold, but also sensitive in his approach to this song.  I Got Rhythm is one of my favorite Gershwin pieces and Ethyl Merman has the perfect voice for it in that she is very direct and brings the piece to life.  Below is a great interview that Merman gave toward the end of her life.  It's very interesting to listen to her experiences.


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