Some readers may have been mystified as to why on Saturday, apparently for no particular reason, I posted a short piece on Billy Taylor’s composition ‘I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free).’
The reason was that today (Nov 12) is the 50th anniversary of the original recording of the tune by Billy Taylor’s Trio. My little post, complete with YouTube clips by Taylor and Nina Simone, was prepared in advance, all ready to go up today. Then I pressed the wrong button and posted it early.
So here, on the anniversary itself, is the original version from Taylor’s album Right Here, Right Now, released early in 1964, but recorded exactly 50 years ago today:
“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” is a gospel/jazz song written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, best known for the recording by Nina Simone in 1967 on her Silk & Soul album. Billy Taylor’s original version (as “I Wish I Knew”) was recorded November 12, 1963 and released on his Right Here, Right Now album (Capitol ST-2039) the following year. His 1967 instrumental take was later used as the theme music for The Film programme on BBC television.
Billy Taylor has explained: “I wrote this song, perhaps my best known composition, for my daughter Kim. This is one of the best renditions I’ve done, because it is very spiritual.”
Here’s the composer, Dr Taylor, in action:
And here’s the extraordinary Ms Simone, revisiting her famous interpretation of the tune:
As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and that “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King, it seems right to bring you some of the music that sustained the civil rights movement in the sixties – and beyond.
This selection is by Nick Morrison of NPR, as are the brief comments:
I Wish I knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free) – Nina Simone
Of the many musicians who used their music to advance the cause of civil rights, Nina Simone was one of the most passionate, most outspoken and most gifted. Although many of her civil rights era songs had their origins earlier in the 20th century, this song was written in 1967 by noted jazz pianist and educator Dr Billy Taylor (along with Dick Dallas), and was recorded by Simone that same year. It quickly became one of the musical mainstays of the movement.
Selma March – Grant Green
The march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., took place in March 1965. Today, some people tend to forget that there were two failed attempts to make the journey earlier that month. The first march ended in bloodshed, while the second was met with a restraining order. That ruling was quickly overturned and, on March 21, Dr King began the historic four-day march. Five months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This jubilant instrumental by jazz guitarist Grant Green seems to reflect the jubilation surrounding the Selma march’s completion. A 1965 recording, it also features Harold Vick (sax), Larry Young (organ), Ben Dixon (drums) and Candido Camero (congas).
We Shall Overcome – Larry Goldings
Many people, when asked to name a song that encapsulates the civil rights movement, will pick “We Shall Overcome.” It was, indeed, the movement’s theme song, sung by countless people all over the world. That’s how we often think of the song: large groups of people gathered together, singing it as they struggle against mighty odds. Pianist Larry Goldings, however, gives us a different view of this classic. Accompanied only by trumpeter (actually, he’s on cornet – JD) John Sneider, Goldings turns “We Shall Overcome” into a wistful, intimate and moving meditation.
This Little Light of Mine – Sam Cooke
Folklorist and activist Zilphia Horton did a wonderful thing when she introduced this children’s gospel song to the civil rights movement in the 1950s. Vocalist Sam Cooke did something equally wonderful, and much more amazing. He took this song that people were singing at sit-ins and marches and brought it into America’s toniest nightclubs, putting the music of The Movement in front of an audience that probably didn’t spend much time at sit-ins and marches. Cooke performed this joyful and uplifting version of “the Little Light Of Mine” in 1964 in New York’s Copacabana.
Lift Every Voice And Sing – Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff
[No Youtube clip available, so click here]
In 1919, this song (by James and John Johnson) was adopted by the NAACP as “The Negro National Anthem.” Its resonance in the civil rights movement is indisputable and, like all of the songs in this brief overview, it remains an incredibly moving piece of music today. This soulful instrumental version by alto saxophonist Hank Crawford, with his long-time musical partner and organist Jimmy McGriff, is one of the best. Prepare to be taken to the river.
If this doesn’t lift your spirits and brighten up your weekend, I don’t know what will.
Two middle aged men recall how, as young teenage would-be journalists in 1964, they got to interview Satch. And we can hear the recording of the great man talking about his “chops” and other crucial matters. I dedicate this to Comrade Dave Osler, who last weekend admitted to me that he now, at long last, finally ”gets” Louis Armstrong…
H/t: Michael Steinman and his great ‘Jazz Lives’ blog.
NB: The best Louis Armstrong website, written by his Number One fan, researcher and historian Ricky Riccardi, here.
Bobby Bland (Robert Calvin Brooks), blues and soul singer, born 27 January 1930; died 23 June 2013
Above: ‘Stormy Monday’ (1962) with Wayne Bennett on guitar
Tony Russell writes (in the Graun):
Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, who has died aged 83, was among the great storytellers of blues and soul music. In songs such as I Pity the Fool, Cry Cry Cry and Who Will the Next Fool Be, he created tempestuous arias of love, betrayal and resignation, set against roiling, dramatic orchestrations, and left the listener drained but awed.
It was a skill that came gradually. His husky voice was gorgeous from the start, but as a young man he followed BB King – for a while literally, as his valet and chauffeur – and his singing took on a special character only after he began to study the recorded sermons of the Detroit preacher CL Franklin, Aretha’s father. “That’s where I got my squall from,” he recalled. That alchemy of blues and gospel cadences would create one of the most affecting voices in black music
Read the rest, here
1/ Richie Havens
• Richard Pierce Havens, folk singer and guitarist, born 21 January 1941; died 22 April 2013
Richie Havens, who has died of a heart attack aged 72, is best known for his opening performance at the historic 1969 Woodstock festival. He had been scheduled to go on fifth, but major traffic snarl-ups delayed many of the performers, so he was put on first and told to perform a lengthy set.
He entranced the audience for three hours, being called back time and again for encores. With his repertoire exhausted, he improvised a song based on the spiritual Motherless Child. This became Freedom, his best known song and an anthem for a generation (from the Graun‘s obituary)
2/ George Jones
• George Glenn Jones, country singer, born 12 September 1931; died 26 April 2013
George Jones, who has died aged 81, was country music’s most stylish and emotional singer. Less well-known outside the genre than his one-time wife Tammy Wynette, he had one of the finest voices of the 20th century. He was the king of honky-tonk, the raw electric country style, and was in a direct line from Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams (again from the Graun‘s obit, written in this case by Hank Wangford).
Nina Simone, of course:
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
And I’m feeling good
I’m feeling good
I feel so good
I feel so good
Radio 4′s excellent Soul Music series today dealt with Peggy Lee’s 1969 recording of ’Is That All There Is?’, one of the strangest and most enigmatic chart hits ever.
Soul Music takes takes a piece of music or a particular performance, and simply carries interviews with people (some directly connected to the music/performance, others not) about what it means to them. It’s often very moving.
The interviewees today had very different interpretations of what the song, and Ms Lee’s performance, meant…
Hope or despair? For or against suicide? Existential angst or a simple statement that friends and family are all that really matter in the end?
One person we didn’t hear from was Peggy Lee herself: she died in 2002. But here’s what she wrote in her autobiography:
‘Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball,
If that’s all there is…’
I picked up the needle from the demo record on the turntable and said to Snooky Young, ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’
‘Thats’s a weird song,’ he said. ‘You going to sing that?’
‘Yes, I think so. I can’t get it off my mind.’
‘Well, you do all those kind of arty songs and people seem to love them…’
I thought of ‘Don’t Smoke in Bed’ and a few others and remembered how I often had to fight to get to do things I believed in, but little did I know at the time what a battle I’d have with ‘Is That All There Is?’ Before this, its authors, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, had written ‘I’m A Woman’, truly my cup of tea, and, of course, their huge success, Elvis Presley’s record of ‘You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog’ (although I still think ‘I’m a Woman’ was more colourful, filled as it was with word-pictures, and it did swing).
When I came to record ‘Is That All there Is?’ there was resistance everywhere. They said it was too far out, they said it was too long, they said and they said … So I went to Glenn Wallichs with a demo record (something I hadn’t done before), and Glenn seemed embarrassed. ‘Peggy, you don’t have to play a demo, you helped build this Capitol Tower. You just record anything you want.’
Delighted to hear it, Jerry and Mike and I set about doing just that. Earlier, Johnny Mandel had brought me one of Randy Newman’s very first albums, telling me, ‘You’ll love this fellow,’ which I did, and asked him to write the arrangement. It turned out to be perfect for his style.
So now the record was made, our faith in it ran high — I couldn’t believe my ears when Capitol Records said they were turning thumbs down on it.
Is that all there is?
No, because, fortunately, there was a television show they wanted me to do, which I wasn’t keen about. Well, you know what I did. I said, ‘Yes, if you’ll release this record, I’ll do the show,’ and they agreed.
Hallelujah. It became a hit, went ‘across the board’, but that’s not all there is to it. It dramatized for me what my life had been and would continue to be, a struggle, sometimes for things more serious than a song, but the lesson was there — stick to your guns, believe, and more than you ever imagined can happen.
Wikipedia, however, states:
The song was inspired by the 1896 story Disillusionment (Enttäuschung) by Thomas Mann. The narrator in Mann’s story tells the same stories of when he was a child. A dramatic adaptation of Mann’s story was recorded by Erik Bauserfeld and Bernard Mayes …
One difference between the story and the song is that the narrator in Mann’s story finally has a sensation to feel free when he sees the sea for the first time and laments for a sea without a horizon. Most of the words used in the song’s chorus are taken verbatim from the narrator’s words in Mann’s story.
Judge for yourself:
Former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson is preparing for a short farewell tour in March. This really will be ‘farewell’: he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, having turned down chemo, has less than a year to live. He’s just given this interview to Radio 4′s ‘Front Row’ and if you didn’t hear it when it went out yesterday I must INSIST that you listen, NOW.
It reminds me of Dennis Potter’s incredible 1994 interview conducted by Melvyn Bragg, but might just be even more powerful and moving, with its humour, philosophy and complete lack of self-pity:
“When the doctor told me, I walked out of there and felt an elation…I looked at the trees and sky and thought, ‘wow!’…
“…I’m a feather for each wind that blows. Why didn’t I work that out before? It’s just the moment that matters. Imminent death…makes you feel alive. Every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, makes you think ‘I’m alive’…
“…I’m a miserable person but that has all lifted…I’ve had a fantastic life. Anybody that asked for anything more would just be being greedy.”
He also talks a whole lot of sense about music and recording.
Below; Wilko on guitar, with vocalist Lee Brilleaux:
The great jazz trombonist, arranger, composer and teacher Bob Brookmeyer died just over a year ago. As well as his musical accomplishments, he was a fine essayist, blogger and writer of what used to be called (back in the days of LPs) sleeve- (or liner-) notes. Someone really ought to publish a collection of his writings. In the meanwhile, here’re the sleeve-notes from Stretching Out, an album he recorded with Zoot Sims 54 years and one day ago:
These days, everything’s got science; or cellophane; or it’s frozen, ready to be popped into your old oven; or it’s safe for the kiddies and grandma too — the story is too familiar to all of us to tolerate much reiteration, but Jim, they never have been able to isolate SOUL long enough to deep-freeze it for storage and shipment. In fact, sometimes it seems like they forgot what it was, is and must be to the human heart and mind in our tin-soldier and popgun world. These men on this record know about that and some more besides and you can belive that if you will.
One of the saddening and, to my mind, tragic oversights of this evening’s “jazz” audience is their slavish, slatternly devotion to the immediate and the topical. The eternal seems to be too sticky a substance to mess with — it doesn’t wash off the hands very easy and so I guess people must really want to feel, for the first time, really clean, or sterile, or be in the swim, or hep or maybe even hip if they are some down kitties. Not me, thanks. There’s a lot of dirt, grime and sadness in life, perhaps more than many can cope with but it’s there, right under the edge of the carpet and behind the mirror, under your fingernails and betwixt your pearly teeth. And along with the sour you can have your sweet too, plenty of it, but that sugar doesn’t mean beans without you have some salt to let you know which is which. Admirably stated by Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton in a letter to his sister, to wit; “you got to take the bitters with the sweet” ( Mr Jelly Lord by Alan Lomax, Grove Press and the best book on jazz ever written). So, three long cheers for sadness that is blue instead of yellow, men that can admit to some real joy and know the hearse is parked just ’round the corner and above all, those gents that can say it all in that huge 4/4 beat that makes even this tired old correspondent “glad all over”, Orphan Annie’s old truism. By the way, did they really grab Daddy Warbucks on back income tax?
This all wouldn’t have been possible without Harry Edison and Fred Green, you know. They know as much about the kind of music that I feel as any men who ever lived. They have earned — with no catawauling about travel, working conditions, the plight of the “jazzman” in America today, and related rot — the respect and love of many musicians and listeners, especially those who were around to sop up that great Basie band in the early ’40s. They are, truly GIANTS: yesterday through, and inclusive of, tomorrow. Not an awful lot of that calibre here anymore mbut they’re enough. Ed Jones, Hank, Persip, Zoot and Cohn are of the same mind about this too, so if you all can’t agree in the world who is right, we’ll wait for you to catch up if you’ll hurry.
The album was recorded at Nola’s penthouse on a Sunday afternoon in December and it was fun, fun, fun and happiness. What I wouldn’t do to play with a band like this every night! Ah well, back to the workroom and some more of that score paper so have a good time at the funeral and a good day to all – BOB BROOKMEYER