The Blast

Varese on Charlie Parker
July 20, 2010, 9:11 pm
Filed under: classical, jazz, music

In the 1920s, french composer Edgar Varese held a certain contempt for jazz music. However, the advent of bebop changed this attitude, and Varese went on to hold workshops such notable jazz artists as Charles Mingus, and at one point almost had Charlie Parker as a pupil. Quoting Varese in an interview reprinted in Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington:

With jazz, the ones who could have been good become very conventional. I heard the man who was playing—what was his name? He died. He was a god of music in that field. He played a kind of saxophone—Charlie Parker. At that time he lived in New York. He followed me on the street, and he said he wanted to be with us. The day I left I said, “We’ll get together. I’ll take you for my pupil.” Then I had to catch my boat. It’s when I went to Europe for Déserts. And Charlie Parker died in ’55, in March. Oh, he was so nice, and so modest, and he had such a tone. You could not know if it was an angelic double bass, a saxophone, or a bass clarinet. Then one day I was in that big hall there on 14th Street, the Cooper Union. Somebody said, “I want to meet you.” She was the widow of Charlie Parker. She said, “He was always talking about you, so I know all about you.” And that man was a great star. He wanted to study music and thought I had something for him.

Recordings of Varese’s workshops with Charles Mingus and others made in 1957 can be found here.

via the always excellent Alex Ross

Edgar Varese


Brian Wilson to Finish Gershwin’s Incomplete Works?
October 11, 2009, 10:36 pm
Filed under: classical, jazz, music

Apparently, the trustees to George Gershwin’s estate have selected Brian Wilson to complete the unfinished works of George Gershwin.

Todd Gershwin [George’s great-nephew and a trustee of the George Gershwin family trusts] said a collection of several dozen song fragments, ranging from “a few bars to some almost finished songs and everything in between” had been sitting virtually untouched for more than seven decades. He and other trustees began reaching out in the last year or two to find contemporary artists who might be interested in completing those musical bits and pieces.

Wilson, who says “Rhapsody in Blue” is his earliest musical memory, said the pieces he’s working with are very likely to remain as instrumentals, and that they could easily wind up as three-minute pop songs. But he’s also holding open the possibility of expanding them to more substantive pieces.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was curious to see how this turns out. I’m not the biggest Brian Wilson fan in the world, but it could potentially be pretty interesting. I can’t help but think of other musicians that would be better suited, capable, or interesting in fulfilling this role. A few off the bat:

1. Paul McCartney: for whatever reason Brian Wilson was selected, McCartney would have been better in the same regard;

2. Wynton Marsalis: makes the most sense to continue in Gershwin’s style given his deep roots in jazz and classical music; and

3. Bobby McFarrin: a wild card pick that I think would have been the most interesting.

4. Perhaps a compilation with contributions from several artists? That would make for a great album that I would buy immediately.

Any other suggestions on who may be a good fit for continuing/completing Gershwin’s work? Is Brian Wilson a good choice?

I spotted this first on Marginal Revolution, whose commenters could not help themselves with title possibilities:

I, for one, look forward to Porgy and Ba Ba Ba Ba Barbara Ann.

Wynton Marsalis Speech: The Ballad of the American Arts
May 10, 2009, 2:24 pm
Filed under: art, jazz, music, video

On March 30, 2009, Wynton Marsalis delivered the 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy to a capacity crowd at the Kennedy Center on the eve of Arts Advocacy Day.

Having attended several lectures on music and music history in the past, I can easily say that this is the best speech I have ever heard on the topic of American Music. It is a not just a speech, but also a concert of the evolution of american song.

Here is the link for the video.

Also, here are some key excerpts from the transcript that can be seen here.


“A financial inheritance can be accurately assessed in dollars, but what is the value of an artistic heritage? Who calculates the value of ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘Yankee Doodle’ or ‘Go Down Moses’? Those spirituals were the first body of identifiable, purely American musical art…all kinds of people from all over made one through tragedy.”

“If our political and economic systems don’t serve our cultural interests, how do we rebuild those systems when they are in distress or fail?”


“We want to embrace one another, but don’t know how. And the answer is not more education, but more substantive and more culturally-rooted education. The primary justification for the value of education is not some competition with other countries for technological jobs, or to win the so-called science race, or to beat anyone. Our arts demand and deserve that we recognize the life we have lived together.”

“Now the challenge of this generation is to find the frontier of our collective souls. And though it is a soul with a history of slavery and injustice and struggle, it is a soul with freedom and striving and triumph. And you can’t get past the truth of yourself.”

“Who will have the courage to teach the most heroic songs and stories of what we have done all over this land and demand that the best of who we are be the national story?”


“The best of the American arts and the way they’ve been sung and swung provided human meaning to the questions posed by the Founding Fathers more than 150 years earlier. It told you to be yourself and love what made you, you. It told you to listen deeply to others and find the beauty of originality in them. And through swing, the most flexible rhythm ever played, it told you how to balance your individuality with the desires of the group. It told you we have a history, a depth, a tradition that requires skill and study but demands you apply those skills to search the frontiers of your soul. It told you that innovation and creativity hold hands with the tried and true.”

If you have a lazy weekend afternoon to yourself, take the time to enjoy this.