Monthly Archives: March 2009

April gigs

Here’s the schedule for this month.

At 10PM most Wednesdays in April I’ll play Taix in Madame Pamita’s band. I almost always get there early to eat and then hang out to chat after the set. That’s 4/1, 4/8, 4/22, and 4/29. (But not 4/15).

On Thursday April 9 I’ll play a solo set at the Hyperion Tavern. Dunno the time yet, most likely around 10PM. I’ll do the new electric guitar stuff that I’ve been working out in the Cinema Bar gigs over the past couple months. Hyperion Tavern is a great room for relaxing and cooling out to low key music. There’s no obvious place to eat right by the bar, because Casita del Campo across the street is really wretched, but there are some spots up Hyperion Ave toward Glendale.

On Friday April 10 and Friday April 24 I’ll play an early set at Cinema Bar in Culver City for the after-work drinkers. TGIF, a couple Coronas, killer tacos at Tito’s next door, and some vintage americana music.

On Monday April 27 I’ll play from 7:45 to 8:45 at the Talking Stick coffeehouse in Venice Beach. It’s on Lincoln a couple blocks south of Air Conditioned lounge. Real nice room where it’s easy both to talk to people or to pull into your own head and do some laptopping.

Lots of shows, which is good because playing more gets me into a nice flow and the music comes out well. Also: always always always feel free to ping me about drinks or food on gig nights. It’s all about the socializing.

Carolina Chocolate Drops 9/21/08

Great live tune with chillingly grave singing and a potent solo.

The singer makes me think of the 60s folk revival. I’m hearing Joan Baez and Odetta in her POV. And that makes me think of how old music acquires layers of meaning as different generations embrace it for their own purposes.

For me it was especially interesting to see the guitarist’s approach to soloing, since this is the same kind of stuff I do with Madame Pamita. I liked his take on it — hot fingerpicking, no single note runs.

The use of yodeling is really interesting, too.

I didn’t like their recorded stuff as much as this live bit.

the classical blowhard POV on Pompey Ran Away

1907 edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians on Pompey Ran Away:

It has the incessant repetition of phrase found in so many negro airs. As to the African origin of these tunes many theories have been offered, from the belief in their practical genuineness as real native strains, down to the contemptuous attitude of some who take them to have been manufactured in deliberate imitation of European models, by ignorant musicians for the enjoyment of their fellow-slaves. The truth is probably to be found somewhere between these two extremes. We may admit at once that the rhythmic peculiarities noticed above are to be traced to the original home of the African slave; as all students of primitive music know, distinct rhythms are among the most marked characteristics of savage music.

Talking Stick gig last night

I played at the Talking Stick, a coffee shop a few blocks from my house, last night. It’s next to the Subway where I get lunch a lot, and across from the Ralph’s I used to go to before I realized that Albertson’s is cheaper. It felt natural and comfortable to play right in the neighborhood.

I got to chat a little with the night barrista, who’s a laid back long haired guy in his 40s or 50s. After the set the owner pulled me aside to have an urgent discussion about fingering open chords on the guitar. While we were talking the next player stopped off to borrow my tuner. She was a cute little college girl with a singer-songwriter act. The style ain’t my thing but she had the personal charm to pull it off and there was a big crowd of people to show for it.

The music I played came out well. I’ve been developing a slightly more electric angle based on 30s country esthetics, with the goal of being more extroverted so that it will fit better with nightlife. This is coming along fine. The laptoppers weren’t grouchy about the distraction and the people who were there to engage were enthusiastic.

I felt _civic_ about the whole thing, like it was about being engaged with my city-state. It makes me feel like a member and a contributor. I get this feeling a lot when I play in the neighborhood.

Pompey Ran Away

Pompey Ran Away” is a colonial American piece of music. It comes our way via an African player – probably a 1st generation African captive living as a slave – and a Scottish tourist who wrote down what he heard and published it when he got home. It is a missing link between African music and American music influenced by African immigrants. It is a living document of the survival of African music in the new world. Mind boggling!

I learned it from this fragment of sheet music:

Pompey Ran Away sheet music

I came across that in “Sinful Tunes and Spirituals” By Dena J. Epstein, which describes the music this way:

[It lacks] any distinctive African flavor, sounding much like other non-African dances. Presumably much was lost in the transcription, as the tunes were filtered through the ears and musical sensibilities of a musician bred in the European tradition. Perhaps only the dance steps retained African elements, but it is at least possible that African aspects of the tunes may still be identified.

Because of what the author said about the lack of African sound I didn’t expect to find any, but it looked easy enough to try the tune out so I gave it a quick shot while I was reading. It’s tricky to play, like a tongue twister. There’s no apparent form, just this circular pattern made of short melodic fragments. The major scale of the melody could easily be an Irish fiddle tune, the author is right about that. But the way the motifs are woven together could never be from that source. I stuck with the tune for a couple days and when I eventually mastered it enough to really know what it was supposed to sound like what I found was something unmistakeably west African, maybe from Ghana or Mali, which is also where most slaves came from.

In my final version I tried to create variation by using a few different octaves, doubling notes, using harmonics, and shifting the accent. But I have no idea how to play in any African style of any kind; anything African you hear in this was always there.

other versions

There’s a purely Mali-flavored version by Bob Carlin and Cheick Hamala Diabate over at Rhapsody. This feels very different than what got written down back in the day. I doubt it sounds all that much like what that poor fucking slave dude was playing, whoever he was. But it probably is indicative of what the music of his childhood sounded like.

My favorite version is by a gourd banjo player named Pete Ross. It keeps the characteristic circular rhythm which implies west Africa without being full bore west African. I found it among the samples for David Hyatt’s gourd banjo store.

The other versions that I found were all in 4/4 and sounded miles away from what was written down. For example, this is the version by Carson Hudson Jr.. Still, I loved the sound of his band (with the wicker rattle and simple drum) and I found his writing about the song cool:

Among runaway notices printed in 18th century Virginia newspapers there appear occasional references to fugitive slaves who play upon the banjo, banger, or banjar. This curious piece, with its constant repetition of phrase, is from “A Selection of Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs”(1782). It is subtitled “A Negro Jig (Virginia).” It is performed on a gourd banjo, accompanied by a wicker rattle and goatskin drum.

performance notes

I play it as a cross between country (representing the celtic fiddle influence) and an African kalimba player I heard once in Washington Square Park (representing the west African roots). Also there’s some punk rock in there. 80s Sonic Youth was on my mind for some reason.

The instrument is a 1965 Gibson SG going through a 12 watt National-Dobro amp made in the 1940s. The tone of this combo is incredible. I really love it. But it only works in place as a loud as a bar, because the amp makes a lot of white noise. That’s what the white noise in the recording is.

My creative work here is hereby in the public domain.

Here’s an MP3 if you want it.

every other Friday at Cinema Bar

I’ll be doing an early set every other Friday at Cinema Bar in Culver City. The plan is to go before the main act for the night and play for the after-work drinkers.

I did the first one of these last week. I made $17 and three beers in tips and had a great time. Nice way to start the weekend.

Next one is Friday 3/13, between about 7PM and 9PM, but more like 7:30-8:30.