A Question of Time

A Question of Time
Alan Bryson By

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Imagine you were given the chance to go back in time and witness four musical events (one each from jazz, blues, classical, and rock history.) What would they be? That's an after-dinner topic friends might discuss by candlelight. If your inner-child has completely matured, perhaps you could approach it as a potential film: if you were given a massive budget to authentically recreate four musical events, what would they be?

This idea has intrigued me for a while, so when I interviewed Derek Trucks earlier this year I thought it would be interesting to hear his choices. Clearly, he had thought along these lines himself, and his real difficulty was in limiting himself to four choices. In any case, his answers proved to be revealing and insightful, so I decided to pose the same question to a few other prominent people from my favorite musical genres.

Rhoda Scott

Rhoda Scott is a living legend of organ jazz, whom Arthur Rubinstein called, "a great, very great virtuoso." She is a member of that very small group of jazz players who have truly mastered the pedal bass, earning the nickname, "The Barefoot Lady."

The daughter of a minister, she began playing organ in church and working with gospel choirs, which eventually led to performing with a small jazz band. She studied classical piano, but continued to concentrate on the organ, earning a Masters' degree in music theory from the Manhattan School of Music. Jazz, gospel, and classical music all come together in her approach to music, so she immediately came to mind when planning this piece.

Her pick for jazz is the April 2,1955 benefit concert for Carlie Parker at Carnegie Hall organized by Dizzy Gillespie and friends to pay for Bird's funeral expenses. It began at midnight and went on until 3:40 am when the police shut it down. This caused an uproar because many musicians had not yet played. Nonetheless, those 2760 jazz fans who got into the sold out concert saw: Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine, Sammy Davis Jr., Stan Getz, Oscar Pettiford, Lester Young, and Horace Silver.

For her blues pick she didn't specify a particular artist, but simply opted for Chicago blues in the 1940's. No doubt she would have been treated to quite a show no matter what club she picked. Back then she might have caught Big Bill Broonzy performing his "Key to the Highway" with a young Muddy Waters on guitar, or she might have heard harp players like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Snooky Pryor, or pianists Champion Jack Dupree and Little Brother Montgomery, or bottleneck slide guitarist Tampa Red playing his hit "Let Me Play With Your Poodle."

As an organist, her classical pick of Johann Sebastian Bach is not surprising. He was also on my own short list. I would have probably picked the 20 year old Johann who walked off the job and literally continued walking some 250 miles to Lobeck to hang out with Dieterich Buxtehude, the Big Daddy of German organ. Young Johann stayed on for several months, and as the story goes, would have become Buxtehude's amanuensis, except that the position would have also required him to marry the boss's daughter.

Rhoda opted for his years (1723-50) as Cantor of the Thomas School adjacent to the Thomas Church. This too would have been an ideal time as Bach was then the Big Kahuna of the musical scene in Leibzig. By this time he had composed a vast amount of music, and was performing large scale cantatas. She would be able to see him on organ and harpsichord, directing singers and musicians—that would be a thrill indeed.

Rhoda's rock selection is fitting as it comes on the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. A great pick, not only an event with historic and cultural significance, but she would see a literal who's-who of sixties rock: Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, Ten Years After, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Band, Joe Cocker, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater, Grateful Dead, Mountain, Ravi Shankar, Ritchie Havens, and also witness the emergence of Santana onto the world stage.

Pete Fallico

For those of us who love the Hammond B3 sound, Pete Fallico is simply, "The Ultimate Hammond Organ Afficianado." He is also a well-known radio personality, concert promoter, record producer, and friend to scores of the most respected names in organ jazz. His Doodlin' Lounge website and podcast are two of the best spots on the web for B3 fans.

Pete's jazz pick: "A jazz event that I would have loved to have attended would be the opening night for Jimmy Smith at Spider Kelley's club in Philadelphia. This was when he first came out from his wood-shedding in a warehouse where he and his father worked as plasterers. Some of the most prestigious jazz players were there to witness the birth of modern-day jazz organ. I wish I could have seen and heard that!"

Another interesting pick: "For a Blues event I would like to have been at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island when Muddy Waters performed. It was recorded and released as his first live album. This was like a resurrection of his career."

His classical pick is especially intriguing: "For a classical music event I would think that any of the NBC Symphony Orchestra's broadcasts conducted by Arturo Toscanini would have been momentous. I would like to have been there for the 1942 broadcast of Dimitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7."

Toscanini was of course one of the most respected classical musicians and conductors of the 19th and 20th centuries, and this was the American premiere of this symphony. Because of WWII the score had to be mircofilmed and brought to America via courier from the Soviet Union.

For his rock pick Pete chose the summer of love: "The Monterey International Pop Music Festival held at the Monterey County Fair Grounds between June 16 and June 18, 1967 helped to usher in the so-called 'Summer of Love' era. That would be the event that I wish I had attended. Even though I live just 60 miles away from Monterey, I did not go that weekend and I have regretted it ever since."

This was America's first large scale rock festival and was also the first major appearance in the United States of several of its headliners: Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding. When one checks out the list of performers it certainly revivals Woodstock: the Animals, Simon & Garfunkel, Canned Heat, Al Kooper, Paul Butterfield, the Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield, Steve Miller, Moby Grape, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Booker T and the M.G.'s, Buffalo Springfield, Grateful Dead, the Mamas and Papas and more.

Randall Bramblett

Chuck Leavell calls Randall Bramblett the best kept secret in the South. He's a musician's musician, a prolific composer, and highly regarded keyboard and saxophonist. Like Chuck Leavell, Randall Bramblett initially gained serious recognition through his work on Gregg Allman's first solo album, Laid Back (1973), and his subsequent multi-instrument contributions to the live Gregg Allman Tour album. He is perhaps best known for his singing, playing, and composing in the band Sea Level, but he has also recorded and played with Robbie Robertson, Steve Winwood, Elvin Bishop, Bonnie Bramlett, the Atlanta Rhythm Section and many more. He has also released seven solo albums.

Randall's classical pick is the premier of Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" in Paris. The demanding music and extreme dance steps coupled with the provocative opening bassoon solo caused some in the audience to boo and whistle, which escalated to loud arguments. Eventually fist fights broke out and degenerated into a full scale riot. Even the arrival of the police couldn't completely restore order. Stravinsky is reported to have been so upset that he ran out of the theater in tears.

For blues he selected Howlin' Wolf at Weiller's juke joint 1950s. This of course was Howlin' Wolf at his high point with the legendary guitarist Hubert Sumlin at his side. Critic Cub Koda declared, "no one could match him for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits." Indeed, at 6'6" and 300 pounds with a voice to match, Howlin' Wolf must have been a force to behold.

John Coltrane live at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1961 is Randall's jazz choice. Imagine being there for "Chasin' The Trane," a wise choice considering these performances are generally regarded as some of the greatest live jazz recordings of all time, and a highpoint for Coltrane.

Finally, for his rock moment in time Randall picked the Rolling Stones performing at Georgia Southern College, Statesboro, Georgia on May 4, 1965. Kids paid $2.50 to see The Rolling Stone "from England," sponsored by Sigma Epsilon Chi. Of course Brian Jones was still with the band at this point. I couldn't find a setlist of this concert, but they were promoting their new LP The Rolling Stones Now!(1965)

"Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," "Down Home Girl," "You Can't Catch Me," "Heart of Stone," "What a Shame," "Mona (I Need You Baby)," "Down the Road Apiece," "Off the Hook," "Pain in My Heart," "Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin')," "Little Red Rooster," and "Surprise, Surprise."

My Picks

For classical music, it would be tempting to go with J.S. Bach, Mozart, or Liszt, but as long as we're going back in time, I'd want to experience something extra. So I would like to be part of the 12,000 people in 1749 who endured a three hour traffic jam of carriages in London to hear an outdoor performance of Music for the Royal Fireworks by Handel.

The formal concert was held in Green Park on April 27, 1749 in a specially constructed stage, with the music included to provide background for a royal firework display. Murphy's law struck and the building caught on fire, but I would have selected the rehearsal performance a week earlier anyway. It was held at Vauxhall Gardens and was open to the public, thus the massive traffic jam.

For jazz, I imagine being a fly on the wall at Gil Evans's basement apartment on 55th Street behind a Chinese laundry in the late 40's when Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were there together. At the time Miles was in Parker's band, perhaps somewhat intimidated as a soloist, yet drawn to tighter arrangements with a more complex and subtle approach to rhythm and textural elements. I would love to witness a discussion with Gil, Miles and Bird in that little apartment with Gil on his lone piano, and them with their horns as they explored what would come to be known as cool jazz.

It's very difficult for me to come up with a blues pick. In terms of pure enjoyment I would have probably gone with seeing Howlin' Wolf or Elmore James at a club in the fifties. However, given only one chance to go back and experience something, I would pick seeing the greatest Delta bluesman of all time, Robert Johnson. I must admit that his limited and primitive recordings don't really move me, but his songwriting was truly remarkable. For that reason I'd like to experience Robert Johnson as more than a tinny old recording and a couple of photographs.

I imagine seeing Robert Johnson performing on guitar and harmonica for tips in front of a barbershop. He was reportedly very ingratiating with crowds and would take requests, along the lines of, "if you can hum it, I can play it." He would have been playing the popular tunes of the day, not only blues, but also country and jazz. He made friends and fans wherever he went which made it easier and more profitable to return again. What a thrill it would be to hear him play and listen to his banter with the crowd—living on tips, you know he must have been a master of his trade.

For rock, the festivals mentioned above are very tempting. However, because they are well preserved on film, I would instead follow Johnny and the Moondogs on the October day in 1959 when they auditioned at The Carroll Levis "TV Star Search" held at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool, England.

The trio was made up of Johnny Lennon who had just turned 19, Paul McCartney age 17, and George Harrison age 16. I think it would be fascinating to see the group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, watch them rehearse, perform, and come down after the show. I'm curious if their potential, given what we now know, was identifiable then.

So now, how about you?

Photo Credits
Stock Image Pixabay

Pete Fallico

Randall Bramlett

Rolling Stones: Kevin Delaney

A view of the illuminations: Wikipedia

Reference Material


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