for The Daily Growler
Charles Ives, First American Master?--Part 2
I received an interesting response to the first part of this post (July 2 post) that was the first of my going through the dumpster of American cultural history and trying to determine if most of the white heroes that led me inspirationally to be the cultural being that I am NOW were racists. And why I'm trying to determine that was because as a born-free white child I wondered why my inner ears when first listening for the rhythms and accompanying sounds whether vocal or instrumental they best jived with picked basically African-American styles to emulate (please, I mean it as "to strive to equal or excel" and not "to imitate"), the rhythms and accompanying sounds that truly set my cradle to rocking the way it gave me the best comfort and excitement. At the same time, my camera eyes were searching through the basically white images of existence that were set before it--the constant photographing of my stages of behavior (the 8 x 10 rapidly changing glossies of my ever-evolving continually present character) [I must refer back sometime to Susan Sontag's On Photography, a remarkable book in which she defines at length how photography has affected us in terms of our deciphering truth from mystery] that began to develop into the cinematic treatment of my life in both dream and real state, complete with a soundtrack composed from these basically African-American styles of rhythms and accompanying sounds. Black music soundtracking a white-scripted film. Does that explain my curiosity about whether my white inspirations--the literary, visual, and narrative inspirations--were racists? I think what I'm driving at is this, even though my white inspirations, like Charles Ives, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Rockwell Kent, Carl Van Vechten, Philip Wylie, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, Gertrude Stein--even Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, and Burton Greene, were very fair-minded in their appreciation of black culture, did they appreciate it from a superior stance? And if they did, can we say they were conscious of that fact? I am especially curious in this sense about Charles Ives, his living and learning and writing music when he did, at a time, to me, black American music was coming into its own, along with other forms of black culture, like writing, poetry, and painting, and being discovered by the more aware white artists of the time. European white artists were ahead of Amuricans at discovering the uniqueness of black American music, especially the composer Antonin Dvorak, who came to New York to take over the National Conservatory of Music, who became absolutely fascinated by black American music, saying it was the only music that was uniquely American; in fact, he said, black American music was America's only true folk music. Dvorak also encouraged young black composers and musicians to study with him at the Conservatory, especially the black singer and composer Harry T. Burleigh, with whom Dvorak was very much impressed, saying he had one of the purest voices he'd ever heard. Burleigh was the man who put black spirituals into concert form--it's his arrangement of "Deep River" that all singers of spirituals used for years and which Dvorak himself used in his tribute to his America stay, The Symphony of the New World.
Charles Ives certainly knew of Dvorak being in New York City and wanted at one time to come to New York to study with him. It's so obvious for those of us who know Ives's complete music how many times he quotes the New World Symphony in so many of his compositions.
Music comes before sight in a child. Parents sometimes sing or play music while the mothers are pregnant. I'm sure music sounds strange to a neonatal coming through those surround-sound amniotic waters--blue waters, by the bye--the color blue to most Americans means either happiness--"Blue Skies" or that horrible "Bluebird of Happiness," or that old crooner saw "My Blue Heaven"--or it means sadness, as in "Everyday I Have the Blues" or "Blue Monday" or "When Sunny Gets Blue." [Our exclusively American blues music expresses both happiness and sadness in the color blue, too. Wynonie Harris singing, "Up popped the Devil in a brand new Cadillac...." sure does make me feel as jumping and happy as a barrel full of my monkey cousins.]
Charles Ives has been an inspirational hero of mine since I was a kid and bought the 1948 Columbia LP issue of John Kirkpatrick playing the Piano Sonata #2, the Concord, a pianist who met Ives in Redding in the late 30s and premiered the Concord in concert in 1938. I was so impressed by that piece I played it over and over and over again, especially the "Alcott" section, and its wonderfull flowing sonorities and yin and yang interlockings of melodies and traffic sounds, like the several marching bands passing in simultaneous review in the Holidays Symphony, that I became greedily mad to hear everything Ives I could get my mitts on, and there wasn't that much of Ives out there in those days. He was championed back before my time by the amazing Henry Cowell, an American original who idolized Ives, and I discovered Cowell's piano works right after I heard Ives's Concord, and I also got ahold of Ives's interestingly written book of essays he put together concerning his writing the Concord. Later as I listened more deeply and intelligently to all of his music, I came to hear that musical familiarity that my childhood ears had learned to favor; I heard those same haunting harmonics; the absolutely wonderful exploring of dissonance; the slowly rushing sometimes tacitly undercover at other times blatant crescendos, the constant babbling orchestrations like the sweet constant flow of the Housatonic River or the sometimes mad boiling waters of the Connecticut River--all of it "transcending" all other previous "classical" music in that all-American transcendence you find in the brilliance of Emerson, Thoreau, Walt Whitman, all those pure-dee American innovators in experimenting with new ways of thinking, running away from the "puritan" way of thinking, from the restrictive thinking of European classical philosophy, literature, music, and art--and into the loving arms of the American way of nonconformity, what led those white invaders who took this land over to revolt against what most of them had fled England or Holland to get away from, the oppression suffered under the bootheel of a gout-ridden, pompous-ass, fool/madman King of England, another Georgie Porgie of the worst kind--how the monarchs of Europe enforced conformity on its peasants to the point of enslaving them--the monarchs of Europe setting out at the beginning of the 19th Century to enslave anybody they could conquer; of course starting off with the easiest to conquer and control, the most opposite to the white man and his concept of the "black and white" of things. How truly colorless the white man is. [You ever notice how straitjackets are always white?]
So what I heard in Ives was what I had already heard in black music and decided that was the music for me--this before I had any concept really of just how separated I was from black America, except when it came to its music, of which I drank profusely before some white preacher tried to tell me their well waters were cursed--by whom? Why the Christian God himself, a curse he put on who the Christians claim is the original African, Ham, Noah's son, whose sin was seeing his old man naked--it didn't matter that old Pops was drunk as a Lardass and was trying to hump his own daughter at the same time.
8/8 time became my natural rhythm from the get go. I always liked 8 cylinder automobiles, too; the same as the old 8/8 musicians liked those big cars, too. I mean the Devil didn't pop up driving a beat-up Ford--like Lefty Frizzell drove in "If You Got the Money, Honey, I Got the Time" [Lefty Frizzell is a country-western hero of mine who brought country music out of the sticks and into modern times, like Muddy brought the blues into modern times. Lefty was a white trash boy in love with black music coming out of the fields around his trailer or over the two-bit radio late at night out of Nashville and Shreveport; getting his black inspiration through Jimmy Rodgers, the Yodelling Brakeman, to the point of doing a whole album of Jimmy Rodgers's blues]--nope, the Devil popped up driving a brand new 8-cylinder Cadillac, a bright red convertible, to boot.
In my trying to understand Charles Ives and what kind of black music he must of heard, I mentioned his father was a young bandmaster in the Union Army during the Civil War stationed in the South, near Richmond, and how after he was medically discharged from the Union Army--the first notice of the heart condition that would later kill him--he brought back to Connecticut with him a black kid named Henry Anderson Brooks and how Charlie Ives hearing talk of this kid and his father having such quick musical ear and being a Stephen Foster fan already--and being a man of march time (from whence comes jazz) must have also commented on the various musics he heard while going through the South--and being around black troops, especially like he was in the Richmond area where black troops played a big role in Grant's subduing Lee at Appomattocks.
When I was doing basic training in the US Army at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (Kenny Boy Lay was from right outside the gates of Fort Leonard Wood), the company I was in had a black kid from Philadelphia who was our drummer and the difference his drumming made to our mostly white-boy marching--and recruits in the US Army are constantly marching, even "into battle," and it being an old army tradition that the drummer "boy" and the flag bearer go over the hill first even before the officer leads the charge--we were totally bopping and swinging marching fools with an awesomely rhythmic style compared to the other units who had white drummers and marched straight up and down 1 and 2 and 3 and 4--the army counts it "hup 1, hup 2, hup 3, hup 4." Aha, sez I, and Duke Ellington says, it too, the drum is the original instrument and from the drum comes all music, but especially black music, which is also the basis of all music.
As convoluted as that is, that is why I was digging up Charles Ives's past to see how much of a racist he was, that is if you go along with the certain feelings that say all white people are racists.
Like I started this off saying, I got one interesting reply to this July 2 posting and it was from, of all folks, The Daily Growler housepianist, a musician I totally respect, not just for his piano playing but for his porous and quickly grasping mind--he's the one who brings the scores when we get together and blast out of this world with a good bottle of bourbon and a stack of illuminating CDs to listen to. Here's his response to my giving this black kid credit for influencing young Charles's musical mind.
I did [read the post]. I like it, but I think your idea that the slave George Ives
brought back from the war taught CEI about music is pretty slender,
wishful thinking than anything else.
What the Ives thing suggests to me is that while black musicians got
credit for contributing soul to American music, white musicians had a
fair amount of soul too. IOW, white & black music had more in common
than we think of. To my mind, the most important thing that the African
influence contributed, a critical thing, was the idea of groove, of
everyone feeling the beat together, precisely, and the momentum that
that generated. That's exclusively African, IMO. That rhythmic
shows up all over the New World, wherever Africans landed - the
Caribbean, Brazil, places that are known for the high quality of their
music. It shows in Ives only as ragtime however. The rest of it(Ives) I
think is pretty white, soulful as it is.
He makes some interesting points, especially about white music having soul before black music hit town. I think I knew some white music had soul, certainly one can't listen to Beethoven's last string quartets without hearing soul; Bach's cello sonatas; Schumann's dark stuff, especially his piano things; and yes, the hilly billy musics from the USA hills, those whose cultural leanings orginated in Elizabethan England days, and their music came down out of the hills as hillbilly music, bluegrass music--yes, that's white music that is old as the hills, and yes, it had that genre's soul in it. It had no drums however. String bands never had any drums until they were influenced by the Delta blues gone electric and moved up the river to Chicago. Think back, the early New Orleans jazz bands had no drums--Kid Ory's band, Joe Oliver's band, and Louie Armstrong's Hot Five--Louie added drums and tuba and it became the Hot Seven--Baby Dodds was Louie's first drummer, augmented by a tuba, the other added member of the Hot Seven. However, the New Orleans marching society bands had drums. Drums belonged in the streets one would assume.
for The Daily Growler
The Daily Growler Quote of the Day
"When the American economy dips, they go to war. It's easy for them to manufacture a war, start a war anywhere. Look at the American economy through the years and after World War II. I was in the Korean thing. ...Just before that you could see the economy was dipping around 1950. You dig it? ...Then as soon as the war got to cookin', there was money; 1951-53.... ...The economy dipped around 1960, so they went back to war in Vietnam. Money--money--money! Lives mean nothing. 'Specially when it's Asians or Africans. Or when it gets right down to the fact, white people kill each other, too. They don't care. Money is money! Money is god." Johnny Griffin, jazz saxophonist, from Notes and Tones, Arthur Taylor, De Capo Press, 1993.