Monday, December 21, 2009
Let's See If You Believe in Me
The 1920s have always held a certain fascination for me. There seems to have been some sort of culmination going on, the end of a long period of roil and moil where African rhythms appeared slowly in White-People Music -- first inauthentically in the minstrelsy of the 1850s and '60s, and then quite authentically indeed in the ragtime trend of the 1890s and 1900s. Whether you responded positively to jazz, the natural outcome of ragtime, was a good indicator of where you stood on the great questions of the day -- prude or flapper? Traditionalist or modernist?
While that thought was knocking around in my head, Blue Girl gently reminded me that it was time for our wonderful annual X-Muss Collaboration. She suggested "Santa Baby," to which I happily agreed. As I listened to Eartha Kitt's utterly wonderful original take on the song, I realized that, under all the 1952 sex-kitten-with-full-jazz-orchestra trappings, what I was hearing was really not much advanced structurally from a hot-jazz number from 1929. So then I started imagining Bessie Smith, say, and how she'd approach such a song.
But we're not actually in 1929, are we. We passed through the vogue for Twenties nostalgia at least once back in 1968 or so, when "Bonnie and Clyde" put the Depression front and center in our minds. And again, a few years ago, when "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" pulled our attention to the string-band, vocal and religious music from that time. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks -- my first and still favorite exposure to artists playing in their own time what was considered slick and modern in the Depression -- deliberately made themselves sound the way an R. Crumb cartoon looks: the Twenties and Thirties brought forward into 1968's weird temporal ambivalence.
Nostalgia, but expressed in ways that never existed in the period one is nostalgic for.
It is in this spirit, then, that Blue Girl and I present for your pleasure:
Purely from a production standpoint, I'm particularly proud of this one. I had never played a ukelele in any kind of serious way, and my banjo playing had been limited to the five-string, Earl Scruggs three-finger rolls of bluegrass. I had been aware of what an important rhythmic role the tenor banjo played in a Twenties jazz-band -- the decade that saw the invention of the electric guitar to replace the banjo's somewhat obstreperous plank-a-chank.
But those instruments together -- along with slide guitar, wood upright bass, clarinets and an alto sax -- were a joy to mix. I didn't have to do much to them at all to make them sit well together peacefully. It's like they're made for each other, or something.
All right. Enough blather from me. Enjoy, kids.
Merry Christmas/Holidays/Days of Observance/Days You Completely Ignore!
And Glue Birl? That dress.... It does things for me. Me and my 18-inch legs....