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Author Topic: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues  (Read 8818 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« on: June 04, 2008, 09:07:27 PM »
A recent book of essays edited by David Evans.

Anyone picked this up yet? Thoughts? Here's the Amazon description:

Book Description
This compilation of essays takes the study of the blues to a welcome new level. Distinguished scholars and well-established writers from such diverse backgrounds as musicology, anthropology, musicianship, and folklore join together to examine blues as literature, music, personal expression, and cultural product. Ramblin' on My Mind contains pieces on Ella Fitzgerald, Son House, and Robert Johnson; on the styles of vaudeville, solo guitar, and zydeco; on a comparison of blues and African music; on blues nicknames; and on lyric themes of disillusionment.
 
Contributors are Lynn Abbott, James Bennighof, Katharine Cartwright, Andrew M. Cohen, David Evans, Bob Groom, Elliott Hurwitt, Gerhard Kubik, John Minton, Luigi Monge, and Doug Seroff.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2008, 09:11:09 PM by andrew »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2008, 10:05:47 PM »
Hi Andrew:

After I saw the info on this title via the PWBG post, I checked and both the King County Library and the UW Library have copies available. I've placed a hold and hopefully I'll be able to eyeball it in the flesh in short order. I won't have time to go cover-to-cover (too busy and way behind on my own work, but what else is new?), however I'll try to give you my impressions once I have had a chance to do a browse and skim.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2008, 08:17:42 AM »
From memory I think certain contributions in this work were given short shrift by the Blues & Rhythm reviewer. I'll have to look out the issue.

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2008, 02:52:37 PM »
That description gets my hackles up, big time. Over analysis at its peak.

Alex

Offline Stuart

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2008, 03:43:40 PM »
That description gets my hackles up, big time. Over analysis at its peak.

They're just trying to sell books, Alex.  :P

Here's part of what's in the King Country Library catalog entry, where they're just trying to tell potential borrowers what's in it:

Contents
Introduction / David Evans -- 1. Bourdon, Blue Notes, and Pentatonism in the Blues: An Africanist Perspective / Gerhard Kubik -- 2. "They Cert'ly Sound Good to Me": Sheet Music, Southern Vaudeville, and the Commercial Ascendancy of the Blues / Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff -- 3. Abbe Niles, Blues Advocate / Elliott S. Hurwitt -- 4. Hands of Blues Guitarists / Andrew M. Cohen -- 5. From Bumble Bee Slim to Black Boy Shine: Nicknames of Blues Singers / David Evans -- 6. Preachin' the Blues: A Textual Linguistic Analysis of Son House's "Dry Spell Blues" / Luigi Monge -- 7. Some Ramblings on Robert Johnson's Mind: Critical Analysis and Aesthetic Value in Delta Blues / James Bennighof -- 8. "Guess These People Wonder What I'm Singing": Quotation and Reference in Ella Fitzgerald's "St. Louis Blues" / Katharine Cartwright -- 9. Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: A Decade of Disillusion in Black Blues and Gospel Song / Bob Groom -- 10. Houston Creoles and Zydeco: The Emergence of an African American Urban Popular Style / John Minton.

Like "the proof of the pudding...,"  the proof of the book is in the reading. I'll let you know what I think after I get my grubby little mitts on it.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2008, 07:34:37 PM »
The Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff article in particular sounds interesting.

Alex, I agree, some of these things can be a real snooze, but let's not judge a book by it's academic PR!

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2008, 01:46:30 AM »
... but let's not judge a book by it's academic PR!

Somebody ought to write a song based around that - I know: "You can't judge a book by looking at the cover".  Sort of catchy....   :D
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2008, 09:34:10 AM »
Here follows the review in Blues & Rhythm 229 (May 2008). It will be interesting to hear what others make of the volume once they've read it.

RAMBLIN? ON MY MIND
New Perspectives On The  Blues
Edited By David Evans
University of Illinois Press ISBN: 978-0-252-07448-6; paperback; 430 pages; $27.00

There are ten essays in this compilation: Bourdon, Blue Notes and Pentatonism in the Blues  An Africanist Perspective by Gerhard Kubik; ?They Cert?ly Sound Good To Me?: Sheet Music, Southern Vaudeville and the Commercial Ascendancy Of The Blues by Lynn Abbot and Doug Seroff; Abbe Niles, Blues Advocate by Elliott S. Herwitt; The Hands Of Blues Guitarists by Andrew M. Cohen; From Bumble Bee Slim to Black Boy Shine: Nicknames of Blues Singers by compiler David Evans; Preachin? The Blues: A Textual Linguistic Analysis Of Son House?s ?Dry Spell Blues? by Luigi Monge; Some Ramblings On Robert Johnson?s Mind: Critical Analysis and Aesthetic Value In Delta Blues by James Bennighof; ?Guess These People Wonder What I?m Singing?: Quotation and Reference in Ella Fitzgerald?s ?St. Louis Blues? by Katherine Cartwright; Beyond The Mushroom Cloud: A Decade of Disillusion in Black Blues and Gospel Song by Bob Groom; Houston Creoles and Zydeco: The Emergence of an African/American Urban Popular Style by John Minton.

In the Dark and Middle Ages knowledge was an arcana of secrets to which the peasantry were denied access for their own safety or the safety of its custodians, the priests who had all the texts. Now there seem to be moves afoot to return us to the dark days of selective intelligence, wherein a gifted (by their own recognisance) few converse by means of abstract symbology, larding their discourse with unwieldy neologisms, to encode the provenance of their thoughts. Luckily, there are others who pass on the results of their research in language that the less gifted can understand.

I must admit after ten pages of Gerhard Kubik?s 34-page essay I had to quit a dense and obsessively technical text. I willingly concede the inadequacies in my understanding. But when I read that ?The Delta blues style especially is, in a sense, an extension of the west-central Sudanic Islamicized style cluster?, I realised this was more information than I could process, moreover it was more information than I required. I take no interest in knowing from which country or district in Africa the blues emanated. It?s a Grail quest, impossible to resolve, although I wouldn?t deny the aspirations of those drawn to an eerie light shining through a stained glass window. I do, however, take issue with this essay?s title. ?Bourdon? is a low-pitched organ stop but this piece embarks from a Robert Belfour song in which he uses an open string as a drone (i.e. bourdon). What?s wrong with drone? Further, if you check your OED, you?ll find the word is actually pentatonicism. Beyond that, I have been reliably informed that in certain circles ?Africanist? is the t-shirt du jour.

There?s more wilfully obscure exegesis (?critical explanation or interpretation of a text?, OED) on offer in the essays by Andrew M. Cohen, James Bennighof and Luigi Monge. It may surprise some (and the writer himself) that I enjoyed the first ten or so pages of ?Preachin? The Blues? before the analysis became too close for corneal comfort. The Introduction sagely notes, ?It shows that Son House was one of the great composers of the blues as well as a great performing artist.? It wasn?t true until you read it here. That was closely followed by Bennighof?s ?Some Ramblings On Robert Johnson?s Mind? (the lad has wit), which cantered off happily into thematic continuums and central tonic harmonies, this despite an earlier assertion that the author had avoided ?jargon alien to the tradition?. That?s the tradition of analysis, one supposes.

And aren?t you frustrated by calling blues styles, ?Mississippi?, ?Piedmont?, ?Texas? or ?Chicago?? Andrew M. Cohen reckons he has a new method of definition; as the Introduction has it, ?the use of the right thumb for timekeeping and making melodic figures, demonstrating clear patterns of regional variation in the thumb?s role as well as showing developments of these patterns and roles over time?. Inevitably, there are a number of Tables to display the author?s conclusions. But knowing Blind Blake was an ?a/d/cp/t-1/st? guitarist tells me nothing about Blake?s music. This merely replaces one method of attributing style, already universally understood, with another, simultaneously detailed and vague.  This may be a new perspective but a superfluous one. Visions arise of a juke joint bursting with angry guitarists waggling their thumbs accusatively in each other?s faces.

Katherine Cartwright begins ?Guess These People Wonder What I?m Singing?, with ?Ella Fitzgerald, the celebrated jazz singer, was not known as a singer of the blues?. Later in the same paragraph, she boldly states, ?it is not surprising to find that Fitzgerald did not neglect to put her mark on the blues, artfully creating a blues persona that was virtuosic, erudite, witty, emotionally strong, and thoroughly rooted in the blues tradition?. I don?t believe a word of it and I tire of efforts to co-opt ancillary artists of no matter what stature into the blues fraternity or in this case, sisternity. To press the argument, scat singing has to be a blues technique, as does Fitzgerald?s penchant for quoting other tunes within these excursions. There?s even a table of a 1958 performance of ?St. Louis Blues?, in which she quoted from no less than fifteen compositions. And then Cartwright admits the Ph.D. dissertation on which this piece is based was originally entitled, ?Quotation and Reference in Jazz Performance: Ella Fitzgerald?s ?St. Louis Blues? 1957-1979?. That concludes the evidence for the prosecution, m?lud.

The editor?s own essay, ?From Bumble Bee Slim to Black Boy Shine?, is an inventory, no more no less, of the 3,728 relevant artists, male and female, from B&GR and Blues Records. That?s 1,195 pre-war and 2,533 post-war, to be precise. There are lists of categories and the subdivisions into which each is broken down, followed by page after page of nicknames. To quote from a vintage Chris Smith review, ?this stuff is not writing, it?s musical trainspotting?. In his Introduction the author maintains, ?the nicknames and their categories give a deep insight into the world of the blues?. It?s my belief that it?s for the reader to judge if he?s been given an insight (of whatever depth), not for the writer to congratulate himself on providing it.

The remaining essays by Abbott and Seroff, Elliott Herwitt, Bob Groom and John Minton were those which gave me the intellectual stimulation I was expecting, evincing my gratitude for enlarging my understanding of the subjects of their work. Abbott and Seroff have been trawling through black newspapers from around the turn of the 19th century, producing two essential books, ?Out Of Sight? and ?Ragged But Right?. ?They Cert?ly Sound Good To Me? attempts to shed more light on the growth of blues-oriented songs and vaudeville acts during the period. It enlarges upon their essay for the 2002 ?Tributaries? magazine on the life of Butler ?String Beans? May, who also features here.

Elliott Herwitt didn?t convince me that Abbe Niles was the authority he?s made out to be in an obsessively detailed biography. Unfortunately, as he admits in his notes, Bob Groom?s ?Beyond The Mushroom Cloud? was written before Guido van Rijn?s ?Truman and Eisenhower Blues? (covering the same period and some of the same songs) was published but only appears now. John Minton?s ?Houston Creoles and Zydeco? is also well prepared, with compelling interviews with known and unknown musicians, illustrating their careers and the folk history of the music itself. But this too appears after another book?s publication, namely ?Texas Zydeco? by Roger Wood and James Fraher, fulsomely reviewed by Ray Templeton in B&R 216. So, there?s something for everyone, as they say, depending on your intellect and literacy.  Neil Slaven

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2008, 12:16:41 PM »
Well I read Mr Slaven write about us
Well I read old Neil put us down (yes he did)
Well I hope Neil Slaven will remember
Ethnomusicologists don't need him around anyhow.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2008, 12:36:30 PM »
Well I read Mr Slaven write about us
Well I read old Neil put us down (yes he did)
Well I hope Neil Slaven will remember
Ethnomusicologists don't need him around anyhow.
Nice one. FWIW I'm reliably informed that David Evans has submitted a robust response for publication in Blues & Rhythm.

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2008, 02:09:18 PM »
Nice one. FWIW I'm reliably informed that David Evans has submitted a robust response for publication in Blues & Rhythm.

Oh, good.  Love to read it.  No idea when, I suppose?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #11 on: July 18, 2008, 10:39:17 AM »
Nice one. FWIW I'm reliably informed that David Evans has submitted a robust response for publication in Blues & Rhythm.
Oh, good.  Love to read it.  No idea when, I suppose?
Right now. Following from the letters page of Blues & Rhythm 231 (current issue). Is this to become an epic bitch like Calt-Wardlow v Evans which graced the pages of Blues Unlimited 30 years ago?

Real Ramblin' Row

Rarely does a reviewer celebrate his own ignorance as Neil Slaven has done in his review (B 229, pp. 42-43) of the collection of essays on blues that I edited, 'Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives On The Blues'.   

His chief criticism is that some of the authors "converse by means of abstract symbology, larding their discourse with unwieldy neologisms, to encode the provenance of their thoughts."   
Translation: some of the authors actually use specialized terms to discuss the blues as music and as oral literature.  Horror of horrors!  Should we return to the 1960s when it was enough to describe blues as "intensely personal" and "riveting"? 
 
If Slaven can?t comprehend basic musical terminology (as used in four of the ten essays), he ought to have declined to review the book and handed it over to someone more competent.  Who wants to read a review containing statements such as "I willingly concede the inadequacies of my understanding" and "I realized this was more information than I could process, moreover it was more information than I required"? 
 
Ah, but then, using the OED, Neil "Ignorant and Proud of It" Slaven purports to correct the terminology of one of the authors!  Not content with this, he actually dismisses an article about Ella Fitzgerald's treatment of 'St. Louis Blues' as irrelevant because Fitzgerald was not a blues singer, in his opinion.
 
Evidently an African American woman who regularly worked with musicians of the quality of Louis Armstrong and Lester Young and who featured in her repertoire W. C. Handy's best known blues composition doesn?t qualify for a place in this book about blues, according to a British discographer whose own blues listing excluded such artists as Julia Lee, Ruth Brown, and Nellie Lutcher.   
As for my own essay on blues nicknames, Slaven calls the listing of nicknames "trainspotting," borrowing a phrase from Chris Smith.  Ironically, in the same issue of B, Chris Smith writes favorably about this very essay.
 
Even the essays that deal mainly with blues historical matters and exposition of lyrics, fields that Neil "Just The Facts" Slaven finds more to his liking, are not beyond his criticism.   
Abbe Niles, the subject of one essay and the first commentator to attempt seriously to interpret the blues, is dismissed as a lightweight.  Bob Groom's essay about blues on political themes from 1945 to 1955 is said to have been superceded by another publication dealing with the same material, even though Groom offers an original and independent analysis of these songs as an expression of a "decade of disillusion." 
 
And another essay on Houston zydeco is also said to have been superceded by a recent book, even though this essay was originally published before the book, is acknowledged in the book as an important source, and contains much material not used in the book.
 
I regret that readers of B have been deprived of a knowledgeable assessment of the authors' interpretations and conclusions in the book I edited and am consoled only by the fact that the review at least informed readers of the titles of all the essays.
David Evans
Via Email


Neil Slaven replies: "I'm prepared to say in print what others only think. If David Evans searched long enough - and perhaps not that long - he'd find people prepared to say, 'That Slaven is boring and self-important'. That would put us in the same boat.
« Last Edit: July 18, 2008, 10:40:49 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2008, 11:14:20 AM »
Thanks for the post, Alan. I'm getting the feeling that the book will fall into the category of "I'm going to have to read it, if only to see what the fuss is all about."

What's the old saying--"There's no such thing as bad publicity!"

Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #13 on: July 19, 2008, 04:44:01 AM »
What's the old saying--"There's no such thing as bad publicity!"

"Just spell my name right."

Thanks for the post, BH.  Great fun!  Are the claws out yet, would you say, or are they just warming up?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #14 on: July 19, 2008, 12:19:40 PM »
What's the old saying--"There's no such thing as bad publicity!" "Just spell my name right."
Thanks for the post, BH.  Great fun!  Are the claws out yet, would you say, or are they just warming up?
I haven't contacted DE about this but I have NS and all he would commit to was "I've said all that I need to say."

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