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You could say anything at those Saturday night balls... they'd like to hear it, I don't care how dirty you made it - Son House, quoted in The Nasty Blues

Author Topic: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues  (Read 8816 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
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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."

Online Johnm

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #15 on: July 19, 2008, 12:46:34 PM »
Hi all,
I do think David Evans brings up an interesting point in his response to Neil Slaven's review.  I have often been curious as to why serious fans and writers on a musical style, Blues in this instance, would choose to remain utterly ignorant of the musical building blocks used in the construction of their stylistic obsession.  I know that some people's interest lies more in the sociology behind the music, its cultural context, the biographies of its practitioners and the songs' lyrics, but if that's all there was to it, you wouldn't need music to express the art.  And it's not as though the musical underpinnings of Blues are impossibly abstruse, or that you need to be a player to grasp them; it's mostly stuff that if explained in the context of examples from the music is clear right away, particularly to people who have listened to the music for decades.  Minus this kind of understanding, one runs the risk of not even noticing the musical reasons why the music does what it does, or of making the same discoveries over and over again, for the first time every time.
I see a similar tendency among some musicians who are self-described ear players--a kind of pride in their lack of knowledge of music theory.  Would the same people be proud of being illiterate or unable to spell their own names?  It's hard for me to see how willful ignorance can become a point of pride, but I guess we've all heard someone say, "I don't know much about _____, but I know what I like.".
All best,
Johnm 

Offline dj

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #16 on: July 19, 2008, 01:45:14 PM »
I don't know, John.  David Evans has a point that people reading about music should be willing to accept common musical terms.  BUT... Slaven's complaint was specifically about the use of the term "bourdon" where "drone" not only would have been more understandable but also more accurate.  I haven't read the essay (yet), But it would seem that Evans should have addressed why "bourdon" is more accurate than "drone" and not carped about understanding "general musical terminology".  Heck, I know more musical terminology than the average person, but I come to a full stop and go racing to the dictionary when confronted with "bourdon", as it's a term I've always associated with 12th - 13th century French music and thus seems a bit out of place here. 

And, I have to say, when I read a line like "The Delta blues style especially is, in a sense, an extension of the west-central Sudanic Islamicized style cluster", my skepticism meter swings right up to the high end of the scale.  Perhaps in context that statement doesn't seem quite so ludicrous as it does standing alone, and perhaps I'm deluded in firmly believing that "Nobody knows where the blues come from", but there you have it .

   

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #17 on: July 19, 2008, 01:53:23 PM »
I think you are right, dj, to address specifics cited in the review and the response in a way that I did not.  I'm expecially skeptical of the last instance you cited--it's a little bit too much like an "aliens constructed the pyramids" explanation.  So, as pertains to the review of the book in question and David Evans' response, I think you are right on.  In a more general sense, my question as to why some people seriously interested in the music don't want to learn more about music remains.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Stuart

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #18 on: July 19, 2008, 02:53:34 PM »
The subtitle of Gerhard Kubik's essay, "Bourdon, Bluenotes, and Pentatonism in the Blues," is "An Africanist Perspective." When time permits, I'm going to have to go back and carefully re-read it. Perhaps the subtitle should have been the title, with Perspective emphasized.

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #19 on: July 19, 2008, 04:20:55 PM »
Quote
In a more general sense, my question as to why some people seriously interested in the music don't want to learn more about music remains.

Agreed.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #20 on: July 19, 2008, 05:07:03 PM »
Quote
[Johnm wrote]," In a more general sense, my question as to why some people seriously interested in the music don't want to learn more about music remains."

Agreed.


I third the motion.

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #21 on: July 19, 2008, 05:26:54 PM »
What really gives me pause is that these same folks who decry theory use it all the time. If you've read Frankie's eloquent post over at IGS about those who play intuitively, with no notion of any theory, you might come away realizing that even naming the notes and the chords is delving into the dreaded theory.  Calling chords things like seventh and minor, or I, IV, V, which people throw around all the time is deep theory by an intuitive player's standards. But because people understand these terms, they don't think of a discussion using them as being theory. The pejorative "theory" seems to be reserved for anything mentioned that they just don't understand. Then, suddenly, in the middle of a lengthy discussion about a 6-2-5-1 progression someone rolls their eyes and says, 'Oh, now you're talking theory. I play by ear. I don't do theory'. No attempt to gain some further understanding at all. Cracks me up.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline Stuart

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #22 on: July 19, 2008, 08:11:58 PM »
If some people would spend as much time and energy being open minded and exploring the possibilities and potential it holds as they do reacting against its imagined limitations, perhaps they would come to hold a different view.

Just my NJ cab driver's wiseass opinion.

My overeducated academic opinion: You don't wanna know.


Offline uncle bud

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #23 on: July 20, 2008, 08:01:34 AM »
I can't imagine Slaven is arguing in favour of willful ignorance, the way some folk/blues guitar students might defend their lack of knowledge of music theory. It's more that he's mocking willful academic obscurantism. Whether this is deserved, I don't know, not having read the book, though some choice quotations suggest it may very well be. I have read other material by some of the contributors and they certainly could leave themselves open to such criticism. And I think part of the conflict is that, unlike much academic writing which has no pretense to "mass" appeal and is written only for fellow scholars and granting agencies in impenetrable (or at best unreadable) jargon, these types of blues essay collections seem to be marketed as if they have some commercial aspirations -- not an audience of six, conversing in ethnomusicological Esperanto.

The fact that the majority of academics in any field can't communicate their research in a style that might keep readers awake doesn't negate that work though. I think there is always a use for tables and lists, for example (a Weenie specialty!), and while the world will thankfully never refer to Blind Blake as an ?a/d/cp/t-1/st? guitarist, I think if someone analyzes and writes down Blake's fingerpicking style, that too is of use.


Offline Stuart

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #24 on: July 29, 2008, 05:01:07 PM »
From the PWBG:

Ramblin' on My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues. Edited by David
Evans. 2008. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 440
pages. ISBN: 978-0-252-03203- 5 (hard cover), 978-0-252-07448- 6 (soft cover).

Reviewed by Barry Lee Pearson, University of Maryland
(ednp46@verizon. net).

[Word count: 891 words]

Folklorist, musicologist, and performing artist, David Evans wears
many hats. Although his publications range from folktales to toasts,
he is best known as a blues scholar and advocate whose work ranges
from the stringently scholarly to the popular, including books,
Grammy-award winning liner notes, a user-friendly guide to the blues,
and a column in a leading popular blues magazine. This collection,
however, lists towards the scholarly with a decidedly musicological
cast. Four of the essays were previously published in American Music.
The collection covers a cross section of intriguing blues-related
topics; moreover, it has an international flavor with a third of the
contributors working out of Europe.

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

Four of the essays are historical. Relying heavily on archival
materials, sheet music, and black newspaper accounts, Lynn Abbot's
and Doug Seroff's revisionist work pushes back the parameters of
blues history, portraying a vibrant blues presence in early black
southern vaudeville. Looking to artists including Butler "String
Bean" Mays and Baby Seals, the authors bring them to life as much
more than names, showing their influential presence on the black show
business circuit. Elliott Hurwitt helps resurrect an equally
important figure in blues history. Although he was not a performer,
Abbe Niles, best known as W.C. Handy's collaborator, was also a major
early blues advocate, interpreter, and critic. Using an approach
popularized by Guido Van Rijn, Bob Groom looks to selected blues and
gospel recordings issued from the end of World War II through the
Korean conflict that he sees as reflecting a theme of
disillusionment. Essentially, this approach views historical events
through a blues filter (for example, Uncle Sam taking your man, or
leaving your woman behind to cheat with Jody), leading one to ask how
much of what is presented relates to blues in general rather than
reflecting a historically specific African American mood. One could
also question the selection process. Could one, for example, assemble
a more upbeat collection of songs from the same era? Of these four
essays, John Minton's discussion of Houston's zydeco tradition is
most in line with folklore methods. He is, after all, a folklorist
and, like the Abbot and Seroff essay, his work actually offers a new
perspective expanding our understanding of a regional urban music
culture. Along with the work of fellow folklorist Roger Wood, Minton
is helping push blues scholarship beyond the Delta-to-Chicago
continuum.

The collection also includes three of what the editor refers to as
"broader more scientific surveys." Extending ideas put forward in the
important book Africa and the Blues, Gerhard Kubik's essay provides a
new point of view not because of its Africanist lens, but rather
because of its pan-Africanist perspective. His research gets far
beyond the traditional West African Savannah region and is based on
remarkably extensive fieldwork. The essay discusses "Bourdon, Blue
Notes, and Pentatonism, " looking to Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman"as an example. Cohen demonstrates how an extensive sample of guitarists can be categorized according to hand posture to help us
better understand such concepts as regional style. Evans' essay on
musician "nom de blues" addresses another challenging topic. His
exhaustive effort results in a reasonable, useful typology.

Finally, three essays are song studies. Luigi Monge's work looks to
Son House's "Dry Spell Blues" "to study the dichotomy between sacred
and secular profane in the blues and in the life and music of Son
House in light of statements, interviews, notes and general
observations pertaining to the subject treating the topic as
exhaustingly as possible" (224). A thought-provoking act of
interpretation, the author does the song justice. James Bennighof
applies a more Eurocentric analytical apparatus to Robert Johnson's
"Rambling on my Mind." Finally, Katherine Cartwright looks to
multiple performances of Ella Fitzgerald's rendering of "St. Louis
Blues," showing the remarkable number of ways she quotes and
references other songs to show her command of the jazz and blues
idioms. Of all the essays, this offers the most gender-related
perspective.

In conclusion, the ten essays in the book make for intriguing, if at
times challenging, reading. Just how much of a new perspective they
offer varies from piece to piece, but then diversity is the book's
strength as well as its weakness. However, if one is willing to put
in the effort, the results are generally rewarding. This applies
especially to graduate students who should find plenty of grist for
their academic mills in this serious and carefully annotated
collection.

---------

Read this review on-line at:

http://www.indiana.edu/~jofr/review.php?id=649

(All JFR Reviews are permanently stored on-line at

http://www.indiana.edu/~jofr/reviews.php)

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #25 on: July 30, 2008, 06:20:03 AM »
Quote
Is this to become an epic bitch like Calt-Wardlow v Evans which graced the pages of Blues Unlimited 30 years ago?


I got a whiff of that in one of the Appendices in the Charlie Patton "King of the Delta Blues" Bio by Calt & Wardlow. Could someone summarize the contending positions? I understand that Calt and Wardlow reject the idea of a deconstructionistic folkloric genesis for Patton 's music at least but what else are they at odds about?

Also I am one o' them intuitive players (as some here have no doubt already ascertained) and have difficulty with the various systems of notation and the nomenclature employed by most "serious" musicians. I attribute this to my own failings however not necessarily to the useful though inevitably flawed systems of representation developed to analyze and discus the material.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline dj

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #26 on: July 30, 2008, 07:35:48 AM »
Quote
...the idea of a deconstructionistic folkloric genesis for Patton 's music...

Slow down there, egghead!   :D  Is that the idea that Patton just modified for his own use songs that everyone else was already singing?

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #27 on: July 30, 2008, 10:57:35 AM »
Didn't I just say that?  ;)
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline dj

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #28 on: July 30, 2008, 02:12:17 PM »
I just got the book yesterday.  All I've read so far is Andrew Cohen's "The Hands Of Blues Guitarists".  Concerning this essay, at least, I think Neil Slaven's review misses the mark.  Cohen is not in any way trying to  "[replace] one method of attributing style, already universally understood, with another, simultaneously detailed and vague."  He's merely breaking down blues guitarists into two (or sometimes three) broad areas, and looking at the way guitar players held their picking hands in each of those areas.  He specifically makes no claim as to whether the chicken or the egg came first - whether, for example, Eastern players held their hands with the thumbs extended to facilitate alternating bass or whether they tended to play alternating bass because they held their thumbs extended.  He's just giving us a list of information on some players that, as he admits, may or may not be relevant.  I do think that the essay would be hard going for someone who has never tried to play blues guitar, but as a guitarist of some mediocrity, I found it interesting.

With that said, I have one criticism:  Where the heck was the editor?  The prose is pretty dry and occasionally a bit gnarled, and while Cohen defines some anatomical and musicological terms, the reader is left to puzzle over others.  For example, he uses the term "hearth region" twice.  Maybe I've puzzled out what it means, and maybe I haven't.  I'd feel better if he'd defined it, as I don't feel that it's a term that the average reader familiar with musical terms would readily understand.  A good bit of editing could have made this a much better read.

Offline dj

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #29 on: August 13, 2008, 06:15:26 PM »
After leaving the book behind in a hotel in Geneseo, NY for a bit, I've gotten it back and have read a few more articles.  My impressions:

David Evans's "From Bumble Bee Slim To Black Boy Shine: Nicknames Of Blues Singers" (why do these kinds of essays always have to have subtitles?) is certainly more than "just a list".  In fact, one of my criticisms of the article is that it should include a list of the musicians covered and which categories their names were placed in.  Admittedly, it'd be a huge list, but a fun one to read.  The essay is ultimately disappointing, mainly because it looks at nicknames only in the context of African American blues musicians.  It would have had more interest if the study was expanded to include, say, hillbilly/country musicians (i.e. a different group of mostly lower class musicians active at the same time) or Negro League baseball players (a different group of African Americans active at the same time), and noted the similarities and differences in the way nicknames were used.  And, again, the writing needs editing.  The essay obviously began life as a piece of academic writing, but when being published for a more general audience, the prose should be tightened up a bit.

Gerhard Kubik's "Bourdon, Blue Notes, Pentatonism And The Blues: An Africanist Perspective" is interesting but ultimately unconvincing.  Since much has been made of the use of the term "bourdon", I have to say, I'll cut the poor guy some slack on this.  Kubik is obvioulsy not a native English speaker, and it's entirely possible that in European musicological circles "bourdon" is a common term.  What bothers me about Kubik's work is the "Africanist perspective".  In order to achieve this perspective, Kubik sets up "Western music" as a straw man, for example stating that Western music does not use tone clusters around thirds and sevenths (he should listen to the Copper family harmonizing on English folk songs!) or saying that the blues cannot be based on Western instrumental music because it doesn't fit a Western tempered scale (conveniently ignoring that early blues musicians were often playing fiddles and guitars, which are not inherently tempered, and also dodging the question of how pianos were tuned in the rural South a century ago).  There certainly may be Africanisms in the blues.  But I prefer scholars to include rural Southern White folk music, American Indian music, folk hymnody, Hawaiian music, and popular styles of the 1890s in their search for the roots of the blues.

Then there's Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff's "They Cert'ly Sound Good To Me: Sheet Music, Southern Vaudeville, And The Ascendancy Of The Blues".  All I can say is that this essay is so well written that it's just a pleasure to read, and puts the other authors I've read so far to shame.  If only more academic authors would realize that even reading research papers can and should be a pleasure, the world would be a better place.

If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking with me.  And don't be put off by Neil Slaven, go out and get Ramblin' On My Mind".  It may be a bit of a slog in places, but it's worth a read.                     

Offline oddenda

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Re: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues
« Reply #30 on: October 08, 2008, 02:58:02 AM »

And the lesson is... anything by Abbott & Seroff -BUY!!

Peter B.

Tags: David Evans