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You try to sing like Muddy Waters, and play like Lightnin' sounds. But since I blowed on my harp you're feelin' mean and confused. It's got you chained to your earphones - you're just a white boy lost in the blues - Brownie McGhee, White Boy Lost in the Blues by Michael Franks performed by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

Author Topic: Ramblin' On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues  (Read 8815 times)

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Offline 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 .

   

Offline Johnm

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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.

Offline dj

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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 »
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[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.

Offline waxwing

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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.
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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.
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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)

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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.                     

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