Tag Archives: music

African Music

“African music: Music of sub-Saharan Africa. Though a vast geographical area with diverse cultures, Africa’s music has a number of unifying traits. Its traditional music, including its ‘art music,’ is orally transmitted; thus, pieces do not exist as finished works, but are conceived of as recreated differently with each performance. Another general characteristic is the prevalence of ‘call and response.’ Aside from its spiritual and celebratory and dance-accompanying roles, African music has a distinctly political role; the griot sings the tribe’s history and creates songs of praise for the leader, or mocking songs when community feeling is running against the leader. The association of words with music extends to the existence of words to be thought while performing purely instrumental pieces. Being largely improvisational, African music employs only limited counterpoint (including roundlike imitation that may be an outgrowth of overlapping calls and responses), though melodies are often accompanied in parallel intervals, creating a chordal texture, and truly polyphonic music is played on the mbira, where the melodies performed by the two hands are conceived as separate. Rhythm is highly developed in Africa. Whereas Westerners tend to perceive simultaneous patterns as sharing a common meter, Africans think of such patterns as cycles with different starting points. Outside influences have played a role in African music, most importantly Islam. In recent times, compatible elements of Western music have mixed with indigenous elements, though in popular music these Western influences more likely arrived via Arabic and Indian examples. The music of North Africa represents a separate tradition.”

Excerpted/Adapted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

The Weekly Text, February 19, 2020, Black History Month 2021 Week III: A Reading and Comprehension Worksheet on Robert Johnson

This week’s Text, in this blog’s ongoing observation of Black History Month 2021, is this reading on Robert Johnson with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

If your students know anything about Robert Johnson, it is probably the legend that surrounds his acquisition of his breathtaking facility in playing the guitar: to wit, that he made a deal with the devil himself. In exchange for endowing Robert Johnson with preternatural ability in playing the guitar, the devil took ownership of Robert Johnson’s soul. This has been the stuff of popular culture for a long time, and I’ll cite Walter Hill’s 1986 film Crossroads–a title derived from one of Mr. Johnson’s best-known songs, made a rock-and-roll standard by the British trio Cream–as a conspicuous example. The number of guitarists Robert Johnson inspired is as impossible to overstate as the influence of his songs in American popular music over the years.

Put another way, this is probably very high-interest material for some students. If you want to consider the role of Papa Legba in Robert Johnson’s crossroads story, you and your student very likely have the makings of a synthetic research paper. There are, in the final analysis, West African cultural touchstones behind the story of Robert Johnson’s encounter with the devil at the crossroads.

Incidentally, the great music writer Robert Palmer, in his book Deep Blues, reported that Robert Johnson was given an “ice course.” i.e. a glass of poisoned whiskey, by a jealous husband in a rural juke joint. You probably won’t be surprised that there is a lot of speculation on this floating around on the Internet. As the headline to one of these articles rightly puts it, “The only solid fact about Robert Johnson is his music….” Which, in fact, is a pretty good place to start in writing about this towering figure in American culture.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Art Ensemble of Chicago

“Art Ensemble of Chicago: U.S. jazz ensemble, innovators in free jazz. The group evolved from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an experimental collective. Saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, trumpeter Lester Bowie, bassist Malachi Favors, and drummer Don Moye formed the group in 1969, combining freely changing tempos, dynamics, and textures with an often comic theatricality of presentation. Their diversity of inspiration is expressed by their motto, ‘Great Black Music—Ancient to Modern.’”

Excerpted/Adapted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

Cultural Literacy: Jazz

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Jazz. This is a full-page worksheet, so it is suitable for independent practice.

Jazz is principal genre of music played at Mark’s Text Terminal; in fact, as I type this, Kenny Dorham is playing “Blue Friday” from his fine 1959 recording Quiet Kenny. It’s a quartet set with Mr. Dorham backed by a rhythm section including pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Art Taylor

When I listened to jazz for the first time in high school (let the record reflect it was the original Impulse long-play vinyl record of John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard, side two, the almost 17-minute-long version of “Chasin’ the Trane”) , and I mean really listened, rather than simply heard, I knew I would be an aficionado of the music for the rest of my life. 

Over the years, the word Jazz (especially spelled out with a lower-case j) began to trouble me. Aside from its slangy sound and therefore connotation, it seemed like a miserly word to describe such original, variegated, and stately music. So, a few years back, when I heard an interview the great trumpeter (see him live if you can!) Nicholas Payton in which he said he takes issue with the word Jazz, I was relieved to hear him say it. He prefers the term “Black American Music,” which sounds good to me. If you’re interested in learning more of Mr. Payton’s thoughts about Jazz, you might want to take a look at this 2011 post from his blog.

Clint Eastwood has often said that Jazz and Blues are the perhaps “the only original art forms that we have” in the United States. It’s hard to disagree with that, and it’s hard not to at least consider the fact that Jazz especially has been ignored in the United States for two simple reasons: racism and a lack of good taste, tendencies that far too many Americans express proudly. Jazz is our classical music, and maybe for that reason alone it is time to find a new name for this complex, vibrant, uniquely American music.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

The Weekly Text, February 5, 2020, Black History Month 2021 Week I: A Reading and Comprehension Worksheet on Huey P. Newton

Here, for the first Weekly Text in observance of Black History Month 2021, is a reading on Huey P. Newton along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

In the mid-1970s, among my crowd in high school, Huey P. Newton was a bona fide hero. He co-founded, with Bobby Seale (another of our heroes), the Black Panther Party, (a heroic organization), which among many other things, fed breakfast to impoverished children and challenged the kind of police brutality that brings us events like the patently racist and sadistic murder of George Floyd in 2020.

It’s quite possible that your students may know Huey’s name. A panoply of rappers, including Tupac Shakur, Dead Prez, The Flobots, Public Enemy, Ab-Soul, Buddy and A$AP Ferg, and the great Kendrick Lamar have alluded to Huey in their rhymes. Pop artists like St. Vincent, Ramshackle Glory, Bhi Bhiman, and the Boo Radleys have also mentioned Huey in their songs. The character of Huey Freeman in Aaron McGruder’s brilliant comic strip and television show The Boondocks, a favorite of many students I’ve served over the years, is named for Huey P. Newton.

My own personal favorite pop-culture reference to Huey occurs in the 1979 film Richard Pryor: Live in Concertwhich Eddie Murphy regards as the greatest stand-up comedy performance ever captured on film. At the 1:06:54 mark (thanks to Wikipedia for that) of Mr. Pryor’s performance, he calls out to raise the house lights and introduces the audience to Huey P. Newton–who, alas, does not appear on camera.

Finally, I found Spike Lee’s production of Roger Guenveur Smith’s celebrated solo performance in A Huey P. Newton Story to be utterly riveting. Mr. Smith uncannily captures Huey’s deep intellect and abiding compassion, but also his essential shyness and even diffidence. I highly recommend this film.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Sterling Allen Brown

“Sterling Allen Brown: (1901-1989) American poet, folklorist, editor, and critic. Brown was one of the first writers to identify folklore as a vital component of the black aesthetic and an important form of artistic expression. His first collection of poems, Southern Road (1932), was a critical success, fusing elements of ballads, spirituals, work songs, and the blues into narrative poems generally written in a Southern dialect. Two of Brown’s works written in 1937, Negro Poetry and Drama and The Negro in American Fiction, are major books of criticism on African-American studies. In 1941, Brown, along with colleagues Arthur P. Davis and Ulysses S. Lee, edited the The Negro Caravan, which was considered by many “the anthology of African-American literature.” With the publication of The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown (1980), Brown won the 1982 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and received widespread and deserved recognition.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Apollo Theater

“Apollo Theater: Center of African-American popular culture on 125th Street in New York’s Harlem district. Built in 1914, it hosted musical performers such as Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, and others in the 1930s and 1940s; such stars as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, and James Brown were discovered on Wednesday amateur nights. In the 1960s the Apollo featured soul artists such as the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. Converted into a movie theater in 1975, it reopened as a performance venue in 1983.”

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

Cultural Literacy: Count Basie

Today is February first, which means that Black History Month 2021 begins today. I normally bloviate on this topic, but I’ll leave it alone this year other than to say that in this country, and on this blog, every month is Black History Month. That’s not to say Mark’s Text Terminal won’t observe the month–it will. In fact, I developed a raft of new Cultural Literacy worksheets with topics and themes in Black History, as well as transcribed a number of lengthy quotes to post as well.

Let’s start off the month with this Cultural Literacy worksheet on Count Basie. Do you know his music? If not, then check out this killer 1965 performance of a Basie Band chestnut, “Jumping at the Woodside.”

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Cannonball Adderley

Cannonball Adderley: (orig. Julian Edwin) (1928-1975) U.S. saxophonist, one of the most popular jazz musicians of the 1950s and ‘60s. Adderley was born in Tampa, Florida, and worked as a music teacher before moving to New York in 1955. Arriving shortly after the death of Charlie Parker, he was hailed as Parker’s stylistic successor. He performed with Miles Davis from 1957 to 1959, then led an ensemble with his brother, cornetist Nat Adderley (1931-2000). Also influenced by Benny Carter, Adderley’s playing showed a strong blues inspiration, and his music in the 1960s reflected the introduction of gospel-music harmonies. He died following a stroke at age 46.

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

Cultural Literacy: Duke Ellington

Here, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021, is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Duke Ellington

Today is a day of service; don’t forget to go out and do something to make the world a better, more just, peaceful, and dignified place

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.