I love new music. I am especially interested in music that has been written recently. Even when I don’t know why, I usually have a visceral reaction when I resonate with something. I keep looking for cool stuff. Unfortunately, much of the new music I check out ends up not interesting me for one reason or another.
Yesterday found me once again browsing the new book shelf at the library. I have been scouring newly-arrived selections in libraries since I was a young man in Flint, never omitting to check out the new poetry books. Besides finding a few new books of poetry, my eye fell on Why Bob Dylan Matters by Richard F. Thomas. As intriguing as I found the title, my interest was further piqued by the line under Thomas’s name: “George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics, Harvard University.”
I checked it out and took it home.
Thomas has been teaching a course in Bob Dylan 2004, a good distance in time from when Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I feel familiar with Bob Dylan. But in reading the first few chapters of this book, I realized there was a lot of Dylan I didn’t know. Looking at a table Thomas provides I discovered that I knew Dylan’s first 8 albums pretty well. But of the following 24 albums he listed, I only knew one or two.
But Thomas makes it clear that he thinks Dylan ongoing opus of material contains a lot of stuff as good as the stuff I knew. He also sees Dylan in the line of Homer and others. Homer, again!
I realized with a certain leap of emotion, that I had 24 new albums to explore and maybe find some music that meant as much to me as the Dylan I knew.
I used Thomas’s list to determine that the album I needed to listen to if I was going to continue in chronological order was called “Shot of Love.”
I have long known of Dylan’s website on which he provides all kinds of information about his work, including lyrics and who is playing what on the track. I cued it all up (Spotify, can i order diazepam online lyrics and all) and listened to the first five songs on this album (there are ten total). Cool stuff. I’ll have to remember when I’m looking for new music to keep listening to Dylan’s work I don’t know.
Along the same lines, I have loved Jelly Roll Morton’s music for a long time. I even transcribed some of his music for my brass ensemble at Our Lady of the Lake. At one point I purchased the above collection of transcriptions of his work. I haven’t really worked through much of it, mostly due to the awkward page turns and length of the pieces. Yesterday it occurred to me to approach this music as I approach a lot of music these days, that is to play carefully through it, emphasize complete accuracy and to hell with the tempo.
I started at the beginning and played about 70 pages in, remember what a genius this man was. On page 65, I ran into a favorite of mine, “Wolverine Blues.” Here’s the recording of him playing this specific arrangement.
Interestingly, this edition taught me that Morton didn’t think of this piece as a blues. Someone else came up with that and the lyrics (which I know).
Morton had this to say:
“I first wrote the Wolverines in Detroit in the early days. It was one of those things that float around in my head and one day, when I sit down at the piano it comes out of my fingers. The first strain was for trumpet (the basis of on of these new tunes today, Flat Foot Floogie), then the trombone strain, then I made a harmony strain for the trio, then I found that a clarinet strain would be very effective, and in the last strain I put all the instruments in the band together and made the piano sound as much like a band as possible.”
This changes entirely how I see this piece. Also, playing carefully through his musical ideas is extremely rewarding and interesting. There are over five hundred pages in this book. More cool stuff.