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Columbia Introduces First LP Record

On June 21, 1948, Columbia Records introduced the first LP, or “long playing” record.

At the time the LP was introduced, nearly all phonograph records for home use were made of an abrasive (and therefore noisy) shellac compound, employed a much larger groove, and played at approximately 78 rpm, limiting the playing time of a 12-inch record to less than five minutes per side.

33 1/3 RPM Long-playing record

33 1/3 RPM Long-playing Record

The new product was a 12 or 10-inch fine-grooved disc made of vinyl and played with a smaller-tipped “microgroove” stylus at a speed of 33⅓ rpm. Each side of a 12-inch LP could play for more than 20 minutes. Only the microgroove standard was truly new, as both vinyl and the 33⅓ rpm speed had been used for special purposes for many years, as well as in one unsuccessful earlier attempt to introduce a long-playing record for home use. Although the LP was especially suited to classical music because of its extended continuous playing time, it also allowed a collection of ten or more typical “pop” music recordings to be put on a single disc.

Previously, such collections, as well as longer classical music broken up into several parts, had been sold as sets of 78 rpm records in a specially imprinted “record album” consisting of individual record sleeves bound together in book form. The use of the word “album” persisted for the one-disc LP equivalent.

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thejazzmonger Cited in Ms. Magazine

Ms. Magazine, in its online edition of Feb. 23, 2012, offers an excellent article on the struggle of black actresses to find suitable roles in Hollywood films, from the very beginning to the present day.

The discussion is prompted by the current nominations of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscars, respectively. Should Davis or Spencer win, there will be much discussion of the fact that the first black person (of either sex) to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel. She won the  Academy Award in 1939 as Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind. The issue at hand is that McDaniel, Davis and Spencer are all cited for playing characters who are maids.
Author Janell Hobson writes about the struggles of the extraordinarily beautiful and talented Lena Horne to avoid being recast as an “exotic” (read “Latin”) instead of as a black woman. To her ultimate credit, Horne flatly refused and saw her film career wither.

Young Lena Horne

Beautiful, Supremely Talented - Lena Horne

Hobson discusses “Soundies,” musical performances by singers like Lena Horne and, especially, Big Bands such as the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra.When Hobson mentions “Soundies” she does it as a link to our story of June, 2009. (Link here: thejazzmonger on “Soundies”)

It is very gratifying to have an eminent publication such as Ms. cite our work.

Turning to the current controversy about film roles, let me say that I think it is a mistake to criticize, or otherwise demean, the roles and excellent performances presented by both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. The story told in The Help, book and movie both, is a good one. Their two characters are strong, vividly-drawn and, without doubt, women who are far more than their occupations. We should not be seeking to eliminate the existence of maids in films that depict an earlier time. What we need are stories, scripts and films that give life to people and stories of women who are not maids.

American-made movies have always had a dearth of strong roles for women, all women, really, but for black women, in particular. For a short period in American film history, there was a coterie of dominant actresses (Joan Crawford, Betty Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner) who “carried” films. IT was their name and, often, their name only that was above the title. The entire film was the story of the character, a woman, being portrayed by one of these preeminent actresses.

Consider just a couple of films from these four giants of an earlier era:

Barbara Stanwyck: The Lady Eve  &  Double Indemnity

Betty Davis:  Now, Voyager  &  Dark Victory

Lana Turner:  The Postman Always Rings Twice  &  Imitation of Life

Joan Crawford:  Mildred Pierce  &  The Women

Isak Denisen aka Karen Blixen

Kren Blixen (aka Isak Denisen)

What happened? Why did great stories and meaty roles disappear, for the most part, from American films? Sure, Meryl Streep is nominated every three or four years, and wins about as often. But too often she is getting the Best Actress nomination for films like Postcards from the Edge, Music of the Heart or The Devil Wears Prada. It was all the way back in 1985, in Out of Africa, that we last saw her stretch in a role that carried the entire film. I f an actress of Meryl Streep’s talent and stature can’t find a truly outstanding role in more than 25 years, what hope does a raft of talented but relatively unknown actresses have?

The problem, my friends, is  the lack of books & scripts about women. Isak Denisen’s book, Out of Africa, was published in 1937. Denisen (real name Karen Blixen) was a marvelous story-teller with a unique and intriguing personal history on which to draw.

One has to think that there are good stories about women, and women’s lives, that are just being passed over by Hollywood brass in favor of cartoon boys, remakes about CIA operatives

and Vampires. Nowadays, when Hollywood does give us a film dominated by females, it’s just a group of women making a female installment (Bridesmaids) of The Hangover.

Do I like Jazz & Big Band?

This is the first posting from bluetwango, “Our Man in Colorado”

Do I like Big Band, Jazz and Swing? That’s a simple question that calls for a complicated answer. I’ll try to riff on this awhile…

Not so much in its original form. I enjoy watching an old clip of a nattily tailored band playing to elegant dancers in a sleek Art Deco ballroom, caught on some classic movie on TCM. It truly was a time — but not the only time — when popular music achieved excellence, and excellence found an audience. That said, I don’t listen to any classic Big Band, at all.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, about a year ago when I dropped by a humble tavern in my neighborhood that had started booking jazz.  I stepped inside and found myself face-to-face with an 11-piece Big Band in full thunder. What I took for the front door turned out o be a side door, so I was literally fronting the band, a yard in front of the rhythm section. If there had been a mike and a song I knew, I might have tried to sing it– the experience was that immediate and involving. Instead, I found a seat among a crowd that barely outnumbered the players. It was bigger the next week, though.

I probably spent five hours in there, coming back with my little family, and again as the cast of players shifted from week to week. They always were some of Denver’s best players, many of them are teachers at a local college’s jazz program. I realized I”d been hearing their names on the local jazz radio station (one of the few 24-hour jazz spots on any dial). We’ve quietly been developing a cadre of notables, most notably trumpeter Ron Miles. Bill Frisell, who knocks me out with his Hendrix-influenced Americana, was a Denver native who comes by often.

GuitaristBbill Frisell

GuitaristBbill Frisell

How was the music? Oh, the music. Melodic, dynamic, intensely emotional. Cheerful, in a way jazz often isn’t, but that’s in tune with the bandleader’s debut title, “Unfailing Kindness.” The composer and conductor was Chie Imazumi, a Berklee grad who’s set up shop in Denver for now. She paints with the usual big-band’s broad palette of instruments, along with a prominent lead guitarist who sometimes cranks it into overdrive. (It’s my generation, cuz- without a little feedback and distortion now and them, something’s just missing for me.) I’d be happy to send you a copy, or suggest you buy one– she’s still small enough to need the income.

That was only one of the incidents that periodically remind me that I like Big Band, though I don’t… much…

Another was my first after-show chat with my musical idol, Pat Metheny. When I asked him why he never stretched or altered compositions or arrangements when performing with the Pat Metheny Group, he replied, “They’re the big band. They play the charts.” (Later when he cut my favorite movements out of two of his songs played live, I was deeply irritated and sorry I’d suggested anything!) It was easy to see the Group as a modern Big Band. Its core quartet are augmented by between three and five second-line musicians who multiply their own efforts with a battery of wind instruments, arrays of mallets and percussion oddities, plus guitars and vocals. It’s something to see live, as deliberate and intricate as a watching a team of top chefs working up dinner in the diner of a speeding train, to stretch a metaphor. The Group’s last effort, “The Way Up,”  involved nine musicians playing over an hour with a composition that fills a 300-page music book. So yes, I like complexity, which is one thing Big Bands were good at, and something that got lost in the bebop age of minimalist bands. Pat’s next act, which should push complexity to a new level, is too compose and tour with a modern Orchestration. Check his site for details- any attempt at description of this would keep me up even later, and it’s too late now.

Guitarist Pat Metheny

Guitarist Pat Metheny

I’d recommend you look up “The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays” by Bob Curnow and the LA Big Band. It’s a small label, hard to find, but a great project. It’s a note-for-note rearrangement into the language of a big Big Band, with over two dozen players, IIRC.  These compositions are deeply grooved into my brain now, but hearing them with oboes and clarinets taking the leads was a whole new experience. It removed all the distance between me and the Big Band era, all those pencil-thin mustaches and zoot suits and dry cocktails. But I have pretty big ears. Driving through Kansas City once, I was treated to an hour’s program on Lounge music. Sandy Denny and the like. Wow, what a forgotten genre of music! I found myself digging some of it. Lots of emphasis on orchestration; not just what notes are played, but what voices play them. A good bit of world music influence, too, like I hear in Metheny’s music, who also grew up in KC, listening to this stuff, perhaps?

So, Big Band strikes me when I’m out looking for something else. As for Swing, I hear that in all good jazz. If I had to find some on my shelf, I’d dig for my disc of David Grisman with Stephane Grappelli. Anything by Grisman swings like Chipper Jones at a high fast one, right?

’til later,

bluetwango

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