Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pop's Stereo Cabinet

A musician's individual musicality — that completely internalized sense of how music goes — comes directly out of, and is a reaction to, the music he or she knows best, and knowing best is often knowing first.

What music did I know first?  Surprisingly, I don't remember much "children's music" beyond the folkish and patriotic songs we sang at school; I can still sing "Put Another Candle on Your Birthday Cake" and the theme songs of too many TV programs.  We had a lot of children's 78s, 45s, and LPs, but they were heavy on narrative (i.e. 78 box sets of 'Hopalong' Cassidy adventures) and light on music.

To some extent I was shaped, within my cohort, by the music I didn't hear much of.  I grew up in a 60s/70s household almost completely without rock'n'roll; with parents born in the 1930s, they just missed it, my father too old, my mother married too young, for it. My mother came from a Lawrence Welkish-family (a faithful Welk watcher, her mother played Irish sentimental music at the piano) and she thought Elvis was a hick and sure, our entire family watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, but that culture-wide event was a novelty, not a musical, act, with as much interest in the haircuts as anything else. Instead, the music my mother liked ran to Broadway shows — nothing really current, but more the shows she had seen as a teenager in Sacramento: Showboat, South Pacific, and later some Petula Clark and some of those Mighty Wind-ish "folk" acts.  But popular music has an astonishing background radiation effect and I'm constantly surprised at how much rock repertoire  I do know, without ever having properly paid attention to it and there is of course considerable remedial listening that took place in college, in Santa Cruz, where I lived in dorms with 24/7 of intensive stereo blasting and a student body that, by and large, took their left end of pop music very seriously.

As a kid, I probably knew more pop music from the first half of the century than the second.  Besides my grandmother, the other important live music experienced from an intimate distance was from a "honky-tonk" player who played everything by ear in the "black key" keys — B, F#, C# — and from a neighbor during our years in Mt Baldy Village, who owned a player piano with a healthy collection of rolls, all popular, none recently so.

But the music I liked as a kid that I now remember best was that in my father's LP collection.  It was very small, maybe 20 albums at most, but carefully selected on his limited budget, and just about filling the available storage space in the speaker cabinets.  He had had more musical training than my mom, and though I wouldn't know it until, at twelve, I bought a neighbor's piano (a Broadwood upright labeled "made in San Francisco", the only one of the brand I ever encountered, with a light touch and a sweet sound (the neighbor, Mr. Starr, had long been retired from his Ford dealership and was a WWI vet, an ambulance driver, who also gave us kids his old Army uniform with those amazing wool knickers)  for 100 dollars, saved from a paper route) was actually a pretty good piano player.

From that record collection, I remember

The Moldau.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice (in a box, apparently the first, free, sample item in a promotion for a classical LP subscription series.)
— The Franck Symphony in d minor.  (Like the Smetana above, Pop had heard Wallenstein conduct it at a LA Philharmonic concert which he was able to hear as an usher (Apparently he ushered and otherwise worked concerts a lot, including a concert by Judy Garland (!) at the Shrine Auditorum, where he heard her sing Somewhere, Over the Rainbow with tears flowing only to walk backstage, take a drink and say "that'll hold the bastards."))
— the Montreux recording of The Rite of Spring with its Henri Rousseau cover.
— a disc with Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta b/w the Schoenberg Five Pieces for Orchestra; one summer, around 1950, on the USC campus, he stumbled into a concert by the Hungarian String Quartet which played through the Bartók quartets in a series (he never did hear the sixth quartet because he was asked to show a ticket for the last concert) but was so impressed that he bought the first Bartók recording he could find, and got the Schoenberg in the bargain.
— The Stravinsky Violin Concerto— The 1957 Pal Joey film soundtrack album.
— The original Broadway album of The Most Happy Fella.  Okay, my father had his showtunes, too.
— Two Martin Denny LP, Exotica and Primitiva.  During his draftee naval tour of the Pacific on the USS Lexington, my father had heard Denny play when his aircraft carrier docked in Honolulu in '57 and from his reports, it seems that clubbing around the faux-Polynesian sound world was a big part of his bachelor years
— A sound effects LP of railroad sounds that came with Pop's stereo, so he could show off the stereo effect.
— Cal Tjader's Latin Jazz Concert. (Between the Bartók's celesta, the Denny and the Tjader, was I destined to love mellophones?)  This was something special for a small kid" the disc was red and the cover had a cartoon of a bullfight arena, with the Tjader band playing in the middle, while in the stadium there are text balloons rising with messages like "Nixon go home."

There were also a few jazz recordings dating from his clubbing times in 1950s LA: Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, of course, but his favorite was a 10" 78 with two sides by "Poison" Gardner & His All-Stars, a favorite boogie pianist who Pop heard mostly at The Melody (pronounced "Mellow-Dee") Club in South LA.


Unknown said...

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Bethany Kapell

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