From Marie, Bach and Astaire
How to create
Body of work
by Avi Albers Ben Chamo
I know that in the last few weeks you are getting some Jazzy weird email topics from me, but the reason is, that Berlin is still in lockdown, and for the lack of events and because I am missing you all, I come up with any interesting story, fact or music as a good reason to write to you. And the next one is very interesting.
So here is a weird beautiful topic, the birth of the concept album. I will start with a comment from Joseph Luciano (2017, all music) on one of the first concept albums ever, done by Fred Astaire in 1953, a four album concept on Astaire's career.
"Wow! What a great LP...you can't possibly describe the feel of this production, it just has what it takes to keep you listening...such charisma, so tight it's a real musical marvel...and Ray Brown with Oscar…"
Avi: Wait! Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson
played are on it???
Miles: so what!
But way before Jazz music made it on records, it was a woman who sow the first seeds of a concept work, her name was Marie de France. Living in the medieval times, Marie was one of the first francophone woman poet ever, and her subject was, Love.
She collected short rhymed tales/ songs, called lais. Here you can listen to the Liverpool players making her poetic voice come to life by reading some of Marie poems (performed in a show called "Being Human 2015").
The next interesting development I manage to find was "The song cycle" from the 13th century. "a collection of songs composed in a certain sequence with a narrative consistency". but at this point I become more and more curious, what makes a body of work, work? And what are the main sweet ingredients that make the greatest artists works so good? That's when I found the boss, Herr Johann Sebastian Bach.
As a composer whose compositions are at the at most highest level, I thought, with some luck, I might find some clues. And yes I did, the first clue came from a book I just bought a few weeks ago, written by the former director of the Bach Archive in Leipzig, Christoph Wolff, "Bach's Musical Universe", and this is what he wrote: "Maintaining...a strict limitations governs a disciplined process of compositional logic and requires, from the outset of every single piece, a viable musical idea capable driving the course of concentrated contrapuntal writing.''
Say what??? What he simply says is that by choosing a clear concept as an act of limitation, or making a work of art made only with a limited set of colors, make the life of getting a balance and harmonious work easy to achieve.
And that's what Norman did with "The Fred Astaire Story". The 50's producer Norman Granz and Fred Astaire could afford what others couldn't, The Astaire Story covering the life work of Fred Astaire with a live recording Jam session of 41 songs in four albums, accompanied by top Jazz musicians. Each album is a theme from Astaire's musical career. In 1999 this concept album won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award for its "qualitative or historical significance".
I think at this point I can say Thank you Fred, Maria, Christoph and Herr Bach for giving me some directions. Now, in this lockdown, while I'm trying to be focused on one topic at a time, there is one thing I've learned already, a work on a ''good idea'' starts with cleaning your table first, with of course leaving a small space for a big cup of coffee.
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