Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Sound of Art Hickman and His Orchestra

The San Francisco Public Library subscribes to a number of streaming audio databases found at our eMusic page. One package we offer to our Library card holders is American Song--"a history database that allows people to hear and feel the music from America's past." American Song offers a number of albums released by Archeophone, a label specializing in recordings from the "acoustic era" (pre-1925, the era before microphones). While most of the music presented on this label are in the public domain, and possibly available for free online download, in the American Song database they come package with detailed documentation in liner notes.

Art Hickman and His Orchestra (image source: Big Bands Database Plus)

One treat in this database for San Francisco music history lovers are the two albums, Art Hickman's Orchestra: The San Francisco Sound, volumes 1 and 2. The database contains 50 tracks and two booklets featuring essays by Bruce Vermazen plus extensive visual documentation from Mr. Vermazen's personal collection.

"The guy who started all the dance bands." This is how Joe Laurie, Jr. describes Art Hickman in Vaudeville: From the Honky Tonks to the Palace. Hickman, born June 13, 1886 in Oakland, was a drummer, pianist and dance bandleader. Roger D. Kinkle writes in The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz, 1900-1950 that Hickman was an "early bandleader, pioneer in dance music. Helped establish instrumentation, voicing, style and rhythm of early dance bands." He formed his first band in 1913 was hired to play in the Rose Room at the St. Francis Hotel.

Art Hickman (detail from "Dream of Me," see below)

Evidently Hickman was inspired to include a banjo player in his group after watching African-American musicians perform at Purcell's nightclub on San Francisco's Barbary Coast. According to The Devil's Horn: The Story of the Saxophone, From Noisy Novelty to King of Cool, Hickman's band was the first band to have a saxophone "section" - the tandem of Clyde Doerr and Bert Ralton. In So This Is Jazz, Henry O. Osgood notes that with Hickman's band: "The limelight was focused on the drummer probably for the first time, since Hickman was neither a violinist nor pianist like the usual leader, but master of the drums and traps."

In Jazz on the Barbary Coast, Tom Stoddard gives Hickman credit for being "the first jazz leader to employ only reading musicians... With reading musicians it is easier to create the foundation or background music for a solo improvisation. Hickman's early bands are reported to have used, and probably originated, the solo style of jazz improvisation."

For a time his band was a national recording sensation. According to Joel Whitburn's A Century of Popular Song, Art Hickman & His Orchestra registered five of the top fifteen songs of 1920: "Hold Me," "The Love Nest, "Tell Me, Little Gypsy," "Sweet and Low," and "Peggy." He was offered the position of bandleader on the roof Ziegfeld's New Amsterdam Theatre in New York but he and his musicians turned down the gig because they were "crazy about San Francisco" (see Vermazen's liner notes to volume 1).

You can hear Hickman's band on the CD, The San Francisco Sound, through the American Song database, or at

(image from the Dorothy Starr Sheet Music Collection)

The San Francisco Public Library has the following sheet music co-composed by Art Hickman (songs followed by an asterisk are part of the Dorothy Starr Sheet Music Collection):

"Day By Day In Every Way (I Love You More and More)" * words and music by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Florintine Music Publishing Co., 1923).

"Dream of Me" * words and music by Art Hickman, Ben Black and M. K. Jerome
(Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1921).

"Hold Me" by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Sherman, Clay & Co., c1920).

"June: I Love No One But You," by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1920).

"Just Plain Folks" words and music by Art Hickman, Ben Black and Neil Moret (Leo. Feist, 1922).

"My Wonder Girl" by Ben Black, Marty Bloom and Art Hickman (Sherman, Clay & Co., 1920).

"Rose Room: Fox Trot Song: In Sunny Roseland" lyrics by Harry Williams; music by Art Hickman (Sherman, Clay & Co., 1918).

"Take Me On A Buick Honeymoon" * words and music by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Howard
Automobile Co., 1922).

"Tears" by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Sherman, Clay & Co., 1918).

"Without You" * words and music by Art Hickman, Ben Black and Neil Moret (Sherman, Clay &
Co., 1922).

"You and I" by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Sherman, Clay & Co., 1919).

Scanned music of Art Hickman's Songs can also be located through the Sheet Music Consortium.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Brief History of Color in Western Painting

edit of "The Cincinnati Museum of Art - An Ambitious Student" (Harpers Weekly 12/20/1890) from the "Painters" folder of the Art, Music & Recreation Center Picture File

In its most basic form, painting may be defined as the use of pigments (pure colors) in powder form which are suspended in a medium and then applied to some sort of support. The earliest pigments date back to around 350,000 BCE and were made from colored earth materials such as crushed red and yellow sands called ochres. Manganese oxide provided browns and blacks, and white came from calcite. These colors have been found in cave paintings throughout the world and the pigments were used by themselves or mixed with animal fat for better adherence.

As civilizations grew in sophistication, so did the art of painting. Animal fat medium became replaced by plaster, wax, egg tempera and eventually oils such as linseed and poppy seed. Artists moved beyond cave walls and started using papyrus, wood, parchment, and eventually linen canvas for supports.

During the Middle Ages, the artist’s palette became broader due to the discovery of new animal, vegetable and mineral products found locally and abroad. Much of the research in color chemistry and technology was carried out by physicians and alchemists. Pigments were sold by grocers or pharmacists because many of the materials used in painting also had pharmaceutical uses or were found among the spices. The colors were then made by the artists themselves in a long and exacting procedure that required extensive knowledge on the part of the painter.
By the latter part of the seventeenth century pigments were available ready-ground and were sold to artists by specialized grocers who became known as color merchants. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the trade of the color merchant evolved from just grinding pigments to preparing paint and packaging it for sale.

John Brooking's Studio from the "Painters" folder of the Picture File

Until 1841, pieces of pig’s bladders were the normal method of storage, but because they were so permeable, the paint would gradually harden. Pig’s bladders were messy, not easily portable and once the bladder was punctured, the paint began to harden very quickly. The invention of the collapsible paint tube in 1841 by John G. Rand, was one of the most important developments for nineteenth-century painting. Paint in tubes contributed significantly to the ever-growing number of amateur painters. It also made the practice of painting outside much easier. The painter Auguste Renoir is often credited with saying that without paint in tubes, there would have been no Impressionists.

The advances made by chemical scientists in the 19th century brought about the invention and availability of new pigments in colors that had never been used by artists before. Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Matisse were but a few of the artists who embraced these new colors and used them for emotional impact. Monet and Seurat, on the other hand used colors to capture light and produce optical color mixing effects.

The next major change in painting materials occurred in the 1950’s with the invention of acrylic paints. Initially sold as latex house paints, they rapidly found their way into the artistic community. Water soluble, artist quality acrylic paints became commercially available in the 1960’s.

The Library has many books on painting materials and techniques that may be checked out. The following is just a sample of the titles that are available:

Alla Prima: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Direct Painting by Al Gury (Watson-Guptill, 2008).

Color Mixing Handbook
by Julie Collins (David & Charles, 2007).

How to Paint: A Complete Step-by-Step For Beginners Covering Watercolours, Acrylics and Oils by Angela Gair and Ian Sidaway (New Holland, 2005).

New Artist’s Manual by Simon Jennings (Chronicle Books, 2006).

Paint Like Monet
by James Heard (Cassell/Sterling Pub., 2006).

Painting Abstracts: Ideas, Projects and Techniques by Rolina van Vliet (Search Press, 2008).

Traditional Oil Painting: Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present by Virgil Elliott (Watson-Guptill, 2007).

Understanding Color: Creative Techniques in Watercolor by Marcia Moses (Sterling Pub., 2007).

In addition to reading books on painting technique, it is helpful to look at a variety of painting methods used by other artists. Some painters worth studying include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pierre Bonnard, Peter Paul Rubens, Frida Kahlo and Jackson Pollock. Ask our librarians for other recommendations.

Works cited in hyperlinks:

Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin
; translated by O.F. Theis (Chronicle Books, 1994).

Renoir / edited by Margherita d'Ayala Valva and Alexander Auf der Heyde (Rizzoli, 2005).

Van Gogh, Starry Night; text based on the interviews between Federico Zeri and Marco Dolcetta (NDE Pub., 1999).

Henri Matisse by Susan A. Sternau (New Line Books, 2006).

Monet, preface by Roberto Tassi (Rizzoli, 2005).

Georges Seurat by Pierre Courthion (H.N. Abrams, 1988).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Julian Treuherz, Elisabeth Prettejohn, Edwin Becker (Thames & Hudson, 2003).

Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature / edited by Jörg Zutter (National Gallery of Australia, 2003).

Peter Paul Rubens by Claudia Bauer (Prestel, 2004).

Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954: Pain and Passion by Andrea Kettenmann (Taschen, 2002).

Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956 by Leonhard Emmerling (Taschen, 2003).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Oxford History of Western Music

The Oxford History of Western Music by UC Berkeley professor Richard Taruskin was original published in six volumes in 2005. This original hardcover edition was priced at $750 creating a dilemma for the library whether to buy this as a reference work only, or not to buy it all. Although this is a book that requires sustained attention and dedication, we decided that it was too important not to have in the Library. We are now glad to own two copies of the "lightly revised" five volume paperback edition available for circulation. The now-absent sixth volume contained an index and reading lists that have been folded into the five individual volumes.

The original Oxford History of Music was published between 1901-1905 and was written by a group of British scholars. This was followed by the New Oxford History of Music which was completed between the years 1954 and 1990. This latter set was created by dozens of respected music scholars, all specialists on the time periods and regions they wrote about. The first volume of the New Oxford History of Music (Ancient and Oriental Music) even included cursory coverage of Asian musics, grouped among "primitive" music and the music of antiquity. Taruskin has added the modifer "Western" to his title to clarify the scope of his work - music in Europe and America. He also acknowledges that his subject is the elite music of the West, not folk and popular music.

Taruskin's project is remarkable because it brings such a vast span of time and variety of music under the pen of a single author. The preface (now printed in all five volumes) paraphrases Francis Bacon's requirement for history: "that causes be investigated, that original documents be not only cited but analyzed and that the approach should be as near exhaustive as possible" (vol. 1, p. xii). Taruskin's writing focuses on "discourse and contention" through the "close observation ... of the actual statements and actions of people" (p. xv). He acknowledges that his opinions and ideas can be "admittedly and deliberately provocative" (vol. 4, p. xx). This approach leads to more than 4,000 pages of thoughtful and thought-provoking reading.

Volume 1, Music From The Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, begins with a consideration of the earliest known fragments music noted in antiquity. Volume 2 covers the 17th and 18th centuries, while volume 3 is devoted to the 19th century. A sizable percentage of the set, the 4th and 5th volumes, is devoted to music of the twentieth century.

The Oxford History of Western Music does not demand to be read from beginning to end. It is organized into sensibly unified chapters on various topics, composers, styles, national schools of music, etc... Taruskin looks at music in the context of the social and philosophical currents of the times. These volumes are also replete with musical examples. While the ideal reader of this history will possess a knowledge of music notation and some music theory, such knowledge is not absolutely necessary to benefit from Taruskin's ideas and insights.

Like Alex Ross's popular book, The Rest Is Noise, Taruskin's work is remarkable for presenting music as a platform for serious ideas and thought. For a play-by-play account of the experience of reading this massive book there is also a blog entitled The Taruskin Challenge (subtitled: Two grad students blog their way through the most monumental musicological work in generations).

The Oxford History of Western Music, 5 volumes, by Richard Taruskin (Oxford University Press, 2010).

The Oxford History of Western Music, 6 volumes, by Richard Taruskin (Oxford University Press, 2005).