Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"They Talk About Music"

Nowadays there are so many ways to see the early days of television programming - streaming video on Archive.org or Youtube, and classic television channels.  This was a period of variety shows where high and low culture frequently intermingled.  Owing to the availability of these programs we are able to witness many celebrities of serious and popular entertainment of the past.

They Talk About Music, published in 1971, is a time capsule of that period.  The publishers of the The Music Journal, a popular music magazine of the time, put together a series of short essays by musicians familiar to audiences of that time.  Luminaries were as varied as Mischa Elman, Mahalia Jackson, Skitch Henderson, Benny Goodman, Connie Francis, Al Hirt, Roland Hayes and Duke Ellington.  The book also provides basic music appreciation with essays like "Good Music is Timeless," "What is a Conductor?," "Cultivate That Musical Youngster," "Selecting a Voice Teacher," and "The World of Sound."

There are many insightful and unique passages to be found in They Talk About Music.

In "How Jazz Came To Life," Louis Armstrong talks about the profound affect that watching the funeral processions in the New Orleans of his youth had on his belief in music that "has as its base a great sympathy and feeling."  He asserts that "jazz came to life" from these ceremonies of public mourning.

Nat "King" Cole, in "Fads, Fans and Foreign Ambassadors," writes of the significance of music to him and his aim as a performer:
I guess I could best sum up what I have tried and am still trying to get out of success by saying that it truly gives me a good feeling to bring people closer together through music.
Noel Coward writes a precis of his life in "To Thine Own Self, Be True!"  The author of Bittersweet propounds a rather bittersweet worldview:
As to myself, I am optimistic.   As to life, I am pessimistic.  I explain this duality this way: I amuse myself and I am happy, being first of all disposed to mirth.  But I detest the follies and stupidities of the human race.
Another delightful moment is when Jack Benny addresses the subject "How well do I play the violin?"  His modest answer might do for many amateur musicians: "Not so badly as I often sound, but not as well as I would like."  From here he goes on the extol the "amateur" - someone who "does something for the love of it, not necessarily badly."

There are many other entertaining vignettes for those interested in musicians of the mid-20th century.

They Talk About Music (Belwin/Mills, 1971).

This book also includes a number of whimsical illustrations by Walt Trag - a musical note plucking a bouquet of musical notes.

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