Composer, author, lecturer, guitar teacher

The jangle of Django

It has been awhile since I posted due to work leading up to and on the Oxford Experience summer school, my 18th I think since I started teaching on the programme. This year I taught week-long courses on the Battle of Britain, Symbolist art and literature (with reference to Sibelius, Nielsen and Yeats), and the ever-popular Beatles course. I also gave four lectures and two musical performances – the latter with my musical partner guitarist / songwriter Roger Dalrymple.

With all that out of the way for another year it’s time to catch-up with other things, including upgrading some of my composing software. I will shortly be working on a revised version of my book Chord Master. Before that I will write a long essay on the Led Zeppelin track ‘Achilles Last Stand’ for the Tight But Loose magazine. That magazine published my piece on Zeppelin at Earl’s Court in May 1975. I also have my Marc Bolan research to pick up and I am contemplating a book connected with the Beatles.

Recently I bought a compilation of Django Reinhardt’s recordings. To the uninitiated they have a strong cultural ambience – bohemian Parisian cafes in 1937 – and / or making you feel as though you’ve suddenly stepped into a Woody Allen film. It’s quite good driving music, and obviously the guitar-playing is special, but after awhile the incessant gritty tramp of the Hot Club’s 2/4 rhythm becomes monotonous. Likewise, the chromatic jazz harmony also palls – the rule seems to be never use a straight major or minor when you can squeeze in a 13b5#9 – evoking a brittle and frivolous emotional range. But then I’m not a jazz fan. But it made me feel that perhaps the ‘year zero’ of primitive three-chord rock’n’roll in the mid-50s was a necessary simplifying and purefying of popular music to burn the crop and sow the soil for the achievements of the 1960s and beyond. This is interesting, because there are parallels with what happened in classical music at the turn of the century when it purged itself of an elaborate chromatic romantic language.

My symphony-a-day is still going, so I must have passed the 200 mark now. I continue to make some pleasing discoveries – yesterday for example Rautavaara Symphony 5 which has a remarkable final few minutes that I must investigate more. If you’re unfamiliar with the Finnish composer, try his atmospheric Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for birds and orchestra) on Naxos.

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2 responses

  1. That is a very interesting point and there may well be another parallel in the advent of punk trying to sweep away prog rock. The advent of rock and roll certainly helped the demise of jazz as the popular music of the day, but it was already becoming more inaccessible as players were turning away from swing and moving towards the ever more complex bebop. At the time of his death, even Django had moved away from the hot club type format and was playing electric guitar in a more bebop style.

    August 20, 2015 at 11:22 am

  2. Steve

    Rikky, you have made a great point about music in general. If one were to listen to
    the best 10-12 cuts of Django (or John Lee Hooker, Hank Williams etc etc etc)
    the cuts do sound too similar. This a result of the double CD set, box set, a
    thousand rarities etc of today. Back in the day all that was available were
    small compilations of songs that were put out as singles like Robert Johnson,
    not every false start or outtake. A Pet Sounds box set is OK from a
    songwriters point of view but very tedious and I suspect most people who
    purchase it listen as often as they would to the 3rd All Things Must Pass disc.
    Double albums were usually boring back the so why would a box set be any
    different? Give me about 12 Woody Guthrie songs and I’ll be happy. A
    four disc set gets to me the same way the 2/4 time would get to you.
    I love your songwriting books, but wouldn’t want the alternate versions
    or outtakes of the Songwriting Sourcebook (LOL).

    September 7, 2015 at 10:30 am

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