March 26, 1925, Montbrison, France – January 5, 2016, Baden-Baden, Germany
“Born in Montbrison/Loire on 26 March 1925; Pierre Boulez was a composer, conductor, thinker, a motor of international musical life, an emblematic figure in post-war European, indeed, world culture.
He was a living classic. Ever since the 1950’s, composers around the world followed with curiosity what he was writing, to see if they could adapt his ideas in their own music or to reject them in their search for an idiom they could call their own. In 1957, György Kurtág arrived in Paris with the goal to compose something he could show to Boulez (in the end, he left without a work worthy of being presented). The music the French composer has written ever since the late 1940’s was a conscious act of rebellion against tradition as represented by Schönberg or Stravinsky but also his teacher, Messiaen, whose influence has nevertheless left its mark on Boulez’s music.
In his compositions but also in his writings, Boulez was initially an angry and rebellious young man (see his scathing obituary Schönberg est mort). With the passage of time as he became an established figure, with France inviting him back to found IRCAM and the Ensemble Intercontemporain and his career as a conductor also taking off, there has probably been less to rebel against and Boulez has mellowed and broadened his horizons to conduct a wide range of repertoire including Bruckner and Mahler.
Boulez also was a highly influential teacher. In Lucerne he passed on his immense knowledge to fledgling conductors at the Festival Academy.” – Universal Edition
October 24, 1929 – Charleston, WV, USA
“George Crumb is one of the most frequently performed composers in today’s musical world. Crumb is the winner of Grammy and Pulitzer Prizes, and continues to compose new scores that enrich the lives of all who come in contact with his profoundly humanistic art. Crumb’s music often juxtaposes contrasting musical styles, ranging from music of the western art-music tradition, to hymns and folk music, to non-Western musics. Many of Crumb’s works include programmatic, symbolic, mystical and theatrical elements, which are often reflected in his beautiful and meticulously notated scores.
A shy, yet warmly eloquent personality, Crumb retired from his teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania after more than 30 years of service. Honored by numerous institutions with honorary Doctorates, and the recipient of dozens of awards and prizes, Crumb makes his home in Pennsylvania, in the same house where he and his wife of more than 60 years raised their three children. George Crumb’s music is published by C.F. Peters and an ongoing series of “Complete Crumb” recordings, supervised by the composer, is being issued on Bridge Records.” – Official George Crumb Website
Louis Thomas Hardin
May 26, 1916 – September 8, 1999
“I am an observer of life, a non-participant who takes no sides. I am in the regimented society, but not of it.” – Moondog, 1964
Moondog earned the title as the Viking of 6th Avenue, due the fact that he spent most of his time in New York City from the 1940s through 1972 on 6th Avenue between 52nd and 55th Streets dressed in a cloak and Viking helmet, he had a long whispy beard, steel pointed spear. Blind from age 16, Moondog spend his time on the New York City streets in his iconic dress busking, selling music, but primarily standing still. Though he was seen as just a dirty crazy vagrant to those who passed him on the street, he had an astonishing musical career that not only created a body of musical works, but also the invention of instruments and writing of poems. Moondog is a harrowing example in a modern society obsessed with looks and airs that genius can come from those you least expect. For young composers, Moondog’s lesson is one of humility and not letting success turn one into an egotistical monster… there is an inherent peace and philosophical presence in Moondog’s works and views on life.
Because all of Moondog’s music is so wonderful, we couldn’t settle on just five pieces by him, as such, this week’s playlist features five whole albums by Moondog.
An excerpt from an official biography of Moondog is located below:
Once in a blue Moon(dog) …
September 8th last year saw the passing of one of the 20th C´s most respected musical icons. Louis T. Hardin better known as Moondog was a revered pioneer on the Avant-Garde/Minimalist scene, his revolutionary attitude towards composition and melody was lauded by such eminent notables as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, while his style and attitude drew comparisons to Harry Partch. His influence can be seen in the music of Stereolab and Moonshake among others.
Born 26th May 1916 in Maryville, Kansas, Moondog wrote all his music in braille having lost his sight in an accident involving a dynamite cap at the age of 17. He studied music at the Iowa School for the Blind and later at Memphis. He was mostly self-taught determining chord structures by ear and developing his skills and theory from books. Initially he was drawn to the percussion element of music citing that his first drum kit at the age of five was nothing more than a cardboard box. His father, a minister had once taken the young Louis to the Arapaho Sun Dance whereupon he met Chief Yellow Calf and played the buffalo skin tom-tom, and rhythmical device that would reappear in his later work.
Perhaps to some degree the legend of Moondog supersedes his music, if that is at all possible, for in 1943 he came to New York in order to be closer to the 20thC classical scene. The name Moondog didn´t occur until 1947, reflecting on how he came by the title he remembered fondly a dog he owned way back in Missouri:
“We used to howl at the moon.”
Arriving with no contacts and only one month´s rent, for the next 30 years he became something of a cultural enigma. It was during this period of flirtation with the Big Apple that the Moondog legend began. Positioning himself on 54th Street and Avenue, later to be known as Moondog corner, he would entertain crowds playing his compositions on home made drums and some portable keyboards and reciting his own poetry. His eccentricity was furthered by the fact that sporting a long beard and a spear, he wore home made clothes consisting of a robe, a Vikings helmet and leather patchwork trousers again the influence of the Indians having effect. However this unusual form of dress was to lose him prestigious contracts in die future.
As the legend would have it, musicians from the Carnegie Hall spotted Moondog just across the way from where he entertained. Impressed by what they saw they persuaded the conductor Arthur Rodzinski to let him sit in on rehearsals. It was here that Hardin was to learn about orchestration and also to witness the debut performance as a conductor of Leonard Bernstein. Moondog´s debt to Rodzinski was reciprocated by his dedication of Symphony No 50.
He became something of a celebrity when columnist Walter Winchell wrote about him in the Times. Folkways musicologist Tony Schwartz would often make field recordings of street players, such involvement with Moondog led on to several offers being made the most notable being to do a recording of children´s songs with Julie Andrews.
By all accounts he was a genial man and noted for his humour, when asked by passers by as to where he come from he would reply:
“I would tell people I was born in Sasnak …. and when they would ask where it was, I would reply that it was a mysterious place. I left it for them to work out it was Kansas in reverse.”
Legendary disc jockey Alan Freed was one of the first to pick up on the Moondog sound and found himself losing a lawsuit when he named his spot the Moondog show after the Moondog Symphony. However Freed was later to become the self styled originator of the term Rock´n´Roll.
His jazz influences were cultivated while on the streets, it was there that he met Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker, the latter remarking:
“You and I should make a record.”
Sadly though this never happened for shortly afterwards Parker died unexpectedly. Moondog paid tribute to Parker later on with “Bird´s Lament”.
By the early seventies still on the streets, it would be hard for most to imagine that this imposing street player had released albums on labels such as Mars, CBS and Prestige. The beat generation in the 60´s had welcomed Moondog with open arms seeing him as something of a rebellious icon. By this period he had performed a poetry reading with Allen Ginsberg, appeared on stage with Lenny Bruce, Tiny Tim and in films with William S. Boroughs. He was adept at making music for films and TV commercials, one of his pieces was used for the soundtrack for “Drive. She said” starring Jack Nicholson.
As for his views about music, be would only listen to his own stating that the work of others was full of “unspecified mistakes”. He considered himseIf a classicist stating his aim was to create:
“The art of concealing art, maximum effect but with minimum means”.
It is from this approach to his style of work that Philip Glass and Steve Reich hailed him as the originator of the concept of minimalism. However Moondog had his own opinion on the matter:
“Bach was doing minimal in his fugues. So what´s new?”
In 1974 be was offered a chance to play in Europe for a few months which as it turned out led him to relocating to Recklinghausen to live until his death. The suddenness of his departure led many to believe that be had died, at one even Paul Simon mourned his passing on his tv-show.
Of course Moondog hadn´t died in fact his so-called exile in Germany would lead to his most prolific period of his career. He met Ilona Goebel a music translator who gave up her job to work full time with Hardin putting onto paper what rnusic that was in his head, she eventually became his manager.
Moondog did however return to America in 1989. At the invitation of the New Music American Festival in Brooklyn, he shared the stage with Glass and Reich asked to conduct as part of the celebration of legends from the 40´s and 50´s. His conducting manner was unorthodox to say the least, taking his place at the side to play percussion. He later commented that:
“I see my relationship with them [orchestra] as being first among equals, so that there are forty conductors, each in charge of his own part.”
This return to the Big Apple marked a newly rediscovered interest in his work seeing it performed all over the world in some of the greatest settings, some of his work was even choreographed.
October 26, 1971 – Albany, NY, USA
“Grammy-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer (pronounced “VID-jay EYE-yer”) was described by Pitchfork as “one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today,” by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star,” and by Minnesota Public Radio as “an American treasure.” He was named DownBeat Magazine‘s 2014 Pianist of the Year, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, and a 2012 Doris Duke Performing Artist. In 2014 he began a permanent appointment as the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts in the Department of Music at Harvard University.
The New York Times observes, “There’s probably no frame wide enough to encompass the creative output of the pianist Vijay Iyer.” Iyer has released twenty albums covering remarkably diverse terrain, most recently for the ECM label. The latest include Break Stuff (2015), with a coveted five-star rating in DownBeat Magazine, featuring the Vijay Iyer Trio, hailed by PopMatters as “the best band in jazz”; Mutations (2014), featuring Iyer’s music for piano, string quartet and electronics, which “extends and deepens his range… showing a delicate, shimmering, translucent side of his playing” (Chicago Tribune); and Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi (2014), “his most challenging and impressive work, the scintillating score to a compelling film by Prashant Bhargava” (DownBeat), performed by International Contemporary Ensemble and released on DVD and BluRay.
Iyer’s trio (Iyer, piano; Marcus Gilmore, drums; Stephan Crump, bass) made its name with two tremendously acclaimed and influential albums, Accelerando (2012) and Historicity (2009). Accelerando was voted #1 Jazz Album of the Year for 2012 in three separate critics polls surveying hundreds of critics worldwide, hosted by DownBeat, Jazz Times, and Rhapsody, respectively, and also was chosen as jazz album of the year by NPR, the Los Angeles Times, PopMatters, and Amazon.com. Iyer received an unprecedented “quintuple crown” in the 2012 DownBeat International Critics Poll (winning Jazz Artist of the Year, Pianist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year, Jazz Group of the Year, and Rising Star Composer categories), a “quadruple crown” in the JazzTimes extended critics poll (winning Artist of the Year, Acoustic/Mainstream Group of the Year, Pianist of the Year, and Album of the Year), the 2012 and 2013 Pianist of the Year Awards and the 2010 Musician of the Year Award from the Jazz Journalists Association, and the 2013 ECHO Award (the “German Grammy”) for best international pianist. Historicity was a 2010 Grammy Nominee for Best Instrumental Jazz Album, and was named #1 Jazz Album of 2009 in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Metro Times, National Public Radio, PopMatters.com, the Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll, and the Downbeat International Critics Poll, and the trio won the 2010 ECHO Award for best international ensemble.
Iyer’s 2013 collaboration with poet Mike Ladd, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, based on the dreams of veterans of color from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was hailed as #1 Jazz Album of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and described in JazzTimes as “impassioned, haunting, [and] affecting.” Along with their previous projects In What Language? (2004) and Still Life with Commentator (2007), Holding It Down rounded out a trilogy of politically searing albums about post-9/11 American life. These projects were hailed as “unfailingly imaginative and significant” (JazzTimes) and praised for their “powerful narrative invention and ravishing trance-jazz… an eloquent tribute to the stubborn, regenerative powers of the human spirit” (Rolling Stone).
Iyer’s accomplishments extend well beyond his recordings. His recent composer commissions include “Playlist for an Extreme Occasion” (2012) written for Silk Road Ensemble (and released on their 2013 album A Playlist without Borders); “Dig The Say,” written for Brooklyn Rider and released on their 2014 album Almanac; “Mozart Effects” (2011) and “Time, Place, Action” (2014) for Brentano String Quartet; “Bruits” (2014) for Imani Winds and pianist Cory Smythe; “Rimpa Transcriptions” (2012) written for Bang on a Can All-Stars; “UnEasy” (2011) commissioned by NYC’s Summerstage in collaboration with choreographer Karole Armitage; “Three Fragments” (2011) for Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society. His orchestral work Interventions was commissioned and premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in 2007 under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies. It was praised by The New York Times as “all spiky and sonorous,” and by the Philadelphia City Paper for its “heft and dramatic vision and a daring sense of soundscape.” Other works include Mutations I-X (2005) commissioned and premiered by the string quartet ETHEL; “Three Episodes for Wind Quintet” (1999) written for Imani Winds; a “ravishing” (Variety) score for the original theater/dance work Betrothed (2007); the award-winning film score for Teza (2008) by legendary filmmaker Haile Gerima; a suite of acoustic jazz cues for the sports channel ESPN (2009); and the prize-winning audiovisual installation Release (2010) in collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison. Forthcoming commissions include pieces for Jennifer Koh, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and So Percussion. His concert works are published by Schott Music. An active electronic musician and producer, Iyer displays his digital audio artistry on his own recordings Still Life with Commentator, Holding it Down, Mutations, and Radhe Radhe, and in his remixes for British Asian electronica pioneer Talvin Singh, Islamic punk band The Kominas, and composer-performer Meredith Monk.
Iyer was voted the 2010 Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association, and named one of 2011’s “50 Most Influential Global Indians” by GQ India. Other honors include the Greenfield Prize, the Alpert Award in the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence, and numerous critics’ prizes.
Iyer’s many collaborators include creative music pioneers Steve Coleman, Wadada Leo Smith, Roscoe Mitchell, Butch Morris, George Lewis, Amina Claudine Myers, William Parker, Graham Haynes, Miya Masaoka, Pamela Z, John Zorn; next-generation artists Rudresh Mahanthappa, Rez Abbasi, Craig Taborn, Ambrose Akinmusire, Liberty Ellman, Steve Lehman, Matana Roberts, Tyshawn Sorey; Dead Prez, DJ Spooky, Himanshu Suri of Das Racist, High Priest of Antipop Consortium, DJ Val Jeanty, Karsh Kale, Suphala, Imani Uzuri, and Talvin Singh; filmmakers Haile Gerima, Prashant Bhargava, and Bill Morrison; choreographer Karole Armitage; and poets Mike Ladd, Amiri Baraka, Charles Simic, and Robert Pinsky.
A polymath whose career has spanned the sciences, the humanities and the arts, Iyer received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the cognitive science of music from the University of California, Berkeley. He has published in Journal of Consciousness Studies, Wire, Music Perception, JazzTimes, Journal of the Society for American Music, Critical Studies in Improvisation, in the anthologies Arcana IV, Sound Unbound, Uptown Conversation, The Best Writing on Mathematics: 2010, and in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. Iyer has taught at Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and the New School, and he is the Director of The Banff Centre’s International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, an annual 3-week program in Alberta, Canada. Iyer recently finished a multi-year residency with San Francisco Performances, cultivating new audiences and working with schools and community organizations. He is a Steinway artist and uses Ableton Live software.” – from Vijay Iyer’s Official Website