Tuesday, February 21, 2006

US Popular Culture - on one disc!?!

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but by my own suggestion I have been given the go-ahead to compile a CD to accompany the American Popular Culture-course at my University. I found that very few of the students knew much about the artists that were presented in the various texts of the course, and that because they were unable to tell the difference between various developments in American music, they also had problems understanding the motives behind such developments. This was most notable when discussing the article"Things to Come: Swing Bands, Bebop and the Rise of a PostwarJazz Scene" (from Recasting America: Culture and Politics in the Age of the Cold War, Lary May (ed.) (University of Chicago Press, 1989) by Lewis A. Erenberg. Many had never heard the artists and songs in question, and most were not able to tell Benny Goodman apart from Charlie Parker, which may have made it difficult for them to grasp why the shift from Swing to Bebop in form and style was so important to the musicians, especially the African American musicians.

Now, while compiling this music is undoubtedly an interesting challenge, I am by and large obliged to limit my choices to the examples granted in the source texts. Erenberg's article, for example, explains the transition from Hot to Sweet, and further from Swing to Bop. Writing about the Swing movement, he puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of the steady and powerful drummer as a driving force, and how many song titles from that era had images of trains, which coincided with the sense of moving into a modern era with all the velocity and excitement this implied. This will almost certainly limit my choices to adhere with this view, while I might have wished to find another track to juxtapose with Bebop. The challenge is also to find the most representative track(or tracks - I may, or most certainly will include more than one) from the Bebop movement. I need to consider the its creators, but also how its transition from Swing is best exemplified. Erenberg explains many different reasons for the transition, all of which I agree with. Among the examples are: the wish to be at the center-stage - your own master as opposed to drowning in a whole run by a (white) leader; The complexity in rhythm and melody, both to showcase their talents, but also to move away from the notion of being an entertainer and gain respect as an artist; And also, how all this was a reaction to the society as a whole, especially for the black musicians in question, as witnessed by the more aggressive compositions of the era.

Much of this ties in with Kevern Verney's African Americans and US Popular Culture (2003. New York: Routledge) (my article/review of that book here), which discusses African Americans role in US Popular culture, both as creators and entrepreneurs, and as victims. Verney is not as specific about songs, which will present me with a bigger challenge in that respect. Which Bert Williams song do I chose to best represent this early hero of African American music? Which recording of Amos and Andy best demonstrate how terrible Minstrel representations of African American culture could be. Which songs best illustrate gospel both as a religious music and as a part of the civil rights movement. The same for 60's Jazz (free!, "free", or not) and so on.

I will also include other genres, such as various white roots music. Still, there is a limit as to what I can fit onto one recordable CD but its an interesting selection process, and with a little help from some mates, the end result will hopefully be handed over to the department within a fortnight. I will probably post the track listing on here as well for you to comment on.

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