Thursday, June 04, 2009

Timing is everything

Slowly pushing my way (a few years late) through Alex Ross's book (slowly, because I am simultaneously planning a tour / prepping a record for a full-on mix). As you probably already knew, it is a phenomenal work.

As with that other tome in my current reading rotation, I will be sure to fold in more detailed book-related observations on this blog at some point. But for the time being, this:

Ives wisely waited until 1920 before trying seriously to publicize his modern Transcendentalist style. Ten years earlier, his work would have made little sense to listeners reared on the courtly values of the Gilded Age. But in the period of the Roaring Twenties there emerged what the scholar Carol Oja has called a "marketplace for modernism," an audience more receptive to disruptive sounds.

Cawing trombone glissandos defined the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's 1917 track "Livery Stable Blues," the first jazz record to capture national attention. Around the same time, audiences were cheering the immigrant Ukrainian pianist-composer Leo Ornsteing, a.k.a. "Ornstein the Keyboard Terror," who offered up savage discords and slam-bang virtuosity. Ornstein's most startling effect, co-invented with the California experimentalist Henry Cowell, was the "cluster chord," in which three or more adjacent notes are struck with the hand, the fist, or the forearm. Somehow, Ornstein succeeded in generating an early form of the mass hysteria that would later greet Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, and the Beatles. One crowd was said to have "mobbed the lobbies, marched at intervals to the stage, and long clung there to walls, to organ-pipes, pedal-base, stairs, or any niche offering a view." (p. 147)

All in good time, my fellow thong-wearing, noisy, dancing big bands. Our marketplace will come.

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