Music for the Weekend: Esperanza Spalding

Little Fly
Thy summer’s play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush’d away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing;
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath;
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

-William Blake

 

It’s a little strange how I stumbled upon Esperanza Spalding again. While she’s an extremely talented musician, I haven’t encountered her music since she won a Grammy for Best New Artist a few years ago (where she was the first jazz artist to do so). To be frank, the only reason I stumbled upon her music is Pandora. I needed some help sleeping last night, so I gave my Pandora a spin and put on the ‘jazz’ genre. Later (must have not been that much later since I hadn’t got the “we try not to play to an empty room” notice yet), I found my dream being interrupted by a beautiful song. Have you ever felt like you were half asleep, yet half awake? Well, that was me. “This sounds so wonderful,” I thought…I subsequently rolled over, pressed my iPhone and tried to find the like button through my blurry vision.

Ironically, I didn’t remember that I did this until about an hour or so ago. Our subconscious has a funny way of thinking doesn’t it? What’s even better, here are some of the lyrics of the song:

 

They say if you live in a dream,
You’re hopelessly lost
Well this ain’t just any old dream
For our paths have crossed
And I may be hopelessly lost
But somehow I’ve managed to find heaven

I briefly found heaven in this song, and as always, thought I’d share (video below). Hopefully she makes a comeback one of these days…though, as we know, artists are always disappearing from the mainstream scene. If you’re in NYC, Esperanza will be playing this weekend at the Jazz Standard ($30). See here for more: http://www.jazzstandard.com/

New Song: Brika – Options

I can’t stop playing this song. It’s so good, that I’m going to let the music speak for itself on this one. But in case you’re curious about the artist, here’s a bio from Brika’s VEVO page:

Brika can best be called a product of her unique surroundings. She was born and raised in Miami and despite her eclectic taste, her primary influence is Coldplay. Her music can best be likened to a Pollock painting or a Rauschenberg collage; overflowing with fast, temperamental bursts of creativity, imbued with a daring sense of honesty, and charged with a damning refusal to be categorized or quelled for the sake of fitting a description. Her natural charisma and traveler’s air lend an impulsive and nomadic tone to a body of work characterized by simple, cryptic lyricism and minimalistic production. Thematically, her mind seems attached to a few key fixations (loss, psychology, and the nature of truth), all expounded on in fresh and innovative ways through the power of song. A true iconoclast, Brika is a talented singer-songwriter with enough rawness and accessibility to enthrall audiences the world over.

Remember the First iPod?

Next month, October 23, 2014 will mark the 13th anniversary of Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPod. Given the upcoming release of Apple’s new iPhone 6 on Sept 18th, it seems like a perfect time to look back on the day when Steve Jobs unveiled this device. Arguably, this was the presentation that marked the beginning of a new era for music, technology, and our world.

People hate change, even when it’s necessary. So perhaps it wasn’t exactly surprising to see the amount of naysayers that emerged on the back of this release. CNET’s post after the event was titled:

Apple’s iPod spurs mixed reactions

Comments on macrumors, which seems to hail Apple as a god these days, were pretty bad to say the least…

NO! Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where’s the Newton?!

I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!

 

OH NO! Just checked Apple Store – they want $399.00 for this thing…Ouch!!!

 

All that hype for an MP3 player? Break-thru digital device? The Reality Distiortion Field™ is starting to warp Steve’s mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off.

Just another MP3 player right? Little did they know, that iPod’s sales would not only look like this

iPod

…but would also change the face of both music as we knew it. Indeed, iTunes + iPod spurred a revolution in the music industry – from the way labels release music, to the way consumers listen to it.

Steve Jobs was a visionary. And the success of his $600B market cap company adds testament to the fact that you cannot let the opinion of others change your vision…something perhaps said better by the man himself:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Every week, we aim here to discover new music & pieces of culture, to try to go against the “normal way” of thinking. Apple is a tech company, but it is ever so present in music and even the fashion/design industry. So, perhaps it’s important to not only come up with new ideas, but also to transcend sector boundaries – allowing one to broaden his or her horizons and way of thinking.

Really, our time is limited, so Think Different.

10 Things to Do in NYC this Fall

It’s starting to get a bit chilly here in New York. I saw a woman wearing a scarf under her suit during her morning commute. I myself had to opt for boat shoes instead of sandals during mine. Hopefully winter isn’t coming, but summer is definitely going away.

In preparation for the cold weather, people – New Yorkers especially – tend to swap light clothes for dark ones, and huddle around fires inside . Sounds depressing doesn’t it? Luckily, much can be done to combat this. After all, NYC is a big city with a lot to offer.

Below are 10 “artsy” events that I pulled from a great interactive article by the NY Times of the “100 events that have us especially excited”. Take a look for yourself to see what you prefer, but here’s my list (it’s not just a music list, for once):

1. Ernest Cole’s photographs of life under apartheid

  • 100 photographs by one of South Africa’s first black photojournalists give insight into life under apartheid
  • Date: through Dec 6.
  • Location: Grey Art Gallery, New York University / nyu.edu

2. Classics from the Classical Age at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Exploring the decentralized, mercantile societies of an expanding Assyrian Empire, this major international loan exhibition will include some 260 works from 41 museums in 14 countries.
  • Date: Sept 22 – Jan 4.
  • Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art / metmuseum.org

3. Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan Steps out

  • It is a busy season in New York for the talented Israeli-born pianist, who plays a solo recital at SubCulture in September, a program with the Jerusalem Quartet at the 92nd Street Y in October and concerts with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, both in November. He also begins a multiyear term as the New York Philharmonic’s first “artist in association,” an intriguing position intended to give rising artists extensive exposure to the orchestra’s audiences. In December he plays a chamber recital with Philharmonic musicians and his frequent collaborator, the cellist Alisa Weilerstein, then Dvorak’s Piano Quintet on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall in February before his full-orchestra debut in March with Ravel’s Concerto in G.
  • Date/Location: Various

4. Tail! Spin!…Politicians (try) to say they’re sorry on stage

  • This verbatim re-enactment of email, text messages and tweets that screamed “sex scandal!” and changed the lives of formerly successful politicos including Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford and others, created and written by Mario Correa, gets an Off Broadway bow after a successful run at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival. Dan Knechtges (“Lysistrata Jones”) directs
  • Date: Previews begin Sept. 18. Opens Oct. 1. Closes Nov. 30.
  • Location: Lynn Redgrave Theater at the Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street, near Lafayette Street, East Village

5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

  • Those who keep an eye on London theater have been hearing about this show — and reading the rapturous reviews — for a few years, so it’s exciting that Simon Stephens’s multiple Olivier Award-winning play about a teenage boy with difficulty connecting to the world around him, who tries to solve the mystery of a dead dog, is headed to New York. Marianne Elliott (“War Horse”), the original London director of this drama, adapted from the novel by Mark Haddon, is on board.
  • Previews ongoing. Opens Oct. 5. Telecharge.
  • Location: Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47th Street, Manhattan / curiousonbroadway.com

6. Henri Matisse cut-outs

  • Centering on MoMA’s newly conserved Matisse cutout “The Swimming Pool,” this largest show ever devoted to the artist’s late cut-paper works will include some 100 examples and related drawings, illustrated books, stained glass and textiles.
  • Date: Oct 12 – Feb 8
  • Location: Museum of Modern Art / moma.org

7. The music of South Africa, with films by William Kentridge

  • This capacious festival, organized by Carnegie Hall, sprawls over jazz, classical and indigenous music, including maskandi (known as the “Zulu blues“) and folk music from the country’s Cape region. The concerts include the New York recital debuts of the South African sopranos Pretty Yende and Elza van den Heever as well as a musical and theatrical evening conceived by the violinist Daniel Hope and a program of films by the artist William Kentridge, set to music by Philip Miller.
  • Date: Oct 10 – Nov 5
  • Location: Carnegie Hall

8. Sculptor Judith Scott at the Brooklyn Museum

  • The sculptor, who was born with Down syndrome and worked with the Creative Growth studio program for adult artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities, wrapped scavenged objects in lengths of yarn and thread. This is her first retrospective in the United States.
  • Date: Oct 24 – March 29
  • Location: Brooklyn Museum / brooklynmuseum.org

9. Artists inspired by “Ebony” and Jet magazines

  • The longstanding magazines Ebony and Jet have frequently appeared in contemporary artworks; this show takes a deeper look at the phenomenon.
  • Location: Studio Museum in Harlem / studiomuseum.org

10. Bradley Cooper brings “The Elephant Man” to Broadway

  • Bradley Cooper stars as the severely disfigured Joseph Merrick in this revival of Bernard Pomerance’s Tony Award-winning 1979 drama. Mr. Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson will reprise roles they played in a 2012 Williamstown Theater Festival production. Scott Ellis, who directed then, does the same for Broadway. Previews begin Nov. 7. Opens Dec. 7. Telecharge.
  • Location: Booth Theater, 222 West 45th Street, Manhattan / elephantmanbroadway.com

 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be updating the calendar on this site of interesting upcoming events that I come across. Let me know if you hear of anything too – what type of events are you looking out for?

 

One of those Days? Take a Listen to Kait Dunton

Every once in a while, you get that feeling of exhaustion. You just want to fall backwards onto the floor, spread your arms out wide like an angel’s arms and slowly whisper, “why me?”

If today’s one of those days for you, then take a listen to Kait Dunton. Kait is an incredibly talented pianist/composer whose music tells a story…and while us millennials have seemed to stray away from the jazz age in favor of something more “electronic”, sometimes — when it’s one of those days — raw music is all you need. Here’s a snippet from Kait’s bio:

KAIT DUNTON is a Los Angeles based jazz pianist and composer. Kait’s music pushes the definition of jazz into new realms with her expansive and richly compositional concept for piano trio and other ensembles. Her love of story and travel imbue her music with a sense of journey and imagination, inviting listeners through her sonic creation of narrative and mood – and on the bandstand, Kait and her trio radiate with musical joy and energy.

My favorite is “Real & Imagined” …

Chance the Rapper Samples the Theme Song from ‘Arthur’…and it’s Beautiful

ONE: I used to love Arthur as a kid. Seriously, he even inspired me to read – which is a tough task when you’re 5 years old.

PLUS

ONE: I also love pianos, and dissonant tri-tones and minor keys…

EQUALS TWO: where 2 is Chance the Rapper’s new song titled Wonderful Everyday: Arthur, featuring the Social Experiment. Listen all the way through because it sounds strange at first. Seriously, I had to pause to make sure I wasn’t listening to two songs at once by accident. It gets pretty epic around 2:00. Epic’s probably not the right word, but you’ll see what I mean.

Doesn’t it sound like one of those songs where you feel like you should be walking along with an angel who shows you flashes of your childhood? Or something?

 

Music Streaming is Growing Fast, and Record Labels are Taking a Bigger Share of the Pie

When’s the last time you downloaded a song off of iTunes?

If you’re a millennial, then chances are, you had to think long and hard about the answer to that question. You probably spend more time on Pandora, Spotify, or some other streaming music service rather than sifting through iTunes trying to decide what song you want to own for the rest of your life.

unlimited is what is en vogue today. Unlimited data plans, unlimited downloads, unlimited access to music. It’s great for the consumer, but over the past decade, we’ve seen record labels complain, file lawsuits, and complain some more about losing control over their industry. On the other hand however, we’ve also seen ticket sales for concerts skyrocket. For example, from 1999 to 2009, concert ticket sales in the US tripled from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion. And from 2004 to 2013, revenues from digital music globally grew from $400M to $6B…that’s a 15 fold increase (see chart below).

Global digital music revenue from 2004 to 2013

music sales

So has streaming been that bad for the music industry? Not really, one could argue. It’s better than illegally downloading music right? In fact, it seems like the only real losers in this process have been established artists.

There’s an interesting article out today from the WSJ that brings to light just how much music labels are winning from music streaming, and how much some established artists are seemingly losing. Right now, record labels pay artists a fairly standard royalty rate on digital downloads and CD sales—generally between 10% and 20%, but there’s a growing debate around how much they should pay artists for streaming services. Some artists (the good negotiators, I think) are getting paid as much as 50% of streaming revenue, arguing that licensing their music to these services is more akin to placing it in a film or advertisement, in which case artists typically get half the fee.

in the mix

One issue though lies around something called “breakage.” Basically, some labels demand advances far in excess of what they are likely to earn from actual royalties pegged to usage. The author writes:

Earlier this month in Washington, where lawmakers are considering a broad overhaul of copyright law, indie label co-founder Darius Van Arman noted how significant breakage can be. Testifying at a music licensing hearing, Mr. Arman said that independent record companies were set to receive $1 million in breakage from two licensing deals. In one deal, he said, the breakage was more than half of what was earned in royalties, and in the second deal, the breakage was almost five times what was earned.

Why is this important? In 2013, revenue generated from subscription services was $1.1B, up ~50% from the year prior, making it the fastest growing piece of the $15B music industry. Most artists don’t seem to be aware of how much they are getting of the breakage fee, which could be an issue as subscription streaming continues to grow. Let me say (write) that again, they don’t know how much they are getting of the breakage fee. Per the article:

Some artists signed to labels that claim to share breakage say they have never seen digital breakage show up on their income statements, though such an item could be easily missed, as the statement for a single work nowadays may tabulate hundreds of thousands of individual payments.

We’ll have to keep an eye out to see how this goes, and whether this starts to play out in Washington (as it should). For all of the artists negotiating royalties now though, this is something you should definitely bring up.

 

 

Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist: Jakubi

AYO to Mrs. couch potato, she’s in her own world in the state of San Diego…

 

I’m sure we can all agree that Mondays seem like the perfect time to be a couch potato. But alas, this society of ours dictates that we MUST get up and make a living for ourselves.

That’s why we need music like Jakubi’s newly released ‘Couch Potato’ – to remind us that we can dream of being lazy, sleeping, dreaming….

In all seriousness though, I love this new single by Jakubi, an Australian band that has garnered a strong online following and is set to tour through America in just a few weeks. They uploaded their first track ‘Can’t Afford It All’ to Soundcloud in 2013, and since then, they have over a million plays via YouTube and SoundCloud. According to their kickstarter:

“Jakubi have signed with Melbourne’s 123 Agency and are represented by New Frontier Touring in the U.S. Jakubi’s unique flavour is made up of an irresistible combination of jangle guitars, hip hop beats and sailing synth rhythms. From melding the sounds of a talk box one minute, to reggae-inspired guitar the next – the band’s diversity is reinforced through their infectious, experimental collection of songs.”

Also check out their kickstarter video to learn a bit more about the band. They’re apparently on track to record an EP with a ‘major producer,’ which means…you should probably go see their show while it’s still cheap. I haven’t been able to find their tour dates, but when I do, I’ll be sure to update this post.

 

 

 

Rudimental & The Roots Picnic: The Right Music at The Right Time

I had the pleasure of attending the Roots Picnic this past weekend. Performances ranged from old/established artists like Freeway, Snoop Dogg, The Roots, Doug E. Fresh, A$AP Ferg, etc. to new ones. Obviously, considering the scope of this blog, I was more interested in the new ones.

show

Roots Picnic 2014, Source: Bars and Chords

Remember when we talked about why artists do covers on YouTube? Well, think about festivals/outdoor concerts as taking this concept to the next level…or next few levels depending on how you look at it.

While festivals are a time commitment, next to social media and the internet, they are arguably the best way to get exposure to new fans. Think of the smaller festivals as mini-marathons. You run the smaller races so you can qualify for the bigger marathons like NYC, Boston, etc., or in this case, Coachella, Made in America, etc.

Bad Rabbits was one of the bands I came into the event most excited about. They performed well, and have a fresh, eclectic sound. However, I have to admit they are a bit hard to connect with. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but something’s missing… check out one of their videos here to see if you agree.

So who ultimately stole the show?

Rudimental

Rudimental

Rudimental, Roots Picnic 2014, Source: Bars and Chords

Perhaps it was the crowd I was with – they were all extremely excited about this group – but Rudimental is the definition of right music, right time. The group has already been a hit in the UK, hence the millions of views they have on YouTube. See below for one of the songs I cannot seem to stop playing.

 

There had to be at least 8 performers on stage during the show, but the core group consists of Amir Amor, Piers Agget, Kesi Dryden and DJ Locksmith (Leon Rolle). They have multiple Platinum awards under their belt, a Brit Award, and the Mobo Award for Best Album, in addition to several other notable nominations.

What was particularly spectacular about their performance at the Roots Picnic was their seamless integration of the singers into their music. Two backup singers – and by backup, I mean they stood in the background on an elevated stage at the beginning of the show – ultimately became the lead singers later on. Come to find out, the band actually prefers working with unknown vocalists and sourcing new talent rather than recruiting established stars.

It’s a perfect idea – and they’ve managed to bring to light an up and coming star named Anne-Marie. She was absolutely incredible to say the least. She had a soulful voice, vibrant energy, and passion for the words she was singing, which filtered through the crowd. What else is cool? After the show, she chilled in the crowd and enjoyed the rest of the show…like a normal person. I managed to dig up a video of her singing live (Video).

All in, Rudimental delivered the perfect blend of soul, electronic music, and plain old fun. Look for them to make waves through America and bring their careers to unimaginable heights. There’s nothing like the right time, right music.

**Side note: Jhene Aiko also performed to a HUGE crowd – it’s interesting to see how much her career has taken off.

African Americans in Jazz: Scott Joplin, The King of Ragtime

In the second of our series on African Americans in Jazz, we look at one of the greats: Scott Joplin a.k.a. the “King of Ragtime.”

scott_joplin_29 (1)

As one of the (if not the) pioneers of ragtime, Mr. Joplin was part of a pre-jazz genre that  began as dance music among African American communities in St. Louis and New Orleans. Then ragtime made its way over to popular sheet music for piano. Ragtime can have a lot of meanings – remember, music can never really be defined – but when you hear Mr. Joplin’s music, you might think of cadences (i.e., you know when a verse is about to end), and syncopation (off-beat rhythms).

Mr. Joplin is fairly popular already given he was such a talented musician. Hence, for our purposes of becoming more familiar with his music, we’ll focus on his most well-known/not so well-known pieces rather than specific historical anecdotes. Here are a few fun facts though:

Born: ??? – yes, question mark. Historians do not know for sure when or where he was born. Some pinpoint him as being born in Texas–the US Census Bureau locates him there in 1970  at the age of 2. We do know that he was the son of a laborer and former slave.

Instrument: piano, mainly.  He taught himself on a piano belonging to a white family’s home where his mother worked (note: this was later depicted in his opera ‘Treemonisha’), and ultimately studied with a local, German-born teacher who introduced him to classical music.

Cities: He moved a lot. He grew up in Texarkana, TX (where the??) but ultimately settled in Sedalia, Missouri  in 1894. About two years later, he took music classes at George R. Smith College in Sedalia, an institution for African-Americans, though evidence suggests he never mastered his musical skills there.  He later moved on to St. Louis and New York.

That was fun. Now, on to the music.

 

MAPLE LEAF RAG

Let’s start off with his first hit, Maple Leaf Rag. Believe it or not, it wasn’t popular initially when it was contracted in 1899. In fact, only ~400 copies were sold. By 1909 however, around half a million copies had been sold, earning Mr. Joplin a steady revenue stream (1c royalty on each sale) for the rest of his life.

Maple_Leaf_Rag
Perhaps the below quote from President Roosevelt’s daughter, which was recalled by a member of the Marine Band, sums it up best:

Miss Roosevelt came up [at a White House reception] and said, “Oh, Mr. Santelmann, do play the Maple Leaf Rag for me. . . . ” The Maple Leaf Rag?” he gasped in astonishment. “Indeed, Miss Roosevelt, I’ve never heard of such a composition, and I’m sure it is not in our library.” “Now, now, Mr. Santelmann,” laughed Alice, “Don’t tell me that. The band boys have played it for me time and again when Mr. Smith or Mr. Vanpoucke was conducting, and I’ll wager they all know it without the music.”

 

THE STRENUOUS LIFE & THE ENTERTAINER

After the Maple Leaf publication, Joplin went on to complete a stage work called The Ragtime Dance and a rag called Swipsey. He then moved in 1901 to St. Louis with his new wife, Belle. There were several significant publications that Joplin released while in St. Louis, including The Strenuous Life and The Entertainer. The Strenuous Life has an interesting context, as it is believed to have been written in honor of President Teddy Roosevelt and his speech The Strenuous Life.

Of course, many of us have heard The Entertainer, probably in nursery school during a round of musical chairs, or perhaps at a carnival while on a ferris wheel that never seems to end. OR on an old cell phone ringtone…you know, the flip phones that some have never even heard of today.

 

TREEMONISHA

Lastly, we take a look at Joplin’s opera, ‘Treemonisha’. Yes, an opera – something I know many of you have never attended. Many have asserted that the opera was never performed in full, despite a positive review received by the American Musician and Art Journal. However, a WSJ article published a few years ago cites Rick Benjamin – the founder and director of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra – as saying: “Joplin did in fact succeed in performing ‘Treemonisha’ for paying audiences in Bayonne, N.J. in 1913.” And he had himself orchestrated it.

For background, the opera is about Treemonisha, the only educated member of her community, who leads her townspeople out of the bondage of ignorance and superstition. It is a tribute to both Joplin’s mother, given the education aspect, and to his second wife Freddie, with the opera taking place in Sept 1884, the month and year of  Freddie’s birth.

For more on the opera, check out the WSJ article noted above.

 

Obviously, we haven’t even begun to touch the number of songs Scott Joplin wrote, nor the impact he had on the communities around him. Hopefully though, this serves as a way of background on his influence and mark on music, particularly jazz.

 

 

 

If you’re interested in delving further into the topic, check out these sources below:

http://www.scottjoplin.org/biography/

http://www.biography.com/people/scott-joplin-9357953#awesm=~oFsYXIfxdbYcwZ

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/scott-joplin-mn0000843212