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Songs of the Season: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

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Some classical music with no obvious, overt connection to the holiday has nonetheless become associated with Christmas over the years—at least in the United States. Bach has a Christmas Oratorio, but his choral movement known as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” also seems to have become something of a Christmas tune (as well as a popular piece for weddings).

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is the English title of the 10th movement of the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. A transcription by the English pianist Myra Hess (1890–1965) was published in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for piano duet.[1] The British organist Peter Hurford made his organ transcription for the chorale movement as well. Today, it is often performed at wedding ceremonies slowly and reverently, in defiance of the effect suggested by Bach in his original scoring,[2] for voices with trumpet, oboes, strings, and continuo. Written during his first year in Leipzig, Germany, this chorale movement is one of Bach’s most enduring works. (via Wikipedia.)

It is, or at least can be, stately, beautiful, serious but also full of joy. You can see why people like it for occasions such as weddings and Christmas. The Windham Hill version is pretty much my favorite version as a “holiday” song:

David Qualey, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” – from A Winter’s Solstice

The numerous other versions available can vary greatly in appeal:

Sarah Brightman also included a version on her album, A Winter Symphony.

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , , ,

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat

Chritstmas Tree

I’m dreaming of a media Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the music glows
and the  TV shows
holiday classics all day long…

And to help you find music and movies for the holidays, I’ve knocked together a few quick guides (which are listed to the right as well):

Christmas Shows and Movies on TV—When to Watch

Christmas Movies and TV on Amazon

Christmas Music on Amazon

(The two “Amazon” lists use affiliate links; any money generated will be donated to the less fortunate.)

I know I’ve left out some of your favorites.  Let me know in comments and I will add them as I am able.

Also, keep an eye out for two more lists: one on holiday reading; and A Pirate Christmas—with links to (ahem) alternative sources for many of the titles I feature in the other lists.

Filed under: Pop Culture, , , , ,

Song of the Day: Pump It Up, Elvis Costello

Music for cooking to… (I’m doing a roast chicken, but also making some hummus and dahl for lunches.)

Elvis Costello, “Pump It Up” – from This Year’s Model (1978)

This Year’s Model was Costello’s second album, and the first  he recorded with The Attractions. The song marries the twin pleasures of blasting tunes and tossing off.

And here is a great video for the song, which I’d never seen before:

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

Funk for Friday: Curtis Mayfield, Superfly

So obvious there doesn’t seem any point in spinning it. So funky there is no way not to.

Curtis Mayfield, “Superfly” – from Superfly-The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

Funk for Friday: Sly & The Family Stone, If You Want Me to Stay

The Washington Post recently published an opinion piece arguing that the Kennedy Center should honor Sly & The Family Stone:

There’s no band more deserving. Sly and the Family Stone’s multi-race, mixed-gender lineup epitomized the social idealism of 1960s America, and the group’s protest songs melted genres with a funky, euphoric electricity that has never been matched.
via Kennedy Center should honor Sly and Family Stone, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell – The Washington Post.

Of course I agree, and I was particularly pleased to see the emphasis on Sly’s melding of genres, and of races.  Musical genres in general seem to have metastasized in recent years in a seemingly endless proliferation of variations of house-this, garage-that and most especially indie- and alternative-everything.  But the barrier between black and white still seems to me to remain fairly strong. Look at the faces of the alternative and indie crowd, of the bands (in whatever increasingly fine-grained genre they have been sorted) and to a somewhat lesser extent their fans.

On the other side, R&B – by whatever name it is going by – also still seems fairly unmixed, though perhaps less so than rock, depending on how you define it.  Britain seems to regularly throw out soul singers of often tremendous talent who happen to be white. Amy Winehouse is of course the obvious example, but there’s also Adele – currently topping charts all over (and check out her NPR Tiny Desk concert) – and Duffy, who made a big splash a couple of years back with the single “Mercy” from her album Rockferry.

Leaving aside international hip hop, the R&B and rock scenes in the US seem less multiracial now than they promised to be back in the 1970s, when you had bands like Sly and War.  Of course, I could be completely wrong – there are so many bands out there doing so much that it is impossible to keep up with it all these days.  But when you look at what is big and obvious, you don’t see too many bands like Sly & The Family Stone. So this is kind of my pet peeve and I won’t keep flogging it, at least right now, but rather dish up the track I am spinning, that’s got me grinning, just at the moment.

Sly & The Family Stone, “If You Want Me to Stay” – from Fresh (1973)

Coming as it did on the heels of the utterly whacked There’s a Riot Goin’ On, 1973’s Fresh surprised a lot of Sly fans by actually living up to its name. The weariness and paranoia of Riot are totally missing in action, replaced by a relaxed optimism that seems to shine from every note of tracks like “If You Want Me to Stay” and “In Time.” The band–newly buttressed by the rhythm section of Rusty Allen and Andy Newmark–plays it loose and funky, and Sly’s oddball sense of humor resurfaces on a cover of Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” Sadly, Sly would never again make a record even half as fresh as Fresh.

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

King Kong and Max Steiner Films at The Castro, Jul 29-Aug 4

You may not know the name Max Steiner, but if you like old movies you know his work. Steiner wrote the scores for more than 300 films, including some of the most famous of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He was nominated for the Academy Award 24 times over the course of his four-decade career, and won three times – for The Informer (1935), Now, Voyager (1942), and Since You Went Away (1944).

Beginning this Friday, July 29, San Francisco’s Castro Theater is featuring a one-week retrospective of films with scores by Max Steiner:

Jul 29 – Mildred Pierce / The Letter
Jul 30 – Casablanca / The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – with Humphrey Bogart
Jul 31 – Gone with the Wind
Aug 1 – Now, Voyager / Dark Victory – with Bette Davis
Aug 2 – White Heat / Angels with Dirty Faces – with James Cagney
Aug 3 – The Big Sleep / Key Largo – Humphrey Bogart again
Aug 4 – King Kong / The Searchers – a strange pairing, but both wonderful

King Kong is a fitting film to end the Castro’s tribute to Steiner. His score wasn’t nominated for an Oscar (the film wasn’t nominated in any category) and he wasn’t even given screen credit for it, but it is one of the most significant scores in the history of motion picture soundtracks. Steiner was given a large budget for the time, and the music was a key component of the film’s success – a success that saved the studio, RKO, from bankruptcy. Although he’d already scored more than 50 films, his work on King Kong was something new and special, and it ushered in a new era in the scoring of films. In this and his other work in the 1930s, Steiner, along with another Austrian emigre composer working in Hollywood, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, largely defined what we now think of as a film score.

I’ve seen King Kong at the Castro and it’s an experience not to be missed – a great old movie – one of the greatest – in a great old movie theater, like it would have shown in when it was first released.

For more…

Filed under: Movies, , ,

Reality aims to please

Barefoot people walking through a field holding clarinets saxophones

Sometimes reality goes the extra distance to live up to our dreams

or possibly a scene from a colorized middle-period Woody Allen movie.

See more pictures from this series at Photo Booth: Eye on Culture: Norfolk Chamber Music Festival : The New Yorker.

Filed under: Feel Good, , ,

Song of the Day: “Foux du Fafa” by Flight of the Conchords

In honor of all the French accents heard around San Francisco this last week…

Flight of the Conchords, “Foux du Fafa” – from Flight Of The Conchords

Okay, that’s perhaps not entirely fair to the French visitors here in San Francisco, who make the place seem a bit more classy somehow.  So maybe…

Françoise Hardy, “Soir De Gala” – from Tant De Belles Choses

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Songs of the Season: In the Bleak Midwinter

Winter Solstice – the longest night, hinge of the year…

Considered one of the finest carols by choirmasters and choral experts, this song is not so well-known by the general public, at least here in United States – but it’s one of my favorites, and the version from Windham Hill’s “Winter’s Solstice” series is particularly fine, one of the absolute gems on those collections …

Pierce Pettis, “In the Bleak Midwinter” – from A Winter’s Solstice III

While I like that very much and it is where I first recall hearing “In the Bleak Midwinter,” there are a huge number of other versions out there. Some of the artists who’ve covered this carol in versions that are available now include: James Taylor, Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, Loreena McKennitt, King’s College Choir, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, The Moody Blues, John Fahey, Julie Andrews… and the list goes on. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

Songs of the Season: All I Want for Christmas is You

Olivia Olson, “All I Want for Christmas is You” – from Love Actually (2003)

A modern classic?

Perhaps – I don’t know. It doesn’t feel that Christmasy to me. It takes more than references to the holiday and some jingling bells to make a real Christmas song. For me there are two main kinds of Christmas songs: those that capture the magic and mystery of the solstice, of the darkness and the lights, of the cold and the firelight and hearth- and heart- warming of foods, fire, family and friends; and those that are associated with the holiday through long-standing traditions.

The latter include all those songs we heard as children, including the ones from holiday movies and TV specials – songs like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the ones in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The former can be found in some of the better of the Windham Hill collections, among other places.

Since “All I Want for Christmas is You” featured prominently in that feel-good holiday film Love Actually (and in its promotional campaign), perhaps it has or will have that same quality for people in their teens and twenties. Will they feel about it in twenty years the same way my friends and I feel about “Linus and Lucy”? Perhaps… I kind of hope not – it just seems too pop and too commercial. And you could never sing it while caroling… But like “Winter Wonderland” and some of the other peppier, poppier holiday songs, it’s fine to get you in the mood for shopping, skating, wassailing.

The song was written and originally recorded by Mariah Carey and released by her as a single in 1994.

For more…

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , , ,

Scenes of the Season: Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing A Little Drummer Boy

David Bowie joins Bing Crosby on his 1977 Christmas special – and the pair sing one of the more popular versions of “Little Drummer Boy” in recent years.

Watch it: YouTube – Little Drummer Boy – David Bowie & Bing Crosby (HQ Audio)

Or listen to it: David Bowie and Bing Crosby, “Little Drummer Boy”, available on Bing Crosby – Christmas Classics

For more…

Filed under: TV, , ,

Songs of the Season: A Holly Jolly Christmas

Burl Ives provides the voice of the narrator, Sam the Snowman, on the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special, and also sings both the title song and another tune written by Johnny Marks just for the show, “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” which has became a Christmas standard in its own right:

And here’s another version by Ives: “A Holly Jolly Christmas”

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Song of the Day, , , ,

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The 400 Blows

zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, film buff and occasional reviewer, and former private detective. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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