Firpo Files 9-13-2012
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Unlikely Impressions!

This music really is Old School

The Firpo Files

(September 13, 2012)


For longer than anyone can remember Black music has so influenced the world that some think a rotating earth may be swinging to a funky beat!

Wikipedia chimes: "African-American genres have been highly influential across socio-economic and racial groupings internationally, and has also enjoyed popularity on a global level."

Black Africa is the origin. Black America is the amplifier.

This is true whether it's Blues or Bebop; Doo-Wop, Pop, or Hip-Hop; Calypso or Soul; Rap, Reggae, or Rock and Roll; Jazz so smooth, or Rhythm and Blues; sinful Funk with its "junk in the trunk," or righteous Gospel wailing ‘bout some apostle. It's all Old School! 

And although this article is about impressions, it's not about the incomparable Curtis Mayfield and company who formed The Impressions of the 1960s. Instead, it's about Impressionism.

This classical European movement was born in France, and "it aims ... to convey a sensual impression, through music, of a primarily nonmusical experience, such as the coming of dawn or the feeling of standing in a forest," notes one source.

For example, Flight of the Bumblebee by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) ingeniously gives the impression of a bumblebee in flight.

But has Impressionism influenced Old School music? Before we consider the answer, let's take a brief look at how African Americans have impacted more recent traditional Euro-American music.

Black Rock and Heavy Metal?: All music--including rock and heavy metal--ultimately derived from Africa, and thereafter took on a regional riff. Going full circle, these genres even drew Black artists.

Jimmy Hendrix (1942-1970): Rolling Stone named African American James Marshall Hendrix the best guitarist ever. He played psychedelic, hard, and acid rock. But who might have influence him?

"One day our drummer didn't show up and I had to improvise," explained the humble and modest Hendrix contemporary, African American guitarist Larry Graham of Sly & the Family Stone (now of Graham Central Station). We were at his Hollywood Hills home back in the ‘80's.

"I thumped my guitar so as to give the impression of a drumbeat. Hendrix liked the style." My corny response was, "The rest, as they say, is history."

With his guitar, the socially conscious Hendrix gave the impression of a machine gun, as well as bombs dropping from planes during the Vietnam War and social unrest of the turbulent ‘60's. 

Slash (1965-present): Saul Hudson of Guns N' Roses fame is arguably the best guitarist of his generation. The rock guitarist was raised here in Los Angeles by his African American mother.

Black Groups: The Shop Boyz rocked the house with their megahit Party like a Rockstar, and the all-black heavy metal group Living Colour won an unlikely Grammy.

French Talent: But before Hendrix and Slash, French Impressionists Debussy and Ravel left soul-stirring impressions.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918): "In his tone poem La Mer, Debussy uses music to describe a sunrise and a storm on the ocean. His Nocturnes for orchestra include a meditation on clouds (Nuages)." In Clair de Lune he creates the impression of a clear, quiet, moonlit night.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): He "used a wind machine to evoke nature in the full version of his Daphnis and Chloe. And both Ravel and Debussy created music for piano that suggests the relaxing play of fountains."

English Giants: English Impressionist music quietly stormed American shores way before the Beatles.

Frederick Delius (1862-1934): His On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, Summer Night on the River, and The Walk to the Paradise Garden give remarkable "short impressions of seasonal moods."

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Having studied with Ravel, Williams' famous works include Fantasia on Greensleeves and Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. In The Lark Ascending, a delicate work that's "often used as a subject for modern ballet," his solo violin gives the impression of a bird in flight.

But the world is bigger than Europe and Africa!

Asian Persuasion: Japanese musical titans, too, have left their transcultural mark.

Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929-1997): He composed more than a hundred film scores, including his most famous one for The Bible: In the Beginning (1966). 

Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996): Influenced by jazz and a panoply of other music, he composed over 100 film scores, and about 130 concert works. Of him conductor Seiji Ozawa writes: "I am very proud of my friend Toru Takemitsu. He is the first Japanese composer to write for a world audience and achieve international recognition."

All leaving great impressions!

Just keeping it real, out here in the field.

Peace and blessings to all. Amen.