Cultural Spotlight – Vallenato

For my last blog post regarding Colombian culture for a while, I’d like to focus on a form of dance that is very popular there, especially on the Caribbean coast. Similar to cumbia, vallenato is a form of Colombian folk music that is both traditional and innovative in its’ instrumentation, interpretation. If we were to translate vallenato to English, it would roughly mean, “born in the valley,” which refers to vallenato’s roots coming from the Caribbean region of Colombia.

The valley that is being referenced as having started this popular music is located between Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serrania de Perija. Vallenato is also partly named after the Colombian city of Valledupar where this genre of music originated. Vallenato has become so popular not just in Colombia but also in rest of Latin America making it apart of mainstream Latin music that is apart of the cultural heritage of that country and that region of the world.

Vallenato originated from the tradition of farmers who would travel from Colombian village to village on long journeys in their quest to sell cattle in local fairs or look for greener pastures for them. During these trips, the farmers would sing together, play guitars and other instruments like gaita flutes (kuisis), which were indigenous to the local culture. Since these farmers would travel often, they would often bring news and information to the different towns that they visited. Sometimes, these messages to the village folk would be delivered in the song form so that the towns would know what’s going on nearby in the valley.

Vallenato is an eclectic mix of different kinds of world music such as Spanish, African, and Amerindian. Vallenato songs started to become common during the early 1900’s from the Caribbean region of Colombia. The early forms of vallenato would come with instruments such as gaita flutes, guacharaca (percussion), caja, bass guitar, and acoustic guitar. Additionally, you could make the sounds more European by adding instruments like the accordion or the piano.

Since the early days of vallenato, the accordion has become an increasingly large part of the sound of the songs of this particular genre of music. While vallenato was originally a genre of music for lower class folk and farmers in particular, it has since become popular across all spectrums and social classes within Colombian society. Many subgenres have come out of traditional vallenato such as romantic vallenato, commercial vallenato, and new wave vallenato.

Since the heart of the vallenato genre deals with telling stories, it is a very social form of music. You can drink liquor, enjoy a nice meal, and even dance with a partner to this genre. Listening to vallenato can go well with having a family party, attending a festival, or checking out a carnival. Vallenato has become so popular that there are two main festivals devoted to it: the Vallenato Legend Festival and the Cradle of Accordions festival. Valledupar has also become one of Colombia’s most famous cities given the fact that it was the birthplace of one of its most popular music genres, Vallenato.

When it comes to vallenato, you cannot have a song without the caja, the guacharaca, and the accordion to flesh out the sound and rhythm. The caja, is a small drum, that you can place between your knees and play with your bare hands. This drum was originally brought over by the Europeans during colonization and was mainly used by African slaves for entertainment.

The guacharaca, a wooden, ribbed stick that most looks like sugar cane can be rubbed together with a small fork in order to create a scraping sound. This instrument is meant to imitate the sound of the guacharaco bird from the Cesar region of Colombia, who is known to hunt for food and dance to perform the mating ritual. Lastly, you can’t forget to use the accordion of German origin in order to get the different tones needed to fill out the vallenato sound. By using the right buttons and hitting the right reeds, you should be able to get the rhythm down.

Speaking of the rhythms of vallenato, there are four different beats that create a rhythmic structure and a melody chord structure to form the basis for a song. The four rhythms are known as son, paseo, merengue, and puya. The son and paseo are played in a 2/4 time while the merengue and puya are played in a 6/8 time or ¾ time structure. ‘Son’ is known as being the slowest and most somber movement of vallenato and also has a heavy cadence. ‘Paseo’ is probably the most widely recorded rhythm of vallenato is known as being the most consistent of the four rhythms.

When it comes to ‘puya’, it’s the easiest rhythm of vallenato for each musician to have a solo with one of the three main instruments. It also has a faster up-tempo and is the oldest of the four rhythms. ‘Merengue’, which is not the same type of music as the original genre, but is the fourth and last vallenato rhythm, and was brought to Colombia by some African tribal groups. It’s a more narrative style of vallenato and is played in decimas, which is a 10-line format with Spanish internal rhythms the came over to Colombia originally during the 16th century.

There have been many composers, singers, and groups of Vallenato bands that have emerged over the past century who have helped to contribute to this genre of music. Perhaps the most famous Colombian composer of Vallenato was Rafael Escalona, who composed a number of famous songs and was one of the co-founders of the Vallenato Legend Festival along with Consuelo Araujo and Alfonso Lopez Michelsen.

Many Vallenato groups have also become orchestras in both their large size and instrumentation. The most popular of these orchestras are Binomio de Oro de America, Carlos Vives y la provincia, and Los Diablitos del Vallenato. You also can’t talk about Vallenato without mentioning Silvestre Dangond, who has become maybe the most famous modern day singer and composer of songs in this genre.

He has become popular not only in his native Colombia but also in Latin America and worldwide. While originally a genre of music from Colombia, Vallenato has expanded its’ popularity to Latin America and the rest of the world to share with its’ listeners both the joys, sadness, and romance of life itself.

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Cultural Spotlight – Bachata

If you consider Salsa to be wild and exhilarating, then Bachata could be considered the opposite kind of music in that it is both suave and smooth. While Bachata may not be the most exciting kind of Latin music, it is a genre that is both popular and historical. It may not be as skill-based as Salsa or Merengue, but you do need to keep a good rhythm and there is a good amount of variation to this kind of dance. The most important thing to be aware of when dancing Bachata is to watch your steps and make sure you’re moving seamlessly with your lady or gentleman partner in tow.

Bachata is a Latin music genre originally from the Dominican Republic, which came of being in the first half of the 20th century. One of the cool aspects about Bachata is that it combines European, African, and Indigenous musical elements to really captivate its’ listeners and dancers. Jose Manuel Calderon of the Dominican Republic did the first compositions, which formed the original Bachata songs back in those early days of the 20th century.

Bachata is considered to be a mixture of its’ predecessors: Merengue, Bolero and Son, which are other distinct Latin music genres. Similar to Salsa, Bachata takes both the form of a song and the form of a distinct dance that are supposed to go together. The mood of a Bachata song can be either very exuberant or more melancholy. Bachata’s original name was ‘amargue’ which means ‘bitter music’ or ‘blues mules’ reflecting in its’ origins the fact that Bachata used to be more somber and reserved when it was first created in the Dominican Republic.

A surprising fact about the Bachata music genre is that it wasn’t always that popular until the past few decades. Throughout most of the 20th century, especially in the Dominican Republic, this form of music was associated with rural communities who were mostly working class or poor in terms of their status. For a long time, Bachata was not allowed to be played on television or radio because it was too vulgar or crass for the elite members of Dominican society.

However, this attitude began to change in the 1980s and 1990s when both the instrumentation and the styles of Bachata multiplied to become more urban and diverse. Bachata has ended up in the 21st century as being one of the most popular forms of Latin music, up there with both Salsa and Merengue, and is played in bars, discotheques, and dance halls all across Latin America.

Bachata requires a group of musicians playing diverse instruments in order for an actual song to be played from the genre and for dancing to occur. There are seven instruments that usually make up the structure, rhythm, and beat of a Bachata song. You have your ‘Requinto’ (lead guitar), ‘Segunda’ (rhythm guitar), electric guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, bongos, and guira. While none of these instruments are mandatory, you need them all in order to create a dance-oriented form of Bachata rather than a more classically oriented form that is most similar to Bolero.

While Bachata started originally in the Dominican Republic and became popular there eventually after a few decades, Bachata has now become one of the most popular forms of Latin music in the region. You can find Bachata music playing in countries such as Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, etc. Anywhere you go within the region, you’re likely to hear a Bachata song being played in your neighborhood or in your city.

The first Bachata songs that were composed by Jose Manuel Calderon, considered to be the modern founder of the genre, were titled ‘Borracho de amor’ and ‘Que sera de mi’. These songs came about in the early 1960s, which shows that the modern form of Bachata has been around for over five decades now. Hundreds of musicians, singers, and dancers have contributed to this unique and popular genre. Some of the more famous contributors to Bachata include names like Marino Perez, Leonardo Paniagua, Luis Vargas, Antony Santos, Juan Luis Guerra, and Romeo Santos. If you have the chance to listen or dance to some Bachata music, do yourself a favor and tune in, kick off your shoes, and enjoy this very popular genre of Latin music.

Cultural Spotlight – Salsa

El_Cantante
Hector Lavoe, ‘El Cantante’ (1946 – 1993)

If you’re walking in any city in Colombia or in most parts of Latin America and you start to feel the rhythm and the beat to some up-tempo music that sounds as if jazz and ‘son cubano’ had a baby, it would be known to the world as ‘Salsa.’ Salsa music has only been around for over five decades but has had a lasting impact on the world of music and its’ popularity has stayed consistent in the countries and regions where it was first introduced. While some folks may argue that old-school music genres like jazz, swing, and the blues are on the decline these days; that is simply not the case when it comes to Salsa.

Contrary to popular belief, Salsa did not originate in Puerto Rico, Cuba, or even Colombia. This form of music came out of the communities of immigrants in New York City during the 1960s from Cuba to Puerto Rico who wanted to introduce a new take on ‘son cubano’ music that had been around for a few decades and to bring it to new audiences before who had never been exposed to that kind of genre before.

The music of Salsa has been highly influenced by previous Cuban genres such as ‘son cubano, son montuno, guaracha, mambo, bolero, etc. as well as certain Puerto Rican genres such as ‘bomba, and plena.’ It also should be noted that Salsa was heavily influenced by the American musical genre of Jazz and certain experts have noted Salsa as being a form of Latin jazz. Salsa is a very flexible genre and can incorporate many different forms of music together in order to be innovative and unique. Even rock, r&b, blues, and funk have found their way into the rhythms, beats, and lyrics of Salsa music.

If there were a form of musical expression to represent the Americas whether it was North America or South America, it would be jazz. Salsa music would not be what it is today without previous music genres influencing the sounds and songs to change and adapt as the decades passed by. However, without the early Salsa bands made up of newcomer immigrants from the Cuban and Puerto Rican communities who came to New York City and America for a better life, Salsa would also not be the popular genre that it has become today. From the 1930s to the 1960s, these new immigrants brought joy, happiness, and excitement to both their local communities and cities from Boston to Cali.

From the streets of the South Bronx to the barrios of Cali, Salsa would spread from New York City to Colombia to Peru to all over Latin America. Salsa has become a global music genre today with people all over the world sharing together their passion and love for this unique form of self-expression. You can find Salsa classes and music clubs in most major cities all over the world. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you’re new to dancing, or can’t understand the lyrics, Salsa is a music genre open to everybody. Some of the big names in Salsa are Johnny Pacheco, creator of the Fania all-stars band, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Bobby Valentin, Eduardo Palmieri, Marc Anthony, etc.

The instrumentation used in Salsa music is incredibly diverse and can really depend on what kind of style you’re going for whether it’s ‘salsa romantica’ or ‘salsa dura.’ It also depends upon how fast the tempo is and what the chord / verse arrangement is too. The most popular kinds of instruments used in Salsa music are percussion and brass instruments. It’s very rare where string instruments are used unless its’ an acoustic or electric guitar. When it comes to the most widely used instruments, they are usually the piano, the bongo drums, the congas, trumpet, trombone, claves, and different guitars.

Since the genre of Salsa has spread to many parts of the Western Hemisphere, there are many different styles of Salsa dancing that make the music more enjoyable for people to participate in by moving their bodies in various ways. While there is no clear consensus on which style of Salsa is the best or most popular, there’s the Cuban style, the New York style, Puerto Rican style, Los Angeles style, and Cali style from Colombia. Each style of Salsa is a little bit different from each other so once you master one of these types, there is another one out there to learn in order to keep your knowledge up to date. There are few parts of the world that haven’t been touched by Salsa music, which makes it one of the most fun and enjoyable kinds of dances to learn. Whether you’re in Peru, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic or the United States, you’ll have a chance to dance Salsa if you look hard enough.

By listening to Salsa music and learning how to dance to the rhythms and the beats of this genre, you really learn a lot about Latin American culture. Listen carefully to the lyrics, study the history of both the song and dance, and you’ll be able to gain insight as to why this has become one of the most popular music genres on the planet today. Few things make the average person happier than being able to cut loose on the dance floor and Salsa as a genre succeeds in doing that beyond measure.

During my time here in Colombia, I’ve enjoyed going out to learn Salsa in some classes, and putting the moves I’ve learned into practice when I go out on Saturday nights to a Salsa club. It’s really a joy to dance and sing to the point of exhaustion until your feet can’t move anymore while the beads of sweat roll down your neck. Salsa, to me, is a celebration of living life to the fullest and expressing the movements of your body the way you’re supposed to do. If you haven’t given Salsa music or dancing a chance yet, start to do so today. I promise you won’t regret the experiences you gain by enjoying this popular genre.

The Rolling Stones: A Retrospective

mickjagger
72 years old and still going. Amazing.

For more than 50 years, The Rolling Stones have been the mainstays and stewards of the Rock n’ Roll universe. Founded in 1962, this English band transformed the music world, sold hundreds of millions copies of their albums, and have sold out countless arenas, stadiums, and concert halls. The original grouping of Mick Jagger (vocals), Keith Richards (guitar), Brian Jones (guitar), Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums), and Ian Stewart (piano) together help lead the emergence of Rock n’ Roll as the pre-eminent form of Western music during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Legendary and famous albums such as Let It Bleed (1969), Sticky Fingers (1971), and Exile on Main Street (1972) helped cement their legacy as ranking among the greatest live acts in Rock n’ Roll history.

When people ask me: Beatles or Stones? I simply reply, why do we have to choose between them? Why not appreciate both of these groups and appreciate how similar and how different they are. Both bands helped to represent the countercultural movement that took place in the 1960’s in both the United Kingdom and the United States. They represented the youth of the generation and the hopes for a better, freer, and more open world where you could listen, dance, and have some fun as you listen to their tunes.

While The Beatles aired on the side of creativity, experimenting with new genres, and sticking to the studio to express their musical talents, The Rolling Stones were and still are brash, bold, and loud. As a group, the blues and R&B genres heavily influenced them during their early years. Taking their cues from legends such as Chuck Berry, Lil’ Richard, and Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones would not become the massive success they have been over the pasty fifty years without those blues pioneers who came before them.

Due to front man Mick Jagger’s exuberance, high energy, and eccentric dance moves, the Rolling Stones also gained a reputation for being an amazing live act that sold out stadiums and arenas around the world. It also helps that long-standing guitar legend Keith Richards has stayed by Jagger’s side all this time to play alongside him and the rest of the band.

With the talented support and musical stylings of the late, great Brian Jones, and Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones have stuck together through many ups and downs over their long history. While many rock acts from The Beatles to The Eagles to The Doors have broken up due to untimely deaths, heated feuds between members, and egos clashing, The Rolling Stones have been an exception to the rule and have produced high-quality music and toured extensively without losing who they are and what they represent to the world.

While The Rolling Stones have gained all the money and fame, they still care about the fans. This band always gives their best effort regardless if they are playing in Rio de Janeiro or London. It’s a testament to their popularity where they have been able to play in all six continents of the world without skipping a beat. Their global reach was on display recently when they played a huge outdoor concert in their first trip to Havana, Cuba.

Over 500,000 people attended to see the Stones live in the flesh. Perhaps, most notable, the concert was free for all attendees so everyone could attend who wanted to without paying a high price. During the Castro years, bands like The Rolling Stones had their music bootlegged and spread throughout the Cuban isle even when the Castro government officially outlawed it. Mick Jagger declared the occasion to be “A new time” for Cuba signaling that the free expression of live music was going to continue and expand.

Whenever I listen to The Rolling Stones, their songs always lift my spirits up and instantly put me in a good mood. Tunes like “Jumping Jack Flash”, “Wild Horses”, “Start Me Up”, “Brown Sugar”, and “Satisfaction” will never go out of style and hopefully inspire future generations to pick up the guitar and sing into the microphone. Whenever I hear one of their songs, I still get the urge to dance and sing along.

Even though this is a retrospective post for a musical group that is still active and going strong, I think after fifty years of being legends of Rock n’ Roll, it is a good occasion to reflect on their wide-ranging impact on the world. To this day, I regret to inform my readers that I still have to yet to see The Rolling Stones live in concert. My hope is to make it happen before the band calls it quits for good. Given that Mick, Keith, Charlie, and Ronnie show no signs of slowing down even though they’re septuagenarians, I keep my hopes up that I’ll be rocking out to them in a live setting soon enough. Until then, let us all hope that they make it to their 60th anniversary as a band in 2022.

 

 

John Coltrane: A Retrospective

“A true legend of his time, John Coltrane changed Jazz music forever by introducing free and experimental forms to the genre.”

“John Coltrane was a key figure in jazz, a pioneer in world music, and an intensely emotional force whose following continues to grow.”

This succinct description by author Lewis Porter in his book about the legendary Jazz musician, John Coltrane, is completely accurate. John Coltrane is to Jazz music what Neil Armstrong was to the successful Moon landings of 1960’s. He is revered not just by those involved in the world of Jazz but by people from around the world for his deep spirituality and his recognition and support of the civil rights movement in the early 1960’s.

To this day, John Coltrane remains to be the only Jazz musician to have become a saint post-humous, which was given to him by the African Orthodox Church. He also was one of the few Jazz musicians who could compete with the emerging Rock n’ Roll scene in the early 1960’s. His most famous album, titled “Love Supreme” released in 1964 was partially why Coltrane surged to popularity at a level equal to bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. What he lacked in terms of longevity in his career and sadly, his life, John Coltrane’s passion for Jazz and the spirituality his music had along with the masterful skill, improvisation he displayed playing the tenor saxophone continues to resonate today. Along with Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane is one of the few Jazz musicians to have received a Special Citation for the Pulitzer Prize in the study of music.

As a musician, John Coltrane’s contributions were immense especially during the relatively short amount of years he was on the top of the Jazz scene compared to other legends of the era. He was influential in promoting new forms of Jazz such as avant-garde and free form, which became popular during the 1960’s. Throughout his career, Coltrane was the leader of more than fifty recording sessions and then partnered along other musicians such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. John Coltrane started recording music in 1945 right after the conclusion of World War II for which he was enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

One of the first musicians to recognize John Coltrane’s inherent musical talent was fellow saxophonist, Charlie Parker, who played and recorded together with Coltrane during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. His most famous albums included Giant Steps (1960), My Favorite Things (1961) and A Love Supreme (1965). All three of these Jazz albums that he produced with Atlantic and then Impulse! Records are some of the best-selling albums of all time. He is also noted for collaborating with Miles Davis on some of his most famous recordings including Kind of Blue (1959) and Milestones (1958). In addition, over the course of his career, John Coltrane created many standards in Jazz music such as “Moment’s Notice”, “Lazy Bird”, “Impressions”, “My Favorite Things” and “I Want to Talk About You.”

The influence of spirituality and religion on Coltrane’s life and music is what makes him unique and rememberable more than forty years after his death. While Ornette Coleman was the musician who is credited with leading the “Free Jazz” and “Avant Garde” movements, it completely changed the perceptions of what Jazz should be to young musicians like Coltrane who were originally more technical in their play originally who adapted more of a free-form style as they encountered different influences and perspectives. His philosophy on music and life in general was that it had to be “a whole expression of one’s being.”

More than most Jazz artists of his time and era, John Coltrane was a deeply spiritual and religious person who sought out the teachings and beliefs of not just Christianity but also Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Coltrane is said to have had a religious experience, which may have held him break his heroin and alcohol addictions in the late 1950’s. When asked about this pivotal point in his life that allowed him to produce the landmark records of A Love Supreme and Meditations, Coltrane states that, “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, which has led me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.” John Coltrane made many references to spirituality and different religions in many of his songs and albums. Specifically, those songs titles, “Ascension”, “Om” (Hinduism), “Amen”, “Dear Lord”, and the opening movement of Meditations which is titled, “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” He studied the Bible, Qu’ran, Kabbalah and other Buddhist and Hindu texts making him more of a Universalist than a subscriber to any certain religion. He incorporated chants and sayings into the few lyrics within his songs as well. Coltrane worked with Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar and even named his first son after him.

Beyond Jazz, John Coltrane dove into an idea of a universal musical structure and to take these spiritual influences from around the world and implement them within his own play and style. He was not political but he desired for his own country to get beyond racial and ethnic differences such as those that were plaguing America during the early 1960’s. Through his music, he spoke out against discrimination and supported the civil rights movement and gave an emotional ode to Dr. King in the song, “Alabama” after his assassination. Despite his death at the age of 40, Coltrane inspired a new generation of Jazz musicians to carry on his free-form style and his ability to reach out to different genres of music. He has been immortalized in certain Christian churches as a saint and his birthday is often a cause of celebration around the world. It is clear that he was not over-rated and that his legacy will continue to go on as long as his music is played for all.

Sources

  1. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/john-coltrane-mn0000175553
  2. http://www.pulitzer.org/citation/2007-Special-Awards-and-Citations
  3. http://coltrane.room34.com/thesis
  4. http://www.johncoltrane.com/biography.html
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/01/us/01religion.html
  6. http://thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/john-coltrane_divine-wind
  7. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3324621/Secret-of-John-Coltranes-high-notes-revealed.html

Duke Ellington: A Retrospective

'Jazz Legend' Duke Ellington: Playing the Piano (Circa -1940's)
‘Jazz Legend’ Duke Ellington: Playing the Piano (Circa -1940’s)

Edward Kennedy Ellington is rightly considered to be one of the leading figures and original titans of Jazz music. In addition to writing over 1,500 compositions, he was one of the most successful bandleaders and pianists of his time. To this day, he has stood the test of time and is one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century as well. Along with being a major figure in Jazz, Ellington’s music also delved into other musical genres such as blues, gospel, classical music and popular film scores.

His career was one of the longest of all the Jazz legends, spanning about 50 years from the 1920s to the 1970s. He was a versatile musician and was extremely dedicated to this work. In addition to running his big band and orchestra, Ellington composed new songs, put on many world tours and also scored the music for stage musicals and films. Many of his instrumental works have become Jazz standards that the average listener should be well aware of and familiar with many of Ellington’s compositions.

His ability to be an entertainer as well as a performer helped elevate Jazz to a level where it was considered to be equal or even more influential than most other genres of music during the early 20th century. He was the first musician to really incorporate the idea of using a big band and/or orchestra to really propel jazz/swing as being distinct forms of music with their own style and substance. Ellington came from a modest upbringing in a middle class black neighborhood in Washington D.C. and was considered by others to charismatic, compassionate and a brilliant and dedicated musician. He is as well known for his ability to entertain people as he is for his excellent piano playing.

Ellington would often refer to the music he played not as jazz but as “American” or “Negro” music and helped his orchestra’s musicians and others to develop their own jazz standards and compose for them. Some of the names for which he helped out so graciously were for Johnny Hodges’s “Jeep’s Blues”, Cootie Williams’ “Concerto for Cootie” and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.” Many of his band members stayed with him throughout the five decades for which they were active. In addition to his band members, Ellington also worked alongside other musicians of the time such as Billy Strayhorn, Count Basie, Louie Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. Some of Ellington’s best known songs include, “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”, “Mood Indigo”, “Black and Tan Fantasy”, “Sophisticated Lady” and “Satin Doll” among many others. While which song exactly made the Duke most famous is a hotly debated topic, some argue that it is “Mood Indigo” which thrust him upon the world stage and gave him global fame for the rest of his career. When Ellington was once asked, what made him inspired to write, record and play music, he replied, “My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people.”

Location played an important role in influencing Duke Ellington’s musical contributions to society. With each song he wrote and composed, he would try to tell a story about his community, his life and his race. It is no coincidence due to the Duke’s popularity and his wide following throughout America as one of the first prominent black musicians that he was often times referred to as a “race man.” People referred to him as this because of the cultural and social impact that he had as a popular musician representing the African-American community at a time when there were few black performers and entertainers in music. This was particularly due at the time to Jim Crow laws and general intolerance, racism towards the African-American community in many parts of the United States. Duke Ellington in a way broke through the color barrier along with Louis Armstrong because of those who came before them when it came to music in America during the early 1900’s. Ellington was an instrumental musician in bringing Jazz music outside of New Orleans to towns and cities across the country especially in New York City when he hit the big time and made his home starting in 1927, at the famous “Cotton Club” in Harlem. From that and other clubs, his big band/orchestra set the bar high when it came to playing brilliant jazz, swing, classical and other forms of music. Over the course of his career, He made jazz and swing music into American music as he traveled around the world for thousands of performances in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

There is no doubt to the average learner and student of Jazz that Duke Ellington is one of it’s most important figures in its’ history. He was the genre’s most important composer, one of its’ most highly regarded performers and band leaders who employed many talented black and white musicians believing that everyone should have the chance to play regardless of the color of their skin. Ellington’s compositions are studied and played over and over by many musicians today and his prowess at the piano is often overlooked but was also instrumental in talking about his legacy as a musician. It’s fair to say that there will only ever be one “The Duke” and those who follow his lead. His work is also very important in describing American culture and music. His legacy is still vibrant today as many young people continue to pursue the arts and perform in music groups. They strive to play jazz and other types of music because of men like the Duke himself.

The Doors: A Retrospective

"Today, The Doors are considered to be one of the greatest musical groups of the 20th century…and for good reason."
“Today, The Doors are considered to be one of the greatest musical groups of the 20th century…and for good reason.”

One of the greatest bands to have ever existed in the 20th century, The Doors, are one of my favorite musical artists. I recently started listening to them about a year or so ago and have never looked back. They make a lot of the popular music produced in this day and age seem shallow and shortsighted in comparison. Part of the band’s appeal is the deep, existential lyrics of their songs that are woven through each and every one of their albums.

Jim Morrison, the lead vocalist, is the catalyst that made ‘The Doors’ what they were because of his un-disputable talent as a lead front-man and also as a great singer. In addition to producing excellent records in the studio, ‘The Doors’ were an electric presence on the stage and at their live venues where Morrison would captivate the audience with his eccentric motions and his crazy, inebriated antics. However, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore each contributed so much to the band itself that Jim would have been nothing without their musical talents.

Part of the appeal of The Doors to me has always been Ray’s enthusiastic and sensual keyboard/organ melody on a lot of the classic songs in the band’s collection. Robby contributed a lot of the writing for the lyrics to most of ‘The Doors’ song catalogue that Jim often mistakenly gets the credit for. Today, you don’t see these kinds of bands anymore that push the limits of experimental Rock and Roll. This particular genre was truly a late 1960’s to early 1970’s phenomenon partly due to the members’ heavy usage of psychotropic drugs that influenced musical groups such as ‘The Doors’, ‘Jefferson Airplane’, ‘Jimi Hendrix’, ‘Janis Joplin’, etc. Because of the uniqueness and the short period of time in which these groups surfaced and then diminished, a lot of these musical artists and groups still hold a high place in the hierarchy of Rock and Roll music.

Certain figures such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison have become American cultural icons due to their talent, but also for their erratic and unpredictable behavior, and the early deaths of these musical artists with suspicious circumstances attached to them has made them apart of the infamous ’27 Club’.

Above all else, ‘The Doors’ were one of the few bands that took an existentialist look at life, love, sex, death, and other mature topics that today’s mainstream musical groups rarely touch upon. It should come as no surprise then that the band’s name is taken from one of English author Aldous Huxley’s most famous works of literature: ‘The Doors of Perception.’ I think that is partly why I have become such a big fan of their music. They wrote about perceiving the human experience and all that it entails.