Week 55-58

Week 59 (Week of May 10th):
Hello everyone!  I hope this finds everyone doing well and enjoying your week.
Today we will be wrapping up our 2 part study on Thelonius Monk- the great American jazz pianist and composer.
As promised last week, this week we will be wrapping up with a full length jazz concert experience!
As with many of our ‘concert experience’ videos, this full length jazz concert is from the Ithaca College (my alma mater!) Jazz Ensemble.
This is their archived video recording from the group’s recent live concert experience from March 6th of this year.
You will hear in the video their director, Mike Titlebaum, mention that it was almost exactly a year since the group had been able to perform live due to Covid.
I can’t imagine.
The theme of their concert is ‘Underappreciated Monk’, as all of their works in this concert are works composed by Thelonius Monk
– and not necessarily his most well known or famous pieces!  (hence their theme of ‘underappreciated’ Monk)
See last week’s post (Week 58) for a couple ‘well- known’ Monk compositions, such as “Round Midnight” and “Blue Monk”.
Other famous, more commonly heard Monk works include works such as “Straight, No Chaser”, “Ruby, My Dear” and “Well, You Needn’t”.
But before we enjoy a collegiate jazz ensemble concert together, let’s take another quick look at Thelonious Monk the jazz composer!
As mentioned last week, Thelonius Monk is by far one of the most ‘covered’ jazz composers.
His catalog of jazz compositions range from some 60-70 odd jazz works, many recognizable by the average jazz enthusiast!
His jazz compositions have made him a major influence on many modern day jazz composers and musicians.
In fact in 1993, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award following his death in 1982.
In 2006 he was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for the significant impact of his musical compositions on the evolution of jazz as a genre.
Monk’s composition style is much like his jazz piano playing style, ‘avante-garde’ in its own ground breaking way and full of hesitations, forceful attacks and ‘open spaces’.
The ‘hooks’ of many of his songs are “instantly hummable” and catchy.
His range varies from singable ballads such as “Round Midnight” to the fast and boppy “Straight, No Chaser”.
Many modern day jazz musicians and composers continue to pull their inspiration from Monk’s body of jazz works!
In fact, Piano Class students may remember hearing the young jazz pianist phenom we studied, Joey Alexander, cover many of Monk’s works!
Indonesian jazz piano prodigy, Joey, was discovered at age 14 when the great Wynton Marsalis saw a YouTube video of him playing Monk’s famous “Round Midnight” on the piano!
In fact, Joey Alexander recorded an entire album of Monk tunes, “Monk. Joey. Live!”, in 2017 – including Joey’s interpretations of the famous “Round Midnight” and “Straight, No Chaser.”
While Thelonius Monk was a touch eccentric, his compositions continue to inspire!
Jazz musician Sonny Rollins, once a student of Monk’s, was once quoted as saying,
   “If you’re a jazz musician and you think you’re not influenced by Thelonius Monk, either you’re not a jazz musician or you are influenced by Thelonius Monk.”
Now on to our concert- Ithaca College’s Jazz Ensemble- “Underappreciated Monk” Concert from March 6, 2021.
Get ready to hear 6 ‘underappreciated’ Thelonius Monk jazz works.
Below is the concert web link- once your page opens simply click play in the center of the video screen — and remember you can click on the arrow button in the bottom right hand corner of the video screen to enlarge the video to your device’s entire screen.
Also, here is a seperate weblink for the concert program so you can follow along with what pieces you are hearing and read a touch about the program and the students.
 
Enjoy the concert and I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about jazz pianist and jazz composer- Thelonious Monk.

BONUS VIDEO:  As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the ever inspiring Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.

                             This week’s video is from his Saturday, April 17th Facebook live streamed online gig.  Enjoy! 

Week 58 (Week of May 3, 2021):  

Hello friends!  Hope this finds everyone doing well and enjoying the first few days of May!

This week we are going to take a look at a famous and notable jazz pianist – Thelonius Monk.

This will be the first of a 2 part look into the world of this jazz pianist, wrapping up next week with a special full length jazz concert experience.

Thelonious Monk, born October 10, 1917 and passing on February 17 of 1982, was an American jazz pianist and composer.

Born Thelonious Sphere Monk, he is widely recognized as one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and one of the first creators of modern jazz and bebop.

In 1954, Thelonious Monk became only one of five jazz musicians to make the cover of Time magazine!

Let’s take a closer look at the life and musicianship of this man who made so many notable contributions to the world of jazz!

Thelonious Monk had a unique style of composing and improvising, with around 70 jazz compositions to his name written throughout his lifetime.

He wrote  such well-known jazz standards as “‘Round Midnight”, “Blue Monk”, “Straight, No Chaser” and one of my personal favorites, “Monk’s Dream.”

Monk is the second “most recorded” jazz composer after Duke Ellington.

Monk’s composing style included a highly percussive ‘attack’ on the piano keys – full of dramatic pauses and hesitations.

He became so well known for his heavy handed percussive style that jazz critic Philip Larkin penned him the nickname of “the elephant on the keys.”

Thelonious Monk was also well known for his performance eccentricities and distinct wardrobe- often performing in a suit and hat with sunglasses.

He was born in 1917 in North Carolina, but in 1922 the family moved to New York City.

At the young age of five, Monk began looking over the shoulder of his older sister while she took piano lessons- first experimenting by emulating her playing.

When Monk was six years of age, he began taking piano lessons from a neighbor- learning the famous ‘Harlem stride’ jazz piano stylings of the day.

By the age of 13, Thelonious was playing the piano at a local bar with a trio.

He also performed at the Apollo Theater’s weekly amateur music contests at a young age, but won so many times that he was eventually banned from the event!

In his late teens, Thelonious began seeking work playing jazz piano.

He was the house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse in the early to mid-1940, where he would develop much of his future signature style.

Monk’s work at the Minton nightclub would be crucial in the formation of the bebop style of jazz, which featured fast tempos, rapid chord changes and instrumental virtuosity.

In 1947, Monk was introduced to the founder of Blue Note Records, which jump-started his recording career (numerous albums!)

In 1949, he married Nellie Smith and together they had two children- a son and a daughter.

Much could be said about Thelonious Monk’s decades of performing and recording before his disappearance from the music scene in the mid-1970s before his death in 1982.

However, let’s briefly discuss a bit more about Monk’s performance styles before we take a listen together to three of his best known songs.

Monk was once quoted as saying, “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!”

He is known for his unique piano playing style, where he would flatten his fingers to hit the keys, instead of holding his fingers in a natural curve (every piano teacher slightly cringes).

He would sometimes hit a single note with more than one finger!

 Yet, in contrast, he could also play piano runs and arpeggios with great skill and accuracy.

He famously never spoke to his audience during live performances and also rarely gave interviews.

He developed the eccentric habit during performances and gigs where, while other musicians continued playing, Monk would suddenly stop mid performance, stand up and dance for a brief time before returning to the piano!

 

Now let’s take a listen to 3 of his songs- ” ‘Round Midnight” , “Blue Monk” and one of my favorites “Monk’s Dream”.

(1) The perhaps best known “‘Round Midnight”:

Thelonious Monk Quartet version-   https://youtu.be/-yg7aZpIXRI

Thelonious Monk Piano solo-   https://youtu.be/xC68NtEmAcc

  (2) “Blue Monk”.

Live televised performance from 1958:   https://youtu.be/FRUWtrgTpcs

 Monk with John Coltrane live at Carnegie Hall (1957):   https://youtu.be/p0FKn9UPry8

(3) “Monk’s Dream” –   https://youtu.be/-iQFf2_z0qE

 

        That’s all for now, friends!  I hope you enjoyed learning about this famous jazz pianist and composer!

Stay tuned for next week where we will wrap up our look at the life and music of Thelonious Monk.

 

BONUS VIDEO:  As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the amazing Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.

                             This week’s video is from his Saturday, April 10th Facebook live streamed online gig.  Enjoy!

  https://youtu.be/fTgiOktY680

 

 

Week 57 (Week of April 26, 2021):

A very warm greeting to all SRC participants and friends!

I hope this finds everyone doing well and enjoying the warmer weather this week.

 

Today I’d like to turn our attention back to the piano in order to go a bit more into depth on the piano foot pedals!

Let’s learn a bit more about the mechanics of the instrument and the functions of each piano pedal!

As we know and can tell, the pedals on a piano are defined as “foot-operated levers at the base of a piano that serve to change the instrument’s sound in various ways.”

In terms of the modern Grand Piano, you will most likely see 3 foot pedals; occasionally just 2.

Without necessarily diving into the history and the evolution of the piano foot pedals, let’s simply take a look at each and how they function.

 

  1. The Sustain Pedal/ the “sustaining pedal”/the Damper Pedal:  RIGHT pedal

        The Sustain or ‘damper pedal’ is the most commonly used pedal on a piano!

On acoustic pianos (whether grand or upright), this will always be the pedal that is furthest to the right.

On a digital keyboard, if there is one pedal (or a pedal to buy seperately), it will always be the Damper Pedal!

For each piano pedal, their name is synonymous with their function.

The damper or sustain pedal controls the dampers for each key.

When the damper pedal (furthest right) is pressed down, it in turn raises all of the felt dampers up off of the strings of the piano so that the sound for each note, when struck, keeps ringing out (vibrating) after the player has released the key.

This creates a rich, lush, connected, smooth sound quality.  The damper pedal has often been referred to as “the soul of the piano.”

The damper pedal allows the player to further create a legato (smooth & connected) sound texture to the notes.

For a good example of this:  Check out this short video demonstrating famous piano works with and without the damper pedal.

 

Notice how different these famous piano works would sound if NO sustain pedal is used at all!

                                             https://youtu.be/eUmhtvr-k6Q.

(Note:  Yes, this pianist is known for creating videos without saying a word.  He’s a bit of a humorous character at times!-

-Also note how the top left screen in this video shows you a seperate video box for how he is controlling (or not using) the damper pedal)

 

  1. The “Soft Pedal”/ the “Una corda pedal”:  LEFT pedal

         The pedal to the furthest LEFT on the piano was the first mechanism created to modify the piano’s sound (invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori)

The una corda pedal to the furthest left changes the timbre (overall sound quality) and the volume of the piano.

Again, the name of this pedal is synonymous with its function.

On a grand piano, this shifts the keyboard slightly to the right.

While normally when one note on the piano is pressed down the hammer for that individual note would strike 3 strings, when the una corda pedal is pressed the hammer then will only strike 2 out of the 3 strings for each note.

By reducing the number of strings each hammer is striking, this reduces the sound (volume) of the playing.

   On an upright piano this differs just slightly.

 For the upright piano, while the left pedal still functions as the “soft pedal”, due to the changed mechanism of an upright piano compared to a grand pedal, the hammers move closer to the strings, reducing the force and energy for each note yet still creating that softer ‘reduced volume’ sound.

On an upright piano, occasionally this left pedal is referred to as a “half-blow” pedal, but the function is the same.  Less volume, reduced sound and a changed timbre to the sound quality.

 

  1. The Sostenuto Pedal (or for uprights, “practice pedal”):  MIDDLE pedal

    The middle pedal on a piano was the last added and the least used.  Very few piano players make use of this middle pedal and very few composers even require it to be employed.

This middle pedal will differ from upright to grand pianos.

   On a Grand Piano:  this middle pedal is called the Sostenuto pedal.

This sostenuto pedal, again on a grand piano, can sustain only selected notes, while allowing other notes to remain unaffected by the sustain pedal effect.

A piano player would first play and hold certain notes (or chords), depress down the middle “Sostenuto pedal” and then those notes are “locked” into a sustain- meaning that these notes would keep sounding and other notes that the player would play afterwards would NOT be held or sustained. (see videos below for demonstration)

 

However,  just because a piano has a 3rd middle pedal does not necessarily mean that it is a true sostenuto pedal.

The middle pedal can have other functions.

Often, an upright piano’s middle pedal is referred to as a “practice pedal” and functions as another ‘half-blow’ pedal that has the effect of lowering the volume of the piano.

In this case, if the middle pedal on an upright piano is a true “practice pedal”, it can be pushed down and locked into place by sliding in a groove to the left to stay engaged.

If, in most cases, the upright middle pedal is a true “practice pedal”, it would greatly soften the sound by lowering a muffler rail of felt between the hammers and the strings- something that is known as a “practice rail” on upright pianos.

   A sostenuto pedal as the middle pedal is rare on upright pianos, unless it is a more expensive, higher end upright piano (i.e: Steinway) or by special order.

 

But enough from me!

To better understand the functions of the 3 foot pedals on a piano, please watch these 2 videos below, which demonstrate and summarize everything we have just learned.

  1. Pedals on a Piano:  https://youtu.be/xwYBBWFDZRA
  1. The 3 pedals on a Piano (another teaching) :  https://youtu.be/TdBl-G1-2ek

 

I hope this helps us all better understand the names, functions and purposes of piano foot pedals!

 

BONUS VIDEO:  As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the amazing Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.

                             This week’s video is from his Saturday, April 3rd Facebook live streamed online gig.  Enjoy!

https://youtu.be/cDIM6hUaKC8

 

Week 56:  (Week of April 19, 2021)

Hello everyone!  I hope this finds you all doing well and looking forward to warmer Spring days!

This week, let’s highlight another highly acclaimed Classical pianist as we turn the spotlight today to Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang.

Lang is widely considered to be one of the most famous and skillfully accomplished classical musicians of modern time!

Born on June 14, 1982 Lang Lang started playing the piano at the age of 3 and gave his first public recital at the age of 5!

It was also at 5 years of age that he won first place at the Shenyang Piano Competition!

When he was only 9 years old, he entered Beijing’s Central Music Conservatory and won the International Tchaikovsky Competition at the age of 13.

A year later, at the age of 14, Lang Lang was a featured soloist at China’s National Symphony’s inaugural concert, which was broadcast on television and was attended by President Jiang Zemin.

When Lang Lang was 15, he and his father moved to the United States, where Lang began his studies with pianist and teacher Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

He was 17 years old when his “big break” arrived- Lang Lang substituted for André Watts at The Gala of the Century in the Summer of 1999 where he played Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra!

After this event, Lang Lang quickly became an overnight sensation- with the Chicago Tribune calling him the “star of the evening” and praising his “fabulous technique” and “absolute control.”

It was after this last minute performance gig that the invitations quickly started pouring in for Lang Lang and many doors started flying open for his career!

Lang Lang is known not only for his amazing technical skill at the piano, but for the ways in which he captivates his audience with his showmanship.

Critics often comment on his performance “flair” and charisma, noting that he straddles two worlds of “classical prodigy and rock-like ‘superstar.’ “

After storming on to the Classical music scene in 1999, Lang Lang began his dauntingly full concertizing schedule- performing to sold out concert halls and with many highly acclaimed Symphonic Orchestras around the world.

He was the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and some top American orchestras.

Audiences continued to adore Lang Lang throughout the years.

In 2006, Lang Lang was the featured pianist on the Golden Globe winning musical score for the film The Painted Veil. 

In 2007, he played the stage in Italy with Andrea Bocelli; performing both with Bocelli as accompanist and also performing Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” that night as a soloist.

In December of 2007 Lang Lang also performed at the Nobel Prize concert in Stockholm, Sweden.

In 2008, Lang Lang had a massive career highlight when he performed live at Beijing’s opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

It was also in 2008 that he performed with jazz pianist legend Herbie Hancock at the 50th Annual Grammy awards, playing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Throughout the years since, Lang Lang continues to dazzle audiences and perform with other elite musicians, conductors and world class orchestras!

It should also be noted that in 2016 Lang was invited to the Vatican to perform for Pope Francis.

He has performed throughout the years for numerous other international dignitaries, including monarchs from many nations and 4 US presidents.

Lang Lang is also known for his contributions to music education on a worldwide scale.

In 2008, he founded the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, which aims at nurturing tomorrow’s top pianists.

In 2013 he was designated by the Secretary General of the United Nations as a Messenger of Peace, focusing on global education.

In terms of recording, Lang Lang’s discography includes 9 studio albums, 4 live albums, 2 soundtracks, 1 compilation and 3 ‘contributions’ to releases that are not under his name.

In 2003, he signed a contract with Deutsche Grammophon and released several albums with them.

In 2010 he signed a contract with Sony Classic.

His albums feature such works as Rachmaninov Piano Concertos,  Beethoven Piano Concertos, Chopin Piano Concertos, Liszt works, and most recently his 2020 album on Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

(Which, Piano classes, we listened to HIS performances when we studied the Goldbergs a few months ago)

 

Let’s take a listen to Lang Lang’s piano skills together:

  1. The famous Beethoven “Für Elise”- https://youtu.be/s71I_EWJk7I
  2. A live clip from his recent performance on The Tonight Show ft Jimmy Fallon

       Lang Lang: Bach Goldberg Variation 26/Liszt’s Liebestraum/Mozart’s Turkish March Medley- https://youtu.be/Qi77ArHVXcg

  1. Lang Lang’s performance at the 2008 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony:  https://youtu.be/LI53ynG7hSo
  2. Lang Lang & Herbie Hancock performing George Gershin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” –  https://youtu.be/5PRRzXBwXTY

 

Lang Lang Bonus Concert:  A Lang Lang NPR ‘Tiny Desk’ (At Home) Concert from April of 2020:

     Featuring:  Chopin: Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor

Bach: Goldberg Variations 18 & 19

                    https://youtu.be/TMxAKlC5FMM

 

BONUS VIDEO:  As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the amazing Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.

                             This week’s video is from his Saturday, March 27th Facebook live streamed online gig.  Enjoy!

                        – https://youtu.be/mVqctaY7FUU

 

Week 55 (Week of April 12, 2021):  

A very warm hello to all SRC participants and friends.

Hope this finds everyone doing well and enjoying the warmer Spring weather – at least on the days where we are not getting “April showers”.

This week let’s have another installment of our website ‘mini-theme’-  “Weird, Wacky & Bizarre Instruments.”

Some of the bizarre instruments we have looked at in past weeks include: the Theremin, the Pikasso guitar, the Sea Organ of Zadar, the Great Stalacpipe Organ and most recently,           Benjamin Franklin’s Glass Harmonica!

This week let’s learn about a fairly new music instrument that was just invented in 2009- the Yaybahar!

The Yaybahar is an acoustic stringed musical instrument that was invented by the Turkish musician Görkem Şen who describes his musical invention as a “real-time acoustic stringed synthesizer.”

In one review by the BBC Classical radio station Classic FM, the Yaybahar is described as a “genius monstrosity” that creates “thoroughly bizarre, terrifying, and delightful noises.”

The name of the instrument itself comes from a composite of two Turkish words.  “Yay” (meaning ‘coiled string’) and “bahar” (“Spring”).

Gorkem Sen has stated that the name’s origin comes from the concept of  new life or a new beginning.

On a hunt for a new and unique sound, Gorekem looked for his inspiration for this instrument in the Australian didgeridoo, the Turkish Ney and most notably, the thunder drum.

The instrument itself is quite huge and takes up quite a bit of space- as you will see in our videos below!

The Yaybahar uses drums, coiled springs and only 2 cello strings to create a genuinely “other-worldly sound.”

Though it is perhaps best understood when observed in person or through one of our videos below, two framed drums are connected to a long spring, which is in turn connected to a tall neck with two strings.

As the strings of this instrument are plucked or more commonly ‘bowed’, the vibrations then travel along the coil to the drums.

The result, when bowed, is a deeply reverberating mesmerizing sound- which I would describe as almost “ancient or timeless” sounding.

The inventor, Görkem Sen, went through many musical trial & errors in the process of inventing this strange new musical instrument, discovering along the way the various sounds that the instrument can create.  He admits in one interview that his first few experiments with the instrument created “really, really bad noises.”

But after several years of tweaking his instrument and practicing various performance styles, he is now able to create a much more musical sound.

While not commercially manufactured and still quite a bit of a mysterious ‘oddball instrument’, several other musicians and composers have constructed their own yaybahar- such as Irish musician Billy Mag Fhloinn and film composer Ian Honeyman.

Görkem Sen has stated that he would one day like his yaybahar to be as common as the violin and the cello.

But given the size of this instrument, it is very unlikely that we’ll see a yaybahar section in an orchestra anytime soon!

Görkem Sen, in an interview, has said that one of his favorite pieces to play on the yaybahar is “Gnossienne No. 1” by French composer Erik Satie (a composer who we have recently been learning about and listening to in our recent Piano Classes!)

Görkem and his Yaybahar have been touring around Turkey and the surrounding areas in recent years.

While audiences have been fascinated by the new instrument and by Görkem’s Yabahar demonstrations and performances, it is still mostly a huge musical curiosity!

Görkem’s ultimate goal is to understand the full potential of his new musical invention and to explore all of its possible sounds that it has to offer.

 

Let’s listen to some videos of the Yaybahar together:

  1. Here is film composer Ian Honeyman demonstrating and showing off his own Yaybahar that he constructed:  https://youtu.be/nxGzzg0_mzE
  1. Ian’s first attempt at playing the Yaybahar:  https://youtu.be/P9L6uwI92Y8
  1. A short, recent clip of an original composition by Görkem himself, played on the Yaybahar:  https://youtu.be/5PHmBThUFF8
  1. A longer performance video of Görkem Sen playing his own Yaybahar at a live demonstration:  https://youtu.be/iQEgSDuijVs

 

BONUS VIDEO:  As always, here is your weekly piano concert from the incredible Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.

                             This week’s video is from his Saturday, March 20th Facebook live streamed online gig.  Enjoy!

https://youtu.be/6-S2i47MC6c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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