Muldaur Interview

Muldaur Interview

Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

February 25th, 2010, 2:30 pm #1

I've posted the beginning of my interview with Geoff Muldaur on the subject of Bix Beiderbecke. At some point, I will post other sections of our conversation, as well as portions of my interviews with Terry Teachout and Amiri Baraka, among others.

http://beiderbecke.typepad.com/tba/2010 ... acter.html
Reply
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

February 25th, 2010, 6:10 pm #2


Muldaur says, "To me this is the baffling thing. Why, and not just Bix, but primarily Bix, why do these white guys in the early twenties, in the Midwest, the Chicago area, and of course Bix in Davenport -- they hear the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong."

Indeed, the Austin gang in Chicago represent a concentration of white guys playing or at least trying to play jazz. But they were first influenced by other white guys, the NORK who came mostly from New Orleans. And of course the ODJB.

What about Red Nichols from Utah, Teagarden from Texas, Pee Wee from Missouri, Fud Livingston from South Carolina? The white kids going for jazz were popping up everywhere. The Scranton PA mob - the Dorseys, Russ Morgan, etc. And New York? Phil Napoleon, Miff Mole, Frank Signorelli, Jimmy Lytell, Joe Tarto, etc, etc And New England? Sylvester Ahola, Chelsea Quealey, Bobby Davis, Mal Hallett, Toots Mondello, Artie Shaw (born in New York City but raised in Connecticut) etc.

Jazz (at least as it was understood in the 1920s) was a coast to coast, border to border phenomenon taken up by white kids everywhere.

Albert
Reply
Like
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

February 25th, 2010, 6:20 pm #3


And Rollini in New York.(as well as other early Ramblers, 1922 , before Oliver and Armstrong made records).

Albert
Reply
Like
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

February 25th, 2010, 6:29 pm #4


Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang from Philly.

Albert
Reply
Like
Share

Brendan
Brendan

February 25th, 2010, 6:50 pm #5

I think you're taking Muldaur way too literally here, Albert. I don't believe he means to say that no other white people but midwesterners like Bix listened to or played jazz. He is simply talking about these midwesterners. Or rather, these kids who, like Bix, have these seemingly unlikely midwestern backgrounds. And he does mention Nick LaRocca's influence.

Anyway, if you honestly think that Muldaur is unaware of or wants to somehow slight all these other great musicians, then I think you give him way less credit than he deserves.
Reply
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

February 25th, 2010, 7:57 pm #6


I did not say that "Muldaur is unaware of or wants to somehow slight all these other great musicians ... " I did not say either, "he [Muldaur] means to say that no other white people but midwesterners like Bix listened to or played jazz." Those are your words. Since the section of the interview that you chose to upload emphasized the Chicago scene (in fact, you asked the question "Why the Midwest?"), I thought it would be useful and educational to cite some of the other foci (as well as individual geographical locations) where young white kids went nuts over jazz in order to illustate the widespread importance/influence of jazz throughout the US in the 1920s.

Albert
Reply
Like
Share

Alberta
Alberta

February 26th, 2010, 1:53 pm #7

I've posted the beginning of my interview with Geoff Muldaur on the subject of Bix Beiderbecke. At some point, I will post other sections of our conversation, as well as portions of my interviews with Terry Teachout and Amiri Baraka, among others.

http://beiderbecke.typepad.com/tba/2010 ... acter.html
Thanks for the post!

What I found most interesting about it was what I'd like to have seen further developed: are talent and character necessarily NOT connected? What I mean is, if you have an immense gift, is it just so overwhelming and just so much trouble that you have to babysit it and develop it and fight off meddlers and fixers and the envious all your life so that your social and spiritual development must suffer? Or is it that talent and character are not necessarily connected, but can be. I always thought Tolstoy was a great talent (maybe not the greatest writer ever, but certainly a very great story-teller) and yet I think he was a true mensch. (I'm deliberately avoiding this new movie about him lest I find out something unsavory!) So is he an exception? Are their musical exceptions?

Anyway, I'm with you, Albert, and also picked up on the midwest emphasis. Maybe it was just one subject of many, but in this excerpt, it seems major, and incorrect as well.
Reply
Share

Barb Wascher
Barb Wascher

February 26th, 2010, 8:38 pm #8

I've posted the beginning of my interview with Geoff Muldaur on the subject of Bix Beiderbecke. At some point, I will post other sections of our conversation, as well as portions of my interviews with Terry Teachout and Amiri Baraka, among others.

http://beiderbecke.typepad.com/tba/2010 ... acter.html
Geoffrey Muldaur makes some insightful and obviously knowledgeable comments about Bix and jazz in this excerpt.

I like what he has to say about the artistic integrity (for want of a better term) of jazz pioneers like Bix and the others he names, including those revolutionaries from the Chicago suburbs. They listened to and appreciated the work of other musicians like Louis Armstrong, but did not seek merely to emulate them; they were finding their own voices. This to me is one of the most endlessly fascinating and romantic things about early jazz, and about Bix in particular.

Another important thing Muldaur addresses is the emergence of a harmonic and rhythmic complexity, and I would add a lyricism, that seemed to come specifically from the Midwest as evidenced in the Trumbauer small-ensemble recordings. And that happened largely if not exclusively because of Bix's influence. It doesn't mean it happened in a vacuum or that others weren't working on much the same thing in other places. They were. But there's something uniquely, compellingly, timelessly fresh about those recordings. Perhaps "sick good" is the best term after all.

Muldaur is not the first to notice this. Hoagy Carmichael -- himself a Midwestern jazz pioneer -- had this to say about it in his 1965 memoir Sometimes I Wonder: "I don't know about genius, but I've had a lot to do with talent---and I've been struck by a fact: the middle west producing all those musical mutations in the twentieth century." He goes on to chide "professors in thick glasses" and the "piddling of pundits" who've attempted to explain the phenomenon; much as I'd love to find such an explanation, I can't say as I blame him. And Muldaur quite rightly stops listing specifics and simply refers to the fact that "music was everywhere."

At no time, however, does Muldaur (or Carmichael, for that matter) exclude other jazzmen. I think it's obvious that Muldaur's points should be taken in context, that context being a discussion specifically about Bix Beiderbecke, a Midwesterner. A laundry list of "foci" or geographical locations is quite beside the point.

I would add only a couple of things to Muldaur's comment about the reason(s) for the ascendance of big bands (not necessarily black, as far as I'm concerned) over the more harmonically advanced music like the Trumbauer recordings. One is the increasing demands of radio catering to popular tastes as the 1920s ended and the 1930s began. And I would cite Duke Ellington's work as a very important exception to this trend.

Finally, I agree that talent and character are not necessarily related, although I'm very much not like Muldaur, or Alberta, in that I make it my business to try to understand the human beings who created the music I admire as much as I possibly can. That includes dealing head-on with whatever unsavory details of their biographies may come to light, however difficult that may be. Muldaur appears somewhat conflicted, though; while he states he isn't attracted to the "historical parts" of musicians, he seems nevertheless to have informed himself about Bix's alcoholism and letter-writing style. Perhaps this is as good an indication as any that trying to separate the artist-as-person from his art is more problematic than might be supposed.

I'm looking forward to reading more of this very thoughtful interview. Thanks, Brendan.
Reply
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

February 26th, 2010, 8:51 pm #9

Thanks for the post!

What I found most interesting about it was what I'd like to have seen further developed: are talent and character necessarily NOT connected? What I mean is, if you have an immense gift, is it just so overwhelming and just so much trouble that you have to babysit it and develop it and fight off meddlers and fixers and the envious all your life so that your social and spiritual development must suffer? Or is it that talent and character are not necessarily connected, but can be. I always thought Tolstoy was a great talent (maybe not the greatest writer ever, but certainly a very great story-teller) and yet I think he was a true mensch. (I'm deliberately avoiding this new movie about him lest I find out something unsavory!) So is he an exception? Are their musical exceptions?

Anyway, I'm with you, Albert, and also picked up on the midwest emphasis. Maybe it was just one subject of many, but in this excerpt, it seems major, and incorrect as well.
I agree, Alberta, a  fascinating topic.

I was lucky , in my 50-year career as a chemistry researcher, to have met several geniuses. In fact, in 1961-1962 I spent a year in Stanford University (in California) as a postdoctoral research associate with 1983 Nobel laureate Henry Taube.

The scientist-genius comes in a variety of flavors. Henry, was a nice guy, always concerned about finding jobs for his graduate students and postdoctoral associates, never pushing for results, patient. I remember clearly him saying that he never suggested experiments for his students to perform, he just "liked to think aloud." Other Nobel prize laureates on the other hand, are aggressive, slave drivers, highly demanding, and totally focused on the science, no second thoughts given to the individuals actually doing the research. And of course, al gradations in between.

Evidently, genius is, if I may use the expression, an abnormal phenomenon, and unique personality features often accompany the remarkable gift. And, as you say, there are the leaches who wish to associate themselves with the geniuses, in art fields more of a problem than in science.

My experience is that regardless of the unique characteristics of a particular genius, the feature they have in common is that they are totally consumed by their overwhelming need to create, to produce something new and unprecedented.

And then, there is the lonely genius, who produces for himself and does not feel the need to be recognized by peers. Just the satisfaction of discovering and creating is sufficient.

Albert
Reply
Like
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

February 26th, 2010, 11:56 pm #10

Geoffrey Muldaur makes some insightful and obviously knowledgeable comments about Bix and jazz in this excerpt.

I like what he has to say about the artistic integrity (for want of a better term) of jazz pioneers like Bix and the others he names, including those revolutionaries from the Chicago suburbs. They listened to and appreciated the work of other musicians like Louis Armstrong, but did not seek merely to emulate them; they were finding their own voices. This to me is one of the most endlessly fascinating and romantic things about early jazz, and about Bix in particular.

Another important thing Muldaur addresses is the emergence of a harmonic and rhythmic complexity, and I would add a lyricism, that seemed to come specifically from the Midwest as evidenced in the Trumbauer small-ensemble recordings. And that happened largely if not exclusively because of Bix's influence. It doesn't mean it happened in a vacuum or that others weren't working on much the same thing in other places. They were. But there's something uniquely, compellingly, timelessly fresh about those recordings. Perhaps "sick good" is the best term after all.

Muldaur is not the first to notice this. Hoagy Carmichael -- himself a Midwestern jazz pioneer -- had this to say about it in his 1965 memoir Sometimes I Wonder: "I don't know about genius, but I've had a lot to do with talent---and I've been struck by a fact: the middle west producing all those musical mutations in the twentieth century." He goes on to chide "professors in thick glasses" and the "piddling of pundits" who've attempted to explain the phenomenon; much as I'd love to find such an explanation, I can't say as I blame him. And Muldaur quite rightly stops listing specifics and simply refers to the fact that "music was everywhere."

At no time, however, does Muldaur (or Carmichael, for that matter) exclude other jazzmen. I think it's obvious that Muldaur's points should be taken in context, that context being a discussion specifically about Bix Beiderbecke, a Midwesterner. A laundry list of "foci" or geographical locations is quite beside the point.

I would add only a couple of things to Muldaur's comment about the reason(s) for the ascendance of big bands (not necessarily black, as far as I'm concerned) over the more harmonically advanced music like the Trumbauer recordings. One is the increasing demands of radio catering to popular tastes as the 1920s ended and the 1930s began. And I would cite Duke Ellington's work as a very important exception to this trend.

Finally, I agree that talent and character are not necessarily related, although I'm very much not like Muldaur, or Alberta, in that I make it my business to try to understand the human beings who created the music I admire as much as I possibly can. That includes dealing head-on with whatever unsavory details of their biographies may come to light, however difficult that may be. Muldaur appears somewhat conflicted, though; while he states he isn't attracted to the "historical parts" of musicians, he seems nevertheless to have informed himself about Bix's alcoholism and letter-writing style. Perhaps this is as good an indication as any that trying to separate the artist-as-person from his art is more problematic than might be supposed.

I'm looking forward to reading more of this very thoughtful interview. Thanks, Brendan.
.... I disagree about the context part. You write, "I think it's obvious that Muldaur's points should be taken in context, that context being a discussion specifically about Bix Beiderbecke, a Midwesterner."

Let me remind you of what Geoff Muldar said in the interview, "To me this is the baffling thing. Why, and not just Bix, but primarily Bix, why do these white guys in the early twenties, in the Midwest, the Chicago area, and of course Bix in Davenport -- they hear the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong."

It seems to me pretty clear that Geoff wies the situation in the Midwest as rather unique. [In the following and above, bold font was my addition.] Why would he use the words, "To me this is the baffling thing." Geoff goes on to say, " the driving force is Louis Armstrong, Freddy Keppard, these guys out of Chicago." Again, the special part in influencing Bix and other midwesternes is the music produced by Louis, Freddy and King Oliver, all in Chicago. There is more. Geoff says, "So that's always been very curious to me, and then of course the whole midwestern thing, with the whole-tone moves and some of these great chordal moves." And Brendan asks the question "Why the Midwest?" Geoff's answer, "Well, there were probably a lot of parlor pianos and the riverboat music, Chicago, and the black influence coming up from New Orleans, etcetera."

At this point, Geoff seems to have second thoughts when he tells Brendan, "but in the United States, music was just everywhere."

My posting was an attempt to demonstrate that the strong effect of jazz on young, white would-be musicans was not unique to the Midwest and Chicago, but a country-wide phenomenon, in part, before Louis was widely known. I remind you that the Original Memphis Five were organized in 1917 and stared recording in 1922, before the first recordings of King Oliver and Louis. The Scranton Sirens were first organized in 1918. It seems to me that the "driving force" was the ODJB.

Albert
Last edited by ahaim on February 27th, 2010, 12:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reply
Like
Share