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Thread: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

  1. #101
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    I've always felt that the way music is continually changing is one of the very best things about it. Just look at all the ways that Appalachian musicians deconstructed their own Irish and Scottish roots music. Fantastic. And once the new genre seemed established awhile, look at the way that Bill Monroe messed with it to create bluegrass.

    Why anyone would complain about this creative process is beyond me. Not to mention how hopeless it is to complain, given that so many dedicated musicians work nonstop to develop an original sound. Let's be happy listening to recordings that go back to the 1920s rather than trying to criticize new arrangements of old tunes, which sounds too much like the music police.

    One of the tunes I'm learning this week is Evening Prayer Blues. It came to life not by Bill Monroe nor as bluegrass, but composed on harmonica in 1927 by DeFord Bailey. DeFord was a black composer who performed at the Grand Old Opry. Is that enough reason to label the original as country blues or as country music? I prefer to think of it as Old Time, but for no scholarly reason.

    In learning the tune, I confess to not being a big fan of upbeat bluegrass tremolo. So I've mostly avoided the many versions by established bluegrass mandolin players. That's just me. I started by listening to the original on harmonica by DeFord, then settled on two newer versions which I'll whittle down to the one I'll load into the Amazing Slow Downer in order to learn the basic melody to which I will add my own musical "features". The first version I like is by the Irish fiddler, Kevin Burke. His arrangement actually reminds me of a slow blues recorded by British blues bands in the 1960s. Makes me wonder what Jimi Hendrix would have done with this tune. The second version is by The American Fiddle Ensemble, fronted by Darol Anger, and which displays gorgeous harmonic textures vaguely reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, but filtered through Eurojazz.
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  3. #102

    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    I've always felt that the way music is continually changing is one of the very best things about it. Just look at all the ways that Appalachian musicians deconstructed their own Irish and Scottish roots music. Fantastic. ...
    Yup. Well stated.

    Just imagine if the early Appalachian settlers had implemented a strict "no changes allowed in the music" policy. If that had been combined with jealousy guarding their repertoire such that no one else was allowed to hear it except the select few who already maintained the style in the 'correct' manner, there would never have been the development of oldtime American fiddle/banjo styles, as well as no bluegrass.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    ... And once the new genre seemed established awhile, look at the way that Bill Monroe messed with it to create bluegrass. ...
    Exactly.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    .. Why anyone would complain about this creative process is beyond me. ...
    I think that for individuals, it's related to a sense of personal loss, an emotional feeling of losing something that's been important in one's life.

    Hearing old recordings of fantastically wonderful things that don't exist anymore, and feeling a different kind of sense of loss, like "why don't they play it like that anymore."

    Part of the problem, IMO, is artificially induced by the very recordings that serve to document the music.

    (a) If people never heard old recordings from before their own time, they would know what they were missing.

    (b) Similarly, even for people who were active participants in an older style that's not being played anymore, if they weren't reminded of it by hearing recordings, it probably wouldn't be such a raw/sensitive subject area.

    Kind of like looking at photos of people who are long since deceased. At times, it can just remind one of one's loss, of what they don't have anymore. In a way, photos - and audio recordings - are like rubbing a person's nose in all the things they've lost that don't exist anymore. Of course, different personality types handle such things differently, and healing occurs that allows such reminders of the past to coexist peacefully with current life. Some people are content with memories, whereas for other people it just re-opens old wounds...

    To hear old recordings of music that no one plays anymore, that one had a deep personal connection to in years past, would seem like a futile exercise and not good for much except starting a round of depression, unless one has the intent (and the ability) to revive/resurrect the style and/or convince some friends to try playing that style at jams etc and/or find some other useful/practical application for the style. There's a difference between wallowing in the past vs discovering new ways to make old stuff useful again.

    Anyway I think that such emotional angles and feelings of either actual or impending loss are why people get riled up about 'preserving' a style and trying to maintain a 'purity' of genre, such that they become opposed to changes that make the music sound like something different or more 'modern', etc etc.

  4. #103
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Harry is one of my best friends and we play music often. He is the one I mentioned above about the Mississippi traditions.
    I met him at Lake Genero just before his book came out. Great guy, very very knowledgeable, lots of fun to jam with. I got his book as soon as I could.
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  5. #104
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    I've always felt that the way music is continually changing is one of the very best things about it. .
    That is why it is a difficult for me. It feels as if things change faster than the time it takes to really learn about them sometimes.

    Of course in the grand scheme of things whatever genre is a snapshot in the continuum of a long history of other music. And what ever one loves came from somewhere, and is going somewhere.

    So the process is wonderful because it creates ever new and great music. And the process is hideous because it erodes things just as you start to really "get it" and fall in love.

    Embracing the change is even harder for me, because I then hesitate to fall deeply for something that is leaving.
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  7. #105
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    Quoting Jim's entire post, because my first thought while reading Jeff's musing about the "difficult issue" was that it is less difficult in our day and time, due to the invention of audio recording.
    I agree and I disagree. On the one hand without recording a lot of the music I play would not have been there for me to find. At the same time, the part of old time that I particularly love is in the moment. We playing music with each other, not practicing for a recording, not working on how we want to be remembered.

    Similarly with tune books. They preserve something, and by preserving it they help in its ossification.




    Same with tune book
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  8. #106
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    The old time well is bottomless.
    Yes.

    And bottomless as a philosophical topic as well I fear.
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  10. #107
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Although bottomless, who can say exactly what the old time grab bag actually encompasses. I get advertised as a player of old time music, but my performance includes 16th century English dance tunes, to Durangs hornpipe written in the newly formed USA of the late 1700s, to civil war tunes like Booth Shot Lincoln and Abe's Retreat, to chromatic waltzes from the 1910s, to southern string band rags and quadrilles from the 1930s some of which remind me of New Orleans Jazz and others of Debussy, to Cape Breton reels, to several tunes composed in the last 30 years by the likes of JP Fraley and the Wailing Jennies.

    It's not rock and roll. It's not bluegrass. It sounds a lot like old time to me. And yet a lot of the fiddle players who think they know best what this music is supposed to sound like, don't think very much of mandolin players leading the melody.
    Explore some of my published music here

    óJim

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  12. #108
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Old time music was a constantly changing music from the beginning. As touring musicians came thru they would learn tunes from the local musicians. By the next day and the next town they would play the new tunes as best as they could remember them. They then were learned by those folks in the town and a repeat of this would continue on. Fiddle tunes and styles of fiddling varied not only from state to state, but from county to county. When a recording was done, it was the persons version of the tune as they played it. It may have already changed a dozen times before it was recorded so even the old recording are not necessarily the original tune.
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  14. #109
    Registered User Mando Mort's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Unfortunately, much time is spent on this site arguing about musical labels. I could care less what people call their music. I like lots of different styles and don't care if I break some stupid rules by blending different styles. Why not be more inclusive rather than more exclusive? Doesn't make sense...

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  16. #110
    Fatally Flawed willkamm's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why old time and bluegrass are not the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mando Mort View Post
    Unfortunately, much time is spent on this site arguing about musical labels. I could care less what people call their music. I like lots of different styles and don't care if I break some stupid rules by blending different styles. Why not be more inclusive rather than more exclusive? Doesn't make sense...
    For me music of all genres constantly evolve. Like the evolution of Charley Monroe's 1948 version of Rosa Lee McFall up thru the Grateful Dead version. Not everyone likes being inclusive, but I sure do. Fact is, Charley might not have written that though he is often given credit. There is a Library of Congress entry from 1937 for a J.M. Pasley listed for that song.
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