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Posts Tagged ‘Louis Armstrong’

Zurab Martiashvili- Couple in Love

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I hear babies cry

I watch them grow

They’ll learn much more

Than I’ll never know

And I think to myself

What a wonderful world

–Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, What a Wonderful World

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On a morning when it would be so easy to focus on the many wrongs of this world, I think I want to just listen quietly to a song and ponder the small things that make living in this world worth all the trouble. The song is What a Wonderful World, originally performed, of course, by the legendary Louis Armstrong.

It was written in 1967 by Bob Thiele and George Weiss in response to the tensions, anger and division that the Vietnam War  and race riots were spawning here. The songwriters chose Armstrong to perform the song because of what they believed was his ability to bring people of different races and backgrounds together.

The song as performed by Armstrong, as you most likely know, became a classic. But it wasn’t an instant hit. While it was the best selling song of 1968 in the UK, it went pretty much unnoticed here at the time. In fact, its original pressing as a single sold only around 1000 copies here. But it is the kind of song that doesn’t just fold up its tent and leave town. It had staying power and over the coming decades gained great popularity. Twenty years later, in 1988, it’s use in the Robin Williams film, Good Morning, Vietnam pushed it into our collective consciousness, here and around the globe.

A lot of other artists have recorded it but the Louis Armstrong version is the gold standard, the crème de la crème. It seems almost sacrilege to play any other version but I am playing a lovely version by Mark Knopfler and Chris Botti. Hope you’ll take a few moments to give a listen and focus on some small things that make your world a decent place.

For me, right now it’s looking out my window at the snow coating the tree branches backlit brilliantly by a cool sun. As I’m looking, a doe slowly crosses under the taller trees and disappears into the dark green of the pines below.

For the moment, it’s my own peaceable kingdom.

The whimsical artwork in this video and at the top of the page is from artist Zurab Martiashvili, an artist born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1982 and now working in Ukraine. Wonderful work. Wonderful world.

Have a good day.

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GC Myers- Pacifica smEvery spring the Library of Congress selects 25 recordings that they deem to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” to be added to their National Recording Registry.  There is a wide selection each year with recordings from all genres of music combined with radio broadcasts. speeches and other spoken word recordings.

For example,this year includes General Marshall‘s 1947 speech at Harvard where he laid out the basis for the Marshall Plan alongside George Carlin’s seminal Class Clown comedy album.  Plus for sports lovers, there’s the recording of the broadcast of the fourth quarter of the historic 1962 game in which Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points.

There are a lot of things from the list that I could use for this Sunday morning music selection.  There are two versions of Mack the Knife, one from Louis Armstrong and the other from Bobby Darin.  There’s Where Did Our Love Go? from the Supremes, Piano Man from Billy Joel, Cry Me a River from Julie London and too many others to list this early in the morning.  You can see the whole list here.

But the selection that caught my eye was the 1964 debut album, It’s My Way,  from folk singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie.  If you are of a certain age, you probably remember Buffy Sainte-Marie when she was one of the stars of the folk revival of the 1960’s.  Her Cree Indian heritage and the fact she was one of the few women songwriters in the genre at the time made her stand out and she was staple of variety television shows of the era.  But her profile was less visible going into the 1970’s and she had a 16 year hiatus from recording from the mid 70’s until 1992 although she was still busy as a songwriter.  The song Up Where We Belong which she co-wrote was a huge hit for Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes as well as winning the Academy Award for Best Song in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman.

This 1964 album is a pretty remarkable recording and there are a number of her songs from it which I could have chosen to play.  Universal Soldier became a standard as a 1960’s protest song and Cod’ine was covered by dozens of artists, most famously Janis Joplin.  But it is the title track that stands out for me.  It’s a song that seems timeless in its sound, not trapped in its own time like some songs from  significant eras.  It’s a powerful song that builds and builds.

Give a listen to It’s My Way and have a great Sunday.

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Singleton Glad You Dead You Rascal YouSome of the first things I ever did artistically as a somewhat mature person were bas-relief  carvings.  In a way, it formed the technique that I adopted as a painter.  I suppose that’s why I am so drawn to carvings when I come across them.  There’s something very appealing to me in the idea of a flat surface that has this raised, tactile surface. Like a painting that is also available in braille.  I can imagine the artist running his hands over the piece as he works, the ridges and valleys sliding gently underneath in a most comforting way.

Smithsonian American Art Museum - Donald W. Reynolds CenterI recently stumbled  across the work of Herbert Singleton ,  a New Orleans folk artist who made wonderful and colorful carvings such as the piece at the top, Glad You Dead You Rascal You, which depicts a New Orleans funeral procession.  Singleton’s life story is similar in may ways with other folk artists– a life filled with missteps and violence, run ins with the law and addictions.  He spent the better part of 14 years in prison and died in 2007 from lung cancer at the age of 62.  But in his short time here, Singleton created a powerful body of  carved work that documented his world and goes well beyond the label of folk art or self-taught art.  It is not benign work .  It often rails against social injustice and hypocrisy with great gusto.

I was first attracted to some of his Voodoo Protection Stumps, such as the one shown just below, which are carved from  half of a log with  multiple colorful faces emerging from one side and the bark remaining on the backside.  There is an immediacy and vibrancy to the images and color that make them really ring out. Singleton’s work is such a great example of   an artist who will not be held captive to their circumstance,   will not succumb to the hardships and obstacles that that they face.  They use their life and whatever means they can muster to express their place in this world.

SingletonVoodooProtectionStump 2

The piece at the top of this post, Glad You Dead You Rascal You, was based on the song You Rascal You made popular by the great  Louis Armstrong in the early 1030’s.  Here ‘s a Betty Boop cartoon from 1932 that features the song in  an interesting mix of cartoon and live action with Armstrong and his band.  Hard to believe this is from before my dad was born on this day back in 1933.  Happy birthday to my old man.

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