Saturday, February 28, 2015

Radio Documentary: The Cool Rebellion with Howard K. Smith

by G. Jack Urso 

Veteran CBS news announcer Howard K. Smith views the Beat Generation through the lens of conventional conservative horn-rimmed glasses in “The Cool Rebellion,” first broadcast as part of the 1960 CBS radio news series The Hidden Revolution. The segment is presented below at the end of this article from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube Channel. 

Aeolus 13 Umbra first turned its attention to the venerable Mr. Smith in Rare Video: Howard K. Smith Commentary on Television and the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, July 20, 1969, as well as contemporary views of the Beat Generation in the WNYC FM radio documentary, “Footloose in Greenwich Village,” also broadcast in 1960. While the WNYC documentary provides a more objective look at the Beats, Smith interprets the movement as a counter to the prevalent conservative attitudes of the times  which, of course, it was.

Smith cherry-picks segments that highlight the more stereotypical elements of the Beat Movement: protestations against material consumerism, disgruntled relationships with parents and the older generation, and the search for spiritualism. It is here, on the eve of the 1960s countercultural revolution, that we see the core philosophical beliefs typified by “hippies” embodied by the Beats.

Most interesting is an exchange about the relative values of the Beat Generation between a young hipster and a bourgeois middle class tourist slumming in a jazz club. The Beatnik sounds as young and earnest as any modern liberal progressive; meanwhile, the representative of the middle class is the poster child of Eisenhower-era capitalism driven by ambition and a conventional family-orientated outlook, as exemplified in the following exchange:

Middle-Class Man: My first responsibility would be my family, and I think that should be yours.

Beatnik: I was raised to believe the same thing and I fought against it.


Middle-Class Man: I think it is a shame, an absolute shame, that a man of your intelligence I’m not saying this in a derogatory manner, believe me that a man of your intelligence doesn’t put what you think to work in a proper way. You’re going to have to find your God. That’s the first thing you’re going to have to find.

Beatnik: Well, I don’t feel I need God. I have faith in myself.

Middle-Class Man: Ah . . . ah . . . I think I got the answer.

Beatnik: What?

Middle-Class Man: You’re emotionally immature.

After hearing that exchange, I understood why so many young people in the counterculture found themselves in opposition to the older generation, and conservatism in particular. It is ironic, however, and a sad commentary  on our society, that we can find the same philosophical gap between progressives and conservatives being played out today.

While Smith concedes, ”Immaturity is a matter of definition, and who is considered to be so is often is often closely related to who is doing the defining.” He goes on to provide more examples of the Beats so-called “immaturity,” meaning their indictment of American consumer culture. Smith concludes by trying to establish common ground with the Beats and comfort Middle America by asserting that the Beats essentially want the same thing they do: “There is perhaps a grain of truth in the overall protest . . .  to see to it that material prosperity is intertwined with individual freedom with spiritual aspiration. To be aware of the loss of individuality is the first step in making sure we treasure it as the most important part of our heritage.”

Listening to this report, one gets the feeling that Smith thinks the Beats are a fad that will pass as they get older. Well, the Beat Movement was a fad of sorts, but the Beats themselves evolved into something more than just a media curiosity. Over the next ten years, the progressive counter-cultural revolution pushed society forward on an often rocky, but steady evolution.

“The Cool Rebellion with Howard K. Smith” is included on volume two of the three-disc set The Beat Generation released in 1992 by Rhino Records. It is presented below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel:


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Jack Kerouac: Readings From On the Road and Visions of Cody

by G. Jack Urso

Kerouac reading his work accompanied by Steve Allen.

Jack Kerouac appeared on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show in November 1959 where he gave the national audience readings from his novels On the Road and Visions of Cody. On the Road, of course, was published in 1957 and is regarded as the quintessential Beat novel and a prime example of the stream-of-consciousness narrative. Kerouac wrote Visions of Cody between 1951 and 1952 based off free-writing prose written for On the Road, but it was not published as a complete novel until 1972. A nice jazz combo accompanies Kerouac, and yes — that is the master Steve Allen joining in on the piano.

Readings From On the Road and Visions of Cody is included on volume three of the three-disc set The Beat Generation released in 1992 by Rhino Records. It is presented below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel:

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Songs & Dance Music

by G. Jack Urso

Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Songs & Dance Music, is a 1979 Elekra Entertainment Explorer Series release recorded by Stephen Jay. Located in West Africa, Ghana as part of an area known as the Gold Coast rich not only in gold, but regrettably also in slaves, many of whom were brought to America where they shared their musical traditions.

According to the liner notes, these recordings were made in the Eastern, Western, and Upper Regions of Ghana in the Brong-Ahafo at festivals, markets, schools, street corners, and other public venues. Rather than a canned performance in a studio, the naturalistic expression of the Ghanaians’ live music captures the essence of the indigenous African sound.

 Track List
  Note: The cities/towns where the recordings were made are in parentheses.
1.   Dogumbo Song (Sandema): 3:43
Instruments:      Voice, donno, mpintintoa, rattle.
Performed by a wandering music group in a weekly outdoor market in a remote area of northern Ghana. “The vocal style of this song, with its intricate, overlapping phrases sung in parallel harmonies, is characteristic of northern Ghana” (Ghana).

2.   Dzil Duet (Accra): 2:28
Instrument:      Dzil.
The dzil is also known as the madimba in some parts of Africa, leading some to suggest that it is the ancestor of the South American marimba (Ghana).

3.   Gonje Songs (Achimota): 4:15
Instrument:      Gonje.
Performer Adolphus Micah plays the gonje on three songs in this track: “a Christmas song, a song of praise for the chief, and . . . a war song” (Ghana).
4.   Donno Drummers (Yeji): 3:17
Instruments:      Donno, gyamadudu.
Four musicians play donno drums while a fifth keeps a steady rhythm on the gyamadudu. The four donno drummers blend their sound together to create an intricate pattern none could execute alone (Ghana).
5.   Kassena-Nankani Festival (Navrongo): 2:34
Instruments:      Namuna, wiik, gulu.       
Recorded at a Ghanaian Independence Day celebration in Navrongo, this performance features a wind and drum ensemble. Gulu drums hold the beat while two groups of wiik players alternate between pitches C and D. Two other groups play the namuna, alternating between pitches E and F (Ghana). The dissonant sound creates an effect somewhat evocative of an African calliope.
6.   Ahanta Chant I (Dixcove): 4:48
Instruments:      Voice, axatse.   
The Makaba sect in Western Ghana performs this piece in a ritual that starts at sundown and continues through the night. Eighteen women and girls sing and play the azatse and repeat the choral phrase over and over until a meditative state is achieved (Ghana):       
I am standing before the crucifix. I am very quiet
but the tears are streaming down my cheeks.
Peter and Martha are here too;
they also have tears in their eyes.
          Chorus: Holy Mary is Adam’s grandchild.

7.   Ahanta Chant II (Dixcove): 3:52
Instruments:      Voice, axatse.   
This performance is noteworthy as it features women drumming in a public performance. Prior to the cultural changes brought on by colonialism, Ghanaian women traditionally did not play the drums, at least in public (Ghana).

8.   Wiiks and Mpintintoa (Wiags): 2:51
Instruments:      Voice, mpintintoa, wiiks.
This recording features a performance of five school boys of the Bulisa tribe entertaining their  teacher and fellow schoolmates. Two students play the mpintintoa and three play the wiik (Ghana).
9.   Marilli (Yeji): 1:59
Instrument:      Voice.
One of my favorite pieces on this album, a young girl sings with a unique technique of utilizing a controlled buzzing in the back of the roof of her mouth. This allows her to generate two or three pitches at the same time (Ghana).
10. Chohun and Gyamadudu (Nima): 4:28
Instruments:      Chohun, gynamadudu.
Another one of my favorites, this recording was done in Nima where the drumming accompanied street dancers. The faint chanting in the background adds a light, lyrical layer to the syncopated rhythm (Ghana). This piece is a quintessential example of indigenous West African percussion.
11. Donno Drummers (Yeji): 1:50
Instrument:      Donno.
This piece demonstrates melodic improvisations on the donno drum (Ghana).

Total time: 34:53

The following instrument descriptions are taken verbatim from the liner notes to Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Songs & Dance Music:
Axatse: A large rattle consisting of a hollow gourd surrounded by a loose net with many small beads or shells attached. Tension of the net is controlled with one hand, while the player shakes the gourd and strikes it against his leg. The rich sound of the axatse, believed to be highly favored by the gods, is closely associated with religious music.

Chohun: A xylophone, like the dzil, but slightly larger and with a greater number of tuning keys.

Donno: A variable-pitch double-headed drum with an hourglass-shaped body made of wood. Held under the armpit, the donno is struck at one end with a single curved stick. By squeezing the instrument between his arm and his side, a player can produce a wide range of pitches with remarkable control. The donno’s combined melodic and rhythmic capabilities make it an excellent "talking" drum.

Dzil: A xylophone consisting of 15 to 18 tuned hardwood keys mounted on a frame made of sticks; an acoustically matched gourd resonator is suspended beneath each key. Over a small hole at the bottom of each resonator is a thin membrane made from spider webs which produce a buzzing timbre when a key is struck. The dzil is played with rubber-tipped wooden mallets.
A dzil-type instrument.
Gonje: A bowed lute with a single string made of horsehair. Its resonator consists of a bowl-shaped section of a calabash, with lizard skin stretched across its open side and a sound-hole cut in the skin. Players stop the string on the side with their fingertips; delicate "pitch bending" on certain notes of a tune is achieved by pulling or pushing on the neck.
A gonje
Gulu: A double-headed cylindrical drum suspended from the shoulder and played either with one hand and a curved stick, or with two curved sticks.

Gyamadudu: A double-headed bass drum with a cylindrical body made of wood. It hangs vertically in front of the legs and is played with one hand and with one heavy, straight stick.

Mpintintoa: A single-headed drum made from a large gourd, with goatskin head. The mpintintoa hangs against the player’s chest and is played with both hands.

Namuna: A transverse trumpet made of animal horn, with a raised lip surrounding the tone hole.

Wiik: An end-blown vertical flute with three finger holes. It is most often used in ensembles of three or more, with the players alternating notes hocket-style to produce a melody.
Photos of instruments from the album.

Work Cited
Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Songs & Dance Music. Elektra
        Entertainment, 1979 & 1991. CD.