Earlier this year, Oxford University Press published Sun, Sea, and Sound: Music and Tourism in the Circum-Caribbean, a book I co-edited with my friend (and University of Pennsylvania professor) Tim Rommen. It’s great stuff, I think – all the authors contributed brilliantly – but I find Tim’s introduction “Theorizing Music Touristics” to be a particularly important and unique contribution to the field. In addition, I’m quite proud of my own chapter “Modern Mento: The Emergence of Native Music in Jamaica Tourism,” which draws on over a decade of field research and professional activity in Jamaica. For more information, click here to visit Oxford’s information page, or you can just go ahead and click here to buy it from Amazon.
I am proud to say that “Ding, Ding!: The Commodity Aesthetic of Ice Cream Truck Music,” my work on the history, development, and issues surrounding ice cream truck music, has been published in The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, Volume 2 (Sumanth Gopinath & Jason Stanyek, eds.). For more information about the book, click here to visit Oxford University Press’s information page.
This chapter is an extension of a project I began working on as a result of having taken Steven Feld’s class “The Anthropology of Sound” in the fall of 1998. I presented an early version of my research (“Ice Cream Truck Music, the Sound of Frozen Novelties”) at three academic conferences in 2000-2001, and published a very short version of in the arts journal Esopus in 2005 as “Soft Serve: Charting the promise of ice cream truck music.”
I am fascinated at how people respond to this music. Given the troubling range of opinions about Theodore Johnson III’s May 11, 2014 NPR piece about the song “Turkey in the Straw,” (which seems to draw very heavily on Richard Parks’s piece “Turkey in the Straw,” published in Lucky Peach earlier in 2014), it’s clear that the music played from ice cream trucks and the reasons for its continued use are more nuanced than most people realize. “Ding, Ding!” should be required reading for anyone interested in how ice cream truck music works, why it sounds the way it does and what the reasons have been for its sustained success over decades.
Here’s one from the archives:Junco Partner by the Freshmakers featuring King Django and Dr. Ring Ding
It came out on a Joe Strummer tribute record released in Italy in 2005(ish).
The track was recorded in the studio under Jammyland (60 East 3rd Street, NYC). I think the group – called the Freshmakers – included me (banjo and bamboo sax), Bob Timm (rumba box), Jay Nugent (guitar), King Django and Dr. Ring Ding (v0x) and another guitarist, whose name I can’t remember at the moment. Vic Rice engineered. I’m pretty sure that this happened in December 2003/January 2004; the band laid the instrumental tracks down one afternoon, and Django and Ring Ding came in a few nights later and did the vocals during a snowstorm.
The people who released it said they’d send me a copy of the CD and a t-shirt in exchange for the track. Perhaps needless to say, that never happened.
Irish Music in the NY Times today with a picture of me.
All front and center, like.
My first column was published in the Irish Echo today. Click here to read it. In it, I mention a recording of Paddy Canny playing ‘Cielito Lindo’ – this is it:canny-mariachi.mp3
I don’t remember where this came from – it’s just an excerpted bit from a longer track. I doubt I’ll be hosting much music relating to the column here, but a couple of people asked me what this sounded like so have a listen if you’re interested.
ps. “Free the Tarbolton Three” is a saying that I believe Boston’s own Teddy Davis and Tina Lech came up with.
UPDATE: Tom Madden wrote to me to let me know that the notation for “Blueberry Hill” (a fox trot) – in Morrison’s own hand – on appears on p. 68 of Veronica McNamara’s facsimile edition of the James Morrison notebooks (called “The Professor, James Morrison” – His Original Handwritten Music Manuscripts for Irish Fiddle – click on the link to buy a copy, whydon’tcha?).
UPDATE: Monsignor Charlie Coen tells me that he also plays ‘Cielito Lindo,’ as well as a few other tunes & songs as part of an “international” thing he likes to do.
A while back I recorded a couple of tracks with a few friends. Here are some previews:Sample Jig Track Sample Reel Track
If you like what you hear, just drop me a line and I’ll send the full tracks your way! If you’re interested, you can read the notes I’ve put together for these recordings by clicking here.
The other day I was corresponding with Jeff Ksiazek of the Ward Irish Music Archives and he mentioned the difficulty of finding photos of old Irish musicians and it reminded me of the report WNYC’s Soundcheck did last May in which they talked about the Flanagan Brothers. The best part of that report was probably the archival photo they dug out from December 9, 1926 taken at the WNYC studios. Not only is it probably the best photo of the Flanagans I’ve ever seen (that’s Mike and Joe, left to right), but it’s one of the finer photos of Irish music in that era I’ve come across.
Tonight, the Blue Glaze Mento Band will be in Kingston to launch its latest album, We Will Wait. The group worked with New Orleans producer Bill Monstead on a really nice mix of mento, reggae and gospel. However, what I think mento fans will find most compelling is that this album not only features some original songs composed by band members, but it also includes some legendary guest artistes taking over the vocal duties. For example, Stranjah Cole sings over his own ska classic “Rough and Tough” played as a mento and Bunny Wailer is the featured singer on Blue Glaze lead singer Vernal Morgan’s composition “We Will Wait,” while Toots Hibbert is featured on my favorite track “Great Jehovah” (another Vernal Morgan composition). Just great stuff all around. The guy who wrote the liner notes did a pretty good job as well (if I may say so).
This album marks the last recording my friend and original Blue Glaze banjoist Nelson Chambers made before he died just a bit over a year ago, and he’s in fine form. I think he would have been proud to see this CD finally released to the world.
If you’re interested in buying We Will Wait, click here to head on over to CD Baby and check it out.
Last week, New York City’s Irish Arts Center launched a Christmas album called An Irish Christmas: A Musical Solstice Celebration. It is the first in IAC’s “Live From Irish Arts Center” series and recorded live during last year’s series of Christmas concerts. The album features Mick Moloney, Athena Tergis, Rhys Jones, Billy McComiskey, Liz Hanley and Brendan Dolan and it also includes a track from the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra! I mention it because I had a fair bit to do with it, not only with the WSHSO, but as production coordinator (being a second set of ears in mixing/mastering, organizing manufacturing, etc) and publicist (if you’ve heard it on the radio, I had something to do with it getting there).
It sets a very high musical standard for Christmas albums and has some great music on it – plus, it’s a worthwhile gift for the season! Click here to buy it/ check it out!
Today, I was at the National Library in Kingston, reading the June 1900 issue of Winkler’s Choir Leader. It’s a kind of boring Jamaica-based periodical about choir music (and mostly about religious choir music at that), but I came across an article about a “skull banjo” supposedly found in Paraguay that caught my eye. Here’s the exact text, it paints a chilling picture:
Grewsome Musical Instrument
Skull banjos are the product of the small country of Paraguay. The Indians of ancient times were constantly engaged in warfare and their primary aim when thus engaged was to capture the chief of the opposing side. When captured this personage was carried to their camp and there cruelly murdered and it was from his body that this grewsome curious musical instrument was made.
After the skull was thoroughly dried the top was cut entirely off. Over the opening thus made a piece of skin taken from the body was tightly stretched in the manner of a drum. In the back of the skull the two femors of the legs were inserted. These bones were so trimmed that they were of uniform thickness throughout the entire length. The ends of these bones were joined together by one of the ribs from the body.
Then from the forehead of the skull to the rib which connected the femors strings were tightly stretched. These strings were made from the skin of the victim, thoroughly dried and rubbed over with resin. The instrument was played in a similar manner to the mandolin.
The skull was left so that the jaws were movable. Therefore with each shake of the instrument the jaws wagged, and with any sharp jolt the teeth came together with a snap. So Rare a relic was this considered that a gentleman of England bid £125 for one at a recent auction In London.
Turns out, the verbatim article appears a few months earlier in the February, 1900 issue of the Hopkinsville Kentuckian. Then, a slightly amended version of this article (with a line suggesting the existence of this instrument is proof that Paraguayan Indians are a “barbarous, uncivilized race”) shows up in 1906 in Wisconsin’s Eau Claire Sunday Leader, in May 1907 in Springfield, Kentucky’s News-Leader (where the New York Herald is its cited source), in May 1907 in the Lodi Sentinel, and then in July 1907 in the Bryan Times. I’m sure this article showed up in other papers as well – I just haven’t looked in depth.
Is this an example of such an instrument?