A Classical Sunday in Copley Square

By Brian McCreath   |   Monday, July 23, 2012
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New England is awash in incredible classical music experiences during the summer. Choose your scenery: coastline, mountain, or small town meeting house, and head out to enjoy stellar concerts in gorgeous surroundings. But wait. Add one more “scene” to that rundown. Copley Square, in the heart of Boston.

With the majestic architectural bookends of Boston Public Library and Trinity Church, Copley Square is set to become a destination in its own right among the locations you need to visit for classical music during the summer. It’s all due to the Summer Arts Weekend, a new project of the Boston Globe and WGBH.

For me, this first Summer Arts Weekend couldn’t have shaped up any better. For many years I made my living as a trumpeter, so when I heard that British trumpeter Alison Balsom was on the schedule, I knew right away we were in for a great Sunday. There’s an almost surreal silkiness to Balsom’s playing, and you’ll hear it in everything from Albinoni to Piazzolla, joined by our own crack Boston Landmarks Orchestra and guest conductor Christopher Warren-Green. Alison and Landmarks will be on stage at 4:45 on Sunday, and here she is from a Last Night of the Proms performance a couple of years ago:

Igudesman & Joo immediately precede them, at 3:30. Igude-wha? Yes, Igudesman & Joo, who bring a rare (twisted?) sense of humor to the classical world. At which point it’s probably best for me to avoid description and let their performance do the talkin’:

At 2:15 another duo will take the stage to re-define classical music in their own way. Anderson and Roe are pianists who find the “classical” in all kinds of music. Yes, they play the great duo piano repertoire by Mozart, Schubert, and others, but they also cover Radiohead, Michael Jackson, and John Lennon.

The early afternoon (1pm, specifically) belongs to one of Boston’s local musical geniuses and his students from New England Conservatory. Hankus Netsky’s Contemporary Improvisation project looks for the seams between conventional categories of music and applies an in-the-moment sensibility to find completely new voices of expression.

As if all of that weren’t enough, you also have the chance to join Laura Carlo at the Fairmont Copley Plaza at 11am on Sunday for a Baroque Brunch. Members of the Handel and Haydn Society will be on hand for a performance of music by Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and others. This one is inside, and attendance is limited, so get your tickets!

In the meantime, be sure to tune in to Classical New England on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week to hear some of the performers for Summer Arts Weekend.

Hope to see you there!
(photo of Alison Balsom by Chris Dunlop/EMI Classics)

Rock 'n' Roll Legend Dick Dale on the Origins of Surf Guitar Music

By Elizabeth Deane   |   Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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July 17, 2012

Although we're in the midst of summer, we’ll try not to get sand in the massive hinges of the WGBH vault as we open up a terrific interview from the 1995 PBS series “Rock & Roll.” It’ll take you back to the early days of surf music, that massive guitar-driven sound that reverberates all the way down through heavy metal, and the unforgettable theme under the opening credits of Quentin Tarantino’s film "Pulp Fiction." The Beach Boys may have surpassed this artist in popularity, but he alone bears the title "King of the Surf Guitar."

This Month's From the Vault: An interview with Dick Dale

Three selected clips from the original WGBH interview with Dick Dale for the award-winning series "Rock & Roll."

dale and elsa
You’ll see immediately that Dick Dale isn’t anywhere near the surf in this interview. He’s in the California desert, where he raised lions and tigers. (Really.) But he has his custom Fender in hand throughout the discussion, and some of his demos take you straight to the beach, as he shows in one clip how the sounds of surfing influenced his music. Watch also for the moment when he talks about drummer Gene Krupa’s influence on his technique, and his demonstration of the way the sound of his lions turns up in his music as well.

In the last clip, Dale talks about the origin of his legendary version of the song "Misirlou." Bostonians might be surprised to learn where he first heard the tune that would become the theme song for "Pulp Fiction."

You can find the entire uncut interview with Dale on Open Vault, the website of the WGBH archives. For guitar aficionados, you’ll find there a tour of his guitar and the story of the development of the Showman amplifier, designs he perfected with legendary guitar maker Leo Fender.

Finally, near the end of the full interview, let Dick Dale take you back to his days as a surfing god and guitar hero in Southern California:

There was times I’d get out of the water … and everybody’s inside, like at the Huntington Beach Pavilion … and I’d come running up the stairs with my surfboard, still in my trunks … [I’d get] behind the stage, towel off, put on a T-shirt and I still had my trunks on. I’d be in my bare feet and I’d be playing my guitar on stage.

Today Dale, now 75 and a cancer survivor, is still on stage playing. He’s been touring since April and will be performing this week in Massachusetts.

Listen to Dick Dale talk about growing up in Quincy and his annual visit to Mass. on 89.7 WGBH Radio's Morning Edition.

Dick Dale's Massachusetts Tour Dates

Wednesday, July 18
The Beachcomber
Wellfleet, MA

Thursday, July 19
The Middle East
Cambridge, MA

Elizabeth Deane was the creator and executive producer of the 10-part, Peabody Award–winning series “Rock & Roll.” She says about the experience, "Like many viewers, I brought a general knowledge of rock history to the project, but it’s interviews like this one, produced by Dan McCabe and Vicky Bippart, that deepened our treatment of the music and set the series apart from other rock histories. We focused on the innovators, like Dick Dale — the people who changed the music — not only artists but also producers, songwriters, studio engineers and session musicians. The series premiere in 1995 was a big event for WGBH and our partners at the BBC, who produced five of the shows; we’re proud to have this opportunity to show off this rock 'n' roll gem from the archives."

The licensing rights to the epic 10-part series (1995) have lapsed; however, WGBH Archives has a small grant from the Grammy Foundation to preserve the uncut interviews for the five programs produced by WGBH.

A Celtic Tribute to Woody Guthrie at 100

By Brian O'Donovan   |   Saturday, July 14, 2012
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July 14, 2012

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Woody Guthrie, singer, songwriter, dean of American folk artists is seen in a 1947 publicity photo. (AP Photo/RCA Victor)

Listen to a tribute to Woody Guthrie on A Celtic Sojourn

BOSTON — Brian O'Donovan, host of A Celtic Sojourn on 89.7 WGBH Radio, shares music from Celtic artists covering Woody Guthrie songs, in tribute to the folk music legend's 100th birthday.

Woody Guthrie grew up learning Western and Indian songs, and also Scottish folk tunes, from his father, a cowboy and land speculator who settled his family in Oklahoma. After the Great Depression and the storms that turned the country's breadbasket into a dustbowl, Woody hit the road and made a living doing odd jobs and performing music, beginning a musical career and leaving a legacy that extends to musicians now. Pete Seeger revived interest in Guthrie's music and emulated his plain talking lyrics when speaking out against war, greed and corruption.

Listen to some of today's artists perform Guthrie's works: Solas sings "Pastures of  Plenty", Dick Gaughan sings "Ludlow Massacre" and Christie Moore, from the group Planxty, which was greatly influenced by the American Folk revival in the 1970s, sings "Pretty Boy Floyd, the Outlaw".

One of the lines that stands out from that last song:
As true this world he traveled, you'll meet some funny men. Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.

>>Centennial Celebration: Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie Family Reunion headline the Green River festival on Saturday.

>>See a list of more musicians influenced by Woody Guthrie, compiled by NPR Music.

>>Celebrating Woody Guthrie at the A.R.T on the Callie Crossley Show

Debo Band Merges Traditional Song with New Sounds in Ethiopian Pop

By Scott McLennan   |   Monday, July 9, 2012
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July 9, 2012

BOSTON — Though inspired by what is called the “golden age of Ethiopian pop” in the liner notes to its debut CD, Boston’s Debo Band does not simply try to sound like that hybrid of jazz, soul, and African rhythms originally cooked up in the late 1960s.

Debo Band also takes its cue from the Ethiopian-pop process, further blending and bending the music. The band uses instruments you won’t find on traditional Ethio-pop bandstands, and there are new appropriations from rock to klezmer not to be found even on the Ethiopiques CD series, which is considered an essential wellspring of Ethiopian music performed before the 1974 civil war that tore Ethiopia apart.

Many people fled the Ethiopian dictatorship during this period, including the future parents of Danny Mekonnen. The saxophone player (who didn't visit Ethiopia until he was 12) founded Debo Band in Jamaica Plain in 2006 with vocalist Bruck Tesfaye, who mainly sings in Amharic. Today the band includes two violins, a sousaphone, an accordion, a trumpet, a trombone, another sax, an electric guitar, a bass, and drums.

The praise Debo Band has already garnered at home and abroad (local music awards, showcases at the South By Southwest music conference in Austin, a 2009 tour of Ethiopia and other African festival invites) is borne out on the band’s self-titled album, released July 10 by Sub Pop records’ world-music imprint Next Ambiance.

The hour-long disc features a blend of originals and fresh arrangements of tunes from the Ethio-pop songbook. In each case, the songs are stuffed with exotic details ranging from mournful sousaphone undertones to frenetic violin solos.

The material is both sophisticated and folksy, often at the same time, which again mirrors the Ethio-pop tradition. The CD’s opening song “Akale Wube” is an Ethiopian pop standard from the 1970s based on an old folk song. Debo Band’s version of a traditional wedding song “Asha Gedawo” whips it into a rocking, joyous anthem full of punched- up horns and bleating electric guitar.

As comfortable as Debo Band’s music is, it never gets dull. Tesfaye’s voice is limber and lean, sounding like a spectral presence among the muscular funk and soul grooves coursing through the music. The gentler “Ambassel,” though, reveals the power of his light touch.

Debo Band’s originals run from the groove-rock positivity of “Not Just a Song” to the hypnotic instrumental “And Lay” to the flute and drum driven optimism of “DC Flower.”

Debo Band disproves the notion that “world music” comes from someplace else and reinforces that innovation is actually essential to the tradition.

Debo Band celebrates the release of its new album with concerts on Wednesday in Boston and on Thursday in Northampton.

Catch Debo Band and Grupo Fantasama
9pm on July 11
Brighton Music Hall
158 Brighton Ave., Allston,
Ticket info: 617-779-0140

8pm on July 12
The Iron Horse
20 Center St., Northampton
Tickets info: 413-586-8686.

Local School for the Blind Celebrates Doc Watson's Life

By Cristina Quinn   |   Wednesday, May 30, 2012
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May 30, 2012

doc watson

Doc Watson performs at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 1, 2009. (Rick Diamond/Staff/Getty Images Entertainment)

BOSTON — Legendary guitar musician Doc Watson passed away Tuesday at the age of 89. Watson, who lost his sight when he was a baby, was an inspiration to many musicians, but particularly those in the blind community. And his music resonates with one local institution — the Perkins School for the Blind.

"There’s that list of famous blind musicians that we all know and love and Doc Watson is definitely one of them,” said Robert Hair, education director of the Perkins Lower School. Wednesday morning, the school paid tribute to Watson by playing his music and talking about his accomplishments.

“Blind kids in particular, I think, really do enjoy music and gravitate towards it," Hair said. "And of course having role models like Doc Watson and Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles is really meaningful to these kids. So when they hear something like Doc Watson with this sort of soulful folk picking on the guitar and singing, it really says something to the kids and they really can get into that.”

Hair added that although they are fortunate to be able to listen to a recording of Doc Watson any time, the musician will be missed.

A Tribute for Gil Evans on His 100th Birthday

By WGBH Jazz   |   Monday, May 14, 2012
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May 14, 2012


Gil Evans at the office studio of Artists House on West 37th St. in New York City. Photo by Carol Friedman, 1978.

BOSTON — Sunday marked the 100th birthday of the late jazz legend Gil Evans. He is best known for his compositions and arrangements, and worked with Miles Davis on several albums for Columbia Records in the 1940s and 50s.
As a young man growing up in California, Evans said it was radio broadcasts of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and the Casa Loma Band that inspired him to become a musician. With no means for real music training, Evans depended on informal piano lessons from friends and taught himself by copying what he gleaned from record albums.
WGBH host Steve Schwartz, on his Friday night jazz show, talked about Evans' gift for unusual instrumentation and arrangement.
“He used a lot of low brass in his arrangments: tuba and French horn, bass clarinets and oboe and baritone saxophone, English horns and the like, in addition to the standard saxophones, trumpets and trombones. But he got that beautiful color and texture from using those [additional] instruments,” Schwartz said.

The Gil Evans Orchestra will celebrate the legacy of its namesake this May 21 with a centennial celebration in New York City. Paul Shaffer will emcee the event at the Highline Ballroom, with appearances by Jimmy Cobb, Airto Moreira, Lenny White, Will Lee, John Simon and Matthew Garrison.
WGBH Radio continues its tribute to Evans as WGBH jazz host Eric Jackson devotes his entire Monday night broadcast to the work of Evans and Miles Davis, with songs from the Columbia albums the collaborated on: Birth of the Cool [1957], Miles Ahead [1957], Porgy and Bess [1958] and Sketches of Spain [1960].
Listen to Dee Dee Bridgwater's tribute to Evans on her show Jazzset, and listen to WGBH Jazz hosts Steve Schwartz and Eric Jackson celebrate his centennial on 89.7 FM.

Eric Jackson: A Tribute to Gil Evans

Jazz With Steve Schwartz: Gil Evans Centennial

About the Authors
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath

Elizabeth Deane
Elizabeth Deane is a longtime producer and writer for WGBH Boston.
Scott McLennan Scott McLennan
Scott McLennan is a music correspondent for the Boston Globe and former entertainment columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. His work as taken him from the Newport Folk Festival to the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and many musical points in between. Scott also writes about skiing for Hawthorn Publications.


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