Saturday, December 20, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fletcher Henderson: The Man Behind The Sound Of Swing


Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952) played an important role in bringing improvisational jazz elements into big band/dance band compositions. Both Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman credited his talent as an arranger for much of their success. It is interesting that his role in the development of American popular music was not well understood until academic studies of the history of jazz appeared late in the last century.

He was born on December 18 into a well-educated and musical family in the southwest Georgia town of Cuthbert. Henderson earned a degree in chemistry and mathematics but as a black man he had a difficult time finding work in those fields and soon turned to music to make a living. That musical career took him from accompanying Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and other blues singers, through the creation of an orchestra that included Don Redman and Louis Armstrong, to work as a composer-accompanist for Benny Goodman at a formative time for the swing era. From blues, to jazz, to swing, Henderson was a pioneer in music for almost forty years. His formula for swing music still shapes what we hear and enjoy today. 

Here are some examples of Henderson's approach to music. First is Henderson and his orchestra playing his arrangement of Down South Camp Meeting. Our second music sample is Sandman, written by Ralph Reed and Bonnie Lake, as arranged by Henderson for Benny Goodman in 1937. 




OTR Advent Calendar 2014 - December 18


This holiday postcard comes with a holly sprig ornament for the tree. Imagine trying to mail this item today!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

First Flight Day: December 17, 1903


The 27-mph wind was harder than they would have liked, since their predicted cruising speed was only 30-35 mph. The headwind would slow their ground speed to a crawl, but they proceeded anyway. With a sheet, they signaled the volunteers from the nearby lifesaving station that they were about to try again. 

Now it was Orville's turn. Remembering Wilbur's experience, he positioned himself and tested the controls. The stick that moved the horizontal elevator controlled climb and descent. The cradle that he swung with his hips warped the wings and swung the vertical tails, which in combination turned the machine. A lever controlled the gas flow and airspeed recorder. The controls were simple and few, but Orville knew it would take all his finesse to handle the new and heavier aircraft. At 10:35, he released the restraining wire. The flyer moved down the rail as Wilbur steadied the wings. Just as Orville left the ground, John Daniels from the lifesaving station snapped the shutter on a preset camera, capturing the historic image of the airborne aircraft with Wilbur running alongside. 

The Wright Flyer begins its first successful flight, December 17, 1903

Again, the flyer was unruly, pitching up and down as Orville overcompensated with the controls. But he kept it aloft until it hit the sand about 120 feet from the rail. Into the 27-mph wind, the ground speed had been 6.8 mph, for a total airspeed of 34 mph. The brothers took turns flying three more times that day, getting a feel for the controls and increasing their distance with each flight. Wilbur's second flight - the fourth and last of the day – was an impressive 852 feet in 59 seconds.

This was the real thing, transcending the powered hops and glides others had achieved. The Wright machine had flown.

Monuments spanning the 120 feet of  the first flight

For comprehensive information on this historic event visit the National Park Services Wright Brothers National Memorial web page.


Credits:

1903 photograph, unrestored version: Library of Congress

Monuments photo; text: National Park Service, Wright Brothers National Memorial

Erskine Caldwell: Georgia's "PK" Chronicles The Rural South


Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) was an only child, a "PK," a preacher's kid. His family moved frequently throughout the South until he was fifteen when they settled in Wrens, Georgia. Still, his father often preached on large circuits, necessitating plenty of travel. In fact, the elder Caldwell traveled so regularly that his son could determine his destinations by the odor of coal smoke on his suit. In time, father took son on many of these journeys. The peculiarity, poverty, and injustice of the Depression era South was embedded in Erskine Caldwell's memory and he soon began writing about it. His observations had little to do with remnants of "the late unpleasantness" - the Civil War - that often gripped the region. Instead, Caldwell wrote of the raw realities of the human condition in the South. This, and his crusade for improving conditions, did not sit well with many Southerners. The dislike was enhanced because he was writing "in absentia," having left the South before 1930. Furthermore, his subject matter often placed him in conflict with censors across the country.



Caldwell had a long career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but he is best known for Tobacco Road (1932), God's Little Acre (1933) and other works from the 1930's. An adaptation of Tobacco Road played on Broadway for eight years - a record at the time - beginning in 1933. A 
"sentimental burlesque" adaptation directed by John Ford in 1941 contributed to the stereotyping and ridicule of poor white Southerners. Caldwell greatly disliked the film. God's Little Acre remains one of the most popular novels in the U.S. with over ten million copies in print. A 1958 film version is considered the best presentation of Caldwell themes on film.

Here are the opening scenes from Tobacco Road and the theatrical trailer from God's Little Acre:







Caldwell, who was born on this day in 1903, is an interesting blend of 20th century authors. He is Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Mitchell, and a reflection of other modernists. Readers who seek more than discourse on the happy veneer of the human condition will enjoy Caldwell's interpretations.

Read more about him in this article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia. The volume is also the source of a quotation and other information in this post.

OTR Advent Calendar 2014 - December 17





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