Author Archives: cambamboutros

Enheduanna, the First Composer

1524681540566-inanna-ishtar-relief
I figured for the first post we should start at the very beginning: with Enheduanna, High Priestess of the ancient Sumerian city-state of Ur. Enheduanna wasn’t just the first female composer in music history – she is the first composer that we know of, period, as well as the earliest known poet and first named author in world history. Enheduanna (Sumerian: 𒂗𒃶𒌌𒀭𒈾) wrote hymns in honor of the goddess Inanna and the moon god Nanna. As a disclaimer, since archaeologists haven’t found any written music with her hymns, we can’t be sure she is actually the first composing musician we know of – but according to a letter from Dr. Kilmer, a professor of Near Eastern studies at UC Berkeley, “Enheduanna’s religious poetry was certainly sung, and probably accompanied by a stringed instrument. Enheduanna seems to have composed the music and written the words.” So it’s a pretty good bet that she was an all-around artist with word and song. 

She also held the title of EN, a role often given to royal daughters that carried great political significance (and, as far as we know, the first woman to own this title). According to James Stewart from Vermont Public Radio, “Her duty was to unite the empire together around two religions, the worship of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love and fertility, with Sargon’s own personal deity, Ishtar, goddess of war and sexuality. She did this by composing hymns and poems in praise of Inanna and admonishing the people to sing and worship together.”

O house Kinirsha created for its Lady

Rising from the platform, a verdant mountain

O house, joyful cries erupt deep in your interior

Your princess, a storm wind astride a lion

Lifting holy song and countersong

Loud voices constantly singing

And he goes on to further claim that she did write and play music: “This temple hymn refers to antiphonal singing, call and response. It was probably accompanied by drum and lyre, an instrument that Enheduanna most likely played.”

Disk-of-Enheduanna

It’s not uncommon for societies around the world at different points in history to have given political duties to the role of musician. Louis Armstrong, for example, was so internationally famous that in 1960 the U.S. State Department officially gave made him an “Ambassador of Jazz” and had him travel to Europe, Asia and various countries across the African continent – before Black people at home in the US were missing their federally-recognized civil rights. In some Central Asian countries, like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Bagshy’s are not only musicians – they’re shamans who hold political roles and support major life events in a community and for its citizens. In West Africa, Griots are traveling bards who “knows everything that is going on… He is a living archive of the people’s traditions”. And there are so many more that I am not naming here, mostly because I don’t know🤷‍♀️ But seeing as music has been present in every society we know of, seems like it’s a pretty safe bet.

Composition, at least in classical Western music history, has traditionally been considered a masculine occupation. The same is true for conducting and, maybe to a lesser extent, performing. Only the vocalist role has been historically acceptable for women. And while this attitude has improved a little today and across all styles, male domination of the music industry is still a huge problem. Just look at the lack of visibility of women instrumentalists or composers in jazz, or the exploitation of women in pop, such as the abuse Kesha endured Dr. Luke, her producer. Or the small (but growing) number of women represented in hip hop. And it’s still rare to find a woman conducting a major orchestra. But it’s not that they aren’t there – great women have been occupying and contributing to music throughout music history, at its highest levels. They’ve just been hidden. Which is why it’s so important now to shine a spotlight on musicians like Enheduanna, who helped to shape music from the very beginning.

New Moon Music Blog

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’m excited to announce a new project of mine, New Moon, which is going to focus on the many (MANY) women/non-binary people, past and current, who have critically impacted music history but remain in the dark as far as popular history and the general public is concerned, especially when compared to their male counterparts. These are the composers, vocalists, and instrumentalists who should be household names on the level of Louis Armstrong, Mozart, and Kanye West, but have had their contributions overshadowed because of how patriarchy has dominated music discourse for centuries. Seriously, it’s surprising how monumental yet hidden some of these musicians and their work is.

I’m attempting to be diverse in region and timeline, but because I am mostly western educated and active in a major US city, my perspective and knowledge is rooted in western pedagogy. I am not a musicologist with a PhD – but as a queer woman of color working professionally in music performance, composition, and education across the Bay Area’s diverse music scene, I hope my vantage point can bring something new to the table of feminist music history.

I’m intending New Moon to be a blog living within Muse-Tripper, complemented with a playlist and updated frequently. We’ll see what it turns into 🙂 For now, it will be a personal project of mine to share my joy for this cool, wonderful music that totally deserves a fresh listen.

As usual, check in at www.camelliaboutros.com for all my performance and recording updates.

60th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival

Last weekend Monterey hit a milestone: 60 years of hosting one of the most exciting musical events worldwide, known and hailed internationally as the Monterey Jazz Fest. And they didn’t hold back for this special anniversary: topping the lineup with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, all three days of the festival were jam-packed with acts such as the Roy Hargrove Quintet, Kenny Barron, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Common, Joshua Redman, Pedrito Martinez, all three of the Claytons (John, Jeff, and Gerald), Joe Lovano, Regina Carter, Branford Marsalis, and Jimmy Heath (you know, to name a few). Not only was this year’s fest particularly star-studded, but it also included a diverse spread of genres while keeping the focus centered around jazz; this acceptance of branching genres such as hip hop, rock, and blues is a recurrent theme in MJF’s history that I’ll dive into further on.

Monterey being within eyesight of my home turf in Santa Cruz, I had the honor of performing at this festival with the UCSC Jazz Combo. Taking the Thelonious Monk Education Stage at 12:30pm on Saturday, we opened the afternoon with a setlist from the European Real Book:

“Vista,” “Distant Biscuits, “Secret Champ,” “Home,” “Ups and Downs,” and “Sixteen Blues.” Mad props to Galen Savidge, Gabe Meacham, Keshav Batish, Evan O’Brien, and Ben Sitzer – your hard work and musicianship shined through, and it was a pleasure to play with you.

UCSCJazzCombMJF60

I could write pages for each act I attended, but I’m going to focus on three: Common, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, and Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. Not only were these three performances the most enthralling to me, but taken together they formed a convincing statement on jazz’s future, present, and past (yes, like the Ghosts of Christmas).

Seeing Common’s name on the lineup probably caused a lot of double-takes, especially from seasoned jazz fans. Born out of the South Side, Chicago, the Grammy Award-winning rapper is one of the most respected hip hop artists living – but what was he doing at a jazz festival? Several answers come to mind: first and foremost, that hip hop’s musical language comes from the same place as swing and bebop. Both heavily make use of the backbeat, which originated in West Africa, and both feature improvisation – jazz with instrumental solos, and hip hop with rap freestyling and disc scratching. Common underscored this point by appearing with a full band of accomplished jazz musicians and frequently giving them the mic (flautist Elena Pinderhughes was one of the musicians on stage – a welcome surprise, as she wasn’t listed on the program but commanded a set at MJF last year).

Equally as important, though, is to acknowledge that hip hop is coming out of the same culture as jazz – namely, black urban communities in America. Both are historically tied to black oppression, and as a result both respond to similar problems, rearticulated for different eras. Common’s set, for example, was called “Black America Again,” and all his songs discussed some problem he saw with the way people of color are treated in the United States. His lyrics echoed the words of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and countless others, who critically discussed black experience and expressed it in their music. Though MJF kept the spotlight on  jazz, having such an authority embrace rap signaled an acceptance of hip hop into the jazz family tree, the way MJF has done with blues, bluegrass, rock, and funk in the past. And one can find that happening with more established jazz musicians, with artists such as Christian Scott, Roy Hargrove, and Takuya Kuroda intentionally seeking to incorporate elements of trap, house, and old-school into their work. This is especially important because hip hop speaks directly to younger generations, while jazz is often criticized for seeming restricted to older demographics. By incorporating the newer genre into its fold, jazz, now a worldwide phenomenon, can retain a link to the same communities it served in the past.

common

Common performing at the White House with Elena Pinderhughes, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, and Keyon Herrold

I thought it was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Herbie Hancock himself was clapping and dancing to the music most of the time.

Roy Hargrove’s combo was a much more traditional set. Having just seen them perform in Paris at the New Morning, I already knew what to expect and was in a better position to offer critique. In Paris they played a diverse array of songs, ranging from soothing ballads to hard bop tunes with a heavy backbeat (my favorite). In Monterey they played the same set, and they danced on stage again, and Justin Robinson was an absolute beast on the saxophone, again, but something about this performance was much more lively. I’m not sure if it was higher energy in the quintet or a heightened engagement in the crowd, but their show in Dizzy’s Den on Saturday night was electric. They had the audience clapping and cheering for several songs, and you could hear the more experienced audience members whispering, “He just referenced Joe Henderson!” and “Did you catch how he modulated right there?” The show had something for everyone: masterful soloing navigating complex rhythms and harmonies for experts to chew on, exciting tunes and danceable grooves for newbies, and traditional combo-style playing for those who attended a jazz festival expecting a classic jazz performance.

I found Roy Hargrove backstage after the show and asked him to sign my t-shirt; I am now the proud owner of a shirt that has my combo’s name screen-printed along with the “Roy Hargrove Quintet” and topped with a signature from the man himself. The deepest, music-nerdiest part of myself is thrilled.

roy

Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock capped off the festival late Sunday night in the Arena. The show didn’t start until close to 10pm, and while we waited I had a conversation with a woman who had been coming to the festival for 40 years. I found out her grandkids had played in a band with Elena and Samora Pinderhughes in junior high; small world. I asked her how this year compared to previous years, and she said the 60th has definitely been one of the best. I’ve only been coming for two years – but I’d have to agree.

When the red curtain finally parted, we saw two full open-topped grand pianos locked together, like a musical yin and yang symbol. Chick and Herbie walked out on stage, the former dressed in white, the latter in black. They sat down and began to play. At first it sounded almost classical, like a modern piano-four hands piece, but soon they were evolving outward, opening into denser harmonies and rhythms and departing the classical sense of structure. And between the two of them they created a galaxy of sound; at times they cleanly came together for rehearsed motifs, and at others there was obvious call and response, but the majority of their playing melded concrete music and uninhibited improvisation so fluidly that it rarely seemed that they were separate at all. Each song evolved as naturally as a good conversation, spoken fluently and filled with epiphanies and fascinating ideas.

This is something I strive for as a musician: a sense of ease in communicating through sound, in any genre. After all, at its most basic level, music really is another language. This is an old idea, and Hancock and Corea are two of the most venerated musicians still alive from jazz’s youth, but somehow this set sounded very fresh, flexible, and even futuristic. They managed to connect with the crowd on standards – Hancock’s “Chameleon” and Corea’s “Aranjuez/Spain,” two absolute classics – while introducing sounds that for all the world approached the most dissonant, complex ideas found in modern classical piano playing.

For a taste of what that set was like, check out this video of the duo performing a similar set in 1978 – under different fashion norms. Or this one from 1979, at the North Sea Jazz Festival (we’ve got the full recording of that festival over on the Jazz Archive). 

hcc.jpg

I came away from MJF’s 60th festival fully convinced of jazz’s ability to be flexible, adaptable, yet still firmly rooted in an era when music seems to be increasingly hybridized and sometimes nebulous. And, of course, a strong motivation to get back to practicing.

 

Armstrong, Hargrove, The Beatles and Film: New Posts on JazzArchive.org.UK

Hey all!

I’ve been busy writing pieces on various jazz topics over on JazzArchive.org.UK. The basic idea I’ve had with the Altman-Koss collection is that with a database catalogued in its particular style, it’s really easy to ask broad thematic questions and quickly retrieve relevant videos to investigate. Its simplicity is its flexibility; with just an Excel-style sheet to represent the information on these videos, all you need to do are ask the right things and translate them into search queries using CTRl-F (CMD-F for Mac). The kinds of questions I’ve been asking have led to finding groups of videos that, taken together, tell a story about a particular artist, place, or song. For example, “What relationship did The Beatles have with jazz,” “What is the connection between the underground jazz scene and glamorous Hollywood films,” “What kind of person was Louis Armstrong and how did he change throughout his career,” and “What words of advice do successful jazz musicians today have for the musicians of tomorrow?” Each of those questions have propelled me on short excursions into the archive and ended up in posted shorts over on the Altman-Koss website.

Go check it out!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Tonight: Jam at The Brunswick

Brighton and Hove’s jazz scene has been wonderful, but tonight I’m playing my last jam here for the summer! Come drop by The Brunswick around 8:30 pm to catch me and other local musicians join Paul Richard and his quartet for the best jazz session in town!

20664482_10154786101747621_961018074822597548_n (1).jpg

And a quick thank you to Adam Stokes for inviting me out to his gig at Martha’s Gunn last Wednesday. It was a pleasure to play with his group and Charlotte Glasson, who played circles around me on tenor sax, soprano sax, and fiddle 😀

Ronnie Scott and Old Jazz Film: Video Features from the Jazz Archive

Hey all! Just wanted to post a pointer over to the Altman-Koss Jazz Archive website – I’ve been busy publishing blurbs on the videos as I come across ones I find particularly valuable or interesting, or on strings of videos that seem to tell an emergent story. For example, pulling out all the videos tagged with “Ronnie Scott” starts to give you a picture of the man as a working musician in a section, as a leader (and bit of a comedian) as he takes his own combo to music festivals, and as an impresario as other groups are hosted at his jazz club. Or you can search the archive looking for all entries tagged with “film;” a few of the tapes contain full-length films tangentially related to jazz that are generally of excellent quality and would otherwise require a subscription to Amazon, Netflix, or even access to a physical copy. So head over if you’re interested in reading various pieces on jazz! I promise it’s worth checking out!

John Coltrane’s 50th Anniversary, John Altman, and Jazz Jams at the Brunswick

June 18th, 2017 marks 50 years since the death of John Coltrane, who passed away at the age of 40. This is yet another milestone reached this year, which sees the centennial anniversary of the first jazz recording (Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band’s “Dixie Jass Band One Step” and “Livery Stable Blues”).  I was lucky enough to celebrate by meeting and jamming with someone who was worked with just about all the greats in jazz. John Altman, who donated the archive I’m currently doing research on, met up with my professor and I to discuss the collection: how it came about, who it was intended for, what interesting material it contains, and so on (full post of this will be available on the archive’s website, jazzarchive.org.uk). What I hadn’t realized is that several of the biggest names in jazz had actually sat down and watched videos of themselves from the archive, at the suggestion of John Altman. Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, have all had a look at the videos, a few of which they had been searching for elsewhere to no avail. Hearing this blew my mind – and absolutely made me more keen to finish the project so that musicians, students, and researchers can access these videos.

 

After speaking with John, he kindly let me know about a jazz jam down at the Brunswick in Hove. Of course I was there later that evening, and surprised to see a full house: unusual for a typical jazz jam, but apparently not so in Brighton/Hove. Led by guitarist Paul Richards and his trio, we had saxophonists, piano players, singers, even a harmonica up on the stage. I had the pleasure of playing “Ornithology,” “Sweet Lorraine,” and “All Blues” with the trio plus Altman, and while I had a blast soloing, these guys could play circles around me. They’re incredible, and so hooked into their local jazz scene. Definitely going back next Wednesday.

Keep checking jazzarchive.org.uk for more jazz info, video clips, and updates on the project!