It's a long and winding road trip for the Cabaret today visiting two completely different ends of the music scale, the Country sounds of Nashville and the Bebop sounds of Kansas City, with the Rockabilly sound of Memphis in between! While Cowboys & Bebop may seem as bizarre a combination as a Japanese Space Western, the two share more of a heritage than you might think.
We're starting out at the end of a long and crooked road through Appalachia which I once visited in my distant youth , Nashville, Tennessee. The old WSM Barn Dance in Nashville is now vastly grown up into what they're calling the Grand Ol'Oprey [image from imhdd.ms11.net]. Here the rustic sounds of the mountains, the haunting sounds of the delta, and the swooning sounds of the prarie are mingling into an all-new breed of popular Country & Western music. With roots in the string bands of old (what's now getting to be called Bluegrass), the folk songs of America, and the blues sounds of the Piedmont and Delta, the banjo, fiddle, and guitar are mingling in new and exciting ways.
Just watch what the new rage in American string music, Earl Scruggs and his Foggy Mountain Boys, can do with them:
See that three-finger picking style on Earl? That's a revolution in progress, folks! A giant step up from the two-finger "claw" style of old that opens up the instrument in new ways.
So, how does this road intersect with that of Kansas City's new Jazz wave? Shared heritage, folks. Let's take the banjo, that old string-band regular popular in the 19th century. It's an instrument with roots in West Africa probably brought here by slaves...a fact many in the white-dominated South are loathe to admit in these racially-charged times. This soulfully twanging hybrid of string and percussion integrates in transformative ways with the European violin (here folk-transformed into the sawing "fiddle", also a European tradition), and the venerable guitar, a multi-ethnic instrument with a thousand fathers spanning three continents. Whether those "Priests in the White Robes" as Frank Sintatra and Sammy Davis, jr. like to disparagingly call them want to admit it, the music here at the Oprey is a product of cultural integration at its finest.
Which takes us farther down the road to Memphis, another musical crossroads [image from dpreview.com]. As the old timers may remember from our last visit here, it is a place of many musical traditions that blend in new ways. And the exciting musical word of the day is Rockabilly, a blues-meets-country-meets-rock & roll jam (with a touch of gospel) that's pulling in names from all corners of the American music scene. Where else but a Rockabilly concert can you see names like Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams on the same stage? With it's country-tinged rockin' blues sound, Rockabilly has white folk jumpin' in ways like I haven't seen since Harlem in the 1930s. Another multi-ethnic mix like only America could produce, Rockabilly shows us again what happens when you allow people to mix freely rather than keep 'em walled off apart.
Just listen to what my good friend Hank Williams can put down:
Even veteren Rock & Roller Chuck Berry is letting a little Hillbilly creep into his music with his Maybellene:
Now that's jumpin'! Is that audience dead?!?
And finally our road takes us to Kansas City, where a new, smooth revolution in Jazz is taking shape. [image from hmsbeagle.com]. Yes, venerable Kansas City, city of Count Basie, whom we've visited before, is re-establishing a claim on Music Capital of America with a smooth new small band form of jazz called Bebop. We briefly met young Charlie Parker there and are proud to see he's making not just a name for himself, but transforming the very music style along with fresh names like Dizzie Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Thelonius Monk.
This new, improvisational, scat-laced, deliberately impossible-to-dance-to sound full of beat switches and free-flowing melodies is all about the art and soul and is a deliberate smack to the bottom of a music industry that's lost its soul in pursuit of simplistic repeatable dance numbers (hopefully the music industry is learning its lesson here and won't keep repeating that same mistake!).
Now some of the older jazz masters feel a might bit threatened by this new way of doing business (certainly a whole swath of backup brass musicians is looking at losing their jobs should this new wave wash away the Big Band), but we're all ones to dig the new sounds at the Cabaret, Jack! besides, it's not like Duke Ellington or Cab Calloway is ever going out of style!
And, in keeping with tonight's lesson (I'm gettin' preachy in my autumn years, ain't I, folks?) what we're seeing here is the blending of culture in new and exciting ways. Jazz is the quinessential American Art Form (in a way that exciting but empty fad Rock & Roll will never be!) and merely watching it we see the influences of the many myriad cultures that this style is built upon, the instrumentations and melodies of Europe, the structures and rhythms of Africa, and even some of the dissonant flowing sounds of Asia.
Just ask Charlie and Dizzy:
It's been a long trip that's covered a lot of ground, literally and culturally, but hopefully we've shown how much we're all, regardless of where we came from, unique and wonderful parts of the same free-flowing melody that is Humanity. And though it may jack my name up on Hoover's list of "seditious elements" to say it, that melodic blending of cultures, whether it be in the Grand Ol' Oprey, the juke joints of Memphis, or the corner clubs of Kansas City, is what makes America America.
Good night, folks. Enjoy tonight's drinks, first an old Southern Country favorite the Mint Julep that shows how sometimes the smallest influences (mint, brandy/rum, and sugar) can transform the profound base (bourbon) and next a sexy jazzy "cocoa and cream" number, the Brandy Alexander, that shows how a smooth even mix of different elements can make for a powerful and warming new whole:
Mint Julep Cocktail:
[image from kentuckyderby.com]
Muddle Bourbon, Sugar & Mint. Fill 10 oz glass or chilled silver goblet with finely cracked or shaved ice. Add ingredients & Stir until outside of Glass is frosted. Top with dash of Dark Rum or Brandy (optional). Decorate with Sprig of Mint, Lemon or Cherry. Serve with Straws cut short to place drinker's nose into the mint bouquet.
Brandy Alexander Cocktail:
[image from chow.com]
Shake Brandy, Cre`me de Cacao & Fresh Cream with Ice. Strain into 6 oz Champagne Glass. Serve with Nutmeg sprinkled on top (fresh shaved is best!).
1 - Coming Soon to Cap'n's Cabaret, a trip down a Crooked Road!