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Music > Individual Composers and Musicians

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Aaron Jay Kernis Cover

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Aaron Jay Kernis

Leta E. Miller

Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Grawemeyer Award, Aaron Jay Kernis achieved recognition as one of the leading composers of his generation while still in his thirties. Since then his eloquent yet accessible style, emphasis on melody, and willingness to engage popular as well as classical forms has brought him widespread acclaim and admiring audiences. Leta Miller's biography offers the first survey of the composer's life and work. Immersed in music by middle school, and later training under Theodore Antoniou, John Adams, Jacob Druckman, and others, Kernis rejected the idea of distancing his work from worldly concerns and dared to compose on political themes. His Second Symphony , from 1991, engaged with the first Gulf War; 1993's Still Moment with Hymn was a reaction to the Bosnian Genocide; and the next year's Colored Field and 1995's Lament and Prayer dealt with the Holocaust. Yet Kernis also used sources as disparate as futurist agitprop and children's games to display humor in his work. Miller's analysis addresses not only Kernis's wide range of subjects but also the eclecticism that has baffled critics, analyzing his dedication to synthesis and the themes consistent in his work. Informed and engaging, Aaron Jay Kernis gives a rare mid-career portrait of a major American cultural figure. Publication of this book was supported by a grant from the Henry and Edna Binkele Classical Music Fund

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Accordion Dreams

A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music

By age thirty-nine, Blair Kilpatrick had settled into life as a practicing psychologist, wife, and mother. Then a chance encounter in New Orleans turned her world upside down. She returned home to Chicago with unlikely new passions for Cajun music and its defining instrument, the accordion. Captivated by recurring dreams of playing the Cajun accordion, she set out to master it. Yet she was not a musician, was too self-conscious to dance, and didn't even sing in the shower. Kilpatrick's obsession took her from Chicago's Cajun dance scene to a folk music camp in West Virginia, back and forth to south Louisiana, and even to a Cajun festival in France. An unexpected family move brought her to the San Francisco Bay Area, home to the largest Cajun-zydeco music scene outside the Gulf Coast. There she became a protégé of renowned accordionist Danny Poullard, a Louisiana-born Creole and the guiding spirit of the local Louisiana French music community. Engaging, uplifting, and illuminating a unique patch of the American cultural landscape, Accordion Dreams is Kilpatrick's account of the possibility of passion, risk-taking, and change--at any age. Blair Kilpatrick has an independent practice in psychotherapy in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also performs and records with Sauce Piquante, a traditional Cajun-Creole band she founded in the late 1990s. Learn more at www.blairkilpatrick.com

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Alec Wilder

Philip Lambert

The music of Alec Wilder (1907-1980) blends several American musical traditions, such as jazz and the American popular song, with classical European forms and techniques. Stylish and accessible, Wilder's musical oeuvre ranged from sonatas, suites, concertos, operas, ballets, and art songs to woodwind quintets, brass quintets, jazz suites, and hundreds of popular songs. In this biography and critical investigation of Wilder's music, Philip Lambert chronicles Wilder's early work as a part-time student at the Eastman School of Music, his ascent through the ranks of the commercial recording industry in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s, his turn toward concert music from the 1950s onward, and his devotion late in his life to the study of American popular songs of the first half of the twentieth century. The book discusses some of his best-known music, such as the revolutionary octets and songs such as "I'll Be Around," "While We're Young," and "Blackberry Winter," and explains the unique blend of cultivated and vernacular traditions in his singular musical language.

Aloys Fleischmann (1880-1964) Cover

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Aloys Fleischmann (1880-1964)

Immigrant Musician in Ireland

Joseph P. Cunningham and Ruth Fleischmann

This book outlines the career of one of the most distinguished figures in Irish musical life in the first half of the twentieth century — a Bavarian organist, Aloys Fleischmann senior, whose son would later become Professor of Music in UCC. Fleischmann senior came to international attention through his work with the North Cathedral Choir in Cork, which was regarded as one of the finest of its kind. He was a prolific composer who wrote nearly 400 works, and he was a highly respected teacher whose students included Séan Ó Riada.

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The Amazing Jimmi Mayes

Sideman to the Stars

Jimmi Mayes

For more than fifty years, Chicago drummer Jimmi Mayes served as a sideman behind some of the greatest musicians and musical groups in history. He began his career playing the blues in the juke joints of Mississippi, sharpened his trade under the mentorship of drum legends Sam Lay and Fred Below in the steamy nightclubs of south Chicago, and hit it big in New York City behind such music legends as Tommy Hunt from the Flamingos, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown.

Mayes played his drums behind blues giants Little Walter Jacobs, Jimmy Reed, Robert Junior Lockwood, Earl Hooker, Junior Wells, Pinetop Perkins, and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. He lived for a while with Motown sensation Martha Reeves and her family and traveled with the Shirelles and the Motown Review. Jimi Hendrix was one of Mayes's best friends, and they traveled together with Joey Dee and the Starliters in the mid-1960s.

Mayes lived through racial segregation, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the integration of rock bands, and the emergence of Motown. He personally experienced the sexual and moral revolutions of the sixties, was robbed of his musical royalties, and survived a musical drought. He's been a pimp and a drug pusher--and lived to tell the tale when so many musicians have not. This sideman to the stars witnessed music history from the best seat in the house--behind the drum set.

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Anton Rubinstein

A Life in Music

Philip S. Taylor

The first modern biography in English of Russian composer-pianist Anton Rubinstein, this book places Rubinstein within the context of Russian and western European musical culture during the late 19th century, exploring his rise to international fame from humble origins in Bessarabia, as well as his subsequent rapid decline and marginalization in later musical culture. Taylor provides a balanced account of Rubinstein's life and his career as a piano virtuoso, conductor, composer, and as the founder of Russia's first conservatory. Widely considered the virtuosic heir to Liszt, and recognized internationally as an equivalent cultural icon, he performed with most leading musicians of the day, including Liszt himself, Joachim, Clara Schumann, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, Saint-Saens, and Ysaÿe.

Arrest the Music! Cover

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Arrest the Music!

Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics

Tejumola Olaniyan

"Olaniyan has given us a profound and beautifully integrated book which culminates in a persuasive interpretation of the relationship between Fela's apparently incompatible presentational selves.... The book's accessible and evocative prose is in itself a kind of homage to Fela's continual ability to seduce and astonish.... This is such an attractive book you feel like... ransacking your collection for Fela tapes." -- Karin Barber

"... an indispensable companion to Fela's music and a rich source of information for studies in modern African popular music." -- Akin Euba

Arrest the Music! is a lively musical study of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, one of Africa's most recognizable, popular, and controversial musicians. The flamboyant originator of the "Afrobeat" sound and self-proclaimed voice of the voiceless, Fela used music, sharp-tongued lyrics, and derisive humor to challenge the shortcomings of Nigerian and postcolonial African states. Looking at the social context, instrumentation, lyrics, visual art, people, and organizations through which Fela produced his music, Tejumola Olaniyan offers a wider, more suggestive perspective on Fela and his impact on listeners in all parts of the world.

Placing Fela front and center, Olaniyan underscores important social issues such as authenticity, racial and cultural identity, the relationship of popular culture to radical politics, and the meaning of postcolonialism, nationalism, and globalism in contemporary Africa. Readers interested in music, culture, society, and politics, whether or not they know Fela and his music, will find this work invaluable for understanding the career of an African superstar and the politics of popular culture in contemporary Africa.

African Expressive Cultures -- Patrick McNaughton, general editor

Begin Again Cover

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Begin Again

A Biography of John Cage

Kenneth Silverman

A man of extraordinary and seemingly limitless talents—musician, inventor, composer, poet, and even amateur mycologist—John Cage became a central figure of the avant-garde early in his life and remained at that pinnacle until his death in 1992 at the age of eighty. Award-winning biographer Kenneth Silverman gives us the first comprehensive life of this remarkable artist. Silverman begins with Cage’s childhood in interwar Los Angeles and his stay in Paris from 1930 to 1931, where immersion in the burgeoning new musical and artistic movements triggered an explosion of his creativity. Cage continued his studies in the United States with the seminal modern composer Arnold Schoenberg, and he soon began the experiments with sound and percussion instruments that would develop into his signature work with prepared piano, radio static, random noise, and silence. Cage’s unorthodox methods still influence artists in a wide range of genres and media. Silverman concurrently follows Cage’s rich personal life, from his early marriage to his lifelong personal and professional partnership with choreographer Merce Cunningham, as well as his friendships over the years with other composers, artists, philosophers, and writers. 

Drawing on interviews with Cage’s contemporaries and friends and on the enormous archive of his letters and writings, and including photographs, facsimiles of musical scores, and Web links to illustrative sections of his compositions, Silverman gives us a biography of major significance: a revelatory portrait of one of the most important cultural figures of the twentieth century.

 

Bird Cover

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Bird

The Life and Music of Charlie Parker

Chuck Haddix

Saxophone virtuoso Charlie Bird Parker began playing professionally in his early teens, became a heroin addict at 16, changed the course of music, and then died when only 34 years old. His friend Robert Reisner observed, Parker, in the brief span of his life, crowded more living into it than any other human being. Like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, he was a transitional composer and improviser who ushered in a new era of jazz by pioneering bebop and influenced subsequent generations of musicians.   Meticulously researched and written, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker tells the story of his life, music, and career. This new biography artfully weaves together firsthand accounts from those who knew him with new information about his life and career to create a compelling narrative portrait of a tragic genius. While other books about Parker have focused primarily on his music and recordings, this portrait reveals the troubled man behind the music, illustrating how his addictions and struggles with mental health affected his life and career. He was alternatively generous and miserly; a loving husband and father at home but an incorrigible philanderer on the road; and a chronic addict who lectured younger musicians about the dangers of drugs. Above all he was a musician, who overcame humiliation, disappointment, and a life-threatening car wreck to take wing as Bird, a brilliant improviser and composer. With in-depth research into previously overlooked sources and illustrated with several never-before-seen images, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker corrects much of the misinformation and myth about one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century.

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Blue Guitar Highway

Paul Metsa

This is a musician’s tale: the story of a boy growing up on the Iron Range, playing his guitar at family gatherings, coming of age in the psychedelic seventies, and honing his craft as a pro in Minneapolis, ground zero of American popular music in the mid-eighties. “There is a drop of blood behind every note I play and every word I write,” Paul Metsa says. And it’s easy to believe, as he conducts us on a musical journey across time and country, navigating switchbacks, detours, dead ends, and providing us the occasional glimpse of the promised land on the blue guitar highway.

His account captures the thrill of the Twin Cities when acts like the Replacements, Husker Dü, and Prince were remaking pop music. It takes us right onto the stages he shared with stars like Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, and Bruce Springsteen. And it gives us a close-up, dizzying view of the roller-coaster ride that is the professional musician’s life, played out against the polarizing politics and intimate history of the past few decades of American culture. Written with a songwriter’s sense of detail and ear for poetry, Paul Metsa’s book conveys all the sweet absurdity, dry humor, and passion for the language of music that has made his story sing.

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