Fine Tuning: Country Music

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I arrived home from a concert last night (more about that in a minute) and discovered that our scanner had died on Kim. As this will inhibit photo reproduction somewhat in the near future, please bear with me while I take the opportunity to meander down a path and bring those of you who follow the personal aspects of my life up-to-speed.

Last week I hit the two year mark at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Since it also happened to be our Gala I didn’t really have the bandwidth to pay much attention to the fact – nothing like more than 600 people for dinner and a concert to distract you. Subsequent to that I was knocked low by a stomach virus which only left me considering whether or not to head to the ER or if urgent care would do. Mostly recovered with the help of time and the miracles of medicine, last night I attended a concert featuring highlights of Ken Burns’s upcoming documentary on country music (to air on PBS in mid-September) paired with our Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra which I had been looking forward to and I was pleased not to be denied the pleasure of it.

I will begin by stating that I know almost nothing really about country music. Unlike Kim’s family, my folks didn’t listen to a lot of music, but they did have a handful of folk music albums and as I stumbled into nascent consciousness about music I gravitated for a bit in that direction. My father had worked on a documentary for ABC News on Woody Guthrie and for some reason the soundtrack had to be recorded on our home stereo (resulting in a day of tip toeing around the house, interesting equipment and strange people for small child Pam which I still remember) and a pile of those albums remained with us. (Meanwhile, my mother was a fan of Joan Baez and the sound of her singing takes me immediately back to my childhood in a way few things can.)

As I poked and stumbled through what appealed to me musically I found my way to people like Jimmie Rodgers. (Blue Yodel No. 9 was featured in the concert last night with Wynton on the trumpet doing the Louis Armstrong part and Marty Stuart on guitar and vocal as Jimmie Rodgers. The 1930 recording of Rodgers and Armstrong found here via Youtube.) I liked the stories and the music stayed with me, but I didn’t have access to a lot of it and my musical attention, such as it was, strayed. I eventually found radio stations that played jazz and suddenly I was getting warmer. Some of you already know that in college I stumbled across early popular music genius Rich Conaty (memorialized fondly in a post here) who introduced me to the broader music of the 1920’s and 30’s that ultimately became the mainstay of my music diet.

I first discovered Rich’s show when spending the weekends in Manhattan during the fall of my senior year in college. I had exhausted the opportunities I had to work in life from the figure in the art program at my Connecticut college. I had been passionate about drawing and sculpting the figure from life since high school and so I arranged my classes in a way so I could come to New York on Saturday and take an early all-day life class at the Art Student’s League on Sunday and head back to New London early on Monday. I stayed in a small apartment my father kept so he wasn’t forced to commute everyday during the final years of his long career.

It was sort of exhausting and I didn’t know anyone in New York so most of those evenings I spent alone in the apartment, listening to the radio while I ate and before bed. (Yes folks, actual radio. Someday I will expound here on my love of the radio – I adored it as a child and have never entirely deserted my fondness for it. While I mostly access it via the internet these days, I will never forget my childhood fascination with my first transistor radio. It was simply, a really great thing.)

It was during one of those New York weekend stays that I first discovered Rich, who at the time, and on and off over his many decades at Fordham’s WFUV radio station, had both the Saturday and Sunday night slot. His Sunday night show was the one I grew to love and listen to faithfully over the years however and it rarely strayed out of the popular music genre or period. The Saturday night show was a tad more freewheeling – at least this is how I remember it all. I couldn’t say for sure, but I believe it was the Saturday show that featured early country music. It was a revelation and I always wanted to know more.

I lost touch with Rich’s show for a year or so after I stopped coming to Manhattan on weekends. The radio signal was weak and I could not pick it up in Connecticut although I did try repeatedly. It was a year or more later before I was back in New York and resumed listening to him, although another couple of years before life was settled into enough of a routine that I became a regular and devoted listener.

Over time I got to know Rich and in retrospect I could really kick myself for not asking him about that country music show. I am not aware of his devoting any substantial air time to the subject subsequently, not in a dedicated way. I think country swing was probably the tributary that beckoned and was new to my ears, but hard to say how reliable memory like that of decades ago actually is. It stayed with me, but in the fall of 1985 with limited knowledge of Manhattan’s resources, nor armed with much information, it was never an avenue I really explored.

(Bob Wills, San Antonio Rose, 1938 can be found here.)

wills1

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

 

Last night, listening to Ken Burns talk about the dawn of country music those dusty musical memories started to emerge again and the musical curiosity of a 21 year old Pam stirred and itched at my brain anew. As someone said to me after discussing how great the concert was, however, just another Friday night for you at Jazz at Lincoln Center and I thought, not quite, but it is the very best part of my job indeed.