PASSION PLAY 2014: BOUND FOR GLORY
Shepherd of the Hills Church, Porter Ranch, California
Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014
“I saw Jesus on the cross/On that hill called Calvary/Do you hate mankind for what they’ve done to you?/He said talk of love not hate/Things to do it’s getting late/We’re all brothers and we’re only passing through.” A song from a Catholic hymnal? A Protestant prayer book? Not even close: it’s from Lift Every Voice, the second left wing People's Songbook of 1953, the same book that contained songs by the soon-to-be blacklisted Pete Seeger, suspected communist Paul Robeson, executed IWW troubadour Joe Hill and Dust Bowl Balladeer Woody Guthrie. It was written by a professor of Renaissance Literature at Cal State Northridge and People’s songster, Dick Blakeslee. What’s a Godless commie folk singer doing writing songs about Jesus? Maybe because Jesus was himself a textbook case of a radical misfit.
Who said “The meek shall inherit the earth.”? Who said, “As you do unto the least among us, you do unto me”? Who said “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul.”? Who drove the money changers out of the temple? Hint: it wasn’t Karl Marx, who wrote The Communist Manifesto in the safe confines of the British Museum’s Reading Room. So what kind of a man was Jesus?
I wanted to find out for myself, so I figured where better than the best passion play in town, which Jill and I had the good fortune to see last night at the sold-out production of The Passion Play at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, with a cast of hundreds, including children, teens and adults, some of them highly esteemed Hollywood professionals. If you want to see a passion play, theirs is the production to see.
ANNUAL BENEFIT CONCERT
Saturday April 26 8pm
Reception at 7pm
Our annual benefit concert has always been a fun, ear-opening event and this year promises to be no exception.
SANTA MONICA Woman's Club
1210 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA 90401
(near Wilshire & 4th St.)
Tickets: $20 general admission,
$25 VIP reserved seating
Info: concerts@FolkWorks.org 818-785-3839
Emcee Tracy Newman
Always entertaining, Tracy may throw in some of her own songs.
Los Angeles’ all-natural hillbilly and country blues band, combines the traditional sounds of fiddle and banjo breakdowns with the low-down sound of country blues, topped off with a touch of ragtime and hillbilly jazz. The versatile acoustic ensemble features fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, washboard, and a few odds and ends.
The popular Los Angeles-based women’s chorus that brings to life vocal folk/roots traditions from around the world. Their songs range from Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Bosnia to Rom and Sephardic songs - as well as recently added American and Irish music. Their spellbinding harmonies are at the core of their eclectic repertoire. Whether a simple American song or the complex harmonies of Bulgaria the voices of Nevenka’s women are sure to move you. While mostly singing a cappella, they are occasionally accompanied by percussion, mandolin, guitar, citern or panduri.
Swing Riots Quirktette
The Swing Riots are comprised of 6 core members who have played for decades in everything from Balkan dance bands to traditional Swing groups. They perform an irreverent gumbo of Gypsy & Creole Jazz, Klezmer & Romanian Horas, Parisian Musette & the occasional wild card thrown in for good measure.
Tunacious is a Celtic genre-bending band with songs and dance tunes with a blowout contra dance to wind up the evening.
(Click on hyperlink for tickets)
Series at the Talking Stick Café
FolkWorks Benefit Concert April 26th
Swing Riots Quirktette, Sausage Grinder, Nevenka, Tunacious
emcee: Tracy Newman
Rose Garden of Peace Concert May 31st
With Yuval Ron Ensemble
Remembering Leslie Perry
(May 28, 1936-March 5, 2014)
The last time I saw storyteller Leslie Perry was at a gathering he hosted in Pasadena in order to have his close friends surrounding him one more time; photographs were taken, memories shared and of course stories told.. His body was withering away from the devastating effects of Lou Gehrig’s disease, but his smile was still incandescent as he held forth in typical Leslie fashion, all eyes upon him till the end. He had hosted many such gatherings in recent years, refusing to stop living in the face of his dire medical diagnosis. Indeed, it seemed to propel him into action, as he published two books, organized fundraisers for the Pasadena ALS (Amytropic Lateral Sclerosis) Society and became the center of gravity to his friends who were already missing him. And always this Michigan-born California transplant continued to practice his craft and tell his stories.
One of four African-American storytellers of my acquaintance (Michael McCarty, Barbara Clark and Nick Smith are the others) from LAs Community Storytellers, he devoted as much energy to being the main organizer of storytelling events as he did to actually telling stories. He was a focal point for WOW—With Our Words—whose leader Karen Golden has now put some of Leslie’s best known tales from live performances at the Beverly Hills’ Public Library up on YouTube. But the thing I remember with most fondness about Leslie is not his own storytelling—it was the fact that if he wasn’t performing himself he would always be in the audience listening. He was the Supporter-in-Chief of the entire community and it didn’t diminish his pleasure one iota to be in the audience rather than up on stage. He taught me that the story listener is just as important as the story teller. Without fail with Leslie in the audience you could count on a great performance from the stage; his kinetic energy, his rapt attention, his joy in the entire relationship was profoundly contagious and enveloped the performer as well as the room of other audience members.
Beauty’s Currency: Janis Ian and Tom Paxton
Barbican, London 25.3.14
FolkWorks’ British correspondent Rosa Redoz reviews Ian and Paxton’s Together At Last Tour.
Beauty is a strange currency. Janis Ian’s ode to a youth impoverished by plainness is a lilting bossa nova gem. Had she thought herself endowed with familiar features the art would not have been created.
“That seat will go.” said my neighbour as I spread my coat on an adjacent spare seat in the sold out concert in the Barbican, London on Tuesday evening.
“Have you seen Janis Ian before?” she asked me. “I did a few years ago and she was fabulous.”
And they were; from the moment Tom Paxton and Janis Ian took to the stage with Robin Bullock on mandolin.
“Yes we all still sing songs of hope and peace,” said Paxton after a fine opening rendition of How Beautiful upon the Mountain - the harmonies were perfect; the mandolin fills were divine and I caught glimpses of the extraordinary guitar skill Ian was to reveal as the set continued.
Who Put the Jangle in Mr. Bojangles?
In Concert at McCabe’s March 16, 2014
There are guitarists, and then there are guitarists. And then there is David Bromberg, the guitarist who put the jangle in Mr. Bojangles, Jerry Jeff Walker’s hit song about Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the legendary African-American tap dancer who was for black America what Fred Astaire was to white America—the standard against which all others would be judged. But before you even heard Jerry Jeff’s voice on his signature recording, you already were captured by its descending bass-line guitar intro hook—that made you see Mr. Bojangles descending a staircase—as he did in one of his famous dance routines. It was musical magic at its finest—and the guitarist who came up with it was David Bromberg.
To see him live at McCabe’s last night was pure acoustic artistry that comes along about as often as that great dancer—once in a generation—if you’re lucky.
We were lucky to hear him—solo (for the most part) acoustic—just Bromberg and his orchestral vintage Martin D-28 sitting on stage in front of McCabe’s legendary microphone—where so many great musicians have now stood—and none greater than David Bromberg; if you love folk music, Bromberg is as good as it gets. And it is truly a rare pleasure to get to hear him solo; on his current tour every one of his other bookings is with his band, or at larger venues his “Big Band.” I prefer the one-man band and he gave us a very generous two and a half hour concert with one intermission, two standing ovations and three—three!—encores.
The Young Lady with Strong Sweet Voice
In my last column, I mentioned that the Battlefield Band’s latest album, Room Enough for All, had been named album of the year at the 2013 Scottish Traditional Music Awards. The awards this year were, I think, interesting in the way that they reflected the shifting and merging of the old and the new. The composer of the year award went to Donald Shaw, founding member and keyboard player of Capercaillie and the driving force behind the annual Celtic Connections festival. Though certainly a member of the “old guard” of modern Scottish music, he is also known as one of its most innovative and creative players.
The Scots Singer of the Year award usually goes to someone who fits the standard image of a tradition-bearer; someone of fairly advanced years who has a long history of learning, singing and sharing the old bothy ballads and travelers’ songs. Not so this year… the award was given to Siobhan Miller, a young lady whose strong, sweet voice is among the newest in the genre. Siobhan could easily have taken the folk singer-songwriter path, but instead she’s dedicated herself to learning and preserving the old songs.
Folk music is always going to evolve. If it didn’t, then it would cease to be the peoples’ music as the people left it behind. I find it reassuring to see the young and the older musicians joining forces both to preserve the past and shepherd the future.
If you’d like the results of the remaining Scots Trad Award categories, they are online.
Walking on Bilgewater
Eefing, bilabial fricatation, and the "strum" and "twang" of the Bilgewater Brothers
The act of grinning comes naturally when you hear the very tongue-in-cheek tune, Give It to Mary with Love. And when David Barlia resurrects the lost art known as "eefing," the grin becomes a chuckle. For those not in the know, eefing is the vocal ability to nasally impersonate a coronet, oddly named by uke old timer, Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards. John chirps in with a melodic whistling solo and you know there's a spectacle of rare entertainment to be had. Over the course of an evening with the Bilgewater Brothers, you get a very lively variety show without having to change channels. Mostly you get uke strummer, David and plectrum banjo and National guitar wiz, John Reynolds, having a good time for your listening and viewing pleasure. They are often supported by other local musicians and surrounded by makeshift props which give a wink and an elbow of embellishment to whatever theme they are imbedded in. No matter how ragged the production may get, the music stays up front and engaging. It's an excuse to have a good time for what is really a madcap romp through vaudeville, burlesque, a backroom speakeasy, a squat in the parlor room and always a Keystone-Kop-run down tin pan alley.
Occasionally seen with another local perpetrator of retro romance, Janet Klein, both David and John change hats and ply their passion and partake in a plethora of other plucky performing posses. David is involved with the Barleycorns, duets with Parlor Boy, Brad Kay and may sit in with the California Navels (www.thecalifornianavels.com). John, in addition to his long resume with many famous bands and Hollywood performers, also joins up with his brother, Ralf, in the Rhythm Rascals (www.reynoldsbrothers.net), and sits in with the Colonels of Corn.
Before interviewing David Barlia, I got the lowdown on John Reynolds and the rich musical history he carries with him. As the grandson of silent film star, ZaSu Pitts, there is old fashioned show biz blood that runs through John's veins. John calls the music he plays, "old pop music" or early "Betty Boop." John admits, "I inherited my grandmother's taste for old things." Add to this the family musical heritage (a father and grandfather who both played the "bones") and the time spent in his grandmother's historic 1920s Paul Williams designed house, and what else would a young kid do back in 1964 but pick up the 5-string banjo and get lessons from local stringed instrument guru, David Lindley? In the following years, he switched over to the 4-string version, eventually doing a 5-year stint playing banjo at Disneyland during his college years. Picking up the guitar, he took lessons from the great George M. Smith, guitarist for the Paramount Studio Orchestra. Later, he wound up playing with the local Mood Indigo trio for several years. Along the way, he opened for the Smothers Brothers, learning the ropes of the music and show biz world. Other gigs have been with Dean Mora's Modern Rhythmists dance orchestra (www.morasmodern.com) at the Oviatt Building and a stint with Johnny Crawford's Dance Orchestra (www.crawfordmusic.com), where his expert whistling also got the spotlight. Look further and you'll see John has performed with such legends as Cab Calloway and Julie Andrews. In addition to his expert banjo and guitar work, and the aforementioned canary-like whistling, you may catch him displaying his talent with "bilabial fricatation." It's your basic ‘fart' sound generated by hand suction, but brought to new "heights" when the technique is flaunted in the Ellington standard, Caravan.
In between all the multiple group sit-ins and session, with his plectrum banjo and National steel guitar in tow, he joins David Barlia to make musical mayhem as the Bilgewater Brothers. They met a few years ago when John saw David in performance with Parlor Boy pianist, Brad Kay, in a local coffee house and thus began the musical partnership. David, the man of many hats, as he proudly calls himself, took some time to let out some serious bilge water for Folkworks.
JOEL: What is it about the early decades of the 20th century that you find so interesting?
DAVID: I've always found the music of the 1910s to the 1930s to be the some of the most fun and inspiring music I've heard. As a kid, I remember immediately being rapt with excitement over the playful complexities of ragtime. But I've always been attracted to that period for some reason-the clothing styles, the movies. On film, we have some of the greatest examples of comedy in all of Western culture-the Marx brothers, Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd. As a filmmaker myself, I love the art of the silent film. I don't really think it was such an "Age of Innocence" but it was certainly a simpler time-and I do like that. I think everybody wants life to be simpler, really.
JOEL: Do you look at the interest in old time music as an aspect of nostalgia for more innocent times or is it just "timeless music" that needs to be played and preserved?
DAVID: Uhm, yes. Both. A lot of it is timeless, and very warm. I think there's a joyful warmth there that's sorely lacking in a lot of today's music.
JOEL: As a relatively recent player in this kind of music, does it seem like there's an endless supply of old songs waiting to be discovered and arranged?
DAVID: You know, I don't listen to much of anything outside of this period anymore. When I say that to people, of course their reaction is, "That's all you listen to??!" We're talking about a period of, let's say 30 years. That's a long time for a lot of amazing artists to have recorded. There's also something fun about being musical, a sort of musical archaeologist, digging for treasure. When I discovered what I might find on old 78 records, antique stores suddenly became a whole lot more exciting.
JOEL: What started your interest in the ukulele and where did you get that cigar box uke? What's been the response to the slide ukulele?
DAVID: Actually, I play one instrument: Ukulele. I have several ukes, naturally, including a banjo-ukulele and a cigar-box uke, which I made myself with a kit (available from www.papasboxes.com). I love that I can trade off ukuleles, play with the exact same fingerings and produce several different sounds. My main instrument is a Resonator Ukulele made by Johnson-an excellent instrument. As a bit of a joke, really, I tried out playing that as a slide instrument-which actually worked amazingly well, though I made it sound more funny than musical.
JOEL: What do you think is the future of the uke? Do you listen to any other ukulele players, Hawaiian or other wise?
DAVID: New ukulele-based bands seem to be popping up everywhere like crazy. If you do a search on MySpace for "ukulele" you will find a tremendous number of players at all levels. One of my all-time favorite players was a Hawaiian musician by the name of "King" Benny Nawahi-whose primary instrument was the steel slide guitar. Unfortunately, there's only about four recordings in existence of him actually playing the uke! But they're the best.
JOEL: Is the talented John Reynolds a mentor, collaborator/partner in crime or someone who owes you a lot of money?
DAVID: Ha ha! Let's not talk about money, shall we? If anybody owes, it's me! ...I'm very grateful to be working with John. He's the most amazing guitar player I've ever seen. And the flair of his plectrum-banjo playing is only surpassed by one of his heroes, Eddie Peabody. He's great fun to work with, really wacky. But he's somebody who'd been away from the front of the stage for a while-you know, playing sideman to other bands, with quiet professionalism. But anybody who knew what he was capable of was wishing he'd come to the foreground more. I saw an opportunity to form a partnership with two front-men.
JOEL: Do you see a resurgence in interest in the music and musical instruments from the early part of the last century? There seems to be some cross-pollination of influence from the swing, vaudeville, and early jazz eras as many of today's musical groups (be they country, rock, or folk) will often throw in a banjo lick, accordion run, or uke strum into their mix of songs.
DAVID: Like I say, ukes are popping up in new bands everywhere-and many of them are not at all retro. There's a lot of people playing modern original compositions with uke accompaniment. I've seen several banjos around as well-again in modern groups. John swears that Hell is full of Banjo players, for some reason.
JOEL: Do you think the future of music will be space age minimalist drone or an amalgamation of sound produced by every American Idol winner, or a tape loop of profane hip hop curses, or a return to a banjo, a melody and witty lyricism?
DAVID: You know, I think things have a tendency to go round in circles just as much as they evolve in new directions. I think these older sounds will continue to influence musicians for a long time to come.
JOEL: You seem to be working in thematic performances of late. Do you see this as a way to keep the music fresh or is the vaudevillian approach a resurrection of those happy days of yesteryear?
DAVID: Yeah, I think it adds a fun element to the show. I've got an urge to be a little theatrical in a very Vaudevillian way. Our first show had a circus side-show flavor to it, complete with knife-thrower and juggler guest acts. We had a lot of fun with that-John and I like to be big kids. Our next show, at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood, was The Bilgewater Brothers' Swamp Jamboree-where the stage was done up to look like a swamp, with fog, old lanterns and the sounds of crickets. Musically, we got into a jug and washboard band sound, which felt so appropriate. Then we did The Bilgewater Brothers on the Moon, for which we gathered up lots of tunes about the moon-of which there is a staggering number to choose from. We had a rocket ship and a robot and invited the audience to come dressed as aliens. That was also the first show that introduced Claudia Rose, who's become an integral part of the show. She really adds heat to our newest show, The Bilgewater Brothers Go To HELL! Her wonderful singing and dancing is really the icing on the cake-or the treacle on the brimstone? Hmm...
JOEL: Do you foresee a larger stage for the Bilgewater Brothers in Los Angeles or is it more enjoyable flying below the radar with a cult following? Have you investigated the interest level of the music in other parts of the country?
DAVID: I would like very much to take our Moon Show to the west side, somewhere in the Santa Monica area. I'm just looking for the right place. We really need to get a CD put together-which will certainly help sell us to places further from home. We have got lots of friends on MySpace all over the world! Heh-heh, well, who doesn't?
JOEL: Does this kind of music need an "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" to bring in a new audience as that film did for bluegrass?
DAVID: Well, it wouldn't hurt! I've certainly got ideas as a filmmaker leading me in that direction. That film was such a sensation, and it was heavily fueled by the wonderful soundtrack, but well-paired with the Coen Brothers, whose work I also love.
JOEL: Other than the Parlor Boys, California Navels, the Barleycorns, the Rhythm Rascals, who else do you like in the present old time music world?
DAVID: There are a lot of great bands out there, more than I can keep up with, that's for sure. I came across an excellent group in the UK, called The Gramophone Party. They have an excellent slide guitar player, who also plays ukulele-and gets nearly the same sound as Benny Nawahi, since like Nawahi, he's still got those finger picks on as he plays the uke. In Japan, there are The Sweet Hollywaiians, with whom I had the pleasure of meeting and playing a guest appearance with when they visited a few months ago. Superb group, again with a great slide guitar player. I think at some point, acoustic slide guitar is going to have to be my next instrument... Or maybe I should work up that slide uke! Heh-heh.
You can see David and John, frequently at the Steve Allen Theatre (www.steveallentheater.com) in Hollywood, and at other venues around the town. They are their own variety show bringing you charm, wit, and a few wicked licks on the musical lollipop that slyly sweetens the LA music scene.
The Bilgewater Brothers are:
JOHN REYNOLDS - Plectrum Banjo (www.4shelties.com/banjos/banjofaq.htm#what), National Guitar, National 12-String, Whistling, Bilabial-Fricatation, Bass Kazoo.
DAVID BARLIA - Resonator Ukulele, Banjolele, Cigar Box Uke, Whistling, Kazoo, Vocal Coronet, Jaw's Harp, Nose Flute.
The Bilgewater Brothers influences are:
- Eddie Peabody, Cliff Edwards (a.k.a. "Ukulele Ike"), Nick Lucas, Harry Reser, Benny Nawahi- Dixie Jug Blowers, Philips' Louisville Jug Band, Django Reinhardt, Eddie Lang, Whispering Jack Smith
See where the Bilgewater Brothers are playing at www.barliesque.com which has links to their MySpace home and other related sites.