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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Archive for December, 2017

Roswell Rudd

Posted by Michael Eldridge on December 23, 2017

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“You blow in this end of the trombone and sound comes out the other end and disrupts the cosmos.”
—Roswell Rudd

As a lapsed trombonist and a jazz fan for most of my adult life, I can’t help having a healthy respect for Roswell Rudd, even if his music rarely spends much time in my CD player. Known for his “free” playing, Rudd, who died Thursday, just a month after his 82nd birthday, was actually a musical omnivore with very big ears. In late life, especially, he made good on his work as a musicological researcher for Alan Lomax, collaborating with musicians from across the African diaspora. He never wrote anything even vaguely calypso-ish, as far as I know—Rudd fanatics, correct me if I’m overlooking something—though he did record with Puerto Rican cuatro master Yamo Toro. What I respect most about Rudd, maybe, is his lifelong championing of his mentor Herbie Nichols, whose music occasionally shows the oblique influence of his Trini and St. Kittian parentage (and of the San Juan Hill and Harlem neighborhoods where he grew up). Without Rudd’s evangelizing, Nichols’s work might still be languishing in the shadows.

Here’s Rudd, with Greg Millar and John Bacon, Jr., covering Nichols’s “Jamaica”:


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Posted in Alan Lomax, Herbie Nichols, Roswell Rudd, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ivan Chermayeff

Posted by Michael Eldridge on December 7, 2017

This blog has been dormant for a long time, and I can’t explain why it’s rousing itself for this story, particularly—but then again I can’t say why not, either.  The inspiration was really just one of those casual coincidences: yesterday I had occasion to speak by phone with two of the peerless staff at the Rinzler Archives of the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. I’m writing about Lord Invader’s years in the United States and his involvement with Popular Front politics and culture, and I had some questions about unreleased material from Invader’s recording sessions for Folkways Records in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Among other things, the Rinzler houses the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, and Invader cut dozens of sides for Moe Asch between 1945 (when he came to the States to pursue a copyright claim to “Rum and Coca Cola”) and 1961, committing his final tracks to tape a few months before his untimely death.

Between them, labels run by Asch and Emory Cook, whose collection also wound up under the Rinzler’s roof, issued some of the most significant bodies of recorded calypso of the mid-twentieth century; together those labels form the core of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, which keeps the Folkways and Cook catalogs in print (well, print-on-demand) in their entirety and occasionally mines them—and their associated archival collections—for new compilations. (In fact, John Cowley compiled an essential selection of Invader’s output for Moe Asch for the 2000 CD Calypso in New York, Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40454.)

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That evening, as I belatedly leafed through the day’s newspaper before bed, I came upon Margalit Fox’s obituary for famed graphic designer Ivan Chermayeff, who created iconic logos for (among others) Chase bank, Mobil Oil, New York University, and…the Smithsonian.

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In the 1950s, Chermayeff cut his teeth designing album covers for Columbia, Command, and others—but not for Cook or Folkways. No calypso albums, either, as far as I know. The universe is rarely that liberal with its coincidences.

Posted in Calypso, Folkways Recoreds, Ivan Chermayeff, Lord Invader, Moe Asch, Smithsonian Folkways | Leave a Comment »

 
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