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Bebop Spoken There

Poncho Sanchez: "When I perform it's my life story." - (DownBeat October 2019).


Daily: July 6 - October 27

Precarity John Akomfrah’s film (2017, 46 mins) about Buddy Bolden - Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road, Gateshead NE8 3BA. Tel: 0191 478 1810. Screenings at intervals during the day. Part of Akomfrah's exhibition Ballasts of Memory. Exhibition (daily) July 6 - October 27. 10:00am-6:00pm. Free.

Wednesday September 18



Precarity John Akomfrah’s film (2017, 46 mins) about Buddy Bolden (see above).

Vieux Carré Jazzmen - Cullercoats Crescent Club, 1 Hudleston, Cullercoats NE30 4QS. Tel: 0191 253 0242. 1:00pm. Free admission.


Alexys de Alfaro - Revoluçion de Cuba, Cloth Market, Newcastle NE1 1EE. Tel: 0191 917 7076. 6:00pm. Free.

Take it to the Bridge - The Globe, Railway Street, Newcastle NE4 7AD. 7:30pm. £1.00.



Archipelago + Freese Trio - Bobik's, Punch Bowl Hotel, Jesmond Road, Jesmond, Newcastle NE2 3JY. Tel: 0191 284 0490. 7:30pm. £5.00.


Levee Ramblers NOJB w. Jim McBriarty (clarinet) & Bob Wade (trumpet) - Springwell Village Community Venue, Fell Road, Springwell, Gateshead NE9 7RP. 8:15pm. £3.00.


Moonshine Sessions - Billy Bootleggers, Nelson St, Newcastle NE1 5AN. 8:30pm. Free.

To the best of our knowledge, details of the above events are correct but may be subject to alteration.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

‘Brother Can You Spare A Dime?’ – A song worth singing

Another article in my occasional series about songs that I love. Consider the lyrics, verse included:-
(Ann Alex)
To get a ‘feel’ for this song, Google the title. The first entry is a recording of Al Jolson doing a rather too dramatic version of the song, but the accompanying photographs, showing scenes from the Depression era, are excellent. This song is rightly considered to be an anthem about the American Depression of the 1930’s. By 1932 the unemployment rate in the USA was 24.1%, so there were many ‘Als’ waiting in line. What is clever about the lyrics is that they aren’t a long lecture about the ill effects of the Depression, but a simple description of the circumstances of one man. The listener has to work out how this man got to the stage of asking for help, so is drawn right into the meaning of the song.
I love to sing this song in folk music clubs because of its deep meaning. I like to put particular emphasis on the last ‘I’m your pal’ to bring out the pathos and sheer unfairness of Al’s circumstances. He isn’t being treated at all like a ‘Buddy’ by society. The minor key brings out the sadness. Try singing it in a major key and the whole scenario is lost.
They used to tell me I was building a dream
And so I followed the mob
Where there was earth to plough or guns to bear
I was always there right out on the job
They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead
Why should I be standing in line just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it’s done
Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower to the sun
Built of brick and mortar and lime
Once I built a tower, now it’s done
Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked fine
Full of that Yankee doodly dum
Half a million boots went slogging through hell
And I was the kid with the drum

Oh say don’t you remember, they called me Al
It was Al all the time
Say don’t you remember, I’m your pal
Buddy can you spare a dime.
(Lyrics Yip Harburg; Composer Jay Gorney; written in 1931 for a musical ‘New Americana’)
Ann Alex



Steve T said...

Sadly this song wasn't recently decreed by some American institution or other to have been the greatest song of the C20th. That accolade went to - drum roll - Imagine by John Lemon. Ah well, at least it wasn't Yesterday or Bohemian Rhapsody - Lance will be wishing it was Summertime.
I remember Richard Madely saying he doesn't like Imagine and a black colleague (who should know better) telling him to listen to the lyrics - Plato for 11+.
I recall another lady saying how iconic it is but when Terry Christian observed it's rather dull and plodding, she seemed unable to speak afterwards.

If you imagine how much music we know from the C19th, C18th etc. The late 18th early 19th century is heard as the golden age of classical music though most of us will only know 2,3 maybe half a dozen composers from that period.
How much C20th music do we think the current custodians of taste will pass on to the future historians on our behalf and is this what we want it to be?
Being a Jazzer means also being a fighter, not passively thinking the people running the media machine have any interest in music.

Sorry for hijacking your blog and I'd like to suggest: Jesse James - If You Want a Love Affair, Beloyd - Get into your Life, Marvin Gaye - Mercy Mercy Me and loads of stuff by Curtis Mayfield; lyrically maybe We the people who are Darker than Blue, We Gotta have Peace or Back to the World, or maybe the Impressions People get Ready. Or maybe something by Cole Porter.

Hilary Say (on F/b) said...

Have you heard George Michael's version of it with a big band Ann? It's tremendous. x

Ann Alex said...

I'm glad this has started a discussion. Steve, I know hardly any of the songs you mention, so I suppose it depends on what people listen to. I don't think choosing best songs of all time is useful. I like allsorts, eg Adele's 'Someone Like You' or Elbow's 'Days Like These'.'Imagine' was written with good intentions but the words aren't very sensible.
Hilary, I've listened to this on Utube, but I prefer a more intimate way of singing the song. The man concerned wouldn't have access to many resources, so low tech is best.

Steve T said...

I'm not really a song person. I like them as vehicles for music. The Al Green version of How can you mend a Broken Heart is sublime but the BeeGees version is terrible. So is it a good song? The original c + w version of Storybook Children is terrible but Gregory Isaacs version is amazing. Unlike Sinatra, I love his version of My Way but Sid Viscous? There are lots of examples. I worry when people talk about their favourite songs. That isn't what we like; we like genres of music, or in the case of people like John Lemon, people worship them and everything they do.

Lance said...

As always, Steve, you come out of left field and I'm never quite sure what you're on about! So you're not a song person you just like them as vehicles for music! Are songs not music? Lester Young, and others, have said they like to know the words when playing a song. It gives them an insight into the composer's mind. Most people have favourite songs even though they change from day to day. Songs, usually relate to memories like the girl you danced with at a club. Great lyricists such as Johnny Mercer, are, in their own way, the poets of the last century. Like Porter, Hart, Harburg they created masterpieces even before the music was added.
Like Ann, I'm unfamiliar with most of the songs you mention but I do find it strange that, Sinatra being the exception, your predilection for black music at the expense of all other. In this day and age I'd have thought people had long since dropped the race card and just treat music for what it is. Something to be listened to irrespective of genre. Good or bad is what counts which of course means one man's meat etc...

Ann Alex said...

Just a thought. Perhaps the acid test for this is:- What songs would you like to be played at your funeral? One of mine is Nancy Griffiths singing 'From A Distance', but I'm told that Bette Midler does a better version. But I suppose you wouldn't hear it yourself at the funeral, although we don't actually know that for certain!

Steve T said...

Songs are music but music isn't necessarily songs. To say that Zappa, Trane or even progrock is just songs is clearly playing to the songsmiths; the nice verse and the nice chorus most people now think of as music.
You may have noticed I never use the word tune. I first heard it in the early eighties to describe reggae, which is more about the ridim. In the late eighties an ex girlfriend started using it to describe soul, which is more about the grain in the voice; a 'good' song may help but the voice is the thing. Eventually the pop people started using it but neglected to mention the novelty and the haircut which distinguished it from each other.

It's all black music; if I started saying my favourite composers were all black, people would think I'm nutty, but we accept the great black music was all by white people, just because they get more media attention and made more money. It's not mentioning race that is racist.

As Hamlet said - there is nothing either good or bad, cept thinking makes it so.
I'm not too interested in what Paul Gambaccini thinks.

Anonymous said...

From a jazz playing perspective learning the lyrics helps to learn the melodies and as you mention Lance, a deeper understanding of the piece. However, most would hopefully agree that jazz musicians play more than just a song; they use it as a springboard for new innovations. Also. the likes of Curtis Mayfield should surely be placed in more esteem than the likes of Adele... regardless of race

Ted Watts said...

The song about the wall st collapse which started ww2

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About this blog - contact details.

Bebop Spoken Here -- Here, being the north-east of England -- centred in the blues heartland of Newcastle and reaching down to the Tees Delta and looking upwards to the Land of the Kilt.
Not a very original title, I know; not even an accurate one as my taste, whilst centred around the music of Bird and Diz, extends in many directions and I listen to everything from King Oliver to Chick Corea and beyond. Not forgetting the Great American Songbook the contents of which has provided the inspiration for much great jazz and quality popular singing for round about a century.
The idea of this blog is for you to share your thoughts and pass on your comments on discs, gigs, jazz - music in general. If you've been to a gig/concert or heard a CD that knocked you sideways please share your views with us. Tell us about your favourites, your memories, your dislikes.
Lance (Who wishes it to be known that he is not responsible for postings other than his own and that he's not always responsible for them.)
Contact: I look forward to hearing from you.

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