music history

  • A Basic Introduction to Breton Music

    Breton Music is a style of Celtic Music that originated in the North Western region of France. The Breton music tradition dates back several centuries, and much like Irish music, it recently saw a regrowth in popularity following the 1970s folk revival.

    “Traditional” Breton music (and I say this very generally) typically is defined by pairs such as bombarde-biniou (a oboe-like instrument and the Breton version of the bagpipes) or a call and response style of singing called kan ha diskan. More recent variations of the genre include everything from Celtic style instrumentations (guitar, flute, violin, harp, etc.) to Rock (electric guitar, bass, drums) to jazz fusion (saxophone, trumpet, bass, keyboards, drums) to jazz manouche (accordion, clarinet, saxophone, etc.) and more.

    The repertoire consists of vocal music, hymns, ballads, shanties and instrumental music. Because of the music’s expansion into other styles, it also includes quite a bit of modern repertoire in the rock, jazz and pop styles.

    The music is deeply rooted in the region’s geographical, political and linguistic history and so the music can often be quite politically charged (sometimes this is the choice of the performer while other times it is often because of the performance environment). The Breton music repertoire can be quite nationalistic – it often celebrates the Breton language and the region’s history.

    Popular performers of the style are primarily based in Brittany, although there are Breton musicians in other areas of the world. The music is not well-known outside of France. Some of the genre’s key figures include Alan Stivell, Jacky Molard, Jean-Michel Veillon, Kornog, Skolvan, Red Cardell, Glenmor, Gilles Servat, Patrick Molard, Barzaz, Gilles Le Bigot, Jacques Pellen, Nicolas Quemener, Christian LeMaitre, Erik Marchand, Les Soeurs Goadec and Yann-Fanch Kemener.

    The majority of the resources surrounding the genre are in French, but here are a few I recommend:

    October 27, 2014 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1682

  • Saxophonist Cannonball Adderley Biography | Teen Jazz Legend

    Saxophonist Julian Edwin Adderley, better known as Cannonball Adderley was born September 15, 1928 in Tampa, Florida. He began to establish himself during the hard bop era, but is best remembered as a cross-over artist in the pop charts for his recording of “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and his collaboration with Miles Davis on “Kind of Blue.”

    While living in Florida, Cannonball Adderley, along with his brother and fellow musician Nat Adderley (a trumpet player), collaborated with Ray Charles. The two would continue to work together throughout their careers as part of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet and other groups.

    In the 1950s, Cannonball moved to New York and it was not long after that his career as a performer really took off. He signed with Savoy in 1957 along with his brother, trumpet player Nat Adderley. It was also during this year that he began to collaborate with Miles Davis.

    Cannonball Adderley was also a renowned music educator. While in Florida, he worked as a high school band director and his love for teaching was apparent in the talks he would give during performances.

    His nickname, Cannonball, is supposedly derived from his ability to quickly eat food. It was given to him in high school. He passed away due to a stroke in 1975. He was 46 years old.

    July 8, 2014 • Interviews • Views: 2134

  • Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald Biography | Jazz Legend

    Vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” alongside Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, is one of the most renowned jazz singers of all time. Not only was she excellent in execution, but her swing feel and scat singing were incomparable.

    Fitzgerald grew up in complete poverty. She was born in 1917 to parents who separated shortly after her birth and was orphaned in 1932 at the age of fifteen when her mother passed away due to a heart attack. She moved in with her aunt but was eventually sent to an orphanage. After running away, she was, in fact, homeless for almost an entire year. Luckily, however, she earned her big break at an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1934.

    She began to work with Tiny Bradshaw and then later Chick Webb who was initially reluctant to sign her. After a one night audition, she began to sing regularly with the group. In 1939, Webb passed away and in 1941, Fitzgerald went solo.

    During the 1940s, Ella partnered with Louis Jordan, the Delta Rhythm Boys and then Dizzy Gillespie. It was a part of this latter collaboration that she began to incorporate bop into her style which up until this point had primarily been pop and swing.

    In the 1950s she signed with Verve and began releasing her songbook series recordings beginning with the Cole Porter Songbook in 1965. The Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, Ellington, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer songbooks followed.

    In the 1970s she had the opportunity to work with other notable performers such as Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, and Joe Pass, but in the 1980s, her career began to decline due to health issues. In 1994 she retired and in 1996 she passed away at the age of 79.

    Browse Ella Fitzgerald albums and biographies on Amazon.

    May 22, 2014 • Interviews • Views: 2437

  • An Introduction to Gypsy Jazz

    Gypsy Jazz, or jazz manouche, is a style of music that is said to have originated in France and made popular by guitarist Django Reinhardt along with violinist Stephane Grappelli during the 1930s.

    Gypsy Jazz is defined by the percussive rhythmic strumming of the guitar known as la pompe, essentially quick up-down strum followed by a quickly muted down strum. The typical instrumentation includes acoustic guitar, violin, and contrabass, but accordion and clarinet are also popular.

    A significant portion of the repertoire consists of jazz standards, compositions by Reinhardt, and “jazzed-up” versions of gypsy songs such as Les Yeux Noirs.

    Historically, the style was taught through aural tradition – young players learned their music from family members through imitation, learning by ear. In the last few decades, however, materials and clinics have become increasingly available for those interested in learning the style (including Denis Chang‘s DC Music School).

    Popular performers of the style are from all over the world. They include Belgium’s Django Reinhardt, France’s Tchavolo Schmitt, Biréli Lagrene and Angelo Debarre, the Rosenberg Trio from the Netherlands, Sweden’s Andreas Oberg, and more. Hot Clubs, inspired by the Quintette du Hot Club de France (featuring Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt), are also as widespread as the genre’s artists. You can check out the music of groups from the Hot Club of Dublin to the Hot Club of Detroit.

    A few resources if you are interesting in learning more about the genre:


    May 6, 2014 • Resources • Views: 2317

  • Pianist Cedar Walton | Biography of a Jazz Legend

    This past August, we lost Cedar Walton, a great keyboardist who got his start as a member of Art Blakey’s band. I had the distinct privilege of seeing Mr. Walton perform on several occasions and it was always an inspiring display of musical virtuosity by both him and the members of his band.

    Cedar Walton was born in Dallas, Texas in January 1934. He began studying piano with his mother, a concert pianist, but he also had the opportunity to see numerous jazz performances which greatly influenced the young piano player. He soon developed a preference for the playing styles of musicians such as Nat King Cole, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and Art Tatum.

    He moved to Colorado to attend the University of Denver where he began to gig regularly at local jazz clubs. It was during that period that he met Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and other musicians as they passed through town on tour.

    He left school and headed for New York in 1955, and after a two-year stint in the army, he began recording and performing with Kenny Dorham, JJ Johnson, and Benny Golson. He also recorded an alternate take of “Giant Steps” with John Coltrane that was intended to be a part of the seminal album, but was not included until a later version of the CD.

    In the 1960s, Cedar Walton began working with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and it was as part of this group that he began to establish himself as a composer and arranger. In 1964 he left the Jazz Messengers and became a member of the Prestige Records house band where he had the opportunity to record on a number of records.

    Over the next few decades, he would lead and perform as part of various groups. As a recording artist, he also released more than 40 albums throughout the span of his career. He awarded as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters member in 2010.

    He passed away after an illness at the age of 79 in his home in Brooklyn, New York.

    October 21, 2013 • Interviews • Views: 1769

  • Count Basie Biography | Teen Jazz Legend and Bandleader

    Born to parents who were both musicians in 1904, William James Basie was constantly surrounded by music. He began piano lessons with his mother, but he also studied with stride pianists such as Fats Waller.

    He began his career in music as an accompanist for Vaudeville performers which took him to Kansas City where he remained after the group fell apart in 1927. It was not long after when he joined up with Walter Page’s Blue Devils and Bennie Moten’s group. After Moten’s death in 1935, Basie started a group called the Barons of Rhythm and it was as part of this group that he received the nickname “Count” Basie after a radio announcer referred to the pianist as such during a live broadcast.

    It was also during one of these live Broadcasts that he earned his “break.” Journalist and producer John Hammond heard Count Basie during a live broadcast performance and began pitching the performer to a variety of agents and record companies. Not long after, the band began performing in Chicago and New York and it was during this period that “One O’Clock Jump” became the theme song for the group.

    In 1958 Count Basie won two Grammy Awards, one for “Best Performance by a Dance Band” and another for “Best Jazz Performance Group” for the album Basie released on Roulette Records. He also received several further nominations and Grammy Awards for later performances and recordings.

    In 1976, Basie suffered a heart attack and his health began to slowly decline. He passed away due to cancer at the age of 79.

    Pianist Count Basie is arguably one of the most important and influential bandleaders of the swing era which took place in the mid-30s to mid 40s. Although he was not a significant composer, such as fellow bandleader Duke Ellington, Basie built a reputation as an incomparable bandleader.

    August 8, 2013 • Interviews • Views: 1846

  • Keyboardist George Duke Biography | Teen Jazz Legend

    This past week we lost legendary keyboardist, composer and performer George Duke. He publicist announced that he passed away on Monday, August 5, 2013.

    George Duke led a successful career that spanned a variety of genres including funk, jazz, soul and R&B over the last several decades. Throughout his career he not only collaborated with other legendary perfumers such as Miles Davis, Barry Manilow, George Clinton, Frank Zappa, and Jill Scott, but built an incredible reputation for himself as an artist and composer in his own right.

    He had most recently released Dreamweaver (2013 on Concord Records), his latest solo album and tribute to his wife Corine who passed away in 2012. Get DreamWeaver on Amazon.

    Duke was born in San Rafael, California on January 12, 1946. He began playing the piano at the age of four and went on to study trombone and composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, earning his degree in 1967. He continued his studies at San Francisco State University where he earned his Master’s degree while working with a trio that backed (then up and coming) Al Jarreau.

    Throughout the 1960s and 70s, George Duke worked with a myriad of well-known performers such as Frank Zappa, Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, et al. In 1977 he signed with Epic Records and released “From Me to You” and “Reach for It.” He would go on to release some thirty-odd records as a solo artist.

    In the 1980s, he also worked as a producer and composer with trumpeter Miles Davis on “Backyard Ritual” and “Amandla.” He additionally teamed up with Stanley Clarke to form the Clarke/Duke Project and “Sweet Baby,” the hit single from the album was a huge success. As a producer, he worked with Phillip Bailey, Rufus, Jeffrey Osborne and many more. In 1988, he served as the musical director for the Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium.

    The widespread influence of George Duke can be seen in a variety of genres. His has been sampled by groups and artists such Daft Punk, Kanye West, and Ice Cube, and that doesn’t even begin to detail the generations of musicians that have been influenced by his music.

    I did not have the opportunity to meet or perform with George Duke like many of my peers, but I have been blessed with the chance to see him perform and play alongside him on “This Masquerade” from U-Nam’s album Weekend in LA: A Tribute to George Benson. We lost a great musician this week, but his memory and his music remain with us, and for that we can be grateful. Thank you George Duke for your beautiful, innovative and inspiring music.

    George Duke was 67.

    August 6, 2013 • Interviews • Views: 1957

  • Composer Diane Warren | Teen Jazz Legend

    For most, the name may be unfamiliar, but the music of our next Teen Jazz Legend is most certainly not. Diane Warren is the songwriter behind over 100 songs that have been on the charts including “Rhythm of the Night” recorded by DeBarge, “You Pulled Me Through” recorded by Jennifer Hudson, and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” recorded by Aerosmith.

    Diane Warren was born September 7, 1956 to David and Flora Warren in Van Nuys, California. She was the youngest of three girls. Warren received her first guitar as a gift from her father at the age of 11 and by the age of 14 her father began taking her to meetings in LA as an accomplished songwriter.

    Diane has been awarded with countless recognition for her work as a composer; she has been nominated and/or received awards from the ASCAP Awards, the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards, Billboard’s Film & TV Career Achievement Award, and the Grammys. She has also been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

    Artists she has written for include Elton John, Aerosmith, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Kid Rock, Joss Stone, Aretha Franklin,Kelly Clarkson, Mary J Blige and many more. Her songs have been in nearly 100 major motion pictures such as Armageddon, Ghostbusters, Coyote Ugly, Gone in 60 Seconds, American Gangster, and Moulin Rouge.

    What’s her songwriting process?

    She begins writing by brainstorming song titles and then writing the lyrics. She then explores melody options until she finds what feels right. She also only works on one song at a time.

    Her advice to an aspiring composer:

    In past interviews, Diane Warren said that a good work ethic has done more for her than what she learned in school – the only way to get better at songwriting is by doing it. She also says that the best songs have music and lyrics that truly belong to one another. One cannot go without the other.

    June 10, 2013 • Interviews • Views: 1772

  • Saxophonist Charlie Parker Biography | Teen Jazz Legend

    Composer and saxophonist Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1920 to Charles and Addie Parker. He went on to become one of the most influential saxophonists by introducing revolutionary styles of performance and improvisation.

    Charlie Parker first picked up the baritone sax around the age of 11 and later switched to alto. At the age of 14 he dropped out of school to pursue music, but he initially struggled to succeed. After a few embarrassing moments at jam sessions, Parker spent time woodshedding, building up his technique and studying.

    His debut recording was made in 1940 with Jay McShann as part of his small group on “Oh, Lady Be Good” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” He later recorded with Dizzy Gillespie in 1945, introducing what became known as bebop to the jazz world. In 1947, Parker started a quintet with Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. In 1949 Parker also recorded with strings on the album “Charlie Parker with Strings.”

    Charlie Parker was known as “Yardbird” or “Bird” and there are a variety of stories surrounding the origin of the name spanning from a reflection of his playing style to a reference to his favorite food (rumored to be fried chicken). A number of songs written by Parker refer to his nickname including “Yardbird Suite” and “Bird Gets the Worm.”

    Since his teens, Charlie Parker had been a heroin addict and in addition to heavy drinking, his addiction led to his spending time at Camarillo State Hospital while he was in California. Because of his drug use and increasing unreliability, Parker eventually lost his cabaret license, making it difficult for him to play in New York.

    He died at the age of 34 in the hotel room of a friend from the pneumonia and an ulcer as well as cirrhosis and a heart attack.

    In his short life, Charlie Parker revolutionized jazz and his playing style has influenced generations of musicians. Clint Eastwood, the father of jazz bassist Kyle Eastwood, created a movie about the life Charlie Parker starring Forest Whitaker. “Bird” was released in 1988.

    June 5, 2013 • Interviews • Views: 3268

  • Trumpet Player Dizzy Gillespie Biography | Teen Jazz Legend

    John Birks Gillespie, later known as Dizzy, was born in 1917 to James and Lottie Gillespie. He was the youngest of nine children. His father, James, was a local bandleader, and so, instruments and music were always available to young Dizzy at an early age.

    Dizzy Gillespie first began music by studying piano. He later taught himself the trombone, and then, at the age of 12 he switched to the trumpet. It was with this instrument that he would go on to not only be one of the leading figures in bebop, but in Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz. But it wasn’t only as a musician that he became notable. In addition to his playing, he is well known for his unique embouchure, style of dress, bent trumpet, and scatting.

    In 1935 Dizzy earned his first professional gig with the Frank Fairfax Orchestra. He later became a member of Teddy Hill’s orchestra where one of his greatest influences was a former member (Roy Eldridge). After touring and recording with Hill, Gillespie joined Cab Calloway’s orchestra where he began to establish a name for himself as a performer. Due to growing distaste with Gillespie’s solo style and an incident involving a spitball (which was reportedly not thrown by the accused), Dizzy was fired.

    Gillespie then moved through a number of bands including that of Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, et al. He also wrote arrangements for groups belonging to Jimmy Dorsey and Woody Herman. In 1942 he joined Earl Hines’ band where Charlie Parker was also a member. It was during this time that he wrote “A Night in Tunisia.” When Billy Eckstine, the vocalist in Hines’ group, left the band, Bird and Dizzy followed. In 1945 Gillespie and Parker recorded songs including “Salt Peanuts,” “Hot House,” and “Groovin’ High.” The two eventually parted ways, but until Parker’s death, they occasionally reunited for performances.

    Dizzy also toured as part of Jazz at the Philharmonic and led various combos that featured performers such as John Coltrane and Milt Jackson. In 1956 he formed a big band and began touring outside of the US. Members of this group included Benny Golson, Wynton Kelly, and Lee Morgan.

    In the 1970s Gillespie toured as a part of the Giants of Jazz, but his trumpet playing began to deteriorate. He remained active, albeit inconsistently until 1992. He passed away due to pancreatic cancer in 1993 at the age of 75.

    April 26, 2013 • Interviews • Views: 2718