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Volume 10 Issue 8 - May 2005

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. BooK Shelf by Pamela

. BooK Shelf by Pamela Margles THE MUSICIANS PROFILED in the books under review this month all had strong relationships with their particular instruments. Guitarist Django Reinhardt came to depend on his beloved Selmer modele Jazz. with its unique resonating soundbox. Violinist Alexander Brott treasured his Italian violin, made by J.B. Rogeri in 1690. Pianist George Shearing turned down the opportunity to become a Steinway artist because he would have had to give up his beloved Bosendorfer. There's no music without instrumems, whether they 're acoustic, electric, or computer-driven. Great musiciar1s flourish with great instrume111s, and the characteristics of the instruments available undoubtedly influence whar composers write and how the music is performed. The Royal Ontario Museum's collection of historical musical instruments, the most important in Canada, has been languishing in storage since 1991, followmg the last round of renovations. A whole generation of students and music-lovers has been deprived of this fascinating collection, which includes the virtuoso double bass player Dragonetti's own instrument from 1600, an Italian virginal from 1650, an early ptanoforte by Broadwood, and an entrancing collection of dancingmasters' pocket violins. The president of the ROM, William Thorsell, was quoted in the Globe and Mail on April 16 saying that in the newly rebwlt galleries 'all the ROM's collections will be represented. Each will have its own permanent gallery.' It's time that the ROM's musical instrument collection is included in 'all the ROM 's collections' ' and is finally put back on display. his left hand forced him to give up performing as a violinist. When his hearing started deteriorating, he got a hearing aid, which he hid by growing his hair long. His students nicknamed him 'the old hippy'. His encounters with extraordinary musicians like Stokowski and Beecham, and his extensive travels, when he took Canadian music and Alexander Brott: My Lives in Music musicians around the world, are especially fascinating. by Alexander Brott and Betty Nygaard King Mosaic Press 241 pages, photos; .95 As a violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher, Alexander Brott had an enormous impact on Canadian music. From the dizzying descriptions in his autobiography, published just before he died on April 1, he seems to have accomplished enough for a few lives. Written with the sensitive co-authorship of Betty Nygaard King, Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend by Michael Dregni 334 pages, photos; .95 this delightful memoir effectively conveys the distinctive voice of this audaciously colourful character. Right from his early years in Montreal, when music represented 'a dream world in which I could escape from our impoverished life', he was driven by a strong vision. His wife Lotte, a cellist, later shared in his professional endeavours, undeterred by debilitating illnesses, until her death in 1998. Their two sons, both musicians, 'What troubles he gave me', recalls violinist Stephane Grapelli, Django Reinhardt's partner in the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France, in Michael Dregni's lively biography of the elusive guitarist. Reinhardt could hear everything and play anything. Even after a horrendous fire in his caravan when he was eighteen left the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand immobilized, his improvisations have provided affectionate, telling were extravagantly virtuos­ introductions. Brott reveals that problems with ic. Dregni traces the development of his musical style, from his traditional Gypsy roots, to his innovative adaptation of the pumping rhythmic style of the Paris dancehalls, to jazz. Throughout, Dregni offers vivid descriptions of the extraordinary recordings which remain Reinhardt's glorious legacy. Although we learn a lot about Reinhardts's 'uncensored' character, what's missing is his inner life. But this is no failing on Dregni's part. He vividly describes the very strange Gypsy values that shaped this genius who lived 'purely for the moment'. But Reinhardt learned to read and write only late in his short life. So, even though · he died just fifty years ago, very few documents exist. Fortunately, Dregni never indulges in speculation about Reinhardt's thoughts and feelings, relying on his thorough research as well as his own first-hand investigations. 'Above all', Dregni writes in this superb biography, Reinhardt 'lived for the music'. Winter Music: Composing the North By John Luther Adams Wesleyan University Press 228 pages, photos, examples from scores; CD enclosed; .00 Composer John Luther Adams' writings reveal his passionate enga,gement with his environment. That relationship is clearly at the heart of his music. After he sees 'space that is almost too big', on a trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Range, he uses this vision to write Earth and the Great Weather. His purpose is 'to celebrate a sacred place, and to invite the listener on an aural journey through its landscapes, both imaginary and real'. In fact, he sees his role as a composer moving beyond self-expression to social activism, bound up with fighting for the protection of his beloved Alaskan homeland. Adams draws on an array of influences, but his teachers Morton Feldman and James Tenney, who taught at York University for twenty-four years, loom largest. Adams started out as rock drummer then eventually realized he 'want: ed to combine the energy of rock with the rhythmic complexity of "art" music.' Kyle Gann's thoughtful introduction questions and explores the connection between musical expression and geography. To their credit, Wesleyan University Press has included a disc of Adams' music with this thought-provoking, well-produced collection of writings, several of which have previously appeared in Toronto's Musicworks magazine. Lullaby of Birdland: The Autobiography of George Shearing by George Shearing with Alyn Shipton Continuum 271 pages, photos; .50 he; .95 paper The title of jazz pianist George Shearing's autobiography comes from his most popular song, and sets the cone for this gentle, candid memoir. Shearing attributes the hardship of his childhood in England not to his blindness, but to the lack of affection among the members of his large family. Since he was blind from birth, he never missed having vision. In fact, he sees blindness as a gift, providing a unique perspective which he describes with insight. Out of both his blindness and his alienation from the poverty, alcoholism, and lack of ambition that marked his family, he developed his extraordinary 'ability to conceptualize the world through sound'. When Shearing first arrived in New York at the beginning of bebop, he 'knew there was a necessity for a softer, more romantic approach'. Thus evolved his famously elegant, subtle style, with his atmospheric voicings and distinctive 'locked hands' technique. 'The funkiest of the funky' his long-time partner, singer Mel Torme, called him. Now eightyfive, he eventually started working in small groups like his duos with Canadian bassists Don Thompson and Neil Swainson. Coauthor Alyn Shipton has skillfully polished Shearing's distinctive, charming voice, while preserving his genial - and often corny - humour and his compelling selfawareness. WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM MAY 1 - JUNE 7 2005

WholeNote's Annual Canary Pages A Choral Directory May 2005

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