Friday, July 24, 2009

Adolph Adam: Birthday Boy

It was just like Christmas when AM Radio broadcast it's first piece of music. Well, actually, it really was. Christmas Eve, 1906 was the first time that music was broadcast on the radio.

Reginald Fessenden was a brilliant Canadian inventor who got his start working for Thomas Edison and through his life received hundreds of patents in radio, sonar and television. After demonstration of a new alternator-transmitter at his transmitting station in Brant Rock, Massachusetts, a few days earlier, "Fezzie" (as he was called) broadcast the first radio show at 9pm on December 24th, 1906.

Fezzie laid down some smooth patter (unknown if he sounded like Wolfman Jack) and then had to read some bible verses after his wife and secretary got mic fright which resulted in the first case of "dead air" on the radio. Besides
playing Edison's cylindar recording of Handel's "Largo", Fezzie pulled out his violin, and, in the first "live on the radio" performance played, "O Holy Night".

Reportedly, the main audience for this first ever radio show was a number of shipboard radio operators along the Atlantic Coast. This landmark broadcast was barely noted and soon forgotten. Ouch! I guess Fezzie wasn't much of a violinist. Or perhaps his over-use of sound effects and gimmicks such as slide-whistle, bike horn and his incessant, "What's up, New England?!", was a listener turn off. In any event, I can't think of a better tune than "O Holy Night" to be the first song ever performed live on the radio.

"O Holy Night" is a righteous tune that I previously expressed my admiration for and wrote about (see December 24th, 2008 post). It was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to accompany the French poem, "Minuit, Chretiens" which I think might mean, "One Minute, You Cretins" or "Midnight, Christians". I'm not really sure as I don't read or speak French.

Today is Adolphe Adam's birthday and I really think the guys deserves a salute. Besides writing one of the most beautiful melodies in the world, he's well-known for his Operas (e.g. "Si J'Etais Roi), and (besides, "O Holy Night"), most notably his ballet, "Giselle".

Young Adolphe preferred to improvise music rather that study seriously. He studied organ and harmonium at the Paris Conservatoire. After playing triangle in the Conservatoir Orchestra and not winning the Grand Prix de Rome, his father discouraged his choice of a music career. Many students since have realized the lack of potential stardom from playing triangle. However, Adolphe got the last laugh after making a name for himself in the music world as a composer. It's a lesson to be learned that proficient technical skills on an instrument won't neccessarily put money in your pocket. Adolphe learned that you've got to write a hit.

I wonder if he maintained his own publishing?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T." or "Extracurricular Tito" (Part Two)

One of my favorite things about being a kids/family music performer is that I get to meet a lot of other like-minded performers. Eric Herman has taken advantage of this and frequently meets and records other performers during his travels. Last year I had the privilege of getting a call from Ava Scofield who records under the name Ava & The Mystic Mangos. Ava told me she found out about me from a young girl that had sang on her previous album who stated that The Hipwaders were her favorite band. Easily swayed by flattery, I quickly agreed to Ava's request to sing on the album she was currently recording. It was the most difficult but thrilling vocal experience I've ever had. I would never consider myself "singer" but more of a vocal "stylist" and with that mindset tried to fit my voice to her music. Her music was performed by top-caliber jazz, classical, blues and pop musicians and I understood that I couldn't slack through the recording session. Ava was a great musical director and would ask me to sing phrases a multitude of ways. It really opened my eyes of what I was actually capable of doing with some direction and try to use that experience when I sing now.

Ava's album, "Jam 'n' Jive", covers the world of a child of earth - from the smallest bug to the great Blue Whale. You can check out my goofy vocal contribution on the interactive title track, or a more "serious" me on my favorite track, "Sailin' With a Whale". I love her "Sowbug" song that goes from gentle nursery rhyme to trip hop and back. The song grooves and grooves hard. The album peaks with a bunch of amazing young singers trading lines on the kid-empowerment song, "Millions of Voices". In a world of overly auto-tuned crap like the Jonas Brothers and other you-name-it Disney acts, it's refreshing to hear young talents that can actually sing.

Check out samples from Ava's album at CDBaby

A while back my boys were telling me they wanted to have their own webcast which suprised me as they rarely sing, act or otherwise perform when asked. I figure they got the idea from one of their favorite T.V. shows, iCarly, and saw that it could be a lot of fun.
Within a few days of them asking, I came across Gwyneth Butera's daughters' (The Gooney Bird Kids) "webcast", "The GBK Zoo". Featuring kid music reviews, cooking, and some random dancing, the show was a hit with my boys. I was quickly motivated to head out to the garage and see if I could could up with some music specifically for the show. Inspired by the Gooney Bird Kids and their exhuberant antics, I was able to write and record a 30 second theme for the show and quickly sent it out to them. They've used it on their last 4 shows and I love the way the vocal and instrumental versions weave in and out of the show. Right now the show is on hiatus as the gang is vacationing in France. Meanwhile check their show out GBKZoo and perhaps when they get back we'll have a "GBKLourve" episode. Sorry, I couldn't resist...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T." or "Extracurricular Tito" (Part One)

"Take a while to laugh and smile and say, 'Hey, what a ride!'"

That's what Eric Herman sings on his latest CD release, "What A Ride!", and he couldn't be giving out better advice. "What A Ride!" is a sweet ride that goes from the existential to the absurd and finds humor in the mundane.

My family was fortunate to have Eric and his family as a house guest last year during one of his tours through the country and I gained some insight into the Endres family and what makes the world of "Eric Herman" keep spinning.

Eric and his wife, Roseann, are truly partners in his music. Besides acting as a sounding-board for his ideas, Roseann is also a lyricist, artist and animator. His daughters are his muses who are very enthusiastic about their father's music - as they should. The family is able to travel and enjoy "the ride" together - something that many of us can only dream of.

While staying with us, Eric asked me to say a few phrases into his recorder and even cajoled my son, Aidan, into speaking into his microphone - a very hard task I've rarely been able to accomplish since his was a toddler. Our "work" appears on his CD and I love seeing Aidan's name and mine together on the same album.

Back when Aidan was a toddler, he had no problem talking or singing into a microphone but once he started grade school he seemed to become a bit self-conscious. He sang on my first "kid/family" album, "The Smile Project", which was cool, but my favorite recording of him and I was a cover we did in 2001 of Blue Oyster Cult's "Go Go Godzilla". I had a blast grabbing bits of dialog from old Godzilla movies and we created a tribute to the movies that Aidan loved at the time. Check it out:

"GO GO GODZILLA" - Aidan & Tito Uquillas be continued...