ED BLAND.....Urban Classical Funk

                     Composer's Statement - Cont'd


























































































        My Artistic Journey to Urban Classical Funk - Cont'd



I also scored several art, semi-documentary, and educational films, in addition to a number of popular songs. Through writing such songs I thought I could gain entré to a job in the record industry as a music arranger. Eventually, writing songs got me to Chess Records, home of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howling Wolf, Chuck Berry, and many others. Needless to say, the songs I wrote were ill suited for Chess, which was a Race Records company. (Later Race Records were called Rhythm and Blues.)


It was obvious to me that racism, thievery, and contempt for the blacks who made up Chess’ talent pool were rampant on the part of the Chess brothers, owners of the label. This was not surprising. What was surprising was that the music these southern blacks created celebrated the eternal present, thus intersecting with the dominant interest of my compositional studies. Especially significant in this regard were the early recordings of Bo Diddley whose music was more starkly polymetric than that of the others. His use of additive rhythms, conflicting with accentual ones, was much more pronounced than one could find in jazz.


Around this time, intriguing reports came into the Chess offices of white youths venturing into black neighborhoods to buy the music of these Delta Blues musicians and other Rhythm and Blues artists. This phenomenon was occurring in many cities North and South.  Vee Jay Records, also in Chicago, and Atlantic Records in New York City were other labels noticing similar trends.                       


It became obvious to me as I studied the Billboard hit parade charts, and watched the trainloads of southern blacks arriving in Chicago seeking work due to an important technological change taking place in cotton picking down south, that this was more than a ninety-day music trend. It was something more significant sociologically, economically and culturally.


What finally convinced me that I was correct was the creation of Elvis Presley, whose movements and singing were based on the singing and dancing of the  black artist, Little Richard, and his colleagues


From New Orleans and Big Band jazz of the 1920s and 30s, the impact of the eternal Now had widened to include the market of pop music and lower middle-class whites


Duplicating the phenomenon of lower middle-class whites imitating the dress, walk and talk of blacks, were upper-class white intellectuals, like those clustered around the University of Chicago and other American colleges and universities, who were imitating the life-styles of blacks as well.


Musically, however, their take-off point was West Coast jazz, which many blacks and whites at the time thought was an attempt to remove blackness from jazz. Frequently I was verbally accosted by these would-be jazz critics and had to listen to their theories about jazz and blacks. These jazz fans, who were musically illiterate, would lecture me about jazz music, which they couldn’t play and had no experience of except as consumers.


Eventually, I grew tired of this barrage of nonsense and enlisted the help of some friends to make the semi-documentary film, THE CRY OF JAZZ. We started work on this film in 1956. The structural and syntactical features of jazz were used as a metaphor for the Black American Experience.


Looking back fifty years, I realize that one of the shortcomings of THE CRY OF JAZZ is that we didn’t use the concept of black culture to help construct the film. As far as I’m aware, that concept didn’t come into American consciousness until the late 1960s. However, if one acknowledges the confrontational spirit of Hip Hop, THE CRY OF JAZZ can be called the first Hip Hop film. It was released in 1959, nine years before the assassination of Martin Luther King.


According to Kenneth Tynan, critic of the London Observer, the CRY was a landmark film as it was the first film made by black Americans that challenged the humanity of white Americans.


Willard Van Dyke, pre-eminent American film documentarian and head of the Film Division of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, said the CRY predicted the riots in American cities of the 1960s and 70s.


Simultaneously, while noting the influence of aspects of black culture on certain artifacts of the West, I had immersed myself into the study of as much of Western Art Music as I could tolerate. While there were many elegant and ingenious works, those that I found most significant musically and emotionally were Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue,” the last movement of his “Hammerklavier Sonata” and the Scherzo from his “String Quartet op.135.” I had lost interest in Stravinsky except to keep track of his new technical journeys. Whatever insight he may have had into the eternal Now with the “Rite” was abandoned with his foray into ragtime and neo-classicism.


The aesthetic of the eternal Now had guided me to and through jazz to the “Rite of Spring,” the beginnings of  R&B, and Delta Blues. Otherwise I was wandering lost in the sea of serialism, musique concrete, and Cowell/Seeger’s dissonant counterpoint. I certainly wasn’t getting informed about the eternal Now in those waters.


One day, while shooting scenes in a black gospel church  for THE CRY OF JAZZ,  I was stunned by the power and immediacy of the music. Here was the strongest manifestation of the eternal Now I had experienced since the “Rite of Spring.” I asked myself, why was I fooling around with Stravinsky’s neo-classicism, serialism or dissonant counterpoint when I had black gospel right at my fingertips? Around, that time, I also heard the first two Hammond electric organ recordings of Jimmy Smith for Blue Note Records, and Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere,” “This Here,” and ”Moanin.” Gospel and Funk were new stylistic manifestations of the eternal Now.


The music was about as tonal as one could get, and harmonically very simple, although there were a number of peculiar harmonic progressions, passing notes and other traits that had to be learned. I promised myself that I would study gospel and Funk music, and make it part of my arsenal as soon as I could, after I finished the CRY.  My strong reaction was to the music of black gospel, not to any of its religious elements. I had to re-examine myself musically.


As interest in THE CRY OF JAZZ had arisen in New York City, in 1960, I moved my family from Chicago to take advantage of the integrated musician’s union there.


Learning the syntax of Funk and gospel music made facing the problem of earning a living much easier, coupled with my command of Western Art Music, Jazz, and West African drumming. There was a demand for my arranging services in the record industry, and also as a composer/orchestrator for film and TV.  Funk, gospel, R&B. and Soul were fast growing trends.


While doing myriad recording projects for R&B and soul singers, including sessions with Jimi Hendrix and George Benson, my composition, “Skunk Juice,” evolved from writing for a Harlem-based R&B band, the Pazant Brothers. The musical objective was to create a raw, colorful, funky, soulful sound combined with complex linear patterns, thus contrasting mightily with groups like James Brown, Kool and The Gang, the Stax Records bands in Memphis, and Motown’s Junior Walker. The music that I was writing for the Pazants was both funky and intelligent, and showed many degrees of polymetric design as I pushed on with my pursuit of the eternal NOW as best I could by creating unpredictable patterns within a highly predictable commercial framework.


In 1974, after writing for Lionel Hampton, Al Hirt, Dizzy Gillespie, and many other prominent acts, Vanguard Records hired me as executive producer for the label. During my tenure there, I added  Blues legend, Big Mama Thornton, to Vanguard’s roster.


In addition to establishing a jazz line with Clark Terry, James Moody, Elvin Jones, Bunky Green, and Roland Prince, I signed and produced the artist Camille Yarbrough and her Iron Pot Cooker album in 1975. Yarbrough’s Iron Pot Cooker has been called “A landmark album that pre-dates the commercial breakthrough of hip hop. , , , Without question, ‘The Iron Pot Cooker’ is a precursor to Lauryn Hill.” (From the CD liner notes by Kevin Powell.)                    


 Iron Pot Cooker was ahead of its time. The culture began to catch up with my musical vision twenty-five years later, in 2000, when Fat Boy Slim sampled “Take Yo’ Praise,” from “Iron Pot Cooker” and made the recording “Praise You,” which was a huge international hit.


I also signed the Pazant Brothers to Vanguard. I produced their album, Loose and Juicy, in 1975. Twenty-two years later, in 1997, this LP was re-released on CD by Vanguard. My composition, “A Gritty Nitty,” on this LP and CD, was sampled three times on three different Sony Records releases by the Hip Hop group, Cypress Hill. Some, if not all of these three CDs became platinum hits.


Wanting to further enlarge my catalog of Art music, I left Vanguard to concentrate on composing. Upon hearing my “Piece For Chamber Orchestra,” which was composed in 1979, Gunther Schuller, American composer/conductor/author said, “An amazing tour de force in terms of relentless energy and build up of tension...a fascinating strong piece.” “Original and Fresh,” said Bruce Creditor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


In the mid-80s, as work in the studio recording scene started fading away, I resettled in Los Angeles and wrote music for motion pictures, television, and occasional record productions, while adding to my Art music catalog.


In 1998, when I was 72 years old, a 26-year-old hip hopper from South Central LA listened to my “Piece For Chamber Orchestra” and called it “Rap Without Words.” My music had already crossed several generation gaps, and there was more to come. Soon two CDs of my Art music emerged: Urban Classical - The Music Of Ed Bland on Cambria Records; and Dancing Through The Walls on Delos International Records.


With my “Piece For Chamber Orchestra,” I had turned the corner and created the first of a series of works that celebrate the eternal Now


One of the problems facing me as an Art music composer is that of getting an economically sufficient following. My thoughts turned to the universal acceptance of the pop song


The curse of pop music and jazz is that they are too predictable. Ideally, Art music should demand unpredictability.


In my 31 “Urban Counterpoint” piano works, the musical language I’ve used is in the vernacular – the language of pop music and jazz. Unpredictability is introduced into this vernacular setting through a rampaging polyphonic/polymetric texture. Unpredictability, by definition,  Unpredictability, by definition, means that the listener is forced to think about vernacular musical relationships, and thus has moved from a pop music approach to a serious/art music approach. This phenomenon is what these 29 short piano works (Vols.1-4) and the 2  larger pieces “Classical Soul and Three Chaconnes in Blue” (Vol. 5) address.      


The 31 piano works are stand-alone pieces. A unifying factor can be found in the effects these works give of Tatum-like improvisation in a contrapuntal situation or as musical essays on “Tatum with Counterpoint.”


Interestingly enough, the singer Beyonce leased my work “Skunk Juice” for sampling on her single, “Creole” and Atari Video Games leased “A Gritty Nitty” for their game TEST DRIVE UNLIMITED.


Considering that these two pieces were written between 1966-’71 I would say that my Urban Classical Funk style has come full circle.


Currently I am  composing several works in my Urban Classical Funk style, including a series of percussion works with the working title “Penderecki Funk.”


With the universal acceptance of the eternal Now through Funk, ragtime, blues, jazz, soul, R&B, and Hip Hop, one can wonder what effect this acceptance will have on the evolution of Art music. Whatever the  outcome, it is clear that celebration of the eternal Now has become the norm of the international musical world.


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                                               Copyright 2008 - 2009  Ed Bland - All Rights Reserved