Tag Archives: onomatopoeia

The Vindication of Woody Walder

Woody Walder Wails (and Then Some) on Clarinet

Woody Walder didn’t so much play the clarinet as deploy it.  His solos with Bennie Moten’s band are closer to sonic found art sculptures than the poems, speeches and epigrams of his Jazz Age colleagues.  Walder pieced together squeals, squeaks, whinnies, whines and cries, sometimes through the insertion of foreign objects into the bell of his instrument, other times with just his mouthpiece.  The effect (Walder seemed all about effect) could be humorous or disturbing, at times grating, but was always surprising.

Walder’s particular sound of surprise hasn’t served his legacy well. Most jazz historians locate Walder’s playing somewhere between a tolerable novelty of the times or a now dated commercial evil, perhaps higher than comb playing and barnyard theatrics, but far below the fine art of plunger-muted brass.

Courtesy of chaka85.wordpress.com

It’s a pity Walder missed out on noise music, the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s experiments or the deliberately nasal, percussive and off-pitch curveballs of the World Saxophone Quartet.  The avant-garde as well as Walder and contemporaries such as Fess Williams (and even King Oliver at his onomatopoeic) all relished vocally inflected, “unmusical,” weird and occasionally cacophonous sounds.  Apparently Walder’s mistake was doing it for a willing and wide audience.

It’s best to listen to Walder on his own terms, neither as historical victim or stylistic precursor, but simply as a musician playing on a record.  Better yet, forget the man and just listen to the wholly unique, singularly “ugly” sounds twisting pitch and time on “Elephant’s Wobble,” “Thick Lip Stomp” and “Yazoo Blues.”  If you’re craving context, listen to how Walder’s solo on “Midnight Mama” at times resembles a hybrid of Rex Stewart’s half-valving and Bubber Miley’s gutbucketing, transplanted to Eric Dolphy’s honking, metallic reed.   It’s a hell of an act, or art, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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We Interrupt the Death of Classical Music to Bring You Children Singing

Saturday night the Boston Landmarks Orchestra opened their summer season at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, featuring special guests the Boston Children’s Chorus and Latin ensemble Alex Y Amigos, with honors for the BCC’s founder, civic leader Dr. Hubie Jones.  Geoffrey Wieting provides excellent coverage of the music on The Boston Musical Intelligencer.  This blogger (who attended through the generosity of his employer) couldn’t stop talking, and reflecting, about everything the kids brought to that music.

Whatever their nascent spiritual leanings, the young performers looked and sounded uplifted by Aaron Copland’s exhortation to shout during “Zion’s Walls.”  Chorus and audience alike were flush with enjoyment at the animal onomatopoeia of “I Bought Me A Cat,” with Copland’s sophisticated harmonies just a means to underline a lot of meows, quacks and giggles. If these compositions were “modernist,” “old” or “esoteric” it was news to this ensemble. They dug into the percussive syllables and jabbering ensemble improvisations of Alberto Grau’s “Pata Pa’ca” with the same excitement.

Seeing a few dozen adolescents singing, swaying and smiling through choral works is a great answer to all the doom and gloom surrounding the fate of classical, jazz and anything else that doesn’t make it to the Billboard Top 100.  “Art music” music kept these children riveted, without any drums, auto-tuners or scandalous backstories.

They might not pursue musical careers, they may never perform again, but they’ll always remember how they felt singing to the rafters. It’s not an end in itself but it’s certainly not the end of this music. Just ask the six year old boy dancing in the front row.

Thank You, Boston Children’s Chorus and Dr. Jones (Photo Courtesy of The Boston Globe)

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