Busy again, so just a quick post

JISHOU, HUNAN — Today is 12/12/12. Celebrate however you like, a dozen doughnuts, 12 ounces of your favorite drink, 12 chocolate eclairs, 12 shots of JD — whatever. Another day like this won’t come for another 89 years. (Think about it. We can’t have 13/13/13 and so on. So, we have to wait until 1/1/2101.) Tomorrow is Saint Lucia Day. If your family isn’t Swedish or Norwegian, then nevermind. Conversely, you can lie to your kids and persuade the eldest daughter to wake up early and serve you coffee and pastries in bed. Hey, it could work! On a more serious note, the world lost two great musicians recently, both at remarkably advanced ages. Dave Brubeck died at 91, a day before his birthday. Ravi Shankar died at 92. Brubeck was one of the pioneers of “cool jazz” in the 1950s. His most known number is Take Five, which has been covered by so many musicians (including China’s 12 Girls Band) that it’s impossible to list them all. I was fortunate to hear him in concert back in the ’80s. A great musician, and a really nice man. Five of his six children became musicians. Here is Brubeck and his ...

Two more items from the jukebox in my head (guitar players, take note!)

JISHOU, HUNAN — My seniors just had their all-important Test for English Majors level 8 (TEM8), which now means many feel adrift with no overwhelming burdens on their shoulders. For months, they have been plowing through books, boning up (for some) the postgraduate examination in January and (for all) the TEM8 this weekend. A good mark on the postgrad exam opens the way to further education; a passing mark on the TEM8 allows them to qualify for better jobs after graduation. One cast-adrift student texted me this afternoon. Bored with nothing to do now, she was wandering around campus and said she wanted to stop by and visit me. Trouble is, I wasn’t home at the time. She signed off, complaining she had nothing to do, and unbidden, a fragment of a song long forgotten floated up: “Playing Solitaire till dawn with the deck of 51/Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo/Now don’t tell me, I’ve nothing to do.” Predictably, it was a top 40 hit from my early childhood and I am sure I must have heard it over and over again on the radio. The Statler Brothers recorded “Flowers on the Wall” in 1965, and rose to be a ...

Wonder Girls: ‘Nobody’ 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — Wonder Girls are a Korean pop group, whose 2008 single, “Nobody,” is a big hit in Korea and in China. I swear everyone here knows the song’s tune and the Chinese/English version’s lyrics. I like it, too. So for your viewing pleasure, here is the Korean version. There’s an English version, but frankly the lyrics are nearly unintelligible and don’t match up well with the choreography and melody. Their official website has the same version as the one I’m sharing.

Boyd Lee Dunlop: getting the fame he deserves … behind schedule

JISHOU, HUNAN — Some musicians find fame right away. For others, it takes years. In the case of Boyd Lee Dunlop, he had to wait until he was 85 to get a record deal. Dunlop played jazz piano back in the 1950’s around Buffalo, NY, but his day job took precedence over his piano playing. Time passed and Dunlop ended up in a retirement home, where there was a beat-up old piano that he would play when he thought no one was listening. Then he was discovered by chance, and now you can buy his debut album on iTunes for $9.99. Most of the cuts are his own compositions, but one is a standard, the St. James Infirmary Blues. His playing is effortless and original. For an 85-year-old guy, he still has his chops. Dunlop’s story in The New York Times.

More examples of the jukebox in my head 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — Every week, three of my Oral English students have to introduce three new words, phrases or idioms to their classmates. “Ferocious” was one that popped up last week, and “lunatic” came up last month. Name that tune! Can you think of two popular songs using each of those words? I’ll wait. . . . . . . Time’s up. Here’s what my internal jukebox coughed up. For “ferocious,” Kim Carnes’ 1981 hit, “Bette Davis Eyes.” For “lunatic,” “You May Be Right,” by Billy Joel, from 1980. (I know, three ’80s hits in two posts. The jukebox seems stuck in that decade for now.) I used lyrics from both songs on recent vocabulary tests, and today I played “Bette Davis Eyes” for one class. Kim Carnes’ singing is, I guess, an acquired taste I never acquired. My students were also unimpressed. Granted, the lyrics are clever, and lent themselves to an impromptu lesson on American idioms, but Carnes’ vocal style on that song gets on my nerves, like listening to a tone-deaf teenager singing karaoke. [Factoid: Jackie DeShannon, co-writer of the song with Donna Weiss, is from Hazel, Kentucky.] The Joel song, which I like more, had a ...

Another song got stuck in my head 3

JISHOU, HUNAN — For the last few days I’ve had this snippet of a song in my head — just the melody, not the lyrics. Gah! Some ’80s song was all I could remember about it. This evening, I decided to put my mind at rest and find the damn thing in the Internet. Searching on the few words I could remember was fruitless. Do you know how many songs rhyme “hurt you” with “desert you”? Then I remembered there’s an iPhone app that allows you to sing or play a tune and then identify it. While I don’t have an iPhone, I reasoned there must be a website that does the same thing. And there is: www.midomi.com to the rescue. It was the melody to the chorus that was stuck in my head. Here are the complete lyrics: Someday love will find you break those chains that bind you. One night will remind you how we touched and went our separate ways. If he ever hurts you, true love won’t desert you. You know I still love you, though we touched and went our separate ways. Congratulations if you have identified the song. Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) was a ...

Even more silly musical fun 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — First, the link. I can’t embed the video. Fuldans à lá Wheaton. One of my students, Luo Ye (Ellie), sent one to me. (That’s her in the previous post, with icing all over her face, by the way.) A Swedish band, Fulkultur (Ugly Culture), created the site to market themselves and raise a bit of money. For $1, you can upload a mugshot and personalize the dancing body. For $5, you can get high quality downloads of their music, too.

The Chinese “bunny hop,” Allegro andante

JISHOU, HUNAN — I am sure my last post tantalized you so much that you are dying to know more about Gelato, the perpetrators of the “Penguin’s Game” dance. So here are some more details I’ve coaxed out of the Internet. Gelato is a man-woman duo from the Remini part of Italy. He’s a DJ (and apparently the guy in the penguin get-up) and she a singer/dancer from one of the clubs there. I’m guessing she’s the tall blonde in the black coat with fake-fur trim. They like eating ice cream, so they named their band Gelato. “Penguin’s Game” was their first single, and they also released an album, Vanilla and Chocolate. I still don’t know their names, though. These info-nuggets come from their record label’s website. SAIFAM of Italy makes “small, anonymous but talentful dance projects,” according to one DJ website. SAIFAM’s own site says they also produce “fitness music,” the kind of catchy, bouncy music you want to get up and move to. In the immortal words of James Brown, “Get up offa that thing.” You can sample tracks by Gelato and other groups at the SAIFAM website, and even buy them if you are so moved. SAIFAM ...

More musical goodies: the Chinese “bunny hop” 6

JISHOU, HUNAN — I just came from the English Club Christmas party, where we danced a version of the “Bunny Hop” to a catchy tune I haven’t heard anywhere else but in China. So, in keeping with my recent tradition of scouring the Internet for perfectly useless trivia, I went googling, yahoo-ing and baidu-ing to learn something about it. Since it seems to be something akin to an oral tradition, getting anything definite about it was a real challenge. In China, the song is called “Rabbit Dance 兔子舞,” since the basic steps are just like the American “Bunny Hop” dance. [Ray Anthony’s band did a 45 of this in the mid-1950s; the B side was the “Hokey Pokey.” So now you know.] But if you pay attention to the lyrics to “Rabbit Dance,” the song we hear in China says nothing about rabbits or bunnies. The animal in question is … penguins. Here’s the lyrics. If I’m violating copyright, please excuse me. Tracking down the performers was hard enough. left left right right go turn around go go go left right left left right right left left right right go go go left left right right go turn around go ...

Very Random Access Musical Memory ©2010 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — OK, so here’s another one of my musical treasure hunts. Tonight, I heard the students of my friend in the music college perform. Among the songs were two from Western operas. Both I recognized right away, and I could even sing along (not very loud, of course), but I could only remember the name of one of the operas. The first was from Bizet’s Carmen — the “Habanera”. Even if you’re not an opera buff, you have to know this aria, because of the distinctive chromatic glide down the scale as the cello plays “ba ba ba bum ba ba ba dum.” And for those who can’t read music, here’s an Old School video of Maria Callas singing it in 1962. That one wasn’t so hard, but the second, a duet, was a mystery. I knew the tune well enough to sing the man’s part (not the lyrics, though), but why did I know the tune? And who wrote it? This is the kind of thing that can keep me up at night. The program was not all that helpful, since it only provided the title in Chinese and the names of the performers. The Chinese title ...

Recommendations: Joanna Wang and “Not One Less” 5

FENGHUANG, HUNAN — So, there I was in a car, coming back from another trip to Fenghuang, when Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” emanated from the CD player. Two things make the soundtrack for this part of my life noteworthy. I was not heading back to Manhattan, USA, but to Jishou, China. (And, no, I was not feeling homesick, though the song is one of my favorites.) More importantly, the singer was not fellow Long Islander Billy Joel, but a woman with a soothing, sultry voice. Oh, I was hooked! After listening to the rest of the tracks, I had to ask who she was. Wáng Rùolín (王若琳), also known as Joanna Wang, is a Taiwan-based singer/songwriter in the Norah Jones mold. So far she has cut two CDs, and if her music gets more US airplay, Wang might just give Jones a run for her money. (Like Paul McCartney, one of her idols, Wang plays guitar left-handed, as you can see in this photo). The two women have similar singing styles — a casual, effortless sound, as if each one were singing just to you, one person at a time. (I am dating myself here, but Astrud ...

Album #5: Cactus Jim & the Wranglers, “Western Christmas” (Diplomat, ca 1960?) 11

After several months hiatus, I resumed digitizing my albums over Christmas break. This one was a logical subject, since I had fond memories of it as a kid. Now, I wonder why I liked it so much. Still in researching this album I found a few interesting tidbits about it — very few. First of all, I have no idea who “Cactus Jim & the Wranglers” are. Nowhere on the Web is there any other mention of this group other than in relation to this album. One site suggested the group was the same as “Tex Johnson & the Six Shooters,” which recorded a similar album of tunes about the same time. The two albums were produced by the same company (Synthetic Plastics Co.), so it’s likely the two groups were the same set of studio musicians pressed into service for this project. I found out more about the record company than the group. It seems the Synthetic Plastics Co., had produced a variety of injected plastic objects beginning in the 1920s. Brothers Donald and Louis Kasen realized they could use the same manufacturing process to press record albums, so beginning in the 1940s they produced a series of children’s ...
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