Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 10
All that jazzThe Coastal Voices presents a Tin Pan Alley concert
BY JOE PAYNE
While artists like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Beyonce make the pop charts today, the popular music of America 100 years ago was dominated by such artists as the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Albert von Tilzer, and Hoagy Carmichael. This was the Tin Pan Alley era of American popular music, which is the subject of the Coastal Voices’ upcoming choir concert.
The Coastal Voices, a local community choir, is used to singing simply with the accompaniment of on-call pianist Michelle Lawton. But, in order to add to the style and authenticity of the concert, Lawton will be joined by drummer John Chamberlain and bassist William Devereaux, the combined forces of whom make up the Coastal Voices Jazz Trio.
“We’ve got this jazz combo that is playing with us and they are just superb,” said Coastal Voices Artistic Director Margaret Nelson. “It’s new to have the ensemble with us; usually we just have piano, and to add the drums and the bass is very fun to listen to and very fun to sing with.”
The kind of literature the Tin Pan Alley era of music provides ups the fun level as well, with such titles as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and “Oh By Jingo!”
“These songs are 100 years old; at least half of them are over 100 years old,” Nelson said. “They are timeless, and I’m really impressed how many of these songs have lasted this long.”
Tin Pan Alley was a district in New York City where, around the turn of the century, music publishers converged, Nelson explained. Each office, sometimes quite small, had a piano in it, in order for customers to test music for purchase and for artists to pitch songs to publishers.
“Before radio was in everybody’s home, if you wanted to buy music, you would go down to the area in New York City where all the publishers had shops,” she said. “You would wander in there, and there would be this cacophony of sound from all the shops.”
Back then, the family entertainment console was the piano, and sheet music was the driving force for people who wanted to play and sing songs they enjoyed at home.
“Most of the songs that come out over the radio and on television, you need a label and you are limited,” Nelson said, “but in those days there were scores of publishing houses.”
This variety led to the dissemination of novelty songs, love songs, ballads, and the beginnings of jazz.
“This is right when jazz was starting, so you have some straight songs mixing in the beginnings of jazz songs,” Nelson explained. “So, for instance, ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ is not a jazz song, it’s just a waltz, but by the same composer is ‘Put Your Arms Around Me Honey,’ which is definitely jazz.”
While jazz was a bourgeoning genre, more traditionally tonal songs got popular by being silly, using clever wordplay, and evoking a quaint sense of novelty.
“We had a time in the 1960s where we had a whole bunch of songs that were silly, like ‘The Giant Purple People Eater,’” Nelson said, “but there was a time in the early 1900s when they had a lot of these silly word songs.”
One selection the choir is performing is a medley of nearly 40 different Tin Pan Alley novelty tunes, something that certainly illustrates the publishing district’s output. Many of the selections the choir is performing have been arranged by modern composers, so the music won’t be a period performance, but a remix of favorite old tunes in the jazz idiom so many have come to enjoy.
“When I choose songs for the choir, I am careful to choose things that our choir is capable of, because a lot of jazz requires more training,” Nelson said. “Most of the jazz we are fine with, but it does help us stretch and grow.”
Most of the songs were written for soloists, so the arrangers are adding choral, jazzy harmony, which can be more difficult to perform than older, more traditional choral literature.
“We could be singing more of the classical choral numbers that were written in the late 1600s and 1700s with all these gorgeous sounds, but this is a lot more fun,” Nelson said. “We may not have some of those rich, rich tones that come with the classics in this concert, but we will get to those in another concert.”
The Tin Pan Alley repertoire reflects an innocent, more fun-loving time in American popular music, which has led to a lot of enjoyment for the members of the choir and the new ensemble. The jazz trio was only going to perform on a couple of numbers, but ended up coming up with arrangements for each number because of all the fun happening between the choir and instruments, Nelson said.
“There is a drive to sing,” she said. “People come to rehearsals, which are two hours long, and feel terrible if they miss it. It’s like, how are you going to get through another week without that time of singing?”
From Russia with music
The Orthodox Church of the Annunciation presents a performance by the St. Petersburg Men’s Ensemble on May 16 at 7 p.m. at the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation Hall, 877 Francine Lane, Santa Maria. Cost is $15. More info: 354-0879, email@example.com, or odox.org.
Live from L.A.
O’Sullivan’s Pub is host to an open mic event for musicians and rappers accompanied by a live musician on May 21 starting at 9 p.m. at 633 E. Main St., Santa Maria. More info: 925-0658 or osullivanspub.net.
The Maverick Saloon offers live entertainment, including live country by Teddy Spanke and the Tex Pistols on May 17 at 8:45 p.m., followed by “Late Night with guest DJs” at 11:30 p.m. “Concert on the Deck” featuring John Lyle and friends is May 18 at 3 p.m. Teddy Spanke and the Gang perform live on May 18 at 8:45 p.m., followed by “Late Night with guest DJs” at 11:30 p.m. at the saloon, 3687 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. More info: 686-4785 or maverick firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Arts Editor Joe Payne at email@example.com.
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