Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Entertainer - HAMADA Takasi, Contemporary Ragtime Guitarist

Sheet music front page
Ragtime dawned in the USA in the late 19th Century as a style of popular music influenced by European classical tradition as well as African rhythm. One of the trademarks of ragtime is syncopation, a characteristic 'delay' in the rhythm pattern generating a certain pulse to the melody line, which is a normal feature in African music - and in jazz. Ragtime was primarily composed by piano players, and today ragtime music is best remembered through the works of ragtime composer-pianists like Scott Joplin, James Scott, Arthur Marshall, Joseph Lamb a.o. - pioneers of the classic ragtime repertoire.

At a time before gramophones, records, radio and modern mass media ragtime became popular in the public through published sheet music scores designated for piano players and home entertainment, however, ragtime was also often performed by brass bands performing in street parades, at sport games and other public events. A branch of ragtime performance was offered by virtuosic banjo players, who played classic ragtime pieces on 5-string banjo in concert, and stringbands composed of various string instruments also performed ragtime music in tent shows and at private parties helping to spread the music to a broad audience and making ragtime a hype that put the swing to things in the era before The Jazz Age of the 1920s.

The public taste gradually changed after WW 1 with the emergence of jazz and other popular genres, however, ragtime never disappeared, but was rediscovered from time to time during the 20th Century. In the 1970s, a very popular movie, 'The Sting', used music by Scott Joplin in the soundtrack and generated a renewed interest for Joplin and ragtime. This time guitar players were also attracted to the music and a selection of the classic rags by Joplin and other ragtime composers were transcribed for solo guitar and mostly performed in the folk club circuit and released on LP records. Ragtime played on solo guitar is a challenging experience and demands great technical skills  - a contemporary master of ragtime guitar shows off the needed dexterity in a performance of Scott Joplin's popular rag, 'The Entertainer'

The featured guitarist in the video is HAMADA Takasi, a Japanese guitar player (b.1964) from Otaru City, Hokkaido Island, Japan. He has specialized in ragtime and ragtime influenced music, and he has transcribed both classic ragtime compositions by Scott Joplin and others for solo guitar and furthermore contributed with several of his own compositions in the ragtime genre. His guitar style is quite unique. He can play in standard tuning, but more often he plays in a special "Otarunay-Tuning" (EbAbCFCEb : 6 to 1) that fits well for arranging piano rags for solo guitar. More info on HAMADA Takasi at his website in English, here

HAMADA Takasi (source: YouTube)
HAMADA Takasi has released several CDs since 1992 featuring both own compositions and compositions by well known American ragtime artists, a selection of his CDs are available for purchase here . - Below I'll insert more examples of his magnificent playing from the videos he has uploaded at YouTube. 

Here is first HAMADA Takasi playing a popular, modern ragtime piece composed by David Thomas Roberts - 'Roberto Clemente'

Last year HAMADA Takasi released his latest CD, Tanne Nay, containing sixteen compositions of solo guitar pieces, from original ragtime to tango, blues, ballad, caprice, including 2 rag-medleys by Blind Boone.

CD front: Tanne Nay (Otarunay Records, OTR-033)
One of the featured original ragtime compositions on the Tanne Nay CD is 'Merry's Fish Market', here performed live in a video recording


If you like contemporary solo guitar playing of high standard, I recommend HAMADA Takasi's recordings, his skills both as a composer and as a musician are unique. To end this small presentation, I'll insert the uploaded audio track of the title composition from 'Tanne Nay' - a modern classic rag by HAMADA Takasi   

The Tanne Nay CD is available for purchase here


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Monday, November 10, 2014

Louis Vola Del Quinteto Del Hot Club De Francia (1944-46)

Louis Vola
Louis Vola (1902-1990) was a French double-bassist famous for his work with the Quintette du Hot Club de France featuring the star soloists Django Reinhardt (g) and Stéphane Grappelli (violin). According to some sources, Louis Vola discovered Django and his brother Joseph in Toulon, France early 1930s at the time he led his own orchestra in Cannes. Vola invited them to sit in with his band, however, the co-work with Dango and his brother was not a big success, as the brothers had troubles keeping up with appointments. Then another co-work with Django in 1934 was more successful. At that time Vola led his orchestra in a distinguished hotel in Paris, and members of the band comprised both Django Reinhardt (g) and Stéphane Grappelli (violin). During intermission of performance in the hotel Django and Grappelli had fun in a stage room playing together for themselves, later bandleader and bassist Vola joined them together with guitarist Roger Chaput and encouraged the quartet to work out arrangements for an all-strings jazz ensemble. Django demanded that his brother Joseph, who was used to accompany him, joined the group and this was the birth and original formation of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, which had this name thanks to Charles Delaunay, who engaged the quintet as the house orchestra of the Hot Club de France organisation and later arranged numerous recording sessions, performances and tours promoting the first ever European string swing jazz ensemble.

The original Quintette du Hot Club de France
The original Quintette du Hot Club de France (- including changing members of the rhythm section from time to time) had success all over Europe until the outbreak of WW2 in 1939, when the group dissolved and the members of the ensemble went for a career in other combinations. Louis Vola had been a stable member of the group most of its time, but he had also participated in various other bands featuring both French and foreign musicians on the Parisian music scene. You can read more about his engagements outside the QHCF in a previous article by Georg Lankester, here.

In 1940, Vola had joined Ray Ventura's orchestra and went with the band in exile on its tour of South America the next year. Recently Georg Lankester has given an account of the career of Ray Ventura in two published articles, the second has info on Ventura's tour of South America and is accessible here.

Ray Ventura and band members with guitarist Henri Salvador ( Buenos Aires) ( 1943)
Ray Ventura's orchestra had success in Rio de Janeiro, the first destination of the South American tour, and when the band arrived in Buenos Aires in July 1942, the sucess continued with both live performance and recordings for the Odeon label. In between contracted performances with the Ventura orchestra members of the band were free to establish contacts with other musicians and the local music scene to support expenses of living in exile. On these conditions Louis Vola formated a group similar to the Quintette du Hot Club de France late 1942 or early 1943.

Hernán Oliva
Among others, the ensemble comprised guitarist Henri Salvador, who also was a member of the Ventura orchestra, and the Chilean violinist Hernán Oliva, who had been a member of Oscar Alemán's first Quinteto de Swing 1941-42, but by then had abandoned further cooperation with Alemán due to an incompatibility of tempers. Together with two local rhythm guitarists this group named Louis Vola del Quinteto del Hot Club de Francia recorded four (test-)sides for the small, local Sincopa y Ritmo label, which never were issued (- according to discographical info by Tom Lord, the four recorded titles  were 'Viper's Dream', 'Mabel', 'Stardust' and 'Rosetta' with the mx-numbers from BAVE2720-BAVE2723, all well known tunes from the repertoire of the original QHCF).

Excerpt of Tom Lord's discographical info (click to enlarge)
As the stay in Buenos Aires was extended because of WW2 that prevented the Ray Ventura orchestra to return to Europe, Louis Vola continued his own musical project with a new formation of the quintet, which had a recording contract with the Argentine division of Victor records. The first session recorded for Victor was made in October 1943 accompanying a vocal ensemble named The Blackbirds and resulted in two sides. According to Tom Lord's discography, the two titles recorded were 'For Me And My Gal' and 'I'm Old Fashioned' (issued on Vic 60-0282). The quintet now comprised Hernán Oliva (violin), Luis Silva, Musco Milton, Hector Condro (guitar) and Louis Vola (ldr, bass).

The Victor recordings 1944-46 (source: VirgilJazz CD 111)
Louis Vola stayed in Argentina until 1948 and thus did not leave the country together with Ventura, who headed for the U.S.A. in 1945 after WW2 had ended and then returned to France to continue his career. From September 1944 to April/May 1946 Vola continued recording with his quintet in Buenos Aires. Twenty four sides were cut for the Victor label during this period as shown in the listing above. There was some changes of personnel in the quintet from time to time, however, Hernán Oliva had a leading instrumental voice in the ensemble and he is featured on all listed sides. As the quintet emulated the sound of the original QHCF, the choice of a lead guitarist to perform the 
guitar solos also was crucial. The first eight sides as shown feature Luis Silva as lead guitarist in the ensemble with remaining personnel as listed in Tom Lords discography for the October 1943 session.

Luis Silva
Luis Silva (1915-1987) was a Chilean guitarist, who had started his career playing jazz in his homeland in the 1930s and further had founded the QUINTETO SWING HOT DE CHILE after discovering Django Reinhardt. He made some records with this combination in Chile 1943-44, and according to the scarce discografical info the 1943 sides also comprised Hernán Oliva on violin. Silva might have come to Buenos Aires in 1944 at the request of Hernán Oliva, but info on the circumstances of his involvment with Vola's quintet is not available. Fact is, however, that Silva had the  guitar solo part in the eight sides with Vola's quintet for Victor recorded from September to December 1944. 

Silva's technique is well developed and he has some great solo spots (- very different from Django) as well as competent interplay with Oliva and the rhythm section on the eight sides with Vola's quintet. Here is an example of Silva's fretwork in the recording of 'The Sheik of Araby' from September 1944.

After Luis Silva left Vola, he returned to Chile and gave up playing jazz continueing his career in Chilean folk music. You have the opportunity to read more about Luis Silva in an article in Spanish published here.

Henri Salvador
 The March-April 1945 sessions have changes in personnel, another lead guitarist named A.Rivera of whom no info is available takes over Luis Silva's chair, and there is added vocal by a female singer named Alice Burton, who contributes the lyrics in English on 'Undecided'. Alice Burton may be a stage name for a local artist, again no info is to be found, however, she also contributes with her vocal on a few more sides of the remaining Victor recordings by Louis Vola's quintet. 

The May-June and August 1945 sessions reunite Henri Salvador with the quintet, he is now featured as the lead solo guitarist and contributes with some noteworthy solo spots, i.e. in the recording of 'Django Blue(s)'

Henri Salvador (1917-2008) was a member of Ray Ventrua's orchestra like Louis Vola and had embarked on the tour of South America with the band, where he both had vocal spots and played the guitar. The career of Henri Salvador is too extensive to refer here, enough to tell that he had learned guitar from his brother, Tony Salvador, and that he knew Django and had recorded with him in France before the war in the orchestra of Fred Adison

His style of playing the guitar is more modern than Luis Silva's and he is said to have prefered chord solo contributions instead of single string. However, his playing on the shown 'Django Blue(s)' has fine examples of single string playing, and the same technique is used in one of the highlights of the Victor recordings by the Louis Vola's quintet - 'Tiger Rag' - a show piece for Hernán Oliva's violin

The last four recordings for Victor April-May 1946 again have a change of personnel. Henri Salvador had left Buenos Aires at the end of the war in August '45 together with Ventura, as replacement Salvador López sat in with the quintet in three of the sides as a piano player. Further, Oscar Alemán's rhythm guitarist of his first quintet, Dario 'Johnny' Quaglia, also is featured and female vocalist Alice Burton again contributes with lyrics in English. The last recording, 'You Never Say Yes...', replaces Salvador López with Jorge Curutchet on el-guitar.

Private issue (Virgil Jazz, CD 111)
The Victor recordings by Louis Vola's quintet (1944-46) have never been reissued by an ordinary company, however, private collectors in Argentina of the original discs have released  the 24 sides on a CD, which may be hard to find outside Argentina. The shown CD from Virgil Jazz (CD 111) is an example of such a collection. A similar collection was also issued by the Buenos Aires Tango Club (CD Jazz 8004). 

Nevertheless, these recordings are of historic importance and document the direct influence of the original QHCF in 
Argentina by one of its founding members, double-bassist Louis Vola.


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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Apanhei-te Cavaquinho

The title of this entry refers to a famous choro tune composed by Ernesto Nazareth in 1914, since then a standard tune among choro musicians and recorded by numerous artists. However, the title of Apanhei-te Cavaquinho (- which in English means 'I got you, cavaquinho', refering to the friendly 'cutting contests' among choro musicians in rodas de choro meetings) is also the title of a four part filmed documentary of the story of the cavaquinho.

Cavaquinho ace and historian Henrique Cazes and producer Ivan Dias produced a documentary in four parts on the origins and circulation of the cavaquinho recorded on location in Portugal, Rio de Janeiro, Cabo Verde and Hawaii to cast some light upon the story of this fascinating instrument. The film was shown on TV in Brazil and has now been uploaded on YouTube, more than four hours documentation featuring Henrique Cazes as the guide interviewing key persons at the mentioned locations. As may be expected, the speak is in Portuguese most of the time (- except through some of the interviews recorded in Hawaii) and there are not added English subtitles in the YouTube version. However, even though you do not speak or understand the Portuguese language, this filmed documentary is entertaining and moreover has great photography by Carlos Mendes Pereira creating an authentic atmosphere of the locations and supporting the interviews well. You have the opportunity to watch all four parts following this link

CD front: Uma História do Cavaquinho Brasileiro (independent, 2012)
As a follow-up to the mentioned film, Henrique Cazes recorded and produced the shown CD in 2012 featuring fourteen tracks of compositions documentating the importance of the cavaquinho in popular Brazilian instrumental music, in particular choro. Of course,  Ernesto Nazareth's 'Apanhei-te Cavaquinho' is featured on the CD in a new arrangement also used in the soundtrack of the film mentioned above, and there are more tunes by choro pioneers like 'Cruzes, Minha Prima!' by Joaquin Callado, 'Roceira' by Mário Álvares da Conceição (- an early master of the cavaquinho known as Mário Cavaquinho) and 'Não Pode Ser!' by Nelson Alves (- another pioneer of the cavaquinho known as Nelson Cavaquinho). Late 1940s, Waldir Azevedo made the cavaquinho popular as a solo voice in choro and related genres, and four of his compositions are featured in new arrangements by Henrique Cazes and Beto Cazes - besides the smash hits 'Brasileirinho' and 'Delicado' you have new versions of 'Brincando Com O Cavaquinho' and the beautiful 'Eterna Melodia'. From the same period there is also a new arrangement of Garoto's 'Meu Cavaquinho', further a version of 'Gingando' (- a popular tune composed by Dino 7 Cordas while being a stable member of cavaquinista Canhoto e seu Regional, the ensemble which later became the backing ensemble of Jacob do Bandolim). Modern tradition of the cavaquinho is represented by an arrangement of Radamés Gnattali's 'Variações Sem Tema', here performed in a duet interplay with pianist Cliff Korman, and further there is a version of Paulinho da Viola's melodious 'Beliscando'. Finally, two contemporary compositions by Henrique Cazes, 'Real Grandeza' (- a choro dedicated to Paulinho da Viola and his farther, Cesar Faria, violanista and founder of the famous Epoca de Ouro choro ensemble) and the double tune 'Dois Estudos Nº 6 E Nº 7' (- dedicated to bandolinista Joel de Nasciemento and Hamilton de Holanda respectively). - Henrique Cazes plays the cavaquinho in all fourteen tracks (- and doubles on violão tenor in some tunes), and he is accompanied by a backing ensemble consisting of 7 string acoustic guitar, double bass, percussion and in some tracks an accordion is also added. More info on participating musicians and tracks available here 

Henrique Cazes
Henrique Cazes is a modern master and virtuoso of the cavaquinho as a solo voice in Brazilian popular music, and the shown CD is a marvelous example of his mastery of the instrument in a repertoire of delightful compositions reflecting the story of the cavaquinho and its importance in choro and related instrumental genres. The CD is highly recommended, if you like Brazilian instrumental popular music of high quality and further are keen on exploring the cavaquinho as played by a modern master. The CD is available at Itunes and various streaming audio services, and a mp3 download version is available for purchase at Amazon, here

The CD was presented in a TV program by TV Cultura in Brazil, and I'll insert a couple of fragments from the program below uploaded at YouTube. - Here's is first Henrique Cazes playing his arrangement of Waldir Azevedo's 'Brincando com o Cavaquinho'

To end this small review, here's is Henrique Cazes in his own composition 'Real Grandeza'