Thursday, January 21, 2010

To Jean Lejeune (1914-2010)

(3 generations out ot of 4 of Lejeune guys on this picture taken in 2008 : me, Jean and Basile)

My grandfather passed away during the night. He was My father's dad.

We used to call him Pépé (pronounced "pay-pay").

Pépé was great. He was a good and humble man. Pépé was a French teacher. Past students used to call him or went to see him in his remote house in Burgubndy long after his retirement.

Pépé was a man of words. Pépé wrote his life in a book. Pépé loved to tell stories. We loved to hear them. Poems by La Fontaine, Baudelaire, Victor Hugo. He loved Rimbaud and Proust (I hate Proust). He wrote poems too, in a 19th century style.
Pépé loved tennis and football. Pépé was a good tennis player. Pépé loved fishing.
Pépé loved Bach, Edith Piaf and Ray Charles. And Georges Brassens. My first memories of hearing Brassens were at his house in the country. Brassens to me is Biches (the name of the village where he lived).

Pépé had gone to World War II. He had been given a gun, a revolver, but he never shot it. His regiment never fought. He went home in 1940 and resumed his job. He bought his house in the country. He had met his wife at a ball in 1937 and they were married since that date. Until a few weeks ago, Pépé, although physically impaired, had kept all his wits and we talked on the phone everynow and then.
Pepe, as a school teacher, has meticulously-made photo albums with type-written texts detailling what he's done almost everyday from 1950 to 2000. It's just fascinating. He used to describe himself as a witness more than as a maker.
So for you, Pépé, I can olny post these Brassens songs :

Georges Brassens - Grand père (buy)

First, of course "Grand père", a fierce, humourous piece which tells of a poor family who loses their grandfather and try to have him buried, but nobody wants to do it because they have no money. So (pardon the translation)

"At the grocery store,
No money, no groceries
At lovely Suzanne's
No money, no thighs
Low status dead people
Are outside of my jurisdiction

Yet I had inherited from grandpa
A pair of pointed boots
If ass kicks get lost sometime
This one hit its goal"

It would make him laugh. And thank God we won't have the same problem to take him to his last resting place !

The other one, "Je m'suis fait tout petit" instantly brings me back memories of summers spent in his house.

Georges Brassens - Je me suis fait tout petit (buy) (1954)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Song for Haïti

Grupo Vocal Desandann - Guédé Nibo (buy) (1999)

Sometimes I'm just fed up with news images. Especially when such a tragedy hits. You get saturated by pictures and videos on TV, in the web, in your papers...

It really looks like, as Rev Gary Davis used to sing, death don't have no mercy in this land.

This beautiful song by a vocal ensemble of Haitian singers from Cuba (there's a huge Haitian community there) is dedicated to the day of the dead, on november 1st. Guédé Nibo is a spirit of death, but also of sexuality. Both ends of life.

So please listen to that song and give to your favorite nongovernmental organization; but the worst part of that tragedy is that it seems to be very difficult for medical or food supplies to reach their final destination - the people.

Thoughts to two of my friends, David and Aravena, who are still trying to get in touch with their families back there.

David has posted a link to this site on his Facebook page. If you're looking for friends and relatives in Haiti you can contact the site and leave a short message with youre-mail and the names, status and contact info at

You can also go the CICR site here if you're looking for news of friends and relatives.

You can also join this Facebook group called Together for Haiti, where you can send donations and be informed on the situation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Honey Don't Play Me No Opera : the first "blues" records 1914-1916

Marion Harris - Paradise Blues(1916)

Victor Military Band - Joe Turner Blues(1916)

Prince's Band - Hesitating Blues(1915)

Nora Bayes - Homesickness Blues(1915)

All blues scholars and writers have ID'd the first true blues record : "Crazy Blues", by Mamie Smith, recorded in 1920. Every story of the recorded blues starts with this song. But we tend to forget that songs were recorded with the word "blues" in the title before 1920.

While searching for pre-1920material I stumbled upon a list at, a great site dedicated to the history of jazz before 1930. It features a few records, between 1914 and 1916, that were blues before the blues.

The list is made of two different types of recordings : instrumental pieces recorded by military bands that play in the Jim Europe / WC Hadny stle, and songs by famous female (and white) entertainers of the times, like Nora Bayes or Marion Harris.

I've posted four of them, two of each style, just for you. They don't seem to bear a strong resemblance to the blues (maybe in the chord structure), but you'll recognize, in "Hestating Blues", a standard of both blues and hillbilly music of the 20's; and the female singers really sound like the first "classic" blues divas like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith or Alberta Hunter.

Historians probably picked the Mamie Smith recording as the first blues because Mamie was colored and also because that was the first (although unwilling) attempt at reaching the Afro American public. But those recordings I'm posting today have their dated charms, and I'll probably post some more from 1917-1920, especially by the great Al Bernard, the famous "jazz singer".

Thursday, January 7, 2010

From cakewalk to ragtime 1998-1916

Metropolitan Orchestra - Smoky Mokes (buy) (1900)

The Victor Minstrels - The Cake-Walk (buy) (1902)

Europe's Society Orchestra - Down Home Rag (buy) (1913)

Trying to trace the origins of jazz in pre-1920 recordings may prove a bit frustrating. The great New Orleans bands only started to gain the interest of producers in the mid-twenties. So all you get before is mostly music recorded by Victor in New York City, generally played by white bands with a military, vaudeville or classical background.
But that doesn't mean such explorations are useless and uninteresting. Proof is this compilation by French label Frémeaux & Associés featuring original recordings of rags and its direct ancestor, the cakewalk.

This styles are very important because they formed a link between 19th century European music and the music played by the black slaves. The cake-walk was derived from the dances of black people who mocked the European dances like menuets.

As this great article at says, "Instrumental rags and ragtime-styled music (an ancestor and influence of jazz), were important in Jazz’s evolution because they: 1) brought Negro rhythmic music to the usually sophisticated American White society; 2) non-reading bands listened to and imitated the more learned orchestras heard performing ragtime song; 3) the large demand for dance orchestras during an era when dancing was the most popular form of social activity; and 4) they provided the style for the ‘ragging’ of marches by adding syncopation and blue notes by the piano players of the era."

Nowadays, when you think about ragtime, what comes to your mind is Scott Joplin's piano pieces (see previous post), but cakewalk and ragtime were mostly played and recorded by orchestras or by banjoists, and that's what you will hear in this compilation. These 36 sides may sound stiff at times, but it is a great document anyway on the influence of black music in the turn of the century, and on the popular roots of ragtime.

Included are American and European recordings. The cakewalk and ragtime came to France by 1900 with the Exposition Universelle, and the British started to take an interest in cakewalk at this time (as a 1903 piece by banjoist Olly Oakley attests).

"Cake-Walk" (listen to the mp3 above) is one of the earliest attemps to capture the autentic spirit of an Afro American dance contest. The MC is one of the vaudeville stars of the era, Len Spencer.

The most important bandleaders of the era were John Philip Sousa (specialized in marches), Arthur Pryor (an ex-Sousa band member) and Jim Reese Europe, the first great African-American bandleader who introduced jazz in France during World War I. Europe's Society Orchestra's "Down Home Rag",under the leadership of drummer Charles "Buddy" Gilmore has a drive and feel which is "the best of what was available in NY at the time. This is highly-polished orchestral ragtime, which stops just short of being jazz.", as Olivier Brard says in the interesting liner notes.

See the CD's tracklist here.