2013 November

November 29th Departure to Senegal

Dear Internet,

Today, for the first time since 2008, I will be leaving New York City for an extended, indefinite period. My destination is a neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal called Sacre Coeur, where I will be sharing an apartment with a Senegalese professor and friend. I intend to call this corner of the world my home for at least 7 months, though I don’t know quite yet how long my stay will be. I’ve witnessed an array of reactions to this news over the course of the past few months. Some happy or proud; others sad, worrisome or scared; but all were shocked. So, I thought I would take some time to explain my decision and precisely what it is I intend to do while away, in depth.

West African music has always struck a powerful chord with me. One of my favorite anecdotes comes from 1992, when, after my parents were strongly discouraged from bringing a two-year-old into Carnegie Hall, I sat silently for a three-hour African guitar concert performed by Francis Bebey, save the final note, during which I sang out a perfect fifth for all to hear. To my mother’s surprise, the audience, most of whom had noticed my presence, simply responded with great applause.

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Francis Bebey

Many years later, my high school French teacher—the very Dakarois Monsieur Diaw—introduced me to the global circuits in which ‘World Music’ is produced and performed between and across countries, particularly in West Africa. Once I had discovered the likes of Youssou N’Dour, Kine Lam, and Thione Seck, I was seduced by Senegalese music. Although I had no intention of studying African music — or music at all, for that matter — it nevertheless found it’s way to the focal point of my interests, both personally, professionally and academically, a few years later in college. After deciding to major in Ethnomusicology, I took an African History course, merely meaning to fulfill a coursework requirement. To my surprise, I found it fascinating and have remained transfixed with the stories and art of many regions of the continent ever since.

Exactly a year after taking that history course, I arrived in Dakar to study for a semester abroad. Though the decision to go had been very swift, I was deeply drawn to West Africa. Upon my arrival in Dakar, I immediately began to seek out the Kora: a 21-stringed harp-lute that evolved from the persian ‘Ud and is very commonly found throughout West Africa. It’s hard to explain why I was so adamant about finding someone who could teach me how to play this instrument, except to say that I felt that an elementary level of bi-musicality would be necessary for me to connect with Senegalese people in the ways I hoped.

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 Monks at Keurr Moussa in Thies, Senegal, where my kora was built

The Senegalese people returned my (primarily linguistic and musical) investment ten fold. Many members of the musical community in Dakar showed me an affection and generosity like that of an older brother to a younger sister. Where, here in the states, my experiences with music had been largely informed by a rigid system dependent on a written score, a desperate industry, and a competitive spirit, Senegal was a place where creative ideas flowed freely and generously. All one needed was determination and openness to cohort with some of the countries top musicians and earn the trust, encouragement, gratitude and support of a community.

That isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t struggles for the Senegalese musical community. It became clear to me very early on in my studies that simply having the agency to study music is hard to come by for most Senegalese citizens. In most cases, it stipulates that one be a man, that his family be open to the idea and be able to afford to give them the education without much expectation of a return, among other things. Moreover, within this small community, opportunities can be very limited and rarely, if ever, culminate in the possibility of being able to go to a foreign country to study music, as I have done.


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My kora teacher, Edou Manga, and I in Dakar in 2011

It is for this reason and many others that my sense of indebtedness to these people since my return has become more and more palpable. This feeling has fueled an effort to stay connected to the community and continue my studies of the wolof language and the Kora in the hopes of one day returning. These experiences led me to many unique opportunities, but none so special as being offered some payment to help the Musee de Thies in Senegal digitize and build upon their current recordings of traditional West African music.

For the past year, I’ve been preparing for this trip by working to save money and invest in the best equipment possible. My days will be spent recording, archiving, preserving, listening, playing, participating, speaking, learning and absorbing Senegalese language and music culture. My hope is that this work will help the growth of artistic grounding and opportunity for Senegalese musicians; to aide them in establishing a more defined identity in the world music sphere. Moreover, I hope that by recording the lessons of gewels (traditional musicians and storytellers bound by centuries-old rites), in particular, and making them publicly accessible, more Senegalese people will be able to afford to engage with their own music in the ways that I have.

It is with great sadness, however, that I must leave my family and friends, some of the best family and friends in the world, for this period. However, I intend to make every effort possible to stay connected. There will be lots of updates/photos/news/music/etc. that will be made available here, on my website. In addition, while away, I will continue working on my own music projects and releasing new episodes of my podcast (The Earfull) here at altheasullycole.com and on the iTunes music store. I implore anyone interested in my work and/or travels to stay in contact with me via email – I can be reached at alwasuco@gmail.com.

 

Much love,

Althea

 

p.s. : This is not goodbye!

The Earfull Episode 7 – Ramin Arjomand

In this episode, pianist, composer, conductor and educator Ramin Arjomand discusses his early life in Tehran, the secrets of counterpoint and truth and trust in performance. Listen on Itunes!

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Ramin Arjomand is a New York-based composer, pianist, conductor, and educator born in Tehran, Iran. His composition teachers have included Stephen Jaffe, Gheorghe Costinescu, Fred Lerdahl, Jonathan Kramer, and Tristan Murail. His concert music has been performed by the New York Virtuoso Singers, Speculum Musicae, the Cassatt Quartet, So Percussion Ensemble, the Columbia Collegium Musicum, and numerous independent ensembles and soloists in New York City venues.

As a pianist, Arjomand has performed widely as a soloist and in ensembles presenting his own works. His approach cultivates spontaneity and thrives on questioning the need for pre-conceived formal structures in composition and performance. In recent appearances as a piano soloist, his activity has focused on total improvisation. His electroacoustic music, based in a ProTools digital editing environment, works primarily with recorded improvised sound material.

From 1999-2001, while a doctoral fellow at Columbia University, Arjomand was the director and conductor of the University’s early music choir, Collegium Musicum. During this time he began to research the polyphonic technique of 15th century Flemish composers, whose music became the main focus of his concert repertoire with the Collegium. His doctoral dissertation essay, “On Contrapuntal Practice”, is based largely on his research into this music. His interest in vocal music and in speech as music has led to a wide variety of concert, electroacoustic and music theater works that experiment with the human voice in different ways. In 2007, his work Alma Redemptoris mater for 12-part a cappella choir was awarded First Prize in the New York Virtuoso Singers Choral Composition Competition and was premiered in New York City with Harold Rosenbaum conducting.

Arjomand has worked extensively as a composer, pianist, lecturer, and musical adviser with the Barnard College Department of Dance. His approach to dance theater composition emphasizes contrapuntal relationships between sound and movement. He has worked to develop collaborative models in which composer and choreographer can trust one another to work freely and independently toward a common goal. His collaboration with choreographer Laveen Naidu,like arrows in the hand of a warrior, daybreak, was commissioned by the Barnard Dance Department and presented in Miller Theatre in New York City.

Arjomand completed his doctoral work in Music Composition at Columbia University in 2006. A much sought-after teacher, he has taught Harmony and Counterpoint, Composition, Piano, Chamber Music Coaching, Ear Training, and Masterpieces of Western Music. He is currently on the faculty at Columbia University and the Steinhardt School at New York University.

Recordings featured in this episode in order of appearance:

Ethans” performed by Ramin Arjomand

You Should Be Dancing” performed by the Bee Gees

Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2” composed by Chopin and performed by Arthur Rubinstein

Mama” from Genesis’s self-titled 1983 album

Canon at 12th, Counterpoint at 5th” composed by Bach performed by Cory Hall in “The Art of Fugue”

21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson

String Quartet No 9 Op 59 No 3 C major” composed by Beethoven and performed by Alban Berg Quartet

Partidas 1-3(BWV825-827)” composed by Bach and performed by Glenn Gould

Requiem Aeternam” composed by Ramin Arjomand and performed by Collegium Musicum of Columbia University, Spring 2013 Concert: “Songs of People” (Tenor: Nicole Curatola, Baritone 1: Eddie Rubeiz, Baritone 2: Matthew Ricketts, Bass: Thomas Wang)

Missa Fortuna Desperata – I Kyrie” composed by Jacob Obrecht

Mobarakbad” performed by Mohammad Reza Mortazavi on Tombak, live from the Passionskirche, Berlin, the 19th of December 2008.

Free Improvisation #3” performed by Cecil Taylor in Ron Mann’s 1981 free jazz documentary “Imagine the Sound”

Lights of Lake George” by William Parker from the 2008 album “Double Sunrise Over Neptune”

“Like Arrows in the Hand of a Warrior” by Ramin Arjomand

This episode of the Earfull was originally recorded on October 13th and released on November 13th, 2013. The cover art for the Earfull was made by Hallie Bean. I’d like to thank Ramin Arjomand for sitting down with me and you for listening. For more information on Ramin Arjmand, please visit his website at raminamirarjomand.comYou can find the Earfull on the iTunes music storesoundcloud, and Facebook.

No longer on SoundCloud

Due to player issues on the website, The Earfull’s soundcloud account has been deleted. However, each episode’s in-site players have now being replaced with official Earfull players that should all be working! Although we are not on soundcloud anymore there are still lots of ways to follow The Earfull: on this website, on facebook, on twitter, on tumblr, and on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

The Earfull Episode 6 – Warren Smith

 

In this episode, percussionist, band leader, music educator and composer Warren Smith discusses listening to Art Tatum play at rent parties amidst the smell of chitlins as a child; his 5 decades as a music educator in New York; and his relationship with Nina Simone. Listen on Itunes!

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Warren Smith sitting down for our interview at his apartment in Harlem, New York

Percussionist Warren Smith was born on May 14th, 1934, in Chicago, Illinois, into a musical family; his father played saxophone and clarinet with Noble Sissle and Jimmy Noone, and his mother was a harpist and pianist. He studied clarinet under his father from age four, but quickly became infatuated with the drums around age 6. In 1957, he graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in music education. He then received his masters from Manhattan School of Music in 1958..

One of his earliest major recording dates was with Miles Davis as a vibraphonist in 1957. He found work in Broadway pit bands in 1958, the same year he began working with Gil Evans. In 1961 he co-founded the Composers Workshop Ensemble, a New York-based jazz composition and performance ensemble. In the 1960s Smith accompanied Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Lloyd Price, and Nat King Cole; he worked with Sam Rivers from 1964-76 and with Gil Evans from 1968-1976. In 1969 he played with Janis Joplin and in 1971 with Tony Williams Lifetime. He was also a founding member of Max Roach’s percussion ensemble, M’Boom, in 1970. In the 1970s and 1980s Smith had a loft called Studio Wis which acted as a performing and recording space for many young New York jazz musicians, such as Wadada Leo Smith and Oliver Lake. Through the 1970s Smith played with Andrew White, Julius Hemphill, Muhal Richard Abrams, Nancy Wilson, Quincy Jones, Count Basie, and Carmen McRae. Other credits include extensive work with rock and pop musicians and time spent with Bill Cole, Anthony Braxton, Charles Mingus, Henry Threadgill, Van Morrison and Joe Zawinul. He continued to work on Broadway into the 1990s, and has performed with a number of classical ensembles. This fall he was honored as New York City Musician of the Year by Y’all of New York, Inc.

As a music educator, Smith taught in the New York City public school system from 1958 to 1968, at Third Street Settlement from 1960 to 1967, at Adelphi University in 1970-71, and at Suny, Old Westbury from 1971.

More about Warren Smith

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Warren drumming around 1960

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Warren showing me head phones he bought in 1963 for $300 – still sound great! (also take note of all his recordings in the backgroud)

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Warren Smith performing with Joseph Daly and Bill Cole last year

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Recordings featured in this podcast (in order of appearance):

Ecorah Suite” performed by Warren Smith & The Composers Collective

The Original Standard 26 American Drum Rudiments: 1-5” by Walker Janelle

I Know That You Know” performed by Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, Brunswick 1937 (Originally recorded by Vocalion, 1928)

The Happy Blues” performed by Gene Ammons (ts), Art Farmer (tp), Jackie McLean (as), Duke Jordan (p), Addison Farmer (b), Art TAylor (ds). Candido (cga). Prestige, 1956 –  Recorded at RVG studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, 23/4/1956

Yesterdays” performed by Art Tatum 

 “Stardust” performed by Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Buddy Rich.

America” performed by George Chakiris (in the role of Bernardo) and Rita Moreno (in the role of Anita) and other members of the Ensemble in West Side Story

Excerpt from The Jimmy Dean Show

Big Spender” performed by Pearl Bailey

Come On Write Me” performed by Melving Van Peebles from the “What the….You Mean I Can’t Sing?!” album, Water 1974

I Loves You Porgy” performed live by Nina Simone, Paul Palmieri, Lisle Atkinson, Warren Smith, and Mantego Joe, 1962

Sidewalk Tree” performed by Ralph Carter in Raisin at the 1974 Tony Awards 

M’Boom – Live at Alassio, Italy 1979 with Max Roach, Ray Mantilla, Warren Smith and Freddie Waits

Azande “Drummin” Cummings (one of Warren’s many students) playing at the ” MILES DAVIS” , tribute concert in San Miguel, Mexico.

The Sleeping Lady and The Giant Who Watches Over Her” performed by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra on the Latin American Suite, Fantasy Records 1972.

Sand Sun Rising” performed by Warren Smith & The Composers Collective

This episode of the Earfull Podcast was originally recorded on July 18th and released on November 4th, 2013. The cover art for the Earfull was made by Hallie Bean. I’d like to thank Warren Smith for sitting down with me and you for listening. For more information on Warren Smith, look for him on facebook, allaboutjazz, and wikipedia. You can find the Earfull on the iTunes music store, tumblr twitter and Facebook.