Musical Space

Musical Space is a look at all things music, by KMUW Music Commentator Mark Foley. Mark is Assistant Professor of Double Bass and Electric Bass, and Principal Double Bass in the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.

He has been a featured soloist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. He also has performed with the Rochester Philharmonic, the Heidelberg Castle Opera Festival, the Binghamton Symphony, the Minnesota Opera and also performs extensively as a jazz artist. 

The Musical Space commentary airs on KMUW on alternate Tuesdays. You can subscribe to the Musical Space podcast on iTunes or Google Play

Today I want to celebrate that most American of inventions: the blue note. We all know the blue note is important. There's a record label and a jazz club named after it. It's the logo of the St. Louis Blues hockey team. So what's a blue note anyway? It's the note that defines American music of the 20th century. It's a certain sourness, a clash; a note no European composer would dare use. I have a theory that blue notes come from the harmonica.

I’m worried. According to Nielsen data for 2015, album sales of older music have now outpaced those of new releases. I checked it out; albums made in the 1970s by Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and others made last year’s Billboard top 200 album chart. So, why are millennials buying their grandparents’ music? I won’t accept this as proof that older music is better. Good music is always being made. And the data aren’t just because of nostalgia; most of these buyers weren’t alive in the ‘70s....

The music business is as sexist as any industry could be. The wage discrimination gap is real, and I don’t need to cite any examples of how horribly women musicians are marketed - just look at any music magazine. For some reason, though, the world of the bass guitar player seems to be a little more egalitarian.

In terms of historical accuracy, movies about musicians almost always get it wrong. Not to say there are no good music films. But music and movies are two different animals, and filmmakers change facts for the sake of the story. Miles Ahead , Don Cheadle’s new film about Miles Davis, is a case in point: unauthentic, but still good. Miles Ahead avoids the pretense of biography altogether. Instead, the plot sends the subject into a fantasy world. Cheadle’s story plays hard...

Music festival season is already underway. SXSW 2016 has already happened, and by June we’ll be in full swing.

Let’s consider Jon Benjamin’s piano playing on his provocative new jazz album “Well, I Should Have.” This effort follows the time-tested formulas of the genre: traditional arrangements, a world-class back-up band, and high production values. But Benjamin is a comedian, doesn’t like jazz, and, most importantly, doesn’t know how to play piano. There’s a film documentary of the session; the interaction between his complete failure at the keyboard and the highly experienced and unsuspecting side-men is a bold exercise in confrontational comedy. But it also raises the question: Can a bad musician make good music?

I like it when I get a story from something I’m listening to. Sometimes the story is told by the lyrics themselves, like with a good country ballad. Even better, though, is when there is a backstory . It makes everything much more meaningful knowing, for instance, that Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors album was recorded while both couples in the band were breaking up, or that Beethoven wrote his latest and greatest works when he was...

Western pop has occasionally flirted with the music of India; witness the rather faddish infatuation with the sitar in the 1960’s courtesy of rock stars like George Harrison. Indian music was exotic and mystical. It was also intellectually stimulating and beautiful, I must add. The world is much smaller now; there is no longer such a thing as rare or exotic music. But the music of India is now an even bigger international force. Bollywood movies, which are mostly musicals, reach the largest...

Jimi Hendrix was one of the first musicians I discovered as a pre-teen. Imagine, though, how my younger self was horrified by the song “Hey, Joe,” when he sings, “I'm goin ' down to shoot my old lady, You know I caught her messin ' 'round with another man.” Then there was Neil Young’s line, “Down by the river, I shot my baby.” Why would someone sing a song about killing their girlfriend? It wasn’t until later that I figured out Hendrix and Young were continuing the ancient folk tradition of the murder ballad.

Every community has a musical history. Most of the time, that history gets confused and hazy, but every once in a while somebody does us the favor of writing things down. Luckily for us, there was a Wichita native named Joan O’Bryant, a WSU alum who taught in the university’s English department in the 1950s.

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