Friday, June 15, 2012

the one-man timewarp cult, pt 142

from New York Times, "Living in the Past Is a Full-Time Gig", on retro-jazz lifer Michael Arenella:

"... a 34-year-old jazz musician and bandleader from Brooklyn who looks as if he had stepped through some wormhole in the space-time continuum. He is 6-foot-1 and dressed in windowpane-checked pants, a blue paisley ascot, a red-and-white checked shirt, a herringbone vest, a blazer with a blue pocket handkerchief, cap-toe faux-crocodile ankle boots, a pinkie ring and a brown fedora....

"Mr. Arenella inhabits the past as much as anyone thriving in the present can. Each summer he hosts the annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, singing, playing cornet and leading his 11-piece Dreamland Orchestra....

"Making Dreamland a reality takes lots of sweat and shoe leather — from shoes both vintage and custom-made. To recreate the jazz age, he not only studies the music of the ’20s and early ’30s but also wears its hats, cuff links and ties. He drives the cars, rides the trains (when possible), gets the haircut, plays the horns and sings through the microphones and megaphones (he owns seven) of the period...

"As a bandleader who wants to get every nuance of the era right, Mr. Arenella has been transcribing songs from old 78s onto orchestral charts for the last decade. Since most of the original charts are lost, it’s the only way to get an authentic sound for his musicians.

" 'As I was transposing these guys’ breath, recording their breath on pieces of paper, I was like: ‘"Wow. What were those guys wearing that made their breath sound that way?’ ” Mr. Arenella wondered. “How tight was that waist coat? What kind of timepiece did they have on their hands? What method of transportation did they take to get to the recording session? What did it look like when they crank-started their car?”'

"So began his obsession. He not only transcribes the music but also uses bottled ink and a fountain pen... 

"When they have the time, [Arenella and girlfriend] take a joy ride on the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad steam engine in Pennsylvania."

 paradox alert:

“'Dance music from the jazz era is very industrial in nature and sound,' he explained. 'It’s an onomatopoeia. You can hear the locomotives and the city sounds. When you hear an engine idling or a steam locomotive, it swings. You can dance to it.'” 

So he's fixated  on the sounds of a bygone modernity?

1 comment:

  1. > So he's fixated on the sounds of a bygone modernity?

    Effectively, with "bygone" being the key word, here. One could argue that this has been the case with much of jazz in recent decades. What else is Wynton Marsalis but a conservationalist? But the business with the clothes and the choice of transportation....ranks as nothing short of silly, dunnit? Which of course buttresses the message that the conservationalist approach flashes -- that message being that it's a dead form of music, belonging to a distant past, a music whose history more or less came to an end about the time of the Rural Electrification Act. And therefore meriting nothing but the most fastidious of enshrinements.

    And didn't we already have a swing revival led by white dudes once already -- like back in the '90s? Ugh.

    But much of the above -- especially the bit about transcribing tunes from old 78s -- reminds me of the bit in your book about trad-jazz, no? (Especially the whole matter of sweating "faithfulness" and "authenticity" by studying recordings. That sort of thing had its parallels in the American folk revival of the same era, too.)