Sunday, December 21, 2014


In my book, The ABC’s of Education, the chapter on Orff Schulwerk talks about the year 1924. Not only was it the starting point of Orff’s life work in music education as he began teaching at the Guntherschule, but it was a remarkable year of flowering in the arts. George Gershwin premiered Rhapsody in Blue in New York, Louis Armstrong recorded Chimes Blues with King Oliver in Chicago while Stravinsky and Schoenberg were dismantling the Western tonal system over in Europe. In the other arts, Josephine Baker was dancing in Paris and Isadora Duncan in Russia, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, e.e.cummings and F.Scott Fitzgerald were turning literature down new roads, as were Picasso and Dali and others in the visual arts. A remarkable time.

Forty years later, there was to be a different kind of flowering. In the theater of history, Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize while Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa, the Civil Rights Act was passed while Medgar Evans was shot. U.S. bombings in North Vietnam began, Che Guevera spoke at the U.N., Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston and changed his name to Muhammed Ali and the G.I. Joe doll hit the market. There was a race riot in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a mere ten minutes away from my house. A volatile, unstable time in politics— as in 1924—translated to a rich time in the arts.

It was the year of the Beatles Invasion. They appeared three times on the Ed Sullivan Show and had their first U.S. tour. I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You were the number 1 and 2 songs on the year’s Top 100 songs on popular radio. And what was number three? Hello Dolly sung by a 63-year-old Louis Armstrong. Number 4 was Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison, number 5, I Get Around by the Beach Boys and number 6, a surprising Everybody Loves Somebody by Dean Martin. 10 was Where Did Our Love Go by the Supremes, 11 was People by Barbara Streisand. Can you feel the remarkable range here? A British group next to the Father of Jazz, California surfers in company with Detroit Motown, an Italian-American entertainer alongside a Jewish Broadway star. Further down the list are more British invaders— Peter and Gordon, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, Chad and Jeremy, the Kinks (and the Rolling Stones in their first U.S. tour), more American Crooners— Four Seasons, Jay and the Americans, Lesley Gore, Roger Miller, more Motown—Temptations, Four Tops, Mary Wells. And a surprising number 1 hit for several weeks (number 51 for the year)—The Girl From Ipanema featuring Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz.

But that’s not the whole story. Simon and Garfunkel had released their first album and Bob Dylan put out two— The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan. Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary were big on the folk scene (the Kingston Trio waning), Tom Lehrer would put out his satirical songs the following year in his album That Was the Year That Was. In the world of jazz, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme transformed the jazz world— and just the other day, I took part in the SF Jazz Center’s celebration of its 50th Anniversary. Because yes, all of this took place a half-a-century ago, yet those like me who were around at the time still know the words to the Drifters’ Under the Boardwalk (number 20) and the Dixie Cups’ Chapel of Love (number 21), still don’t know the words to Louie, Louie (99) and still enjoy shaking our booties to Dancing in the Streets (17) and Twist and Shout (40).

Put Louis Armstrong, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Astrud Gilberto, Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross on a stage together and you get some idea of the rich mix of culture that represented the United States in 1964. What will they say about 2014 fifty years from now? 

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