Explore NYC's musical past in 'Rhapsodic City: Music of New York'
In the 'Rhapsodic City' series, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts spans 100 years of our multiculti musical lore.
Wed Mar 20 2013
Photograph courtesy Chris Stein
Depending on what kind of music fan you talk to, NYC is most proudly identified as a stronghold of jazz, punk and hardcore, hip-hop and folk, to name a few groundbreaking movements. In “Rhapsodic City,” a six-week spring series of talks, screenings and concerts, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts will explore our metropolis’s unassailable marriage of culture and sound over a nearly century-long span. Sessions range from the Prohibition era’s flappers and speakeasies through the midcentury talent explosion (which included Carole King and Neil Diamond) housed in the famed Brill Building. Here are three events that are particularly worthy of an encore.
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Punk acolytes know the iconography (CGBG, Ramones, Talking Heads, Max’s Kansas City), have read the biographical accounts and spent time sifting through record bins in search of that era’s output. But Blondie members Debbie Harry and Chris Stein actually lived through the city’s late-’70s and early -’80s downtown punk uprising. The onetime new-wave power couple will reflect on that period’s seismic subcultural shift, share stories from the trenches and put it all into a contemporary perspective with the moderator, senior Rolling Stone critic and Love Goes to Buildings on Fire author Will Hermes.
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In Greenwich Village during the ’50s and ’60s, you could catch Odetta appropriating operatic vocal dynamics for the coffeehouse set, hear Dylan proselytize at his acoustic peak for crowds at Café Wha? or watch Judy Collins transcend at Gerde’s Folk City. Listen to beatnik-bohemian balladry when writer and musician Elijah Wald performs familiar pieces live and shares archived recordings from the New York Folk Singers Guild. He’ll also school those in attendance on the boundless cool and quietly revolutionary craft of that epoch’s greats, including the often-overlooked Dave Van Ronk, subject of Wald’s 2005 book, The Mayor of MacDougal Street—which is reputedly being used as source material for the Coen brothers’ upcoming folk-scene flick, Inside Llewyn Davis. “He was already singing old blues, jazz and folk songs in the Village by 1957,” Wald says of his mentor. “And he was also one of the first people to recognize the talent of later arrivals like Dylan and Joni Mitchell.”
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The umbrella term “Latin jazz” doesn’t really do justice to the multifaceted genre, especially when it canopies roughly 70 years of Afro-Cuban rhythms, South American samba and distinctly American swing, to name a few key flavors. As ethnomusicologist and speaker Dr. Peter Manuel will illustrate, few New York luminaries have personified Latin music’s diversity like Grammy Award–winning Afro-Cuban musician Francisco “Machito” Grillo, whom Manuel refers to as a pioneer of big-band dance music. Manuel will introduce and discuss Carlos Ortiz’s 1987 documentary, Machito: A Latin Jazz Legacy. The hour-long film doesn’t merely relay Grillo’s personal story, it uses his life and music as an analog for Cuban-Americans’ migratory journey.
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