Presentations: Talks on Blues & Jazz by Peter Muir

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The following are sample talks currently offered, and may include a book signing.

1. Birth of the Blues:  The Evolution and Emergence of a New Music
The music we call blues came into being in the American South in the early years of the twentieth century.  It occurred through the fusion of four separate elements: a pervasive feeling of melancholy in the music, traceable to slave times; the development of the musical idiom, such as blue notes and the twelve-bar form; the emergence of a song-type which stated that the singer had the blues and whose purpose was to drive them away; and the naming of such songs “blues.”

Drawing on ground-breaking research and little known source material dating back to the 1840s, Dr. Peter Muir traces the development of each of these elements in the nineteenth century and shows how they rapidly coalesced at the beginning of the twentieth.  The result is a new and profound understanding of the origins and character of one of the most influential of musical genres.

Ages: 14 to Adult
Length:  From one hour to a full-day seminar

2. Long Lost Blues: The Rise of Popular Blues
Blues began to appear in 1912 and within less than a decade had become a flourishing part of the music industry, with over 450 titles appearing in print and on record.  The works produced during this time were a fascinating blend of folk and popular music, show a remarkable degree of variety and creativity, and tell us much about the development not only of blues itself, but also related styles like jazz, ragtime, and Tin Pan Alley.

This presentation includes recordings as well as live demonstration and provides an overall introduction to early popular blues. Topics include: the growth and impact of the early blues industry; different types of blues; the influence of ragtime and jazz; curing the blues with the blues; and the role of W. C. Handy.

Ages: 14 to Adult
Length: From one hour to a two-day seminar

3. “St. Louis Blues”:  The W.C. Handy Legacy
W. C. Handy is one of the most important figures in American music. An African American composer of such classics as “St. Louis Blues” – the most recorded blues song of all time – and the man who more than anyone popularized blues to mainstream America, Handy was also important as a music publisher, performer, recording artist and leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance.

This presentation, illustrated with recordings and live demonstration, focuses on Handy’s music–the heart of his legacy–especially the blues he composed in Memphis between 1909 and 1917.  What emerges is a figure, who while drawing heavily on folk sources, was none the less remarkably creative and original in his own right. When set alongside his other roles, the picture emerges of Handy as one of the most important African-Americans of his generation.

Ages: 14 to Adult
Length: From one hour to a full-day seminar

4. Fascinating Rhythms: The Essence of Jazz
Jazz has had a unique impact on human culture, with so many styles of music around the globe feeling its influence since it first emerged a century ago.  This presentation focuses on its very essence, the rhythmic drive loosely known as “swing.”  Swing is defined, and its lineage traced back through to the nineteenth century where it is found in recorded music as early as the 1880s, in published music some decades earlier, and where it ultimately derives from African-American styles of slave music.  Drawing on recent research and in-depth scholarship and backed up by recordings and live demonstration, “Fascinating Rhythms” gives a new understanding to this most important of musical genres.

Ages: 14 to Adult
Length: From one hour to a full-day seminar