Tag Archives: music

Unforgotten New York

By Danielle Prostrollo



While everyone is familiar with our biographies of Roosevelt and Lincoln, the monographs of the American Civil War, and our extensive collection of World War II literature, we have a great selection of ‘other’ books that may pique the curious mind. One of these books, which I have been enjoying this week, is Unforgotten New York.

Primarily a photography book, the authors put you on an express train through decades of New York’s infamous club culture. Each entry takes you to a new location, detailing its history and cultural importance with descriptions and photographs as well as a beautifully composed photo of the space as it exists now. Many genre-defining, iconic spaces leave no trace of their former selves – in one case, the current home of a 24-hour grocery store.

This kind of book is easy to overlook, as it looks a bit like a coffee table book to be thumbed through on the sofa of an acquaintance’s house, but this book is as engaging as any historical monograph. Paging through the cultural significance of each spot on the New York City map you begin to realise that the promoters, owners, DJs, and artists involved in each club or venue wanted to create an outlet for the like-minded public – and in so many cases, changed the face of music, art, or even broad entertainment.

You can find Unforgotten New York at the Memorial Library or wherever books are sold.

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Surprising facts about Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

By Danielle Prostrollo


With the snowy weather around Norwich, it seems more and more appropriate to break out the Christmas tunes. And while we may not get enough snow to merit a fort or even a substantial snow angel, one of my favorite tunes is the classic, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

But the rosy nose has an interesting history that most people don’t know.

rudolph book

the Little Golden Book publication came out in 1958

The concept of Rudolph was first published in a 1939 booklet by Robert Lewis May for Montgomery Ward. May was a secular Jew from Upstate New York and the story was reworked into song-format in 1949 by May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks (the man behind many of our Christmas hits – Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and Holly Jolly Christmas, for example) and recorded by Gene Autry.



still featuring Hermey the elf and Rudolph in the 1964 TV special

In the 1964 stop-motion TV special, Rudolph is a social outcast born to Donner (or Donder, if you prefer) and goes through many travails until he finds the elf who will become his close confidante – if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend searching it out on TV or streaming service!

But not everyone agrees that Donner is Rudolph’s father. Another retelling of the story places Rudolph directly under Blitzen in the family tree.

This TV special, made for America’s NBC network was filmed in Japan and other post-filming work done in Toronto, Canada. So it was a truly international undertaking.

The special veers away from the original 1939 book by May – and this is because the filmmakers didn’t have a copy of the original book to go off of, so they instead had to glean a story line from the song.


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Hendrix at Norwich

Rock legend Jimi Hendrix playing guitar with his teeth.

Rock legend Jimi Hendrix played for around 300 people in Norwich in 1967.

There’s a building in Red Lion Street where Hendrix played in the sixties. In those years it was a pub, the Orford Arms, that had been pulling pints a century before. It had three bars on the ground floor and a lighted sign on the roof. “For strength and quality — Billiards — Beers,” it read. The room Hendrix played in was below ground, in the cellar.

The Orford Arms cellar — “the Orford Cellar” — could hold only three hundred people. It was a humid, cramped space with a low ceiling. “The walls were sweaty but we used to go in and have a good time,” recalls a local musician. There was a big picture of Al Capone. A jukebox. Fluorescent lights picked up “the vivid DayGlo” wall coverings. One January night in 1967 the queues ran way down the street to the Bell Hotel. Tickets were seven shillings, sixpence. On the bill was the guitarist dubbed “Mr. Phenomenon” earlier that winter by the British weekly music rag Record Mirror, a shaggy-haired African-American called Jimi Hendrix.

Jimi HendrixJohn Bailey, a regular at the Cellar, remembers the night. “When I got there it was full,” he said. “But … the bouncer Levi McCarthy lifted someone out so I could get in.” Geno Washington and Ram Jam Band was the warm-up. A few minutes after ten o’clock the lanky American brushed an English girl on the stairs. She recalls, “I think he looked down my cleavage but he was so stoned it was hard to tell.”

That year Hendrix, not yet 25, would reach the UK top ten charts three times — for “Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze”, and “The Wind Cries Mary”. A few months after his Norwich set Hendrix took his wah-warped screaming feedback blues-inspired brand of rock to California, where American crowds discovered what the people of Norwich already knew. Here was the new groove.

The Orford Arms, Red Lion Street.

The Orford Arms, Red Lion Street. The cellar was a music venue. “It was the first real nightclub in the city,” remembers Jim Archer, who tended the bar there. “It was always heaving and the atmosphere was electric.”

Black History — Discover and Celebrate

logo_nbhm_vcwsOctober is Black History Month in the UK and this county’s calendar is crammed full of inspirational, fun and thought provoking events. Tonight at Cromer hear the Norfolk soul musician John Davison tell the story of how Norfolk pioneered Blues and Soul into Great Britain — and catch a performance by former USAF “soul man” Bruce Lucas. The event is called “How Norfolk got the Groove” and also takes place on Friday 18th October from 6.30-8pm in the Curve here at the Forum.

A county-wide calendar of events is online here. There is a shorter events listing here.

Black History Month events at the Millennium Library

Thursday 10th October, 12.00-1.30pm. “Collection and Commemoration,” a talk by Nicole Wilson from UEA about slavery “in sight and memory.”

Tuesday 15th October, 6pm. “Warrior Marks,” a talk by Dr Rebecca Tillet from UEA about Alice Walker’s writing. Alice Walker is the celebrated and controversial African-American author and poet whose book The Color Purple (1982) won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Wednesday 16th October, 6pm. “The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement in Norwich,” a talk by Dr Nicholas Grant from UEA which will accompany a small exhibition in the library.

To book seats at any of these events, email Libby Morgan at 2admemorial.lib@norfolk.gov.uk or call 01603 774747.

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Filed under American Culture, Local Interest, Memorial Library

Duke Ellington: Great American Moustaches

Duke Ellington at the Hurricane Club, 1943

‘Mood Indigo.’ ‘Creole Love Call.’ ‘Prelude to a Kiss.’ ‘Black and Tan Fantasy.’ They could be different styles of facial fungus, but no – they are examples of some of the greatest jazz music ever composed. And they were composed by an immaculately moustachioed Duke.

Duke Ellington (1899 – 1974), who came to music at an unlikely late age, nevertheless brought a certain genius to jazz music, and is credited with lifting the style to an art form. One of the greatest moments in jazz history is considered by many critics to have been a short period in the early 1940s, before a union dispute over royalties temporarily halted recording in the U.S. In 1940 Ellington switched from Columbia to RCA Victor. He had just begun to work with a brilliant young composer called Billy Strayhorn. Together they took Ellington’s band to heights never before reached.

The song ‘Ko-Ko’ (1940), in particular, is considered a masterpiece. ‘Originally written as part of an extended work,’ says the dictionary of American National Biography, ‘it is based on a blue in E-flat minor and is built up of the layering of increasingly dissonant and contrasting lines. Dense and abstract, there is little soloing beyond some straightforward plunger work by trombonist Nanton.’

The lives of jazz greats have furnished us with some of the most entertaining, troubling, and astonishing stories of twentieth-century America. Here are a few selections from the Memorial Library’s collection.

The Duke Ellington Reader (Oxford UP, 1993), edited by Mark Tucker
One of our most fascinating books is an anthology of work by and about Ellington, edited by jazz scholar and musician Mark Tucker. Tucker, who taught at Columbia University and the College of William and Mary, has put together what you might consider a Who’s Who of jazz criticism. Collected here are beautiful and sometimes unlikely essays by Quincy Jones, John Hammond, Ralph Ellison, Simone de Beauvoir, Blaise Cendrars, and so on. There are interviews with Ellington and with musicians who worked with him (including Strayhorn). There is a review of the Ellington orchestra’s 1933 BBC broadcast. There are transcribed solos. It is a delightful book that altogether defies categorisation.

With Billie (Pantheon, 2005), by Julia Blackburn
Ellington’s short film Symphony in Black (1935) won an Academy Award and introduced the singer Billie Holiday, who was then 20 and had already spent time in prison for prostitution. Julia Blackburn paints Holiday’s portrait as seen through the eyes of friends, lovers, fellow musicians, critics, producers, pimps and junkies, narcotics agents, and others, from her Baltimore childhood to her rise to fame and her tragic death.

The History of Jazz (Oxford UP, 1998), by Ted Gioia
From the rent parties of Harlem to the after-hours spots in Kansas City, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Wynton Marsalis and Pat Metheny, this book captures all the vibrant colours of jazz on one glorious palate. Gioia’s “Olympian knowledge” is paired with a sometimes contentious subjectivity in this history of an art form, reaching across cultures and oceans.

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