Town Hall, NYC, May, 4 2017 – Final Concert of the Transatlantic Tour
Since 1995 the Transatlantic Sessions have delighted audiences with collaborations between Scottish, Irish, English, and American roots music devotees.
According to their official Wiki – Transatlantic Sessions is the collective title for a series of musical productions by Glasgow-based Pelicula Films Ltd, funded by- and produced for BBC Scotland, BBC Four and RTÉ of Ireland. Each half-hour episode features a core “house band” led by Shetland fiddler Aly Bain, and special guests, recorded at a unique location, such as a stately manner house.
The 2017 American tour was an almost-three hour extravaganza featuring some of the finest musicians ever produced in the UK or Ireland, along with many special guests from the USA, most of whom have appeared at various Transatlantic Sessions in the UK.
Here are some excerpts from the incredible Transatlantic Sessions show last night, with a list of performers listed beneath.
Jerry Douglas – Steel Guitars, Vocals (USA)
Aly Bain- Fiddle (Scotland)
John McCusker – Fiddle, Whistle (Scotland)
Michael McGoldrick- Pipes, Flute, Whistle (England)
Donald Shaw – Accordion, Piano (Scotland)
Russ Barenberg – Guitar (USA)
John Doyle – Guitar, Guizouki, Vocals (Ireland)
Daniel Kimbro – Bass (USA)
James MacKintosh – Drums (Scotland)
Mary Chapin Carpenter (USA)
Rosanne Cash (USA)
Sarah Jarosz (USA)
Declan O’Rourke (Ireland)
Aoife O’Donovan (USA)
John Paul White (USA)
Karen Matheson (Scotland)
Look for Transatlantic Sessions on BBC, PBS, and Youtube
Since 1977 the Cornelia Street Cafe has enriched the cultural life of New York City.
For almost 40 years, this West Village mecca has provided delicious food and the unique, inspiring performance of music and the spoken word.
And it is currently proving as impressive and delightful an experience as ever, if not more so.
Stopping by for an excellent meal, I learned about their summer Solo Fest, starting this week.
Each evening will feature solo performers, beginning with Amy Stiller on Wednesday, July 13, in “Just Think,” a semi-autobiographical journey of the only non-famous member of a very famous family.
All Solofest offerings are at 6 PM and cost $10, which goes to the artist, plus a $10 food or drink minimum.
That is a spectacularly great price for the chance to see Arturo O’Farrill, the multi-Grammy-winning composer and leader of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, playing alone on the baby grand piano in an intimate setting. As he will on Friday, July 15.
And on Tuesday, July 19, the cafe’s own Robin Hirsch will present “The Whole Word Passes Through” with tales of the many fascinating people, both famous and obscure, who have crossed the threshold of the Cornelia Street Cafe.
This former Oxford, Fulbright, and English-Speaking Union Scholar never disappoints when it comes to his prose or his extemporaneous storytelling.
The festival runs through July 27, with music, comedy, theater, and political satire. See the cafe’s official website for the full line up and the many other performances taking place this summer.
There isn’t an item on the menu I cannot recommend. But my favorites include the kale caesar salad, with just the right amount of avocado and grape tomatoes; the smoked salmon plate with toasted bread, chopped red onion, herb cream cheese, and large capers on the stem; and the richly luscious sea scallops, when they have them.
My go-to entree has been the crusted salmon, which is always excellent. But I only recently had the chicken breast for the first time. Was I ever missing out? It is so tender and juicy and flavorful that it may make you rethink ordering more exotic fare when dining out around New York City. It really is that good.
Mr. Hirsch is understandably proud of the wine list, which offers some interesting and quite reasonably priced selections from around the globe, many of which you are unlikely to taste elsewhere.
I am a new and enthusiastic fan of the Skyline Red, from Idaho, of all places. This blend of several grape varieties is velvety to the point of buttery, with plump dark berries, and integrated oak that is spread throughout, rather than just providing the fruit bowl.
There is also the Cafe’s own label, which appears on a refreshing chardonnay of grape skins, with orchard fruits ripening over time, and on a juicy plum of a pinot noir, both with nicely mild oak and extremely moreish.
And just last night I had a very interesting white wine from France – Perle Bleue, made with a grape used for Cognac and Armagnac. I am not by nature a white wine drinker, but this was extraordinary. Not sweet, but not particularly dry, it had a wisp of sea salt on the nose, and arrived on the palate like an ocean wave, with a vibrant splash that quickly subsided into a relaxing, lingering finish. Itself moreish, but in a curiously enigmatic way.
I cannot speak much to the beers. When people ask me if I am a beer snob, my reply of “Beer is an English word for something made in England by Englishman,” usually shuts down the conversation rather quickly.
But the cafe currently has Bell’s Two Hearted Ale on tap. This Michigan brew is one of best beers in America, with a medium body that is dry yet malty and buttressed by a crisp hoppy edge that remains firm but not overbearing. So it is on par with an English IPA and therefore not the face-puckering astringent grapefruit juice typical of American craft brewing.
But I of all people would be remiss if I did not mention they have some nice Cognac brandy available, which is reminiscent of typical cafe digestifs in France – grounded and pleasant at a decent price. And they also have Brenne, the French single malt whisky.
Made with French barely in French stills in the Cognac region, Brenne is aged in new oak from the Limousin forest, and finished in casks that had previously aged Cognac.
A pure malt spirit of high quality, it is hard to believe it is a scant 7 years old. The telltale toasted marshmallow and wood spice of French oak are further enriched with the orange zest, white pepper, and maraschino cherries of the cognac finishing.
Its youth is revealed by the bubble gum vanillins and lactones on the nose, and the relatively quick finish. However, single malt this young would normally be a blend of various casks, to cover up the rougher edges of immature spirit and smooth out the uncouth tannins. Brenne is bottled as single cask whisky! – astonishing, since it shows none of the harshness normally experienced in younger malts.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the Cornelia Street Cafe is a veritable jewelry box of sensual pleasures and sensational Jazz, poetry, and other artistic expression. It is well worth the time if you are in Greenwich Village, and well worth the effort to get there if you are not.
Open every day except Christmas Day, with 700 shows a year.
But don’t just take my word for it. Here is what Trip Advisor has to say on the cafe.
And that is one man’s word on…
Painting by Stephen Magsig
Wonderful Resource Filled with New York City Landmarks
Interactive map provides a close look at historical sites local to each neighborhood
Tremendous Treasure Map, Easy to Use
Whether you are tourist or a native, so many sites of historical interest often go unnoticed in the whirling stimulus of New York City. This map will let you see what is just around the corner, or provide reasons to visit areas you might not think of at first, when out for sightseeing.
When you zoom in, whole historic districts are illuminated.
Clicking on a an individual site brings up a breakout box, with information and a photo of the site in question, and a link to the official landmark designation.
The Lefferts Homestead in Prospect Park
How could I have lived this long without the scrumptious culinary delights at Russ & Daughters Cafe?
Well, it is partly because they opened just 14 months ago. But there is 101 years of tradition on sale at this shiny new eatery, located at 127 Orchard Street, a few doors above Delancey.
(click photos to enlarge)
The fourth-generation family enterprise has been in the business of “appetizing” since 1914. Their thriving sliver of a shop on Houston Street features smoked and kippered fish that temps from behind the left counter, while sweets are longed for from behind the right counter. It is one of the last holdouts from a time when the neighborhood was dotted with similar shops.
But while the cafe offers traditional Jewish fare from indulgent delicacies like caviar to kibbutz comfort food like kugel, it is a thoroughly modern concern, with a hip, multicultural staff and clientele, reflecting the demographics of today’s Lower East Side, although the menu is focused very much on tradition, and quality.
Even the coffee is excellent, if pricey at $3. There was none of the citrus sourness too often infecting boutique brews these days. It was nutty and robust, while the acidity was understated, so I had no inclination to add milk. But I did eventually, just to see. It actually took a good deal of milk to make a dent in such a deep, dark roast, but with the proper ratio it transformed into a luscious café con leche. Left black, it is full-bodied, with a taste akin to espresso, making it the perfect companion for my chocolatey desert.
But I am getting way ahead of myself, as that was the jewel at the end of a satisfying meal.
As a waspy Ohioan growing up a long way from the sea, I never liked fish of any sort. But I had always wanted to try matzo ball soup, after hearing about it in countless movies and TV shows. I have since become something of a connoisseur, so of course I had to order it, despite the 95 degree heat outdoors. Thankfully, the cafe’s AC is top notch, and it’s been ages since I tasted this centerpiece of Jewish bobeshi cooking. It was a great way to end my matzo fast.
Traditional but not typical, R & D’s matzo ball soup ($8) is made with a dark and savory bone broth. Russet colored and flecked with herbs, with a smallish ball of dense matzo accompanied by buoyant arcs of celery and a rogue piece of carrot that lounged against the side of the bowl.
It is incredibly salty! Stunning really. But my pallet adjusted quickly, and all that salt was balanced with the subtler flavors in the broth, accented by the tannic crunch of fresh celery.
The menu listed chicken in the ingredients, but I didn’t see any. And then I realized it was in the matzo ball. That is a nice touch, as it imbues much more personality than found in the usual bland wad of pithy dough.
Each bite provided a schmaltzy satisfaction, enhanced by the occasional little morsel of dark chicken meat. And the matzo ball was not salty, so it proved a toothsome counterweight for the broth, which took on more chickeny taste as the ball was sliced up. I only kept from drinking the last ounces because of all I had yet to ingest.
While I still avoid the fishiest of fishes, decades of living in a deep water port have expanded my tastes, so I followed the soup with “the Classic” smoked salmon plate ($16) and was enraptured.
This fish is delish, and oh so rich. Silky yet firm, thin yet massive and melting with tenderness. It was lightly smoky – think Oban rather than Laphroaig, both of which are available by the glass at market prices for diners who like to pair smoked fish with smoked single malt whisky.
Being late in the day and intent on desert, I had my lox with pumpernickel bread, rather than one of their bagels (which are sourced from the Bagel Hole right here in Park Slope.) And I indulged in the tangy pleasures of the salmon, alone or as a tier in a stack of onion, tomato, capers, and cream cheese.
The menu refers to this fish as gaspe nova smoked salmon. Once upon a time that would have meant wild salmon from the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec that was prepared like traditional Nova Scotian “lox.” Today it means high-quality farmed salmon from Norway (where my favorite sashimi comes from,) which is smoked in Brooklyn, to approximate the gaspe nova lox experience. And it was terrific! The same can be said about the quality of everything that passed my lips.
The July tomato was meaty and tasted like it came straight from a garden, or at least the farmers market. So good, I ate most of it by itself. The onion was crisp and kindly, and every bit as fresh as the tomato; the cream cheese earned its qualifier, and the capers were plump and popping with flavor. My only complaint is that the smidgen of dill wasn’t nearly enough for the ample supply of fish. But I do know it has gone missing from local bodegas, so perhaps they are trying to stretch their current supply. Also, the bread was so mild it was basically a delivery platform. Next time I will try their old-fashioned shissel rye, as this salmon should stand up to it nicely.
Although they have a well-stocked supply of spirits and wines, I had one of their soft drinks, concocted at the soda fountain from seltzer and various flavored syrups. I enjoyed the cucumber soda ($5.) It was a good choice for the meal, softly flavored with essence of jasmine, fennel, dill, anise and lime, and garnished with a long slice of fresh cucumber, which when eaten was an ideal palate cleanser between the lox and the “babka french toast,” ($10) full of gooey chocolate spread, and served with fresh strawberries and sour cream.
Even with the very adult coffee, the babka was almost too much for one person – almost. But I did get a good look and whiff of the fruit compote blintzes, and I am definitely having them next time, after a knish or perhaps some latkes, and another smoked fish plate. I have always wanted to see what sturgeon tastes like.
Yes, one pays some premium to sit down to delicacies that can be had at the Houston street shop for less. But many things well worth having are available only at the cafe. And the AC is awfully nice, even though the seats at the counter seem made for one sprier and smaller than I. But otherwise, the environment is quite enjoyable, as is the cheerful, young wait staff, for their fashions and body art if nothing else.
I just happened to pick up some rugelach at the shop to take with me to Martinfest in a couple of days, and I was feeling a bit peckish. So I thought I would finally check out Russ & Daughter’s cafe, to see what it was like.
I am glad I did, even if I am also glad it is not closer to home or near my usual thoroughfares. Otherwise, it could be far too habit-forming.
And that is one man’s word on…
Russ & Daughter’s Cafe
127 Orchard Street, above Delancey
Sigh! My first pocket-picking.
In Times Square, in a rush through rush hour crowds to meet a friend at a hotel.
A full shopping bag weighing down one hand, my guitar weighing down the other, some tall white guy with greyish crew cut, khaki shorts and white t-shirt smacked hard into my guitar, as he rudely passed me and zoomed through the crowd, knocking me into other people. That is probably when his partner lifted my wallet out of the front left pocket of my cargo shorts.
I was late and kept on going. I got to the hotel, texted I was in the lobby. Ordered an ice coffee and found I had no wallet.
The ATM and credit card were cancelled immediately without incident. But I lost my various IDs, (love that NYC DMV experience) and less than $100.
So, my college chum paid for dinner and loaned me subway fare to get home before she went to the theater.
It All Came Back To Me
I take solace in the fact my guitar was not harmed, which of course was my only concern in those 10 seconds of confusion when it all went down.
But I also take solace in an experience that happened to an old friend, just a few blocks away, a few years ago.
The guy who fixed the printers in the law firm I worked at was staggering drunk as he left me after the Xmas Party at the Roosevelt hotel.
A balding, older man who walked with a stoop, and looked like he was wearing the comic “funny nose, glasses and mustache,” he was an easy mark for the three toughs who jumped him from behind.
When the police arrived he was sitting on one of them. Another was comatose in a heap. The third had gotten away, but was arrested later at a hospital.
My friend was suffering from a torn shirt pocket and lack of cigarettes.
He told me he had no real memory of the incident, other than the fact that when the first one wrapped an arm around his throat from behind, “It all came back to me…” and he was suddenly in 1970, a Green Beret behind enemy lines in Cambodia, as a late member of the Viet Cong attempted the same tactic.
The cops gave him a cigarette and found a safety pin at the station for his torn pocket.
I must admit, for all my pacifist, humanist leanings, it is nice to know that at least somewhere, sometime, some lowlife morons choose the wrong target to victimize.
What became of the soldiers from the Great War who left behind the mysterious wishbones of McSorley’s Ale House?
According to the story on Atlas Obscura, there remain to this day, hanging over the bar at McSorley’s, wishbones placed there by servicemen as good luck charms prior to their being shipped overseas in 1917. Just one example of the amazing bits of history to be found at 15 East 7th Street in New York’s East Village, where McSorley’s Ale House opened in 1857.
The last American veteran of the First World War was named Frank Buckles, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 110. He had been a 16 year old motorcycle driver “over there,” and in the 1940s he survived a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines during the Second World War, where he contracted the beriberi that continued to trouble him the rest of his life.
As we have now crossed the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, more attention has been brought to those who took part in what sadly failed to end all wars, as was predicted. They are all gone now, like the veterans of the American Civil War before them.
But what of the wishbone hangers? Some of the men came back to remove a wishbone and celebrate their safe return to McSolrey’s bar. What became of the others, whose wishbones remain there to this day, a silent reminder from the Lost Generation?
Did they not make it back to New York, or to McSorley’s? Or did they not make it back at all?
When next at the bar and ordering your mugs of light or dark, be sure and look for the wishbones and toast those warriors whose fate is now shrouded in history as well as mystery.
For more reading:
Thanks to River E. for the link!
Around the Web is a new feature where we will provide links to interesting and worthwhile items from around cyberspace.
We Already Have Birds That Sing, the new CD from Life in a Blender, is an album of tunes developed through live performance, and perfected in the recording studio, with the addition of extra guitar parts, refined arrangements for the resident strings, and a hard-hitting horn section of guest artists.
But the blood and guts of each cut on this, their 8th album, is the rock n roll core of drums, bass, and electric guitar propelling the singing that is voiced by the guy next door, with an affable lilt that can change to carnival barker or shrieking banshee on a dime.
Life in a Blender arose in the post-punk art rock scene of the mid-1980s. The current lineup has been together over twenty years, with a loyal fan base that continues to grow, thanks to the inventive thinking man’s rock composed by an ensemble of veteran musicians, and the sneakily adroit lyrics of front man Don Rauf, which are like little short stories, filled with quirky characters defined by the imagery of a specific time and place, yet achieving the cathartic impact of broader human experience.
The album opens with a blast of raucous horns, leading into Tongue Cut Sparrow, a boisterous burlesque number, closely based on the published biography of a young Japanese-American singer who was initially forced to work as an exotic dancer at Forbidden City, a popular men’s club in 1950s San Francisco. Shunned by all her family, except a grandmother, she ultimately finds her voice and career as a chanteuse.
In Shards, a man describes his daily life to an old acquaintance, and exhibits a confident outlook even if things could be better, and then suddenly reveals the private, backyard anguish of loss and lamentation. The juxtaposition of human façade and interiors is a theme Don Rauf has explored on previous records, as with the upbeat transient with the broken heart in the song Professional Mover (from The Heart is a Small Balloon, 2007,) along with the eccentric crank of a neighbor who turns out to be a friendly, regular guy once you get to know him, in Hoot Owl (Homewrecker Spoon, 2011.)
But in Shards, the switch between outward appearance and inner reality is more poignant and more surprising, as the brass-driven funk of the first part underscores the growling declaration that, “I’m looking fine. I bump and grind…,”only to have the music and the singer suddenly stripped to the basic beat, as the violin rises up to play on the heart strings while accompanying the strained confession of regret. It is a classic example of just one life in a blender, found in the canon of this long-lived band of the same name.
A less weighty lament is expressed by a lonely guy out on the town, in Mamanama, a romping, stomping two-step, complete with electric fiddle solo. He searches for companionship and good times across the expanse of Los Angeles, appealing to bar flies and surfers alike, with a chorus of “Can’t you see? I’m good company!”
In the song Falmouth, a cheery fella imposes his unquenchable optimism on an emotionally distressed friend going through some unnamed crisis, and not taking no for an answer. A press release reveals information about the character’s specific situation. But Falmouth works so well on its own exactly because of the tight focus details of chicken, flowers, and roller derby, set before the background of ambiguous emotional circumstance. It allows a listener to connect the song’s sentiment with their own life experience, where they or one they care for has made similar efforts to reach someone in a bad place and pull them out.
Often when immersing myself in a new record there is a tune that goes unnoticed, only to put a hook in me later on, so that it becomes a permanent part of the repertoire of fragments sung when cleaning the house or walking down the street. Falmouth is that song on this CD. I think it has something to do with the syncopation in the clean picking pattern from guitarist Al Houghton, in combination with the sporadic vocal harmony lines, and the smart and infectious interludes from the horn section, arranged by bassist Mark Lerner.
Then again, the counterpoint underpinning Good Answer, which Lerner composed for cellist Dave Moody and violinist Rebecca Weiner Tompkins, is just as memorable, and it provides plenty of space for drummer Ken Meyer to fill up with tasty accents. Where that song is a flippant response to the bandwagon catch phrases of American pop culture, Frankenstein Cannot Be Stopped breathes new life into one of the most popular stories of gothic horror. The point of view is that of a member of the cinema audience, who is haunted by the tragic scene where the unintentional monster kills his youngest victim, and so he returns again and again to try to warn her from the dark.
The album closes with Sea in a Sieve, a buoyant appreciation of the joys found in setting sail in a small vessel just for the fun of it. And like the record as a whole, it is a transportive entertainment that is worthwhile and enjoyable, but ends sooner than one might wish, leaving a taste for more.
We Already Have Birds That Sing can be downloaded direct from the band’s website, for the indecently affordable price of $7, or you may order an actual CD for $10, which also includes the digital download.
It is also available on iTunes and other fine music outlets.
And that is one man’s word on…
Life in a Blender’s new album
Here is a video of Shards, shot in concert at Joe’s Pub, at the Public Theater in New York City, and features the fledgling horn arrangements. You can see and hear how the song evolved, by comparing it to the video farther down, which was shot at Rockwood Music Hall several months earlier, when Shards was being performed for the very first time.
You will have to get the album to hear the definitive version.
Last night, at the Cornelia Street Café, there was a reading with music, celebrating the works of the late Seamus Heaney, who died last August, at age 74.
This is but one of many similar poetry readings organized by veteran New York actor Paul Hecht, which at times feature original music by Ellen Mandel, former composer in residence at the Jean Cocteau Rep during its glory years.
Among the most important poets of the twentieth century, Seamus Heaney was a professor at Harvard and Oxford, simultaneously, and included among his ample accomplishments is the most compelling modern translation of Beowulf, published in 2001 after decades of work. Yet, Heaney’s own poetry ignores the grandeur of epic saga in favor of the intimacy observed among everyday lives, conjured in a voice that recognizes the irony found in how the smallest moments prove to be the most transformative.
Many of the poems are set among the peat bogs and turf lodge farms of his childhood in 1940s Northern Ireland, while some relive the bomb-strewn Troubles of the 1970s. But like other great Irish writers, the poetry reaches beyond the expression of what it is to be Irish, to reveal universal facets about what it means to be human. And like his predecessors, Yates, Shaw, and Beckett, Heaney’s efforts were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1995.
Paul Hecht reading Seamus Heaney
(photos: L. Flanagan)
Which poems and excerpts to include from such a career, in a scant 90 minutes, was no easy feat. But Hecht provided a judicious balance between the weighty and the whimsical, and he and his fellow readers, Elizabeth Mackay and Kim Sykes, made their interpretations seem effortless with ease, so that their own enjoyment of the language proved infectious. The timbre of the women’s voices added highlights and brightness to the evening, set off by the sonorous shadows in the voice of Hecht, rich with resonance, and wide and deep in range, with just enough gravel to mark the boundaries.
The proceedings opened and closed with passages from Heaney’s Nobel acceptance speech, filled with its own poetic imagery. But none quite so distilled and served up like the actual poems read aloud. These included Casualty with its wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time death suffered by the pub crawler who was “…blown to bits/Out drinking in a curfew/Others obeyed…”
And the awkward romance of Twice Shy.
Had taught us both to wait,
Not to publish feeling
And regret it all too late –
Mushroom loves already
Had puffed and burst in hate.
There was The Skunk, a lighthearted piece from the poet’s brief period at Cal Berkley, and Death of a Naturalist, which tells of a young boy’s interest in nature being cut short when he finds out his beloved tadpoles grow up to be “gross-bellied frogs … Some sat poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.”
A whole section was dedicated to the Glanmore Sonnets, written after moving back to the country in the 1980s, this time south of Dublin, where
We have our burnished bay tree at the gate,
Classical, hung with the reek of silage
From the next farm, tart-leafed as inwit
And on four occasions a poem would be read by Hecht, Mackay, or Sykes, and then it would be sung beautifully by soprano Eleanor Taylor, accompanied on the piano by Ellen Mandel, who has made her own art form of setting great poems to music.
In fact, Mandel and a collection of singers will be performing her compositions this coming Saturday, May 17, at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd St., to signify the release of her latest CD, There Was a World, featuring the words of Seamus Heaney, William Shakespeare, E.E. Cummings, and others.
Last night, one of the Heaney poems set to music was When All the Others Were Away at Mass. Written upon the death the poet’s mother, it is specific and deeply personal, while also universal in its scope.
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
Upcoming readings in this series at the Cornelia Street Café include:
Bloomsday – Monday June 16 – James Joyce w/ Paul Hecht and others
Monday August 18 – Annual Ogden Nash Bash – w/ Paul Hecht and featuring Ellen Mandel
Monday September 29th – TS Elliot
An after-hours reception was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last night, where an invited group of some 60 guests were treated to a private viewing of the exhibit Early American Guitars: the Instruments of C.F. Martin, which opened to the public earlier that day.
The exhibit is located in the museum’s André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments, Gallery 684, now through December 7, 2014.
Trained in the Vienna style of guitar making championed by Johann Stauffer, Christian Frederick Martin emigrated from Saxony to New York City in 1833, where he set up business on Hudson Street, near the present location of the Holland Tunnel. By the 1840s he had moved to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where his great-great-great-grandson, C.F. Martin IV currently serves as C.E.O. of the family business, one of the oldest in the USA. In time, C.F. Sr. experimented his way to inventing a guitar design that was uniquely American, and which evolved directly into almost every flattop steel-string acoustic guitar seen today.
This exhibition features the largest collection of Martin’s work ever put on public display, culled from private collections and Martin Guitar’s own museum, to augment instruments already at the Met. While Martins made before the Civil War are extremely rare, present are some of the most visually exquisite examples, many with ornate inlay and decoration, as well as the most historically significant, including the earliest known guitar to feature the X-brace pattern supporting the soundboard, ubiquitous among modern guitars, and the earliest guitar yet discovered that bears Martin’s signature. Also included in the exhibit of thirty-five instruments are some made by other lesser known luthiers from America, as well as Austro-German and Spanish guitars with designs that influenced Martin’s earlier development.
In addition to select museum supporters, in attendance was Kerry Keane of Christie’s, guitarists Woody Mann and Craig Thatcher, veteran dealers in Martins and other guitars such as Stan Jay of Mandolin Brothers, Steve Uhrick of Musurgia, Fred Oster of Vintage Instruments, Buzzy Levine of Lark St. Music, Jim Bollman of the Music Emporium, and Matt Umanov of Umanov Guitars, along with luthiers Rudy Pensa, Steven Kovacik, and David LaPlante. It was LaPlante whose detective work recognized and established the likely influence upon Martin by builders of the Cadiz style of Spanish guitars, which evolved parallel to the Viennese style. His findings make up a key chapter in the new book that has come out in conjunction with the exhibit.
Published by Hal Leonard Books, Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and His Contemporaries is comprised of beautiful photography, and essays by several experts in nineteenth-century musical instruments. It also features a concise and most excellent forward by the Met’s own Jayson Kerr Dobney, Associate Curator in the Department of Musical Instruments. Peter Szego, the mastermind behind the book, was also present for the viewing and reception. An in-depth review of the book is slated for later this month at onemanz.com.
During a chat with Chris Martin, he revealed to me that he had spent much of his life wondering how and why his illustrious ancestor made the leap from the Stauffer-style parlor guitars to his own unique design that gave rise to modern American guitars. It was only when the book project and exhibit came together that it became clear it was actually a three-point process. He began with Viennese guitars, started making Spanish guitars to appeal to a broader range of customers, and ultimately combined them with his innovative bracing patterns to arrive at the design that would instigate the evolution toward today’s steel-string guitars.
“Now I understand why he used a fake Spanish foot!” Chris said, after thinking about the implications. “You know, he would put a Spanish foot inside the guitar, even though he was using a dovetail neck joint. So he would put in a fake one that didn’t do anything. I guess because people who liked Spanish guitars probably wanted to see that feature.”
Woody Mann and Matt Umanov
Martin Executives with
Nyke van Wyk and
Music with Mustard Seed and Cornichons
Martins of that era sported gut strings and were played by concert artists and discerning amateurs to perform classical music. Today, steel-string Martins are the premier choice of acoustic guitars for players of bluegrass, country, folk, and rock n roll. Modern Martins are represented in the exhibit by the 1939 000-42 that Eric Clapton used in his trendsetting performance on MTV-Unplugged, on loan from the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Another seen last night was found in the hands of Craig Thatcher, who performed on an Eric Clapton signature model, while the guests enjoyed the latter part of the evening conversing over a lavish offering of crudité, smoked salmon and local farm cheeses.
There will be a series of concerts in conjunction with the exhibit by recording artists like Rosanne Cash, and Laurence Juber, as well as free live performances in the museum’s Charles Engelhard Court throughout the year. In addition, at least two educational programs are currently scheduled: How Did They Do That?; Early American Guitars will take place on March 8 and 9; and a Sunday at the Met presentation is set for March 16.
A very special thank you to Dick Boak, Head of Artist Relations at C.F. Martin & Co., for the invitation, and everything else he has ever done since the day he was caught taking scrap wood out of a Martin dumpster and given a job at the factory.
For more information on Early American Guitars: the Instruments of C.F. Martin go to:
Photo Gallery from exhibit, for those who cannot make it to NYC to see it
Martin Authentic Series – detailed reviews of exacting replicas of vintage pre-war Martins