Tuesday, June 10, 2014

La Bamba

Ritchie Valens
Para bailar la bamba
Para bailar la bamba
Se necesita
Una poca de gracia
Una poca de gracia
Y otra cosita

“Dance the Bamba, needing a little grace” (or “humor”)became one of rock and roll’s signature anthems. La Bamba is also one of the oldest Mexican Sones Jarochos, a traditional song form originating in a region that includes southern Veracruz, eastern Oaxaca and north­ern Tabasco. The instrumentation of this traditional Mexican music included violin, bass, harp, tambourine, quijada (the jaw of a donkey) and a tarima (a foot-high platform made of wood for dancers to add percussion to the music with their feet). The roots of the music com­bine from Spain, Africa and the native Aztecs. It is believed that the enslaved Africans in Mexico created the tarimas after being deprived of drums by their captors.

African syncopated rhythms have played an important role in all music of the Western hemisphere. The accenting, anticipating or skipping of certain beats - sometimes emphasizing beats or parts of beats not typically stressed in European music - created a rhythmic syncopation that became the heartbeat and soundtrack of the new world. This new rhythmic approach underpinned the development of South American musical styles such as habanera, bolero, tango, rumba, salsa, mambo, merengue and cumbia in the same way that African rhythmic syncopation was integral in the creation of North American styles such as hoedown, ragtime, blues, country, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and hip-hop.

La Bamba itself harkens to a single event that took place in the port of Veracruz in today’s Mexico. In 1683, the 7,000 inhabitants of Vera­cruz were largely unprotected from pirate attacks even though the nearby San Juan de Ulua fort was substantially fortified. The Dutch pirate Lorenz de Graaf and his multi-national crew raided Veracruz killing many of its Spanish citizens and pillaging the town. After the nightmarish attack was over, many of the remaining Spanish wanted to leave Veracruz compelling the King of Spain to erect a defensive wall around the entire town. The King made it compulsory for young men of the city to serve in the military in order to defend the port, citizens were involved in defensive drills and alarm bells were installed. The term “bambarria” was used by the local native and slave populations to mock the Spanish inhabitants and pompous local officials in their attempts to prevent the next pirate attack. They believed that the attack had been a fluke and would not happen again. One theory links the origin of La Bamba with the bambarria - a song taking voice from the social situation. However, because many towns near Veracruz have African names, La Bamba could have come more directly from African slaves originating from the Mbambo or Bambala tribes in the Congo and Angola regions of Africa.

By the 17th century, the once peaceful relationship between the Portuguese and Africans was disrupted as the European slave trade escalated. In 1647, Salvador Correia of Brazil sent an expedition of fifteen ships to conquer Angola to facilitate the slave trade to South America. He and other Spaniards brought slaves to Mexico from Angola and Congo including those from the Bamba region and the Bambala tribe. In either case it is certain that the origins of La Bamba date back hundreds of years.

Just as English, Irish, German and French immigrants brought the violin to colonial America, the Spanish brought the violin to Central and South America. Much like their North American counterparts, African slaves in Latin America were drawn to play the instrument. Many slaves escaped into the rain forest and mountainous regions to live with indigenous people and became integrated into the folk culture. The violin became inextricably linked to all the traditional music styles created by the cross-pollination of the native and immigrant populations making up North and South American 400-year old culture.

Flamenco rhythms from Spain’s oppressed gypsy populations, became trademarks of what is South American music culture. For hundreds of years, one would hear La Bamba informed by these styles on the violin, jaranas, guitar, and harp with lyrics improvised by the perform­ers. It was in 1958 that an adaptation by Los Angeles Hispanic singer and guitarist Ritchie Valens, made La Bamba one of early rock and roll’s greatest songs.

Born Richard Steven Valenzuela, this teenaged Mexican-American rock and roll pioneer gave birth to Latin or Chicano rock. Richie grew up experiencing his parents’ love of Mariachi and Flamenco music and combined this style with his own affection for R&B and Jump Blues. After penning the million-selling doo-wop styled song “Donna” (written for his high school sweetheart), Ritchie Valens switched gears recalling a Mexican song he grew up listening to in his family home. He added a rock and roll beat and became the first person to use Spanish lyrics in a rock recording. In 1958, the infectious new treatment of the La Bamba shot up into the top 20 of the pop charts.

On February 3rd, 1959 during a rock and roll package tour in the Midwest, a small plane carrying the young stars Buddy Holly, JP (The Big Bopper) Richardson and the teenaged Ritchie Valens crashed leaving no survivors. The loss of these young men sent shock waves around the world and the tragic incident became acknowledged as “the day the music died.” These young rock musicians were just get­ting started in their already meteoric careers - Valens’ own career was a mere eight months old. La Bamba became an anthem for the rebellious rock and roll generation. The anti-establishment sentiment of 1960s America was similar to that of the 1600s in Mexico and defined a national spirit and coming of age. It is not surprising that this music would have been a part of both. The lyrics “yo no soy mainero, soy capitan” or “I am no mere sailor, I am captain!” speak to the American (both North and South) spirit of the common man wanting to take control of his own destiny.

Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos
Valens’ short career inspired the Latin rock movement. In 1987, the Hollywood motion picture La Bamba featured Valens’ life story portrayed by actor Lou Diamond Phillips. The music for the film was provided by the band Los Lobos, one of Valens’ acclaimed Latin rock successors. For the film, the group recorded a version of La Bamba that was intended to imitate Valens’ original classic but somehow miraculously seemed to improve on the original. This new version of La Bamba became another world wide sensation, this time reaching the #1 position on the pop charts in both the U.S. and the U.K. The guitar solo by Los Lobos’ Ceasar Rojas took on the musical ideas and character of the 1958 original solo by session player Carol Kaye, but escalated them to new musical heights. This famous instrumen­tal solo is a wonderful blend of Chicano rock stratocaster guitar and the traditional violin lyricism of Mexico that Los Lobos knew well. In this book’s version, Rojas’ guitar solo is transcribed and adapted to violin without any note changes. The overall violin arrangement was inspired by both Valens and Los Lobos and the inclusion of the violin brings the music full circle to the old Mexican folk tradition that will forever be a part of our collective story.

Bach Partita No. 2

 The solo violin compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) are among the greatest contributions to musical literature ever written. Regarded as the father of western harmony and counterpoint, Bach and his music together with the stories of his own performances, improvisation and great violin playing create an important artistic bridge from western European musical culture to the Americas. Bach is remembered today as an organist mostly but, in fact, he was a professional violinist with playing duties in Weimar, Germany during the early 1700s.

In 1720, Bach, at age 35, completed the composition of all his solo violin works while he was director of music at the court of Leopold, Prince of Anhalt near Berlin, Germany. The 5 1/2 year court appointment did not include organ performance or church music duties, so he turned to his violin playing and instrumental compo­sition for the length of his tenure. If his unaccompanied violin works were ever performed in his lifetime, he was likely to have performed them himself for Prince Leopold.

For more than a century there has been conjecture concerning Bach’s intentions for his solo violin music. Many serious students of classical music take pride in using Bach’s bowings and articulation verbatim even though experts agree that the Baroque era was filled with improvising musicians and player-composers. One could question whether Bach envisioned an entire population of future musicians discovering his music from the single handwritten manuscripts he left of each piece. And further, one has to imagine if he could have foreseen the mass copying, engraving and publishing of his music not experienced in his lifetime.

It is at least possible, and maybe even likely, that Bach did not intend for anyone beyond himself to perform his solo violin works. Scholars have speculated that a handful of Bach’s violin-playing colleagues may have performed his unaccompanied violin works but there is no record of it. Also, Bach’s manuscripts suggest few fingerings in general. His violin phrases could be naturally played on more than one area of the fingerboard. If the music were intended primarily for himself, he would have remembered most of his favorite fingerings giving himself a little reminder here and there as he did occasionally. Since fingerings determine which string is played on and where the bow needs to cross the strings, most bowings would likely follow any given fingerings. Therefore Bach’s bowings can be considered both specific in some cases and general phrase markings in other cases. Bowings in Bach’s day were freely interpreted on solo repertoire and the phrase markings could serve merely as general guides to a natural improviser. Bach and composers from his era were composing in real time. They prepared music for the week and most likely moved on to more music the next week. The idea is substantiated by the stories of Bach’s wife using original manuscript of her husband’s to wrap fish in! There was simply not much of a need to keep old music laying around. Once it had already been performed for the Prince, it would be prudent to work up something new.

Students who have learned Bach’s solo violin music faithfully via modern mimeographs and academic editions may be in for a surprise. Most of the well-known editions have altered what Bach actually wrote regarding bowings and articulations as well as the appearance and nature of the musical notation itself. Consequently I have transcribed the Allemande as Bach wrote it for this book. This transcription includes and honors Bach’s concept of note beaming and also renders the . and . measures at the beginnings and endings of some staff systems. This replication also preserves Bach’s original bowings and articulation. Of special note is a 16-note down-bow slur in the ninth measure. This directive by Bach’s hand has been omitted in most subsequent editions. It is clear that Bach wanted 16 notes slurred in one down-bow in that ninth mea­sure because the bowing that follows works out correctly. There is no need for bowing this passage in groups of eight notes and using hook bowings to make the bow distribution come out evenly as found in many endorsed and recommended editions of this piece.

In Bach’s time, vibrato was used as ornamentation if at all. Continuous vibrato as a component of general tone production was a feature of the Romantic period and was not used by Bach. However, Francesco Gemanani and Leopold Mozart – contemporary composers and teachers of Bach – stated in the early 1700s that they preferred some use of the vibrato in performance. Also, the instruments were much different in Bach’s time. If one wanted to interpret this music as Bach himself might have sounded, he would need to use a short-necked fiddle strung with sheep gut resting the instrument on his collarbone without a chinrest and would also need to use a bow that arched away from the bow hair.

More confusion about authentic Bach centers around the belief that since many of Bach’s solo violin pieces have dance name titles, they must be music written for various dance genres. There is no evidence, however, that Bach’s solo violin music was ever intended to accompany danc­ing. There is no doubt that this music was inspired by various popular dance genres of the day. It is a testa­ment to Bach’s progressivism that he brought this dance influenced music into very formal settings. Because Bach’s virtuosic solo violin music was not intended for dancing it is not necessary to play it at steady dance tempos or at a single dynamic or devoid of soloistic liberties and dramatic rubatos.

On the other hand, many modern violinists have performed the Allemande at half the tempo intended for that dance thereby masking the original mood and the spirit of the music as well as losing the integrity of Bach’s syncopated phrasing. Bach composed many cantatas and much serious church music. It is most probable that the dance-influenced solo violin music was intended as a contrast from this composer showing even more great variety and scope. It is counterintuitive to perform these pieces without addressing at least the sprit of the dance contained in the musical phrasing. An interesting point with regard to the particular dance here is that an allemande was a social dance involving couples. One of the distinguishing characteristics is for the gentleman to turn his lady partner. The term “allemande” was used for centuries in dance vocabulary all the way to the Americas in square dancing: “allemand left, swing your partner, do-si-do.”

Bach’s solo violin works were largely forgotten in the century after Bach’s death and rediscovered and popularized as recently as the 19th Century by the great violinist Joseph Joachim although Felix Mendelssohn and Pablo Casals are the most noted for rediscovering Bach’s instru­mental music. There is a distinct possibility that Joachim’s 1904 recording of some of the Bach pieces could have been considerably slower in tempo than he would have otherwise performed them as a younger musician. There are many instances of performers taking much slower tempos in their later performing years. Joachim was 75 years old in 1904 – quite old for that time. However, Joachim’s slower tempos from the end of his lifetime may have unwittingly set an incorrect precedent for subsequent performances of these dance-inspired movements.

Perhaps the most telling indicator in the controversy of how to properly interpret Bach is the simple yet perhaps forbidding “repeat sign.” It stands to reason that the very existence of repeat signs – rather than an expanded form including developed treatment of the music already presented by the composer himself – suggests that the performer was expected to vary the music the second time around. This practice has been handed down in the American tradition of performing music from this same time period – American fiddle tunes. It stands to reason that Baroque era performers in America and Europe alike were expected to exhibit their creativity and theoretical knowledge during the repeats of the composed music. Isn’t it interesting and indeed wonderful that it is the American fiddlers who may have more faithfully perpetuated this aspect of what Bach himself intended!

Ashokan Farewell

Ken Burns editing film for “The Civil War”
Ashokan Farewell is a piece com­posed by Jay Ungar in 1982 as a lament upon saying goodbye to fiddling guests at his Fiddle & Dance Workshop held in Ashokan, New York. After Ungar recorded the piece with his band Fiddle Fever in 1984, filmmaker Ken Burns heard Ashokan Farewell and was very moved by it. Burns soon featured Ashokan Farewell throughout his 11-hour PBS series, The Civil War. Ungar’s tune was the only contemporary music in the soundtrack, the remain­der being 19th century music depicting America in 1861-1865, the years of the American civil war. Ashokan Farewell underlies nearly an hour of film including the emotional reading of Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife in the first episode. Since the series aired on television in 1990 as the
Jay Ungar, composer of "Ashokan Farewell"
most-watched program in PBS history (watched by 40 million viewers during its initial broadcast), there have been many performances and recordings of the beautiful tune. The arrangement for this book is largely inspired by the one from the album Heroes in 1992 that I recorded with classical violin great Pinchas Zukerman.
Pinchas Zukerman and O’Connor at “Heroes”
recording session

It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)

Duke Ellington and Ray Nance
When Duke Ellington wrote It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) in 1931, he created an anthem for the swing era. Swing music, as did other American styles, developed organically and rather magically from the musical culture of the time. 

Ellington was one of the most successful African American musicians of the 1930s and ‘40s. The title of his famous “swing” tune came from a credo that his trumpeter Bubber Miley touted often. Lyricist Irving Mills immortalized the saying by mak­ing it the song title. Ellington said that in his time “swing” was simply “Harlem for rhythm.” The use of “that swing” in the title of Ellington’s new tune was a first and unwittingly named the new music that would define the great swing era. At first the winds and brass were featured with the vocals in this tune and hence in the style. Singer Ivie Anderson sang the hit for Ellington in 1932 with trombonist Joe Nanton and saxophonist Johnny Hodges taking the solos. Soon after, Ellington created another arrangement for band member and saxophone legend Ben Webster. Things changed however in 1940 when the Duke hired Ray Nance. 

Ray Nance
Born Willis Raymond Nance (Chicago 1913), Ray was such an all-round great musi­cian – playing solo trumpet, composing, arranging, singing and dancing - that his band mates nicknamed him “floorshow”! He was also one of the greatest jazz violinists in history. After taking a well-known signature trumpet solo in Duke Ellington’s famous Take the A Train in 1941 and some excellent violin solos in the hit C Jam Blues the fol­lowing year, Ellington asked Ray Nance to create a new arrangement of his It Don’t Mean a Thing. Nance “ran the floor” again leaving many to claim that his adapta­tion was the definitive version of the song. This arrangement released by Ellington in 1943 not only featured Nance’s attractive band writing style, but also his vocals on the lead and his masterful swing violin soloing as well. Nance is also credited with changing the original “doo-ahs” that Anderson sang in 1932, to the “doo-wahs” that more closely emulated a horn section sound. My arrangement quotes some of Nance’s original violin work as well as some of his band writing that naturally suits the violin.

Tico-Tico no Fubá (Sparrow in the Cornmeal)

Lira Santarritense orchestra
Zequinha de Abreu was one of the most prominent Brazilian composers in the early 20th century. Although he composed many marchinhas, valsas and tangos, today he is mostly remembered for his world-wide choro classic Tico-tico no Fubá. Born in 1880 in Brasil, Abreu received a harmonica at age five and began piano lessons at seven. His mother wanted young Zequinha to become a priest and sent him to the Episcopal Seminary. While there however, he found that he was more interested in his music lessons and ran away to become a profes­sional musician. 

Abreu went on to form the Lira Santarritense, an orchestra that played at silent movies. He became a prolific composer authoring and publishing such pieces as Maxixe Bafo de Onça, xote D’alva and valse Soluços. By 1917, he had composed over 100 works including many choros. The word “choro” can be literally trans­lated as “crying,” “weeping,” “tears,” or “moaning.” Ironically though, the music itself is not at all in the “lament” vein but is actually characterized by fast and upbeat rhythms, virtuosity, improvisation, chromatics, modulations, syncopations, counterpoint and general positive enthusiasm. It is difficult not to see a parallel irony concerning “the blues.” One of Abrue’s choros would later become world famous, although Abreu would never know the full extent of its success during his lifetime.
In 1917, Abreu and his orchestra tried out his new choro at a ball. It was said that the new piece of music caused dance couples to “go crazy on the ballroom floor.” After the set was over, Abreu commented to his band members that the dancers looked liked tico-ticos (a kind of little bird) eating corn meal. Wondering what to name the new tune, his bassist Artur de Carvalho replied that his description of the dancers should be the name - Tico-tico no Fubá

Zequinha de Abreu
Abreu had some success with the publisher Casa Vitale, releasing Branca, Sururú na Cidade and Tardes em Lindóia. He was also employed at Casa Beethoven as a sheet music demonstrator, often going door to door demonstrating his music for potential customers who might want a new valse or choro for their own living room entertainment. Although Tico-tico was popular and widely performed, it was not published until 1930. Abreu decided to have lyrics added by Eurico Barreiros in 1931. With his growing success, Abreu’s band grew to 25 members in 1933 often playing engagements in the major music centers of Rio de Janeiro. However the new orchestra was very short lived. After achieving mostly regional success, Zequinha de Abreu died of a heart attack in 1935 at age 54. 
Seven years later in 1942, Tico-tico no Fubá was recorded for the first time with new lyrics by “the queen of the choro” Ademilde Fonseca. It was also recorded by Brazilian film stars and satirists Alvarenga e Ranchinho who supplied their own lyrics. In 1944, the piece made its way to the United States in a very big way when the “first lady” of the Hammond organ – Pittsburgh’s Ethel Smith - scored a million-seller hit with it. When the “Brazilian bombshell” Carmen Miranda appeared with Groucho Marx in the 1947 musical comedy Copacabana performing Tico-Tico, the on-screen performance secured the song as an American sensation. Instrumentalists of all backgounds, from flamenco guitar great Paca de Lucia to pop classical violinist David Garrett to amateur and professional flutists and accordionists everywhere, have loved playing it ever since. 

1952 saw a movie directed by Adolfo Celi and Fernando de Barros based on Abrue’s life. The movie was entitled Tico-Tico no Fubá – a testament to this tune being Abrue’s greatest accomplishment.

Dawn Waltz

Major Franklin and
Mark O’Connor
Major Franklin was a pioneer of Texas style fiddling. Born in Arkansas in 1904, he received a little tin fiddle when he was four years old. When Major was eight, his family moved to Texas where he eventually became one of the most legendary contest fiddlers Texas has ever known. Franklin and his fellow competitors – Eck Robertson, Red Steeley, Irvin Solomon, Oscar Harper, Bryant Houston and Benny Thomasson – are the stuff of Texas folk music legend. Thomasson and Franklin would often tie for 1st place in the contests of breakdowns and waltzes, being called back repeatedly until one of them would finally come out on top.

In most musical genres, the responsibility for young prodigies learning their craft falls upon the great players from the generation before. The beautiful melody and history of Dawn Waltz may have disappeared into obscurity when Franklin died if he had not passed it on to a 14-year-old fiddler named James “Shorty” Chancellor. Often referred to by his stage name “Texas Shorty,” he was about the only fiddle music prodigy that appeared on the scene in those days, becoming the first teenaged fiddle champion in Texas. Born in Dallas in 1943, Shorty played only the mandolin until he was 13. At that point he met Benny Thomasson and
James “Texas Shorty” Chancellor
began private lessons with the fiddle legend. Shorty entered fiddle contests with Thomasson, accom­panying him on mandolin and entering the junior divisions himself on fiddle. Thomasson finished his string of wins at the Crocket World Fiddle Championships in 1957. After his unprecedented three wins in a row, contest officials barred him from entering again. Irvin Solomon’s adult son Norman won in 1958 and 16-year-old Shorty followed by matching his old teacher’s record with three consecutive wins in ’59, ’60 and ’61.

The accomplishments of the young Texas Shorty were preserved in a series of 45rpm recordings made between 1961 and 1965. Chancellor adapted the tune that Franklin had called Virginia Moonlight and recorded it as Dawn Waltz in the only known recording of this music. The composer of this beautiful melody, however, remains unknown.

Beaumont Rag

Smith's Garage Fiddle Band
The origins of the wildly popular Beaumont Rag as we know it today are as interest­ing as they are mysterious. First of all, the tune shares two identical parts with the more obscure White River Stomp. However since neither tune has an acknowledged composer, it is hard to say which came first. An early recording of White River Stomp was made by Jack Cawley’s Oklahoma Ridge Runners in 1930. Cawley was a Texas fiddler who had moved from the border town of Bonham into Oklahoma around 1914. Thousands of miles away, Canadian fiddling television star Don Messer’s cut of the White River Stomp in the 1940s brought the tune solidly into the Canadian fiddle repertoire and subsequently it was included in a Prince Edward Island fiddle tune collection.

Following a different thread, we find that Samuel Peacock – a barbershop owner – recorded Beaumont Rag with his group the Smith’s Garage Fiddle Band as early as 1928. The string band’s repertoire consisted mostly of Texas style fiddle tunes such as Done Gone, Tom and Jerry, Gray Eagle, and Limerock. The East Texas Serenaders, led by their fiddler Huggin D. Williams accompanied by guitar, tenor banjo and Henry Bogan on a 3-string cello, recorded Beaumont Rag several years later in 1937. Texas Western Swing fiddling superstar Bob Wills recorded Beaumont Rag just a few years after that in 1939.

Scott Joplin
It is interesting that two such similar tunes had parallel histories on such different parts of the continent. However, White River Stomp has disappeared into obscurity whereas Beaumont Rag has become a classic that most folk musicians have wanted to learn and play.

It is likely, however, that White River Stomp predated Beaumont Rag explaining why Samuel Peacock never overtly claimed credit for the tune although he was the first to record it. In the Texas fiddle contest tradition, fiddlers would often alter an existing tune creating something new and different enough to warrant a new name but probably not a separate copyright. In the Beaumont adaptation, the 1st part of the Stomp was entirely omitted, the 2nd part is the same and, intriguingly, the Stomp’s 3rd part became the signature 1st part of Beaumont Rag. Peacock himself may have added two great parts to Beaumont Rag – a classic ragtime motif and a “double shuffle.” Both of the new parts represent such engaging music that most players would have had a difficult time leaving any of it out. All of this musical evidence argues for the Stomp having evolved into the Rag and not the reverse.

Johnny Gimble
The similarity of these two tunes also begs the question as to what distinguishes a “stomp” from a “rag.” Ragtime had been a commercial phenomenon since the late 1800s. Although the piano became more associated with ragtime’s commercial success, many believe that ragtime syncopated tunes were bowed on the fiddle long before they were hammered out on the keys. Ragtime pioneer and superstar Scott Joplin said, “There has been ragtime music in America ever since the ‘Negro’ race has been here.” Joplin’s father had been a slave fiddler. According to New Orleans’ iconic Jelly Roll Morton, an African American musician who came to prominence in the piano ragtime era, the first tune with the name “stomp” in it was his tune King Porter Stomp in 1905. “I don’t know what the name stomp means, myself” Jelly Roll said, “…only that people would stamp their feet.” Jelly Roll’s “stomps” certainly had many of the same characteristics as the ragtime music that he composed and performed. Jelly Roll is also credited with the first “jazz” composition penned in 1915 and entitled Jelly Roll Blues. There is no doubt that in this era of American music culture brimming with new styles, fiddlers did not stay on the sidelines but were right in the middle of the explosion that was taking the country and the world by storm.

O'Connor and Benny Thomasson
Being a white old-time fiddler, Samuel Peacock created a ragtime piece specifically for the fiddle in a genre that had been dominated by piano composers for decades. He added a section featuring the 3-note-melody-against-a-4-beat-rhythm-pattern for Beaumont, a classic ragtime motif similar to one in the famous Black and White Rag (New York composer George Botsford, 1908) that contest fiddlers love to play. The version of Beaumont Rag in this book takes advantage of the fact that fiddlers often shifted into 5th position for a repeat of that figure up an octave. The other additional part of Beaumont Rag not included in White River Stomp is the “double shuffling” variation that Texas fiddlers were just beginning to use in the 1920s. They didn’t have much experience with this bowing because most of them considered it “hokum.” To the present day, “hokum” bowing is not allowed at the National Old-Time Fiddler’s Contest in Idaho. If the “double shuffle” bowing is employed by a fiddler, it could mean automatic disqualification! How could any bowing be literally “outlawed” from fiddling - especially when it is so thrilling to perform?

Jelly Roll Morton
Actually, “double shuffling” is akin to other syncopated musical rhythms such as the three-note patterns common in rag tunes. Ragtime was eventually accepted into fiddle contest repertoire but not the “double shuffle” itself. However, an overview of the fiddle contest repertoire reveals that the fiddle contest scene mostly preferred ragtime compositions by white composers. The term “hokum” may have carried racial overtones referring to the minstrel shows of the 1830s, the black minstrel shows and other post Civil War music including the blues, ragtime and jazz.

There was something about double shuffling though – this exaggerated syncopated bowing utilizing double-stopped chords – that white fiddlers ultimately wanted to emulate. Peacock was perhaps the first to step out of the narrow-minded conventions by using double shuffling in his adaptation of Beaumont Rag. And subsequently, double shuffling was brought back into fiddling by the jazz violin players whom the Texas fiddlers revered. New York jazz violinist pioneer Joe Venuti used double shuffling in some of his recordings on the Okey label in1927 and Goin’ Places, Four String Joe, and Kicking the Cat were widely copied throughout the Texas fiddle scene. A classically trained Texas swing fiddler named Cecil Brower used double shuffling in the new Western swing music of the early 1930s paving the way for many Texas fiddlers to incorporate this technique.

Don Messer's Islanders
One of Brower’s protégés was the legendary Western swing and Nashville session king Johnny Gimble. The double shuffle passages contained in this book’s version of Beaumont Rag are transcribed from his performance. An additional variation is added to the rendition of Beaumont Rag here by way of the dean of the Texas fiddlers, Benny Thomasson, the Texas state fiddle champion for 15 years in a row during the 1940s and 50s. His contribution is the 3rd part, a variation to the 1st part that I learned from him as a student. It employs virtuosic bowing and mul­tiple string jumps that were sure to gain him contest victories even though he had to omit the double shuffling in order to qualify!

Gold Rush

Bluegrass is the latest to emerge of the traditional American music styles. Informed by hundreds of years of culture from many parts of the world, its musical language is exceptionally diverse. The cre­ation of bluegrass as a recognized style is mostly credited to Bill Monroe of Kentucky. Born in 1911, Monroe was inspired by his “Uncle Pen” who played the Kentucky fiddle style in the family’s Scottish tradition. Young Bill wanted to fiddle but, being the youngest sibling, the instrument was already taken and the mandolin was the household instrument that remained. Monroe was intent on making the most of the situation however, and created a new way of playing the mandolin that emulated fiddle playing, even creating some of the most famous American fiddle tunes from the instrument.

Although he grew up with traditional Appalachian string-band music and the hymn-based music of the Carter Family and Jimmy Rogers, Monroe was inspired by the blues and ragtime music being played by both blacks and whites in and around his native Rosine, KY – music that was influencing all of the string players at the time. Monroe learned music from a local black musician Arnold Schultz (a coal miner who played guitar) and by the African American Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet from Virginia with whom he and his brother Charlie had shared the stage often in the Carolinas.

Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys with Wise, Flatt
and Scruggs (‘47)
Hillbilly music in South Carolina was also being revolutionized during that time by fiddlers Joseph Emmet Mainer and his brother-in-law Roscoe Banks working under the group name J. E. Mariner’s Mountain­eers. It was when they added Snuffy Jenkins to the group, performing his 3-finger banjo rolls on his 5-string banjo influenced by the 3-finger style blues and ragtime guitar music from his native Piedmont region of North Carolina, that the characteristics of the modern bluegrass band were first heard. In 1936 they teamed up for an RCA recording of a music style that would become known as the bluegrass sound – a full two years before Bill Monroe’s own band, The Bluegrass Boys made their first appearance. After a short run in Ashville, North Carolina, Monroe’s innovative mandolin playing and the distinctive 4-part singing rehearsed extensively at Monroe’s direction for months - but without the inclusion of the banjo - took the Grand Ol’ Opry by storm in 1939 with Monroe’s virtuosic hillbilly singing on his own Mule Skinner Blues.

The musical influences on Bill Monroe and others during the 1930s and early 40s were crucial for the development of bluegrass music, however it wasn’t until 1945 that a seminal lineup of band members took place in Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, a lineup that cast an indelible mark on the music’s future. During WWII, a jazz fiddler from Florida named Chubby Wise heard that Monroe’s great fiddler Howdy Forrester was leaving the band for the service. Wise was accepted into the band on a trial basis and although he was not familiar with playing Monroe’s hillbilly style, he was talented and a fast learner. Together Monroe and Wise worked at creating a whole new role for the fiddle in a string band. Fiddles had traditionally played lead most of the time. Because Monroe wanted to feature trio and quartet singing and his own mandolin playing, Wise developed a rhythmic role for the fiddle taking on a “chop” function when the mandolin dropped its strong back-beats for a solo break. He also learned to back up the vocals with complimentary lines, double-stops and fills.

Byron Berline, Bill Monroe and O'Connor "Heroes"
recording session
Next to join the band was a young singer/rhythm guitar player from Tennessee named Lester Flatt, and in December of 1945, a 21-year old 3-finger style, 5-string banjo virtuoso named Earl Scruggs came into the lineup - a young man who in the coming two decades would become the greatest bluegrass banjo player-composer to ever come along. Howard Watts rounded out the super-star configuration of The Bluegrass Boys playing upright bass.

This new kind of country hillbilly music continued to develop into the 1960s with­out an official name. The distinguishing characteristics of this new genre were vocals featuring extremely high harmony parts, short improvised solos or “breaks” between verses by each instrument, a hard driving rhythmic groove and incredibly fast tempos. Even though much of the repertoire included old country songs, fiddle tunes, banjo breakdowns, gospel hymns, swing and boogie woogie, Monroe and other band members wrote many new songs and instrumentals to show off their incredible technique and new sound.

The term “hillbilly” has come to have negative connotations despite its noble origin. The early Ulster-Scottish settlers in the hill-country of Appalachia sang songs about William, Prince of Orange, who defeated the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 Ireland. Supporters of King William were known as Orangemen and Billy Boys and their North American counterparts were referred to as hill-billies. Monroe despised the stereotype of “backward mountain people” and insisted that The Bluegrass Boys wear suits and ties every time they performed. They certainly were the best-dressed musicians at the Grand ‘Ol Opry when they began in 1939!

The Bluegrass Boys would continue to perform with different personnel after the seminal band broke up and went their separate ways. Some of the greatest bluegrass fiddlers - Vassar Clements, Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks - drifted in and out of Monroe’s bands. Many former “bluegrass boys” formed other groups or went on to solo careers. Fairly quickly Scruggs teamed up with Lester Flatt and Paul Warren to become The Foggy Mountain Boys gaining national fame with a Martha White Flour sponsorship on the Grand Ol’ Opry, a national television theme song and appearances on the Beverly Hillbillies and the soundtrack for the Hollywood blockbuster Bonnie and Clyde. Even though they became the most successful bluegrass band in the country, Flatt & Scruggs marketed themselves as folk music, not bluegrass.

O’Connor (age 12) and Bill Monroe
Ironically, Monroe did not fare as well commercially as many who had played with him for a short while. In 1965, a huge admirer of Monroe, Carlton Haney had an idea to put “bluegrass music” on the map for good. Patterning his concept after the many folk festivals that had sprung up around the country and had included acts like Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and the successful and prolific Stanley Brothers, Haney produced the very first weekend-long bluegrass festival in Fincastle (Roanoke), Vir­ginia. This “first” festival featured all of the first generation patriarchs of bluegrass: The Stanley Brothers, The Osborne Brothers, Don Reno, Red Smiley, Jimmy Martin, Mac Wisemen, Clyde Moody and Doc Watson. Notably absent, however, were Flatt & Scruggs. Naming the festival - and hence the music - “bluegrass” with its obvious connection to Bill Monroe’s band was a matter of some controversy. However, all agreed that for the purpose of distinguishing it from the country music of Nashville and the folk music festivals with Dylan, Baez and Seeger, it was a good idea.

It has come to light recently that the vast majority of the people on that “first” festival’s roster who had worked with Monroe – and perhaps Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs themselves – were Melungeons, a mulatto or mixed race people with part European, part Native American, part African American and perhaps Turkish and Mediterranean lineage. These Melungeons all came from a geographical area within a hundred mile radius bordering Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia – the center of that area being Bristol, TN where the Carter Family (also thought to be Melungeon) lived. Flatt and Scruggs took their band name from a famous Carter Family tune called Foggy Mountain Top. Through their own DNA and cultural heritage, most all of the patriarchs of bluegrass represented all of the places in the world from which the roots of bluegrass music can be traced. Bill Monroe’s hometown of Rosine, KY is not included in that geographical area however. His 100% Scottish heritage, his geographical home, his drive and skill as a bandleader and his strong personality all contributed to Bill Monroe’s being seen as a task master, the boss man and “wheel hoss.” Monroe provided opportunities for many musicians who would not otherwise have been able to play because of the racist atmosphere in the Jim Crow Era. Further, no one disputed Monroe’s genius as a musician, songwriter, bandleader and entrepreneur. His seniority and long-standing history with The Grand ‘Ol Opry counted for much among the musicians who had worked with him.

It was also in 1965 that a fantastic young fiddler named Byron Berline first met Monroe at the Newport Folk Festival. Berline had played with The Dillards who were regulars on The Andy Griffith Show and had won the National Old-Time Fiddler’s Contest. Berline was The Bluegrass Boys’ fiddler in 1967 when Monroe announced from the Grand ‘Ol Opry stage that from this point forward this music was to be known as “bluegrass music.” That same year Monroe established his own bluegrass festival at Bean Blossom. Berline played with Monroe for a scant 7 months before being drafted to serve in Vietnam. During those few months, however, the young fiddle great and Monroe penned one of the classic bluegrass fiddle tunes of all time – Gold Rush.

San Antonio Rose

Bob Will and the Texas Playboys on tour
When Texas fiddler/singer/bandleader Bob Wills was a young man living in New Mexico, he performed at dances that were attended primarily by the Hispanic population. During this period, he was inspired to write a tune for his Mexican fans that he named Spanish Two-Step. It was recorded by Columbia Records in 1935. Recognizing the potential main­stream appeal of this type of music, Art Satherly (Columbia Records’ A & R man) asked Wills to write another composition similar to Spanish Two-Step for a recording session in 1938. Wills wrote San Antonio Rose patterned after the earlier tune and it was released as an instrumental. In 1940, lyrics were added to the melody prompting the title change to New San Antonio Rose. The song rapidly became a million-seller and established its place as an anthem of Western Swing music. The version presented here includes several measures (towards the end) from the original Spanish Two-Step illus­trating how seamlessly the two tunes are creatively connected.

Bob Wills

Deep within my heart lies a melody
A song of old San Antone
Where in dreams I live with a memory
Beneath the stars all alone

St. Louis Blues

Composer and Bandleader W.C. Handy
The St. Louis Blues, composed by African American composer and trumpeter William Christopher Handy, is one of the most successful blues songs ever written. Handy composed Memphis Blues in 1912, sold the rights to the song for $50 and watched his music become a hit without receiving any further financial compensation. After visiting St. Louis a year later, he wrote St. Louis Blues and, after failing to secure a publishing deal protecting his new work, he self-published it in 1914. It was to become one of the most famous blues compositions in history - a “jazzman’s Hamlet” as it has been called. The tune is also credited with having inspired the foxtrot and the shimmy dance steps.
Handy and his band spent most of their time at Pwee, an“African American club” on Beale Street in Memphis thatnever seemed to close. The club was run by an Italian immigrant and was a “second home” to area musicians who liked to keep their instrumentsthere and stop in to make music between scheduled appearances in and around Memphis.

Statue of W.C. Handy in Memphis
Handy’s band appeared regularly. Being a trumpet player, he had other brass instrumentalistsin the ensemble, but it also included a cellist and an upright bass.

Handy said of his musical inspirations for the song that he combined “ragtime syncopation with a real melody in the spiritual tradition.” The music also incorporates Afro-Spanish habanera rhythms and the new tango style that Handy discovered when he toured Cuba with his minstrel show near the turn of the century. Like many composers, he also borrowed from his own compositions. In this case he reused material written the year before in Jogo Blues inspired by a melody that he heard a young preacher chant as a collection plate was passed. Handy was quoted as saying this about the first time St. Louis Blues was performed in 1914: “The one-step and other dances had been done to the tempo of Memphis Blues...[but] when St. Louis Blues was written the tango was in vogue. I tricked the dancers by arranging a tango introduction, breaking abruptly into a low-down blues. My eyes swept the floor anxiously, then suddenly I saw lightning strike. The dancers seemed electrified. Something within them came suddenly to life. An instinct that wanted so much to live, to fling its arms to spread joy, took them by the heels.”

W.C. Handy’s Orchestra, 1918
By the following year (1915), Columbia’s house band directed by Charles A. Prince had recorded an instrumental version of St. Louis Blues as well as creating piano rolls of the tune for the new electronic player pianos. An African American band working in the U.K. recorded it there in 1917. In 1918, a recording of St. Louis Blues with lyrics was logged in by Al Bernard. The song was a sensation and everyone wanted to sing and play this new blues hit from Memphis. In 1925, Bessie Smith sang the song for its first film appearance.

Louis Armstrong had backed up Bessie Smith’s performance for the film and followed with a
Papa John Creach
recording of his own in 1930. Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, the Mills Brothers, Count Basie and Glen Miller all soon recorded their renditions. Benny Goodman’s treatment of the St. Louis Blues was a hit in 1939. Earl “Fatha” Hines adapted the song to a boogie woogie style creating yet another hit - Boogie Woogie On The St. Louis Blues. Richard Himber’s dance band featured a string quartet playing the St. Louis Blues in a major motion picture in 1937. The first violinist in this string quartet was Wladimir Selinsky who was born in Russia in 1910 and emigrated to the United States in 1925. He soon began working as a concertmaster and assistant conductor on Broadway as well as playing under famous conductors Bruno Walter and Leopold Stokowski. But it was Papa John Creach, one of the most famous blues violinists of the 20th century and recipient of the W. C. Handy Award, who captured the true spirit of the St. Louis Blues on the violin. Born in Pennsylvania in 1917 and graduating from the Conservatory of Music in Chicago in the 1930s, he was librarian for an Illinois symphony orchestra for a short time. But ultimately, the doors were closed to African Americans trying to earn a living in Classical music. Creach started playing violin in the Chicago jazz and blues clubs and made a name for himself. His popularity initiated by his solo records was greatly increased when he joined the famous (white) rock bands The Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. His gypsy-styled intro to St. Louis Blues partially inspired the duo version in this book.

Everyone seems to have performed and loved Handy’s special song. Even Queen Elizabeth II loved St. Louis Blues! In 1954, Louis Armstrong released a record of W.C. Handy songs and teamed up with singer Velma Middleton to create a long-form version of the St. Louis Blues that also inspired this book’s violin duet arrangement and vocal verse.

Take Five

Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond
Dave Brubeck’s Take Five was one of the best selling jazz singles of all time. It was released in 1959 on The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album Time Out featuring their “West Coast Cool School of Jazz” style. Album producer Teo Macero oversaw this unlikely jazz hit that taught the world to groove to a new beat. The new feel of the quintuple meter (5/4) had a surprisingly successful mass appeal. The tune was debuted in 1959 at the famed New York City jazz club the Village Vanguard. By 1961, the recording of the tune that featured Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto Saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums reached the top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart as a jazz instru­mental single.

It is ironic that even though Dave Brubeck was the principal composer for his group, Take Five was actually penned by his man on sax, the legendary Paul Desmond. Desmond (originally Breitenfeld) was born in San Francisco in 1924. As a boy, Desmond picked up the violin. Unfortunately, his father detested the instrument and forbade him to play it. Paul then switched to clarinet and later to the alto sax. During WWII he was in the Army band where he met Brubeck who was also from the Bay Area. After the War (around 1950), they hooked up again in California and formed a group calling it The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Ten years later, they sold a million copies of Desmond’s Take Five. Desmond has stated that the 5/4 rhythm idea came to him while he was playing a pinball machine – “pull-spin-spin, click-click.” Brubeck’s story of how the 5/4 meter groove evolved was a bit different. The band’s drummer, Joe Morello, liked to warm up in 5/4 during soundchecks and often would use a 5/4 beat in his nightly long-form drum solo. Paul wrote two themes to his band­mate’s drum patterns. After hearing these melody lines often, Brubeck suggested that they both work together to make a song form out of them calling the tune “Take Five.” The title had a hidden pun – not only making reference to the tune’s meter, but also to having to “take five” – a back stage break for the rest of the band – during Joe’s lengthy drum solos. It is reported that Desmond disliked the title at first - but it stuck!

Paul Desmond
Desmond had quite a sense of humor and wit. He claims that his chosen last name came randomly out of the phone book. He also jokingly said that he liked playing in The Dave Brubeck Quartet because he could lean on Brubeck’s piano during the show – which he did often report­edly driving Brubeck crazy. But when it came to his playing though, his personality was decidedly more serious. Most cited his beautiful lyricism – a conception of musical line that may have come from his initial love of the violin as a boy. It is ironic that while many jazz violinists can emulate the sound and style of the saxophone, Desmond may have been doing just the opposite. The legendary saxophonist Cannonball Adderley said of Desmond: “wonderful and lyrical.” Legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker described Desmond as: “my favorite alto player in the world.”

Dave Brubeck said of his beloved bandmate and composer of Take Five: “Some people called him the stork -- ‘Cause he would stand on one leg and leaned on the piano. But that…that was when he was playing great. What used to scare me is I’d look at him and it would just be whites in his eyes, wouldn’t be any eyeballs.”

Minor Swing

Django Reinhardt playing violin
The Quintet of the Hot Club of France
Minor Swing is a one of the most popular swing tunes composed by the legendary French Gypsy jazz originators Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. The pair recorded the tune as a 78 single in 1937 with their group The Quintet of the Hot Club of France. The band’s personnel included Joseph Reinhardt and Eugene Vees on rhythm guitars and Louis Vola on bass. Django’s “wall of guitars” was something exceptional. The other two guitarists were not allowed to play while Django was accompanying the incomparable Stephane Grappelli on jazz violin, but when it was time for Django to solo, he needed two rhythm guitars behind him to make up the difference from his own powerful rhythm guitar having dropped out! It is likely that this ensemble formula will not be imitated!

Although violin was Grappelli’s primary instrument, he was also an outstanding jazz pianist and played saxophone in Tango bands in the 1920s. Because Reinhardt was an authentic Gypsy – born and raised in the ever-moving camps - strings were the most prevalent musical instruments in his environment. Reinhardt started out playing the banjo and loved playing the violin in the “manouch” style. It was unusual for Gypsy musicians to make music with outsiders but it is not hard to imagine how Django would have been drawn to Grappelli’s violin playing. Even though Reinhardt was an exceptional fiddler himself, he always deferred to Grappelli on violin. Both musicians were extraordinary improvisers with commanding technical facility, however it was Reinhardt who was more inclined to compose tunes. They shared the credit for composing Minor Swing, however, essentially a jam tune without a distinctive theme in the middle or B part. The melodic and rhythmic hook of the A part is intoxicating and has won many a musician over to wanting to play Gypsy jazz in the manouche style – including Grappelli!

Stephane Grappelli was born in Paris on January 26, 1908. He describes his childhood as being “like a Dickens novel.” His French mother died when he was three years old. His Italian father, a Latin scholar who taught philosophy, had no choice but to put him into a very poor Catholic orphanage. When his father returned from war, Grappelli moved back in with him. “Because of my father, I became a musician,” Grappelli says. “He bought me a ¾ violin and all the way home I hugged it so hard I almost broke it. I still have that violin on my desk at home. There was no money for lessons, so my father took a book from the library and we learned solfeggio together. I never had a violin teacher, so I learned good position and posture by sheer luck.” Grappelli also taught himself to play piano, enjoying the expanded harmonic possibilities of the keyboard.

By the age of 14, Grappelli was earning a living accompanying silent films on piano and violin in a Parisian movie theatre. He was introduced to jazz at a music emporium next to the cinema where, for a few centimes, one could put on headphones and hear the newest tunes to hit Paris. Lady Be Good, Tea For Two and Stumbling excited and amazed him. He played in back-alley cabarets, street-side cafes and hotel lobbies until age 17 when he began playing in dance bands. Jazz artists like Bix Beiderbecke, Art Tatum and Louis Armstrong, along with jazz violinists Eddie South and Joe Venuti, were all major influences on his style.

At 20, Grappelli was playing with Gregor and His Gregorians, a 17-piece band. Shortly after, he was hired by a Montparhasse club as alto saxophonist for their big band tunes and violinist for the tangos. In 1931, at age 23, he encountered the Belgian Gypsy guitarist, Django Reinhardt. Three years later they played together for the first time at the Hotel Claridge in Paris. One day, between sets, they suddenly started playing Dinah pretending to be Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, the great jazz guitar and violin duo from America. At about this time, French jazz critic Hughes Pannasie organized the Hot Club of France and employed Stephane and Django. Audiences flocked to hear them and their new quin­tet became the premier European jazz band. They performed extensively and recorded hundreds of 78s from 1934 to 1939.

Grappelli and Reinhardt enjoyed several reunions after World War II, but the partnership ended forever in 1953 with Django’s death. Grappelli periodically joined with other fine jazz musicians and continued to work in Paris and London, however by the 1960s his career had taken a down turn. At the same time, an increase in the guitar’s popularity brought much attention to the legend of Django Reinhardt. Many recordings of the old quintet were re-issued on LP. Even though Grappelli had previ­ously shared equal billing with Django, these albums featured Django’s name and likeness on the cover with Grappelli’s name in small print or absent altogether. Being a victim of corrupt music business dealings leaving him no royalty receipts and of record company marketing that left him out of the picture, the artistry of Stephane Grappelli was nearly forgotten. Fortunately, in 1973, Grappelli revived his string band jazz music and debuted at the Cambridge Festival in England with two guitars and a bass. The band was a hit and, at age 65, Stephane Grappelli had a new career! While he was touring internationally with the Diz Disley Trio, I auditioned for Grappelli’s group on guitar and became his student on violin. We played many venues together - including Carnegie Hall - often performing twin violin pieces and bouncing improvisational solos back and forth.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars

When most people here the song title Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the common children’s lullaby frequently used in early music education comes to mind. This melody – also used for Baa Baa Black Sheep and The Alphabet Song (copyrighted in Boston in 1835) – originated with the French song Ah! Vous dirais-je, Maman in 1761. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sometimes erroneously credited with composing this melo­dy, composed Variations on “Ah vous dirais-je, Maman (K. 265/ K. 300e) in 1781. 

Less commonly known is the “American Twinkle.” Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars first appeared as a “Schottische” dance tune that became popular with musicians following the Civil War in 1879. A Schottische is a folk dance that features a dotted 8th note followed by a 16th note rhythm producing an exaggerated swung beat. Employing this rhythmic style, American composer and lyricist Fred Macevoy composed the melody and lyrics and it was arranged by J. M. Navoni for Miss Julia Wilson and ballet master Ignacio Martinetti to sing in a vaudeville show. It was Denman Thompson’s successful vaudeville sketch Joshua Whitcomb about a New Hampshire yokel who comes to the big city that propelled this tune into use in many American music genres. As with many popular American songs of that time period, publishers rolled out solo violin and piano versions of the music, orchestrations and choral treatments in addition to the song with lyrics. 

Denman Thompson as Joshua
The Schottische style was popular dance music originating from Bohemia and by the mid-1800s had become a staple in ballroom dance halls all through Europe as well as South and North America. The Schottische exhibited the sort of rhythmic feel that easily translated to other styles. In Bohemia, the dance was also known as the “Polka Tremblante.” In Ireland, it was similar to the “Highland” tunes. In Argentina, the Schottische mixed into the indigenous folk music genre called “Chamame.” In Finland the Schottische groove was the “Jenkka,” in Norway the “Rheinlander,” in Portugal the “Xote” and in Spain the “Chotis. In mid-1800s America, California ballroom variants included the “Five- Step Schottische” and the “Highland Schottische.” In Texas in the early 1900s, this music cross-pollinated with ragtime creating “Ragtime Schottische.” 

The earliest recordings of Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars by fiddlers include versions by Mississippi’s W.T. Narmour and S.W. Smith in 1928 as well as the Schottische dance rendition by Texas fiddle bands like Smith’s Garage Fiddle Band in that same year. The recording of the tune by Bob Wills in 1938 was less Schottische and more Texas swing. As the years went by, the Schottische dance began to fade out of fash­ion as ragtime and swing styles were more widely adopted by American fiddlers. By the mid 1900s, Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars became one of the popular Texas fiddle “tunes of choice” on the fiddle contest circuit. Mostly performed in the ragtime swing tempo, the frequent jumps up to 4th position in the tune’s “B” part and the rendition popularized by the Wills’ band gave fiddle contestants an opportunity to show their shifting and intonation accuracy to fiddle contest judges and audiences. 

In time, swifter tempos took over and the tune became a full-fledged Bluegrass breakdown. The ragtime and swing styles earlier associated with the tune as well as the original Schottische feel became a faint memory. 

This classic tune is a prime example of an American Music gem – a tune that has survived many stylistic treatments and endured for over 150 years. The current version featured here has been developed so much by musicians adding to the melody and changing the rhythmic feel and tempo, that it is hard to imagine these lyrics that came from the original song: The pretty little stars are laughing, love, They speak to me of you, They tell me as the twinkle of above, That you to me are true.