Herbie Hancock to Teach His First Online Course on Jazz

MasterClass is on fire these days. In recent months, the new online course provider has announced the development of online courses taught by leading figures in their fields. And certainly some names you'll recognize: Dr. Jane Goodall on the EnvironmentDavid Mamet on Dramatic WritingSteve Martin on ComedyAaron Sorkin on Screenwriting, and Werner Herzog on Filmmaking. Now add this to the list: Herbie Hancock on Jazz.

Writes MasterClass:

Herbie Hancock’s jazz career started in his family’s living room, listening to his favorite records and trying to play along. Now, he’s one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. Join Herbie at the piano as he shares his approach to improvisation, composition, and harmony.

The course won't get started until this fall, but you can pre-enroll now. Priced at $90, the course will feature:

  • 20+ video lessons where Herbie teaches you how to "improvise, compose, and develop your own sound."
  • 10+ original piano transcriptions, including 5 exclusive solo performances.
  • A downloadable class workbook.
  • And the chance to have the 14-time Grammy winner critique your work.

Apparently this will be the first time Hancock has ever taught a course online.

Learn more about Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz here. And find more MasterClass courses here.

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The First Avant Garde Animation: Watch Walter Ruttmann’s Lichtspiel Opus 1 (1921)

Most visual art forms, like painting, sculpture, or still photography, take a while to get from representation to abstraction, but cinema had a head start, thanks in large part to the groundbreaking efforts of a German filmmaker named Walter Ruttmann. He did it in the early 1920s, not much more than twenty years after the birth of the medium itself, with Lichtspiel Opus 1, which you can watch above. Lichtspiel Opus 23, and 4 follow it in the video, but though equally enchanting on an aesthetic level, especially in their integration of imagery and music, none hold the impressive distinction of being the very first abstract film ever screened for the public that Lichtspiel Opus 1 does.

"Following the First World War, Ruttmann, a painter, had moved from expressionism to full-blown abstraction," writes Gregory Zinman in A New History of German Cinema. As early as 1917, "Ruttmann argued that filmmakers 'had become stuck in the wrong direction,' due to their misunderstanding of cinema's essence,'" which prompted him to use "the technologically derived medium of film to produce new art, calling for 'a new method of expression, one different from all the other arts, a medium of time. An art meant for our eyes, one differing from painting in that it has a temporal dimension (like music), and in the rendition of a (real or stylized) moment in an event or fact, but rather precisely in the temporal rhythm of visual events."

To realize this new art form, Ruttmann came up with, and even patented, a kind of animation technique. Once a painter, always a painter, he found a way to make films using oils and brushes. As experimental animations scholar William Moritz described it, Ruttmann created Lichtspiel Opus I with images "painted with oil on glass plates beneath an animation camera, shooting a frame after each brush stroke or each alteration because the wet paint could be wiped away or modified quite easily. He later combined this with geometric cut-outs on a separate layer of glass."

The result still looks and feels quite unlike the animation we know today, and certainly resembled nothing any of its first viewers had even seen when it premiered in Germany in April 1921. This puts it ahead, chronologically, of the work of Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling, creators of some of the earliest masterpieces of abstract film in the early 1920s, not screened for the public until 1923. Alas, when Hitler came to power and declared abstract art "degenerate," according to Bennett O'Brian at Pretty Clever Films, Ruttmann didn't flee but "remained in Germany and worked with Leni Riefenstahl on The Triumph of the Will." In wartime, he "was put to work directing propaganda reels like 1940’s Deutsche Panzer which follows the manufacturing process of armored tanks."

Alas, "his decision to stay in Germany during the war would eventually cost Ruttmann his life," which ended in 1944 with a mortal wound endured while filming a battle in Russia. But however ideologically and morally questionable his later work, Ruttmann, with his pioneering journey into abstract animation, opened up a creative realm only accessible to filmmakers that, even as we approach an entire century after Lichtspiel Opus I, filmmakers have far from fully explored.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Cartoon Characters Wear Gloves: A Curious Trip Through the History of Animation

It’s rare for Disney to overlook a marketing opportunity. For years, Mouse Ears were the film studio’s theme park souvenir of choice, but recently the gift shops have started stocking white four-fingered gloves too.

Perhaps not the most sensible choice for dipping into a bucket of jalapeño poppers or a $6 Mickey Pretzel with Cheese Sauce, but the gloves have undeniable reach when it comes to cartoon history. Bugs Bunny wears them. So does Woody Woodpecker, Tom (though not Jerry), and Betty Boop's anthropomorphic doggie pal, Bimbo.

As Vox’s Estelle Caswell points out above, the choice to glove Mickey and his early 20th-century cartoon brethren was born of practicality. The limited palette of black and white animation meant that most animal characters had black bodies—their arms disappeared against every inky expanse.

It also provided artists with a bit of relief, back when animation meant endless hours of labor over hand drawn cells. Puffy gloves aren’t just a comical capper to bendy rubber hose limbs. They’re also way easier to draw than realistic phalanges.

As Walt Disney himself explained:

We didn't want him to have mouse hands, because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves. Five Fingers looked like too much on such a little figure, so we took one away. That was just one less finger to animate.

Caswell digs deeper than that, unearthing a surprising cultural comparison. White gloves were a standard part of blackface performers’ minstrel show costumes. Audiences who packed theaters for touring minstrel shows were the same people lining up for Steamboat Willie.

Comic animation has evolved both visually and in terms of content over its near hundred year history, but animators have a tendency to revere the history of their profession.

Thusly do South Park's animators bestow spotless white gloves upon Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.

"America's favorite cat and mouse team," the Simpsons'  Itchy and Scratchy, mete out their horrifically violent punishment in pristine white gloves.

Clearly some things are worth preserving…

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine, appearing onstage in New York City through June 26 in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Langston Hughes Creates a List of His 100 Favorite Jazz Recordings: Hear 80+ of Them in a Big Playlist

Image by The Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons

“Langston Hughes was never far from jazz,” writes Rebecca Cross at the NEA’s Art Works Blog. “He listened to it at nightclubs, collaborated with musicians from Monk to Mingus, often held readings accompanied by jazz combos, and even wrote a children’s book called The First Book of Jazz.” The 1955 book is a striking visual artifact, with illustrations by Cliff Roberts made to resemble jazz album covers of the period. Though written in simple prose, it has much to recommend it to adults, despite its somewhat forced—literally—upbeat tone. “The book is very patriotic,” we noted in an earlier post, “a fact dictated by Hughes’ recent [1953] appearance before Senator McCarthy’s Subcommittee, which exonerated him on the condition that he renounce his earlier sympathies for the Communist Party and get with a patriotic program.”

Earlier statements on music had been more candid and close to the heart: “jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America,” Hughes wrote in a 1926 essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”—“the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile.”

The sweet bitterness of these sentiments may lie further beneath the surface thirty years later in The First Book of Jazz, but the children’s introduction to that thoroughly original African-American form made it clear. “For Hughes,” as Cross writes, “jazz was a way of life,” even when life was constrained by red scare repression.

Hughes invites his readers, of all ages, to share his passion, not only through his careful history and explanations of key jazz elements, but also through a list of recommendations in an appendix: “100 of My Favorite Recordings of Jazz, Blues, Folk Songs, and Jazz-Influenced Performances.” (View them in a larger format here: Page 1 - Page 2.) In the playlist below, you can hear 81 of Hughes’ selections: classic New Orleans jazz from Louis Armstrong, blues from Bessie Smith, “jazz-influenced” classical from George Gershwin, bebop from Thelonious Monk, swing from Count Basie, guitar gospel from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and much more from Sonny Terry, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Parker, Memphis Minnie, Billie Holiday, and oh so many more artists who moved the Harlem Renaissance poet to put “jazz into words” as he wrote in “Jazz as Communication,” an essay published the following year. If you need Spotify's free software, download it here.

For Hughes, jazz was a broad category that embraced all black American music—not only the blues, ragtime, and swing but also, by the mid-fifties, rock and roll, which he believed, would “no doubt be washed back half forgotten into the sea of jazz” in years to come. But whatever the future held for jazz, Hughes had no doubt it would be “what you call pregnant,” and as fertile as its past.

“Potential papas and mamas of tomorrow’s jazz are all known,” he concludes in his 1956 essay. “But THE papa and THE mama—maybe both—are anonymous. But the child will communicate. Jazz is a heartbeat—its heartbeat is yours. You will tell me about its perspectives when you get ready.” Just above, see Hughes recite the poem “Weary Blues” with jazz band accompaniment in a CBC appearance from 1958.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Willie Nelson & Ray Charles Sing a Moving Duet “Seven Spanish Angels”: A Beautiful Bridge That Crosses Musical & Racial Divides

Having grown up in Georgia surrounded by blues, gospel, and country music—and having studied the classical composers when he was learning piano—Ray Charles was bound to become a polymath of musical genres. He is often credited with creating soul music, but a less remembered but equally important part of his career was recording one of the first major crossover records, 1962’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. The record execs at ABC-Paramount understandably thought it would be career suicide, but Charles, who had a contract that gave him creative control (and ownership of his master tapes), insisted. It went on to be both a commercial and critical success, creating racial and genre bridges during the Civil Rights Movement.

So the above video of Willie Nelson performing a duet with Charles was not the oddity that it may first seem. The two recorded “Seven Spanish Angels” for the former’s Half Nelson album of duets, and the single would go on to be the most successful of Charles' country releases, reaching the top of the country charts in 1985.

The song has become a favorite country cover, and judging by the YouTube comments is a favorite at funerals, seeing that it's a tale of an outlaw couple pledging their love and going out shootin’. (That is, it’s good for honoring devoted couples, not for criminal parents. But we’re not here to judge.)

The 1984 TV special from which this excerpt came was filmed at the Austin Opry House, and featured Charles on five more songs with Nelson, including “Georgia on My Mind” and “I Can't Stop Loving You.”

And although he didn’t write “Georgia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael did), Charles’ name is synonymous with the well-loved soul number. That being said, Willie Nelson’s cover of the song reached higher in the charts in 1978, a kind of thank you to Charles for his country work.

After this 1984 video, the two would duet nine years later for Willie Nelson’s 60th birthday celebration where they once again sang “Seven Spanish Angels,” a testament to their long friendship.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Sigourney Weaver Stars in a New Experimental Sci-Fi Film: Watch “Rakka” Free Online

South African–Canadian film director Neill Blomkamp recently launched Oats Studios, a new film project devoted to creating experimental short films. And now comes their very first production, a short film called "Rakka." Starring Sigourney Weaver, "Rakka" takes us inside the aftermath of an alien invasion sometime in the year 2020. The Verge rightly notes that "Rakka" isn’t "a conventional short film. Instead, it’s a series of scenes depicting various points of view. Some scenes show what the aliens are doing to humanity; others track a resistance movement led by Weaver, and an escaped prisoner named Amir." The new short runs 21 minutes and is streaming free on YouTube. " Watch it above, and to learn about the making of "Rakka" and Oats Studios, read this interview over at Cartoon Brew.

"Rakka" will be added to our collection: 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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24,000 Vintage Cartoons from the Library of Congress Illustrate the History of This Modern Art Form (1780-1977)

Historically speaking, what we call cartoons began as artifacts of print culture, and as such, of modernity. Before the widespread availability of printed texts, the word “cartoon” referred to a sketch, an artist’s mock-up of a greater work. The word literally meant “a very large sheet of paper,” since Renaissance cartones “were the same size as the intended painting and were created to transfer the image,” as one art historian notes (with some very elegant examples). So when and how did the cartoon become shorthand for illustrated comic editorials?

Not until the late 18th century, though the origins of the form are often traced to another Italian art, the caricatura, satirical doodles favored by such masters as Leonardo da Vinci and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

These, writes the Cartoon Museum, “were technical exercises in virtuosity with the daring aim of defining the essence of a person in a few deft strokes of the pen.” Like the work of boardwalk caricaturists, we associate the contemporary cartoon with deft essentializing, but rarely with high art.

Yet when cartoons as we know them began proliferating, illustrators produced very high-quality work. Many, like English engraver William Hogarth—“regarded as the father of British caricature… and of the comic strip”—are well-known as fine artists. Others, like James Gillray, the most influential cartoonist of the period next to Hogarth, combined fine draughtsmanship with the Italian love of exaggeration and the use of word bubbles. Gillray, who freely satirized figures like George III and Napoleon (above)—is one of many prominent cartoonists represented in the Library of Congress’s digital collections of vintage cartoons, which, taken together, comprise about 24,000 images.

The work of Gillray, George Cruikshank, and other famous cartoon artists of the “golden Georgian age” (1770-1820) appear in a British Collection that showcases “approximately 9,000 prints” highlighting “British political life, society, fashion, manners, and theater.” Most of the Library’s American Collection begins when the Georgian period ends, around 1830, when U.S. illustrators participated in furious debates over slavery, the expanding nation’s colonial wars and, of course, the Civil War. In the 1864 cartoon above, “Columbia, wearing a liberty cap and a skirt made of an American flag, demands, ‘Mr. Lincoln, give me back my 500,000 sons,'” to which the caricature of Lincoln responds with a visual and rhetorical shrug.

The Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon takes us well into the 20th century with 2,085 “drawings, prints, and paintings related to the art of caricature, cartoon, and illustration, spanning the years 1780 to 1977” and encompassing magazine illustrations like Russell Patterson’s “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” at the top, and political cartoons, comic book art, and comic strips like the four-frame Batman comic above from 1966. A larger collection of Cartoon Drawings collects “9,000 original drawings for editorial cartoons, caricatures, and comic strips spanning the late 1700s to the present.”

Finally, the Herblock Collection contains “the bulk of the 14,000 original ink and graphite drawings… from 1946 through 2001, when Herblock [Herbert L. Block] worked for the Washington Post,” as well as 1,300 images from his days at the Chicago Daily News. (See a slideshow here of selected cartoons throughout the artist’s career.) Many of the issues in these drawings now seem forgotten or obscure. Some, like his Nixon cartoons, are newly relevant to our times. As we look through these archives, that phenomenon repeats itself over the course of two-hundred years of cartooning. Fashions and tastes may change, but some of the tangled circumstances of British and American politics have remained remarkably consistent.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Bill Gates Recommends Five Books for Summer 2017

Summer just officially got underway. So that means it's time for Bill Gates, once again, to serve up a new Summer Reading List. This list will help you "think deeper about what it means to truly connect with other people and to have purpose in your life." Or "what it’s like to grow up outside the mainstream: as a child of mixed race in apartheid South Africa, as a young man trying to escape his impoverished life in rural Appalachia, or as the son of a peanut farmer in Plains, Georgia."

So, with no further ado, here's Bill Gates' five recommended reads for the summer. In what follows, this is all Bill speaking:

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah. As a longtime fan of The Daily Show, I loved reading this memoir about how its host honed his outsider approach to comedy over a lifetime of never quite fitting in. Born to a black South African mother and a white Swiss father in apartheid South Africa, he entered the world as a biracial child in a country where mixed race relationships were forbidden. Much of Noah’s story of growing up in South Africa is tragic. Yet, as anyone who watches his nightly monologues knows, his moving stories will often leave you laughing.

The Heart, by Maylis de Kerangal. While you’ll find this book in the fiction section at your local bookstore, what de Kerangal has done here in this exploration of grief is closer to poetry than anything else. At its most basic level, she tells the story of a heart transplant: a young man is killed in an accident, and his parents decide to donate his heart. But the plot is secondary to the strength of its words and characters. The book uses beautiful language to connect you deeply with people who may be in the story for only a few minutes....

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. The disadvantaged world of poor white Appalachia described in this terrific, heartbreaking book is one that I know only vicariously. Vance was raised largely by his loving but volatile grandparents, who stepped in after his father abandoned him and his mother showed little interest in parenting her son. Against all odds, he survived his chaotic, impoverished childhood only to land at Yale Law School. While the book offers insights into some of the complex cultural and family issues behind poverty, the real magic lies in the story itself and Vance’s bravery in telling it.

Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari. I recommended Harari’s previous book Sapiens in last summer’s reading list, and this provocative follow-up is just as challenging, readable, and thought-provoking. Homo Deus argues that the principles that have organized society will undergo a huge shift in the 21st century, with major consequences for life as we know it. So far, the things that have shaped society—what we measure ourselves by—have been either religious rules about how to live a good life, or more earthly goals like getting rid of sickness, hunger, and war. What would the world be like if we actually achieved those things? I don’t agree with everything Harari has to say, but he has written a smart look at what may be ahead for humanity.

A Full Life, by Jimmy Carter. Even though the former President has already written more than two dozen books, he somehow managed to save some great anecdotes for this quick, condensed tour of his fascinating life. I loved reading about Carter’s improbable rise to the world’s highest office. The book will help you understand how growing up in rural Georgia in a house without running water, electricity, or insulation shaped—for better and for worse—his time in the White House. Although most of the stories come from previous decades, A Full Life feels timely in an era when the public’s confidence in national political figures and institutions is low.

via Gates Notes

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Blade Runner 2049’s New Making-Of Featurette Gives You a Sneak Peek Inside the Long-Awaited Sequel

All of us who excitedly write about Blade Runner 2049, the upcoming sequel to Blade Runner, have at some point described the film as "long-awaited." Since the original came out in 1982, that makes a certain literal sense, but the wait hasn't stretched to 35 years without cause. As Blade Runner rose higher and higher in stature, following it up properly grew into a more and more daunting challenge. But now, as Blade Runner 2049 approaches its October release, the prospect that this most respected of all science-fiction movies will have its continuation feels more real than ever — and it will feel even more real than that after you watch the short making-of featurette above.

Philip K. Dick, the prolific author of Blade Runner's source material, a novel called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, recognized immediately how important the film would become. But its director Ridley Scott admits that he "could never have imagined how iconic it would still be" today.

Though he didn't return to direct Blade Runner 2049, ceding the chair to Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and taking on the role of producer instead, he does make quite a few appearances in this featurette as a kind of presiding spirit. "Blade Runner revolutionized the way we view science fiction," says Villeneuve. "I've never felt that much pressure on my shoulders — thinking that Ridley Scott will see this movie."

But more than anything the cast and filmmakers have to say, Blade Runner fans will savor the video's glimpses of the new picture's aesthetic, clearly both modeled after and deliberately made different from that of the original. As the title makes obvious, the story takes place thirty years after Blade Runner's 2019, and just as things have changed in our world, so they've changed in its world — not least in the form of a Korean influence that has its found its way in with the Japanese and Chinese ones that so characterized Blade Runner's future Los Angeles. "Defining this was like walking on a knife's edge," says production designer Dennis Gassner, "riding the line between the original film and what we're doing now."

If you'd like to compare the build-up to Blade Runner 2049 with the build-up to Blade Runner, have a look at its own thirteen-minute promotional featurette above. Made well before the time of the modern internet, let alone modern internet videos, this 16-millimeter film production, which featured Scott, "visual futurist" Syd Mead, and special effects artist Douglas Trumbull, circulated by making the screening rounds sci-fi, fantasy, and even horror conventions all across America. Few movies, let alone sequels, have built up as much anticipation as Blade Runner 2049 has, and even fewer have such a legacy to live up to. At least the filmmakers can rest assured that, if the critics don't happen to like it, well, they didn't like the first one either.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Free eBooks with Modern Typography & Nice Formatting, All “Carefully Produced for the True Book Lover”

If you look through our collection of 800+ Free eBooks, you will find many public domain texts presented by providers like Project Gutenberg and Archive.org. Pretty soon, we'll have to add texts from Standard eBooks, a volunteer-driven project that digitizes books while placing an emphasis on design and typography. Here's how they describe their mission:

While there are plenty of places where you can download free and accurately-transcribed public domain ebooks, we feel the quality of those ebooks can often be greatly improved.

For example, Project Gutenberg, a major producer of public-domain ebooks, hosts epub and Kindle files that sometimes lack basic typographic necessities like curly quotes; some of those ebooks are automatically generated and can't take full advantage of modern ereader technology like popup footnotes or popup tables of contents; they sometimes lack niceties like cover images and title pages; and the quality of individual ebook productions varies greatly.

Archival sites like the Internet Archive (and even Project Gutenberg, to some extent) painstakingly preserve entire texts word-for-word, including original typos and ephemera that are of limited interest to modern readers: everything including centuries-old publishing marks, advertisements for long-vanished publishers, author bios, deeply archaic spellings, and so on. Sometimes all you get is a scan of the actual book pages. That’s great for researchers, archivists, and special-interest readers, but not that great for casual, modern readers.

The Standard Ebooks project differs from those etext projects in that we aim to make free public domain ebooks that are carefully typeset, cleaned of ancient and irrelevant ephemera, take full advantage of modern ereading technology, are formatted according to a detailed style guide, and that are each held to a standard of quality and internal consistency. Standard Ebooks include carefully chosen cover art based on public domain artwork, and are presented in an attractive way on your ebookshelf. For technically-inclined readers, Standard Ebooks conform to a rigorous coding style, are completely open source, and are hosted on Github, so anyone can contribute corrections or improvements easily and directly without having to deal with baroque forums or opaque processes.

All of the ebooks in the Standard eBooks collection "are thought to be in the public domain in the United States." You can currently download 103 texts--for example titles like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, short fiction by Philip K. Dick, and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. (See the full collection here.) They offer versions specially designed for the Kindle and Kobo, but also the more universal epub format. If you'd like to pitch in and help Standard eBooks digitize more aesthetically-pleasing books, get more information here.

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