Herbie Hancock: All That’s Jazz!

"I think I was supposed to play jazz," says Herbie Hancock. Hancock is one of the most noted jazz musicians of all time. He was born in Chicago in 1940, and it became apparent early on that he was a child piano prodigy. Herbie performed a Mozart piano concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11, then started playing jazz in high school and later double-majored in music and electrical engineering at Grinnell College. His fascination with musical gadgets led him to become one of the first jazz pianists to work with electronic keyboards. And his landmark albums blurred the boundaries of music, effortlessly mixing jazz with funk, soul, rhythm and the blues, forever changing the face of jazz. As Miles Davis once said, "Herbie was the step after Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and I haven't heard anybody yet who has come after him."

The documentary above -- Herbie Hancock: All That's Jazz -- was produced for KCET's signature news series "SoCal Connected." It retraces the most important steps in Hancock's career and shows us his home, the office where his award-winning music is composed and his private rituals. Very few people know that Herbie is a very religious person - he has been a practicing Buddhist for over forty years.

Bonus material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

 

Joy in the Congo: The Inspiring Story of the Only Symphony Orchestra in Central Africa

Did you know that the only symphony orchestra in Central Africa is located in Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo - a war-torn country plagued by poverty and despair? This short film (transcript here) tells the amazing story of the Symphonic Orchestra Kimbanguiste (page in French), revealing the difficult circumstances under which the 200 musicians labor: they come from all over the city; most travel on foot to get to rehearsals six days a week; and the bulk of the instruments have been donated, salvaged and repaired or purchased from second-hand shops. Despite all of these difficulties, the orchestra manages to make the most beautiful music: listen to Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube Waltz (An der schönen blauen Donau).

This is not the first documentary about this outstanding orchestra. In 2010, a team of German filmmakers released a 95-minute film called Kinshasa Symphony (trailer). Also, Le Figaro has an arresting photo essay about the musicians.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

Pickin’ & Trimmin’ in a Down-Home North Carolina Barbershop: Award-Winning Short Film

Pickin' & Trimmin' is a documentary short film from 2008 profiling "The Barbershop" in Drexel, North Carolina, where Lawrence Anthony and David Shirley have barbered for decades, and where bluegrass musicians have jammed in the back room every weekend. Directed by Matt Morris, the award-winning film showcases the people and atmosphere of a small community in rural America, perhaps better than anything you've seen before. And the music played in the back room is simply wonderful.

You can find photos taken at The Barbershop on Flickr here. The film itself has been added to the Documentary section of our Free Movies collection.

Update: Lawrence Anthony, the head barber portrayed in this film, passed away in 2009. His son continues to run The Barbershop, but severe water damage has left the shop in need of repair. Here is a video showing the current situation.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

Frank W. Buckles, The Last U.S. Veteran of World War I

Frank Woodruff Buckles was born on February 1st, 1901. At the age of 16, he enlisted in the U.S. Army by convincing recruiting officers that he was, in fact, 21. In this short film, Buckles recalls this time so long ago and the last year of the Great War. There are two particularly moving passages in this documentary: when he talks about the difficulties veterans experienced after returning home, and when Buckles voices his opinions on war in general, and particularly war today ("How did we get involved in this thing, Iraq? It was crazy, we have no damn business in there.")

Frank died on February 27th, 2011, at the age of 110. The last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, he was properly laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery (find video of the ceremony here). There are two tributes to Mr Buckles that offer more insight into his life: a short video by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and an obituary in the Washington Post.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

Biblioburro: Library on a Donkey

For more than a decade, Luis Soriano, a primary school teacher, has traveled the rugged terrain of Colombia by donkey, delivering books to children in hundreds of rural villages. The project, powered by his two donkeys Alfa and Beto, goes by the name "Biblioburro." And it seeks to promote literacy in areas where access to books is not always a given. You can find more information and pictures on the homepage of the Biblioburro project and also make a small donation. A video update shows what these donations are actually used for.

Bonus material: The clip above is part of a 60-minute PBS documentary available in full here. If you are a teacher and want to work with the film in class, you will appreciate this related lesson plan. Biblioburro has even been covered by The New York Times, and there is now a similar project underway in Ethiopia.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

Harry Partch’s Kooky Orchestra of DIY Musical Instruments

Composer and instrument inventor Harry Partch (1901-1974) is one of the pioneers of 20th-century experimental instrumentation, known for writing and playing music on incredible custom-made instruments like the Boo II and the Quadrangularis Reversum, and laying the foundations for many of today's most creative experimental musical instruments.

In this Universal Newsreel footage from the 1950s, Partch conducts a student music performance on his instruments, built with insights from atomic research and Partch's 30-year obsession with finding the elusive tones that exist between the tones of a regular piano. The setting is Mills College in Oakland, CA. The unorthodox orchestra performs music tuned to the 43-tone scale Partch invented, rather than the usual 12-tone, even though individual instruments can only play subsets of the scale.

For more on Partch's genius and seminal innovation, see his excellent 1949 meditation, Genesis of a Music: An Account of a Creative Work, its Roots, and its Fulfillments.

Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and DesignObserver, and spends a great deal of time on Twitter.

How Alice Herz-Sommer, the Oldest Holocaust Survivor, Survived the Horrific Ordeal with Music

What you're watching is the trailer for the documentary Alice Dancing Under the Gallows by Nick Reed, to be released later this year. At 110, Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest Holocaust survivor. Her story is both touching and inspiring.

Alice was born in Prague - then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - in 1903. She started playing the piano as a child and took lessons with Conrad Ansorge, a student of Liszt. At 16, she attended the master class at Prague’s prestigious German musical academy. Later, Alice became a respected concert pianist in Prague. Through her family, she also knew Franz Kafka. All of this changed when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Along with other Jews living in Prague, Alice was initially forced to live in Prague's ghetto before being deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943, along with her five-year-old son Raphael. Eventually her whole family, including her husband, cellist Leopold Sommer, and her mother, were sent to Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau, where they were killed.

Alice and her son survived Theresienstadt because the Nazis used this particular concentration camp to show the world how "well" the inmates were treated. A propaganda film by the Nazis was shot and a delegation from the Danish and International Red Cross was shown around in 1943. To boost morale, Alice and many other imprisoned musicians regularly performed for the inmates. Despite the unimaginable living conditions, Alice and her son survived. They moved to Israel after the war, where she taught music. In 1986, she moved to London, where she still lives. Her son died in 2001 (obituary here).

The way Alice dealt with those horrible times is particularly inspiring. She says about the role of music: "I felt that this is the only thing which helps me to have hope … it’s a sort of religion actually. Music is … is God. In difficult times you feel it, especially when you are suffering." When asked by German journalists if she hated Germans, she replied: "I never hate, and I will never hate. Hatred brings only hatred."

Extra material: Art Therapy Blog has a transcript of the trailer, memorable quotes by Alice and two BBC Radio interviews with her. Alice's life story is told in the book A Garden of Eden in Hell.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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