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.

“Lift” — A Portrait of Life in a London High Rise

How do you ade­quate­ly por­tray life in a high-rise build­ing? Lon­don film­mak­er Marc Isaacs found a rather uncon­ven­tion­al answer to this ques­tion. He installed him­self inside the lift/elevator of a high rise on the East End of Lon­don. And for ten hours a day, over two months, he would ride up and down with the res­i­dents, with his cam­era point­ing at them. It is fas­ci­nat­ing to see how the res­i­dents react to him being there — some are sus­pi­cious or even hos­tile at the begin­ning. Oth­ers open up about their per­son­al lives and their dai­ly life in the build­ing. And then oth­ers bring him some­thing to eat, a chair to sit down on, or even lit­tle presents. The result is a mov­ing and “qui­et­ly fas­ci­nat­ing med­i­ta­tion on the mun­dan­i­ties of Lon­don life.” Writ­ing about the film, the Times Online put it best: “Isaacs has an astound­ing gift for get­ting peo­ple to open up to him and he uses film the way a skilled artist uses paint. The result is beau­ti­ful, heart­break­ing and pro­found­ly humane.”

Here’s some bonus mate­r­i­al: a review of “Lift” and Isaacs’ two oth­er short doc­u­men­taries “Calais” and “Trav­ellers,” a Sun­day Times arti­cle enti­tled “Marc Isaacs on his doc­u­men­tary art,” and an inter­view with Mark by The Doc­u­men­tary Film­mak­ers Group dfg.

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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.