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Article

Charles Conrad

The first American circus was presented in Philadelphia by English equestrian master John Bill Ricketts. The Philadelphia Federal Evening Post dated May 15, 1793 is the first known newspaper mention of circus music: “He dances on the rope, at the same time plays several pieces of music on the violin in concert with the band.” A little more than a year later, the same paper announced: “Mr. Ricketts has provided a Grand Band of Music, under the direction of Mr. Young.” The makeup of these bands are as yet unknown. An 1893 newspaper article quotes a player from the 1833 Bailey’s Circus as mentioning that “clarionet bands” (generally 7–10 piece bands of clarinets, natural horns, and serpent or ophicleide) were used. Local brass bands were employed in the 1830s, and with the advent of convenient railroad travel, bands began to tour with the circuses. The earliest “star” circus musician was keyed-bugle virtuoso Edward “Ned” Kendall....

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Disco  

David Brackett

A form of dance music that dominated popular music during the late-1970s. It features regular bass drum accents on every beat, frequent use of orchestral instruments and synthesizers, Latin percussion, and simple lyrics oriented around dancing, romance and a party-led life style. The term derives from discothèque: venues that began playing pre-recorded dance music in the early 1960s.

Disco emerged from clubs in New York City that catered primarily to African-American, Latino and gay subcultures. Based on the ‘sweet’ soul sounds popularized by the Motown and Philadelphia International recording companies, disco also included funk and Latin elements, and initially included a stylistically diverse range of songs. Its impact extended beyond musical style, challenging prevalent notions in popular music criticism about authorship and creativity. The central figure in this challenge was the DJ. Because DJs were responsible for selecting and sequencing songs, it was their taste that dictated disco’s sense of style rather than the singers and instrumentalists of soul and rock musics; successful DJ’s could acquire their own following in much the same way as a recording artist. In fact, the disco DJs predilection for reconfiguring existing recordings by fading out of one song and into another led to the recording industry’s invention of the 12-inch single, designed for easier editing. DJs shared the creative locus of the disco scene with the audience itself, as the focus on dancing stressed social interaction....

Article

Funk  

David Brackett

An African-American popular music style. It features syncopated interlocking rhythm patterns based on straight quaver and semiquaver subdivisions, a vocal style drawn from soul music, extended vamps based on a single and often complex harmony, strong emphasis on the bass line, and lyrics with frequent spiritual themes and social commentary. The use of the term for a musical style inverts the negative colloquial meaning of strong aromas, particularly of a bodily and sexual nature.

While the adjective ‘funky’ was applied to gospel-influenced jazz in the 1950s, and appeared in song titles as early as 1967, for example Funky Broadway by Dyke and the Blazers, it did not become widespread as a term for a specific genre until the mid-1970s. The increased use of the term in the late 1960s coincided with a shift in African-American politics from the integrationist stance of the Civil Rights movement, associated with the rise of soul music, to the more radical stance of the Black Power Movement, a shift heralded by James Brown’s funk recording ...

Article

Charles Garrett

Article

John Cline

A term coined by the radio DJ and author Irwin Chusid in 1996 to describe a loosely related set of recordings that do not fit well within any pre-existing generic framework. The art critic Roger Cardinal first used the term “outsider” in 1972 in relation to visual art. His usage translated into English the French artist Jean Dubuffet’s term art brut, which arose from Dubuffet’s interest in the artwork of criminals and the mentally ill. The term “outsider art” was in wide circulation during the 1970s and 80s, when many examples of what became now known, after Chusid, as “outsider music” were first being analyzed by collectors of outré records; Lester Bangs mentioned two key outsider musicians, Wild Man Fischer and Jad Fair, in his essay “A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise” (1981). V. Vale explored similar terrain in the early 1990s. Outsider music does not involve any definite stylistic qualities; criteria for inclusion are generally either negational or relational. Much outsider music exhibits idiomatic characteristics of established genres, ranging from opera (Florence Foster Jenkins) to country music (the Legendary Stardust Cowboy), although in an idiosyncratic fashion. Other examples defy precedent, leaving the critical listener understanding initially only what the music is not (as with Fischer’s a cappella compositions). The term “outsider” is, almost by definition, controversial. From Dubuffet to Chusid, it has concurrently carried connotations of both psychological pathologies and an assumption of a purity of expression at the boundaries of culture....

Article

Marc Rice

[Kansas City jazz]

A style of jazz developed in the 1920s and 30s unique to Kansas City and the Southwest. It grew from the ragtime traditions of Missouri, the blues of the Southwest, and the fierce musical and economic competition that was a fact of life for the territory bands working in the region. Features of the mature Southwest style include a heavy emphasis on improvisation, a driving 4/4 beat, and the influence of blues forms and harmonies.

Kansas City was the focal point of jazz in the Midwest and Southwest, due to its vibrant African American communities, and a political climate that enabled the presence of alcohol and vice in venues where the music was performed. The city was home to dozens of musicians and several bands, the most important of which were the Bennie Moten and George E. Lee Orchestras. There were dance halls and many jazz clubs where local and visiting musicians were allowed to experiment, and to challenge each other through “cutting contests” that demonstrated their improvisation skills. (...

Article

Christopher Wilkinson

[sweet jazz]

The term “sweet dance music” is used to define both a repertory and a performance practice. It appeared in print for the first time in the late 1920s and continued to be used regularly until the 1950s, often as a pejorative label for a style that was in many respects the antithesis of jazz. In addition to American popular songs, the repertory included genres of European origin: waltzes, polkas, and “light classics,” among others. The style was frequently characterized by music that was fully arranged with little if any improvisation played by bands having an instrumentation similar to that of jazz bands of the 1930s: reeds, brass, and a rhythm section supplemented in some instances by strings. The musicians use a straight tone, not individualized sonorities characteristic of hot jazz. Arrangements typically use symmetrical rhythms with little or no swing in slow to moderate tempos. Singers also employ a straight tone and equally symmetrical rhythms rather than jazz-based vocalisms....

Article

Colette Simonot

A style of popular music in which the synthesizer dominates. The precursors to synthpop include Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, and Giorgio Moroder, who experimented with synthesized sounds in the 1970s and earlier. Synthesizers soon became inexpensive enough to be widely used, and in the late 1970s and the 1980s several bands adopted the synthesizer as the basis of their musical style, which came to be known as synthpop. The style promotes artificiality, or synthetic sounds. Artists do not use synthesizers to imitate acoustic instruments, but instead exploit unique electronic sounds. Vocals may be void of emotion to complement the machine-made sounds. Rhythms tend to be mechanical and ostinato patterns are common. Synthpop was dominated by such British artists as Soft Cell, OMD, Ultravox, the Human League, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Talk Talk, the Thompson Twins, Bronski Beat, Howard Jones, and the Eurythmics. Synthpop artists are usually linked to the New wave...

Article

Mark Clague and Dan Archdeacon

Growing out of the Detroit Artists Workshop (founded 1964), Trans-Love Energies (TLE, formally, Trans-Love Energies Unlimited, Inc.) was an anti-establishment commune founded in Detroit in February 1967. Its mission was to “produce, promote, manage, and otherwise represent musical and other artists, in recordings, concerts, tours, media, and related fields of culture and entertainment, including films, books, posters, light and sound environments—all on a cooperative, non-profit basis, for the purpose of educating and informing the general public in terms of contemporary art forms and cultural patterns.”

An umbrella corporation, TLE included a production company, a light show and poster company, the Artists’ Workshop Press (distributor and publisher of underground newspapers, including the Warren-Forest Sun), and many side enterprises that helped fund commune operations. Inspired by rock music’s potential to catalyze social change, TLE managed musical acts including the Up, Iggy and the Stooges, and most notably the MC5. The activist leader John Sinclair (...