Isham Jones with his saxophone in the 1920's.
(Archeophone Records)
December 08, 2014

Two More Grammy Noms For Champaign Record Label

man holding a saxophoneA local record label known for archival work will again be at the Grammys.  'Isham Jones: Happy', on Archeophone Records, reissues 1920 recordings of a saxophonist and Chicago band leader.

Jones was best known for writing ‘It Had To Be You’ in 1924. 

But Archeophone co-owner Richard Martin said their goal is seek out earlier, underrepresented material from the teens and early 20’s. 

“So in the case of Isham Jones, here is a band leader who is one of the most important figures in the development of the American dance band sound," he said.  "He’s celebrated from his hot jazz sides from the 1930’s – but he started in 1920.”

Martin and his wife and label co-owner, Meagan Hennessey learned Friday they’d been nominated for two Grammys - Best Historical Album, and colleague David Sager for Best Album Notes. 

"(Jones) wrote hundreds of songs, and maybe 30 of them were hits," said Sager.  "Jones said that it was just dance music.  And he was very clear, saying jazz is not necessary dance music.  All jazz is dance music, but not all dance music is jazz, and I think he understood what good, hot playing was about and incorporated it in his ensemble, but it was never considered a jazz ensemble."

Martin and Hennessey said there was a specific character to Jones’ sound in Chicago clubs.

"If you compare his arrangements with other people’s, his records sound very much ahead of their time," said Martin.  "They don’t sound like the other dance band orchestras recorded contemporarily.  And they don’t sound like his hot jazz.  It’s a very different feel."

"There are no lead vocals," said Hennessey.  "No lead coronet or trumpet – that’s the hallmark of jazz that emerges.”

These two nominations mean Archeophone and their collaborators have picked up 11 of them total – their one Grammy win was in 2006, a Best Historical Album award for “Lost Sounds – Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry.” 

The Grammys will be handed out February 8th in Los Angeles. 

One World Symphony conductor and artistic director Sung Jin Hong.
(Photo by Jaka Vinsek/Courtesy Sung Jin Hong)
October 24, 2014

Former Central Illinoisan Now Making Classical Music In NYC

Sung Jin Hong's musical journey includes stops in Peoria and New York City.

Sung Jin HongAs a teen-ager In the 1990s, Hong, then known as David Hong, organized his own youth orchestra, the Peoria Youth Sinfonietta. The organization lasted for several years, as Hong moved from high school to music studies at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. One of Hong’s role models was the late Leonard Bernstein, the conductor and composer who spent many years in New York City and wasn’t shy about seeking a mass audience.

A decade and a half later, Sung Jin Hong is himself composing and conducting in New York City, and making music that seeks a mass audience.

One example is “Breaking Bad – Ozymandias, a short music drama which Hong composed in tribute to the TV series “Breaking Bad”. The 50 minute work had its premiere in New York City last January, at a concert of One World Symphony, for which Hong is conductor and artistic director.

Hong says he first learned about the show last year from his sister, and was quickly hooked.

“I realized what people were talking about when they’re saying ‘binge-watching’”, said Hong. “When I was watching the TV show, I didn’t deliberately think to myself, oh I’m going to create an opera. But after the series finale in September, I was so moved and touched, I thought, this would make an amazing dramatic work.”

“Breaking Bad – Ozymandias” has its lighter moments, such as a section Hong calls the “bitch aria”, using audience participation to highlight one of the favorite words of the TV show’s Jesse Pinkman character. And like the TV show, “Breaking Bad – Ozymandias” has very dark passages. One section draws from an episode of the TV series entitled “Fly”, in which an anguished Walter White remembers a peaceful moment with his family, and tells Jesse Pinkman that he wishes his life had ended right there. In words condensed from the TV episode, the singer baritone Jose Pietri-Coimbre at the premiere) sings:

Ah! That was the moment... that night.
I should have never left home. 
Maybe things would have…
I was at home watching TV. 
Skyler and Holly were in another room. 
She was singing a lullaby.
Ah — if I had just lived right up to 
that moment and not one second more,
that would have been perfect!

Hong says using a TV show as subject matter for classical music is keeping with past composers who drew on the theater for their work. He compares “Breaking Bad”’s impact to the impact two centuries ago of Johann Goethe’s play “Faust”, which inspired music by Schubert, Gounod, Berlioz and Wagner.

“Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” is like ‘Faust’ in a way, where (there’s) such a mass, widespread, not even acclaim, but just influence. You hear people talking about it even still, after more than a year of its season finale.

Sung Jin Hong is now preparing another operatic work drawn from pop culture. “Hannibal” is drawn from Thomas Harris’ novels about serial killer Hannibal Lector, and the spinoff “Hannibal” TV series. Like “Breaking Bad – Ozymandias”, the work will be premiered by One World Symphony.

Sung Jin Hong helped found One World Symphony while he was a graduate student at Bard College in New York City nearly 15 years ago. He says he was helped by his past experience leading the Peoria Youth Sinfonietta.

“That was a very important learning experience with the youth orchestra in Peoria, where it was very collaborative”, said Hong. “We were all teen-agers, young and very idealistic. And that’s how actually One World Symphony started as well. We were all in our mid-20s, didn’t know any better.”

One World Symphony has survived any early naivety and launches its 14th season with a pair of concerts on Sunday and Monday, October 26th and 27th. Their performance space is Manhattan’s Holy Apostles Episcopal Church, where the orchestra’s season includes an annual charity concert for the church’s soup kitchen.

The new season is dubbed “Operasodes”, with programs drawing heavily from opera, and themed around TV shows --- the sitcom “New Girl” is the basis this weekend for opera highlights featuring distinctive female characters.  Hong says an upcoming concert will use “Game of Thrones” as its theme. The premiere of “Hannibal” is set for next May.

dancers at a concert during Pygmalion Fest
Lisa Bralts/WILL
September 25, 2014

10th Annual Pygmalion Festival Kicks Off

The 10th annual Pygmalion Festival starts Thursday in Champaign-Urbana. What started as strictly an indie rock festival has grown to include a literary festival and a hand-made goods bazaar. And next year, a tech conference will be thrown into the mix.

Eddie Money performing in Florida.
Photo by Jeff Daly/Invision/AP
August 22, 2014

Rocker Eddie Money Headlines The Sweetcorn Fest

This weekend, rocker Eddie Money – known for hits including Two Tickets to Paradise, Baby, Hold On, and others – will be in town headlining the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival.  Nearly 40 years and after his debut album went double platinum, Money continues to tour.

Illinois Public Media’s Jason Croft talked with Money about his career, music videos and the television commercial that made him a pop culture darling.

Elaine Stritch at the Cafe Carlyle in 2013.
(Walter McBride/The O M Company/AP)
July 17, 2014

Actress And Singer Elaine Stritch Has Died

Elaine Stritch, an actress whose talent led to a substantial and long career on Broadway and in cabarets, died today at age 89.

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