From the shape-note singing of colonial New England to Ives and Copland, from blues to bluegrass, and from the Lindy Hop to hip hop, Fireworks ties together the richly diverse threads of America’s musical heritage. American Tapestry is a celebration of the American spirit of experimentation and collaboration and of the rich diversity that has resulted from it: a journey through America’s vast and varied cultural landscape, and an exploration of the connections and influences that helped shape the country’s greatest music.
The sheer volume and diversity of music that can rightly be called American — styles such as rock, blues, and jazz, music that was born here and sounds like nothing else — is unparalleled in history and truly astounding for a country as young as ours. And yet this music did not arrive by immaculate conception. These styles that we think of as quintessentially “American” are the children of immigrant parents, the result of the alchemy that can occur when musical traditions of diverse cultures from around the world collide and are shaped in the hands of extraordinary musicians — musical pioneers with that propensity for restless experimentation and discovery that has been a hallmark of the American experience since its inception.
American Tapestry celebrates the achievements of those pioneers and reveals the threads that tie them together. On first listen, the music may seem eclectic, full of juxtapositions between wildly divergent genres and playing techniques. On closer examination, however, deep connections begin to emerge. Native musical traditions, such as the Navajo vocal inflections of Spinning Song and the resonant Hawaiian slack-key guitar and ukulele sounds of Hi’ilawe, find their way into the modality and lilt of American folk songs such as Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair and Shenandoah. These folk melodies in turn surface in the classical concert music of Charles Ives’ dreamy watercolor images of the Housatonic River at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Fiddle tunes of European immigrants in Appalachia merge with the sounds of jazz to find a new voice in the virtuosic bluegrass of Bill Monroe. Further south, a similar European fiddle tradition finds a very different expression in the strains of the Cajun classic Madeleine. The harmonies and “blue” notes of African American spirituals and work songs bounce into the train rhythms of the great Chicago boogie-woogie blues master Meade “Lux” Lewis. Those same blues patterns and honky tonk grooves combine with the sophisticated harmonies of European classical music to give rise to the sounds of big band swing in the hands of Mercer Ellington, son of the great Duke. American classical music, in turn, feels the strong pull of jazz and popular music in the music of Leonard Bernstein from his Broadway masterpiece West Side Story. And classical music and jazz find their way back into the urban dance music of Derrick May’s Detroit techno.
Deliciously varied? Certainly. But all part of the same richly woven tapestry we call American Music.