Lute Unleashed



Carver Blanchard




Lute Unleashed


Voice and lute, string bass, harmonica and recorder






Lute Unleashed is a traditional recording in that it presents the work of a composer-arranger whose instrument is the lute. In centuries past that is what professional lutenists were, indeed had to be if they were to support themselves. An appointment to a court or great house afforded one of the few opportunities for regular employment and carried with it a particularly wide range of duties. These included playing in dance ensembles, accompanying singers, providing entertainment for banquets and special occasions, and of course, responding to the spontaneous and unforeseen. One can only guess how often a half-drunk guest of the duke made his way to the lute player and needed help getting through the song he had heard somewhere last week. It is today's studio musician, not today's concert musician, whose situation and abilities most nearly resemble those of the working lutenist of the Renaissance.




I was born and raised in Louisiana and most of the material on this recording comes from memories of my boyhood in the South. There may at first appear to be some novelty in the use of the lute for the performance of such relatively modern music. In fact, it brings to modern music the same distinctive and compelling qualities that made it the most popular instrument in Europe for over two hundred years.




Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), whose songs provided a vision of plantation life that is virtually inconceivable to a Southerner, was a native of Pittsburgh who never set foot in the South save for one vacation trip to New Orleans. His work was known internationally, and there are accounts of sailors returning from places as distant as Asia with versions of Foster's songs that had been published only a few months earlier. He wrote in a variety of forms and his songs are by no means limited to one theme. However it is his "plantation melodies," so wildly successful in the minstrel show houses of the Northeast, for which he is best remembered.




Neither of the songs presented here is a plantation melody. Virginia Belle is virtually unknown. Hard Times Come Again No More is more familiar and was in fact one of those frequently sung by Foster himself, as is revealed in this quote from an 1869 newspaper memorial account: "On more than one occasion in a grocery barroom I have heard Stephen Foster sing that good old song of his with a pathos that a state of semi-inebriation often lends the voice; while his pockets were in the peculiarly appropriate condition of emptiness not unusual to them, and the habitués of the place joined dismally in the chorus."




James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and J. Rosamund Johnson (1873-1954) were brothers from Jacksonville, Florida whose time spent as part of America's first successful black songwriting team accounts for only a small part of their remarkable biographies. J.W. Johnson, after passing the Florida bar exam in 1897, pursued an academic career, first as a high school teacher and principal and later as professor of critical literature at Fisk University. He was also a widely read novelist and poet, and was politically active as executive secretary of the NAACP. J.R. Johnson studied at the New England Conservatory and had a professional life so wide ranging that it included both minstrel show work and the directorship of the Hammerstein Opera House in London.




The brothers had a deep interest in Afro-American culture, and their two volume work entitled American Negro Spirituals, still definitive, accounts at least in part for the familiarity of the spirituals on this recording. However it was in their collaboration as songwriters that their creative energies were coupled and in which their use of black idioms was new and distinctive. As part of a team that included Robert Cole they wrote many hits, and were the first black songwriters to secure a Tin Pan Alley contract. The group broke up in 1906 when J.W. Johnson was appointed consul to Venezuela.




Since You Went Away was written by the Johnson brothers alone and is subtitled Southern Dialect Song. The first line, Seems Lak To Me, also appears on the title page. This song, written upon the death of their father, was for years a staple in the repertoire of American singers, and in 1913 was recorded by Fritz Kreisler and John McCormack.




Cole Porter (1893-1964) was the greatest composer-lyricist ever to write for the musical theater, his gifts being rivaled only by the combined talents of George and Ira Gershwin. His best songs are masterpieces of refinement, elegance and wit, some of the wit being too risqué to appear in popular versions. This personality found a natural home in the cafés and salons of Paris where he spent many years. In fact, so great was his reputation as a champagne-sipping dandy that some biographers have felt compelled to point out that no one that productive could have been anything but a very hard worker.




Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup (1905-1974), from Forest, Mississippi, grew up singing in gospel choirs and quartets. His solo performing began after he taught himself the guitar in his mid thirties. He had some regional success with his recordings, and two of his songs, That's All Right Mama and My Baby Left Me, were among Elvis Presley's early hits. Even so, work in music was erratic and he took a variety of jobs in order to support himself. It was the folk revival of the 1960's that brought him worldwide recognition, after which he had a full performing career and was even the subject of American and European film documentaries.




Jimmy Van Heusen (1913-1990) managed to circumvent a career in the family business despite his father's best efforts, which included sending him to Syracuse University. He spent his time there writing for student productions, often in collaboration with Harold Arlen's younger brother. He later met Arlen himself, who steered him to Tin Pan Alley. It was not his years in New York that would eventually secure his reputation but they were nevertheless productive ones, and Here's That Rainy Day is from a show of that period entitled Carnival In Flanders. He later began to write for films and became one of Hollywood's most successful composers.




Arthur Neal Gunter (1926-76) was the son of a Nashville preacher, who as a youngster was part of the family gospel group called The Gunter Brothers. He began to work professionally in the 1950's, and though his solo output was limited, he recorded frequently with the Kid King Combo and with them played club dates throughout the South. Like many blues players of his generation, he worked outside of music for much of his life. When in the early 70's he belatedly began to receive mainstream recognition, his life took an unusual turn. Who's Who In the Blues carries the following entries for 1973: "Port Huron Rock FestivalAnn Arbor Blues Festivalwon Michigan State Lottery and inactive in music thereafter."




Carver Blanchard was formerly lutenist for the Smithsonian Institution. He now lives in New York City and teaches lute and guitar at Wesleyan University.




Nel Moore is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and a native of that state. She now lives in New York City where she is active as a performer, teacher, and studio musician.




Glen Saunders is from Brooklyn and received his masters degree from the Juilliard School of Music. After touring for several years he returned to New York and is completing a doctoral program at the Manhattan School of Music.




Jim Cowdery, guest artist, is a composer-arranger who for years led his own band called How To Change A Flat Tire. He received his doctorate in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in Irish Studies and is currently on the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College.




Night and Day and My Baby Left Me recorded by Chris Brown at Living Music, Litchfield, Connecticut. The remainder of the disc was recorded by Eric Garrison for China Moon Productions, New Canaan, Connecticut.




Notes: Carver Blanchard






Lute Unleashed


Carver Blanchard, lute and voice


Nel Moore, harmonica · Glen Saunders, string bass · Jim Cowdery, recorder






Spirituals and Worksongs




Steal Away (2:01)


Look Over Yonder


Another Man Done Gone (4:10)


Deep River (3:07)


Go Down Moses (2:05)


Palms of Victory (2:56)


Irish Suite (C. Blanchard) (7:07)






American Popular Classics




Night & Day (C. Porter) (2:37)


Begin the Beguine (C. Porter) (7:05)


My Baby Left Me (A. Crudup) (2:21)


Here's That Rainy Day (J. Van Heusen) (3:30)


Baby Let's Play House (A. Gunter) (1:49)






Music of Stephen Foster & His Era




Hard Times Come Again No More (3:13)


Susanna's Fancy (Foster-Blanchard) (2:45)


Virginia Belle (2:05)


Since You Went Away (Johnson Brothers) (2:57)


Southern Suite (C. Blanchard) (8:29)




Total Time (58:27)






All compositions and arrangements © 1992 C. Blanchard




Mr. Blanchard performs on an 8 course Renaissance lute by Robert Cooper of Savannah, Georgia.