What is “roots music”? You’ve probably been dancing, singing and tapping your toes to it your entire life. Sam Reider has explored American roots music deeply, and he’s followed all of its enticing tributaries to their sources: jazz, folk, blues, world music and more. To bring you closer to the music, Reider will talk a bit and dazzle you with his astonishing virtuosity and soulful performance.
Natalie Johnson - Good afternoon, I hope everyone enjoyed those tunes real quick. Thank you so much, Sam. My name is Natalie Johnson and I am Senior Director of relationship manager, training and development with First Republic. Thank you all for joining us today for "Stanford jazz workshop presents American roots music" with Sam Reider. I have the pleasure of introducing our guests today, Sam Reider and David Miller. Sam Reider has spent many years exploring folk music on the accordion. His compositions combine jazz improvisation, folk instruments and grooves with classical structures. He has been featured at Lincoln Center and on NPR and collaborate with Grammy nominated artists. Reider leads an acoustic ensemble called The Human Hands and has released two records under his name, "Too hot to sleep" and "The human hands EP". David Miller is Executive Director at Stanford Jazz Workshop, bringing more than two decades of experience with education and performing arts organizations and enjoys connecting the dots among different aspects of nonprofit work, including programming, fundraising, finance, and administration. He has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and has been an active volunteer leader for his local PTA, school district advocacy groups and committees, youth sports programs, The Boy Scouts of America and other organizations. If you would like to submit a question during the webinar to our guests, please use the Q&A feature on the bottom of your screen. Recording of this webinar will be available on our website if you would like to view it again in a week's time. Sam and David, we are thrilled to have you here today. Thank you for being with us. And with that, let's dive in.
David Miller - That's great, Natalie. Thank you so much. We are so happy to be here and to partner with First Republic Bank and with all of you joining us tonight for this presentation. Stanford jazz workshop, for those of you who may not be familiar with this is the longest, most continuously operated jazz education organization in the country. We are gearing up for what we hope is a return to normal programming next year, which will be our 50th anniversary. We host programs annually on the Stanford University campus during the summer. We'll see about 800 students, and usually about 150 faculty members from all over the country and all over the world will join us every summer. Sam actually joined us as a student studying jazz piano when he was in middle school, more than a few years ago. He was quickly recognized as a piano prodigy. In fact, he was as Natalie kind of mentioned, he was interviewed by Marian McPartland on "Piano, Jazz" on NPR when he got out of high school. He also was a representative of the U S Department of State as a Musical Ambassador, traveled all over the world, representing the United States and learning more about the kind of music he's going to talk about tonight. When he's in the New York area, he teaches with jazz at Lincoln center among others, and we're very happy to have had him as one of our faculty members here at Stanford for nearly a decade. We're look forward to learning from you tonight, Sam. So take it away.
Sam Reider - All right, thank you, David. And thank you all so much for having me tonight. That was a pretty good introduction. So I don't really need to say much more. I play this instrument right here, which is called the accordion. And I also play the piano. I'm a composer and I lead an ensemble of musicians from all around the country called The Human Hands. I did my undergraduate degree at Columbia and studied American music of the great depression. And I'm currently getting a Master's in Composition right now, right here in San Francisco at San Francisco State. So I approach music from all different angles. I love to teach and to learn about the academic history of music, but also writing music is really my main thing and performing. I love to play and I love to collaborate with many different types of artists from all around the world. And in many ways, that's what my presentation today is about. I'm going to share my screen with you right now. I've decided to title this presentation, "Listening to American roots music". And I'm putting roots here in parenthesis because roots is one of those slippery terms that really only makes a lot of sense when you acknowledge your perspective. And that in that case, our perspective today is looking back at the past. And I'm going to be talking about and playing music that is largely from the first half of the 20th century, maybe stretching back into the late 19th century and it's music that has formed the basis for so many styles and modern styles of popular American music. And it's informed classical music. And that's why it's our root music. But at the same time, the people that I'm going to be talking about, the musicians, they were innovators of their era. And so in that sense, we're just really talking about American music in general. The crux of American music comes down to something called the oral tradition. You've probably all heard of the oral tradition before. The oral tradition is music that is passed from generation to generation, primarily through performance and repetition. And music of the oral tradition is actively renewed and regenerated through its performance.
Each time a musician learns a song and performs it, they bring their own individual identity and flavor to it. That's something that we love doing in my band. We love to play old, old songs and bring something new to it. That's what keeps the music alive. And most importantly, this term listening, it plays a vital role in the performance and proliferation of oral traditions. And so that's why today's workshop is really about listening. Why should you care about the oral tradition. Well, you already care about American music because that's why you're here in my workshop today, but I'm going to give you another good reason. Musicians who participate in one or more of the many traditions of American music become expert listeners through engaging in the following practices, that's learning by ear, improvisation and collaboration. And I think we can really see these as interpersonal skills that are highly prized across all industries and communities and facets of modern life here in America. And most importantly, musicians like myself, we're only one half of the equation. We absolutely need an audience. And that's where you come in. All of you, if you're not also musicians, you are experts yourselves at listening already. You've probably listened to your favorite songs a million times. And the music that I'm going to be sharing with you today, it may be unfamiliar to you. It may seem complex or strange, but my goal is really to empower you, to take your already expert listener ears and just feel confident that you can listen to the wide range and diversity of American musical styles. There's many ways to listen to music. You can put on your headphones and close your eyes. You could rock out at a club with your friends. You can move or dance and play along. And these are all equally valid ways of listening to music. And I encourage my students always to practice all of their different ways of listening. And today, I'm going to encourage you guys to listen in three active ways, and that's going to be listening for emotion, content, and context. When we're listening for emotion, we're asking ourselves, how does the music make you feel? What emotions are the musician or singer expressing?
Oftentimes music evokes conflicting emotions simultaneously that's especially true in American music like the blues where the singer might be singing the blues or singing about hard times, and yet the music makes you feel joyful, makes you smile or want to dance along. And I really believe that this kind of emotional dissonance represents sort of a mystical transformational effect that is unique to American music. When you're listening to content, you might be paying attention to the story or the narrative. Does the song have lyrics that tell a story? If it's instrumental, does the form of the music follow a narrative arc? Is it linear like an old sea shanty about a shipwreck? Or is it a cyclical kind of form like an old time fiddle tune that repeats over and over again? Or is it a combination of both like a jazz song in which the band plays many courses with each member improvising solos on top? You could be listening for the instrumentation. What instruments do you hear? How do they fit together? You could listen to the rhythm. Does this music make you want to dance? How would you tap or clap along to it? And last but not least, you could be listening for the harmony and the melody. Is there a little tune, a distinctive melody that you can remember and sing along to? These are all important ways of listening to music. And I'm going to invite you to put these into practice. Last but not least, listening in context. This is sort of the cultural side of things. When was the music recorded? Was it produced by a major record label or was it recorded by a musicologist in the field? What cultural themes are reflected in the music? For example, is it nationalist or patriotist? Does it reflect political resistance or some sort of personal or spiritual liberation? And you could ask, how does the race, gender, or sexual orientation of the performer impact the music that's being produced? And how does the music reinforce or counteract racial stereotypes of the time? As you'll see, that last question is one of sort of the pivotal questions about music in the 20th century in America, especially in the first half of the 20th century where race and ethnicity played such an important part in the course of history. So you're really going to get a sense of that. So that's enough of an introduction now. And now, we're going to just listen to some music. I'm going to be playing some examples on YouTube. I've curated a playlist of different styles of American music, and I'm going to go through them, but I'm also going to be playing some music for you guys on my accordion live from my room here in San Francisco. And I wanted to begin with the blues.
The reason I decided to start with the blues is because the blues really permeates all the different genres of American music. There would be no American popular music without the blues. No Stevie Wonder, no Michael Jackson, no Beyonce. The blues is everything. And it's going to permeate all of the different genres of American roots music that we're going to check out today. And I thought I'd just get us started by reading one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King. I've read this quote out loud at thousands of schools around the country at this point. And I just thought I would share it with you today. This is from the Berlin jazz festival in 1964. He said, "God has brought many things out of oppression. "He has endowed His creatures with the capacity to create. "And from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow "and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment "and many different situations. "Jazz speaks for life. "The blues tell the story of life's difficulties. "And if you think for a moment, "you will realize that they take the hardest realities "of life and put them into music only to come out "with some new hope or sense of triumph. "This is triumphant music." I really think that this speaks to that transformational effect of music that I was mentioning before. So let's take a little listen to the blues. I'm going to play you a couple of examples here. There are just so many examples of the blues, it was hard to even choose. This is just a little drop in the sea of blues recordings, but for me, it all comes down to Bessie Smith. She was one of America's first pop stars back in the day. And she was really responsible for popularizing the blues. Let's check out this tune of hers called "Careless love". This one's been performed by countless other artists as well. ♪ Love oh love oh careless love ♪ ♪ You've fly through my head like wine ♪ ♪ You've wrecked the life of a many poor girl ♪ ♪ And you nearly spoiled this life of mine ♪ ♪ Love oh love oh careless love ♪ ♪ In your clutches of desire ♪ ♪ You've made me break a many true vow ♪ ♪ Then you set my very soul on fire ♪
Sam - So in this recording, you can hear a whole bunch of different instruments, right? You hear the piano and you hear a trumpet with a mute, some trombone, and you hear Bessie singing this blues song. This is sort of the blues in one of its earliest permutations, but let's check out a little bit of how it changed over time. Here is an artist known as Big Mama Thornton, who's a Bay Area Artist, or she was.
David - Sam, if you could, sorry to interrupt, but if you could turn the volume up on the music a little bit, that'd be great.
Sam - Sure, I think it was just that first recording that was particularly quiet. So let's see if this one's a little bit louder. This is more of an electric blues sound. ♪ You ain't nothing but a hound dog ♪ ♪ Been snoopin' 'round the door ♪ ♪ You ain't nothing but a hound dog ♪ ♪ Been snoopin' 'round my door ♪ ♪ You can wag your tail ♪ ♪ But I ain't going to feed you no more ♪ ♪ You told me you was high-class ♪ ♪ But I could see through that ♪ ♪ Yes you told me you was high-class ♪ ♪ But I could see through that ♪ ♪ And daddy I know ♪ ♪ You ain't no real cool cat ♪ ♪ You ain't nothing but a hound dog ♪ ♪ Been snoopin' 'round the door ♪ ♪ You're just an old hound dog ♪ ♪ Been snoopin' 'round my door ♪ ♪ You can wag your tail ♪ ♪ But I ain't going to feed you no more ♪ ♪ Oh play it on Sam oh ♪ So you'll recognize that one from perhaps the Elvis Presley version of that, but I believe that Big Mama Thornton recorded it first. Then of course, there's BB King, the great blues guitarist. ♪ Everyday everyday I'm the blues ♪ ♪ Oh every day ♪ ♪ Down in the valley ♪ And we have Otis Redding later singing rhythm and blues. It sounds like this. ♪ In the valley so low ♪ ♪ Hang your hair over your shoulder ♪ ♪ And you can hear the four winds blow now oh my ♪ ♪ Now can't you hear the wind blow my love ♪ ♪ Can't you hear the wind blow ♪ ♪ We're down in the valley ha ♪ ♪ In the valley so low now ha ♪ ♪ Now have you ever been lonely lonely ha ♪ Charlie Parker. Okay, so if it's stressing you out at home that I'm only playing short clips of these tunes, rest assured that I have them all on a playlist. And so you'll be able to check them out later if you like. But my question here is what is it that ties all of these different styles of the blues together? There's sort of this overall theme of transcendence of suffering, of singing about hard times, that's for sure in the vocal blues, but there's also certain musical elements that really tie the blues together. One of those is the rhythm of the blues, which is sometimes called the shuffle. And the shuffle, you'll recognize if you put your hand on your heart. It's the rhythm, dum, du, dum, dum, du, dum, dum, du, dum, dum, du, dum. Sometimes you'll hear it more like swing, which is the rhythm of jazz. And when I play it here on the accordion, you're going to hear the shuffle sounding like this.
There's also three important musical chords that you have to know when you play the blues. It's the one chord, the four chord and the five chord. The one is the tonic. It's the home, it's the place of stability. The five chord is called the dominant, it's the place of the most tension and the piece or the blues travels from the one core to the four chord, back to the one chord, to the five and back to the one. So it's kind of going back and forth between a place of stability, musical stability that is and musical tension. And it's that tension between all those chords that creates the structure in the form of the blues. And last but not least, do you hear people improvise when they play the blues? They bring either their own story to the song that they're singing, or you hear them bringing a lot of emotion to the melody by taking solos. And when you listen to great blues guitarists play, it really feels like they're crying through their instrument. So you might hear stuff that sounds a little bit like this. All right, so the blues, as you'll see, is going to permeate all of these different styles of music. And the next one that we're going to talk about is called string band music. String band music is found all over the country, but it's famously rooted in the Appalachian mountains, the Eastern part of America. And it has its own roots in different parts of the world. String band music is often talked about as an evolution of Irish or Celtic music. This is music that Scots and Irish people brought over to the Appalachian mountain range over the course of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. And here's a clip of a very famous 20th century Irish traditional band playing. So you can get a sense of what that style of music sounds like. So this particular type of piece that's being played is a jig. And a jig is in triple meter, one, two, three, two, two, three, one, two, three, two, two, three. Now, the fiddle music that is heard predominantly in the Appalachian mountains, it's usually in a four, four field called a reel or a breakdown. These are different terms for old dances. And part of that has to do with the fact that American string band music actually combines Irish and English and Scottish influences with African influences. And there's plenty of examples of African fiddle music that exists from different countries. And in America, in the 18th century and the 19th century, there were Black slaves that played string band music as well. And this is a clip or an audio clip from the middle of the 20th century, but it's a clip of a black string band playing.
Their names were Gribble, Lusk and York. And what you're going to hear is you're going to hear some of the same instruments. You're going to hear the fiddle playing this fast dance like melody, but you're going to hear different rhythms, more syncopated rhythms, more bluesy elements that form the quintessential sound of American string band music. I like to highlight this clip because today bluegrass and old time music is so oftenly associated with White communities, but it's really important to remember that especially in the 19th century, African-Americans played this music and quite prominently, and it turned into old time music in the 20th century. This is Tommy Gerald who's one of the sort of most important old-time fiddlers from the Appalachian mountains. Here's a famous tune called "Crippled Creek". And you can hear some similarities. This music, which is old time music is a style of music in which the melody is cycled over and over and over again so that people can dance to it. There's not a lot of variation. And as many musicians as you want to can participate in this jam. Sometimes you see 10 fiddlers all playing together, and it's sort of like a collective exercise in playing a song. It goes on and on and on and on until someone decides it's time to stop. But this music which has taken on the the name old time led directly to something called bluegrass. And bluegrass is a creation of the first half of the 20th century. 1930's and 1940's, a man named Bill Monroe from Kentucky started to play the mandolin in a more jazz like improvised fashion, taking the instrumentation of old time Appalachian string band music, but combining it with some of the bluesy licks that he heard when he was traveling down South in New Orleans. Okay, so notice that they're taking turns, taking solos, stepping up there to the microphone and playing in a improvisitory manner. So I first began to be interested in this style of music in college. As Dave mentioned, I came up as a jazz pianist, but I've always loved folk music. I've always loved to sing and to play with all different sorts of musicians. And I really wanted to participate in music making with string instruments like the banjo and the fiddle and the mandolin. The piano didn't really fit the bill too well.
It's a little bit too bulky of an instrument. So I picked up an old accordion and I brought it back to New York City and I started to play around on it. I started to learn little old time tunes like this one, "Whiskey before breakfast". And Cajun tunes like this one. And eventually I found a community of folk musicians, string musicians that I like to play with, and that were willing to accept an accordionist into their midst. But what I sort of had to do to fit in was I started to write my own music, my own original music inspired by some of these styles. And I thought I would share one of those tunes with you right now. This is a tune that I play all the time called, "The Swamp Doghobble". Swamp Doghobble, it's the New York native plant species that I stumbled across one day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. That's the "Swamp Doghobble". So we're going to move South now to probably the most important musical place in the country. And that would be the town of New Orleans. I love going to New Orleans. Every time I get a chance to go there, I take that chance. And I want to just talk a little bit about the interesting and incredibly diverse, melting pot of music that sort of formed the basis for American jazz, which was born in New Orleans. One of the styles that you might've heard around the turn of the century was the waltz. And waltzes were sort of the popular music in Europe at the time. And in particular, they were played on an instrument that I'm playing, the accordion. This is a waltz by amazing Accordionist named Gus Viseur. I thought I would share a little bit of accordion waltz that I play myself. This one's called "Indifference". And this is music that really was popular at the turn of the century in the late 19th century, early 20th century. It's a very simple form, but it uses this instrument here, the accordion because this was sort of the portable party instrument of the day. You can imagine someone sitting at a cafe playing with fiddle or with the tuba and hearing music that sounded a little bit like this. Now, in New Orleans, you might've also heard Cajun music. And I played a second of a Cajun tune for you earlier. This is what traditional Cajun music sounds like. This is the Balfa Brothers. Notice that this music uses the fiddle again, just like the string band music from the Appalachian mountains. It also has a triangle and accordion, and it has a slightly different feel.
It's more of a straight feel. Later in the 20th century, musicians in the South Texas and Western Louisiana area started to play piano accordions like the one that I play. And this man named Clifton Chenier invented a style of music that became known as Zydeco, which combines Cajun influences and the Cajun language, the Creole language with R&B. Well, my name. We going to play y'all. Okay, I'm going to keep moving on here. Another type of music you probably would've heard in New Orleans at the turn of the century is spirituals and gospel music. This is the famous spiritual "Wade in the water", sung by the Jubilee Singers. ♪ Wade in the water ♪ ♪ Wade in the water ♪ ♪ Wade in the water ♪ ♪ God's going to trouble the water ♪ ♪ Wade in the water ♪ ♪ Wade in the water ♪ ♪ Wade in the water ♪ ♪ God's going to trouble the water ♪. Of course, the popular music in the 19th century and the early 20th century to a certain extent was marching band music. You would have heard this at rallies and festivals, and this is military music. And of course, one of the most famous composers of marching band music was John Philips Sousa. You'll probably recognize this song. Thank you, Mr. Taylor. This is music that was played on brass instruments, so trumpets, and tubas, trombones. And these instruments to a large extent, were spread out throughout the American South, and particularly in the New Orleans area after the civil war. As the armies retreated, these instruments ended up in all around that area. And so a lot of the music of New Orleans became very focused on brass instruments. Now, there's also a place in New Orleans called Congo Square. And this is perhaps the most important influence in the music of New Orleans, and that's the influence of African rhythms. The African slaves were allowed to congregate in Congo Square on Sunday afternoons to sell things and to play music. And the drums of Congo square became a really important early element in jazz and styles of New Orleans music. What you'll see here is this is a modern day obviously video of drums at the Congo Square festival in New Orleans. So drumming and dancing is an essential part of American music. The rhythm that became really important in New Orleans music is actually a rhythm that can trace its roots to the Caribbean. It's called the Clave. You might recognize it from music like this. And at home, we can practice playing the Clave together like this.
If you want to clap along with me, you can . Okay, so the is a rhythm that's crucial to Cuban music, but it came over to America as well back when there was a ferry that connected Havana and New Orleans, and musicians rode back and forth. And it infiltrated the American musical styles. And so after that whirlwind tour of different styles, I just want to show you how the Clave and these different syncopated African rhythms can take a piece that starts out as a march and turn it into something that sounds like funky New Orleans music. So you'll probably all know this song, "When the saints go marching in". It's actually a gospel song. Now, early on in the 20th century, musicians started to improvise on songs like that, popular songs, marches, or the waltzes that I talked about earlier. And virtuoso musicians started to improvise on them and to play these rhythms that were called ragged rhythms, and ragtime became a really important genre. I'm going to play for you now the same song, but I'm going to play with the rhythm a little bit. I'm going to make it more syncopated, and I'm going to turn it into a rag. And then last but not least, I'm going to introduce now the Clave into that sound. And the Clave once again, I'll clap it for you again . And you're going to hear me now playing the Clave with my left hand, which is the same pattern that New Orleans brass bands play when they do the second line parade. So let's hear "Oh when the saints go marching in" now with a full-on syncopated, Clave rhythm. Well, I know we're running out of time here. It's 5:45, but we did start a couple of minutes late and I wanted to just leave you with one more original song. And this song of mine here is actually a rag called "The skeleton rag" that incorporates the rhythm of New Orleans, the Clave. It incorporates a ragtime form, an improvisation, and it also incorporates some elements of my own musical heritage, I'm Jewish. And so it takes a little bit of Eastern European and Klezmer flavor and kind of mixes it all up together. So this is called "The skeleton rag". I'm going to play this for you and then happily take some questions. All right, well, I hope you've enjoyed my presentation and I just want to show right here that I have a QR code if you're interested in checking out any of the video samples that I've been talking about.
You can hold your phone up to the screen right now and hopefully if the technology works correctly, you should be able to go check out my playlist of American roots music. So I'm going to leave that there for just a second, and you can load that up for later. And if you're interested in following me and my band and checking out some of my original music, you can check me out on YouTube as well. And so here's a QR code for my YouTube channel. I hope you've enjoyed checking out all this music today. I know it was a bit of a whirlwind trip. There's so much more out there, so many other styles that I didn't touch on today. There's just not time for everything, but please do ask a question and stay in touch.
David - Sam, thank you so much for that. That was terrific. I've got a few questions for you backing up to the beginning of the presentation. This might be on the playlist, but what was that first song that was playing when we all joined the presentation tonight? And who was that? And how does that fit into the world of roots music?
Sam - Well, I think the first song that I was playing was one of my songs from my band, The Human Hands. I was playing our most recent record, which is called "The Human hands EP". And the tune that was playing was called "Coyoacan" Coyoacan is a neighborhood in Mexico city where Frida Kahlo, the amazing artist lived. And I traveled there with some friends for vacation several years ago and I was just totally enchanted by the neighborhood. It's a beautiful, big, beautiful trees and brightly colored homes. And there's these guys with crank organs that are standing on the sidewalk playing these kind of like circus sounds. It almost sounds like an accordion to be honest. And sometimes you see there's guys on opposing street corners playing their crank organs at the same time and the music is wafting through the air. And so I had this idea for sort of a circus like composition and wrote that one, which is called "Coyoacan". So you can check that out on my YouTube channel.
David - Great, thanks. Leslie wrote that, "'The Swamp Doghobble' sounded like folk electronica." She said, "What inspired you to create this style? "And what would you call that style of writing?"
Sam - That's a great point. I mean, as I said, what inspired that particular song was American fiddle music, bluegrass and old time. I was trying to imitate that on the accordion. And of course when it filters through the accordion, it comes out sounding like something entirely different. And so, I do own the URL, accordiondancemusic.com. I've never done anything with it, but there's still time.
David - A question also came up. Was there a little reggae influence in Clifton Chenier playing that song that you played?
Sam - That's a really interesting question. I'm not sure if there was reggae influence or not. Although I think that both styles were definitely evolving at the same time. And I'm no expert in reggae, but I do know that in Jamaica, one of the radio stations, the American radio stations that could be picked up was the country radio stations I think from Texas or Nashville. I was actually once talking to the jazz pianist, Monty Alexander about this. And he was telling me that he grew up listening to country music, and country Western music in particular. And I think Bob Marley famously was inspired by American country Western music for some of his music. And since Clifton Chenier was from Texas doubtlessly, there was some cross pollination there as well so speculation, but we'll see.
David - Well, Steve asks if you personally found the piano or the accordion a more complex instrument to play or to learn?
Sam - Well, I'm much more fluent on the piano, but I learned at a younger age. I started playing the accordion when I was only 20. I'm 32 now. It's been about 12 years and I've definitely come a long way since the beginning, but I've got a lot more to go. The right hand of the accordion obviously is very similar to a piano although it's on its side. The left-hand is the accompaniment part where you play bass notes and chords. And it's simple in a way because you can really keep a simple folk kind of accompaniment going on like this. But if you want to do anything more complex, it becomes a lot more difficult. And so I would say they're equally challenging instruments. I'm just less familiar with the accordion at this point in my life.
David - Well, Jeff asked a question that kind of made me think of one of my own. He asked about that Newgrass artists that they're making compromises in traditional bluegrass music and some instrumentation is different. And is that a threat to the traditional routes and what can be done about it? And he writes it there. It seems there are a few guardians of the old style, rich music. And my add onto that is who should be listened to now? Both are playing their interpretations of older songs and who is forging new paths in roots music?
Sam - Yeah, that's a great question. To address the first part first. As a musician who plays both old and new music, I believe in doing your homework, really learning the tradition and paying your respects to older musicians and all of the styles. There's no substitute for really diving deep into a musical style. At the same time, I'm not a purist about music. I don't think any musical style can ever really be talked about as being pure because musicians from every era have been influence by each other. You can go back to the music of Bach and talk about how the Checon was influenced by African rhythms. You can look at Irish traditional music, which often uses the bouzouki, which is actually an instrument from Greece that was incorporated into Irish traditional music into the latter half of the 20th century. So personally, I don't really ascribe to any politics of purity. And in fact, my passion is really for showing the connections between cultures and encouraging collaboration between different genres, different styles of music. So it's kind of like a balancing act between the two. I don't think authentic folk music or new grass music, I don't think they can really be sort of compared on a scale as being one being more important than the other. A modern sort of string band that I'm partial to partly because they're all my good friends is a band called Hawktail, H-A-W-K-T-A-I-L. They play you might call it new, old time music. They're a string band and they have original songs that are a new take on old time music. And then you can also follow my band, The Human Hands, because that is precisely what we do as well.
David - Great, well, Doris asked a question that is kind of in my sweet spot as well. How would you describe the role of jazz in roots music?
Sam - That's an amazing question. I think that for a long time, there was sort of a popular myth that roots musicians existed in some sort of primitive space where they weren't sullied by the influence of jazz and popular American music. And I think that's completely untrue. Roots musicians tend to be incredibly virtuosic. Many are incredible improvisers, many love jazz, and there's tons of pollination. Like I mentioned, Bill Monroe, the inventor of bluegrass in the 1930's traveled to New Orleans. And he's quoted in interviews as saying that he was inspired by the bluesy rifts of the clarinet in New Orleans Dixieland bands. So if that's not proof, then I don’t know what else is? So roots musicians, definitely inspired by jazz. Jazz musicians also deeply inspired by roots music. Charlie Hayden, the great jazz bassist played bluegrass in his youth and put out records of folk songs. Oh, another example I wanted to give was Woody Guthrie, the Bard of America, he wrote "This land is your land", one of the quintessential folk tunes of America. And when he was listening to it, he was riding on a train back to New York City, listening to Irving Berlin on the radio, aware of popular musical theater, jazz, popular music, and commenting upon it with his own work. So there's been a conversation going on, I think since the beginning of time personally, but certainly in the 20th century with radio and recording, everyone was aware of what was going on around them. And there's no way as a musician that you can't be inspired by what you hear and the people you meet.
David - Well, speaking of broadening influences, David asks, "What makes Klezmer music, Klezmer music?" He said, "It sounds like too close "to blues and American jazz, but it's older."
Sam - I'm going to be honest. I'm actually not a Klezmer expert. I come from a family of musicians and my dad played Klezmer music. And so I've been running away from it my whole life. At some point, I will get back to it and I will dive into it. I think one thing that makes Klezmer music distinct is the minor sound, the scale. Or, this one. And you find that all across Eastern Europe, it's in classical music and it's in musical theater. And so if you want to talk about Jewish American music, there is Klezmer, but there's also the great American song book. I mean, many of the musicals and that formed the basis for jazz improvisation were written by Jewish American composers in New York City in the first half of the 20th century.
David - Well, I think we have time for one more question. And I'm going to ask on behalf of Charles who asks, "What is the influence of Western swing "in both directions towards swing and towards roots music?" And he adds, "Because they play composed pop music "in a different genre."
Sam - Western swing is really interesting example of cross pollination. You have bands in the Southwest that were basically playing big band music, but on string instruments, so appropriating the sound of the urban North in this more country aesthetic. And some of that music is some of their very best music. I mean, Bob Wills or Spade Cooley. It's really, really amazing virtuosic music. If you're ever in Nashville, there's a band that plays regularly called, The Time Jumpers, they're incredible. And Western swing, of course I'm partial to it because it makes heavy use of the accordion.
David - Well, thank you so much, Sam. This has been great, very entertaining and educational tonight. Thanks for joining us. I'd like to thank First Republic for sponsoring this to make this all possible. And thanks all of you, the participants who joined us tonight for joining us for this presentation. So thanks everybody, goodnight.