This is what happens when your eight-year-old son asks if he can use the camera on the drive home. I should have known from the giggles that he was up to something…
In doing a bit of research in the Deagan Century of Progress marimba, I came across this fantastic photo, which I imagine came from a brochure in 1933 or 1934.
This is the 4.5 octave model (C to F) – Deagan made 25 of these for Musser’s 1933 Century of Progress marimba orchestra.
I love everything about this ad. The well-dressed couple ascends the red stair case, where they are greeted by a dashing young man in tails. I wonder what he’s gong to serenade them with – a little ragtime? A transcription of something from the classical period?
Sadly, my own Century of Progress marimba isn’t nearly so shiny these days. The brass resonators are tarnished and dull, and the green crosspiece has yellowed with age. Of course, I’m not dashing or young, and I don’t wear a tux when I play it, so I guess we’re even.
One of the summer’s highlights was the Joni Mitchell tribute concert at Massey Hall. While I’m not exactly a Joni fan, I certainly respect the profound impact she’s had on a couple of generations of great musicians. It was definitely exciting to see her live and to witness the reaction of the 2,700 people who had come with the hope that she’d sing a song or two.
The line-up was pretty fantastic – Glen Hansard, Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Kathleen Edwards, Rufus, Cold Specks, and a kick-ass band. For me, though, the stand-out artist of the night was Brian Blade.
I’ve heard Brian on recordings, but this was my first opportunity to see him live. It was a revelation – he struck me less as a drummer and more as a musician who chooses to express himself on the drums, if that makes any sense. His playing is grounded, sensitive, and authoritative. It also looks like he takes great joy in playing, which seems to be infectious.
I’ve picked up a couple of recordings since then, and I hope to do some more listening to his earlier stuff over the rest of the summer. I really love this video of him and the Fellowship Band performing Stoner Hill earlier this year at the Chicago Music Exchange. Terrific song, and I can’t think of a player who has better sounding cymbals.
Back in 1933, the famous (at least in percussion circles) Clair Omar Musser created a unique orchestra for the Chicago World’s Fair (aka Century of Progress International Exposition). Musser was an accomplished mallet player, conductor, and educator, and he joined the J.C. Deagan company in 1930 as the manager of its mallet instrument division.
The Century of Progress Marimba Orchestra Musser put together in ’33 consisted of 100 Deagan marimbas that were specially designed for the occasion. The group consisted of 75 3.5 octave models, and 25 of the 4.5 octave versions. Each member of the orchestra purchased his or her own instrument, which came with a plaque bearing the owner’s name and a serial number.
I was browsing on a popular online auction site not too long ago, and was surprised to see one of these rare instruments was for sale. While I don’t play a lot these days, I was intrigued by the idea that I could own a small piece of percussion history. The price was pretty reasonable, and while I’m not normally an impulsive person, I found myself clicking on the “Buy It Now” button.
As luck would have it, the owner was living in Toronto, and he offered to drop it off at my home the next day. He had purchased it from the family of the original owner a few years back after seeing an ad for it on Craigslist (yes, there are hidden gems on Craigslist).
The instrument I now own is serial number 78, and it originally belonged to Harold August Maves. It’s one of the 3.5 octave models, and it’s in pretty good shape for an 80 year-old instrument. The brass resonators are pretty tarnished, but I love the Art Deco design. The bars were re-tuned a couple of years ago by the legendary Gilberto at Century Mallet Instrument Service in Chicago. It sounds fantastic – I had heard stories about how good the old rosewood bars are, and the lower end does seem to have a fuller sound than my Marimba One instrument.
Being a percussionist means you never have to stop collecting. There’s always something out there that catches your eye – a new cymbal, rope-tensioned snare drum, triangle beaters, Tibetan prayer stones, or a vintage marimba. Don’t tell B, but I’m secretly hoping to come across a vintage Deagan xylophone to add to the line-up.
I know Steve Weiss has an interest in the Century of Progress marimbas and is keeping a list of known instruments and original owners. You can visit his page here for more details.
One of the best parts of my jobs is meeting incredibly talented people. Whether they are musicians, actors, dancers, writers, visual artists or chefs, I regularly get to meet artists who have vast amounts of talent – in many cases, they can do things that I can only dream of doing.
I recently wrapped up Northern Scene, the largest gathering of artists from Canada’s North ever held outside the region (which partly explains the three-month gap between posts). Although the combined population of all three territories is only around 130,000, the number and diversity of artists who call the North home is staggering.
One of my favourite performers was Jay Gilday. Originally from Yellowknife, Jay is currently living in Edmonton and is a fantastic singer-songwriter. Before hearing him play at the festival, I had only seen him on a YouTube video, but that one clip was enough to convince me and my colleagues that he should definitely be invited.
Great guitar chops, and a distinctive, effortless voice – what more could you ask for?
Jay was recently involved in a cool CBC project. Lights previewed some songs from her new acoustic album with an intimate concert at the igloo church in Inuvik, and Jay opened for her and sang with her on “Cactus in the Valley”. CBC posted a clip from the rehearsal, and I really wish I’d been able to see this live.
Jay definitely falls into the category of “talent deserving of wider recognition”, and I hope good things are in store for him in the future.