Friday, December 25, 2009

Ian Anderson: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Merry Christmas. To continue the Christmas theme of the week and the daily them of Fun Fridays, I have decided to eschew the typical novelty records like “Grandma Got Ran over by a Reindeer” for something a little more satisfying. To fulfill this week’s obligation, I found this piece by Ian Anderson and the Rubbing Elbows band. What could be more fun than watching the leader of Jethro Tull on stage performing the Christmas classic “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

Recorded live on December 18, 2006 and aired on Christmas Eve of the same year, Ian Anderson is joined on stage with the Rheinland-Pfalz Youth Orchestra, his Rubbing Elbows Band, and Lucia Micarelli on violin. Recorded at the Maria Laach Monastery, the program was titled "Weihnachten mit dem Bundespr√§sidenten." Sprechen Sie Deutsches? Nein – then I better translate this: “Christmas with the President.”

This is a great instrumental version of the familiar song in Em that was first published in 1760. That particular broadsheet referred to it as “a new Christmas carol.” It was so ingrained in the minds of the English by the mid 19th century that Dickens makes mention of it in his “A Christmas Carol.”

I love Ian Anderson’s flute playing and I always wondered about his technique. He uncovers the secret in the accompanying video he is humming the same notes while playing – not unlike other musicians who do the same thing. Anderson mentions that Rahsaan Roland Kirk did something similar with his flute work. Other musicians I am familiar with that do this include Keith Jarrett & Mose Allison while playing the piano, Eberhard Weber on bass, and when Toots Thielemans plays guitar, he whistles the same melody.

I am not much of a flute player, but tried out Ian’s technique yesterday with not much success. I started playing around with the flute back in 1975 when a young lady from Chester, WV named Patty Williams gave me a few pointers and I found that I was able to play some scales on the thing. That little bit of encouragement went a long way. Between 1975 and 1978, I would occasionally borrow a flute; however, I never had one long enough to satisfy my needs at the time.

Anderson Discussing the Flute as a Rock Instrument

Eventually, I purchased my own flute during late 1978. I found it at the Fret and Fiddle when they were located in Huntington, WV's West End. Joe Dobbs had this Buescher Aristocrat made circa 1968 that he had taken in on trade; however, it was bent as if someone sat on it. Joe convinced me that it could be fixed and I paid him the $35 that he was asking. It really needed straightened as the lower notes of C through Eb did not note true. Mack & Daves in Huntington did this kind of repair and the $60 investment was worth it as it has played fine since.

I still don’t play it enough to be that good on it, but I did get to use it on Dr. Charles Polk’s 1995 CD release, “Just a Little Prayer.” I used it on one of the tunes and simultaneously recorded it with both dry and delay tracks much like Tim Weisberg did on his recordings and this turned out well.

I may have also used the flute one of my own demos that I cut at Doug Gent’s Media Productions in Oak Hill, WV in the late 1980s. There was a tune that I used a technique similar to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." I called it a “wash of sound” and it was repeated sparingly throughout the song at the end of the verses.

The "wash of sound" included an autoharp retuned to a major 7th chord, several keyboards tracks, and cymbals played with mallets. I am pretty sure that I also used a flute on this too playing some sort of trill. The “wash of sound” was mixed down to two tracks and was to have the timbre like quality of a unique instrument. I was very pleased with the outcome; however, I have misplaced my only copy of this demo.

I don’t think I have ever played flute live – although I had played recorder at least three times in 1973 & 1974 when I accompanied my brother Chuck on the song “No More My Lord.” Maybe someday I’ll get up the nerve to play it in a live setting – but don’t hold your breath. I would much rather sit back and listen to an expert like Ian Anderson do justice to Theobald Boehm’s creation.

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