1955 in Music

My reviews for the music of 1955.

1. Glenn Gould: The Goldberg Variations (10/10)

Though perhaps not yet in the grips of the “period performances on period instruments” craze that is attempting to kill music, the “classical” music establishment of the mid 20th century was still a very conservative place, where there were certain ways of playing. Gould didn’t agree. Here is someone with enough balls to say “I am going to play Bach the way I want to play Bach – and on a modern instrument, no less! – and not how tradition dictates” and the talent to pull it off. The negative reactions to Gould and this album are everything that is wrong with the tradition of attempting to play “classical” music as the composer intended. Gould’s interpretation is everything that is great about a talented musician making something his own. Not just a great performance of an incredibly difficult piece, but a landmark musical statement for the 20th century: take tradition and put it on its ear.

2. Lee Konitz: Subconcious-Lee (10/10)

Because it was released half a decade after it was recorded, this album’s revolutionary status gets overlooked or ignored. Instead it’s Birth of the Cool this and Miles Davis’ Nonet that. And that praise is deserved. Those sides went a long way to establishing cool jazz.

But this band was doing remarkably similar things at the same time. The one major difference is speed – Konitz and the other soloists play fast on a number of tracks, and that makes it sound more like bop – though if you listen to the rhythm section they sound significantly “cooler” – and so you could argue that Birth of the Cool is truer to the genre it created.

But there is still a lot of really laid-back, dreamy, “cool” playing here that sounds like someone stepping from bop into the newly emerging genre. And, though it may not be quite as revolutionary as Birth of the Cool, it nearly is and, perhaps more importantly, I’d argue it’s dated better.

3. Erroll Garner: Concert by the Sea (9/10)

This is a pretty fantastic set by Garner, a player I had never heard before.

His playing is pretty incredible – his command is fantastic and he has a clear sense of fun. Though he recording is pretty brutal – you can barely hear the bassist or drummer – but it doesn’t matter since Garner is such a busy player (and I don’t mean ‘busy’ in a pejorative sense). Frankly, I don’t know why he needed a trio setting. He sounds like he would be good enough on his own.

The one thing keeping me from giving this full marks is that Garner was definitely a pre-Monk pianist and here he was playing this style in a post-Monk world. My ideal jazz musician is someone who grows with the revolutions – not someone who mostly ignores them – and so I feel like this a bit conservative for 1955.

But it’s still great stuff.

4. The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson Volume 2 (9/10)

This is another excellent set of straight forward bop from the era, featuring perhaps the greatest jazz trombonist of all time, and an excellent supporting cast.

The history of this recording is somewhat confusing – released first as a 10″, then a year later as an expanded 12″, then this disc which combines the two releases. Regardless, it’s an essential companion to the earlier releases of this band and, with that record, probably sets the standard for trombone playing in bop.

5. Hans Werner Henze: Symphony No. 4 (8/10)

Henze’s fourth symphony is a little more restrained than the third. It’s still the kind of stuff I love, but after hearing the third, it’s just not as impressive. It sounds pretty similar, albeit less daring. It’s still great stuff, just not as out there. I hear a definite attempt to reconcile serialist/modernist ideas with tradition.

6. Aaron Copland: “Canticle of Freedom” (8/10)

Hopefully I will review this later.

7. Andres Segovia: Bach: Fugue & Gavotte; Villa-Lobos: Preludes; Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Tonadilla & Tarantella; Granados: Danza triste (8/10)

A major recording in guitar. I probably should rate it higher. I’ll listen to it again some time.

8. Glenn Gould: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 1 (8/10)

I like this quartet a lot, but it’s not like it’s a really a major composition compared to some other contemporaneous quartets. It’s almost like it’s appeal is in the ‘what might have been’ had Gould composed more or concentrated more on composing than interpretation. And that’s silly, because Gould’s gift was his interpretive ability. But I like this regardless of the overly intellectual questions it provokes in me.

9. Bernard Herrmann: The Trouble with Harry (7/10)

I haven’t seen this movie in probably close to twenty years and, well, maybe I was too young for it – though I saw it at the height of my Hitchcock mania. It didn’t grab me as a classic, the way it has so many others.

But even this many years later I have a bit of a similar issue with the score. I know the score is good, at least it’s certainly very much above average, but it doesn’t really grab me in the way so many other of Herrmann’s scores do. In part I think that’s due to its brevity. This feels much more just like a list of cues – with a theme, here and there – than it does a work. Even some of his weaker scores, such as The Three Worlds of Gulliver feel more coherent than this.

That being said, the music here is still interesting, and does manage, at times to convey the combination of dark humour and suspense that Hitch ostensibly achieved in this film. (Like I said, it’s been like 20 years.)

And so I find myself sort of liking more than some of Herrmann’s other less notable efforts, if only for neat little tricks, like “Finale,” which feels nothing like a finale.

10. Bernard Herrmann: Prince of Players suite (6/10)

The Prince of Players suite is a very classic Hollywood score. It’s exactly what you would think of and so it’s pretty underwhelming. I guess it’s well done, but hardly stands out from the scores (yuk yuk yuk) of other film music of the era.

11. Bill Haley and His Comets: Rock Around the Clock (6/10)

A compilation and not a new one. Read the review of Rock Around the Clock.

Not Ranked:

Mingus at the Bohemia (9/10)

Note: Not released until 1956.

The first release from the show is better. Read the review of Mingus at the Bohemia.

The Charles Mingus Quartet + Max Roach (7/10)

Note: Not released until 1963.

Not actually very much Max Roach. Read the review of The Charles Mingus Quartet + Max Roach.


1. Chuck Berry: “Maybellene” (10/10)

One of the key foundational recordings of rock and roll. Absolutely essential listening to anyone who wants to know where rock came from.

1. Little Richard: “Tutti Frutti” (10/10)

Ditto: the same that can be said about “Maybellene” can be said about “Tutti Frutti.” They’re like two sides of the same coin: “Maybellene” invents the role for rock guitarists, “Tutti Frutti” for singers.

2. Ray Charles: “A Fool for You” (10/10)

A slow blues number with a droning horn section and darting piano, this feels like the beginning of something and it was. Not sure how much other blues music sounded like this, with such an emphasis on the singing.

3. Muddy Waters: “Trouble No More” (10/10)

4. Bo Diddley: “Bo Diddley” / “I’m a Man” (10/10)

The blues reinvented into something not quite the blues any more.

5. Bo Diddley: “Pretty Thing” (9/10) / “Bring it to Jerome” (10/10)

6. B.B. King: “Ten Long Years” (9/10)

This is a powerful slow blues, one of his most effective, showing off his vocal skills and his guitar skills at the same time, which feels rare for his 50s singles, which usually focused on one to the detriment of the other.

7. Muddy Waters: “Manish Boy” (9/10)

8. Bo Diddley: “Bo Diddley: (9/10)

I am not the biggest Diddley fan; I find much of his music a lot simpler than his contemporaries and a lot less interesting, but there’s no denying the importance of this track.

9. Bo Diddley: “I’m Lookin’ for a Woman” (9/10)

10. Chuck Berry: “Thirty Days” (9/10)

A little less essential then “Maybellene,” but nonetheless an important record for rock and roll.

11. Chuck Berry: “You Can’t Catch Me” (9/10)

Probably my least favourite of Berry’s essential ’55 sides.

12. B.B. King: “Did You Ever Love a Woman” (9/10)

is a slower blues, with BB singing in a slightly more traditional style than he often does. But it works quite well and I almost prefer this to some of his more “modern” (or commercial) variations on the style.

13. Muddy Waters: “Young Fashioned Ways” (8/10)

14. B.B. King: “Crying Won’t Help  You” (8/10)

This is a solid uptempo blues featuring plenty of fills and some vocal acrobatics.

15. Bo Diddley: “You Don’t Love Me (You Don’t Care)” (8/10)

16. Muddy Waters: “Sugar Sweet” (8/10)

17. B.B. King: “Dark is the Night Part 1” (8/10)

is a really uptempo blues that combines a pretty prominent horn section (more than prominent than most of his blues tracks) with prominent playing from BB. It feels like they’ve finally figured out to market him, always promoting the playing now.

18. Bo Diddley: “Diddley Daddy” (7/10)

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