It is always a challenge to decide how Rifftides should celebrate the anniversary of the independence of The United States Of America. In 2017, we are observing it with pieces by artists whose careers began on the west coast of the US before their names and their music became familiar around the world. Both works are short traditional songs that express feelings of profound importance to millions of Americans.
The first piece, “America The Beautiful,” is from Clare Fischer’s 1967 album Songs For Rainy Day Lovers. Published in 1910, the song had a lyric by Katharine Lee Bates. Fischer’s elegant writing combines strings and his piano in a classic version of a song that has become, for many jazz musicians, a standard part of the repertoire.
Using the music from the abolitionist song “John Brown’s Body,” in 1861 Julia Ward Howe wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which became strongly identified with the Union cause in the American Civil War. Cal Tjader’s 1956 recording captures the spirit of the piece. I’ve always been impressed by his vibes work here, and intrigued by the combination of sensitivity, strength and harmonic wisdom in Gerald Wiggins’s short piano solo. The YouTube audio may not be pristine and you may need to tweak it, but the video has the advantage of showing the original Fantasy red vinyl LP. Eugene Wright is the bassist, Bill Douglass the drummer.