Years ago, I stumbled upon a paperback copy of Living With Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings. After the first chapter, I was hooked. Ellison had unlocked a truth about music that I had been seeking. He wrote about how blues and jazz contained “equipment for living” that are “able to evoke a shared community experience.” I covered my copy with the heaviest paper I could find. I wrote my name and phone number in the interior- just in case. I had a felling that its words would send me on a journey, and wherever I was going, it was coming with me.
I still have my copy and will bring it on Thursday evening when BAC Folk Arts presents “Blues, Ballads, and Banana Boat Songs” at the Jalopy Theater (315 Columbia Street) at 6:30pm, as part of The Sweetest Song Festival.As the title suggests, this will be an evening of stories, poetry, and music. This mixture of song, curated by former Folk Arts Director Kay Turner, is a brilliant one. At the root of all these forms–Jamaican Mento, Old World Folk Ballads, American Blues–we have the ballad. Ellison explains ballads, in blues music, as “the confrontation of the comic, tragic, and heroic.” Whether the rhythm or sound comes from Jamaica, England, or the American South, the songs on display on Thursday come from a similar place– songs that play with the world and all that it serves up. They are songs, as Ellison states, “that mock the despair stated explicitly in the lyric, and expand the great human joke, that joke which is the secret of all folklore and myth: that though we may be dismembered daily, we shall always rise up again.”
Please join us!