This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He’s been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter’s bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Trios come in all shapes, sizes and genres. Well, not sizes, I guess; there are always only three of them.
Anyway, pressing on, in the classical field there are many pieces for trios of various types – piano trios, string trios, woodwind trios and many others. Haydn, Mozart and Schubert especially liked the form but pretty much every composer did something, particularly the piano trio.
That makes my job harder rather than easier as there’s so much to consider.
I’ll start with my main man JOSEPH HAYDN.
His contribution today is a baryton trio. Jo must have really liked the baryton as he wrote hundreds of compositions for the instrument. Actually, it was because his patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, really liked to play the thing and old Nik was loaded and liked to indulge himself.
If you’re wondering, this is a baryton. Indeed, it’s old Nik’s actual instrument somewhat restored (so we’re in George Washington’s axe territory here).
I’ve chosen the second movement of the Baryton Trio No. 12 in A.
I haven’t played anything from CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS before, so here he is for the first time.
Camille’s best known works usually involve the organ in some way or another but not today.
He was born in Paris and his father died not long after Camille was born. His aunt moved in to help his mother and she gave the young lad piano lessons. He was playing on a small instrument by the time he was three years old and gave his first public performance when he was five. Lordy.
But wait, there’s more. At age 10, he could play any or all of the Beethoven piano sonatas from memory. Yikes. He later had formal training at Conservatoire de Paris and went on to do – well, lots of stuff.
This is the first movement from his Piano Trio No. 1 in F major, Op. 18.
Anyone who knows me could predict that WOLFGANG MOZART was going to be present.
Wolfie’s contribution is called the Kegelstatt Trio. According to Dr Google this refers to a bowling alley. Wolfie wrote a number of duos and other works while he was playing skittles and although the trio was written only days after those, there’s no evidence that it was also composed in the bowling alley.
Thoughts of music never really left his mind even when indulging in frivolous pastimes. Perhaps even more so at such times. However, it was his publisher who gave it the name; Wolfie called it a Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano. This is the second movement and it’s K498.
In rock & roll, there are two towering trios: the really loud Cream and the even louder Jimi Hendrix Experience. While we’re talking loud trios, there’s also Nirvana and Blue Cheer. None of those will be played today you’ll be happy to know.
There’s also STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE and while they were pretty loud themselves, on the basis of their records they were more melodic and varied in their music. Double Trouble are Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon.
Stevie Ray played in various groups, mostly around Austin, Texas, for much of the seventies. When the group played in Montreux in 1982, they were noticed by David Bowie who asked him to play on his next album.
Also there was Jackson Browne who let them record in his studio for free. Their first album was a success and they were about the biggest thing in blues for a few years. Unfortunately, Stevie Ray was killed in a helicopter accident after one of their gigs.
The track I’ve selected, Stang’s Swang, has definite jazz elements to it.
A case could be made for The BEE GEES. After all, it was as a trio that they began in Australia. By the time they had their first big hits in this country, they’d added a lead guitarist and a drummer. It was with this lineup that they went to England in the sixties.
A bit later the British authorities decided one of the new members had overstayed his visa and had to go. Not too long after that, they were back to a trio and then Robin spat the dummy and left the group and they were down to a duo.
They reconciled and for the rest of the seventies and eighties, they were officially a trio (but always had a bunch of musicians backing them. Alas, these days, they are a mono.
Barry and Robin Gibb wrote the song, To Love Somebody for Otis Redding. The recording session was arranged. As we know, Otis didn’t live to sing it. Hearing the Bee Gees’ version, I can imagine what a great job Otis would have done.
There aren’t too many famous jazz trios. There are usually more members in jazz groups, however, there are a couple I want to feature and regular readers will know immediately the first of these. Yes, the NAT KING COLE TRIO. Nat’s never far from one of my columns.
They started out as a quartet but when the drummer left, they didn’t replace him. It’s an interesting combination of piano, guitar and bass and what great music they created. This is an amusing track called, Don’t Shove, I’m Leaving. The words sound as if they came from a blues song.
KEITH JARRETT is mostly thought of as a solo performer. He’s equally proficient playing jazz or classical music. He’s renowned as a great improviser, but tends to polarize opinions. However, he also gets together with GARY PEACOCK and JACK DEJOHNETTE.
The trio is mostly known for their interpretations of standards and they are really good at that as you will hear with It Never Entered My Mind.
Johnny Cash started his recording career as JOHNNY CASH AND THE TENNESSEE TWO. The other members of the trio were Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant.
The group began as the Tennessee Four but one of the members got nervous when they went in to record their first song and they became the Tennessee Three.
Sam Phillips at Sun Records, for that is where they were recording, suggested the new moniker with Johnny’s name prominent. Sam was always a great spotter of talent. Here they are with Guess Things Happen That Way.
Folk music is loaded with trios. There were The Cumberland Three, The Journeymen, New Lost City Ramblers, The Chad Mitchell Trio and many others. Most notably there was PETER PAUL AND MARY.
They were often denigrated by the folkier than thou types, but they were fine musicians and introduced to the world the songs of then unknown songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver and others.
Here they sing Gordie’s Early Mornin’ Rain. I notice they changed the words slightly from his version but I can live with that as long as they don’t make a habit of doing it.
With all due respect to The Weavers, and Pete Seeger in particular, I think this next song did more than anything else to usher in the folk boom of the early sixties. You’ll know what I’m talking about when I mention THE KINGSTON TRIO.
The Kingstons were Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds. Dave and Bob met at school in Hawaii and went off to California to Stanford where they met Nick.
The three worked together with a bunch of others in a rather free-floating arrangement. The others tended to drift away after a while leaving the core group.
Their big break came when Phyllis Diller canceled a scheduled show in San Francisco and they were tapped on the shoulder to fill in. That led to other gigs and eventually a recording deal.
The album they made sold moderately until a deejay started playing one of the tracks extensively on his show. That song went ballistic and it’s the one we have today, Tom Dooley.