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UI Percussion Ensemble receives grant to create a their own version of a '50s best-seller

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa's highly acclaimed Percussion Ensemble has gotten its hands on all the auto horns, xylophones, tubaphones, camel bells and hunks of metal it needs in order to drum back into existence a dynamic portion of American music history.

With the help of a grant from the Central Investment Fund for Research Enhancement (CIFRE) to the UI School of Music, the Percussion Ensemble and its director, Dan Moore, will produce for CD its own version of several popular recordings produced by the legendary Dick Schory, including the best-selling "Music for Bang, Barroom, and Harp," originally recorded in 1958 by Schory and his Percussion Pops Orchestra.

The new recording, which will be titled "Jungle Fever: Dan Moore Plays the Music of Dick Schory," will be the culmination of three years of work by Moore, an assistant professor and head of percussion at the UI School of Music. It will feature "Jungle Fever," the first new percussion score written by Schory in more than 20 years. Exclusive first recording rights are held by Moore.

Apart from the participation of the UI Percussion Ensemble, the project has several Iowa connections. The CD will be recorded by the UI Recording Studios and recording engineer

Lowell Cross, UI professor of music and director of the studios. Thomas L. Davis, Moore's predecessor who was head of percussion at the UI School of Music for nearly 40 years, was a member of the Percussion Pops Orchestra. Schory himself was from Ames.

The project includes the refurbishing of instruments and recording equipment as well as a rigorous schedule of rehearsals, arrangement work and, finally, three days of recording for the 16-member percussion orchestra.

One goal of this ambitious project is to establish popular percussive music as a part of the standard repertoire for percussion through wide distribution of the recording and printed arrangements. The recording also is expected to be of interest to audio-recording students and professionals.

Though out of print now for many years, "Bang, Barroom" and the 12 other Percussion Pops recordings produced by Schory figure significantly in the history of American music and the national cultural landscape. "Bang, Barroom" was one of the first albums of any kind to be recorded for stereo sound in the 1950s. Stereo was able to provide a spatial awareness of sound that could not be heard in the monaural recordings of the day, and the music of Schory's recordings was intended to emphasize the dynamic space and time possibilities of a percussion orchestra. "Bang, Barroom" became a best-seller in the '50s, largely because audio show rooms used it for demonstrations of the first stereo equipment. In 1959 it spent 26 weeks on the Billboard Top 40 charts.

It was also one of the best recorded albums of all time, according to Audiophile Magazine, which put the record in its top 10 list of best-engineered recordings ever.

All of the Schory recordings were produced using the best resources of the industry. The music was played by Schory's touring ensemble and recorded in Chicago's Orchestra Hall using state-of-the-art technology, circa 1958. It was done so well, Moore says, "you can almost see the xylophone on the left side of the room, bongos on the right."

"This album set the trend for 10 years in the record industry," Moore says. "After it was recorded it was in vogue to have the word percussion on your album cover, and alliterations were rampant. There were 'Persuasive Percussion,' 'Provocative Percussion,' 'Perfect Percussion' and 'Percussion--Playful and Pretty,' just to name a few.

"Everybody in the industry copied "Bang, Barroom" in one way or another, from the playful album covers to the instruments used. Before Schory, percussion in America was relegated mainly to the realm of new music, done for art audiences by composers like John Cage and Harry Partch. Schory brought percussion -- as well as himself -- into the world of pop music."

Schory was a major figure in popular music in the 1950s and '60s. His Percussion Pops Orchestra played to sold-out audiences from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. The group toured -- and sold out -- for 15 years. Schory is known for playful experimentation in percussion, using drums, xylophones, specialty sounds, just about anything that could be struck to make sound. With his orchestra, he recorded albums such as 'Music to Break any Mood,' 'Runnin' Wild' and 'Positively Percussive'."

Schory's aesthetic has been widely reprised in recent years in the revival of lounge music. According to Moore, Martin Denny, Esquivel and others whose works recently have been re-released on CD all owe a debt to Schory's innovations.

Schory is a drummer, conductor and arranger as well as record producer. He was a percussion band leader and later worked in Hollywood producing movie soundtracks. Schory's varied career includes a stint with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Members of Schory's Percussion Pops Orchestra have included many well-known jazz musicians over the years including Joe Morello, who was Dave Brubeck's drummer, Gary Burton on Vibes, and Paul Horn, who appeared with the orchestra.

The UI Percussion Ensemble and recording engineer Lowell Cross are placing particular emphasis on the recording methods used for "Jungle Fever." Moore plans to use the same instruments and equipment Schory employed for the original, in addition to more recent technology where appropriate.

"We are recording them the same way, using the same equipment," Moore explains. The department has acquired and refurbished equipment including old Telefunken microphones, tube amplifiers and tube microphones, all of which "add a certain warmth to the sound," Moore says.

The recording will use some of the same instruments Schory's band played. The recording also will feature specialty sound effects -- loaned to the UI percussion department by Schory -- sounds that Moore says "don't even exist anymore" outside of Schory's personal collection.

Similarly, the antique microphones and other refurbished equipment are too expensive and delicate to be used in most recordings. They have been restored specially for "Jungle Fever."

While the performance will be done with a variety of new and antique instruments and equipment, the "back end" of production, Moore says, will be all digital technology processed through a modern sound board and recorded to digital tape. "At that point in the process, we're using the best technologies of the last 40 years," Moore explained.

The recording will be made over a three-day period following an intensive schedule of rehearsals to train the musicians in the original Percussion Pops Orchestra style. Instruments will include the previously mentioned auto horns, camel bells and various pieces of metal, as well as modern synthesizers. And of course, marimbas, cymbals, wind chimes, bells and every variety of drums -- including brake drums.

A nationally known percussionist, composer and teacher, Moore has experience from concert to marching percussion, and from jazz to classical styles. Performing all aspects of percussion, including keyboard percussion, drum set, ethnic and multi-percussion, he is considered a "total percussionist."

For the past 12 years Moore has toured as a member of the Britain/Moore Duo, whose CD "Cricket City" has been described by Pan-lime Magazine as "a brilliant collage of pan-marimba pieces." As a member of the duo, Moore has developed a unique new style of marimba performance, using a MIDI set-up that allows him to create layers of electronically triggered and natural acoustic sounds in a vivid array of sonic textures. Moore demonstrated this innovative technique at the 1996 international convention of the Percussive Arts Society.

Moore joined the UI music faculty in 1995. Only the second full-time professor of percussion at the UI, he succeeded Thomas L. Davis, who taught percussion at the UI for more than 35 years. He is a performing artist for the Yamaha Corporation of America and Innovative Percussion and a contributing writer for Jazz Player and Sticks and Mallets magazines and has written for Percussive Notes.

Lowell Cross received his undergraduate education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock majoring in mathematics, English and music. As a graduate student at the University of Toronto, he studied electronic music, musicology, and media and society. He composed and recorded his own electronic music, and his "Three Etudes for Magnetic Tape" were performed at the 1966 World Music Days Festival in Stockholm, Sweden.

Later he created his Video Series, a group of electronic works for magnetic tape, live performance, and television systems, which were exhibited at Expo '67 in Montreal. He also designed and constructed an electronic chessboard for "Reunion," a performance piece by composer John Cage, Cross and others in which sounds were controlled by the moves of the chess pieces in a game played by Cage and Marcel Duchamp.

After he went to Mills College in Oakland, Calif., as artistic director of the Tape Music Center, Cross teamed up with U.C.-Berkeley sculptor and physicist Carson Jeffries on a creation that would change the manner in which audiences could "see" music: the laser light show. Cross and Jeffries mounted the first multi-color laser light show and electronic music performance when they produced VIDEO/LASER I on May 9, 1969.

Cross came to the UI in 1971 as assistant professor of music and director of the UI Recording Studios and VIDEO/LASER project. His laser work at the UI included the creation of a light show to accompany a 1975 performance of Scriabin's "Prometheus: Poem of Fire" in Hancher Auditorium. So many people showed up that the piece had to be played twice the same night to accommodate them all. Cross repeated his light show in 1983 in Carnegie Hall with the Baltimore Symphony.

In 1987, when digital technology virtually took over the recording industry, Cross immediately began upgrading the equipment in the facility. Today the Recording Studios represent the state of the digital recording art and are responsible for recording performances by UI students and faculty. Their archives include performances from the dedication of Hancher Auditorium and Clapp Recital Hall down to the present day.

In addition, more than 50 commercial compact discs have been recorded, edited, produced, or mastered under Cross's care. A partial list includes the Mirecourt Trio playing Brahms, John Jensen's renditions of Charles Ives's piano sonatas, sacred music by the Tibetan monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery, Franz Liszt piano pieces played by Marc-Andre Hamelin, the UI's Kantorei singing Mozart's Requiem with the Leningrad Philharmonic, Ursula Oppens playing piano music by Beethoven, and CD re-issues of historic recordings from the 1920s to the 1960s.

The UI Percussion Ensemble provides students with performance experience in wide-ranging contemporary styles, many different cultural traditions, and the historical roots of percussion. The group features ancient rudimental drumming, ragtime, jazz, and 20th century idioms, performing music from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and other parts of the world.

The grant from CIFRE will cover the cost of recording and distributing a preliminary issue of CDs.

3/18/98