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Musical Space: Musical Spaces

Music becomes distinctive when it reflects its own geographic space. This could be a neighborhood, a bar, a church, or even a sports arena; things click when a group of musicians feel a connection to a particular place.

Dixieland jazz is associated with the French Quarter in New Orleans, Bluegrass with the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The Blues is connected to Beale Street in Memphis and Maxwell Street in Chicago. In the 60’s, the hippies had the Fillmore in San Francisco; The Grateful Dead played there more than 50 times.

New York City has had loads of musical spaces. The Village Vanguard on Seventh Avenue has been the nexus of jazz from the bebop era through today. The incubator of Soul is the Apollo theater; Punk Rock’s was a bar called CBGB. Hip hop came from the South Bronx. And Broadway shows come from, well, Broadway.

I don’t think any of these styles would have happened if they weren’t geographically concentrated. These weren’t just gigs, musicians wrote their music specifically for these venues; that’s how styles are invented and perfected.

Audiences are receptive to this, too, because they know when they go to Preservation Hall in New Orleans, The Troubadour in Hollywood, or Red Rocks in Denver, they’ll be hearing something that no one else in the world will experience. The music was made specifically for them. And this all runs counter to the idea that music can be franchised, homogenized and suburbanized, like a chain restaurant. Musical meaning comes from musical space.

Listening list:

Grand Ole Opry:

Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys, “New Mule Skinner Blues,” Live at the Opry, 1991.


The Village Vanguard:

Bill Evans Trio, “Solar,” At the Village Vanguard


The Apollo:

James Brown, “Cold Sweat,” James Brown Live at the Apollo Volume 2. “Sometimes cited as the first true funk song”


“Other performers whose careers started at the Apollo include Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross & The Supremes, Parliament-Funkadelic, Wilson Pickett, The Miracles, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stephanie Mills, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Short, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughan.”


Ramones, “Beat on the Brat,” Live at the Roxy (1976), (I couldn’t find any live recordings from CBGB) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjJvF-7cILw

The Ramones’ first gig was at CBGB


Cheap Trick, “I Want You To Want Me,” At Budokan, 1979.


Partial list of all the albums recorded live at Budokan:

Deep Purple
Cheap Trick
Eric Clapton
Bob Dylan
- and those are just from the seventies

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.