Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Musical Instrument Museum, Part 3

The next exhibit hall features memorabilia from famous artists. For example, the vest shown in the picture to the right was worn by Ritchie Valens on American Bandstand in 1958. Of course the previous sentence will separate us by age — the early baby boomers will remember both the performer and the TV show — those younger will be saying "who" and "what".

Ritchie Valens was a rock and roll pioneer and a forefather of the Chicano rock movement. Unfortunately, his recording career only lasted eight months due to his untimely death in a plane crash that also took the life of Buddy Holly and "The Big Bopper" (J.P. Richardson). In a related bit of trivia, that crash was referred to as "the day the music died" in the lyrics to Don McLean's famous song "American Pie".

Valens hit the charts with his song, "Donna" — but it was the flip side for which he is most remembered. That song? "La Bamba". If it still does not ring a bell, click here.

An apology — a number of these photos show reflections due to the Plexiglas cases which contain the memorabilia. They were impossible for me to avoid. Sorry.

For John Lennon, 1970 was a momentous year. The Beatles officially disbanded that year, and Lennon, newly married to his second wife, the artist Yoko Ono, was emerging as an international spokesperson for peace.

On December 15, 1970, Lennon purchased a Steinway Model Z upright piano and had it delivered to his home outside of London. The piano became integral to the creation of Lennon's solo music and is best remembered today as the instrument on which he composed his visionary plea for world peace, "Imagine". Based on a poem by Yoko Ono, the song gained added poignancy following Lennon's untimely murder in 1980, and remains one of the artist's most beloved tracks. Since 2006, the piano has toured the world in the name of peace.

If you want a reminder, click here.

In the 1960s, Eric Clapton defined the sound and style of amped-up rock-guitar virtuosity through his legendary work with the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Cream.

As the 1970s dawned, Clapton went solo and pushed his music in a new direction — one that brought to the fore his vocal and song-writing gifts as much as his six-string prowess.

The instrument he chose to help usher in this new phase of his career was this Fender Stratocaster, which he purchased in London in 1967, bestowing on it the nickname "Brownie". This is the guitar heard on early Clapton solo classics such as "Layta" and "Bell Bottom Blues". Clapton has played Stratocasters ever since, but his first Strat, "Brownie", holds a special place in the hearts of Clapton fans.

In case you are not familiar with Clapton, click here.

Millions of spectators worldwide were thrilled by the beauty and grandeur of the drumming presentation that opened the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Moving in graceful, balletic unison, 2,008 percussionists pounded out earth-shaking rhythms on giant drums outfitted with LEDs that flashed with each explosive beat. Beijing National Stadium resounded as the drummers chanted a line from Confuscius welcoming "friends from far away".

This ceremonial drum is one of the 2,008 from that historic event. It bears the number 18, considered lucky in Chinese culture. The instrument's rectangular shape — unusual for a drum — and elaborate ornamentation recall the ancient Chinese fou, a type of drum fashioned from a wine vessel. But the LEDs clearly make this a 21st-century instrument, and one that played a dramatic role in history.

If you are one of the few who have not seen this part of the opening ceremonies, click here.

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro (from Hawai`i) shatters all expectations of the range of this four-stringed instrument.

Through innovative compositions and revolutionary playing techniques, Shimabukuro has proven that the ukulele is surprisingly adept at accompanying any style, whether rock, jazz, classical or Latin. From tranquil ballads to imaginative and playful renditions of popular songs, his incredibly nimble fingerwork makes even the most difficult passages appear effortless.

Here is a sample performance by Jake.

Drawing on his Navajo-Ute heritage and a profound musical gift, R. Carlos Nakai has placed the Native American flute and its repertoire among the world's great musical traditions.

In his solo recordings and in collaborations with renown artists such as composer Phillip Glass and Tibetan flutist Nawang Khechog, Nakai has explored diverse settings for his flute, from jazz to opera.

I first was introduced to Nakai's music in the 1993 TV documentary series How the West Was Lost. I own his Canyon Trilogy CD — beautiful music which brings a tear to my eye every time I listen.

If you would like a beautiful visual and musical treat, click here.

This exquisite oud was owned and played for many years by celebrated Arab composer and virtuoso Simon Shaheen. The instrument was made by Antun Nahat — his are counted among the world's finest.

Prior to my trip to MIM, I first was introduces to the oud by a book I was reading at the time, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It relates the story of Mortenson, a mountain climber, who after nearly dying on an assent of K2, is nursed back to health by mountain villagers in Pakistan. He promises to build a school in this remote impoverished village and eventually, not only builds one school but many in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the course of telling his story he mentions seeing an oud in one of the huts. The oud became a trivia question and now I see the word repeatedly.

You may not know what one sounds like until you hear it played — at which time you will recognize its sound immediately. Click here to hear it played by Simon Shaheen.

As I mentioned above, some of my younger readers may not be familiar with Ritchie Valens and I have to confess that I am not very familiar with the Jonas Brothers — other than to know that young teenage girls seem to go crazy over them.

I discovered some information about them — youngest brother Nick was performing on Broadway by age five. He later joined forces with siblings Joe and Kevin to release the Jonas Brothers' debut album It's About Time in 2006. An agreement with the Walt Disney Company in 2007 put the trio's career in high gear, yielding their hit album, Jonas Brothers, along with appearances in Disney Channel productions such as Camp Rock, Hannah Montana and the brothers' own reality show, Living in a Dream.

The Jonas Brothers have worked with pop singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus. This Gibson Les Paul Jr. guitar was played by Nick Jonas on Cyrus' 2007-2008 "Best of Both Worlds" tour.

If you care for a sample, click here.

Born in the small Mexican village of Autlán de Navarro, Carlos Santana received his earliest musical instruction from his father José, a mariachi violinist and band leader.

Carlos' musical journey led him through the rough clubs of Tijuana to the streets of San Francisco just as the late-1960s hippie scene was exploding. A triumphant appearance at Woodstock made Santana an international star in 1969.

A lifelong musical and spiritual seeker, Santana has explored many musical styles and sounds over the course of a career that spans four decades, collaborating with guitar makers such as Yamaha and Paul Reed Smith in his quest for the ultimate tone. From Abraxas to Supernatural, from "Oye Como Va" to "Smooth", Santana's guitar style is unmistakable in its passion, beauty and truth.

Check it out here.


Not only instruments are on display but awards also — here a Grammy for George Benson for Record of the Year in 1976 — "This Masquerade".

He started playing guitar at age eight — encouraged by his stepfather, Tom Collier — and was performing professionally by age 15. By the end of the 1960s, he had established himself as a jazz-guitar legend by virtue of his own recordings and work with jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard.

In 1975, Benson's career entered a new phase. Newly signed to Warner Brothers Records, he began collaborating with producer Tommy LiPuma, who encouraged George to foreground his vocal talents. The result was 1976's Breezin', an iconic album and one of Benson's greatest triumphs.

My favorite radio station in Phoenix is KYOT, smooth jazz (although they are now calling it "the new sound of smooth", whatever that means) and they play Benson's music frequently.

Enjoy "This Masquerade" by clicking here.

And who is not familiar with Paul Simon — either from his time as half of Simon & Garfunkel or his current solo career. He has earned 13 Grammys, including the Lifetme Achievement Award.

On August 15, 1991, Simon performed an historic free concert in New York's Central Park. Part of his "Born at the Right Time" tour, the show attracted a record audience of 750,000. Simon took to the stage with 18 Brazilian, African and American musicians together with this black, custom acoustical guitar, one of many that Yamaha has made for him since 1974.

The warm summer evening witnessed a musical journey through Simon's many hits, from "Sound of Silence" to "The Boy in the Bubble". The event also formed the basis for Paul Simon's Concert in the Park album and video.

Hear the remarkable and talented Paul Simon here.

It was a side project that became the start of a dynasty.

In the 1830s, Heinrich Englehard Steinweg (whose family name was later anglicized to Steinway) was widely respected as a master cabinet maker in the provincial German town of Seesen. But in 1836, he turned his hand to the more ambitious art of piano making, using the kitchen of his home to construct an instrument that would shape his own destiny and that of his family for centuries to come.

This finely wrought instrument — generally recognized as the first Steinway piano — not only launched Heinrich Steinweg's career as a piano maker, it also became the start of a proud family legacy that continues to this day.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com