Brain Pickings

11 Piano Lessons in 9 Minutes from Iconic Jazz Pianist Earl Hines

By:

A brief history of jazz piano techniques.

Earl “Fatha” Hines is considered by many the most influential jazz pianist in history. In this fantastic vintage television segment, Fatha explains his influences through delightful and fascinating biographical anecdotes and, in the process, offers what’s essentially 11 piano technique lessons in just 9 minutes. Marvel and enjoy:

For more on Fatha’s legacy and key role in shaping jazz, see Ted Gioia’s sweeping The History of Jazz, part of our (Almost) Everything You Need to Know about Culture in 10 Books omnibus.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Architects’ Sketchbooks: Behind the World’s Most Magnificent Buildings

By:

How to limn a skyscraper in a line, or why the Centre Pompidou was inspired by a Chinese bamboo hat.

The sketchbook as surface for envisioning, inventing, and thinking in motion, has been somewhat of an idée fixe on Brain Pickings of late. We’ve looked at the lists of great thinkers, and peeked inside the pages of private notebooks from artists to zoologists around the world.

Today we’re taking a moment to focus on sketchbooks from a discipline that is itself interdisciplinary, brilliantly balancing the demands of both science and art — namely, architecture. The inspiring recent release Architects’ Sketchbooks celebrates the earliest traces of a building’s coming into being, the ideas that pave the way for the precision of engineers’ calculations or CAD renderings. Through the book’s beautiful reproductions of original blots, jots, and scribbles, we can see that even the most awe-inspiring edifices begin as a line — as reassuring an insight into the creative process as any.

Architects’ Sketchbooks assembles work from 85 of the world’s best-known practitioners, including Shigeru Ban, Norman Foster, Terry Pawson, and Rafael Viñoly, as well as names less familiar to those of us outside the practice. Alongside the often functional but occasionally fantastical images from their flat files, the book also contains essays that place the images in context (and the buildings into their eventual environs). Equally fun is seeing all the different media in which architects work today, from comic strips to crayons, and how these choices are literally representative of different worldviews about how we might live.

Here’s a preview of a few of the book’s pages:

Evidence that even the most imposing monuments have their humble beginnings as one person’s notion in a notebook, Architects’ Sketchbooks is a guide to viewing the world’s human wonders in a whole new way.

Kirstin Butler currently lives in Cambridge, MA where she is working on an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

The Myth of Popular Culture: Why ‘Highbrow’ & ‘Lowbrow’ Don’t Work

By:

From Dante to Dylan, or what nineteenth-century phrenology has to do with the codification of bigotry.

We’ve come to accept intellectual stimulation and pop culture fetishism as diametric opposites, frequently pulling us, our attention, and our personal growth in conflicting directions. But, it turns out, this might be a tragic oversimplification at best, if not a complete fallacy. In The Myth of Popular Culture: From Dante to Dylan, cultural critic Perry Meisel offers a bold defense of pop culture by arguing against the traditional, socialized distinction between “high” and “low” culture through a thoughtful analysis of three hallmarks of contemporary culture — the American novel, Hollywood, and British and American rock music. He traces back some 500 years of influences, sociopolitical anxieties and historical events, from the evolution of music genres like folk and soul to the legacy of political ideologies like Marxism to the social footprint of Freudian theory, ultimately showing how Bob Dylan — the epitome of pop culture — not only blurred but fully erased the line between “high” and “low” culture.

Meisel takes the seminal work of philosopher and critic Theodor Adorno and practically turns it against itself:

The myth of pop culture — Adorno’s myth — is that it is not dialectical. The truth is that it is. Like high art, pop, too — contra Adorno — has a conversation both with its sources, which it revises and transforms, and with cultural authority as a whole, which it also revises and transforms.”

(This idea, of course, isn’t entirely new. Five years prior to Meisel, Steven Johnson argued in Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter that IQ scores in the west have risen steadily in the past few decades not merely despite but because of pop culture.)

Among Meisel’s fascinating semi-asides is a discussion of the origins of “highbrow” and “lowbrow,” rooted in some of humanity’s most shameful episodes of socially condoned bigotry.

The terms ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ come from phrenology, the nineteenth-century science of regarding the shape of the skull as a key to intelligence. A ‘high’ forehead meant intelligence; a ‘low’ one meant stupidity. Phrenology thrived as a popular science in the late nineteenth century and led eventually to the racial theories of the Nazis, for whom the Jewish cranium and pale, sunken face were clear indications of Jewish racial inferiority.”

Dense but remarkably articulate, with a formidable citations list spanning from the Sex Pistols to Susan Sontag, The Myth of Popular Culture spins a fascinating story of how our common culture came to be and why we should think twice about our intellectual reservations towards the products of pop culture.

HT The Atlantic; image via The Library of Congress

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.