The Offical Home of Chamber Blues and the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band



THE SYMPHONIC BLUES

In the summer of 1966 the little known story of how classical music met the blues unfolds ...

This chapter explains how I was drawn into the high-brow world of classical music. It was then the constant support from the classical masters, major symphony orchestras, the audiences, and the critics, which ultimately led me to my latest passion - Chamber Blues. I will leave it to the historians to tell my story for you. (I will pop up once in a while as an "editor's note.")

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON LINER NOTES EXCERPT
by David Prescott
"It was during one of his first Chicago performances that Siegel was introduced to a musician whom he would later credit with changing the direction of his musical career. The introduction came through former Sun Times music critic David Noble, who insisted his friend Seiji Ozawa, then summer guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra come see the band's performance at a club in Old Town." (Editor's note: David Prescott was a Chicago Tribune music critic)

CHICAGO DAILY NEWS
by Larry Knutson

(Editor's note: This story takes place in the summer of 1966.)

"Ozawa walked into Old Town night life two seasons ago; in a week which he and the Chicago Symphony were presenting the local premiere of Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony. The Siegel-Schwall Blues Band (Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall), the first band he heard on Wells, became his favorite.

He wasn't recognized when he first appeared at Big John's, the bar where they were playing. And, because he didn't have any identity cards to prove his age, he wasn't allowed inside the door.

Ozawa took a taxi back to his hotel, picked up passport (which proves he's 31, even though he doesn't look it), returned, was admitted, and listened and talked until closing time.

He came back each time guest conductor duties brought him to Chicago. In the summer, after the start of the Ravinia season, he became a regular. He traded musical ideas with the Siegel-Schwall group and urged them to make a record. (They did).

Someday, he says, "Someone will write an orchestral piece for a group like this." (Editor's Note: The above story was written in July of 1967)

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON LINER NOTES EXCERPT
by David Prescott
"Ozawa was impressed, he returned for many performances and suggested a blues classical collaboration. Siegel worked closely with Russo who then began composing and orchestrating "Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra." The 1968 premier of the composition featuring the Siegel-Schwall Band and the Chicago Symphony was met with a standing ovation and critical acclaim."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE - SUMMER 1968
"When Corky Siegel cupped his harmonica and the pavilion microphone together and began a half saxophone half blues trumpet wail, even the least conservative Chicago Symphony Orchestra member might have shivered at the hand-writing on the crumbling walls."

FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH MAESTRO SEIJI OZAWA - 1968
"Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra was commissioned, composed, and finally played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Ozawa's delight; 'It was a success. Some people think that this is a totally different side of music, but I see it as a convergence in the future. They (Siegel-Schwall) are fantastic.'" - Seiji Ozawa interview - Airline Magazine

CHICAGO DAILY NEWS - 1968
"Siegel-Schwall Band - irresistibly exuberant, hypnotic and quietly poetic thoroughly deserving the standing ovation."

CHICAGO AMERICAN - 1968
"The Siegel-Schwall Band played expertly in a symphonic context (before a throng of thousands). The audience loved them and surely liked the piece."

CHICAGO SUN TIMES - 1968
"The work (Three Pieces) was a clear success. a result due in no small part to the excellence of the Siegel-Schwall group. Ozawa plainly was delighted with the work and with good reason. It moves, it has something to say, and it was exciting to hear."

Corky's Note:

Following the 1968 world premier of Three Pieces, Siegel-Schwall disbanded until 1970. But the story continues:

This key historic segment touches upon the impossible social, political, and generational atmosphere of the 60s that contributed to the unreconcilable distance between classical and blues in 1969. It was Seiji Ozawa who invited the blues band on stage with a symphony orchestra for four performances on a conservative concert series. No one else had anything to lose. Seiji Ozawa had everything to lose. All the critical eyes were upon him. It was Seiji Ozawa who followed his artistic inspiration against all odds and is the true hero of Corky Siegel's story. Fortunately this segment also illustrates the transcending and unifying power of music and points to the social and political importance of art and especially cross-cultural offerings.

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON LINER NOTES EXCERPT
by David Prescott
"In 1969, 26 year old Siegel and his band of long-haired street clad musicians, stepped on the stage to join the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to perform 'Three Pieces for Blues band and Symphony.' They were greeted with boos and hisses from the conservative subscription concert goers. 'The social, political, and cultural gap created that night could have swallowed up Philharmonic Hall completely' , Siegel said. But, as the last cries of Siegel's harmonica and the last dramatic slashes of Ozawa's baton marked the end of the performance, the formerly disapproving audience rose to it's feet in thunderous approval. According to the President of the symphony, it was 'The longest, and most intense standing ovation I have ever seen in Lincoln Center.' He added that the only time he had heard a reaction that strong anywhere was a performance once given by Caruso."

NEW YORK TIMES
by Harold Schoenberg, 1969

Headline: THEY LOVE CORKY SIEGEL IN LINCOLN CENTER
"Cheers rang through Philharmonic Hall. The audience did not merely like it, the audience loved it."

NEW YORK VILLAGE VOICE - 1969
"...Received with wild enthusiasm."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE
by Kenneth Sannson, 1969 (United Press International)
The Corky Siegel Blues Band appeared in a recent New York subscription concert, and it took a week for a jumping Philharmonic Hall to settle back on its foundation. (From an article entitled; "Public Apathy May Drown The Symphony")

NEW YORK TIMES
- Interview with Seiji Ozawa
"It was a standing ovation success ... and the musicians in the orchestra liked it ... the fantastic thing is that even the Friday afternoon ladies day crowd like it very much".

1970 - Siegel-Schwall is back. The story continues ...

DOWN BEAT MAGAZINE
"Corky Siegel's band delighted Tanglewood audiences playing "Three Pieces" under Seiji Ozawa's baton. The entire Boston Symphony served as side-men."

MILWAUKEE SENTINEL
"A smash - first time in a 12 year history that such a crowd turned out - a standing ovation followed the performance." (Milwaukee's PAC with Milwaukee Symphony)

A note from Corky:
"Although it went against popular belief, it was being illustrated to me that the public really does respond to new ideas when they are made available and presented in a sincere fashion. There is so much FEAR in the world of the arts ... a world where fearlessness should be the rule. I was being shown by these experiences that following one's inspiration fearlessly was not only ok , but really does define the role of an artist. Thank you Seiji."

OAKLAND TRIBUNE
"The audience at the opera house gave one of the most enthusiastic ovations we can ever recall on this side of the Atlantic, as Seiji Ozawa and the Corky Siegel Band introduced the color 'blues' to the palette of the San Francisco Symphony."

OAKLAND TRIBUNE - another critic at another performance
"One of the most enthusiastic ovations we can ever recall. The fans were cheering and clapping and standing into the night with genuine delight. Siegel's frenetic and felicitous performance on harmonica made it's impact. I enjoyed it immensely. It was a major sell-out (with an added performance) and it was a major hit."

INDEPENDENT JOURNAL - San Francisco

Headline: BLUES FANS MESMERIZED

"Probably the stately old opera house will never recover, nor any of the little old ladies. The audience exploded into applause after each movement forcing the musicians to take bows. As the last note ended the entire opera house was on it's feet in one of the most thundering outpours in the opera house in my memory. For almost 10 minutes the crowd cried for more."

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
"An instant standing ovation and a tremolando encore."

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"The crowd went wild. Unquestionably Siegel was the star making the mouth organ sing, talk, howl and cry. It was improvisation with a flare."

MILWAUKEE JOURNAL
- Interview with Seiji Ozawa "We had the Corky Siegel Band as guest artists for three performances and had to schedule a fourth due to demand. I am sure that we opened more than a few ears."

SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY
- from a Book by David Schneider
"The Corky Siegel Band played with us (David Schneider was a veteran member of the San Francisco Symphony) 'Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra,' by William Russo. Certainly a dramatic departure from Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler syndrome of Krips. There on stage at the ornate and sedate opera house was the funkiest, most laid back group of performers that the city's symphony going public had ever laid eyes or ears on. Corky Siegel played the harmonica with immense and peculiar virtuosity. The music was just what it's name implied; a combination of the square symphony sound with the wild blues band sound. The piece would get us back into the recording business as we were to immortalize this work on Deutsche Grammophon. In fact, one movement of the piece became a successful 'single' scoring high on the charts."

Editor's Note:
'Three Pieces' was also choreographed and performed by the San Francisco Ballet.

Corky's note:
I began my solo career in 1975. What this means is that I went from an intense blues band to a single folky singer/songwriter and piano/harmonica instrumentalist.

Enter "Street Music - A Blues Concerto" ...
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON LINER NOTES EXCERPT
by David Prescott
"Siegel began his solo career in 1975 and at that time suggested another collaboration which materialized as 'Street music, A Blues Concerto,' composed by William Russo. The 1976 premiere in San Francisco also drew standing ovations and numerous curtain calls. The 1979 release recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, by Siegel, Ozawa and the San Francisco Symphony, won the French Government's prestigious Grand Prix du Disque. It is interesting to note, that the solo parts played by Siegel in 'Street music,' and by the band, in 'Three Pieces,' were mostly improvised." (Editor's note: These notes were from a 1980s re-release of both 'Three Pieces' and 'Street Music.')

LIVELY TIMES MAGAZINE
"Together, William Russo, Seiji Ozawa and Corky Siegel created an unprecedented fusion of two totally diverse musical idioms; they created 'Symphonic Blues..' In both 'Three Pieces' and 'Street Music,' Corky's lone harmonica and piano challenge an entire symphony. The effect is overwhelming. "

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
by Phil Elwood
"The effect is magnificent. An adventure in rhythm, harmony, and solos. It is a memorable musical joy ride." (Street Music)

RECORD GUIDE
"Corky Siegel makes the harmonica sound like the most versatile instrument in the world, and the sheer energy and fireworks of this performance from both Siegel and Ozawa make this one of the most energetic releases imaginable." Rated as "Recording of Special Merit" (Street Music)

STUDS TERKEL
"Street Music is beautiful, a magnum opus, it has the air of playfulness about it."

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER

Headline: STREET MUSIC GET CHEERS OF CROWD

"A great success last night in the opera house. Corky Siegel tied himself into a knot playing a super-heated harmonica solo role plus piano. The crowd cheered."

CHICAGO DAILY NEWS
"The audience reaction was so strong that each performance drew a standing ovation and the four shows won a total of 18 curtain calls. " (Street Music)

MILWAUKEE SENTINEL
"The audience was so enthusiastic that the personable Corky had to do one 'quick one' before he was allowed to leave." (Street Music)

MAD CITY MUSIC GUIDE  "It was a fascinating 35 minutes that brought the full house to its feet in a roaring ovation." (Street Music)

CHICAGO SUN TIMES
"The whoops, hollers, fortissimo foot stomping and applause just wouldn't quit. What set it off was the premiere of a multi-media dance work called 'Street Music' recorded a few years ago by harp master Corky Siegel, Seiji Ozawa, and the San Francisco Symphony."

COURIER REVIEW
"Although he disavows any ambition to become known as a Gershwin-type figure, Siegel has bridged the gap between 'popular' and 'serious' music with greater enthusiasm than any other popular musician of his generation."

Editor's Note:
It was also in 1975 that Corky was asked to compose some blues classical music for the San Francisco Symphony and the City of San Francisco.

View the complete list of Corky's symphonic associations.

PART FOUR: The Chamber Music Blues



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