The Sound of Soul- Phyl Garland

The Sound of Soul was published in 1969.  It was written at a point when Stax and Motown had broken through and were well established in the charts.  Phyl Garland questions how deeply ‘…soul music has penetrated the core of modern America and how did it all come about?’

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The first half of this short and very readable book is concerned with the origins of the soul sound.  Phyl Garland is explicit in stating that she is not presenting a ‘…scholarly treatise in sociology or musicology’.  Rather, she seeks to entertain and inform those who like soul music and who want to know more of where it emerged from and of the ‘… gifted people who create and perform it.’  As a black woman, she states that she is not attempting to achieve ‘Olympian Objectivity’ but that she writes from a black perspective and concentrates on the work of black musicians because she views them as ‘the most vital factor’ in the development of the music.  She is well aware that many white and British groups drew heavily from soul but makes a strong case for concentrating on the originators rather than the partial popularisers.

The second half of the book presents contemporary late 60’s examples of a living and developing music with longer feature pieces on BB King; a fascinating visit to the Stax Studio in Memphis on a working day; an in-depth and illuminating interview with Nina Simone and an appraisal of Aretha Franklin.  Garland then turns to soul in jazz, interviewing Billy Taylor (perhaps best known as the composer of ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free’ but also as a prolific jazz pianist and educator) before offering an appreciation and requiem for John Coltrane.

Published in Chicago by Regenery, The Sound of Soul is long out of print but you will be able to obtain a copy from AbeBooks or Amazon without breaking the bank.

I first came across Phyl Garland earlier this year when I started to think about this blog.  Having selected Down With It! for the first posting (and blog title) I read the sleeve notes.  I wasn’t expecting much.  Blue Note sleeve notes are a mixed bag.  Leonard Feather’s musings on the back of Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’ are informative if you are into musicianly technicalities but are bone-dry and out of keeping with the excitement of the album contained within.  So it was without any great expectation that I started to read her clarion call to listen carefully and enjoy but not to over-analyze or seek to confine jazz to an exclusive cerebral gated community.

Further research confirmed that Professor Phyllis Garland was a remarkable and inspirational person.  She was the first woman and the first African American to gain tenure at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.  This followed on from a distinguished career as a journalist and writer with Ebony Magazine and as a reporter and editor on The Pittsburgh Courier from 1958 to 1965.  She was also a participant activist in the civil rights movement.  There’s a full obituary at: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/obituaries/obituary-phyllis-garland-journalism-professor-at-columbia-university-458744/  and her enthusiasm for the music was indicated by her annual listening parties, held for her students at her Eighth Avenue apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village where she played music from her massive collection of jazz and other genres.

Phyl Garland also wrote sleeve notes for Let ‘Em Roll by Big John Patton and Jackie McLean’s Right Now which were both released on Blue Note and for Booker T and the MGs 1969 album- The T Set. In addition, I understand that a Phil Garland may have written the notes for a Smokey Robinson set that Freddie Roach may have contributed one of his last recordings on. I must check that one out in due course.

 

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