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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Our next album: "work" in progress

On our last album, Strange Dees, Indeed, we developed the song "Mayor LaGuardia's Stomach" around a story Esther Levine (grandma of Ari Dolegowski AKA Moby Dee) told us. Ari and I spent a whole afternoon interviewing and recording Esther and she told us dozens of stories. We chose her tale of bumping into Fiorello LaGuardia as a young woman because it was really well suited to a quick snappy jazz composition Chris (Booker Dee) had written but she told us lots of other great stories, many of which might make for good songs, either ones where, like on "Mayor," she would narrate backed up by our music or where we would sing a song inspired by what she told us. It got me thinking that I'd like our next album to be a collection of tunes derived mostly from stories people tell us rather than stories we've read in books. Sort of Studs Terkel / StoryCorps approach to songwriting.

For much of the last year I've been considering different themes for such a record. After much deliberation, experimentation, and consultation with my wife I've finally made up my mind. The next Dees record is going to be all about work. The work we do, the work our parents and grandparents did, the paid work and the unpaid work that's the substance of our daily lives, the work kids do, the work parents do, the essential work that goes unnoticed… We're going to talk to a lot of people and, when possible, involve them in the actual songwriting process. Esther has some great stories about jobs she used to have and so these might show up in some form. There are a number of friends and acquaintances (among them, a firefighter, a surveyor, a lice picker, a neurologist, a deep sea diver, a subway track repair engineer, a chef, a cop, a "trash-out" contractor, an actor, a mechanic, and many many teachers). I'd like to interview, preferably with the help of kids, about their jobs. I'd like to interview kids about jobs they'd like to have and what they think is involved in certain jobs (they have some interesting ideas about this). I'm going to Haiti in October to do a songwriting project with some kids at an orphanage and so I'm going to talk to them about their daily work. I'm volunteering with Sing for Hope and would like to write songs with people at hospitals, adult care centers, schools, and other places where I perform. I might write songs about the many jobs I've had and the ones I have now.

We're planning to do an official debut of this project March 2nd at Symphony Space in NYC. We might have the album done by then or we might just play a set of songs we've written by that point. Between then and now, we'll be collecting stories and trying to involve as many people in this collaboration as possible. Will you join us?

I'm starting a blog, probably a Tumblr, where anyone can post their own stories, photos, videos, and songs related to this project. I'll also be putting drafts and works-in-progress up there. Details on this soon.

Send us your thoughts. And let me know if you have a class or other group you think might have some stories to share with me.

thedeedledeedledees AT yahoo DOT com

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Musikfest Aug 12, 2012 set lists

Not sure if we played 'em exactly in this order but here are the tunes we played at Musikfest in Bethlehem today.

Lyrics, related books, and other stuff connected to these tunes should be easy to find on this blog -- scroll down through the list of titles on the left or search for a particular song. If
there's something you can't find, send me a note: thedeedledeedledees AT yahoo DOT com.

set 1 (3:30-4:30)
a song for Abigail Adams
Birds of America Don't Care-Oh
Henry (Hudson), How Ya Gonna Find a Way?
Henry Box Brown
Major Deegan
Growl Growl
Marie Curie
¡Sí Se Puede!
Dead Horse Bay
Bring 'Em In

set 2 (5-6)
Bluebird > Redbird, Redbird > Reef
Sojourner Truth
Ah Ahimsa
Little Red Airplane
Camperdown Elm
The Brooklyn Bridge Song
Nellie Bly
River of Blood
Skating in Old Bryant Park
Cool Papa Bell
Henry (Hudson), How Ya Gonna Find a Way?

Here are the scribbled set lists on top of the sweaty shirts I wore. As usual, our actual sets diverged from what I originally wrote down.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Revised summer and early fall schedule

We'll get this stuff up on our various calendars shortly, but we wanted to let you know about some additions (and one subtraction) to our summer schedule right away.

June 9 - Library Love benefit at the Knitting Factory CANCELED
This show was to be a benefit for the Shutesbury, MA library. Why did we cancel the show? In brief, the library lost a crucial local vote that essentially put their fundraising goal way out of reach.

June 10 NEW La Flaca -- 8pm
A Dees After Dark gig featuring three Dees and guest star Janelle Reichman on the clarinet. Country, swing, klezmer, mariachi, and lots of surprises.

June 14 - Madison Square Park - 10:30 am
Can't remember how many years we've been playing MSP. Always a great event.

June 16 - Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks, Bethlehem, PA - 11am

July 11 NEW - Fort Greene Park - 10am

July 11 NEW - La Flaca - 8:30pm - 21+ - This is a Dees After Dark show for grown-ups. Roy Nathanson will join us for the first set as we try out some mariachi, standards, and other stuff. Second set (around 10 / 10:30) we'll veer into hip hop covers and old country and also do our regular mix of klezmer, old jazz, and bluegrass.

July 14 - Green River Festival - Greenfield, MA

August 12 - Musikfest, Bethlehem, PA - 3:30pm and 5pm

September 9 - Discoveroo Festival, Charlottesville, VA - details soon

Sept 19th - the Stone 8pm
The Deedle Deedle Dees, Roy Nathanson, Curtis Fowlkes, and David Orr (poetry critic for the NYTimes) are creating a set of music and poetry that's not to be missed.

Sept 28th -- the Stone 10pm
The Jazz Passengers with Lloyd Miller (Ulysses S. Dee) on guest vocals
Roy Nathanson and I are writing a musical movie script based on Exiles in Eden, Paul Reyes' gorgeous book about the foreclosure crisis in Florida. The songs will have their debut this night, performed by the untouchable Jazz Passengers with me as a guest vocalist.

September 29 NEW - Carroll Park, Brooklyn - 4pm
Note: Carroll Park website says Sept 30 but the show has been moved to the 29th to avoid a conflict with the Atlantic Antic

October 14 - Littlefield, Brooklyn - 2pm
With special guests Dog on Fleas!

Nov 3 - Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art - Amherst, MA - Details soon

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Real-Time Shelby Foote

So I finally have a companion in my Shelby Foote book club! We're reading his Civil War trilogy over the course of five years, attempting as much as possible to sync our reading to the 150th anniversaries of the events. Doesn't this sound like great fun? ("Yes," replies everyone in monotone unison)

Seriously, though, it's truly a fantastic work. Check out his Tolstoyian (Tolstoyesque? Tolstoyish?) introduction of Jefferson Davis (right at the beginning of book 1) and tell me you really don't care to read this thing.

If you're concerned that we're way ahead of you and you'll never catch up, your fears are unfounded. The first year of the war only takes up about 150 pages so you can easily meet us where we are -- March 1862 -- by reading about 150 pages this weekend. You will read 150 pages this weekend.

I won't beg.

I beg you.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Set list for Black History Month show at BAX 2/26/12

Today I played a Black History Month show at BAX, the Brooklyn Arts Exchange, as part of the Jumpin' Juniper series. My band was a great group of folks I'd never played with before: Ari Brand (guitar, vocals), Katie Mullins (baritone ukulele, mbira, vocals), and Ivan Katz (djembe, hand percussion). We did a mix of traditional tunes and original stuff related to Black History Month. For the second half of the show we invited kids and parents to play along with us. Thanks for bringing your ukes and your shakers and your guitars and your kazoos! Next time we want more parents to play along too.

Here's what we played and who played it:

Zora (just Lloyd)
About Zora Neale Hurston, on the Many Hands benefit album for Haiti

I've Been Working on the Railroad (Lloyd)
Just cos my sing-a-long crowd likes it so much...

St. Bessie Blues
(Lloyd & Katie)
A variation on "St. Louis Blues" I wrote with some fourth graders a few years back. This take on the tune celebrates Bessie Smith and features some great kid-written raps.

Up Above My Head (Katie, Ari, Ivan, Lloyd)
Katie's take on an infectious African-American spiritual.

This Little Light of Mine (Lloyd, Katie, Ari, Ivan)

Banana Boat Song (Ivan, Ari, Katie, Lloyd)
One of Ivan's favorite tunes to do at his drum-a-longs.

Walk-a-Long John (Katie, Ari, Ivan, Lloyd)
Katie's variation on an old tune. She leads the tune on her mbira (pronounced, "imbira"), an instrument from Zimbabwe.

When the Saints Go Marching In (Lloyd, Katie, Ari, Ivan)
Even though Mardi Gras just passed. I'm always looking for songs people will actually sing along with and this is one of the few nearly everyone will. 

Cool Papa Bell (Lloyd, Katie, Ari, Ivan, crowd)
About the Negro League star. On Strange Dees, Indeed.

Henry Box Brown (Lloyd, Katie, Ari, Ivan, crowd)
One of the most popular Dees tunes. On Freedom in a Box.

Sojourner Truth
(Lloyd, Katie, Ari, Ivan, crowd)
Written as part of a musical about Northampton, MA, a few years ago. On Strange Dees, Indeed.

John Henry (Lloyd, Katie, Ari, Ivan, crowd)
A bluegrassy take on a trad tune I like to do in my classes. 

Tub-Tub-Ma-Ma-Ga-Ga (Lloyd, Katie, Ari, Ivan, crowd)
Tub = Harriet Tubman, Ma = Martin Luther King, Ga = Gandhi, on American History + Rock-n-Roll = The Deedle Deedle Dees

Monday, February 20, 2012

Some baseball books in honor of PITCHERS & CATCHERS

Browsing in a Vermont bookstore where my good friend works, I put together a list of some baseball books in honor of "Pitchers and Catchers," the much anticipated (amongst serious fans) first day of spring training when (you guessed it) pitchers and catchers are required to report.

Like my Black History Month list I've tried to include some picks for reluctant readers. I've also tried to mix a variety of genres: bios, YA, philosophy (it's a deep game), picture books, and, possibly the most read by kids obsessed with the game, encyclopedias.

Henry Aaron's Dream by Matt Tavares
A solid, fact-filled picture bio of the icon. A bit too inspirational in tone for my taste, but still worth getting for nice artwork and thorough research.

The Kid Who Only Hit Homers
by Matt Christopher
Christopher's sports-based chapter books won't go away and there's a reason why: sports-loving kids always read them. Try this one with your athletic kid who thinks he or she doesn't like reading.

The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris
by Mark Kurlansky

Kurlansky is best known for his books for adults and kids centered on things we eat (Salt, Cod...) that use the thing mentioned in the title as a jumping-off point for books that defy categorization as they whip effortlessly from social history to geography to science to personal essay. His book, The Big Oyster, was my favorite of those I consulted as I was writing a cycle of songs about the history of oysters in the New York Harbor and the efforts of a current group to re-introduce them to the infamously toxic Gowanus Canal.

This book isn't a food book but I expect it retains Kurlansky's trademark mix of sweeping narrative and incredible attention to detail (I haven't read it -- it's in my queue). 

The Baseball Counting Book by Barbara Barbieri McGrath and Brian Shaw
Cute book for toddlers and new counters.

Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress by Harry Katz, Frank Ceresi, and Phil Michel
A baseball dork's paradise of miscellania.

Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Babe Ruth Baseball by David A. Adler and Susanna Atti
Another well-done chapter book series. Nothing thrilling, just a decent sports-based narrative for readers just starting their careers in the library.

The Way of Baseball
by Shawn Green
Been wanting to read this, a book that's been compared to Phil Jackson's Sacred Hoops (I have to admit I kind of liked that book). It's most interesting to me, though, because I've always liked Green. He was a Met, he had decent stats, and he notably missed games during a playoff race in order to observe Yom Kippur. Plus, he always seemed like a cool guy (from my expert perch at the sports bar).

Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella by Neil Lanctot
One of the greatest Brooklyn Dodgers, possibly the greatest. Amazing off-the-field story.

H is for Home Run: A Baseball Alphabet by Brad Herzog and Melanie Rose
Hey, why not?

The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Definitive Record of Major League Baseball by MacMillan
MacMillan being the publisher not an author. This was the original super encyclopedia (the first really important one), one that many others copied and referenced. Ever taught elementary school kids? You've surely been ignored while kids read books like this one under their desk or in the corner during periods when they were supposed to be doing something else. I think the current era of sabermetrics and Moneyball owes much to the generation that grew up reading this book and all its many imitators.

and lastly...

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson (who did the pictures in Henry's Freedom Box) is one of several Negro League books I'm constantly recommending on this blog (see, for example, my entry on "Cool Papa Bell" for some more suggestions). This one is an exceptional one for kids and features Nelson's comic-book-heroic illustrations.

Yes, I know there are many more great baseball books. I just picked a few I love or want to read soon. What are your favorites?


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Play-along chords for Feb. 26 Black History show at BAX

On Feb. 26th I'm doing a Black History Month show at Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX) in Park Slope. I'm inviting parents and kids to bring their instruments and join us on some Dees favorites. Here are the basic chords to four songs. I haven't put all the words because the chords just keep repeating in a pretty much the same cycle for the whole tune.

For more advanced players, we'll have the chords to some jazz tunes on hand day of show.

Get practicing! These are the same chords we use on the albums and in our YouTube videos so you should be able to play along easily.

Here's info on the show:


All these songs are copyrighted.
words & music by Lloyd Miller

    G                             C             G
If you get tired, do the Tub-Tub-Tubman
                                    D                    G
If you get mad, do the Martin Luther King
                                       C                       G
If you're feeling greedy, give it away like Gandhi
Hum, hum, if you're too tired to sing

Sojourner Truth

G                          B7                        Em
Sojourner Truth traveled up the mountain
       C                              D
the moon was right behind her
        G           B7            Em
she looked down the mountain
     C                              D
at those who tried to stop her

The moon looked like a light
and shined on Sojourner Truth
Where she's going
you're invited too

Henry Box Brown

Henry Box Brown put himself in a box
mailed himself to freedom in the North

Henry Box Brown… this side up!

He tried to get to freedom in a box

Em! Em! Em!
They sold his wife and kids away

Em! Em! Em!
that's when he started planning his escape

Em! Em! Em!

twas in the town of Richmond, VA

where a sympathetic tobacconist

helped Henry Box Brown escape
to the abolitionists

Cool Papa Bell

Cool Papa
Cool cool Papa
Cool Papa
Cool Papa Bell

Same for rest of verse...

Cheetah cheetah
When your feetah
Go round and round
Go round and round

Cheetah cheetah
When your feetah
Go round and round
Go round and round

Black History Month reading list

This blog always has lots of suggestions for kid and grown-up books related to black history (see the sidebar at right, for example) so for this list I'm going to try to focus on stuff I haven't mentioned before. I've also tried to include a number of books for reluctant readers.

100 Best African-American Poems
edited by Nikki Giovanni
This is a great starting point for a kid or grown-up to explore the poetry of black Americans. As always, Ms. Giovanni's commentary is funny, biting, and hits painfully close to home.

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
Hughes is one of my favorite poets of all time and the "Poetry for Young People" series has selected a nice cross section of his work here.

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop

by Christopher Raschka
Just fun. I read this book to kids all the time.

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald
by Roxane Orgill
A nice kid biography of the jazz legend.

Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Pinkney

Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
I used to teach 10th grade English at a public school in Brooklyn. This was one of the few books nearly every kid was desperate to read. The first time I read it I found it a bit preachy but my opinion changed after discussing it with lots of kids, many of whom saw themselves in the book's protagonist. Mr. Thomas died this past year -- it's a good time to read -- or teach -- his book if you never have.

Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph
Jamal was my thesis advisor in film school. He was a Black Panther and spent a long time in prison in connection with his political activities. I used to spend a lot of time with Jamal and he always had an endless supply of stories -- I'm so excited some of his most thrilling and important tales are in print so more people can experience them.

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
by Phillis Wheatley
A slave, Ms. Wheatley was taught to read by her owners and became one of the first known black poets in colonial America.

The Coldest Winter Ever - Sister Souljah
This book is awesome, actually. I decided to read it because my high school students were constantly asking for it (I used my teacher money to buy copies that the students would check out and never return) but then found myself unable to stop reading it even though, at the time, I was in Mexico City on vacation with a long list of murals and museums I wanted to visit. I still managed to see lots of art but I also spent hours and hours in a bar / cafe finishing this very well-plotted book. I read it soon after The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and found many thematic elements in common between the two books.

Kindred - Octavia E. Butler
Yeah, man, sci fi. I'm not that into it but a lot of kids (and adults) are. I used to give her books to kids -- and ex-cons in my GED classes -- who were only interested in alien and horror movies and most of them would get hooked fast.

Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America by Nathan McCall
From the streets to the offices of the Washington Post... an inspiring book for kids thinking about a career in journalism. I read it while taking journalism classes at Florida A&M University (Go Rattlers!)

by Chris Albertson
Bessie Smith bio. All you need to know.

Push by Sapphire
Yes, they based the movie Precious on this. Another book I read because students I was working with were really into it. Initially I found it sensational and it kind of creeped me out (you know the plot, right? it's rough stuff). But, like a couple of other books on this list, my opinion changed after discussing with kids who found the story very powerful and used it as a way to begin a lot of heavy classroom discussions. It's short, give it a try.

Rosa Parks:  Not Giving In (The Time Traveler’s Adventure) by James Collins
Unique picture book take on the familiar story featuring some time-traveling kids.

Michelle Obama: Meet the First Lady by David Bergen Brophy
If you look this book up and see the cover (a glossy photograph of Ms. O) you might be like "This is one of those cheesy grocery store books!" Yeah, it sort of is. Actually this one is a little better than your average newsstand bio but it's still in that basic genre. Still, I've met many kids who love these things and that some kids who wouldn't read anything else were willing to read them.

Got your own suggestions? Please send...

thedeedledeedledees AT yahoo DOT com


Friday, February 10, 2012

A song written by all of us

Ok, let's try this. Watch the video of this simple sing-a-long song I wrote (ignore that really wrong chord I hit at one point). Read the lyrics below. Replace words with things you like. You could, for example, remove the word "hairballs" and put "werewolves" in its place (I tried to make replacement word rhyme with the one it was replacing. Can you do the same? Or change all the words in the verse so they work together?)

Send your ideas to me at thedeedledeedledees AT yahoo DOT com. 

Our composition might end up on an album (I'm considering a real studio sing-a-long record. But it's very much in the planning-the-planning stage). At the very least I'll put a new version on YouTube featuring my favorites of the suggestions I receive. So far "vampire squid" (suggested by a kid at my Friday sing-a-long in Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn) is my top candidate for inclusion.


Sing-a-long Song    
words & music by Lloyd Miller (c) (p) 2011

Sing-a-long, baby            Sing-a-long, mom
Sing-a-long, popsicles    Sing-a-long, hairballs

Sing-a-long, floorboards   Sing-a-long, walls
sing-along, windows   it's a sing-a-long song

Sing-a-long, horses           Sing-a-long, goose
Sing-a-long, wildebeest      Sing-a-long, moose
Sing-a-long, feet and shoes!

it's a sing-a-long song       everybody sing along

Sing-a-long, ninjas          Sing-a-long, police
Sing-a-long, princesses         Sing-a-long, peas

Sing-a-long, knights       Sing-a-long, daisies
I'll sing-a-long with you if you sing-a-long with me

Sing-a-long, dragons   Sing-a-long, teeth
Sing-a-long, overpass      Sing-a-long underneath
Sing-a-long, potholes in the street

Sing-a-long, donuts      Sing-a-long, dads
Sing-a-long, dogs       Sing-a-long, doo-rags

Sing-a-long happy       Sing-a-long sad
Sing-a-long in the mud and then later in the bath

Sing-a-long, train tracks and car alarms
sing it in the city so they can hear it on the farm
Sing-a-long, eggplant parm

Friday, February 3, 2012

Underground Railroad Quiz (Listen to the Hilltown Families podcast before you take it)

Our friends at the Hilltown Family Variety Show put together a special program all about the Underground Railroad. Our songs "Underground Railroad" and "Henry Box Brown" are on it. So are great versions of traditional songs by Taj Mahal and Bill Harley, a story read by Morgan Freeman and much more. Listen to it right now:

And listen carefully. That's the only way you'll pass the quiz we made up related to the show. The quiz is for 4th grade and up (or advanced readers of any age) and may require some extra research in addition to listening to the Hilltown podcast. But it's worth doing because everyone who at least tries every question will get a free copy of the Deedle Deedle Dees CD of their choice. Yeah. We're not messing around.

Try to avoid using Wikipedia. Searching songbooks, history books, Bibles, and other tomes you hopefully have on your family's shelves -- or in your local library -- will be a much more enjoyable way to find the information you don't know already.

Send your completed quizzes to Lloyd (AKA me, Ulysses S. Dee): thedeedledeedledees AT yahoo DOT com. Or post your answers on a blog or Facebook page or public Google doc and send us the link.

You have one week. Completed quizzes must be received by 11:59pm Eastern time Friday, Feb. 10th in order to eligible for a prize.

1. In our song "Underground Railroad," what is the secret password needed to board? It's actually three words.

2. Name three cities or towns that were part of the Underground Railroad -- and that we mention in our song about it.

3. What is the "drinking gourd" described in the story read by Morgan Freeman and sung about by Taj Mahal?

4. In the traditional song "Wade In the Water," (Bill Harley's version can be heard on the podcast) who, as the lyrics ask, are "these children all dressed in red" and "that young girl dressed in white"? There isn't one right answer -- tell us what you've read and what you think. (Hint: Many spirituals and Underground Railroad songs contained coded lyrics and secret messages)

5. Henry "Box" Brown mailed himself to freedom in a box. In which city did he finally climb out of his box a free man?

6. A state and a musical instrument are mentioned in "Nelly Grey" (Phil Rosenthal sings the version you hear on the podcast). Which state? Which instrument?

7. Why was "Nelly Grey" written? (Another question without one answer. We want your opinions as well as the results of your research)

8. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (Leadbelly and a choir close out the podcast with their version) describes a trip to heaven -- or to freedom -- in a real or metaphorical chariot. Which prophet left life on this Earth in a chariot according to the Old Testament?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Songs to sing for MLK

MLK Day is usually really really cold and really really fun. My wife and kids are out of school and we get to hang out. And I get to sing all the Civil Rights, black history, and spiritual tunes that I love at my sing-a-longs. Usually I do about half Dees songs and half traditional kid tunes but around MLK's b-day I go all out with the stuff I really like. Here's some of the stuff I'm singing today, all weekend, Monday, and all next week. Happy birthday!

John Brown's Body
Lift Every Voice and Sing
We Shall Overcome
Down in the Valley (don't forget the "Birmingham jail" verse)
Follow the Drinking Gourd
The Welcome Table
Let Us Get Together (the Rev. Gary Davis tune)
This Little Light
Go Down, Moses
Wade in the Water
Redemption Song (yeah, that one. before you scoff, try playing it for an NYC crowd. EVERYONE will sing along, even most of the hipsters)
Down by the Riverside
I Sing Just to Know That I'm Alive (Trinidadian tune I learned from Nina Simone)

Dees tunes:
Ah Ahimsa
Sojourner Truth
Underground Railroad
Cool Papa Bell
Bring 'Em In (about Satchel Paige)

Got your own favorites? Please send: thedeedledeedledees AT yahoo DOT com