Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

I’m really enjoying the "Michael Coleman 1891-1945" collection. What a wonderful fiddle player!

What do people think about how relevant his style and tunes are to modern-day sessions?

How many of his tunes do you hear in sessions today?

Do you feel that his tempo is typical or rushed?

Personally, I feel that his music is a bit too fast and ornamented for practical purposes, but then, I’m intermediate in my skills. I can imagine the producers or recording engineers speeding things up a little for commercial purposes. And, I don’t think you would actually dance reels at that tempo.

Listening to Coleman’s playing, I find it fascinating to look at the https://thesession.org/discussions/15489 Michael Krassen version of O’Neill’s tune collection. Krassen’s book of tunes gets criticized for re-interpreting the original O’Neill, but it seems to me the notations are appropriate to Coleman’s style.

For example, inspired by Coleman’s version of The Swallow’s Tail, I’ve worked this tune up on the whistle with a lot of help from the Krassen notation. It was somewhat difficult for me (lot’s and lots of repetition), but like I said, I’m still kind of intermediate.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Big fan of the piano

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Firstly, it’s Miles Krassen, not Michael.
I play fretted instruments but Krassen’s book has been an invaluable text book for me in my journey as an Irish musician. I’ve adapted the fiddle rolls in the book to suit my instrument of choice(banjo/guitar/mandoline). As for Michael Coleman I have one of his recordings but like many others I can’t handle the piano "accompaniment" of the LP, but he was a massively important figure in taking Irish music to the world.
Interesting that you mention "Swallow’s Tail". This is a composition of Mayo fiddler John McFadden(1847-1913) who was the source of many of O’Neill’s tunes. McFadden moved to Chicago when he was a young boy and it seems to me never got the recognition he deserved, as he died a decade or so before the advent of records, although there is at least one recording of his playing on wax cylinder, but of course the sound quality is poor, but you can still hear his genius.
I think your last paragraph demonstrates that Coleman’s music still influences players of the music many decades after his passing.
Incidentally, for those visiting Ireland, in the village of Gurteen in Co. Sligo, there is a Ceoláras Coleman,(Heritage Centre). This is an outstanding memorial to his memory and a visit to it is highly recommended.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

huge

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Very relevent.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Even if you have never listened to Coleman, his influence comes indirectly through those that have been influenced by him - Bobby Casey and Kevin Burke, to name just two out of hundreds of examples.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Too relevant 😉

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

David50: "Too relevant"

I assume what you mean by that is along these lines (copied from http://www.standingstones.com/caoimhin.html ):

The late Patrick Kelly of Cree, Co. Clare best summed up the evil side of recordings when he stated that "the worst thing that ever happened to the West Clare style of fiddling was the appearance of Micheal Coleman’s records".


This is a matter of opinion, of course: nobody could deny that Bobby Casey was a great fiddler - and his playing would not have been what it was without the influence of Coleman. But it is no doubt true that Coleman’s influence (which owes as much to the record industry as to the strength of his musicianship) contributed to the demise of many older fiddle styles.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

not as relevant as the Bothy Band 🙂

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

John McFadden didn’t compose the Swallow’s Tail, or Swallowtail Reel, it was published in Joyce and Ryan’s, and perhaps Kerr’s, before the O’Neill’s books. On the recording of McFadden playing that tune he did an astonishingly great job with it, though.

I wrote out Coleman’s settings of Larry O’Gaff and Jackson’s Morning Brush, if you want to see some transcriptions. Lyth’s 1st book was all Coleman/Morrison/Killoran. Great musicians. A piper who knew all three told me musicians back then considered Coleman’s sound much sweeter, the other two were great for dancing but their sound was a bit rougher/abrasive as a result, if you couldn’t tell from listening.

I’m always talking about these players from days gone by but no one else I hang out with is much interested.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

On the tempo question ("typical or rushed?"), I just listened to a a few reels from the double album, using a tap-for-beat metronome. Many of the reels are right around 112bpm, which I believe is considered a good tempo for dancers in Cèilidh bands, Contradance bands, etc.

Other reels are faster at around 118-120bpm, like Pigeon on the Gate or Rakish Paddy. Some of those tunes have the worst accompaniment, so maybe he was rushing to get it over with. 🙂

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

"Some of those tunes have the worst accompaniment, so maybe he was rushing to get it over with."

I like this explanation.

Posted by .

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

For a fiddle player (at the very least) trying to play This Music and not be intimately familiar with Michael Coleman’s playing is a fundamental oversight. It’s like playing blues but without ever listening to Robert Johnson, or playing pop music without having listened to The Beatles.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Kevin,
Just to clarify my comments about "Swallow’s Tail". I’m assuming that the tune in question is the A Dorian Reel? The information I have about the tune came from a programme guide to the Mayo Fleadh, 2012. It was the summary notes to a lecture given by David Lennon for Cuilmore C.C.E, May 10th 2012 and it states: "he(McFadden) was also a composer of tunes-The Pleasure Of Hope,The Swallow’s Tail,McFadden’s Handsome Daughter, McFadden’s Favourite, The Queen Of The Fair, The Humours Of Westport, The Chicago Reel etc."
I had assumed that this information was accurate, what about the other tunes listed?
There is a "Swallow Tail" in Kerr’s Second Collection Of Merry Melodies(Pg 29) but it is an unrelated jig. The first one and a half bars are similar to the start of "Apples In Winter" and the tune is in E Minor.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Thanks Conical bore for the tempo response. I have a hard time getting anywhere close to Michael Coleman’s (or Mary Bergin’s) tempo, and I know speed comes with practice. But, I kind of assumed that solo music for performance or recording would necessarily be a bit more showy than for dancing or in session.

So, to refine the question: Are these stellar performances mostly for show, and do great players come back to earth when playing at a session?

Regarding the piano accompaniment. It seems more old-fashioned rather than wrong. Of course that could also be wrong, but, contra and Cèilidh bands frequently have a piano chunking on the bass chords. Yeah, I admit that I prefer a more subtle, backup approach for listening.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

I have a couple other questions regarding Coleman’s relevance to modern sessions.

Are his tunes frequently used in session? 25% of them? 50%?

Do modern fiddlers in sessions utilize decorations that are mostly similar to Coleman’s techniques?

Does Coleman’s general "feel" or approach show up in Sessions? Is this a regional or global thing?

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Yes, I’m referring to the A dorian reel, on which Coleman does a spectacular job. Krassen’s interpretation makes a lot of sense once I compare it to Coleman’s playing. You do have to figure out his notation a little bit, but that is easier than trying to guess from the ABC’s or dots in the tune book here. (Since I don’t yet have enough experience to make it up on my own.)

It’s hard-but-good training to work on hitting the triplet-rolls.

Interesting to me is that sometimes the triplets are bowed and other times slurred. Since I’m on whistle, that suggests options of tonguing vs finger-rolls.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

As a fiddler, I can’t ignore the pervasive influence of Michael Coleman. His medleys have become canonical, and his variations on tunes are repeated over and over. I would love to hear more players do something different with tunes such as Bonnie Kate or Lord Gordon’s. As influences I favor Bobby Casey and Paddy Canny, both a generation removed from Coleman.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

« Does Coleman’s general "feel" or approach show up in Sessions? »

I reckon the imprint of Coleman’s "feel" is very apparent in modern Irish fiddling in America, particularly the delicate nuances of phrasing that you can best hear on his recording of Lord Gordon’s reel, a manner of playing that was taken up and perhaps further refined by Andy McGann, and from him passed on to Brian Conway and his generation, and then to legions of younger players in the next generation. Since many of these younger players play in sessions, I’d say the answer is yes.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

The Swallow Tail is in Ryan’s as the Pigeon on the Gate.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Coleman’s recordings helped create a pan-Irish repertoire of tunes, and that influence is still pretty strong including in several "canonical" sets like the Tarbolton/Longford Collector/Sailor’s Bonnet set.

Stylistically, I think he’s less influential than he used to be. There was a time when people placed a huge importance on trying to understand and copy Coleman, but this seems to have dissipated a bit as people have started to give more attention to other old sources and regional styles. I personally gravitate to the music of Sliabh Luachra and West Kerry, and while it’s not like there isn’t any Coleman influence, in general the styles and repertoires don’t really mesh that well, especially the sense of rhythm and phrasing.

The importance of Michael Coleman for a session really depends on who you’re playing with and where. Some people are really into the New York Sligo sound, others not so much. You should be somewhat familiar with Coleman, but he doesn’t need to your life’s work.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Coming back late on CMO’s response to my "too relevant". The 😉 tagged on was in relation to the tempo and ornamentation setting a challenge. But the Gorman clip reminds me that the main thought was in relation to diversity.

Listening to other "source musicians" of that era and, including those who recorded in the USA, and of the 1950’s, I am struck by the variety of styles. A lot of the session clips on youtube (and the collected Coleman recordings) don’t strike me that way. I guess this is because of Coleman’s strong influence.

Also, as a flute player who listens to a lot of fiddle recordings I don’t find Coleman’s style very ‘accessible’. To ‘fiddly’.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

IMO…It would have greater relevance, had his playing been supported by really good piano accompaniment. It sounds like the poor pianist was pulled in off Broadway by the recording company. Someone who in fairness, was in all probability unfamiliar not only with the tune, but perhaps also with Irish Trad Music full stop. To be even fairer, I think the recording process was such that they had to nail each track in less than 55 takes !

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

Simply, some of the piano playing was dead wrong. The piano player playing one chord throughout the entire tune! For the most part they got the key right (LOL).

Michael Coleman was not a session player; he was a soloist. He is relevant in terms of the tunes he played, but not how he played them.

Re: Relevancy of Michael Coleman to modern sessions

thestonecrusher — Agreed, a lot of the piano backing was atrocious. But your last sentence puzzles me. Let’s suppose that Coleman in fact did not play sessions ever. I don’t see how this logically would necessarily imply in any way that he is irrelevant to musicians today who do play sessions.

I believe that Coleman’s influence — for example as mediated by his recorded music, as well as his influence on immediate peers who then carried the torch forward to the likes of Andy McGann and Brian Conway — is very much felt in many modern sessions. Not just his repertoire, but the details of his playing, for example his variations and ornamentation.

I play sessions and I feel like Coleman has been a significant influence on me. But I am just one data point.

I suppose this would be a good time for somebody else to back me up here 🙂