That's the title of a six-week educational series under way at the Orlando Public Library, but music doesn't reflect the scope of the films, performances, recordings and lectures that will chronicle the evolution of pop culture through blues, gospel, Broadway, jazz, bluegrass, country, rock, Latin and hip-hop sounds.
"It's not so much come listen to this music," says Scott Warfield, an associate professor of music history at the University of Central Florida and host of the free weekly sessions. "It's more about why people make music, how do they make this music and a little bit about what it says about us collectively and individually."
Created by the Tribeca Film Institute in partnership with the American Library Association and supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the program is being offered at only 50 sites nationwide. Warfield and others involved in the Orlando program received training in Chicago.
The series, which already has covered blues and gospel in one session and Broadway in another, continues with a program on jazz at 6 p.m. Monday in the downtown library's Albertson Room. The music will be explored with a screening of the sixth installment of director Ken Burns' "Jazz" miniseries and a documentary on the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a multiracial, all-female swing band of the 1940s.
One of the goals is to put the music into the context of its times, Warfield says.
"How does the music being played relate to somebody's life at that time?" he says. "If people are out of work in the 1930s, why are they listening to swing bands?"
Each of the film/discussion sessions will be followed by a separate musical event related to the genre. The jazz program will be complemented by a performance of popular songs of the swing era by musician Jim Seem at noon March 15 at the library.
"One of the ideas is to show that the library is about more than just picking up books and checking them out," Warfield says. "It's not just this quiet place."
In future sessions, the musical sounds will range from the bluegrass of Bill Monroe (March 18) to the influence of Bob Dylan's literate songwriting in the early 1960s on rock bands that would provide the soundtrack for political unrest in the Vietnam War era (March 25).
The latter topic would be my pick of the series, because the intersection of Dylan and the Beatles in the mid-1960s was one of the most fortuitous twists of fate in rock history. It turned the Fab Four toward more thoughtful material such as the Dylanesque "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and inspired Dylan to go electric to create the timeless "Like a Rolling Stone."
America's Music won't analyze the song structures as much as the social forces that fueled the writing.
"It's not a technical discussion about how rock songs use these chords and these kinds of instruments," Warfield says. "It's about how rock switches from being fun dance music to something that makes a serious statement about the politics of the times."
The series concludes with a program on the influence of Latin immigrants on music in the 1960s and 1970s. On April 1, Afro-Cuban jazz and mambo will be explored in the film "Latin Music U.S.A.: Episode 1" and hip-hop will be covered in the documentary "From Mambo to Hip-Hop: A South Bronx Tale." Dancers from the Universal Mambo Dance Academy will perform April 2.
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What: A six-week series examining the history of blues, gospel, Broadway, jazz, bluegrass, country, rock, Latin and hip-hop
When: Running weekly through April 2
Where: Orlando Public Library, 101 E. Central Blvd., Orlando