Big Boy Cleveland
Big Boy Cleveland
The pipes are often bound together and are played by blowing across the open ends of the tubes. The Quills would probably be forgotten today if not for the excellent recordings by the entertainer and early bluesman Henry Thomas, made in the late 1920s. Alan Lomax and others have recorded traditional players in the field as well. History The Quills are first mentioned in early American plantation slave histories, some dating back to the late 1700s. At that time, the instrument appears to consist of two or more cane pipes, played for recreation and dancing, accompanied by shouts, whoops and songs. They are mentioned fairly often in oral histories but little structural and musical information has survived.
Considering how popular they appear to have been, it is surprising that they are almost unheard of today. Quills were also used by free blacks in New Orleans in the 1800s. Two bluesmen recorded songs with the Quills in the 1920, and a rural folk tradition has survived to this day in the American south. I've heard that the word "Quill" is an colonial era term for a hollow tube of any sort, but have been unable to confirm this. Surviving African Traditions A number of villages in Zimbabwe and Mozambique maintained a tradition of pan-pipe playing well into this century, and a few continue to play to this day. The earliest recordings of these ensembles are from the field recordings of Hugh Tracy, who travelled through southern Africa between 1935 and 1955, making a series of exceptional recordings of traditional music.
His recordings are available from the International Library of African Music (ILAM). The earliest examples that I am aware of are from the field recordings of Hugh Tracy, many of which can be heard on the recording Flutes and Horns. This recording can be previewed and ordered from this web site in South Africa: http://ilam.ru.ac.za/moa/moa030.htm Some of these recordings bear a striking resemblance to the American recordings of Sid Hemphill. Another great recording is of the Nyanga panpipes from Mozambique is "Traditional Music of Cancune, Mozambique", It should be noted that southern African nations never had a substantial slave trade with the United States, and so it is unlikely that the tradition came directly from these tribes in southern Africa. The instrument may have had greater spread in west Africa in previous centuries, but perhaps has died out since then. Are there any original surviving quills? Lomax reports that when he revisited some of the locations where he had recorded Quills players, the tradition had pretty much died out.
I hope that there are still some players from that tradition, and the skills of making sets of quills has not died out entirely, however I am not aware of any. I also hope that older instruments still exist. It seems reasonable to think that these instruments survive, perhaps still kept in the family of the players, and perhaps in small museums in the south. If you know of the location of any, please let me know! I was told by banjo scholar Scott Odell that the collection in the Smithsonian once contained a set of Quills that had been donated in the late 1800s along with a Mountain Dulcimer.
Its current whereabouts is unknown, and it may have been lost. Players Only a few players have been recorded playing an instrument called the quills prior to the folk revival. Big Boy Cleveland, Gennet 1927. Henry Thomas, Vocalion 1927 and 1929. Sid Hemphill, recorded by Alan Lomax in 1942. Alec Askew, recorded by Alan Lomax in 1942.
Cleveland's Quills Blues can be heard at this site: Document Records (search for "The Songster Tradition 1927 - 1935". http://www.sohl.com/Quills/Quills.htm Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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