Folkways Fast Five: Hannah Judd
Fast Five is a five-question speed interview with members of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings staff.
Hello, and welcome to Fast Five, where we at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings talk to a member of the staff about their favorite parts of the Folkways collection. I’m Will Madison, and I’m here today with Hannah Judd. Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Hannah Judd. I’m an intern in sales and marketing at Smithsonian Folkways, and I’m about to start my junior year at the University of Pennsylvania.
What was your first Folkways album?
Well, I kind of grew up with Folkways in my house, but the first album that I really picked out for myself was when I was seven or eight, and it was The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan, and I would listen to it over and over again with two or three other albums in rotation. I love that album, and I credit that album with my ability to hear microtones now, I think I got it in my ears early, so I’m very grateful.
What are some of your favorite albums? Why?
Some of my current favorites—I really, really love Mary Lou Williams, Black Christ of the Andes, I think it’s so powerful. I think she’s chronically underrated as a jazz musician, honestly I don’t think it’s possible to overrate or even just rate her, her influence is so solid and so strong and her chord voicings are really powerful and incredible. On that album, there’s one song, St. Martin de Porres, which is a choral arrangement, but her piano knowledge is so clear there, because it’s this four-part chordal harmony that’s intricate and intense, and there are some chords that are glorious.
A couple other favorites—I love the Colin Turnbull recording, Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest, both because it’s just musically fabulous and because I love thinking about the sonic relationship of a people to their forest, which is so cool. I could listen to that forever. That’s definitely one of my desert island albums.
Another favorite is Old Harp Singing, The Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee. That’s something that’s also very powerful and it’s totally raw, and I think that it’s one of those albums where you can hear somebody’s faith very present in their singing, and I love that.
What are some hidden gems in the collection?
Well, one that I am totally in love with is the Sorrel Hays album, Voicings for Tape/Soprano/Piano. She has these ideas about femininity and music and what it is to be a tape music or electronic music composer, and what it is to be from the South. She takes these layers and layers of tape music, of Sacred Harp music that she taped in the South, and creates this composition and then transcribes that voice into piano, and it’s really dense and cool.
I think that actually all the tape music in the Folkways collection is a big hidden gem, where people don’t know that there’s this avant-garde, like, side-project type stuff that Moe Asch was into, but it’s really cool.
Another hidden gem I like, it’s also avant-garde music, it’s called Travelon Gamelon: Music for Bicycles. It’s very funny to me, because this composer was hitting different parts on an amplified bike for a different project and was like, “hey, this sounds not unlike a gamelan,” and then basically wrote a gamelan piece for a set of bicycles. It still gets performed, but the recording on Folkways I really like. It’s rhythmically very intricate, it’s gamelan music but it’s on a bicycle, which is so cool to me.
Another hidden gem—also avant-garde, I guess we know what my taste is like—is Yoshihisha Taira: Tribute to Noguchi. It’s one of the UNESCOs, but it’s basically a piece written for the UNESCO Noguchi garden. Noguchi is one of my favorite artists, I think his marble sculptures are fantastic. The music, weirdly, to me, communicates exactly what the garden is like. I think that’s really cool and kind of amazing that that was able to happen. So that’s one of my hidden gems too.
What’s your favorite album art?
My favorite album art is by Irwin Rosenhouse, who’s kind of a contemporary of Ronald Clyne in terms of timing, when he was doing art for Folkways. He [made] a lot of really cool art, but my favorite is called Man in Space: The Story of the Journey - A Documentary. It’s this narration about Alan Shepherd Jr.’s flight into space. The album art is phenomenal, it’s this outline of a man sitting on blackness, and inside is this galaxy, he’s holding space inside him, which I think is really apt and fitting for the album, but also totally beautiful and mind-blowing.