chicago

Beginnings: Exploring the Music of “Chicago”

In celebration of the New Year, here is Beginnings from the 1969 debut album of the rock band, Chicago.

You might associate Chicago with 1980s ballads like You’re The Inspirationproduced during Peter Cetera’s tenure as lead singer. (That song, written by Cetera and David Foster, offers a fascinating study in continuous modulations built on third relationships). But for most of its history, Chicago has been rooted in a much different, uniquely jazz-inspired sound. From its inception, Chicago was a rock band built around “horns”- saxophonist Walter Parazaider, trombonist James Pankow, and trumpeter Lee Loughnane. All three musicians are still with the group. Jimi Hendrix once told Parazaider, “Jeez, your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me.”

This distinctive sound is on display in Beginnings, a song which culminates in a powerful, extended coda reminiscent of The Beatles’ Hey Jude, released a year earlier. It’s an example of gradually-building intensity through repetition- a hypnotizing inability to let go as the end of the song defiantly becomes, “Only the beginning…” In this case, a series of improvisations fades into a single, eternal percussion track played by drummer Danny Seraphine. This ending seems to be a celebration of recording technology itself- the process of laying down a song one track at a time. I love the way Chicago‘s mixing frequently turned up the “horns” in a way that made them equal to, or even more prominent than, the vocals.

These days, advances in technology allow musicians to record virtually anywhere, including in a hotel room while on tour. This behind-the-scenes video shows the Chicago horns laying down the track for Naked in the Garden of Allah, part of their twenty-fourth studio album, released in 2014.

My Favorite Chicago

A Snapshot of Music Across 400 Years

2017 will mark the following anniversaries:

1917

notable completed works:

  • Violin Sonata in G Major, Claude Debussy
  • Three Places in New England, Charles Ives
  • Violin Concerto No. 1, Symphony No. 1 “Classical,” Sergei Prokofiev
  • Le tombeau de Couperin, Maurice Ravel
  • Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1, Ottorino Respighi
  • Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) string orchestra arrangement, Arnold Schoenberg
  • Le chant du rossignol, Igor Stravinsky
  • Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow) (opera) Richard Strauss
  • La rondine (The Swallow) (opera), Giacomo Puccini

Births: Oscar Shumsky, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie,

1817

notable completed works:

  • String Quintet, Op. 104, Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Two Polonaises, Frederic Chopin
  • String Trio in B-flat Major, Franz Schubert
  • La CenerentolaLa Gazza LadraArmidaAdelaide di Borgogna (operas), Gioachino Rossini

1717

notable completed works:

  • Pièces de clavecin, Book 2, François Couperin
  • Water Music, George Frideric Handel
  • Penelope la CastaL’Incoronazione di Dario (opera), Antonio Vivaldi

Births: Johann Stamitz

1617

notable completed works:

  • Affetti musicali (Musical Affections), Op. 1, Biagio Marini
  • Banchetto musicale, Johann Hermann Schein

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