The Making of Pete Seeger's Grammy®,-winning Album PETE, by Paul Winter

Paul Winter on the Making of PETE, the Grammy®,-winning Album by Pete Seeger

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The Making of the Grammy-winning Album PETE by Pete Seeger
By Paul Winter

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    How a 30-year Dialogue About Audience Participation Produced a New Pete Seeger Album

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    Pete Seeger's Grammy-winning studio album, PETE
    * 7 June 1963: I hear Pete Seeger for the first time. John Hammond, producer of my jazz sextet albums for Columbia Records, thinks it would be good if I listened to some folk music, and invites me to sit with him in the control booth, above the stage at Carnegie Hall, where he is recording a concert by Pete Seeger (it became the album WE SHALL OVERCOME). This evening is a major revelation for me.

    * July 1966 : Soundchecking onstage at the Newport Folk Festival, where I am playing a three-man Ugandan xylophone with Andrew and Paul Tracey from South Africa, Pete comes over to look at the instrument and asks us how the three-part polyphony works. I continue in conversation with Pete backstage and he invites me to come to his home sometime to see the new Trinidadian steel-drums he has just gotten.
    Pete Seeger during recording sessions at Living Music.
    Photo ©Jennifer Almquist
    Pete Seeger during recording sessions at Living Music. Photo ©Jennifer Almquist


    * June 1967: I visit Pete at his home on the mountain overlooking the Hudson River, near Beacon, New York, where he and his wife Toshi live in a log cabin they built in the late 1940's. I play Pete some recordings of my newly-formed Consort and he says: "Well, chamber music is fine, but the only thing it lets the audience do is clap their hands once in a while. Participation, for me, is the goal. This is the challenge: to find ways the audience can participate".

    * November 1967 : African ethnomusicologist Andrew Tracey urges me to see the show "Les Ballets Africains" and hear a "magical" song, "Minuit". I sneak a tape-recording of the piece and soon begin trying to perform "Minuit" with the Consort.

    * 1971: After years of unsatisfying attempts to play "Minuit" with our instruments, I finally get the nerve to sing it, in concert, and invite the audience to join in on its chant chorus. ("Minuit" teaches me that it's OK that I sing, even if I don't have a "voice").

    * 1979: Pete hears the Paul Winter Consort at a Hudson River Revival; "Minuit" is part of our set.

    * June 1982: I drive Pete home to Beacon following an all-day festival in Cornwall, Connecticut, where we had performed together. I ask Pete if he would consider making an album of his "Earth songs", and he replies: "Oh I've done over 80 albums and I think that's enough. I'm through recording". I let the album idea drop.

    * 1984 : In a concert for the "Fate of the Earth" Conference at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York, Pete and Odetta join with the Consort in the finale, singing "Minuit" together.

    * 1985: Pete hears Consort guitarist Jim Scott lead an audience in a 45-minute singalong of "Minuit" at a folk festival in Baltimore and is wildly enthusiastic. Here, finally, is the ideal example of a universal and beautiful three-part singalong song which he has always sought.

    Pete Seeger's signature * 1986: Pete writes to me, asking for the original recording of "Minuit", saying: "If I don't do anything else for the rest of my life but find the English words for "Minuit", it will have been worth it".

    * 1987: Pete calls to tell me he is going to be visiting my town, Litchfield, where he had gone to school for five years as a boy. He tells me he has a new electronic sign on which he can flash the words for singalongs in concerts, and that he would like to show it to me. Pete comes to my farm and, when he walks into the loft of the barn, his eyes light up and he says: "Wouldn't this be a great place to get a group of people together and do some singing!"
    Paul Winter and Pete Seeger during the recording of PETE.
    Photo ©Jennifer Almquist
    Paul Winter and Pete Seeger during the recording of PETE. Photo ©Jennifer Almquist


    * July 1988: With 50 friends from around New England, we hold our first sing-in with Pete in the barn, spending two days singing about 40 songs together, with the tape machines running just to see what we might get.

    * July 1989: With new choral arrangements, and with the Cathedral Singers from New York as the core of the chorus, we make another round of recordings. On hearing these, Pete feels it's now too tight, too "jolly-ho artificial". Not wanting to move forward with anything Pete is not comfortable with, the album project goes on the shelf - for the next five years.

    * November 1994: The Consort and Pete play a concert together in Poughkeepsie, NY, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Clearwater Sloop. Pete now has English words for "Minuit". We talk backstage and agree that we should have one more go at doing our album with the chorus.

    Pete Seeger's PETE, an all new recording by folk legend * April 1995 : Pete comes to Litchfield to meet Paul Halley's superb new community chorus, Gaudeamus, from Norfolk, Connecticut. Pete communicates with everyone about the kind of spontaneous feel he would like to hear in the music, and this time, it seems, we get it right. The PETE album is finally born.

    * February 1997: PETE wins the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album of 1996 and Pete Seeger is given a standing ovation at the Awards Ceremony.

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