Rock and Roll history lesson entertains and educates

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Aug. 23, 2013
Brian Gillie performs his part-history-lesson-part-sing-along 'Roots of Rock and
Brian Gillie performs his part-history-lesson-part-sing-along 'Roots of Rock and Roll' at the Welles-Turner Library on Aug. 22. Photos by Steve Smith.

Some visitors to the Welles-Turner Library on the evening of Aug. 22 were taken on a trip back in time, via the "Roots of Rock 'n' Roll" presentation by instructor Brian Gillie. Gillie, a professional singer and pianist, performed an hour-long, multi-media presentation, which included singing, dancing, costumes, props and instruments, to a pre-recorded track of clips from rock-and-roll songs from 1950 to 1965.

His chronological tutorial taught the audience how rock-and-roll began, starting with jazz in the 1920s, and progressing through swing and blues and then later, R&B, rockabilly and boogie-woogie.

“Swing music,” Gillie said, “was played mostly by white musicians with little of the passion, emotion and improvisation of the original African-American jazz stylings. Consequently, some black musicians did not like it when their traditional hot jazz became sweeter swing music, so they revived another of their inventions – the blues.”

Gillie's performance also incorporated classic bits from early radio DJs and television announcers, including (of course) Dick Clark.

“It's not only a history of early rock and roll in America, it's also a history of America,” Gillie said. “All of these pieces came together in the early 1950s, along with a cultural revolution where teenagers needed to break from the patterns of the previous generation.”

Despite the healthy dose of education, the presentation was more about reminiscing, singing along and having fun. Gillie said he created the program in 1993, when he said it took him about the whole summer to piece together and learn the timing.

“I actually designed it as a school program for high school kids,” he said, adding that he originally put it together for the Young Audiences of CT organization, and that while nowadays he brings his program mostly to senior centers, he often gets a very mixed crowd, because so much of that music was fun, which was evidenced by the wide age range of the Glastonbury crowd.

Gillie is also a graduate of Group Empowerment and Health Rhythms, fostering community and wellness through music for senior citizens in all stages of elder care; he is a frequent music volunteer for Hospice and CT Food Bank.

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