Make Music With Anything: Artis the Spoonman!

Your weekly listen for 10/21/14 is Seattle’s legendary Artis the Spoonman! Artis spent many years living in and around Seattle and is well known at the Pike Place Market, where he used to perform regularly with another Seattle legend, the inimitable Jim Page (folk singer, songwriter and guitarist). He has also toured extensively through North America and Europe. Some of his more noteworthy performances include the David Letterman Show and a guest appearance with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra. However, it was certainly the Soundgarden song “Spoonman” (written about and featuring him in the video) that skyrocketed him to fame. He claims the honor of being “the most famous spoon player in the world” and I have no doubt that it’s true. Watch and listen to find out why (here he appears on the show “Night Music” in 1989, hosted by the Grammy-award winning jazz saxophone player David Sanborn):

The tradition of playing spoons dates back to prehistoric times. Spoons evolved from “bones” or “folk bones”, which are flat instruments carved out of animal bones. Musical bones (still in use today) are played in approximately the same way as spoons, by holding two in one hand and knocking them together. Spoons or bones have been employed as musical instruments in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt as well as in Slavic, Russian and Irish folk music, Cajun music and Zydeco. In America, spoons and bones were used in early minstrel shows and “jug” bands.

Artis’ slogan is “make music with anything” and he certainly walks his talk. Notice that his collection of instruments includes spoons of both metal and wood in a variety of shapes and sizes to create different tones and resonances, a pie lifter, some forks (a regular dinner fork as well as musical tuning fork that is designed to create a particular pitch and carry it for several seconds), and several sets of folk bones.

Artis now lives in Port Townsend, WA and is taking a sabbatical from performing, but if he comes out of retirement, I will certainly put his show(s) on the Your Weekly Listen events calendar.

ACTIVITY: Parents of wee ones, here’s a GREAT indoor activity for the kids on a rainy day. Collect a bunch of different shapes and sizes of spoons and let the kids experiment with them to find out what kind of sounds they make.

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