Moondog: The enigmatic jazz wizard of post-war NYC

Moondog: The enigmatic jazz wizard of post-war NYC

I came across Moon dog on one of those long and meandering trips through obscure music on YouTube.

He was a true innovator and an avante-garde enigma. For one he looked like Gandalf or Hagrid. Aside from that he invented several new muscial instruments including a small triangular instrument he called the Ooo and another he called the Ooo-ya-tsu. The most well-known instrument he invented was the triangular percussive he christened the trimba.

Moondog: The enigmatic jazz wizard of post-war NYC
Moondog: The enigmatic jazz wizard of post-war NYC

Moondog’s music defies categorisation, its strange sounding as though it comes out of the ancient and long forgotten canon of a lost civilisation. In this piece he gathered his inspiration from the sound of a NYC subway and a naval foghorn. In this piece you can hear the rhythmic shudder of a train or a strange post-apocalyptic air-ship.

Bird’s Lament by Moondog

Bird’s Lament by Moondog is one of his most well known and conventionally melodic jazz songs. You will no doubt recognise it, possibly subliminally.

On a jazz and weird music journey on YouTube I came across this and was blown away.

About Moondog

Moondog was born in 1916 in Kansas as Louis Thomas Hardin. He was always musical and begun making musical instruments as a child of five. Following a farming accident as a boy he was left blind.

He attended many blind schools including the Iowa School of the Blind where he cultivated a love for music. He was also largely self-taught.

In 1943 he moved to New York City where he met leading lights of classical music and jazz such as Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman and Leonard Bernstein.

Moondog: The enigmatic jazz wizard of post-war NYC
Moondog in Herald Square, New York in 1953

Moondog chose his name in honour of a dog that “howled at the moon more than any other dog I knew of”. He became legendary for his playing on street corners near 6th Avenue, between 52nd and 55th streets. He also donned a remarkably unique and magical cloak and horned helmet, often busking in this outfit, or simply standing there being silent.

He became known by locals as the Viking of 6th Avenue. Most people weren’t aware of his incredible musical talent and thought him to be a common vagrant.  

Although Moondog was never homeless, he had an apartment in upper Manhattan along with a country retreat in Candour NY.

He managed to support himself through the sales of his philosophy, poetry and music on the street.

He was a pagan and had rejected Christianity since his boyhood. His Viking garb was a nod of respect to Nordic mythology, he loved this throughout his life. In his county home in Candor he kept an altar to the god Thor.

Moondog: The enigmatic jazz wizard of post-war NYC
Moondog on East 51st Street, New York (1970-1979).

Musical Influences

Moondog’s music is a mash-up of many musical influences. He once performed at a Native American Sun Dance in Idaho playing the percussion and flute.

His music blends together classical, contemporary jazz, ambient sounds from his environment such as babies crying, trains, ocean waves, along with the sounds the instruments he himself made.

In his autumn years, Moondog travelled to Germany where he lived in the 1970’s in Munster with his friends, the Sommers. There he composed lots of music.  He also toured in his later years throughout the US, France, Germany and Sweden.

This remarkable character Moondog died in Munster Germany in 1999 of heart failure and is immortalised by a statue in a cemetery there.

Moondog: The enigmatic jazz wizard of post-war NYC
Moondog: The enigmatic jazz wizard of post-war NYC

Here is his last performed concert and after this he shuffled off this mortal coil. I am sure you will agree it sounds pretty remarkable.

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