Bach Behind Bars (Westminster Gold, 1973) is the second in Jack Crossan’s Keyboard Kaleidoscope series, in which he plays a mix of pop and Classical standards on harpsichord, clavichord, piano, and celeste--occasionally playing two at once.
In this case, Crosson is live in the gymnasium at Chino State Prison (otherwise known as the California Institution for Men, Chino, Calif.) The repertoire includes a dizzying array of Mozart, Gershwin, Bacharach, the Beatles, Tchaikovsky, Bartok, Beethoven, and some Spanish bullfight music in addition to Bach. Presumably, Bach was chosen as the focal point for the LP cover because his presence in a prison seemed to the producers to be the most jarring. (That they did not play up Bach’s own time in jail seems a missed marketing opportunity). The harpsichord and clavichord are by the Neupert company, and the celeste by Schiedmayer.
I imagined the recording would be a rare glimpse into an exciting moment in the 20th century reception of historical keyboards and Classical music. But, as Edward Pearlstien describes in the liner notes, the prisoners’ response to Crossan was mostly tepid, save for some initial, so-called “appreciative whistles” for his wardrobe (“red velveteen dinner jacket, pink ruffled shirt, and large bow tie”) and a minimal burst of enthusiasm at the end. Apparently, after the performance, some longterm prisoners were overheard to say that "classical music represented the society from which they were excluded and indeed had been alienated at the time they committed their crimes."
The clip here starts at the end of the second-to-last track "If I Ruled the World" and ending a bit into Bach's C Minor Fugue from WTC Book 1. Though, sadly, some of the applause seems to have been edited out, one can hear a small bit of prisoners' enthusiasm, along with Crossan's banter (and a quick reference to the clavichord as being the appropriate instrument for playing the WTC). My favorite part is when one of the prisoners tells Crossan: "I'm ready for it!"
Also, if you're wondering why the clavichord sounds so loud, it's because (as explained in the notes) there's "a microphone stuck in its guts to amplify the otherwise inaudible sounds."