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MUSIC OF THE DAY-May 11

MUSIC OF THE DAY- May 11- Gabriel Faure- Requiem in D Minor– The Atlanta Symphony and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Shaw

When Germans do death, they speak gravely and darkly and seriously. Think of Mozart’s Requiemand Brahms’ German Requiem.

When Italians do death, they are wildly emotional and frenzied and usually make a lot of hand gestures. Think Verdi’s Requiem.

When the French do death, it’s somewhere between these two camps, yet it’s lighter somehow, like a glorious béarnaise sauce.

When I think of music that symbolizes life’s end, I always think of Gabriel Faure and his Requiem in D minor.There are few pieces in music that hit me like this, and I think one reason it’s so touching is that Faure wrote it not out of sheer grief, but as an acknowledgement to the sweet deliverance that death brings. (he also wanted to write great music.) Rather than focus on the sorrows of loss, Faure shows us a light to eternal life and the freedom of earthly pains, stuff that only death can bring.

Of course, that’s assuming we can deal with all that. One of the hardest things in life is letting someone go—you might believe that you’ll see that person on the other side. But when you’re dealing with decimating loss, often the last thing you’re thinking about is your loved one’s new-found eternal freedom. These other requiems are for the first stages of grief; Faure’s is for the last stage, when you’re still sad and swollen with tears, but you’ve accepted that that person is gone and that they are probably better off, even if you aren’t.

Mozart, Brahms, and Verdi’s requiems sound like the composers are pissed and not believing that the person is gone, and they’re going to tell you their feelings in a few different and heavy ways.  Faure is more like an old soul here. I’m not Catholic, so I don’t have any dogma drilled into me or have any knowledge of how Catholic masses work. Maybe that makes me a better judge of things here, but you don’t need to be The Pope to recognize that Faure’s Requiemis one of the most beautiful things ever created by a human being.

This version is the one I got on CD several decades ago, and you get the bonus Requiem from Durufle, which is also beautiful, but deserves a post unto itself. I transcribed Faure’s Requiem for piano from the orchestral score, and that gave me greater insight into the graceful writing of this French master. I’ll avoid talking about the actual liturgy and just talk about the music.

The work is in seven movements:

  1. Introitet Kyrie
  2. Offertory
  1. Pie Jesu
  2. Agnus Dei
  3. Libera me

The Introit begins in the aforementioned D Minor, but this isn’t a heavy-handed take on the saddest of all keys. Faure moves around the keys a bit, so the sorrow we associate with minor keys isn’t totally there, as it’s cradled in enlightened major chords. The minor key comes back for the Kyriewith what we jazz people call a walking bass. It’s a trudging series of quarter notes that would fit into a cool jazz tune or a mid-90s hip-hop track (Note to self: steal this bassline). Did I mention that there’s a choir and soloists? And a pipe organ? It’s all conducted by Robert Shaw, who is considered one of the best vocal ensemble conductors there has been. Listen for the cello line that sounds like a soul is trying to ascend; it doesn’t quite make it in this movement, but it will.

The Offertoiremoves to B minor, and the unaccompanied choir suddenly sounds more like Catholicism. Once the orchestra enters, Faure throws out a few of his cool French chords. These balance with the Latinate choir sections and make you hope that Debussy really is in heaven after all. There are few musical things more comforting to me than a series of orchestral dominant-ninth chords. He continues with some subtle harmony accompaniment under the male vocal, throwing in a bit of pipe organ for texture. This is not the Toccata in D Minororgan, it’s a subtler and kinder set of pipes.

I don’t like to refer to voices as angelic, but the choir parts in Sanctus are really up there in the clouds. The solo violin sounds like seraphim trying to carry the soul heavenward. I don’t think the soul is there yet, but it’s a lot more content than it was ten minutes ago. When the brass enter, it’s like ancient brass gates open to let the soul into the next level of the afterlife. I don’t know if the Latin text says this, but it’s what I’m feeling.

You don’t have to be a Christian to love the Requiem or Pie Jesu, because it sounds like a musical trembling you can just plain FEEL. There are some unexpected chords in here that lead to more Gallic-sounding harmonies. Pie Jesu reminds me a bit of Schubert’s Ave Mariait must have been tough to write anything about Jesus and Mary after Schubert.

The Agnus Dei and Lux Eterna are in a pleasant F major, and it sounds more terrestrial and church-like, as if a dogma-laden priest is lurking behind you telling you that your sins make you a shitty person. But you probably aren’t a shitty person, and even though you’re in a possibly-oppressive cathedral right now, more angels are showing up at 24:00 to heal and comfort you. This is possibly my favorite section of the piece. Faure’s led us around an F circle for a while before the sopranos hold a C, which is a common chord tone in F and A-flat major. He distracts us from thinking about good old F major with this note so he can modulate to A-flat. It’s a brilliant device that’s been used by many composers over the years, but this is one of the best examples of it.

I took the melody and chords from this part and wrote a song with it. My friend Jill Seifers had lost her father and told me about the memorial they had for him.  I wrote some lyrics (amateurish by my standards now) about an end of life ritual like his, one that I could also see for myself. I told Jill about the song but didn’t play it for her. Sadly, she died a few years later, and the song became about her in my head. (My song is called “Last Wish,” in case anyone wants to hear it.)

Faure’s musical statement here gets us back into the heavens with its ever-changing harmonies and sounds of something beyond our understanding. It’s not pathos or instant tears, but a quiet acceptance that your loved one is carrying on to the next plane. Maybe this is shoveling dirt into the grave, or maybe it’s that you’re acknowledging the person’s passing. It still hurts, but you’re going to be okay.

Libera Mereprises the opening themes of the Introit before taking the theme of Agnus Dei and placing it in D major. It’s back to D minor for the baritone solo and some subdued orchestral harmonies. The choir enters from somewhere above the grass in front of the cathedral, but then they get a bit tempestuous, or as tempestuous as Faure is willing to get here. We are speaking of the dead, after all. Is this a warning of the potentially unpleasant afterlife? It’s got a great tune, so I’d follow it to whatever sort of post-earth plane it’s leading me down.

Finally, we reach heaven for real with In Paradisum. The pipe organ sounds like a chirping bluebird of happiness flying around the choir as it assists the soul in its upward flight. There are some serious sforzando chords in the middle section that would punch you in the face if they were German. But the soul doesn’t care about countries and other petty things anymore; it’s entering somewhere warm that’s filled with joys we could never understand here on earth.

I’ve lost a few of my most precious friends in the past few years, including my dad Hayden Dryden, my musical and life mentor John Shifflett, and one of my best friends, Tim Luntzel. Their deaths naturally elicited tears and grief and the haunting perennial question “Why do these great people have to be ripped away from us?” I was most prepared for my dad’s death, as I was with him holding his hand and playing him Chet Baker. Hold onto a person as they die if you can; not only will it allow them to pass, but it can let you feel a smidgen of what might lie beyond. It will hurt, of course, but you will have put your needs aside for that person, and there is so much to be gained from selfless acts. I need to learn how to do them more often.

All three of these loved ones sent me signs from the other side. I feel that the soul is still around us for a while after the person dies; that’s when they show us that they’re thinking of us. They can feel close to you, as if they’re watching you over your shoulder. Then, they are gone. From there, I think they completely move to the next level, but we can still communicate with them. It’s like they are partially trapped in a haze above us and try to tell us some stuff before it becomes a long-distance call that’s harder to place.

John Shifflett was a different story. He was the premier bassist in the Bay area until he died in April of 2017 after a short battle with cancer. We knew he was sick, but he withdrew from the world in his final six weeks. I got the unexpected word that he died, and I wasn’t ready to accept it. For a lot of Shiffy’s friends, there was no time to say goodbye. He DID say goodbye to me the day or two after he died. I was on my front porch and looking at the sky on a beautiful spring day when a cloud appeared. Not an angry cloud; just a chilled-out cloud that meandered across the blue sky. Shiffy was in that cloud and winking at me, telling me he was okay and that I should be too. I don’t know how I knew that he was in the cloud—I wasn’t thinking about him and looked up hoping for a sign. He was just there. There’s no way to prove something like this, but if someone believes in something strongly enough, it might as well be true. I write a few tunes for him to help me get through the sadness and to let him know via music that I was thinking about him.

I could write entire novels on my close friendship with Tim Luntzel, bassist/musician/human extraordinaire. He died from ALS in August 2018, and his death hit me even harder than that of my father’s. I was prepared for Dad and had a feeling that Shiffy was near the end, but I really thought I’d see Tim again. I’d been at his bedside four days earlier and then wished I could have been there for him at the end. The tears were heavy with grief, but I found a Faure-like power in his transformation to the other side. In his great but abbreviated life (forty-four) he changed the lives of so many people for the better, and I received a new and powerful awareness after he died. He gave me the strength to keep on, and I’ve felt more open to other peoples’ needs and have been able to be selfless when others could use some support.

My dad appeared in a dream: he looked like he was a boy again and sat on a ledge while smiling at me. He was a kind man, and he let me know that everything was great with him and that I should take care of my mom, which I am doing now (at least to the best of my lousy abilities). I silently talk to Dad when I’m trying to figure something out; I believe that we can ask our friends and ancestors on the other side for advice and they will sometimes give it to you. I was practicing a Haydn piece late one night, trying to understand it and play it better. Suddenly I thought to ask Papa Hayden for advice. He told me to relax and just enjoy the music; the understanding of it would come. It was a minor musical nirvana for me, and I played the piece with an acceptance akin to letting go of someone or some idea. It was a very Zen moment, in that I achieved what I desired by ceasing to desire it. Thank you, dad.

We all have to deal with grief and loss, and music is the best art for coping with our sadness. Faure’s Requiem should be on your eternal playlist. I hope I can still hear it after I’ve left this earthly plain.

MUSIC OF THE DAY- May 12- Stevie Wonder-Songs in the Key of Life

Stevie Wonder.
That is all.

I mean, it should be, as he’s one of the brightest lights to ever emerge from the human race. But I imagine that there are some people who still don’t know about this musical genius. Some people consider 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life  to be Stevie’s masterpiece, but I’m not fond of that term, as it implies that the artist won’t ever be able to make anything better. Stevie finds ways to throw in sophisticated chords and sick grooves so well that even a Neanderthal could sing along with his amazing melodies. For more about the recording and production of this classic album, read thisarticle in the wonderful magazine Tape Op.

Songs in the Key of Life is such an important and lengthy album, so I apologize to anyone who anyone who finds this essay of sorts to be too long to read. I’ll paraphrase Christopher Hitchens and  tell you that I could have written a shorter piece, but I didn’t have enough time.  I’m splitting up the record into two posts so no one (including myself) is overwhelmed by the quantity of words.

It’s a double album that originally came with a four-song EP, but many of us know it as a two CD set. It begins with a Stevie soul choir intro for “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” This tune, like a few of Stevie’s other songs, inspired a bunch of banal smooth jazz records that came out later, but we can’t blame Stevie for that. Of course, he plays most of the instruments on this record.
Here’s what he’s saying to humanity:

Good morn or evening friends
Here’s your friendly announcer
I have serious news to pass on to everybody
What I’m about to say
Could mean the world’s disaster
Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain

It’s that
Love’s in need of love today
Don’t delay
Send yours in right away
Hate’s goin’ round
Breaking many hearts
Stop it please
Before it’s gone too far

The force of evil plans
To make you its possession
And it will if we let it
Destroy ev-er-y-body
We all must take
Precautionary measures
If love and please you treasure
Then you’ll hear me when I say

Oh that

Love’s in need of love today
Don’t delay
Send yours in right away
Hate’s goin’ round
Breaking many hearts
Stop it please
Before it’s gone too far
Gone too far

People you know that

Love’s in need of love today
Love’s in need of love today
Don’t delay
Don’t delay
Send yours in right away
Right a-way
You know that hate’s
goin’ round
Hate’s goin’ round
Breaking many hearts
Breaking hearts
Stop stop it please
Before it’s gone too far
Gone too far……

It’s a plea to us in the hope that we will stop destroying each other. I can live in Stevie’s peaceful world forever, but I don’t know if the human race will ever hear his message. You and I do though, and that’s what counts right now. It’s amazing how innovative this record was when it came out, but it doesn’t sound dated. You know we’re in the 1970s, but the disco ball and flared pants are nowhere in sight.

I’m not usually not a fan of God songs, but when artists like Stevie sing about him/her, I’m all ears. “Have a Talk with God,” co-written with Calvin Hardaway, is a great way to connect with the Creator. It helps that this track is sleekly funky. Stevie was one of the first artists to use synth bass (check “Boogie On Reggae Woman”), and few people play it better. I want to know what that percolating background synth is.  Once again, Stevie plays and sings everything on this track.

If you want to feel enraged an sad about how shitty urban life can be, “Village Ghetto Land” (co-written with Gary Byrd) will get your emotions stirred up.  Stevie played a Yamaha GX-1synthesizer on this tune, and its sound is startling but timeless. It’s just Stevie with a few synth tracks and a typically amazing vocal that has less reverb on it than the previous songs (at least to my ears), so it’s more direct and upfront. If Stevie was in a typical Motown reverb chamber, it might have been less effective as a message as he would have sounded further away from the truth.

Would you like to go with me
Down my dead-end street
Would you like to come with me
To Village Ghetto Land

See the people lock their doors
While robbers laugh and steal
Beggars watch and eat their meals-from garbage cans

Broken glass is everywhere
It’s a bloody scene
Killing plagues the citizens
Unless they own police

Children play with rusted cars
Sores cover their hands
Politicians laugh and drink-drunk to all demands

Families buying dog food now
Starvation roams the streets
Babies die before they’re born
Infected by the grief

Now some folks say that we should be
Glad for what we have
Tell me would you be happy in

Village Ghetto Land.

The instrumental “Contusion” has always felt a little out of place to me on this record, but it’s Stevie’s nod to Return to Forever, a great fusion band that toured alongside him back in the day. That’s Michael Sembelloon guitar, whom you might know from the Flashdance soundtrack and the hit “Maniac.” This is a total fusion tune funneled through the extraordinary brain of Stevie.

Stevie Wonder knew his musical history, and we should all know “Sir Duke” and its homage to jazz greats. It’s got everything—groove, melody, killer horn lines, hooks galore, and some housebroken jazz chords that work because it’s STEVIE WONDER. This is one of those Stevie tunes that is so ingrained in me that I take it for granted.

Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands

But just because a record has a groove
Don’t make it in the groove
But you can tell right away at letter A
When the people start to move

They can feel it all over
They can feel it all over people
They can feel it all over
They can feel it all over people

Music knows it is and always will
Be one of the things that life just won’t quit
But here are some of music’s pioneers
That time will not allow us to forget

For there’s Basie, Miller, Satchmo
And the king of all Sir Duke
And with a voice like Ella’s ringing out
There’s no way the band can lose

You can feel it all over
You can feel it all over people
You can feel it all over…

There’s something else hidden here besides the greatness of our jazz heroes— it’s the optimistic statement that music will never quit us. Stevie gives musicians a great mantra when he sings “just because a record has a groove don’t make it in the groove.” I have to remember that Zen-like statement. “Sir Duke” is in the key of B major, which is not a very common key center, especially when you have horns in the mix. It’s one subtle reason this tune sounds a little different.

Another song I take for granted is “I Wish,”which is one of the sickest and funkiest tracks in musical history. I tried to learn it when I was sixteen; I mostly got it, but there are so many elements to the track that you don’t hear clearly until you’ve heard the tune for the twentieth time. That’s Stevie on drums; he’s one of the funkiest drummers there is, and I think it’s because he’s NOT a drummer. If you’re a master in one element of music, you might be able to play another instrument in a unique way. The lyrics are a nostalgic ode to childhood, even though they celebrate poverty and corporal punishment:

Looking back on when I
Was a little nappy headed boy
When my only worry
Was for Christmas what would be my toy
Even though we sometimes
Would not get a thing
We were happy with the
Joy the day would bring

Sneaking out the back door
To hang out with those hoodlum friends of mine
Greeted at the back door
But thought I told you not to go outside
Tryin’ your best to bring the
Water to your eyes
Thinkin’ it might stop her
From whooping’ your behind

I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ever have to go
I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ever have to go
‘Cause I love them so

Brother says he’s tellin’
‘Bout you playin’ doctor with that girl
Just don’t tell I’ll give you
Anything you want in this whole wide world
Mama gives you money for Sunday school
You trade yours for candy after church is through

Smokin’ cigarettes and writing something nasty on the wall (you nasty boy)
Teacher sends you to the principal’s office down the wall
You grow up and learn that kinda thing ain’t right
But while you were doin’ it-it sure felt outta sight
I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ever have to go
I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ever have to go

‘Cause I love them so.

Yes, his childhood sounded like he had some fun, but I think Mr. Wonder had more fun once he became a bona fide star. Stevie sure has a lot of visual imagery in his songs, which is impressive since he can’t actually see anything and uses his inner vision to describe things. “Knocks Me Off My Feet” uses a lot of that imagery with a mildly-pleading chorus and an irresistible drum groove, played by Mr. Wonder himself. Stevie plays everything himself here, and it takes a very rare ability to arrange everything in your head and play it all yourself one track at a time. Prince could do this, but he learned a lot from Stevie.

I see us in the park
Strolling the summer days of imaginings in my head
And words from our hearts
Told only to the wind felt even without being said
I don’t want to bore you with my trouble
But there’s somethin ’bout your love

That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet
There’s somethin ’bout your love
That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet
Knocks me off my feet

I don’t want to bore you with it
Oh but I love you, I love you, I love you
I don’t want to bore you with it
Oh but I love you, I love you, I love you
More and more

We lay beneath the stars
Under a lovers tree that’s seen through the eyes of my mind
I reach out for the part
Of me that lives in you that only our two hearts can find
But I don’t want to bore you with my trouble
But there’s somethin’ bout your love
That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet
But there’s somethin’ bout your love
That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet.

Stevie doesn’t want to show her his heart at first, even though they’re an item. Why does he think he’d bore her with his troubles and his love for her? Who wouldn’t listen to what Stevie Wonder says? I don’t know if he stayed with this lyrical lover for very long, but she might have some listening issues.

Stevie hits us hard with another social issue song with “Pastime Paradise.” If we Caucazoidals ever start thing that race relations are really good, we need to listen to this song. Stevie’s preaching a bit, but hopefully he’s not just preaching to the choir

They’ve been spending most their lives
Living in a pastime paradise
They’ve been spending most their lives
Living in a pastime paradise
They’ve been wasting most their time
Glorifying days long gone behind
They’ve been wasting most their days
In remembrance of ignorance oldest praise

Tell me who of them will come to be
How many of them are you and me
Dissipation
Race relations
Consolation
Segregation
Dispensation
Isolation
Exploitation
Mutilation
Mutations
Miscreation
Confirmation, to the evils of the world

They’ve been spending most their lives
Living in a future paradise
They’ve been spending most their lives
Living in a future paradise
They’ve been looking in their minds
For the day that sorrows gone from time
They keep telling of the day
When the savior of love will come to stay

Tell me who of them will come to be
How many of them are you and me

Proclamation
Of race relations
Consolation
Integration
Verification
Of revelations
Acclamation
World salvation
Vibrations
Stimulation
Confirmation, to the peace of the world

They’ve been spending most their lives
Living in a pastime paradise
They’ve been spending most their lives
Living in a pastime paradise

We’ve been spending too much of our lives
Living in a pastime paradise

Let’s start living our lives
Living for the future paradise
Praise to our lives
Living for the future paradise
Shame to anyone’s lives
Living in the pastime paradise.

The meaning of the song is pretty clear, I’d say. Some things haven’t gotten better since 1976, though. Stevie plays the GX-1 again, and it’s such a beautiful and haunting string sound. Can somebody buy me one? Once again, the vocal is relatively reverb-free, but it sounds double-tracked. Coolio sampled this song for his hit “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which is probably the only rap song to quote a Psalm.

“Summer Soft” really does like a summer day. I think of this album as a summer record because of the sunny lyrics and joy that prevails throughout most of the songs. It feels like an East Coast type of summer record to me, so I’m writing this outside in the California sun to capture some essence of that vibe. Stevie gives us a tour of the seasons as a metaphor for fading love and broken hearts:

Summer soft
Wakes you up with a kiss to start the morning off
In the midst of herself playing Santa Claus
She brings gifts through her breeze

Morning rain
Gently plays her rhythms on your window pane
Giving you no clue of when she plans to change
To bring rain or sunshine

And so you wait to see what she’ll do
Is it sun or rain for you
But it breaks your heart in two
When you find it’s October
And she’s gone
And she’s gone
Summer’s gone
Taking with her summer’s play

Winter wind
Whispers to you that he wants to be your friend
But not waiting for your answer he begins
Forcing dangers way with his breeze

Morning snow
Plans to have a winter ball for you to throw
But just where or when he never lets you know
If it’s snow or clear days you’ll find

And so you wait to see what he’ll do
Is it sun or rain for you
But it breaks your heart in two
‘Cause you’ve been fooled by April
And he’s gone
And he’s gone
Winter’s gone

You find it’s October
And she’s gone
And she’s gone
Summer’s gone

You’ve been fooled by April
And he’s gone
And he’s gone
Winter’s gone

You find it’s October
And she’s gone
And she’s gone
Summer’s gone

You’ve been fooled by April
And he’s gone
And he’s gone
Winter’s gone….

This tune starts out with a cool piano lick that leads to some sophisticated descending chords in the unusual key of G-flat major. The harmony here is incredible; not many artists can use these kinds of chords in a pop tune and make it work like this. Stevie’s melodic sense makes that all possible. There are a few other artists who can blend ear candy melodies with jazz chords (Steely Dan comes to mind), but Stevie is his own funky and soulful thing. When Stevie’s drum groove kicks in, the song escalates into a quasi-disco groove that instantly perks you up. As if the harmony and groove wasn’t enough, he modulates ever higher, as if he’s ascending to the clouds. He sounds ecstatic even though she’s gone. This is one of the many examples of Stevie’s vocal virtuosity, and just like many innovators he’s inspired legions of imitators, most of whom couldn’t get anywhere near the illuminated musical zone Stevie inhabits.

Disc one concludes with “Ordinary Pain,” which is really two songs in one. The first easy-going half sounds more like 1976 than the other songs. This is not to say that it’s contaminated by disco, but that it has a very 1970s chord progression (what Berklee called a line cliché). It’s about heartache:

When by the phone
In vain you sit
You very soon in your mind realize that it’s not just
An ordinary pain in your heart

When you by chance
Go knock on her door
Walkin’ away you’re convinced that it’s much more
Than just an ordinary pain in your heart
It’s more than just
An ordinary pain in your heart

Don’t fool yourself
But tell no one else
That it’s more than just
An ordinary pain
In your heart

When you catch up
But she says goodbye
Hold back your tears and before you start to cry
Say you feel unnecessary pain in your heart

Tell her you’re glad
It’s over in fact
Can she take with her the pain she brought you back
Takin that ordinary pain from your heart
It’s more than just
An ordinary pain from your heart

Don’t fool yourself
But tell no one else
That it’s more than just
An ordinary pain
In your heart

You think the tune is over, and you had a nice time even if it did trigger some sad memories for you. But Stevie’s not finished, and he brings in Shirley Brewer to soul sass us:

You’re just a masochistic fool
Because you knew my love was cruel
You never listened when they said
Don’t let that girl go to your head
But like a playboy you said no
This little girl mind you will blow
But then I blew you out the box
When I put my stuff on key and lock

It makes me feel kind of sick
To know love put you in a trick
I knew our love would have to end
The day I made it with your friend
Giving your love to one unreal
Like a big fool I know you feel
But in this lovey-dovey game
With all its joy there must be pain
But now the time has surely come
This game don’t seem like so much fun

You’re crying big crocodile tears
Don’t match the ones I’ve cried for years
When I was home waiting for you
You were out somewhere doing the do
You know I’d really like to stay
But like you did I’ve got to play
You’re dumb to think I’d let you be
Scot free without some pain from me
I heard your song and took a chance
But to your music I can’t dance
Go tell your story ‘sob-sad’
About you blowin’ what you had
Since one ain’t good enough for you
Then do yourself see how you do.

Damn. She levels Stevie’s heartbroken guy we felt sorry for a few minutes ago. Was he really that much of an asshole? If she says he was, then he probably was. How many artists would have even attempted this kind of guy/gal lyrical dichotomy? It’s a two sides to every story concept that I’d love to hear more often in songs. But you’d have to have another singer with you for every gig, and sometimes that is just not feasible for we mere mortals and financially-challenged artists. But this is Stevie Wonder, so anything is possible.

There is even more of this great singing, songwriting, playing and production on the next disc, in case you didn’t know. Even if Stevie just put out this first disc in 1976 it would still be one of the greatest records in popular music history. But wait, there’s more!

ALBUM OF THE DAY-May 13- Stevie Wonder- Songs in the Key of Life(disc 2)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqZH4ddb6QM&index=10&list=PLAXtxlmxaeof9dBuuzXE9DUzoCEljxF6Q

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’ve never been into babies or most little kids. But Stevie Wonder was when he made Songs in the Key of Life. Wonder’s first daughter Aisha was born around the time of the recording, and her arrival inspired much of this record, especially “Isn’t She Lovely.” You can even hear Aisha splashing around in a tub. I’ll say it’s one of the most joyful songs about becoming a parent, but Stevie could sing about bullfighting and make it joyful. “Isn’t She Lovely” is a pop standard now, due to its bouncy shuffle groove, inescapably catchy melody, and sophisticated chords that wouldn’t make it onto the airwaves now. If you’ve never heard this song before, I’m jealous, as I’d love to experience hearing it for the first time. Even though Stevie is one of the finest keyboardists in pop history, he had a very young Greg Phillinganesplay on this tune and several other songs on the album. Even if you’re a musical genius, another instrumentalist can breathe new life into your songs.

“Joy Inside My Tears” has an anthemic rock feel to it, although the diminished chord in measure two takes it a little out of that spectrum. Susaye Green adds a background vocal on the chorus, and it’s a subtle and bluesy touch the lifts the tune a little bit. You better be funky if you write a tune called “Black Man,” and of course Stevie doesn’t disappoint. That’s a nasty synth bass, coupled with a rhythm guitar art that’s just as dirty. Stevie played and sang everything except the horn parts. It’s also a racial affirmation; Stevie’s letting you know that non-Caucazoidals were involved in the making of American history, and he’s not just talking about those of African descent:

 

First man to die
For the flag we now hold high (Crispus Attucks)
Was a black man

The ground where we stand
With the flag held in our hand
Was first the red man’s

Guide of a ship
On the first Columbus trip (Pedro Alonzo Nino)
Was a brown man

The railroads for trains
Came on tracking that was laid
By the yellow man

We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

Heart surgery
Was first done successfully
By a black man

Friendly man who died
But helped the pilgrims to survive
Was a red man

Farm workers’ rights
Were lifted to new heights
By a brown man

Incandescent light
Was invented to give sight
By the white man

We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

Here me out

Now I know the birthday of a nation
Is a time when a country celebrates
But as your hand touches your heart
Remember we all played a part in America
To help that banner wave

First clock to be made
In America was created
By a black man

Scout who used no chart
Helped lead Lewis and Clark
Was a red man

Use of martial arts
In our country got its start
By a yellow man

And the leader with a pen
Signed his name to free all men
Was a white man

We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

God saved his world for all men
All people
All babies
All children
All colors
All races
This world’s for you
And me
This world
My world
Your world
Everybody’s world
This world
Their world
Our world
This world was made for all men.

 

Some women might be offended that they are left out of this historical name-dropping, but it is called “Black MAN.” I’m sure there is or will be a song a song that acknowledges black women like Harriet Tubman and Maxine Carter, but there’s always room for another one.

      “Ngiculela,Ngiculela – Es Una Historia / I Am Singing” is half in Zulu, half in Spanish. It has a few sparkling but clumsy analog synth parts that would sound cheesy if someone else played them. It might be my least favorite track on the album, which means it would be my favorite song if it was on just about any other record. Aside from the good melody and harmony, you can’t find many better lyrics about singing for joy.

[Zulu]:
Ngiculela ikusasa
[I am singing for (a) tomorrow]
Ngiyacula ngothando
[I sing of love]
Ngiyacula, ngeliny’ ilanga
[I sing (that) someday]
Uthando luyobusa
[Love will reign]
Jikelele kulomhlaba wethu
[All around this world of ours]

[Spanish]:
Es una historia de mañana
[This is a story of tomorrow]
Es una historia de amor
[This is a story of love]
Es una historia que amor reinará
[This is a story that love will reign]
Por nuestro mundo
[For our world]
Es una historia de mi corazón
[This is a story from my heart]

[English]:
I am singing
There’s songs to make you smile
There’s songs to make you sad
But with a happy song to sing
It never seems as bad
To me came this melody
So I’ve tried to put in words how I feel
Tomorrow will be for you and me…

I am singing of tomorrow
I am singing of love
I am singing someday love will reign
Throughout this world of ours
I am singing of love from my heart

Let’s all sing someday sweet love will reign
Throughout this world of ours
Let’s start singing
Of love from our hearts
Let’s start singing
Of love from our hearts.

Stevie can play many instruments, but no, this is not him playing the harp on “If It’s Magic.”. It’sDorothy Ashby, who was an undersung harpist who could play classical music and bebop. She could also play sophisticated pop ballads, as you’ll see here. I love hearing altered chords on the harp— we are unconsciously trained to expect harps to swirl and arpeggiate angelic chords.

As far as groovy anthems about unfading love go, you can’t do much better than “As.” You also can’t do much better than Herbie Hancock as a musical guest. That’s him playing the Fender Rhodes electric piano part and subsequent solo. You can always tell when it’s Herbie playing, no matter the musical scenario. The chorus hook is so catchy that a lot of us still think the song is called “Always.” ( I condensed the lyrics by deleting the choral responses.)

As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May
Just as hate knows love’s the cure
You can rest your mind assure
That I’ll be loving you always
As now can’t reveal the mystery of tomorrow
But in passing will grow older every day
Just as all is born is new
Do know what I say is true
That I’ll be loving you always

Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky—ALWAYS
Until the ocean covers every mountain high—ALWAYS
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea—ALWAYS
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream

Did you know that true love asks for nothing
Her acceptance is the way we pay
Did you know that life has given love a guarantee
To last through forever and another day
Just as time knew to move on since the beginning
And the seasons know exactly when to change
Just as kindness knows no shame
Know through all your joy and pain
That I’ll be loving you always
As today I know I’m living but tomorrow
Could make me the past but that I mustn’t fear
For I’ll know deep in my mind
The love of me I’ve left behind Cause I’ll be loving you always

Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Until the trees and seas just up and fly away
Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4
Until the day that is the day that are no more
Did you know that you’re loved by somebody?
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
I’ll be loving you forever
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through

Until the day that you are me and I am you—
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky

We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
so make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it
You’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children’s grandchildren
And their great-great grandchildren will tell
I’ll be loving you

Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Until the trees and seas up, up and fly away-
Until the day that 8x8x8x8 is 4-
Until the day that is the day that are no more-
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself-
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through
Until the day that you are me and I am you-
Now ain’t that loving you
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Ain’t that loving you
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
And I’ve got to say always
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream-
Until the day is night and night becomes the day-
Until the trees and seas just up and fly away-
Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4
Until the day that is the day that are no more-
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left-
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through
Until the day that you are me and I am you
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Until the trees and seas just up and fly away
Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4
Until the day that is the day that are no more
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through
Until the day that you are me and I am you.

 

I can’t think of a more positive way to end one of the most positive (yet socially critical) albums in history, but “Another Star” and its African-influenced disco groove close out disc two. It’s much more than a dance floor number. The background vocal line reminds me of the old PBS show Villa Allegre, and Nathan East on bass and George Benson on guitar add more to the funk. Check the timbale breakdown, played by Carmello Hungria Garcia. I want to hear more Benson, though.

But once again, there’s more! The last four tunes were included with a four-song EP, and it leads off with the analog synth splendor of “Saturn.” If you want to represent outer space, old synthesizers can give you that sound. Stevie’s lyric sounds like he’s been hanging out with Sun Ra:

 

Packing my bags-going away
To a place where the air is clean
On Saturn
There’s no sense to sit and watch the people die
We don’t fight our wars the way you do
We put back all the things we use
On Saturn
There’s no sense to keep on doing such crimes

There’s no principles in what you say
No direction in the things you do
For your world is soon to come to a close
Through the ages all great men have taught
Truth and happiness just can’t be bought-or sold
Tell me why are you people so cold

I’m……
Going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
On Saturn
People live to be two hundred and five
Going back to Saturn where the people smile
Don’t need cars cause we’ve learn to fly
On Saturn
Just to live to us is our natural high

We have come here many times before
To find your strategy to peace is war
Killing helpless men, women and children
That don’t even know what they are dying for
We can’t trust you when you take a stand
With a cold expression on your face
Saying give us what we want or we’ll destroy

I’m……
Going back to Saturn where the rings all glow
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow
On Saturn
People live to be two hundred and five
Going back to Saturn where the people smile
Don’t need cars cause we’ve learn to fly
On Saturn
Just to live to us is our natural high.

 

“Ebony Eyes” sounds like Stevie brought a band from Shakey’s Pizzato Fred Sanford’sjunkyard. It’s a down-home ode to a brown-eyed beauty accompanied by  funky synths and soulful horns. Could the cast of What’s Happening!!  be around the corner? “All Day Sucker” isn’t a tribute to P.T Barnum-he’s an all-day sucker for her love. It’s a pretty funky love, with distorted guitar from Sneaky Pete Kleinowand a synth bass/unison verse. Pretty fuzzy and fabulous.

            Songs in the Key of Life concludes with the Rhodes and harmonica instrumental “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call).” It could be a jazz standard if we jazzbos played it enough. It is a longer form than your average standard tune, so we’d have to think harder, but it would be worth it. It sounds like a childhood’s summer day at dusk, when you’re finished playing with your friends and getting ready to ride your bike home for Saturday dinner. It’s a relaxing coda to a serious and happy album.

I think every piece of music I write about here is worthy of being in your record collection, but there are a few albums that you absolutely have to own or know to become a better human being. Songs in the Key of Lifeis one of those albums. Stevie Wonder is one of the best things to ever happen to the world, so drink in the sounds and spirit of Songs in the Key of Life and feel a little better about being human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MUSIC OF THE DAY-May 2

MUSIC OF THE DAY- May 2- A Few Hammond B-3 Greats

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUymw-Zu778wmyJyKrSi7him

This is an miniscule sampling of some legendary jazz and soul organists. I chose artists from the 1950s-early 1960s, just because it was the golden era of the Organ. The list pre-dates Larry Young and everyone who followed in his wake. Young is his own thing and for a future post. I’m focusing here on greasy stuff; the performances that make you shake your hips and think nasty thoughts.

While piano greats Fats Waller and Count Basie played the organ, it’s Wild Bill Davis who brought it into jazz and early R&B. Most people think of Count Basie’s famous version of “April in Paris,”but he got it from Davis’ more sultry 1953 version. Wild Bill’s sound is still a bit in the theater organ world, as if he’s playing between innings at a Kansas City Monarchsgame. But soap opera and theater organists didn’t sound and swing like this. It’s like the classic Nat Cole trio, but with organ.

Jimmy Smithis the reason so many of us play the organ. I’m not sure if there’s any other instrumentalist in jazz history who re-defined an instrument like Jimmy Smith. All of us who play the B-3 can’t help but play a bit like him. You can play the trumpet without sounding like Louis Armstrong, or play the alto saxophone without sounding like Charlie Parker, but it’s practically impossible to play jazz organ without referencing Mr. Smith.

Back when jazz musicians could have instrumental hit records, Smithrecorded this version of Elmer Bernstein’s “Walk on the Wild Side,”and it landed on the pop charts. It’s a walking 6/4 meter, which is not so common in jazz and even rarer in 1960s pop, but Bernstein’s tune makes up for the unusual meter. In this version, the brilliant Oliver Nelsonwrote the big band arrangement. Drummer Ed Shaughnessy makes you think it’s Christmas with his sleigh bells, but once the horns enter you realize you’re in a fancy cathouse. Smith doesn’t even play until after the band plays the entire melody, and then he rips out a solo over a blues form. There are some serious HUZZAH moments here, where you might want to scream along with Smith and the band. Now I have to see the movie.

Speaking of hits, Richard “Groove” Holmeshad a minor hit in 1965 with Erroll Garner’s  “Misty.” “Misty” is usually played as a ballad, but Holmes added a Charlestonbeat and swung the shit out of it. I first heard this version on the jukebox at the lateT.C.’s Loungein Boston, a dive bar that was conveniently located around the corner from my alma mater, The Berklee College of Music. I couldn’t possibly comment on what we were doing or what condition we were in when we listened to this, but it’s always stuck with me. Like all of the tracks here, “Misty” will make you want to dance. I recommend that you do that.

I should point out that playing a Hammond B-3 the way Davis and Smith laid it out for us is not an easy thing to do. You solo on the top manual with your right hand, comp on the lower manual with your left hand, and walk bass lines with your feet on the pedals. All this while using your right foot n the volume pedal (organs are not touch or velocity-sensitive) and changing the drawbars to get different tones. It’s an orchestra unto itself, and a loud and energetic B-3 solo can be more powerful than any other instrument, including a rock guitar solo. Somebody has to shut up the guitar players.

The blues is the most common form in the world of jazz organ, as it just sounds so damn good. Brother Jack McDuffhas something to say about the blues with 1961’s “The Honeydripper.” That’s a young Grant Green on guitar with Jimmy Forrest on tenor and Ben Dixon on drums. This quartet instrumentation is one of the standard ensembles in the jazz organ world, and it works in low-down blues, mournful ballads, and up-tempo bebop.

Milt Buckneradopted the organ early on in his career, but most pianists know him for his influential locked-hands style that’s become an integral element in jazz piano. “The Beast,” released in 1956 is one of those sexy shuffles that could fit into a film noir flick or a scene in a David Lynch movie. I don’t know if Buckner plays piano and organ on the track, but it would make sense if he did. The piano and organ take turns jabbing at each other, as if they’re fighting over the same lady. Is one of them The Beast? Or is the lady The Beast? She sounds like a handful, and she’d probably drain your bank account and leave you wanting more. But in the meantime, enjoy dancing with her. Slinky. You’ll think of more dirty thoughts.

For such a masculine-sounding instrument, the B-3 has attracted some badass women who rip it as good as the boys. Shirley Scottwas called the “Queen of the Organ” for a reason. Here she is playing Juan Tizol’s jazz standard “Caravan,” and you can hear how she uses a different set of drawbars than Smith did. She uses several different sets on her solo alone, and she keeps the Leslie speaker on fast the whole time, something Smith usually reserved for the high points in his solos. You can hear Buckner and Erroll Garner’s piano influences in her tremolo chord work, and when she starts sweeping the keys she’s telling the bebop boys to get out of the way. She’s very imaginative with her drawbar and percussion settings; you can hear them in the playing of later rock and soul organists.

Finally, we have Jimmy McGriff covering Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman.” It doesn’t really sound much like Ray’s tune, but it doesn’t matter since it swings so damn hard. McGriff’s combining gospel and R&B here like Ray, but with what sounds like a little Latin percussion thrown in to drive it more. The record company split the song in two so it could fit on both sides of a 45 single. It’s a track you don’t want to end.

These are just a few of the masters of the B3, but tell me your own if you like. Once you get into jazz and soul organ, there is no getting out.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY-May 3- James Brown- The T.A.M.I Show

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMqM4lZGiK0

 

If you are in a band of any sort, and think that your group is really solid and tight and awesome, you need to watch this video and realize something:

You will never be as good as James Brownand The Famous Flames.

Yeah, don’t even try. Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruno Mars—they all owe quite a bit to James Brown. We all owe him—he should be ingrained in our collective musical DNA and have a planet named after him. Just calling him The Godfather of Soul isn’t quite enough. But you also can’t talk about him without talking about his ridiculously funky and tight bands he had over the years.

So, what do you see in this video from the 1964 TAMI Show? First there’s a slick-dressed band playing a killer up-tempo groove, then you notice three amazing backup singers who have some serious dance moves, then the King himself enters, and you’ll swear that he must be using some trick to move across the stage like that. NO ONE MOVES LIKE THAT. It’s a blast of energy from some place from the other side of nowhere, and these white California kids had no idea what they were in for. I almost feel sorry for The Rolling Stones, as they had to go on after these guys. The only people who should go onstage after James Brown are the people cleaning up all the soul sweat off the stage.

Folks, this was a SHOW. It wasn’t enough to have this much energy and presence onstage; Mr. Brown had style and theatrics. There’s no time in between tunes for the musicians to scuffle; they move on to the next tune, seemingly without any count-offs. Dig that false ending on the opening number “Out of Sight.” When they end for real, they immediately go into the slow 12/8 rhythm of “Prisoner of Love,” and it’s so damn precise. Watch the moves and hear the harmonies of the backup singers, then watch James’ face during the close-up. He’s not faking this. He IS the song, and if he is the prisoner of your love, you’re in for an intense relationship. But it seems that you don’t want him, so this probably won’t work out well for you.  This isn’t Perry Comowe’re talking about here; it’s a hard-working black man from the South and he’s gonna tell you some shit. If you don’t believe him when he screams and falls to the floor, then you’ll never believe anybody.

They launch into their 1956 hit “Please, Please, Please,” but the sound here is a little different than the original record. We’re going from doo-wop into soul, with a hint of the funk that would soon be Brown’s trademark. At the 7:32 marker you can see Brown’s showmanship when his heart breaks and he crumples to the floor. He requires one of the singers to get him up, all while the band is grooving and the crowd is screaming. Another band member places a robe over the Godfather, and it reminds me of  Muhammad Ali. There are some parallels between Ali and Brown, not the least being that they were both powerful voices during the Civil Rights movement. Can we really say the Civil Rights movement ended? Because there’s sure a lot of shit wrong today.

James appears like he’s too sick to keep going, and his bandmate starts to lead him offstage. Then Brown, like Ali, throws off his cape and limps back to the mic to testify some more. He sings and screams for a while until the whole thing happens again, all over a rocking groove. There were some legendary acts on the bill that day in 1964 (Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, and others) but none of them stood a chance against Brown and The Flames that night. Each song has a series of crescendos and decrescendos that must have stunned everyone there who came to hear Gerry and the Pacemakers. Everyone else had some cool tunes, but these guys had a SHOW.

“All aboard! All aboard! The night train!” The horns can barely keep up with the tempo on “Night Train,” and I wonder if they counted off a little faster than they expected. It’s definitely more frenetic than their 1961 studioversion. When Brown yells at you and asks you if you’re ready for the night train, you better be ready to say yes. He gives you a bunch of chances to scream it during the breakdown, and even the white girls who came for Lesley Gore are shouting for it. The groove feels even deadlier when it comes back in, and goddamn, that’s some dancing. It’s like a combination of Cab Calloway, Little Richard, and The Nicholas Brothersall at once, with a Southern funk grit that could only be done by the hardest working man in show biz. The band plays him off, only to have him return for more ridiculous dance moves. Always the showman, Brown sits down as if he’s worn out, but I don’t think you could wear him out, especially when he set out to prove something on this night. Read thispiece on Brown’s electrifying performance. He was offended that he didn’t end the show, so he went out and smoked everyone. Take that, you white motherfuckers.

If Jesus returned to earth and told everyone the rapture or something was upon us, he’d still have to fight James Brown for the best performance ever. And he would lose. Sorry, Jesus. Everyone loses to Soul Brother Number One.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- May 4-James Brown- Motherlode

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8YOQbglQqk&list=PLVk4JFe_aeyAobVY9E-HFbKWjIaKyCk51

It’s day two for the Godfather of Soul, and I hope I didn’t use up all my adjectives and thoughts with my post on the T.A.M.I show. While the T.A.M.I show video is one of the greatest performances ever captured on tape, it’s middle-period JB, just before the funk started to take over. The funk is very present on Motherlode. These tracks are among the most sampled grooves in hip-hop history, because once the old-school funk became cool again (roughly 1988) producers and rappers used a little less of the Roland TR-808and more grooves that were actually played by people.
Motherlodeis when the funk takes over. And holy shit-on-a-biscuit does it ever take over.

The New Oxford Dictionary defines funk as “a style of popular dance music of US black origin, based on elements of blues and soul and having a strong rhythm that typically accentuates the first beat in the bar.” I don’t know who the fuck wrote that definition, but even Pat Boone could tell you that funk is NOT about the downbeat so much as beats two and four, not to mention all the hop-skippity ghost notes that fall in between the strong beats. Sure, the bass drum more than often falls on beat one, but it’s the off-the-beat rhythms the musicians play that give funk its essence. Without those syncopations it could be some weak-ass modern dance music that Sly Stone wouldn’t even bother to sneer at.

Motherlode is a compilation of tracks that Brown and his band recorded in the late 1960s-early 1970s. It is indeed a motherlode of funk, and you might want to listen to it before you try to dance to it, because you just might hurt yourself. The record kicks off with a “live” performance of “There It Is.” I don’t think the crowd was real, but the vibe sure is. “There It Is” is further proof that you don’t need more than two chords to make a great song. You don’t need much to make a great groove like this, but you need great players. That’s the inimitable John “Jabo” Starkson drums, and sadly, he died just before I wrote this. He was one of the funkiest drummers in history. I’ll point out some key players on each track, but refer to the Wikipedia entry on the record, found here.

“She’s the One” is just straight-up nasty. You could wake someone from a coma with this groove. Listen to the way the two guitarists play off each other— they have their parts and never get in the way of each other. That’s got to be Maceo Parkeron the saxophone solo. Get to know the Maceo world, because he did so much within Brown’s band and outside of it.  “She’s the One” is another two-chord wonder, with some chromatic hits thrown in to break it up. Brown’s seething with love for this woman, and he’s letting everyone know about it. If you need a primer in how to play a simple groove pattern, use this as your template.

The real motherlode for me on this disc is “Since You’ve Been Gone,” which is a duet between Brown and Bobby Byrd, his long-time musical companion from the Famous Flames. While Brown and Byrd’s vocal trading and “shagga-lagga-dooga-dag” chants are badass, the band makes this tune. I have long said that “Since You’ve Been Gone” is the funkiest track ever recorded. There are plenty of contenders for this spot, but this groove is so funky that it’s almost too overwhelming to dance to. Clyde Stubblefield, THE FUNKY DRUMMER HIMSELF lays down a drum beat that’s always taken my breath away. I’d love to see a transcription his groove. He keeps quarter notes going on the hi-hat, while adding all these ghost notes on the snare while barely accenting beat one on the kick drum.

That’s Bootsy Collins on bass. Yes, THE Bootsy. Tim Luntzel pointed out to me years ago that Bootsy’s bassline is through-composed, which means that it’s never quite the same thing from measure to measure. Most funky basslines stick with one idea, but Bootsy goes all over the place here, and you never miss hearing a repetitive line. His overdriven tone is fucking beautiful too. Bootsy could go off like this because everyone else was holding down their parts and sticking to one thing. Groove requires repetition, and if everybody’s doing something busy, then the track will sound like a wankfest. There’s no wanking here. Bootsy plays a fairly steady line on the bridge, which is a more straight-up groove, but it almost feels like a letdown. But Beethoven’s 9thwould be a letdown to me after the main groove. You can and should try this groove at home, but you probably shouldn’t try it in public. We are mere mortals, after all.

I don’t know why no one came up with a name for “Untitled Instrumental,” but it’s not like it needs one. It feels like Black Power to me. The horns have a little bit of what you’d later hear in Fela’s music; it sounds strong but modally primitive. Bring it on.

“Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” was and still is an anthem for Black Power. Not Black Power in the sense of Kill Whitey necessarily, but in the affirmation that Black is Beautiful. Being black sure is beautiful here. This was recorded in Los Angeles in August 1968; Dr. King was assassinated four months earlier, and Nixon was about to win the election. I think some hip-hop artists could take something from these lyrics, if they haven’t already (I’m leaving in the repetitions and grunts):
Uh, with your bad self

Say it louder (I got a mouth)

Say it louder (I got a mouth)

Look-a here, some people say we got a lot of malice

Some say it’s a lotta nerve

I say we won’t quit moving

Til we get what we deserve

We’ve been rebuked and we’ve been scorned

We’ve been treated bad, talked about

As just as sure as you’re born

But just as sure as it take

Two eyes to make a pair, huh

Brother, we can’t quit until we get our share

 

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, one more time

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, huh

 

I’ve worked on jobs with my feet and my hands

But all the work I did was for the other man

And now we demand a chance

To do things for ourselves

we tired of beating our heads against the wall

And working for someone else

 

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, oowee

Ooowee, you’re killing me

Alright uh, you’re out of sight

Alright, so tough, you’re tough enough

Ooowee uh, you’re killing me, oow

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud

Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves

We tired of beating our heads against the wall

And working for someone else

A look-a here,

One thing more I got to say right here

Now, we’re people like the birds and the bees

We rather die on our feet,

Than keep living on our knees

 

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, huh

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, huh

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, Lord-a, Lord-a, Lord-a

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, ooooh

Uh, alright now, good Lord

You know we can do the boog-a-loo

Now we can say we do the Funky Broadway!

Now we can do, huh

Sometimes we dance, we sing and we talk

You know I do like to do the camel walk

Alright now, huh alright,

Alright now, ha

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud, let me hear ya

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud

 

Now we’s demands a chance to do things for ourselves

We’re tired of beating our heads against the wall

And working for someone else, huh

Now we’re our people, too

We’re like the birds and the bees,

But we’d rather die on our feet,

Than keep a-living on our knees

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud, let me hear ha’, huh

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, huh

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud

Oooow, oowee, you’re killing me, alright

Uh, outa sight, alright you’re outta sight

Ooowee, oh Lord,

Ooowee, you’re killing me

Ooowee, ooowee, ooowee, ooowee, ow

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud, huh

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud , Lord I feel it

Say it loud,

I’m black and I’m proud

Say it louder,

I’m black and I’m proud.

 

I think you know what he means.

“Can I Get Some Help” has another nasty groove with hooks from the horns and guitar. There is no chordal instrument other than the rhythm guitar, and he’s playing single lines. James keeps asking for help, but it takes a while for the band to bring it. The help comes when they modulate up a perfect fourth with new parts and a slinky guitar run. Brown’s lyrics are more declamations than poetry, but that’s the point. He had social messages when he wanted to, but a lot of the time Brown is giving us bold statements. Sometimes I like they might be about sex.

James Brown doesn’t mind skinny legged women, but he really wants you to have a mother for him. As to whether he wants a MILF or a grandma or something completely different, I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that. You will want this groove to never stop. I didn’t know that it was Nate Jones on drums or even who he is, but that breakdown is SICK. Then MACEO!

“Funk Bomb” is a groovy blues instrumental that shows that the J. B’s can groove pretty hard even without the orgasmic cries of Brown to push them forward. It is exactly what its title suggests. “Baby Here I Come” starts with a blasting tutti from the band and eases into a slightly slower groove with a subtle lope feeling to it. Thank you, Jabo Starks. You can hear where the Tower of Power horn section got some of their ideas, although I’m sure there was some cross-breeding between the East Bay and Cincinnati, which is where the J.B.s are supposed to be from, although I don’t think this band is from this planet.

“People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul (Remix)” is just as funky as you’d expect, only there are four chords in the groove instead of the usual one or two. This harmonic deviation doesn’t make the music groove any less. There’s a Fender Rhodeselectric piano in there, which wasn’t a typical instrument to find on Brown records of this era. The groove doesn’t change in feel or dynamics until the horns enter after Fred Wesley’s trombone solo, then the guys surprise us with some minor 7thand dominant 7thsus chords. Whoa there! Are those chords licensed for nasty funk grooves? They are now. James is gonna get some money, and the future of the 1970s lies in fancy chords and electric pianos. White guys might find themselves affecting an underbite while dancing to this track. You have been warned.

“I Got Ants in My Pants” is a variation on the secret James Brown Sex Machine groove. Technically, this groove isn’t a secret, but it’s really hard to play it right. The bridge is somewhat unexpected, not because James says he loves you, but because the horn hits stop the groove for a minute and go on a few measures longer than you’d expect. It only makes the initial groove feel deeper when it comes back in. If you get on the dance floor when this tune begins, expect to be there a little longer than three minutes.

“You’ve Changed” is not the standard songof the same name, but a driving beat that sounds like drummer Clyde Stubblefield has four hands. It’s almost too funky to dance to. “Body Heat” pre-dates the neo-noir movie of the same name, and it’s easier to dance to. We can hear a foreboding bit of disco creeping in on this track, but that’s not a bad thing, since this groove is in more than capable hands. That funky clavinet part adds a lot, and it sounds like Billy Prestondropped by the studio. Also, I think this song is about sex.

“Funky Drummer” isn’t on this album, but you have to know it. I don’t have enough time and space to talk about the album In the Jungle Groove, but here’s the link. “Funky Drummer” is the reason why Clyde Stubblefield is in the top five funkiest drummers of all time, and you can hear his drumming sampled on many other peoples’ songs.

These songs should show you why James Brown is Soul Brother #1, in case you had any doubt. JB would have been famous and brilliant without his bands, but he would have been nowhere near as powerful and funky with an average rhythm section. Always give it up for the band.

And always give it up for James Brown.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- May 5- Orlando Di Lasso- Prophetiae Sibyllarum

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUVNtDxlTP8

When I was a kid of about five or six, I started reading the book Introduction to Musicby Martin Bernstein. It was my dad’s book from his days studying music at Ithaca College, and I studied it voraciously. I still have it and can find the drawing that scared and fascinated me. He was called Orlando Lassoback then (1937) and in the drawing he wore one of those High Renaissance collars that looked really foreign to a kid from 1970s California.

I didn’t think about this Flemish motet man for years, and any mention or reading of his name made me flash back to that disturbing collar. In 1996 I was studying piano (and music, and life) with the great Burton Hatheway in Connecticut, and somehow happened upon a few Lassus records in his collection. I figured I should check him out, so I taped the LPs onto a Maxell cassette and brought them home. Once I listened to them, I was stunned by the beauty and other-worldly harmony from the 1500s. This wasn’t the harmony of Bach, or even Beethoven; I’d say that Vaughan-Williams was one of the first classical composers to use some of Lassus’ ideas in modern music. It took music a few centuries to get back to what Lassus was throwing down nearly five hundred years ago.

down nearly five hundred years ago.

This probably isn’t the version ofProphetiaeSibyllarum that I taped all those many summers ago, but it has the score streaming by, which is a boon for any musicians who want to see what the hell is going on here. If you aren’t used to hearing voices singing Latin in a cathedral, then it might be a tad disconcerting. At the very least, put this on when you are falling asleep, or need to zone out, or just wanting to hear some different music. Modern musicians can discover some cool old harmonic concepts here, especially from the way Lassus uses common tones to move to unexpected chords. The nice thing about this piece and this performance is that the music is rarely jarring, even though it could be slightly harsh if you put it in a modern setting.

It’s always amazing to find music from a very distant time that surprises you and touches you. Lassus always manages to affect me, and I hope he’ll do something for you.

 

 

 

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-May 6- The Hives- Veni Vidi Vicious

Just as Muslims who live further away from Mecca seem to become more devout, musicians who live far away from their musical heroes seem to absorb more of the traits of those artists. Sweden has given us a lot of cool things (existential crime fiction, ABBA, Britt Ekland), but The Hivesare my favorite musical export, and I fell in love with their 2002 American release Veni Vidi Vicious. Instead of rolling around in Bergman-esque despair or dwelling on Nordic beauty, they pretty much tell everyone to fuck off. And they do that in English, which apparently gets you a bigger audience that if you sang in Swedish.

Critics and other people who write about things they can’t do call them a garage rock band that emerged in the so-called garage rock revival on the early 21stcentury. At the time I wasn’t aware of a garage rock resurgence, as I never felt that crunchy three-chord rock and roll ever went away. The Hives owe more to pre-punk authorities like The Stooges than to The Kingsmen. But in the end, they write and play songs that kick you in the face and make you enjoy getting kicked in the face.

It’s always wise to open a rock record with a song that declares war. “Declaire Guerre Nucleaire” does just that, greeting you with five loud and unexpected chords. The Hives know how to write guitar riffs, and here’s the first one, with some suggested years for annihilation:

 

Had an atomic bore in 2004
Did some atomic tricks in 2006
Got out way late in 2008
Let’s do it all again in 2010
Uh!
Ah!
Had an atomic bore in 2004
Did some atomic tricks in 2006
Got out way late in 2008
I’m gonna do it all again in 2010
And for 5….7…..9 and 11, the guess is yours…

 

As of this writing (May 2018) we haven’t had any nuclear attacks, fortunately. To some ears, this song might sound like a ninety-second-long nuclear attack. You know who you are. Just go back to your meadow rock and we’ll join you after we kick out the jams.

Another way to make a great record is if you have a great drummer like Chris Dangerous kicking off a tune. I think the title “Die, All Right!” pretty much explains the song. The Hives also have creative stage names, something I really like to see. If you’re a mild-mannered person by day who likes to rock the fuck out at night, then a nom de guerre can help you get into and out of your alter stage ego. Nichalous Arson and Vigilante Carlstroem supply the guitar riffs, and “Die, All Right” gives us more distorted ear candy. Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist definitely listened to Iggy Pop, but he brings that Ann Arbor nihilism into the 21stcentury with a strong melodicism. If you’re looking for subtlety, you won’t find much here:

 

Hey! I’ve got a message and tonight and I’m gonna send it.
Yeah! I had a body and men with knives wanted to lend it.
Sold my body to the company
So I got the money now away I go, and I say thank you Mr. CEO.

Hey! I’ve got some money and tonight I’m gonna spend it.
Yeah! They gave me a paper
And I went ahead and penned it and I say thank you Mr. CEO.
I filled my pockets now I might as well –
Die! cause I found the backdoor out of teenage hell – all right!
Filed my account cause I might in fact – Die!
But I rely on science, yeah to bring me back – all right.
I’m gonna die….
Heavy morals seem so light but when it comes to cash I’m gonna die all right!

Hey! I lost the money seems like I can’t comprehend it.
Yeah! Got a hole in my head gotta gotta mend it.
Too messed up to sit and settle down.
Too messed up to even mess around.
That’s why you’re smiling Mr. CEO.

I filled my pockets now I might as well –
Die! cause I found the backdoor out of teenage hell – all right!
Filed my account cause I might in fact – Die!
But I rely on science, yeah to bring me back – all right.
I…..I’m gonna die…. but not right now

Yeah why don’t you do the same?
I got the money now I can’t complain.
Except the tics won’t go away oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no!

And the way I feel tonight is gonna make me die all right.

Teenage hell – all right!
Filed my account cause I might in fact – Die!
But I rely on science, yeah to bring me back – all right.
I…..I’m gonna die….
Heavy morals seem so light but when it comes to cash I’m gonna die all right!

 

Pelle is in a situation I’d not want to encounter, but I’m familiar with it. What are the tics he speaks of? I’d be nervous if I was him. I’d also be nervous at a Hives concert because the energy would be overwhelming, and I’d probably get hurt. Maybe I’d sit up in the rafters and watch the mosh pit.

Holy shit does Chris Dangerous kick off “A Get Together to Tear It Apart” with a monster drum fill. This tune is filled with speed and atomic power, and it thrashes about enough to wake up the ghost of Sid Vicious.

 

I had a tension. I had a ten.
I was a better honey so I did it again.
Thought my intentions were better tried to put mind over matter.
I lost my edge on things when I lost my head.
Hey that’s what they say.
Don’t you know they ain’t never gonna help you anyway.
And it’s a get together to tear it apart gave my middle finger a brand new start.
I got a greeting can’t say what it’s all about but my middle finger is gonna carry it out.
I got attention. I had a pen.
I made history honey and got “Please do it again”.
But there is no chance I’m gonna do it again.
If you missed it the first time,
then it’s nine to ten that you will again
and we’re back at the end all over again
and then what can I say what can I do to you?
And they say hey. That’s what they say.
Don’t you know they ain’t never gonna but I feel okay.
And it’s a get together to tear it apart gave my middle finger a brand new start.
I got a greeting can’t say what it’s all about but my middle finger is gonna carry it out.
And it’s a get together to tear it apart gave my middle finger a brand new start.
I got a greeting can’t say what it’s all about but my middle finger is gonna carry it out.

 

In case you thought Sweden was all about statuesque blondes and fancy pastries, the country seems to have enough angst to fuel the city of Malmö for ten years. Or at least The Hives’ aggression could do that. Anger can be power, as Joe Strummer said.

“Main Offender” has another boss guitar riff that’s fairly simple, but it’s all in the way you play it. If I tried to play these riffs with my limited campfire guitar knowledge, it would sound like a fourteen year old kid trying to learn songs by The Who. I’m sure you can tell that The Hives rock at all times, and they manage to squeeze twelve great tracks into a half-hour long album.

“Outsmarted” keeps up the riffs, along with some twang parts in between, and Pelle’s lyrics are fairly straight forward. He was a ne’er do well until he figured out some shit and threw it back at the asshole he’s talking to:

I used to be the kid who always got caught.
I used to be the one who never let thought.
Interact one bit with.
Intellectual shit, diversity and wit.
You used to be the kid who waited in line.
For an opportunity to waste away time.
Trying to be so cool? But no suspicion no clue.
You’ve been.
Outsmarted – I’m selling you for scrap.
Now I’m the kid who put the shit back in place
and I’m the one who threw it back in your face.
It took a little bit of intellectual shit, diversity and wit.
Now you’re the kid who put the “L” back in lame
and you’re the one who always fitted the frame.
No suspicion, no clue.
You’ve been. Outsmarted – I’m selling you for scrap.
You’re outsmarted – Yeah!
That’s what I said – Yeah!
Only throwing back what you’ve been putting in my face.
Outsmarted.

 

“Hate to Say I Told You So” is one of the better-known songs on this record, and you’ll hear why. It’s headshaking music that will bring out your inner caveman. Pelle will do shit his way, dammit:

Do what I want cause I can and if I don’t
because I wanna be ignored by the stiff and the bored
because I’m gonna.
Spit and retrieve cause I give and receive
because I wanna gonna get through your head what the mystery man said
because I’m gonna.
Hate to say I told you so.
I do believe I told you so.
Now it’s all out and you knew cause I wanted to.
Turn my back on the rot that’s been planning the plot – because I’m gonna.
No need for me to wait – because I wanna.
No need two, three and too late – because I’m gonna.
Hate to say I told you so.
I do believe I told you so.
Do what I please gonna spread the disease
because I wanna gonna call all the shots for the “No’s and the “Not’s
because I wanna.
Ask me once I’ll answer twice cause what I know I’ll tell
because I wanna.
Sound device and lots of ice I’ll spell my name out loud
because I wanna, oh yeah?

 

I like that wavy synth part in the interlude and the picked and distorted bass line by The Johan and Only, who is allegedly no longer in the group. He was my favorite member of the band, because he was slightly overweight and rocked a porn mustache with ferocity. They all rock with ferocity, but not while looking like Ron Jeremy.

If The Hives had been around in 1980 to “Introduce the Metric System in Time,” maybe I would have caught on to European measurements. It wouldn’t have made me like soccer, though. But I can appreciate these lyrics and musical ire:

 

Been trying for all my life but I can’t add up your subtraction.
Work, eat, play then go to sleep that won’t get me no satisfaction.
Gotta find a way out, yeah a way out of this mess.
So sick of trying to make my time last and ending up with less.
I know your way of doing things and it has lost its attraction.
Why settle for twenty-four when I can have a hundred fractions.
Who knew I’d be the one pulling off the perfect crime.
So here’s my new line I’ll change your mind and the metric system to time.
Caused trouble all over town and it’s bound to start a reaction.
Metric time will come around it’s gonna overtake your contraction
I’ve found a way out yeah a way out of this stress.
I made my time last and it’s total success.
Got my way of doing things and it’s bound to gain your attraction.
A hundred hours is my supply it’s gonna give us all satisfaction.
No doubt I’d be the one pulling off the perfect crime.
So here’s my new line I’ll change my mind and the metric system to time.

 

Maybe it’s not entirely about the metric system, but I’ll go with my assessment. The album takes a strange turn with a cover of Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield’s “Find Another Girl.” There are synthesizers! A mutated rhumba! Feelings that aren’t about anarchy! They take a bit of Butler’s version but add that punk sneer. Is it an ironic post-modern take on broken hearts? This track comes out of nowhere, as it’s sandwiched between the rip-roaring rockers, but it’s like the crème between the chocolate Oreo cookies.

“Statecontrol” sounds like Link Wray and Mick Jagger gunning a super-charged roadster down a deserted highway. Dig the twangs in between the guitar riffs.

I’ve been around the world I take credit for the things I’ve done.
I’ve done a lot of things and I just turned twenty-one
They tied me up put red tape around my hands.
I got caught in the web cause I didn’t stand a chance.
I can’t control the state I’m in – Go back in line and repeat it again.
I said “Please Mr. Doctor” won’t you cure my disease.
I got a sore throat and I got scrubs on my knees.
No matter what I do I can’t get it straight.
I tried to sort things out but I’m still stuck in the state.
I can’t control the state I’m in – Go back in line and repeat it again.
Can’t control the state I’m in – Go back in line repeat again.
I’m gonna lie, I’m gonna cheat.
I’m gonna follow their lead then skip a beat.
I’m gonna lie, I’m gonna cheat and if that don’t do it I don’t know what will.
I’m gonna lie I’m gonna cheat.
I’m gonna follow their lead then skip a beat. I’m gonna lie,
I’m gonna cheat.
I can’t control the state I’m in – Go back in line and repeat it again.

 

So, it’s NOT about an Orwellian government, but about self-control. Or are we all our own Big Brother? I’ll leave that for Kierkegaard.

I forget that this album was recorded just before the millennium, so there is a little ambivalence about the future. The Hives probably didn’t care about Y2K, but I was a little worried. “Inspection Wise 1999” is a little confounding to me, lyrically speaking, but the music pushes the hell out of whatever these words mean. I’m open to opinions:

Do you know the secret handshake – you best use it.
Here they come with ringing ears – social misfits.
Someone has got to go
just thought you should know and so it had to be
the one who held the key.
Check the time T-5 and you’re still looking.
Too good to be true – so what’s the secret.
Someone has got to go
just thought you should know and so it had to be
the one who held the key.

 

“Knock Knock” is in your face, not that the rest of the album isn’t. It’s another fuck-you song, and the way Pelle screams “Knock knock” is pretty precious, in that Lower East Side way:

This time you got it all figured out.
Think it’s gonna work okay but I’ll make sure it won’t cause I’ll be standing in your way.
So wait a minute if you will.
I ain’t got no time but time to kill.
When the ground starts getting hot it doesn’t matter if you run or not.
This time you’ve seen it done before.
This time you’re gonna get it right.
Once more you fail miserably and then,
then you do it all over again.
So wait a minute if you will.
I ain’t got no time but time to kill.
When the ground starts getting hot it doesn’t matter if you run or not.
You’re once a failure and twice a fool.
I will – knock knock.
If you won’t – knock knock.
You’re damned – knock knock.
If you don’t – knock knock.
You did fine – knock knock.
Now you’re mine – knock knock.
You avoided everything except for me.
I’m busting in won’t pick the lock I’m busting in – knock knock.
I’ve seen your sort before.
You are nothing new cause my name is failure and failure is gonna come to you.
Save me lord and I will.
This time I got the time to kill.
When the ground starts getting hot it doesn’t matter if you run or not.
You’re once a failure and twice a fool.
I will – knock knock.
If you won’t – knock knock.
You’re damned – knock knock.
If you don’t – knock knock.
You did fine – knock knock.
Now you’re mine – knock knock.
You avoided everything except for me.
I’m busting in won’t pick the lock I’m busting in – knock knock.
Knock knock I’m busting in knock knock?

 

Another great way to make a song different is by using tom-toms instead of a straight rock groove. “Supply and Demand” grooves much harder because of Mr. Dangerous’ percussion choices. Now we know that Pelle is stuck in a shitty job with a shitty boss:

 

My boss he’s a probable bore.
Put my hands and knees on scrubbable floor.
Do it right receive the lion’s share bliss.
Know all too well just where that ration is.

Learned a lot about the company dough
Learned less about receiving it though.
Saw how it came to those who always sat pretty.
Don’t need it.
Supply and demand.

My girl had a probable cause or, so she said and took a probable pause.
I was dumped for occupying her time.
I asked her why and what was next in line.

She said “Shiny hair that’s my life ambition
But I’ll devote my time to a new omission the rizzle-razzle kitsch of paranoid city.”
Don’t need it.
Supply and demand.

 

Also, his girlfriend dumps him, so he realizes he’s on the short end of the stick in two different survival-of-the-fittest situations. Emotional capitalism is a lousy place to be. But if you’re gonna soak in it, you might as well scream about it. Thank you, Pelle, and thank you to all of you Hives. You’ve taken American/British rock and made it your own. And it’s pretty damn good.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-May 7- Jack DeJohnette- Special Edition

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTuBQ37LkaVFIK7VumfLj4fCi1gXDVpv8

This is another record I heard in high school, either through the courtesy of Adam Beach or Kenny Wollesen. Yes, we listened to some hip and sometimes esoteric shit back in 1980s Santa Cruz. Jack DeJohnette has long been my favorite jazz drummer, and this 1979 recording shows that he’s also a really good composer and bandleader. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have David Murray, Arthur Blythe, and Peter Warren in your band.

You can hear the spirit of Eric Dolphyrunning through this record, which is one reason I love it. Dolphy is one of my favorite jazz musicians because he was able to make playing outside the changes should like fun. He got me to love the bass clarinet, and David Murray takes up the Dolphy baton on the opening track “One for Eric.” It’s a jagged but melodic line that will stick in your head. I’ve also loved the half-time swing bridge that celebrates the Lydian mode. Is it half-time or a metric modulation? Murray shows that he’s listened to Dolphy, but he’s his own man. I liken his solo here to James Joyce’s Ulysses; there are stream of consciousness statements that turn out to be heavier and more humorous than you’d expect. Not that Murray’s improvisation sounds like a bunch of invented words seemingly out of sync; it shows you things and makes you feel them, rather than telling you exactly what he means. The same goes for Blythe’s solo, which goes back into the original medium-up swing feel. I’m incredibly fond of the late altoist’s tone and ideas. He plays memorable melodies, something that’s not easy to do and isn’t usually the first priority of on-the-edge jazz. The head returns after DeJohnette’s solo, but the bridge is twice as fast. It ends in a Fellini-esque series of squawks and snips.

DeJohnette plays a melodicaalongside Blythe on alto saxophone while Murray intones some long-dead ghosts on “Zoot Suite.” There are two hooks in the first part of the tune (the bass line and the melodica/alto hemiola). You don’t get many hooks in late 1970s jazz, and you rarely hear anything this joyous). The second section is a beautiful and mournful series of horn chords supporting a lovely bowed bass solo by Warren. The original bassline and melody return and lead into a dialogue between Blythe and Murray before Blythe tells us some interesting stories. Murray’s intense and shuddering bass clarinet tells a slightly different story, one that’s fraught with danger and unusual escapades. Warren’ solo paraphrases the bass line a bit before going into cool double stops and a brief but thoughtful improvisation. The slow horn chords and arco bass return, but they are a bit more hopeful this time, as if we’ve gone through some of the stages of grief. The first section returns with some variations to close out the suite. I just realized that it’s an altered rondo form (ABAABCA).

DeJohnette pays homage to John Coltrane in the next two songs. He’s once again on melodica for a beautiful version of John Coltrane’s “Central Park West.”This version is slower and more moving than the original for me, because Blythe and Murray have so much passion in their playing. Coltrane’s brilliant harmonies feel different when they’re played by wind instruments, and I hear echoes of later Coltrane pieces like “Welcome” and “Dear Lord.”

Jack switches to piano for Coltrane’s “India,” which is one of my favorite Trane tunes. The piano gives it a rolling folky touch that reminds me a bit of Keith Jarrett, DeJohnette’s later bandmate. Jack moves back to drums for Murray’s flavorful bass clarinet solo. I like the way Murray and Blythe use dotted eighth and sixteenth notes in their solos— it doesn’t sound hokey and it breathes a little more. Blythe gives us more stories, and I wonder why Blythe didn’t receive wider recognition. We jazz people know him, and he’s influenced a lot of alto players, both in sound and improvisational ideas. Blythe combined traditional and avant-garde jazz into a lovely and recognizable sound.

Special Edition concludes with the sci-fi title “Journey to the Twin Planet,” another DeJohnette composition. It sounds like they’re boring deep into a planet’s core until they splash out into up-tempo outer space. Did Warren tune his bass down an octave? It’s a creepy and foreboding sound, yet he manages to tune back to normal for the group improvisation. This section could be traumatic to some listeners, but if you’re familiar with Ornette Coleman’s music, you’ll be fine. They slow it down after the solos, and it sounds like they’ve landed on a strange planet populated with odd creatures and things that Dali could have created.  Blythe starts making sense of it all before DeJohnette switches to melodica for an eerie ostinato that lies underneath a trepidacious melody from Blythe and Murray. The ostinato turns to a message of goodwill and understanding while still being wary of the inhabitants of this twin planet. They return to the original ostinato as they get back into their spaceship and ponder what just happened.

This was the first Special Edition album and DeJohnette released more in the 1980s. I really like the later Special Edition records, but this was the only version of the band with this particular quartet. It has a magic and spirit all its own.

Long live Jack DeJohnette and his Special Edition.

MUSIC OF THE DAY-May 8- Keith Jarrett

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUzhYT9c_vdFAzHiV3Dh0Fm5

Some people consider Keith Jarrettto be the Glenn Gould of jazz, only more precious and irksome. I, like many other people, know him to be one of the greatest musicians of the past sixty years. His trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette is for me one of the top five jazz piano trios, and definitely one of the most influential. He’s also a respected composer and classical pianist. It’s Jarrett’s lyricism and particular style of swing phrasing that make me love his playing, and his sound and touch are among the best in the long line of jazz pianists (His ECM producer Manfred Eicher has a hand in making Jarrett’s records sound so beautiful).

I can’t pick just one record, so I’ve made a playlist of just a few of my favorite Jarrett performances. (I emphasize A FEW.) These are tracks I grew up listening to, so they all have a bit of age on them. First off is Charles Lloyd’s jazz standard “Forest Flower: Sunset,” recorded live at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival. It’s Lloyd on tenor, Jarrett on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. I love the way DeJohnette messes with the swing feel and how Lloyd’s arpeggios sound like easy flurries. Then there’s Jarrett’s solo, which shows his legato phrasing, folk-like melodies and smooth yet jagged rhythms, all of which are now Jarrett trademarks. Instead of playing lines in octaves, he plays them in tenths, which is something I’ve tried to steal from him at times. You can hear why Forest Floweris considered one of the best jazz albums of the 1960s. Jarrett was only twenty-one at the time of this recording, that bastard.

Keith’s solo piano album Facing You(recorded on my third birthday) came out in 1972 and probably stunned and/or confused some people. He recorded it a year before his well-known improvisatory live recording The Koln Concert, and you can hear how Jarrett grew as an artist in the months between the two recordings. “In Front” is one of the best solo piano pieces there is, but it’s Jarrett’s performance as much as the tune itself that make it great. He keeps several lines going at once, a la Bach, and the tune itself has so many sections that mathematically-challenged me will just say that it’s a rondo form. It’s a song that’s nearly impossible to separate from the performance, which is one reason it’s a jazz classic yet probably won’t be covered by many other artists.

Now we move on to the Jarrett-Peacock-DeJohnette trio and the standard song “If I Should Lose You,” from 1985. This trio had been together for several years by this point, and their invisible communication is astounding. Instead of finishing each other’s phrases as Bill Evans’ early-1960s trio did, they’re all speaking at the same time, but doing so in a very spacious way. DeJohnette plays more notes than the average drummer, but what he does is so subtle that he drives the pulse without destroying it. Peacock breaks up the time so nicely that I never miss a constant walking bass pattern. A lot of modern piano trios don’t even swing that much, let alone play a broken tfeel like this one. I don’t think it’s gone out of style, but maybe I’ve been in a jazz vacuum. I doubt that.

I love Jarrett’s ballad playing, as he’s so lyrical and musically sensitive. I got the album Tribute when it came out in 1990, and was immediately drawn in and blown away at the same time. I didn’t know the 1959 semi-standard “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” until I heard this version, but now it’s one of my favorite ballads, with music by Tommy Wolf and beautiful lyrics by poet Fran Lendesman:

Sing a song of sad young men
Glasses full of rye
All the news is bad again
Kiss your dreams goodbye

All the sad young men
Sitting in the bars
Knowing neon lights
And missing all the stars

All the sad young men
Drifting through the town
Drinking up the night
Trying not to drown

All the sad young men
Singing in the cold
Trying to forget
That they’re growing old

All the sad young men
Choking on their youth
Trying to be brave
Running from the truth

Autumn turns the leaves to gold
Slowly dies the heart
Sad young men are growing old
That’s the cruelest part

All the sad young men
Seek a certain smile
Someone they can hold
For a little while

Tired little girl
Does the best she can
Trying to be gay
For a sad young man

While the grimy moon
Watches from above
All the sad young men
Play at making love

Misbegotten moon
Shine for sad young men
Let your gentle light
Guide them home tonight
All the sad young men

 

Once I heard Rickie Lee Jones’s versionof “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” I felt a deeper connection to it. If you are a jazz instrumentalist, you really have to know the lyrics of a song to play it right, even if you play it in a completely different style from the way it was written. Jarrett plays like he knows the lyrics, and I’m going to assume he does know them. Is the song a reference to F. Scott Fitzgeraldor a mournful ode to being a closeted gay man in the Eisenhower era? Why not both? It will always be a sad and beautiful tune.

This 1986 recording of Kern and Hammerstein’s “The Song is You” begins with a hypnotic and ostinato-laden intro by Jarrett. Once the band sneaks in it’s a fairly up-tempo swing that’s punctuated by Jarrett’s flowing lines and his orgiastic cries. The improvised coda takes up half of the track’s length and might as well be a song unto itself. Jarrett’s vocal shrieks often sound like he’s receiving fellatio while being stretched on the rack, but I’ve been listening to him for so long that I don’t hear them anymore. They might bother you, and I won’t hate you if they make you squirm. But pay attention to the music and these noises will retreat from your perception.

This recording of “All the Things You Are” from 1990’s Tribute made me want to smash my head on the out-of-tune pianos in Berklee’s practice rooms. Jarrett’s improvised intro is a polyphonic wonder. It sounds more human to me now than it did back then, and I can hear more of what he’s doing. Still, what he’s doing is some of the most ridiculous piano improvisation I’ve ever heard. I think Brad Mehldau is one of the best jazz pianists around, but anyone who says he didn’t check out and absorb Jarrett is clearly not paying attention. This is sheer badassery from the trio.

I decided to end this playlist on a sensitive note with Rodgers and Hart’s ballad “Little Girl Blue.” It’s not standard that’s played too often, which is regrettable, as it is a lovely song. Maybe musicians avoid it because it has a long and unusual form and sometimes we don’t want to have to count too much. I’d also like to thank my uncle, Joe Fernandez who has been a guiding force through my adult life. This is his favorite song, and this is my favorite version of it.

Richard Rodgers could write a tune and Lorenz Hart knew how to craft a melancholic lyric that never drifts into sentimentality:

 

When I was very young
The world was younger than I
As merry as a carousel

The circus tent was strung
With every star in the sky
Above the ring I loved so well

Now the young world has grown old
Gone are the tinsel and gold

Sit there, and count your fingers
What can you do?
Old girl, you’re through
Sit there, and count your little fingers
Unlucky, little girl blue

Sit there, and count the raindrops
Falling on you
It’s time you knew
All you can count on is the raindrops
That fall on little girl blue

No use, old girl
You may as well surrender
Your hope is getting slender
Why won’t somebody send a tender
Blue boy
To cheer little girl blue?

No use, old girl
You may as well surrender
Your hope is getting slender
Why won’t somebody send a tender
Blue boy
To cheer little girl blue?

 

 

Man, I really relate to this song and this performance. I didn’t know the lyrics or the song itself until I heard this version, and it’s hard for me to play it without referencing Jarrett in some way. You can hear the sadness and possibility of hope in Jarrett’s playing and the support from Peacock and DeJohnette.

I love so many of Jarrett’s records, but the trio sides are my favorites. They deconstruct the Great American Songbookso beautifully and memorably that it’s difficult for me to play some of these songs without thinking of the way Jarrett and company played them. If you’re new to the world of Jarrett, take all this in and then realize that there are over thirty records under his name. You can have enough of this musical master to last the rest of your life, and your life will be more rewarding if you let him in.

 

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-May 9- John Scofield-Blue Matter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-KSaG0STJA&list=PLc4gG9rFzHhY_ww1XtKjKsWj7MXS9wJLz

I was eighteen in the summer of 1987 and was at the University of Massachusetts’ Jazz in July when John Nathan playedBlue Matter for me. I was already a John Scofield fan and had some of his albums, but the power of Blue Matter(and that of drummer Dennis Chambers in particular) floored me. I didn’t know a right foot could play a bass drum like that, or what go-go was. Damn. Every bass drum hit is a glorious kick in the balls, and I love it.

John Scofield is one of my favorite jazz composers, and the tunes here are some of his best. Along with Chambers, there’s Gary Graingeron bass, Mitchell Forman on keyboards, Don Alias on percussion and Hiram Bullock on rhythm guitar for a few tunes. The song “Blue Matter” kicks off the record with a medium-slow shuffle-like groove under a guitar melody and a dark synth bass line. Then Chambers’ aforementioned right foot kicks in, and suddenly we realize that we aren’t in your uncle’s fusion band anymore.  “Blue Matter” has a sick groove that will make even the moldiest of figs nod along.  Sco loves funk and the blues more than most post-bop guitarists, and that’s one of his strengths. He’s content to solo over one chord when other guitarists would demand twenty. Scofield’s use of space has always been one of his most distinctive traits to me. In an age of overdriven and furious guitarists, Scofield found a slightly edgy tone and didn’t always have to show off his chops. He’s got chops, of course, but he trots them out when he wants to.

Hiram Bullock’s rhythm playing is sharp as fuck on these tracks. I don’t know if the millennial guitarists out there really know what a serious guitarist and musical force Hiram was. I got to see him a few times live, and, GODDAMN. It should be noted that not just any guitarist would allow another guitarist on his/her record, but Sco is confident enough in his musical masculinity to have Bullock add his shine on “Blue Matter,” “Now She’s Blonde,” and Make Me.”

I will let the choir decide what Scofield means by “Trim,” but let it suffice that it combines a cool harmonic sense with a controlled frenzy of sixteenth notes. It’s a really hard tune to improvise on, but Grainger’s thumping and Chambers’ groove decimation carry it. I’ve always felt that Sco’s keyboard players had it rough, as playing synth solos can be fun, but playing them over crazy guitar chords and ungainly rhythms can be difficult. Mitch Forman is one of my favorite keyboard players to have gone through the Sco army, and he begins with a nice piano solo that leads into a funky synth solo. There must have been some FM synthesisinvolved. “Trim,”, like much of the record manages to feel both tight and loose, even during Chambers’ disgustingly good but too-brief drum solo.

“Heaven Hill” is a country-gospel waltz that doesn’t deny that a guitarist is playing it. I suppose it was Larry Coryell in the mid-1960s who declared it safe for jazz guitarists to sound like…well… guitarists, but six stringers like Pat Metheny and Scofield decided that it was always cool to play jazz in guitar keys, i.e. keys with sharps in the key signature (D, E, A) that lie well on the guitar. The flat-key-minded horn players tried to rebel, but they were squashed somewhere around the time of Salt II.

One reason it can suck to be a synthesizer player is that your sounds can often get date-stamped within a few years, and you become the instrumental equivalent of a YouTube star’s shelf-life. Forman’s digital organ and brassy pitch-bent synth solo show us that we’re in the 1980s, but the sounds don’t make me think we’re in an alternate musical ending to The Cosby Show. A good player will always shine through no matter how uncool the technology might seem in thirty years. (I still proudly have and play my Yamaha DX-7, by the way.) That’s some nasty soloing by Scofield with a couple of nastier chords at the end, like what he found at the top of Heaven Hill was an old Rolex and a stack of Penthousemags.

“So You Say” might be described as “jaunty,” although that implies something maritime, and this tune is mostly on terra firma. I love that cowbell groove (Alias? Chambers?) that punctuates the off-beats. There’s also an interlude with slightly disturbing chords that could have been a suspense scene from Simon and Simon if that show were more sophisticated and savvy about the jazz. I’ll assume that someone’s sneaking up on Gerald McRaney in another universe where people actually like intelligent music.

I stupidly asked out loud what the title “Now She’s Blonde” meant, and the ever-sarcastic Pete Buck yelled out something like “she dyed her hair, you California moron!” Captain Obvious aside, this feels less like a judgment of women’s hair color preferences than a slightly sheepish love song. That is, a love song that shows the beloved that her suitor can write fancy chords and dazzle her with brilliant melodies. The middle section gets gospel-funky to prove to the blonde that he can hang in Bed-Stuy and the Upper East Side.

The 1980s were the era when Yamaha digital synths took over the organ role from a real Hammond B-3. It seemed really cool at the time, as a DX7 weighs a lot less than a B-3, but once the B-3 became cool again those digital organs started to sound shabby. At least that’s what I thought until I started listening to Reagan-era music again with some distance. Now I think a real Hammond or Fender Rhodes would have sounded wrong on these records because these vintage legends would have stood out too much in their originality. Their digital counterparts can (although not always) blend into the fusion fabric without drawing too much attention to themselves. It’s like using a solid actor in an ensemble piece instead of a star who would take the attention away from the story and the other actors.

Scofield’s song titles are as good as the songs themselves, and “Make Me” is a smartass kiss-off that could have been a taunt outside of Seventh Avenue South. It’s sassy, although the sass you’d get from Gary Grainger and Dennis Chambers is a little more serious than the sass you got from the red-haired girl in fourth grade. They aren’t fucking around. Sco’s guitar slurs SOUND like slurs, as if he’s yelling epithets at poor kids who don’t look like him. He means well, though.

For some reason, this playlist doesn’t have the studio versions of the last two tunes. Here are the links to “The Nag” and “Time Marches On.”  I’m gonna go out on a potentially sexist limb here and say that “The Nag” is a woman, and that she’s not a woman I’d want to be stuck in an elevator with. Check out that middle section melody that Sco and Forman play in unison— it’s like your Aunt Ruth complaining a little too close to your ear. But it sounds so damn good that maybe you’ll forgive her annoyances and take out her trash for the next two weeks without fail. The rhythm section pushes the hell out of this one, and if you need a primer on how to play a lot of notes and slap a bass while still grooving, “The Nag” is your joint. True, you don’t want to spend a whole album there, just like you’d want to leave Aunt Ruth’s living room sooner than later, but you know this groove is THERE and that it has a rare majesty that would turn cacophonous in other musicians’ hands.

“Time Marches On” is less a march than a funky pimp strut. Not a 1970s Blaxploitation pimp, but a suave cat with a car that’s cool but not TOO cool. He’s remarkably nice and respected around the neighborhood, and you can tell he’s treating his chords well. These are classic Sco chords, too, and he lets them know he knows where all their chord tones are as well as those extensions and alterations they’ve been hiding in their back pockets. Once again, they’re not afraid of the funk. Dennis Chambers will NEVER be afraid of the funk. Grainger gets brief but much-deserved solo space, but I want to hear more. The tune starts lurking behind some alley near Sweet Basil but returns to the spotlight with the solid guitar/bass riff that ends in a metric modulation. Time stops strutting and starts crawling to a Tempest-like synth drone. It’s a perfect way to end an album that’s been showing off the rhythmic dexterity and time feel of all these killer players.

I’ve never met a John Scofield album I didn’t like, but Blue Matterhas a power unlike any of his previous releases. Mostly it’s because Grainger and Chambers size you up in the intro of the title tune and proceed to mash your face into a cement wall of rhythmic superiority. And you like getting your face smashed into a wall of rhythmic superiority, because without experiencing the head punches in BlueMatterwe might start to think that everything is all cozy in our jazz fusion world.

Blue Matter was a musical bolt of lightning to me over thirty years ago, and it still is today. Don’t be scared of getting hurt; these guys hit hard but they cushion the blow with some incredible music.

Make me.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY-May 10-Donovan- Donovan’s Greatest Hits

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E01wIGfVXhk&t=3s

Do you like the music of DonovanLeitch? Me too. Do I like everything he’s done?  Well, no, but the ones I do like hold a place in my heart. He’s kind of the Scottish Bob Dylan, but only if Dylan went psychedelic and started phrasing his syllables in odd ways. This record spans the biggest part of his career (1965-1969).

I permanently borrowed this LP from Dave McGillicuddy in 1987 after I heard “Jennifer Juniper” on the radio as I was waking up to go to school. Anyone else find great songs just from having the radio be your alarm clock? I can give you your album back Dave, but I don’t know if you have a turntable anymore.

It’s impressive when you’ve been a recording artist for less than five years and have a greatest hits album. Or you have a record company that wants to make more money by re-packaging some of your records before they’re fully in the public consciousness. Donovan’s Greatest Hitsleads off with “Epistle to Dippy,” which is as odd as the title suggests. It’s a fun track, but I’m not fond of the rhythmic placing of “spectacles” in the chorus. I’ve become a syllabic stress snob in latter days, but I think of it as poetic and musical refinement. Syd Barrett must have absorbed “Epistle to Dippy,” because I hear a lot here that reminds me of the great hysteria in The Madcap Laughs.

Most people of a certain age will know the Latin-tinged blues “Sunshine Superman” and Donovan’s lyrical roundabout way of telling a woman that she has no choice but to be with him. Sometimes I think I should try this approach, but then I remember I’m not a pop star in 1966. The fuzzy and super-hero populated lyrics go like this:

Sunshine came softly through my a-window today
Could’ve tripped out easy a-but I’ve a-changed my ways
It’ll take time, I know it but in a while
You’re gonna be mine, I know it, we’ll do it in style

‘Cause I made my mind up you’re going to be mine

I’ll tell you right now
Any trick in the book now, baby, all that I can find

Everybody’s hustlin’ just to have a little scene
When I say we’ll be cool I think that you know what I mean
We stood on a beach at sunset, do you remember when?
I know a beach where, baby, a-it never ends
When you’ve made your mind up forever to be mine

 

Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm
I’ll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind
‘Cause I made my mind up you’re going to be mine
I’ll tell you right now

Any trick in the book now, baby, all that I can find

Superman or Green Lantern ain’t got a-nothin’ on me
I can make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea, yeah
A you-you-you can just sit there a-thinking on your velvet throne
‘Bout all the rainbows a-you can a-have for your own

When you’ve made your mind up forever to be mine
I’ll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind
When you’ve made your mind up forever to be mine

I’ll pick up your hand
I’ll pick up your hand.

 

I think some LSD came creeping through his morning window before he wrote “Sunshine Superman.” Whether the lyrics make sense or not, she’s going to be his and the seduction will happen with a cock-eyed cha-cha and a guitar hook that sounds like a whale call. Holy shit! That’s Jimmy Page on guitar and John Paul Jones on bass! No wonder the guitar sound is familiar. It’s a classic track.

The Latin groove continues and adds some hill peopleand a flute with “There is a Mountain.” The title is a from a Zen koan, and Eastern religion has rarely sounded as catchy as this chorus. They’re having a party in the studio. Or is it even a studio? Or a party? Only the Zen master knows for sure. I’ve always been a little off-put at 8:26 when Donovan turns the beat around, although maybe it’s the bass player not following him. Again, I’ve become nit-picky in my old age, but my ears hear more than most people. This is a great tune to put on if Deadheads or peace-loving hippies crash your party. You’ll all be happy, as long as someone brings the proper soporifics.

As I said before, waking up at ass-o’clock in the morning for high school is easier when you are greeted with a lovely tune like “Jennifer Juniper.” I think it took me a while to find out who the artist was, because we didn’t have the Interwebs back then. “Jennifer Juniper” has a beautiful diatonic melody with a chamber music orchestration of flute, oboe, and bassoon in addition to the typical pop rhythm section. It was the double-reeds that grabbed my ears, and the fact that it was a peaceful love song with symphonic instruments.

Jennifer Juniper, lives upon the hill
Jennifer Juniper, sitting very still

Is she sleeping? I don’t think so
Is she breathing? Yes, very low
Whatcha doing, Jennifer, my love?

 

Jennifer Juniper, rides a dappled mare
Jennifer Juniper, lilacs in her hair

Is she dreaming? Yes, I think so
Is she pretty? Yes, ever so
Whatcha doing, Jennifer, my love?

 

I’m thinking of what it would be like if she loved me
And how just lately this happy song, it came along
And I like to somehow try and tell you

Jennifer Juniper, hair of golden flax
Jennifer Juniper, longs for what she lacks

 

Do you like her? Yes, I do, sir
Would you love her? Yes, I would, sir
Whatcha doing, Jennifer, my love?

 

Jennifer Juniper, vit sur la colline
Jennifer Juniper, assise très tranquille

Dort-elle? Je ne crois pas
Respire-t-elle? Oui, mais tout bas
Qu’est-ce que tu fais, Jenny, mon amour?

Jennifer Juniper….

 

Little did I know that Jenniferis sleeping because she overdosed on heroin, not because she’s a sleeping beauty in a vaguely psychedelic field. The real-life Jennifer Juniper is the sister of Layla—that blows my mind. My French is more than a little rusty, so I’ll assume Donovan still loves her in the last verse.

“Wear Your Love Like Heaven” is hippy-dippy love song with a lovable chorus. I don’t know why the sound here is out-of-phase, but maybe you have your own recording of this that sounds better. That marimba part is pretty cool, as is that instrumental ending with the subtle organ. Perhaps Donovan was listening to “Under My Thumb” at the time.

“Season of the Witch” starts out sounding like Carole King joined Buffalo Springfield, but Donovan’s vocal chorus channels more of Eric Burdon and The Animals. I think The Doors and Nirvana copped a bit of the build-up crescendo that Donovan uses in the chorus. There’s a little bit of this in The Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for My Man.” They were both recorded in 1966, which was probably the greatest year in modern pop music.

Also in 1966 there was a short-lived craze partially fueled by the song “Mellow Yellow.” People started smoking dried banana skins because they thought the skins had hallucinogenic properties. In reality they don’t, but it never hurts to do some field research. Whenever I’m cooking and using an aromatic spice, I HAVE to say “I’m just mad about saffron.” I pretty much have no control over it, and you will have no control when the chorus hits, because you have to tell the world that you are known as Mellow Yellow. Whether the song is about drugs, a vibrator (electric banana), or stale piss, it’s a hit no matter where or when it comes on. Apparently the soda pop Mello Yellodidn’t take its name from the song, which is too bad.

You can tell a song is British if it’s spelled like “Colours.” It’s a folky tune with an easy-going melody. You think Donovan is going to stop when he yells “Hold it!” but it turns out to be a harmless organ solo. At first I thought they lyrics were going along the lines of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” but it’s really a simple love song.

 

Yellow is the colour of my true love’s hair
In the mornin’ when we rise
In the mornin’ when we rise
That’s the time, that’s the time
I love the best

 

Blue’s the colour of the sky
In the mornin’ when we rise
In the mornin’ when we rise
That’s the time, that’s the time
I love the best

 

Green’s the colour of the sparklin’ corn
In the mornin’ when we rise
In the mornin’ when we rise
That’s the time, that’s the time
I love the best

 

Mellow is the feeling that I get
When I see her, mm hmm
When I see her, uh huh
That’s the time, that’s the time
I love the best

 

Freedom is a word I rarely use
Without thinkin’, mm hmm
Without thinkin’, mm hmm
Of the time, of the time
When I’ve been loved.

 

Usually I don’t think of hurdy-gurdy men spreading songs of love, but maybe that’s my Winterreisetraining. Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”is also spreading samples of hallucinogenics.  It’s also got every Led Zeppelin member except for Robert Plant, and they give it a strange rocking groove to go with the tamboura-drenched psychedelia. Donovan went to OIndia with The Beatles, and this song cam e out of that time studying with the Maharishi and digging the sitar sounds. I never thought about it until I did some research, but OF COURSE that’s John Bonham on the drums. These fills could have only been played by him. This tune goes over well at a party where everybody’s high or tripping. You could use this to seduce someone on a crowded living room dance floor ( with or without flowing scarves and lava lamps). It also  sounds great without the drugs, so don’t be scared.

This version of “Catch the Wind” is slower than the one I know a little better, which you can find here. It’s a beautiful song, and you can see why the publicity people wanted to have him cage-fight Dylan. Don’t think of it as a Dylan knock-off, because it’s a great tune. I do think my great songwriting friend Jesse Harris must have listened to this one a few times.

 

In the chilly hours and minutes
Of uncertainty
I want to be
In the warm hold of your loving mind

To feel you all around me
And to take your hand
Along the sand
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind

 

When sundown pales the sky
I want to hide a while
Behind your smile
And everywhere I’d look, your eyes I’d find

For me to love you now
Would be the sweetest thing
T’would make me sing
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind

 

Diddy di dee dee diddy diddy
Diddy diddy diddy dee dee dee

When rain has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near to kill my fears
To help me to leave all my blues behind

For standin’ in your heart
Is where I want to be
And long to be
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.

 

Not to songwriters: when you can’t find a great lyric for a bridge or another section, nonsense syllables can work well, provided you’ve got a strong melody. A perky waltz can make a melancholy lyric sound less gloomy, and people will sing along to it without feeling sorry for you. I like the faster version more, but I do like the rocking coda of the playlist version. Apparently, Donovan re-recorded some tunes due to contractual obligations. Lawyers have fucked up and prevented so much art over the years.

“Lalena” was recorded specifically for this greatest hits collection, which is kind of cheating. Usually you’d want to have your fans decide if your songs are hits or not. “Lalena” is a chamber pop piece with a nice melody and orchestration. Donovan’s vibrato is as wide as Alaska here, and I question rhyming “Can’t blame ya” with “Lalena,” but this was 1969, so things were a little different.

“Teen Angel” is a short bonus track from the 1968 album Hurdy Gurdy Man. I like the lyric and melody, but the drummer sound like he fell off his stool at 41:30. It’s hilarious.

 

All the boys in the neighborhood
Would love you if they could
But I’m easy

 

Now that you’re in demand
Handle it if you can
‘Cause it’s easy

.

I’ll take you anywhere,
Buy ribbons for your hair.
You need me anyway
And you know what I’m going to do

 

Now the boys as you look about
May be funny to work out
But I’m easy.

 

He’s easy, but for what? For her love? Or he’s easy to get along with? I’d love to hear an up-tempo cover of this tune, not that this version isn’t good. It has a great melody and hook, and the kids could use some of that these days.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that your favorite artists from earlier times were really young when they recorded their first albums. Sure, they sound young, but so much music from the pre-digital age feels more organic and urgent. Donovan is kind of like an uncle who lives on a remote island and comes to visit you once in a while. When he does appear he shoes up with baskets of beauties like “Jennifer Juniper” and “Sunshine Superman.” That’s a kind uncle.

Keep Donovan in your musical family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- April 21

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 21- The Stooges-Raw Power

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDNzQ3CXspU&list=PL86h966U8nZCIEbHAXvuZQQ0rYCIhxEIj

If you are feeling sorrowful, listen to Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack.

If you are going into the bedroom, listen to Johnny Hartman.

If you are going into war, listen to The Stooges. Especially Raw Power. And play it fucking LOUD. Because any album leads off with a lyric like “I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” is going to get you to stand up and kick some ass. Iggy Pop is here to motivate you.

Raw Powerwas The Stooges third album, and their first with guitarist James Williamson, who really drives the album. Iggy and David Bowie produced it, but Iggy re-mixed it in 1997. You be the judge of which mix you like the most. One of the best things about The Stooges’ music was that they served an underclass that wasn’t into pop, country, or just about anything else, only not many people at the time knew they needed this album. So many people still don’t know they need it.

I’ll say that punk rock stemmed from 1950s guitar music like that of Link Wray, then to the Brit Pop brilliance of The Who and The Kinks, then to garages across America, then it wound up in Michigan in the late 1960s. Then you have the CBGB Lower East Side styles with The Ramones, The Dictators, and the like, before it crosses back over to England with The Sex Pistols and many others. But you really get the bored nihilism and Chuck Berry on crank ethos of punk with Michigan’s own band The Stooges. (The MC5 also fits in here, but their lyrics are more about social and political issues than danger and lust.)

Raw Powerleads off with that street-walking cheetah song “Search and Destroy,” and the song explodes out of your speakers and into your angered brain:

 

I’m a streetwalking cheetah with a heart full of napalm
I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb
I am the world’s forgotten boy
The one who searches and destroys
Honey gotta help me please
Somebody gotta save my soul
Baby, detonate for me, Oh

….

Look out honey, ’cause I’m using technology
Ain’t got time to make no apology
Soul radiation in the dead of night
Love in the middle of a fire fight
Honey, gotta strike me blind
Somebody gotta save my soul
Baby, penetrate my mind

 

And I’m the world’s forgotten boy
The one who’s searchin’, searchin’ to destroy…..

 

Remember that the Vietnam War was winding down in 1973, so napalmwas a hot issue, so to say. The words also reflect the thought of nuclear war and the post-apocalyptic world that would follow. If you didn’t know that this album was from 1973, you might think it’s fairly recent, as it took a while for people to discover it. The Stooges, like the Velvet Underground, helped to create more bands than they sold records. It’s a very influential cult record, and “Search and Destroy” hits you with a distorted sound that’s more disruptive than the Blues and hobbit-based sounds of Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

It’s odd that the record company wanted two ballads on Raw Power. “Gimme Danger” is one of them, although I don’t see how this tune could be a slow dance. The title could be a reaction to the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” but while Jagger is looking to get out of the hostile environment of the 1960s, Iggy is trying to create a dangerous world for himself and his unnamed girl:

 

Gimme danger, little stranger
And I feel with you at ease
Gimme danger, little stranger
And I’ll feel your disease

 

There’s nothing in my dreams
Just some ugly memories
Kiss me like the ocean breeze

 

Now, if you will be my lover
I will shiver and sing
But if you can’t be my master
I will do anything

There’s nothing left alive
But a pair of glassy eyes
Raise my feelings one more time

Yeah!

Yeah, find a little stranger, find a little stranger
Yeah, they’re gonna feel my hand
Said die a little later, why no, little stranger?
Hurry on…

 

There’s some fatal lust here, as well as a bit of John Lennon (‘Feel your disease”) from “Come Together.” You can hear Iggy’s vocal influences: Jim Morrison, Jagger, James Brown, — but he combines them all to make his own musical persona. The jangle of Williamson’s acoustic guitar makes you think it’s think it might be a meadow rock song, but the band digs in with Pop’s gritty lyrics and any thought of love and peace vanishes.

Not to be confused with the Stooges-inspired comedy show of the same name, “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” pretty much tells you what Iggy thinks of this hottie, but he wants to fuck her along the way:

 

A pretty face and a dirty look
I knew right away that I had to get my hooks in you
I say yeah, yeah
I’m running low on memories
If you wanna make a buck, boy, you gotta be a tease, uh huh
And that ain’t all
Ooh!

I need it all, baby, that’s no lie
I need a lover with an alibi
I wanna fall into a loving sweet
Honey baby baby, I’m hard to beat

 

Hot flesh and a touch of bone
Smells in the air but I’m feeling so alone, uh huh
I say yeah yeah
Hallucination true romance
I needed love, but I only lost my pants, uh huh
And that ain’t all
I’ll tell ya honey, it’s a crying shame
All the pretty girls, well they look the same
I wanna fall into a love so sweet
Honey baby baby, I’m hard to beat
Wooo! Yeah! Hey!
Your pretty face is going to hell
Your pretty face is going to hell
Honey, honey, I can tell
Your pretty face is going to hell!

 

It’s not very subtle, but it’s contradictory at times. He wants a lover because he’s a badass, but all pretty girls look the same and he wants to get laid as he flies into hell. Brothers Ron Asheton on bass and Scott Asheton on drums anchor the rhythm section so well—they drive everything without overplaying. This is some of the most in-your-face rock and roll there is, so it’s no wonder that Kurt Cobain called Raw Powerhis favorite album. Iggy’s yips and squeals fuel “Your Pretty Face,”—he’s listened to the old blues guys as well as the soul shrieks of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins,among others.

Williamson’s guitar intro on “Penetration” sounds like a shark circling its prey. Even when Iggy comes in with his raspy yet hush vocals, the track sounds a little subdued, but in a great way. Then there’s the celesta, played by Iggy. The celeste made one of its first appearances in Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, but I’m not sure what Old Pete would have thought of the celeste here. Iggy said that the early metal bands coming out of the UK wouldn’t have had the balls to use a celesta on their overdriven Tolkien tunes. I think it was a John Cale and Velvet Underground influence.

I’ll let you decide for yourself what the song is about, but here’s an Iggy quote: “She looked at me penetratingly. So, I suppose you can figure out what happened next.” Guitar-wise, it presages Eddie Van Halen, whether he knows it or not. This band’s influence reaches far and wide. Iggy’s vocal is pretty scary, as if he’s that guy in the corner with a scar running down his cheek and he’s going to ask you something. You’d run away from that guy, but I encourage you to embrace Iggy and the Stooges. Maybe not physically right after a show, because they’d be sweaty, and Iggy might have glass shards and blood on him.

For you geezers like me, turn the record over to hear the title track. “Raw Power” is what you’d expect throughout this album— lots of edge, lust, and anger. Iggy is willing to share this power, because its sure to come running to you. That’s Bowie on the Jerry Lee piano. It feels a little out of place because this isn’t your 1950s rock and roll; it’s infused with dirt and grit.  “I Need Somebody” is a slow-ish bluesy shuffle and might have fit the label’s criteria for a ballad. Of course, it’s not; it sounds like a monster with three and a half legs lumbering toward you. Then you realize it’s Iggy and he wants someone like you. Perhaps you would want him too. That’s a really cool guitar part on the verse. I hear that kind of sound and playing in a lot of later artists; for some reason I hear The Pretenders.

It’s pure overdrive on “Shake Appeal” and it will make you want to do The Mashed Potato or The Frug, provided you’ve done a shitload of speed. I love the handclaps and the guitar riff; this song could adapt to a wide variety of musical styles and make people of all ages dance. We all should dance to this version, but some people will be too scared.

The sick guitar riffs continue with “Death Trip,” and Iggy’s lyrics are again a tad contradictory:

 

And now my girl will steer you round
Something drive you blind
I move to master my machine, baby, will not stand in line
A sick boy, sick boy goin’ ’round, barely losin’ grip
Baby, wanna take you out with me, come along on my death trip
My death trip, honey, my death trip
A-honey, honey, honey, my death trip
Baby, my death trip.
Ow!
All right

Now tell me do you care for me
Once I care for you
A-honey, come and be my enemy so I can love you true
A sick boy, sick boy fadin’ out, I love it to be cruel
Baby, whip me in the heat, turn me loose on you.

 

Is he speaking to two different ladies? How is he going to go on his death trip? What’s the machine he’s mastering? Does it matter? No. Does it rock? YES.

Raw Power isn’t for the squeamish. It’s a fierce record that doesn’t just demand your attention; it grabs you and throws you inside the guitar amp to yell at you. It’s a seminal pre-punk album and a blueprint for any artist who wants to play some serious high intensity rock and roll.

Your pretty face is going to hell.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 22- Charles Mingus- Mingus Ah Um

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0A_Ik6TTn0

Probably one of the best decisions I made when I was seventeen was to buyMingus Ah Um. It’s a jazz classic from 1959, which is the year where jazz broke new ground in so many ways (Mingus Ah Um, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and Ornette Coleman’s Shape ofJazz to Come, for starters.) But Mingus Ah Umisn’t all inward-thinking intellectual music with chords nobody understands. There are crazy chords, of course, and amazing playing from all the musicians involved, but this music is as extroverted as it is brooding. It covers so many moods and feelings that it’s accessible to non-jazz listeners. Just because it’s jazz doesn’t mean it has to hurt.

For those not familiar with the greatness of bassist/composer Charles Mingus, Mingus AhUmis a great place to start. First up is “Better Git It in Your Soul,” which is a brisk jazz waltz (a blues with a bridge) that knows a little sumpn’ sumpn’ about gospel music. It’s bluesy, swinging, and shouting— Mingus is literally shouting at the beginning, as if he’s the deacon leading the choir. In a way, he is. It’s a pretty infectious melody, and unlike bebop, the horns play together in a collective improvisation, which is the basis of early New Orleans-based jazz. Dig pianist Horace Parlan’scomping— he’s not playing bebop chord voicings, but more of a repetitive part, something that’s common in gospel music and all of modern popular music, but not so much in modern jazz. I love the handclaps on the breakdown for tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin’s solo— in an era where jazz was getting more sophisticated and getting further away from its roots, this section is refreshing to hear. The whole record is.

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is Mingus’ tribute to the great tenor saxophonist Lester Young, who died just two months before this recording took place. It’s a slow bluesy melody with some beautiful chords underneath it. Booker Ervin gives us a slightly mournful solo that’s as wonderfully understated as the melody.

The composers of the Spider Mantheme probably owe Mingus some royalties for co-opting the opening melody of “Boogie Stop Shuffle.” As the saying goes, if you can’t play the blues, you can’t play shit. In this case, it’s a minor blues at a fairly fast tempo, with a killer solo by Ervin. Parlan keeps two different riffs going on under the solos, but even though I knew he basically used three fingers on his right hand when he soloed, I didn’t know that he was partially crippled by polio as a kid, which explains a few things. One redeeming aspect of disabilities is that it can force the disabled person to do things in a different and sometimes innovative way. Think of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Django Reinhardt. But I don’t recommend becoming disabled to see if you can do something different.

I think that “Self-Portrait in Three Colors” has more shades than three, because the rich chords and interweaving horn lines suggest more colors than are in the rainbow. It has a lot of Duke Ellington in it, as Duke was Mingus’ main compositional influence. Ellington also figures in the title of “Open Letter to Duke.” Mingus took some ideas from Ellington, some from Charlie Parker, and some from traditional jazz, but in the end it’s his creative genius that produced so many amazing compositions. “Open Letter to Duke” starts with burning solos by Ervin and alto saxophonist John Handy. The fast swing tempo gives way to an off-kilter rhumba for the Ellingtonian melody that leads to a half-time ballad. The song itself sounds like Ellington run through a Messiaen filter. The tune goes back and forth with tempo and feel changes, and never sounds forced.  Handy and Ervin end it with a kind duel of interplay.

Side Two starts with “Bird Calls,” an homage to Charlie Parker. These aren’t Yardbirds; they’re a squawking type that ate a few crumbs Ornette dropped in the ground. The tune emerges as an up-tempo minor-key swing. The melody is reminiscent of some of Bird’s tunes, but they’re Mingus-ified to give them a new character. Handy thought they were going to play the head again for a second, but Richmond launches into a wonderfully melodic drum solo. Danny Richmond is an underrated drummer, but I need to delve further into his discography. The saxophone birds close the tune in atonal fashion, and Parlan sounds like he’s been hanging out with Cecil Taylor.

“Fables of Faubus” isn’t only a great tune with a jagged melody, it’s also a social commentary on the segregationist governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, who was a true Southern douchebag. To me, the exaggerated syncopated lope of the melody symbolizes the backwards thinking of Faubus and other racist politicians of his day—it sounds a bit like “Happy Trails.” Killer solos all around, and the melody is quite memorable.

You get to hear Handy play a lovely clarinet and Jimmy Knepper rip out a trombone solo on “Pussy Cat Dues.” It’s a slow blues as filtered through the mind of Mingus. “Jelly Roll” is an homage to that king of jazz, Jelly Roll Morton. It’s another altered blues that goes into a sassy alto solo by Handy that gets a little rickety-tack from Richmond’s drumsticks on the rim of the snare drum. Parlan and Ervin solo, followed by Mingus’ only bass solo on the album. His innovations as composer sometimes overshadow his reputation as one of the greatest bassists in jazz history. The coda is a short and wonderful series of trading between Mingus and the horns. It closes the album on a happy note. This album is largely positive sounding; even when the horns shriek or a tune broods, there is a sense of joy.

Listen to some Mingus. You better get him in your soul.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- April 23- Sergei Prokofieff

 

Sergei Prokofieffis one of the foremost composers of the 20thcentury, but just because he’s relatively modern doesn’t mean that he’s hard to listen to. He’s very melodic while using dissonance and harsh rhythms, and you probably know more of his music than you think you do.

I was living in Brooklyn with my friend Kurt Rosenwinkel in 1992, and he had a cassette of Prokofieff’s Third Piano Concerto. I think it was this recording, because the performance is pretty amazing. I love the way Old Serge weaves the piano in and out of the orchestra with those fast sixteenth notes, and Ms. Argerich is precise without sounding mechanical.  I’ve tried to steal elements from this piece for my own compositions, mostly from osmosis, but I don’t think I’ve had much success. It’s pretty heavy.  This piece, like most great music, demands repeated listenings. You can discover new things each time you hear it.

Piano Concerto #3– Martha Argerich, piano, with Claudio Abbado and The Berlin Philharmonic

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDCZ_R9vzaw

I was introduced to the ballet Romeo and Julietand the Aubadefrom a singer-songwriter I worked with years ago. He found a solo harp version and wrote some pretty creative lyrics to it. You can think of it that way or just go with this recording by Valery Gergiev leading an unnamed ensemble:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaH9l6PTf2c

 

I like that you can follow along with the score on the screen. There are so many catchy elements in under three minutes that it makes sense my friend turned it into a pop song. Here’s a version with banjo and other plucked instruments, which is proof that a good melody can be adapted for many different instrumentations:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-YmxH8Sk_c

 

The Lieutenant Kije Suiteis one of Prokofieff’s better-known compositions. It’s a suite of themes from Prokofieff’s score to the 1933 Soviet film of the same name. You hear a lot of military sounds—fifes, drums, trumpets— but it the first few themes are happy and light-hearted. Fans of Sting will recognize the “Romance” melody from his 1985 song “Russians.” Lieutenant Kije was a fictitious officer in the inept and cruel Tsar’s army; but Sting used the melody to create an anti-war song. The “Wedding” movement is a memorable melody too. You’ll be unaware that you’re singing the themes of Soviet film music, but you won’t be able to help it. Eugene Ormandy conducts.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJrhu9LgcAY

 

Finally, most kids (at least those who were kids in the 20thcentury) were exposed to Peter and the Wolfprobably through the magic of Walt Disney. This was the 1946 recording I had as a kid. It was the first American version with narration, here by Sterling Holloway, who is perhaps best known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh. There have been many versions of it; some with narrators and some with no words at all. The music tells the story anyway. It was intended to be a young person’s guide to the instruments of the orchestra, and it really works. I learned a lot about the orchestra from it when I was a kid. You can you.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIxmguOSjZ8

 

Skip to 22:52 to see the animated Disney version:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIxmguOSjZ8

 

Finally, to further prove that you can swing nearly anything, and great melodies will always be great melodies, here’s a little bit of jazz organist Jimmy Smith’s version, with killer arrangements by Oliver Nelson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQGLsFuV1Ko

 

There’s so much more to the world of Sergei Prokofieff, but these recordings will get you started. His music is challenging at times, but also artfully melodic. You’ll be singing Peter and the Wolf’s duck theme over and over after you hear it. Modern classical music rarely is this accessible and harmonically complicated at the same time.

Thanks, Serge!

 

 

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 25- Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald- Ella and Louis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qm8sJ3ui138

If you want to learn The Great American Songbook, you might as well start with this 1956 duet album by two of the all-time greats. There would be no American singing as we know it without Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. We also have to thank producer and jazz impresario for making this record happen.

Ella and Louisbegins with the 1929 standard “Can’t We Be Friends?” It was composed by Kay Swiftwith lyrics from her then-husband Paul James (real name: Jimmy Warburg). It’s the original and probably the best song about putting someone in the friend zone. Ella and Satch each sing a chorus before Armstrong blows for sixteen measures. They sing together for the last sixteen bars. In a meeting of jazz royalty, everyone wins. Except for those in the friend zone:

 

I thought I’d found the man of my dreams;
Now it seems, this is how the story ends:
He’s goin’ to turn me down and say, “Can’t we be friends?”
I thought for once it couldn’t go wrong.

Not for long

I can see the way this ends
He’s goin’ to turn me down and say, “Can’t we be friends?”
Never again!

Through with love, through with men!
They play their game

without shame,

And who’s to blame?
I thought I’d found a man I could trust.
What a bust!

This is how the story ends:
He’s goin’ to turn me down and say, “Can’t we be friends?”

 

Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t It A Lovely Day?” is not only another title that ends in a question mark, but a lesser-known song that deserves more attention. “More attention” here means that it hasn’t been recorded a thousand times or so. It’s Irving Berlin, after all— some of his songs have been recorded countless times. Jazz piano god Oscar Peterson plays a short intro before Ella sings the first sixteen bars rubato. Louis comes in for the bridge, with tasteful guitar fills from Herb Ellis. Perfect trumpet solo. Louis Armstrong is America.

I only recently figured out that “Moonlight in Vermont” never rhymes. It’s also three haikus separated by an eight-bar bridge. Ren Geisick says that “Icy finger waves” refers to a women’s hairstyle of the 1940s. I’d like corroboration. I wish I could have been in the Los Angeles studio when they recorded this, but I wasn’t in corporeal form yet.

All that doesn’t matter, because “Moonlight in Vermont” is a beautiful ballad unlike any other in the jazz canon. Some artists own songs because of their performances, and their interpretations loom over anyone else who records the song. Louis and Ella owned every song they ever performed, but their jovial mastery doesn’t make you want to flee from performing the song yourself—it makes you WANT to do the song. You can hear the sharing and caring. I’ve always imagined Pops to be my grandfather or a kind uncle who teaches you wisdom at an early age and who never steers you wrong. Ella to me is that happy aunt who lives across the country, so you rarely see her. But when she visits, it’s all hugs and candy and you can’t bear to see her go. If you don’t have a kind extended family, you do now in Louis and Ella. I have my jazz family and my blood family, and sometimes I get them mixed up in my head.

“They Can’t Take That Away from Me” is a classic Gershwin number of course, and Ella sings a chorus before the band modulates for Louis’ vocal. This is the first medium swing tune on the album, and Ella’s bridge on the way out is pure Ella— a re-imagination of the melody that’s better than the original. You can finally hear the rhythm section on this one— Ray Brown on bass and a swinging and subdued Buddy Rich on drums. Yes, Buddy could lay it down with some brushes on the snare without resorting to fireworks.

“Under a Blanket of Blue” is another song that doesn’t get much time on the circuit these days. It’s a good tune but seems to be favored by singers. It has a great melody, so it could be played as an instrumental more often. What’s Oscar doing at 21:39? O.P. does feel a need to say more than you’d expect sometimes, but what he says here and elsewhere is more than some players say in their entire lives. They play “Tenderly” as the waltz it is for Satchmo’s trumpet chorus, then switch to a slow-ish 4/4 swing for Ella’s chorus. This is how it’s done, folks. Louis sings it out with “you took my chops away from bops.” I thought he didn’t like bebop? Or was that his point? Ella sings a Louis-like phrase to end, complete with a perfect low rasp.

You know, the kids don’t really write verses these days—you know, the half-spoken parts that set up the song even though hardly anyone plays them? Armstrong sings the verse to “A Foggy Day,” and I think the song’s verse is even better than its more famous chorus. They modulate nicely for Ella’s chorus, and that’s the sign of tasteful playing and the less-is-more arrangements of Buddy Bregman.

Louis plays a pretty intro to “Stars Fell on Alabama” and joins Ella for a lovely duet on the second eight. I’ve always wondered if rhyming “drama” and “Alabama” was a good idea. Same with “hammer.” Maybe you need a New England or deep old-school Southern accent to pronounce it with conviction and authenticity. Louis and Ella don’t need that, of course, and neither did Frank.

I instinctively play this intro whenever I play “Cheek to Cheek,” even if I’m not thinking of this version. This version swings pretty damn hard. Louis sings one chorus and gives way to Ella. Maybe Louis stepped away from the mic to grab his horn, because he sounds further away under Ella’s vocal. I love thinking of the minutiae that went on during legendary recording sessions.  This was recorded in one day, which is unthinkable for most pop musicians now who need months to put together a few tunes. Jazz came fairly easy to these legends though, or at least it sounds like it did.

These tunes never get old to me. “The Nearness of You” is one of my favorite Hoagy Carmichaeltunes (lyric by Ned Washington), and it really is one of the best love songs ever written. E and L don’t play it as a straight ballad,  but as more of a walking swing. This gives it a lighter feeling, which to me feels like true love than a slow ballad. Yes, I feel more from a ballad, but they sound like they’re happy that the other person is happy rather than being mildly obsessed with that person.
“April in Paris” is one of Vernon Duke’s best-known songs, perhaps best known from the Wild Bill Davis-inspired version by the Count Basieorchestra. Here it’s a romantic ballad, which is what the lyric is about anyway. Or is it?

 

April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom

Holiday tables under the trees

April in Paris, this is a feeling

No one can ever reprise

I never knew the charm of spring

Never met it face to face

I never knew my heart could sing

Never missed a warm embrace

 

Till April in Paris

Whom can I run to

What have you done to my heart?

 

Is the narrator in love with Paris or an unnamed person in Paris? Is it a metaphor? Why am I asking?

Louis and Ella recorded a few more albums together, but this was the first. What took them so long? Of course, if you don’t know their individual records and contributions to the betterment of mankind, well, you better get crackin’. The cool thing about the good ship Ella and Louie is that it always waits for you and will always be there for you.

That’s what great family members do. Welcome them into your clan.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 26- The Jimmy Giuffre 3

 

There are those musicians who dazzle you with their brilliance or stupefy you with their musical innovations. Then there are people like Jimmy Giuffre, who quietly make music that doesn’t quite fit into any category, yet it sounds familiar. This was his first trio record, with Jim Hallon guitar and Ralph Penaon bass. There were drummer-less bands around before this 1957 recording, but none of them sound like this, and few of them approach this trio’s musicality. The Jimmy Giuffre 3 was all about MUSIC and not trying to be the hottest new thing. I like people who go against the trends and norms; not because they are trying to be against whatever music is popular, but because they hear new things and textures and show us rather than tell us. This band, like other trios Giuffre led, is able to play some heavy harmonic stuff that isn’t abrasive, partially because there is no drummer, and mostly because these guys play so well together.

Even a non-jazz fan can appreciate the bouncy melodicism of “Gotta Dance.” Giuffre plays the melody on baritone sax, doubled by Hall. Giuffre played many different woodwinds, and I can say he’s one of my favorites on each instrument. I’m fairly sure that this track will make even the most moribund of you to dance a little, even if it’s just in your head.

“Two Kinds of Blues” at first sounds like a film noir scene; it’s the guy sitting in a dingy urban hotel room that has a swaying and flickering light bulb that illuminates the cracks on the ceiling every fifteen seconds or so. The guy’s looking out the window at the lives that aren’t his, and wonders where he went wrong. The ashtray is full. He’s not a typical down on his luck guy—he’s a little sophisticated and thinks a bit more philosophically than a Robert Mitchumcharacter, but he’s not feeling great.

Suddenly, Jim Hall is playing down on the street. He’s not playing crime jazz or displaying bebop pyrotechnics. He’s playing the guitar like a GUITAR. It’s a happy but brief bit of folk song, and Hall disappears into the shadows. Giuffre’s forlorn blues comes back and the guy’s brief foray into happiness fades away. Hall returns to the street, but his playing suggests that he’s been talking to Jimmy. It’s more bluesy and studied, but then goes into melancholy. Giuffre comes back and they have a conversation that sums up a lot of what happened in the past four minutes. There are shards of hope before we’re back to the uncomfortable lighting and maybe a healthy pour of bottom-grade whisky. I think the guy makes a decision with the final dominant 7 #9 chord, but I’m not sure what he decides to do. He might work it all out, or maybe he’ll do something rash.

I don’t think the guy is involved in this up-tempo version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein III’s “The Song is You.” Some versions of this tune can get bombastic with the fast tempo, but this one certainly doesn’t do that. It doesn’t feel rushed, and that’s largely due to the trio’s musicianship and taste. I love how Giuffre’s horns were recorded; you can hear the clacks and breaths. It’s an intimate record, and they sound like they’re playing in your living room.

Crazy (s)He Calls Me” is a standard song now, but it was only eight years old at the time of this recording. How many songs of eight years from now will become modern standards? I think the answer is “Not too many.” It’s a beautiful love ballad with a lilting melody, so I feel that I should add the lyrics:

 

I say I’ll move the mountains
And I’ll move the mountains
If he wants them out of the way
Crazy, he calls me
Sure I’m crazy
Crazy in love, I’d say

 

I say I’ll go through fire
And I’ll go through fire
As he wants it, so it will be
Crazy, he calls me
Sure I’m crazy
Crazy in love, you see.

 

Like the wind that shakes the bough
He moves me with a smile
The difficult I’ll do right now
The impossible will take a little while

 

I say I’ll care forever
And I mean forever
If I have to hold up the sky
Crazy, he calls me
Sure I’m crazy
Crazy in love am I.

 

I’m pretty sure that the narrator isn’t technically insane, but love does make us do crazy things. These guys aren’t going to move the mountains, as the lyric says, but they’ll make you realize that the mountain isn’t a barrier for your love. I love the way Giuffre and Hall play the melody together in the last eight of the first chorus. Hall’s solo is everything you expect from the quiet prince of jazz guitar. Giuffre plays under his solos at times to reinforce the harmony. Not many horn players can do this— it takes restraint and care to not overshadow the soloist. Another win for Giuffre.

Giuffre’s back on baritone for “Voodoo,” and so is our film noir dude, only he’s found his way to a strange bar with off-kilter tiki lights and three guys in an unusual dialogue. They’re listening and reacting to each other, but our guy isn’t sure what they’re saying He’s still feeling the blues, but he’s a bit distracted by the trio at the table. He’s into what they’re saying together at the end, but they leave before he has time to talk to them.

“My All” is credited to Giuffre and Bob Russell,the latter presumably being the lyricist for “Crazy (S)he Calls Me.” Hall begins with some unusual and strummed chords before Giuffre enters on clarinet with Pena on bass. This trio utilized a lot of space, and you can hear the things they don’t play as much as the things they do play. “My All” is a romantic jazz ballad with a few unexpected chords.  They play as if bebop never happened; the music ranges from traditional jazz to swing and then adds a bit of modern chamber music. I’d call Giuffre’s trios chamber jazz, because they sound intimate with modern harmonies, only it’s not the kind of jazz that hurts.

“That’s the Way It Is” gives us some more fun interplay with a bluesy melody that feels like a sunny day in the South, only without any racist rednecks. It’s another happy and bouncy tune that gives us a little bit of the Mississippi river in a Huck Finn kind of way. Giuffre’s on tenor, and his solo sounds like he’s listened to more Stephen Foster than Coleman Hawkins. He also reminds me of Stan Getz, but without the vibrant schizophrenia.

“Crawdad Suite” begins with a blues them played by Giuffre on clarinet. The melody fades and slows down into a spacious dialogue between Hall and Pena. They aren’t in the blues anymore, and they don’t sound like Louisiana either. I hear the crawdads in the blues part, but then our film noir guy is on Lake Ponchartrainwith an altered melancholy. He’s imagining himself back in the dingy room and the oddly-lit bar, then he snaps back to Cajun country and wonders where the crawfish are. The trio boiled the crawfish, but they have all these fancy Yankee dipping sauces that don’t make much sense to the guy. Pena brings the blues back at the end before the two Jims have a talk about Mahler’s harmonies. Then they decide to forgo the dipping sauces for a few bites until they plunge the biggest crawdads into a béarnaise that really confuses our guy. The tune’s over—where did they all go?

I don’t have many aspirations to be someone else, but I wish I could play clarinet and play it like Jimmy Giuffre. His is such a unique voice. Mainstream jazz people don’t know what to do with him, because he doesn’t follow all the rules, but neither do I.

Giuffre’s “The Train and the River” is one of his best-known compositions, that is if you know his music apart from “Four Brothers.” “The Train and the River” got some national attention when it was featured in thisclip from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, with Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone replacing Pena. The tune sounds like it could be an American folk song with a bit of blues. It’s a longer melody than your average jazz tune, but it’s far from being a normal jazz tune. Hall even adds some rockabilly, which pre-dates Larry Coryell’s more rock-style approach on Gary Burton’s 1967 album Duster. Sometimes I almost feel sorry for jazz guitar players because the horn players have usually led the way and told them what to do. Bebop players of every instrument wanted to play lines like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, which forced the rest of us to think of improvisation differently. I like that it happened, but I like that Hall had a more idiomatic approach to the guitar on these Giuffre records. I also recommend the trio’s record The Easy Way, which you can check out here. Make it a Giuffre day. If you want to know more about Jimmy or the West Coast jazz scene from back in the day, I highly recommend Ted Gioia’s indispensable book West Coast Jazz.I had no idea these early Giuffre trios existed until I read his book.

You can listen to this record in a motel, or on the beach, or on a snowy mountain. It will reflect whatever mood you’re in and adapt to your surroundings. Maybe it will make you explore your thoughts without self-deprecation, or maybe it’ll give you a bit of well-deserved melancholy to wallow in for a while. Either way you’ll find some inspiration and light in this record, even if it’s hard to find at first. You might want to put it on repeat while you’re doing something else and let it seep into your ears and brain. It can’t hurt.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 26-Prince-Dirty Mind

https://open.spotify.com/album/3Cijd5OjHeWBm97DsPHpgs?si=QcWb61dSQXKqsfrqjZJmFw

(I had to use the Spotify playlist because Prince and his estate control where his music goes, which is a smart thing. Maybe this link will be dead in a few years if Spotify dies and goes the way of Napster.)

After hearing Prince’s Dirty Mind,the rock critic Robert Christgau wrote: “Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home.”

I agree with him. We can’t all be as sexually charged as Prince was, and NO ONE can come close to him in sheer output and musical home run after home run. Sure, you might say Stevie Wonder, but Stevie is his own thing. You do not mess with Stevie Wonder.

And you do not mess with the great Purple One. Dirty Mindis a perfect album for spring; it’s all about love and fucking and has killer music that won’t stop. You will want to dance and/or make love when you hear this album, so consider this a trigger warning. When an artist poses for an album cover wearing a speedo and an unbuttoned jacket, yeah, there will probably be some sexual content. Dirty Mindis the album where Prince became PRINCE.

The album starts off with a disco blast and a steady bass drum, so you know you’re in for some groove. Prince co-wrote “Dirty Mind” with Dr. Fink, who plays synths on this track and “Head.” Quarter notes have rarely grooved this hard, and I’d love to know which kind of synth is providing that pulsating sound. I’d also like to know if his daddy knew he was using his car and what he was doing in the back seat.

If you never got to see Prince live, you missed out on one of the greatest performers in history. He OWNED the stage, like on thisclip. How the hell did he always get back to the mic on time?

One of the reasons “When You Were Mine” is such a great track is it straddles several genres (falsetto-clothed R&B, synth pop, and even a bit of 60s bubblegum) while being a really good song. It’s one of those tunes that could fit in many different musical situations. Some of the things he describes are of a far more intimate detail than what other songsters of the day would say. “You didn’t have the decency to change your sheets” says a lot without being totally explicit; when we fill in the blanks we create something that’s far more disturbing than what could be said in a lyric. I’m thinking of the torture scenein Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs– the camera cuts away from the scene so we picture it in our heads, and it’s much worse than anything Tarantino could have put on film.

Movie references aside, the guitar riffs on this tune really make it for me, and the kinda cheesy synth hooks make me think he’s bummed out about her, but not THAT bummed. Prince is always ready to hook up with someone new. He wants to “Do it All Night,” and “it” is not “the dishes.” “Waiting such a bloody long time….”— that’s a very British phrase to use, especially if you’re from Minneapolis. The synth parts really lock everything together, as do the slap bass and drums.

Did I mention that Prince played just about everything on a lot of his albums? He’ll always be underrated in every aspect of music he touched, because he was so good at so many things that people forget how much of a badass he was, even when he was twenty-one and recording Dirty Mind. Check thisout for an insight into his early career and work ethic. Not many people have had the rigid musical mindset Prince had, which is one reason he was considered a tyrant by some people who worked with him. It’s hard to keep up with genius.

Prince works some 12/8 R&B goodness for “Gotta (sic) Broken Heart Again,” which sounds more like the crooning of his first two records. His falsetto after the bridge sounds a bit like Ambrosia’s “Biggest Part of Me.”(fast forward to 1:47 to hear what I mean.) Again, most artists in 1980 wouldn’t have sung “things you do to me in bed,” but Prince always pushed the boundaries in many ways.

Side B! I have my well-worn cassette that I listened to while running around NYC in the 1990s until I graduated from a Walkman to a CD player. We’re “Uptown,” presumably in Minneapolis, and maybe with Morris Day and The Timein tow. It’s definitely a club, there’s dancing, and there will be a one-night stand. The woman (or man) asks him “are you gay?” “No,” he replies. “Are you?” No wonder he confused people. David Bowie paved the way for Prince with his use of androgyny. That said, even Bowie wouldn’t sing like this or say “Black, white, Puerto Rican, everybody just-a-freakin’” He probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with it. That rhythm guitar part and the thumping bass- subtle but right on.

There no subtlety when it comes to “Head.” There is either fellatio, or cunnilingus, or probably both. He defrocks a woman on her way to get married (sexily voiced by Lisa Coleman) but doesn’t go into a macho boast about. Prince IS sex and music. That’s some serious Minneapolis synth playing by Dr. Fink. That phased guitar chirps its way out of the track, like it’s popping out of the speakers.

I’ve got to quote the lyrics, because they’re so damn hot:

 

I remember when I met you, baby
You were on your way to be wed
You were such a sexy thing
I loved the way you walked the things you said

I was so nonchalant
I didn’t want you to be misled
But I’ve got to have you, baby
I got to have you in my bed

You said, “But I just a virgin and I’m
On my way to be wed
But you’re such a hunk
So full of spunk”

I’ll give you head till you’re burning up
Head till you get enough
Head till your love is red
Head love you till you’re dead

You know you’re good, girl
I think you like to go down
You wouldn’t have stopped
But I, I came on your wedding gown

And you said, “I must confess
I wanna get undressed and go to bed.”
With that I jammed, you fool
You married me instead, now morning, noon, and night

I give you head till you’re burning up
Head-till you get enough
Head- till your love is red
Head -love you till you’re dead.

Barry White couldn’t have said all this. Note the first sign of the trademark Prince “Ah-ah!” in the chorus going out. Is it Prince’s take on Bob Wills? You be the judge.

Just when you think Prince has gone too far, he goes even further. Apparently, incest is cool with him, as long as it’s consensual and sexy as fuck. But hey, she was 32 and he was 16 and she didn’t wear panties. Another reason to quote his lyrics:

 

I was only sixteen, but I guess that’s no excuse
My sister was thirty-two, lovely, and loose
She don’t wear no underwear
She says it only gets in her hair
And it’s got a funny way of stoppin’ the juice…

 

My sister never made love to anyone else but me
She’s the reason for my, uh, sexuality
She showed me where it’s supposed to go
A blowjob doesn’t mean blow
Incest is everything it’s said to be

 

Oh, sister
Don’t put me on the street again
Oh, sister
I just want to be your friend

 

I was only sixteen and only half a man
My sister didn’t give a goddamn
She only wanted to turn me out
She took a whip to me until I shout
“Oh, motherfuckers just a motherfucker, can’t you understand?”

 

How the hell did he get away with this? Maybe it’s because it’s such a driving track and his falsetto isn’t as threatening to Tipper Gore as James Brown’s urgent screams. Incest never sounded so good. Oh, wait—strike that. I don’t want to know what incest really sounds like.

Dirty Mind is way too short, but that’s why Prince recorded a shit-ton of music, some of which is finally seeing the light of (Morris) day. “Partyup” has those funky elements that became Prince trademarks: the Clinton-esque backing vocals, a steady but barely syncopated drum groove, nasty rhythm guitar, and those glorious analog keyboards. It might be the funkiest track on the record, and it certainly owes a bit to James Brown. Even without the vocals, you’d know this was a Prince track. It’s really hard to have an instantly recognizable sound as an artist, and even harder when you play all the instruments and you’re barely old enough to drink.

This is what embryonic genius looks like, folks. I’ll be writing more about the Minnesota Master in posts to come, because he is one of the greatest artists America has ever produced.

 

 

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-April 28- Lee Morgan-The Sixth Sense

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSTKrbMq-DQ&list=PLUJ7V33M1wR12_MrVOVHIIJsoRfcz2UOt

 

We all have people who introduced you to a style of music or a particular artist. Adam Beach gets his second shout-out for loaning me a cassette (taped from vinyl, of course, this was 1985 and I was sixteen) that had Andrew Hill’s 1964 Point of Departureon one side and Lee Morgan’s1970 The Sixth Senseon the other. These records flipped a switch in my brain and got me to write for my own larger ensembles. There are Lee Morgan records that get more attention (The Sidewinder,Cornbread, etc.) but since this was my first exposure to Lee’s solo career, I’m partial to it. It’s also a Blue Noteclassic, with legendary players and excellent writing and playing. Is there any such thing as a bad Blue Note record?

The Sixth Sense was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder on November 10th, 1967 but wasn’t released until nearly three years later. I think they had a backlog of great albums, hence the delay. The world was changing, and so was jazz. The Sixth Senseis one of those recordings from the tail end of hard bop, before the electric instruments and rock and roll backbeats took over. It was almost an anachronism by the time it was released, as Coltrane, Ornette, and Miles pushed jazz to the edge, harmonically and stylistically. Lee died far too early (watch I Called Him Morganif you want to see great footage and interviews about him) and I wish he had lived to see how the music has changed in the past four decades. He would have altered the course of things.

Lee Morgan was one of the greatest jazz trumpet players there is or ever will be. He was also a fine composer and arranger, and this sextet recording shows off his writing well. The title track begins with a pseudo-boogaloo drum groove from the great Billy Higgins. Higgins was one of the happiest musicians I’ve ever seen perform live (co-incidentally the other two musicians I’ve seen live who smile while playing are drummers—Joey Baron and Scott Amendola.) “The Sixth Sense” is pretty bouncy, with a minor-key chord progression that would be really fun to play over. They have fun playing on it too. Lee uses some cool motivic development in his solo, and listening back I’m remembering most of it, even though it’s been a minute since I really checked it out. I should get my jazz card revoked, because for years I assumed it was Joe Henderson on tenor, when in fact it’s Frank Mitchell. Do I have to play “Cherokee” at 300 BPM in all keys to make up for my idiocy? Let’s go. I’ll bring it. Mitchell plays some really good stuff here.

This record might have been my first exposure to Jackie McLean. He has one of my favorite alto saxophone tones, even when he plays out of tune. He’s always bluesy and melodic and doesn’t sound like he’s running to or away from Charlie Parker. It’s like he lives a few blocks away from Bird, and Cannonball Adderley is a couple of doors down. Cedar Waltonplays a nice piano solo before they trade eights with Higgins. Everyone gets to solo except for Victor Sproles, but his bass playing keeps the band together, not that they needed tethering.

“Short Count” is a gritty medium-up swing with some cool clusters in the horns. It’s kind of an elongated blues with crunchy chord changes. Check out how Higgins’ ride cymbal lays down a sweet chunk-chunka-chunk while Morgan fires out phrases that push the beat. It’s that very subtle tension that adds energy. Something about this record makes me think of a gray and overcast day. Maybe I was listening to it intently on my Walkman one dreary day; I seem to remember that, although I don’t recall where I was. You ever get that with a record? Even if it’s decades later, you hear that record and think of where you were when it took hold of you. I could be making it all up in my head, or maybe it’s genetic memory. I was born exactly one year after they recorded this album. Maybe that’s why I feel so close to it.

You know it’s 1967 and you’re trying to be hip when you write a boogaloo blues and call it “Psychedelic.” Lee Morgan never tried to be hip, because when you’re as much of a badass as he was you don’t need to be judged on social rankings. Still, I wonder if he was trying to cash in on the burgeoning hippie market. “Psychedelic” is a fun tune with a catchy melody and some whole-tone chords thrown in to keep it real. Lee wasn’t content with playing a straight blues— that funny turnaround keeps this tune from trying to be a rip-off of his hit “The Sidewinder.”Mitchell, McLean, and Walton all solo— listen to Cedar lay down a little gospel piano. Even when Billy Higgins plays a straight-eighth note groove he swings, which is something I’d like to hear more in music in general.

I became a big Cedar Walton fan after hearing this record and Art Blakey’s Ugetsu, and Cedar’s compositions stand out on both of these discs. I transcribed “Afreaka” after I heard it, and you’ll hear why it’s jazz ear candy. It’s got that Blue Note Mixolydian mambo, the cool bass line, and those creamy horn lines. That bridge is so happening that I think it’s my favorite part of the record. I felt like I’d heard this tune before I’d actually heard it—that’s more of that genetic memory talking. Is there a well of Jazz DNA that we unknowingly draw from? Check out how Morgan and McLean make a lot out of just two chords and listen to the way Higgins pushes McLean in the middle of his solo until McLean fades out. That’s a way to do a natural fadeout in a studio—slowly backpedal away from the mic. Mitchell’s solo is relatively short, which was smart, since four people sharing two chords over and over can get a little tiresome for some people. Walton shows the almighty power of the piano when he changes the harmony during his solo. You can do that if it’s our piano solo, but do it under a horn player’s solo and you’ll feel daggers in your eyes.

“Anti Climax” doesn’t live up to its title, because it’s a swinger with some artfully placed minor-major 7thchords. Does Lee sound a little like Freddie Hubbard here, or does Freddie sound like Lee? I shall have to investigate. McLean sounds like a slightly angered duck, albeit a duck with a few good things to say. While I’m not usually a fan of horn lines under piano solos, in this case I’ll make an exception.

The original record concludes with Cal Massey’ssong “Cry of My People,” which shows that an instrumental piece for civil rights can say as much as one with moving lyrics. The other two horns lay out as Morgan plays the slow mournful melody with a harmon mute. It’s a different sound than Miles’ harmon playing; not as piercing and a little more out of tune, but you can tell he’s saying something more than just playing a ballad. Morgan, Mitchell, and Massey all died young; it was murder that did in the first two and a heart attack that did in Massey. Jazz is at times a violent art form in that it can suddenly change and adapt, but I wish so many of my fellow musicians didn’t meet grisly deaths or succumb to the demons that we all have inside of us.

You can call him Morgan if you want to. I call him one of the most vibrant musical voices to come out of the second half of the 20thcentury, and if you’re aren’t a Lee Morgan fan already, The Sixth Sense will win you over.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 29- Duke Ellington-The Far East Suite

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jL2rORisKJ0&list=PLFc7_JS3cjtv39LXT3J4w174MqdTrs1qn

 

There is simply too much great Duke Ellingtonfor me to call one record is my favorite, but The Far East Suitesure ranks up there, both in terms of compositional brilliance and flawless performances. It’s also the last album to feature the music of Billy Strayhornwhile he was still alive.

Ellington, like Louis Armstrong, was an ambassador of jazz. The Far East Suiteis a musical representation of some of his travels, even if most of the places in the titles aren’t really in the Far East. Picky, picky, picky. It’s great music inspired by exotic (at to Americans) locales, and while you hear the Eastern elements in the writing, it’s Duke and Strays all the way.

“Tourist’s Point of View” sounds slightly foreign, but as the title suggests, it’s an Americanized scene, and it sounds like a mammoth rickshaw or beaten-down bus is hurrying down an unnamed street in an unpronounceable city. Maybe I’ve seen too many Indiana Jones movies, but I see that when I hear the slightly menacing brass chords and Rufus Jones’ driving ride cymbal pattern. It’s like a khat-fueled rhumba with harmonies that didn’t clear customs.

Clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton plays the melody of the “Bluebird of Delhi.” The bluebird in question was actually a mynah bird that visited Strayhorn in his hotel room in India. I’d be intrigued by a bird that sang like this, and stories like this are reasons why I carry blank music paper with me at all times. Hamilton is one of my favorite clarinetists, and he always sounds pretty, even when he’s not imitating Mother Nature. Those trombone chords sound a little ominous underneath the mynah’s cries. Is Cootie Williams’ trumpet a morning call to prayer? Is the mynah taunting us all, including the brass section? If this wasn’t set in India, I’d swear there was a sultan involved. I’m also reminded of the incidental clarinet music in Underdog.

There is no one who can bend a note like Johnny Hodges. He could be telling you the most outrageous lies, and you would believe him. Isfahan is a city in modern day Iran, but you’d think that it’s Ellington’s bedroom when you hear this. It might be Ellington’s bedroom, but Hodges is staying there now. In a musical world populated by some of the most beautiful and erotic ballads, “Isfahan” stands near the top. It is credited to both Strayhorn and Ellington, but it’s really hard to tell where Duke leaves off and Billy begins. Hodges’ solo breaks are some of the deadliest things ever recorded, both for his articulation and for the band’s ability to land on the downbeat after he toys with the beat. You need seduction music? Put Isfahan on that playlist.

I recently played “Depk” for someone and she who-shall-not-be-named thought it was “circus music.” I’ll let you decide. I think it’s playful without sounding like clowns from Mumbai. I have no idea if Dpek is a place, or a name, but it sounds like a fun time. The horns chase Jimmy Hamilton and Duke around in a growing tempest, but it’s the kind of storm where no one gets hurt. Ellington’s piano arpeggios are stunning, as much for their harmonic ambiguity as for their way he plays them. After the chase is over, everyone laughs, and things go back to normal.

Jones plays another rhumba-like drum groove on “Mount Harissa,” but it’s mostly an Ellington feature up top. It begins in the semi-remote key of F# minor, then turns to the even more unusual key of B major. The first part is exotic and distant, while the second part is basically “Take the ‘A’ Train” in a less familiar key. Gonsalves tells us a little something about the place, although I can’t figure out if there is an actual Mount Harissa or if Duke’s referring to North African cuisine. I’ll go with whatever Gonsalves is saying, though. Don’t sell him short; he’s a very good improviser with that soft-talker’s tone. Lean in to hear what he’s saying.

If you ever need a Phrygian-tinged blues to dance to, “Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)” is your best bet. It’s at once accessible and foreboding. I wonder if Duke was trying to woo the rock-and roll crowd with this groove, but Jones rocks it so hard that nobody gives a shit about the swing dancers. Hodges’ entrance sounds like he’s been thrown into another world. Johnny Hodges knows how to play the blues, but he sounds stunned until Ellington hits him with a bunch of crunchy and unexpected chords that are too edgy to be rock and roll. Rabbit snaps back into focus and realizes that he doesn’t have to pander to the kids. Trumpeter Cat Anderson could never pander; his majesty in the high range ignores any social mores and codes and says, “Fuck you, I’m CAT ANDERSON.”

Harry Carney hits some notes on the intro of Strayhorn’s “Agra” that I didn’t know were on the saxophone. Maybe it’s because he plays them so effortlessly. This is a ballad of sorts, but perhaps it has the Taj Mahalin mind. I hear stair steps in Carney’s lines, and maybe a touch of the grief of Shah Juhan. Man, I need to get to India.

“Amad” is “C-Jam Blues” as if it were composed in Yemen. The piano figure leads into an enchanted sax soli before a Middle Eastern-inspired trombone solo from Lawrence Brown. There’s so much to listen for that I hear at least six new things every time I listen to this record. You could study these tunes for years and still find stuff you never noticed before.

Ellington and Hamilton’s “Ad Lib on Nippon” does refer to something from the Far East. Each section refers to a different place in Japan: Fuji, Igoo, Nagoya, and Tokyo, in order. They sounded a lot different from this when I was there, so I think I missed something, as amazing as that country is.  The Japanese influences go through a heavy Ellington filter of impressionistic piano chords over some great bass work by John Lamb. Some composers and performers get more restrained as they get older, but Ellington only got heavier and more complex as he got on (he was sixty-seven at the time of this recording). The orchestra enters with some crashing chords that make it sound like the LBJ-era version of “Ko- Ko.”  Duke plays more piano on this record than usual, and I for one am very happy about it. Most jazz piano players can do a pretty good Basie imitation, but it’s more impressive to me when someone references Duke’s piano playing.

I always like to learn the works of the masters in chronological order if possible, but if The Far East Suite is your first foray into Ellingtonia, I won’t dock you for it. I will be jealous of you if you haven’t checked Duke out before, because there are wonderful musical galaxies ahead of you. Ellington’s genius never quits.

He loves you madly.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- April 30-Willie Nelson

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUxO3Qsvc2qSGOsWQj6uXYR4

 

If you don’t already know that Willie Nelson is one of the world’s treasures, then maybe you’ve been living in Greenland, or spending too much time in commodities trading, or maybe you’re an infant. Being an infant is probably the only valid excuse for not knowing the music of Willie Nelson. He’s like Ray Charles in the way he covers so many musical styles so well, but makes them all his own with his genius. Aside from being one of the finest songwriters of the past seventy years, when he sings a song you don’t know, you assume he wrote it. He OWNS every song, whether he wrote it or not.

When Willierecorded my friend Jesse Harris’ beautiful song “Always Seem to Get Things Wrong,” he changed the whole idea of the song for me. When I played this song with Jesse, it resonated with my mid-thirties NYC self-doubt and sadness. Willie has over three decades older on Jesse and I , and the meaning of the song changes when he sings it. When you’re thirty-six and seem to misunderstand everything about love, it’s heartbreaking. When you’re in your seventies and singing about the same thing, it’s far sadder and more lonesome. We hate ourselves when something we thought we figured comes back and bites us in the ass, and I don’t think it gets easier as we get older. But that’s why we write and sing songs and make music—reality and truth are often too much to bear, and music makes things easier to deal with. Willie knows that.

I’m mostly going with songs Willie wrote because he’s recorded over fifty albums, and there are so many great songs. While this playlist is painfully short and excludes too many of Willie’s great tunes, I’m trying to prevent myself from writing something the size of a Pynchonnovel. If you love Willie, you’ll listen to more of his stuff anyway.

Perhaps you already know that Nelson wrote Patsy Cline’s huge hit “Crazy.” In case you don’t, here’s the proof. “Crazy” is a country standard now, thanks to Patsy Cline’s husband Charlie Dick, who heard Nelson’s demo on a Nashville bar’s jukebox and told Patsy that she had to record it. Ah, the jukebox. Willie sings it with a detached passion, while Cline goes full throttle in her Countrypolitan interpretation. I love both versions for different reasons.

Anyone who watched Monday Night Footballin the 1970s heardDandy Don Meredithsing “The Party’s Over” at the end of a game. Until recently I didn’t know it was a Willie song; I assumed it was the standardof the same name. Now I know it’s a great country shuffle tune with a relationship-as-party metaphor:

 

What a crazy crazy party
Never seen so many people
Laughing dancing
Look at you, you’re having fun
But look at me
I’m almost cryin’
But that don’t keep her love from dyin’
Misery ’cause for me the party’s over
Turn out the lights
The party’s over
They say that all
Good things must end
Call it a night
The party’s over
And tomorrow starts
The same old thing again.

 

Once I had a love undyin’
I didn’t keep it wouldn’t try it
Life for me was just one party
And then another
I broke her heart so many times
I had to have my parting wife
Then one day she said
Sweetheart the party’s over
Turn out the lights
The party’s over
They say that all
Good things must end
Call it a night
The party’s over
And tomorrow starts
The same old thing again
And tomorrow starts the same old thing again.

 

In case you didn’t know or guess already, country music can be the best refuge for broken hearts. Faron Youngheard Willie’s song “Hello Walls” and turned it into a hit in 1961. It was Willie’s first major success as a songwriter, and it got him into the Nashville scene. It’s a country shuffle at a medium slow tempo that’s suitable for walking, even though the narrator is lying on his bed speaking to inanimate structures:

 

Hello walls,

How’d things go for you today?
Don’t you miss her
Since she up and walked away
And I’ll bet you dread to spend
Another lonely night with me
Lonely walls
I’ll keep you company.

 

Hello, window
Well I see that you’re still here
Aren’t you lonely
Since our darlin’ disappeared
Well, look here, is that a teardrop
In the corner of your pane
Now, don’t you try
To tell me that it’s rain.

 

She went away and left us all alone
The way she planned
Guess we’ll have to learn to get along
Without her if we can

 

Hello, ceiling
I’m gonna stare at you awhile
You know I can’t sleep
So won’t you bear with me awhile
We must all stick together

or else I’ll lose my mind
I’ve got a feeling

she’ll be gone a long, long time.

 

Simple lyrics delivered earnestly; that’s the mark of a great Willie Nelson performance. That Nashville band and their groove really help it move along. I could do without the choir that answers his opening lines, but it was the early 1960s and Nashville was trying to appeal to the Mitch Millercrowd.

Next up I’ve included two versions of A Willie tune for compare and contrast. Willie sings “I Never Cared for You” in front of a strangely painted Western landscape, possibly from a 1960s TV show. It’s a fairly unusual song in that the chorus and verse are in somewhat distant keys.  This isn’t your three chords and the truth country song; it’s more like twelve chords and a series of lies. His phrasing on this first take is unlike any other country artist of the time. It’s closer to the elongated phrasing of Anita O’Day than it is to the on-the-beat articulations of Hank Williams.

The second version of “I Never Cared for You” is from the 1998 Daniel Lanois-produced albumTeatro, released in 1998. The Wurlizer electric piano sets a spooky tone for Nelson’s rubato guitar intro on Trigger. They take their time with it, perhaps because they’re older and know they don’t have to give you everything in three minutes. When you’re Willie Nelson, you can reference Paco De Lucia and Django in your extended introductions and nobody has the right to stop you. This version has a little bit of flamenco to it, plus it has that Lanois atmosphere that makes you think you’re in a place that’s not totally terrestrial. Once Emmylou Harrisenters on the backing vocals, you’re hooked. Emmylou could sing backing vocals for GG Allinand make him sound like a soldier of love.

The 1973 album Shotgun Willieestablished Willie as an artist and saw him join the Outlaw Country movement Was it a movement? He and Kris and Waylon and Merle were all sick of the blanched Nashville sound and wanted to make music on their terms. “Sad Songs and Waltzes” is both a sad song and a waltz. I don’t know why waltzes can be sadder or least more emotional than the standard 4/4 time of most popular music. Is it the ONE-two-three ONE-two-three beat that adds an ancient sentimentality? Lullabies are often in 3/4 time, and those always sound sad to me. You can break someone’s heart in 4/4, but a waltz can give you an advantage when toying at the heartstrings. And yes, this song is about heartbreak:

 

I’m writing a song all about you
A true song as real as my tears
But you’ve no need to fear it
‘Cause no one will hear it
Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year.
I’ll tell all about how you cheated
I’d like for the whole world to hear
I’d like to get even
With you ’cause you’re leavin’
But sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year.
It’s a good thing that I’m not a star
You don’t know how lucky you are
Though my record may say it
No one will play it
Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year.

 

Yeah, it’s a dagger in the heart, and one of many great Willie tunes you can wallow in when your tears need company. I think music can make the pain go bye-bye faster, or at least make it more tolerable.

Now let’s jump back in time to the land of black-and-white to see an unrecognizable Nelson sing “Darkness on the Face of the Earth.” Once he starts singing, you know it’s Willie, but he hasn’t totally become the Willie we know. I love his lilt on “another day” in the opening line. Hell, I love the tune and performance, especially since it’s a fairly doomsday lyric even by country standards. This is an old-school country recording, and it’s refreshing to hear Willie in this environment.

 

The morning that you left me was just another day
How could I see the sorrow that had found me
And then you laughed and told me that I was in your way
And I turned and ran as heaven fell around me

 

I stumbled through the darkness my footsteps were unsure
I lived within a world that had no sunshine
But when you left me darling my world came to an end
And there was darkness on the face of the earth

 

And the stars fell out of heaven and the moon could not be found
The sun was in a million pieces scattered all around
Why did you ever leave me, you knew how it would hurt
And now there’s darkness on the face of the earth.

 

Willie doesn’t twist a phrase or stun you like Dylan or Prine, but he’s PRESENT. Compare the first version of “Darkness on the Face of the Earth” to the version from Teatro. The Carribean beat changes it up a bit, although it doesn’t have much in the way of dynamics. While it’s not like 1998 pop radio, it  does update Willie’s songs to a new audience. A good song is a good song.

Pretty Paper” has always devastated me, even though when I read the lyrics now it’s not as saddening. This is a live version from I first heard Roy Orbison’s 1963 hit versionon Christmas Day years ago, and I almost had to pull over because it affected me so much. It’s based on a true story, and is a waltz, so there you go.

 

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
Wrap your presents to your darling from you
Pretty pencils to write I love you
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue

 

Crowded street, busy feet, hustle by him
Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh
There he sits all alone on the sidewalk
Hoping that you won’t pass him by

 

Should you stop? Better not, much too busy
You’re in a hurry, my how time does fly
In the distance the ringing of laughter
And in the midst of the laughter he cries

 

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
Wrap your presents to your darling from you
Pretty pencils to write I love you
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue.

 

Nelson recorded this version of “Funny How Time Slips Away” in 1962 a year after Billy Walker had a hit with it. Willie was on a songwriting roll then, like Kristofferson was later in the decade. This tune is a country standard and should be a standard in other genres too, because it’s a great and simple song and it’s been recorded by everyone from Juice Newton to The Spinners.

 

Well, hello there
My it’s been a long, long time
How am I doin’?
Oh, I guess that I’m doin’ fine
It’s been so long now but it seems now
That it was only yesterday
Gee, ain’t it funny how time slips away
How’s your new love
I hope that he’s doin’ fine
I heard you told him that you’d love him

 

 

‘til the end of time
Now that’s the same thing that you told me,

seems like just the other day
Gee, ain’t funny how time slips away

 

I gotta go now
I guess I’ll see you around
You don’t ever know, never know
When I’ll be back in town
But remember what I tell you
In time, you’re gonna pay
And it’s surprising how time slips away.

 

 

You know that the person he’s talking to is a former lover and that he’s going to say something about what they had, but what seems like a grieving song turns into a fuck you song. “In time you’re gonna pay” comes at the end, and I for one am still surprised by the lovely venom in it. He sings it so sweetly that you don’t notice the knife in her ribs right away.

There was a time in the 1970s when some of the funk made it into country music. This 1973 studio recording of “Whiskey River” is a prime example of that cross-pollination. Willie often played it live as an up-country train groove, but here it alternates between swamp and swing. It’s about drowning your sorrows, of course:

 

Whiskey river, take my mind
Don’t let her memory torture me
Whiskey river, don’t run dry
You’re all I got, take care of me

 

I’m drowning in a whiskey river
Bathing my memory’s mind in the wetness of its soul
Feeling the amber current flowing from my mind
To a warm and empty heart you left so cold

 

Whiskey river, take my mind
Don’t let her memory torture me
Whiskey river, don’t run dry
You’re all I got, take care of me.

 

Nelson is a great song interpreter, and his 1978 album Stardustshowed the world that he could cross over and play tunes from The Great American Songbook. Kurt Weill’s poignant “September Song” is one of my favorite Weill songs, and Willie brings new life into this tale of an older man/younger woman romance:

 

Oh, it’s a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short,
When you reach September.
When the autumn weather
Turn leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time
For the waiting game.

Oh the days dwindle down
To a precious few . . .
September, November . . .
And these few precious days
I’ll spend with you.

 

Goddamn. Weill could write a song, Maxwell Anderson could craft a lyric, and Willie can sing nearly anything. I’m not sure what the drummer here was thinking at the end of the first bridge, but I’m getting more sensitive to accompanying elements that distract from the melody and meaning of the song. The strings and whatever that is that’s flanging in the background act as a nice pad without announcing themselves. And of course there’s Trigger. Willie’s acoustic guitar soloing is a huge aspect of his musical personality that shouldn’t be ignored.

Willie recorded “My Own Peculiar Way” in 1969 and again on Teatro. I’m going with the original because there’s no threat of hipster pretense. I like that some country artitsts have been “re-made” for younger audiences, but when you go back and listen to their original recordings, you find that they’re perfect and don’t necessarily need to be updated. Country wasn’t that cool for Yankees until Gram and others brought it to the rock and rollers, but it took some of us longer to really appreciate the greatness of Willie. “My Peculiar Way” is a love song, although it’s more of a “how the hell do you put up with me” kind of love song:

 

It would be a comfort just to know you never doubt me
Even though I give you cause most every day
Sometimes I think that you’d be better off without me
Although I love you in my own peculiar way
And don’t doubt my love if sometimes my mind should wonder
To a suddenly remembered yesterday
‘Cause my mind could never stay too long away from you
I’ll always love you in my own peculiar way
And though I may not always be the way you’d have me be
And though my faults may grow in number day by day
Let no one ever say that I’ve ever been untrue
I’ll always love you in my own peculiar way

 

And though I may not always be the way you’d have me be
And though my faults may grow in number day by day
Let no one ever say that I’ve ever been untrue
I’ll always love you in my own peculiar way.

 

It’s a beautiful way to say I love you, even though he’s terribly self-critical and almost undeserving of her. Maybe he doesn’t deserve her or is even with her, because there’s no mention that they’re actually together. But I’m going to believe they are. We need one happy song in this set.

I have to close the playlist  with one of my favorite songs and performances of all time. Fred Rose (wrote “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” way back in 1945, but since Willie sang this definitive version, it’s difficult to play this song without his influence. Most of the time I’d tell people not to even try to sing it, because Willie is so perfect here.

I have blue eyes, and I’ve definitely lived this song, most notably at the Fort Washington bus station one dreary March day years ago. Even if you’re long removed from the sad space a song put you in, it can still make you feel those tears even if you’re surrounded by happiness. That is “Blue Eyes” for me. It’s in my personal Top 20 songs; I think of this list as songs that if you hear them while flipping the dial you HAVE to listen to the whole thing. You might have to drop everything you’re doing to re-immerse yourself in the feeling of the tune, whether it’s good or sad.

 

In the twilight glow I see them
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain
When we kissed goodbye and parted
I knew we’d never meet again

 

Love is like a dyin’ ember
Only memories remain
Through the ages I’ll remember
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain

 

Some day when we meet up yonder
We’ll stroll hand in hand again
In a land that knows no partin’
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain

 

Now my hair has turned to silver
All my life I’ve loved in vain
I can see her star in heaven
Blue eyes crying in the rain.

 

I know it’s the woman who has the crying blue eyes, but I always feel like the song is about me. It’s a sad enough song as it is, but that last verse tells us that he’s never let her go, even though it’s many years later and she’s no longer among the living. Like Willie’s take on “Always Seem to Get Things Wrong,” he’s older and sadder, but here he doesn’t acknowledge any mistakes. This dying ember was meant for him and that’s what he’ll take to his grave.

If that isn’t country music, then I don’t know what is. If that isn’t a prefect representation of the human condition, then I don’t want to be human. Willie tells us so much, but he tells us without avarice or suicidal despair, no matter how dark the lyrics get. He is America, and he is the world.

Take my mind, Willie.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- May 1-Big Star-#1 Record

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBXmb7hhKP4
People use the term “power pop” to describe a lot of artists and bands, and there are many you can put in that category (The Raspberries, Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick, and The Knack for starters) but for me no one compares to Big Star. They didn’t sell many records back in the early 1970s, but like The Velvet Underground, just about every one of their fans started a band. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were amazing songwriters, vocalists, and guitarists, and their talents, combined with bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens, created some of the best pop/rock music of the 1970s. I’d say they’re one of the best bands ever. Fight me.

#1 Recordcameout in August 1972 and managed to sell a meager ten thousand copies. The world wasn’t ready for their combination of Beatle-esque harmonies, rock riffs, and a touch of Memphis soul.  Even though the title of the album was facetious (they didn’t expect to become stars) this record and every song on it should be number one in your rock record collection. #1Recordkicks off with “Feel,” which has not just one guitar hook in the intro, but TWO glorious one. This is Bell on vocals, and he had a rougher edge to his voice than Chilton but coupled it with a more emotive quality. It’s great driving music— crank it up and wait for that beautiful bridge with the vocal harmonies that descend from an unseen heaven. Bell feels like he’s dying, but you’re pushing the accelerator to the floor. There are hooks galore in this tune and throughout the album.

“The Ballad of El Goodo” features Chilton on vocals, and it has a chorus melody that could be a nursery rhyme or lullaby, if you took away the guitars. But you don’t want to take away the guitars from Big Star. What’s the effect on the electric guitar? Chorus? Flanger? It’s a beautiful texture and appears in other songs. Sometimes you don’t know what or who is making some sounds ion this record, because Bell had a great ear for using the studio as a member of the band. This is an anthem for self-preservation, and I use it when I’m feeling down or unsure.

 

Years ago, my heart was set to live, oh
But I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds
It gets so hard in times like now to hold on
My guns they’re waiting to be stuck by
At my side is God

 

And there ain’t no one goin’ turn me ’round
There’s people around who tell you that they know
The places where they send you, and it’s easy to go
They’ll zip you up and dress you down
Stand you in a row
But you know you don’t have to
You could just say no

 

And there ain’t no one goin’ turn me ’round

I’ve been built up and trusted
Broke down and busted
But they’ll get theirs and we’ll get ours
Just if we can
Just, ah, hold on
Hold on….

 

You don’t expect God to show up in a power pop song, but there he/she is for a brief moment. I wonder if that was a Bell line, as he turned to Christianity later. Bell also turned to booze and drugs, possibly to deal with his homosexuality. I’d like to think that the Chris Bells of today (not that many people can match his talent) are more accepted by society than he was. Bell is a tragic figure; he left Big Star after this record and was killed in a crash when he was twenty-seven.

If you were watching 1990s sitcoms, you probably heard a Big Star song without knowing it. Cheap Trick covered “In the Street” for That 70s Show, and it’s got that great guitar riff and a message of boredom with a catchy melody:

 

Hangin’ out
Down the street
The same old thing
We did last week

Not a thing to do
But talk to you

Out in the street,

Mom and dad
They live upstairs
The music’s loud
So we don’t care

I wish we had
A joint so bad
Oh yea

 

Under street lights
Out past midnight
We’re all alright

I still recall
And drive on down
Pick you up
And we’ll drive around…

 

They pack so many hooks into each tune that it should be illegal. They could have given REM some of them and had hundreds left over. REM could have used them.

There has never been and possibly never will be a better song about early male adolescence than “Thirteen.” Whenever a friend’s son hits puberty, I give them this song. It celebrates innocence and rebellion, but with a sensitive side that not enough tweens seem to get in their lives.  If a girl says no, it means NO, and you’re okay with that. Meanwhile you’ll carry her books and meet her at the dance or the pool and hope she’ll be an outlaw for your love. Maybe I love this song so much because I was too awkward and withdrawn at age thirteen to experience any of these things. Either way, it’s a song for happy and caring tears, and I hope the next generation of boys gets the message:

 

Won’t you let me walk you home from school
Won’t you let me meet you at the pool
Maybe Friday I can
Get tickets for the dance
And I’ll take you

 

Won’t you tell your dad, get off my back
Tell him what we said ’bout ‘Paint It Black’
Rock ‘n Roll is here to stay
Come inside where it’s okay
And I’ll shake you

 

Won’t you tell me what you’re thinking of
Would you be an outlaw for my love
If it’s so, well, let me know
If it’s no, well, I can go
I won’t make you.

 

It’s tender and beautiful and simply stated, with perfect guitar parts that support the melody and lyric. Chilton’s voice and delivery capture the end of the innocence in a way that few other singer-songwriters can (Elliott Smith could hit that tween spot, and he covered “Thirteen,” and practically did it note-for-note). Don’t make every thirteen-year-old listen to this; let them know it exists and see if they come to it. I’m not a parent (and likely won’t ever be) but my greatest achievement in a parental role was to introduce my good friend Tara Walls and her thirteen-year-old son Dylan to this song. When she told me he was singing it around the house, I got a little misty. Mission accomplished.

They shift into a high-octane rock shuffle with “Don’t Lie to Me.” It’s a blues with some extra chords and a nice E7 interlude where the guitars grind it out. There’s a spaceship in there too, even though it has a Southern rocksound and feel. Skynyrd wouldn’t have found a spaceship in the studio. Big Star’s songs sound simple structure-wise, but there are all these subtle changes that you only recognize and appreciate when you’re trying to learn each song.

Andy Hummel’s “The India Song” is the closest Big Star ever got to Meadow Rock (my term for the hippie acoustic bands that emerged from the late 1960s—think CSN&Y). I’m not sure why you’d play a grand piano in India, but I think you’d hear flutes like these.

I’d like to go to India
Live in a big white house in the forest
Drink gin and tonic and play a grand piano
Read a few books
Far from what saddens my heart
Try to live away from it

Find a new girl
Who says she feels the same
Get to know her after the trip
Bathe in a forest pool
Her life a part of mine
And let no one know until I’m gone.

It’s melancholy and dissatisfaction disguised as a travel song, and Hummel’s double-tracked vocal is soothing. I can’t tell if those are real flutes or Mellotronflutes, but they sound cool, even if they are a little date-stamped. Listen to it whilst sitting in the tall grass.

Flip the record over and you’ll hear one of the best and most driving rock and roll songs there ever was. There are enough hooks in “When My Baby’s Beside Me” to catch a school of marlins, and the energy will make you sing along and air guitar a bit, even if you’re driving manically down the freeway. If you have your loved one next to you in the car, even better.

Don’t need to talk to my doctor
Don’t need to talk to my shrink
Don’t need to hide behind no locked doors
I don’t need to think

 

‘Cause when my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know
When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know

Read all my books and talked about
Listen to my radio
Been in school and dropped right out
Tryin’ to find out what I didn’t know

 

But when my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know
When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know

 

Don’t need to talk to my doctor
Don’t need to talk to my shrink
Don’t need to hide behind no locked doors
I don’t need to think

‘Cause when my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know
When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know

 

 

I didn’t realize that Alex was singing “I don’t……worry when my baby’s…” It’s an odd way to extend a word and abruptly start another phrase, but I turn off my syllabic placement obsession when something sounds this good. If you want to add a new element to a song’s chorus, add handclaps. It always bolsters the hookiness. Dig that nasty wah-wah guitar solo that leads into the Allman-style dual guitar melody. Stephens’ drum fill going back to the verse is one of the best rock and roll drum fills I’ve ever heard. This tune screams FUCK YEAH. Turn it up loud.

We go to rock ballad land with “My Life is Right.” This tune could have turned saccharine with any other band, but this is Chris Bell and BIG STAR. Like El Goodo, the narrator is confronted with problems, but he has found love in you. Chilton would have found lust and sadness in this relationship, but Bell finds the joy.

 

Once I walked a lonely road
I had no one to share my love
But then you came and showed the way
And now I hope you’re here to stay

 

You give me light
You are my day
You give me life
And that’s right
You give me light
You are my day
You give me life
And that’s right
So right
So right, so right

 

Lonely days of uncertainty
They disappear when you’re near me
When you’re around my life’s worthwhile
And now I long to see you smile

 

You give me light
You are my day
You give me life
And that’s right
My life is right.

 

Maybe Bell is talking about finding God. I would go to a church that played this song as part of their ministry, especially since Christian Rock is the musical equivalent of a hangnail or a yeast infection. Whether you take this as a spiritual song or a love song, it can give you light and hope. Those vocal harmonies sound like heaven as filtered through “Here Comes the Sun.”

Alex gets the lead vocal on “Give Me Another Chance,” which he wrote with Bell. They started their songwriting based on the Lennon-McCartney model, and you can’t do much better than that for a musical springboard. Alex sings “Give Me Another Chance” because he said some stupid shit and is now asking forgiveness with acoustic guitars and beautiful backing vocals. If I were his girlfriend, I’d believe him and take him back. The bridge should scare her a bit, not because of the sudden jazz chords, but because he wants to die if she’s not with him. Alex wasn’t the happiest guy anyway, which is one reason I love him and his music. The guitar chords have a touch of Abbey Road (it had come out only three years before this record, so it was hard to escape its influence if you were a pop band) but not so much that you can’t hear that it’s Alex Chilton, king of melancholic underground power pop.

 

You feel sad ’cause I got mad
And I’m sorry, I’m sorry
Things I said made things seem bad
But don’t worry
‘Cause it’s gonna be alright now
Be okay
You know I just don’t think before I speak

I’ve been looking for to find
Something to believe in my mind
And I thought it was you

All this time since you’ve been mine
I’ve been angry, so angry
Made it known I could make it alone
But I’m changing
And I’m gonna be alright now
Be okay
You know I just woke up and I see the way

Don’t give up on me so fast
I see it’s me that’s wrong at last
Give me another chance

It’s so hard just to stay alive each day
I really can’t go on this way, oh no
Oh no

Hey, hey, eh, eh, eh, ah

Don’t give up on me so fast
I see it’s the end, it’s wrong at last
Give me another chance.

 

Bell was definitely the optimistic one in the songwriting team. “Try Again” is a beautiful ode to failure and not giving up. That’s some lonely slide guitar on the intro—I imagine that it’s Alex. God is in here too, but I’m not sure that Chris is talking to the deity or using Lord as a general noun of sad frustration.

 

Lord I’ve been trying to be what I should
Lord I’ve been trying to do what I could
But each time it gets a little harder
I feel the pain
But I’ll try again

Lord I’ve been trying to be understood
And Lord I’ve been trying to do as you would
But each time it gets a little harder
I feel the pain
But I’ll try again.

 

This is another one that progressive churches could and should use in their services instead of those wretched songs with the cheese grater guitar. Bell knows God and light, but he also knows the darkness that got him here in the first place. I don’t think Chilton had the same musical manic swings as Bell, but he doesn’t get the tremendous joy that Bell does. I think of Chilton as a latter-day Bix Beiderbecke, in that he showed some happiness and passion in his music, but there was always a bit of sadness lurking underneath that gave the music more depth. Besides, happiness is boring if you’re seeing it and not experiencing it. It can also be aggravating, but that’s for another post.

You might think somebody put on Joni Mitchell’sBluewhen you hear the driving acoustic guitar intro of “Watch the Sunrise.” The meadow rock feelings subside a bit when the 12-string acoustic enters with a very masculine line. It’s not misogynistic, just strong and manly. Alex doesn’t need a jacked-up truck with extra mirrors to prove his masculinity, because his sensitive side wins you over. Also, he doesn’t need to prove anything, because he’s ALEX FUCKING CHILTON.

 

I can feel it, now it’s time
Open your eyes
Fears be gone,

it won’t be long
There’s a light in the sky
It’s okay to look outside
The day, it will abide
And watch the sunrise

Sun, it shines on all of us
We are one in its hand
Come inside and light my room
Like the heart of every man
It’s okay to look outside
The day it will abide
And watch the sunrise.

 

I don’t know if there’s a more perfect tune that sounds like a sunrise. The guitars sound like the sun coming up, and I don’t know how or why. Maybe it’s my crunchy California upbringing that makes me feel that. You get another guitar hook before the last verse, and it’s almost too good for a middle section. He could have given that hook to another band and they would have actually scored a #1 record.

There’s a little Carole King/Todd Rundgren in the final and brief song “ST 100/6.” It’s a variation on the “I Saw the Light” and “It’s Too Late” secret chord progressions, but it’s all Chilton and Bell and a simple statement:

Love me again
Be my friend
I need you now
I’ll show you somehow.

 

Those are four lines that could be the basis for entire albums. There is nothing revolutionary about each line on its own, but together they could be the beginning of a great novel. It’s deceptively simple, and I’m glad the guys kept it so short, because it forces us to imagine what might happen next, both musically and lyrically. It’s also unusual that the record ends with three acoustic songs; somehow it works and I don’t feel I need a rocking song to end. They go out peacefully and mysteriously.

I’ll cover Big Star’s second record Radio Cityfor Alex’s birthday. These two albums now come as a package, and they sound great back to back. I’m not sure that any band matches their flair for ear candy, and no power pop band comes close to the wide range of moods and themes. Each song here can’t be defined as one type of tune; “The India Song” isn’t a hippie love song, “Don’t Lie to Me” isn’t just a Southern blues, and “Thirteen,” well, that’s one of the most perfect and touching songs ever written.

Thank you, Chris, Alex, Andy, and Jody. Let me meet you at the pool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music of the Day-April 16

MUSIC OF THE DAY-April 16- The Police-Outlandos D’Amour

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1X2ZWnO760

Sometimes I forget how badass The Policewere. That forgetfulness doesn’t last very long, because I think of this album. ALL of their albums, really. They combined everything I love about pop music into one band—rock, a little punk, ska, reggae, great writing and playing, plus they used an occasional jazz chord just to keep things honest.

Outlandos D’Amouris The Police’s first record, released in 1978 at the height of the British New Wave. The title is French for “Outlaws of Love”, but I’d say the songs are more about outsiders and alienation. The Police use French in their album titles and in their lyrics—it seems like it was the thing to do in British rock at the time. I’m thinking of Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers”, for one. It had that zing of sophistication, the way that later artists referenced Japan and used Japanese lyrics. But I’m drifting away from the band at hand. Somehow when I think of fellow New Wavers like Elvis Costello, XTC, Joe Jackson, et al, I forget to put The Police in there. Like The Clash, they are their own thing.

If you’re going to open your debut album with a song, start with an in-your-face tom-tom blast. Stewart Copeland is one of the most ferocious drummers in rock history, and like his bandmates bassist Sting and guitarist Andy Summers, he has an instantly recognizable sound. This first tune is “Next to You”, which is one of the best angry and frustrated lust songs there is. Or is it a love song? It’s always felt angry to me, like Sting can’t have her and will kill a bunch of people to make her want him. Or maybe she already loves him and just moved to another town and he doesn’t have money to take the train. Whatever the lyrical premise is, no other band would have thought of that half-tempo breakdown the way these guys play it.

The post-adolescent frustration continues with “So Lonely”, which starts with a reggae-tinged groove, but it fucking rocks on the chorus. Sting admitted to stealing from Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”, but we all steal in some way, and you might as well steal from the best. Listen to Copeland’s ride cymbal on the chorus- I swear he could hit a trash can and I’d know it was him. Andy Summers is still an underrated guitarist—his playing has so much space, yet he can shred and create unusual colors. He might be one of the main reasons why the chorus pedal became so popular in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Sting had to apologize to many women after “Roxanne” came out. After all, not all women named Roxanne are hookers, but I’m sure a few ladies of the night changed their name just because of the tune. It’s another reggae-fied groove, with a minimal bass line and Summers’ quarter note chunk-chunk-chunks. It’s such a ubiquitous song (and record) that I don’t think I can say much more. Sting took the name Roxanne from the classic Edmond Rostand play Cyrano De Bergerac, which is one of the best unrequited love stories there is. For such a handsome guy, Sting is pretty hung up on unavailable women in these first three songs.

Maybe the reason he can’t have them is because he has herpes or some other horrible venereal disease, at least according to “Hole in My Life”. The narrator’s plight reminds me of Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, although Jake didn’t have the clap and probably got his balls shot off in The War. Remind me not to join the military. It’s another Copeland nod to Jamaica, but with a bucket of speed instead of an eighth of ganja. Summers uses the same chunk-chunk motif as he does in “Roxanne”, but the similarities end there. Like all of the songs on this album, you will probably be shouting or thinking the hooks after each tune is over. Stewart swings HARD on this and punctuates every “YEAH” as if he’s nailing Sting’s head to the wall. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually tried to do that, according to what I’ve read about their relationship. I hadn’t noticed that keyboard triplet figure at the end until now; it’s amazing how you think you know an album really well, but as you become a better musician and listener you start to hear things you never noticed before.

My adolescent attempts at songwriting usually aimed to be like “Peanuts”, only I failed miserably. This rocker comes with a bunch of angry gerunds:

 

It’s all a game
You’re not the same
Your famous name
The price of fame

Oh no, try to liberate me
I said oh no, stay and irritate me
I said oh no, try to elevate me
I said oh no, just a fallen hero

Don’t want to hear about the drugs you’re taking
Don’t want to read about the love you’re making
Don’t want to hear about the lives you’re faking
Don’t want to read about the muck they’re raking

You sang your song
For much too long
There’s something wrong
Your brain is gone

Oh no, try to liberate me
I said oh no, stay and irritate me
I said oh no, try to elevate me
I said oh no, just a fallen hero….

 

Angry, confused and slightly tortured teenagers can relate to this nihilistic tune. In the end, our feeling, thoughts, and desires don’t mean much, and whatever that guy is doing is bullshit. It’s all peanuts to Sting. Take these lyrics and water them down for a few years and you have a John Hughes movie.

“Can’t Stand Losing You” was, with “Roxanne” one of the two singles off of this record. All the songs are singles to me, but this one always resonates. Trigger warning: It’s one of the best songs about suicide, not that I condone offing yourself. Sting didn’t have much romantic luck on Side A, and those troubles continue here, as she’s clearly an asshole:

 

I called you so many times today
And I guess it’s all true what your girlfriends say
That you don’t ever want to see me again
And your brother’s gonna kill me and he’s six feet ten
I guess you’d call it cowardice
But I’m not prepared to go on like this

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand losing,
I can’t I can’t, I can’t stand losing,
I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand losing you
I can’t stand losing you
I can’t stand losing you
I can’t stand losing you

I see you’ve sent my letters back
And my L.P. records and they’re all scratched
I can’t see the point in another day
When nobody listens to a word I say
You can call it lack of confidence
But to carry on living doesn’t make no sense

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t stand losing…

 

I’m pretty sure Sting would like to start winning. You know she’s a piece of shit when she scratches all your records, probably out of malice. I’m beginning to think that 1978 Sting needs to make better life choices. But if a string of lousy romances can lead to performances like these, then I’ll send a limo full of amoral harlots to his door.

Indeed, the “Truth Hits Everybody”. It hits you with a force of musical shrapnel here, and while it’s not quite as devastating as a John Prinepronouncement, you’re a little stunned. It’s truth from pre-Thatcher London, where the dole was a trendy thing to be on. Maybe I’m reading a little too much into it, but here’s what Sting says:

 

Sleep lay behind me like a broken ocean
Strange waking dreams before my eyes unfold
You lay there sleeping like an open doorway
I stepped outside myself and felt so cold
Take a look at my new toy
It’ll blow your head in two, oh boy
Truth hits everybody, truth hits everyone
Truth hits everybody, truth hits everyone
Truth hits everybody, truth hits everyone
I thought about it and my dream was broken
I clutch at images like dying breath
And I don’t want to make a fuss about it
The only certain thing in life is death
Take a look at my new toy
It’ll blow your head in two, oh boy
Truth hits everybody, truth hits everyone.

 

Like Winston in 1984,Sting accepts this new truth. I’m actually not sure what the truth is here, but I know it hurts and probably ends in death and misery. Yay misery!

I really wanted to make love on the beach after I heard “Born in the 50s”, but I was fourteen and girls didn’t even look at me, so I settled for rocking out to a tale of someone else’s generation. Is he talking about the baby boomers?  Because I’ve got a lot of issues with what they’ve pulled in recent years. The Police were too young at this point to be worried about their carbon footprint anyway. “Born in the 50s” has that gritty and up-front sound and feel that doesn’t sound like other songs from this vibrant era. It’s amazing that The Police pulled from all these different sources and came up with something that was so fresh and urgent. There’s so much to say about their musicianship as a band that I’ll leave it to other people to explain it.

Maybe Sting found a girlfriend, or at least a promising prospect, as he sings “Be My Girl”. It’s a driving tune, with major triads circulating over a throbbing eighth note bass pedal. I hear The Who when the backing vocals enter— this makes me happy. Suddenly, the tune ends in a flanged wash of an E sus chord. Wait- what happened? That was just a great chorus. I really thought they had something there. Oh wait, they let the guitarist take over..

Andy Summers played in The Animals and other bands before he joined The Police, and maybe that’s where he got his twisted and sometimes disturbing lyrical concepts. I don’t think he’s naturally blonde. It’s probably safe to say to “Sally” is the best “song” ever written about a blow-up doll. I say “song” because it’s more of a rhyming recitation of a loner who finds his new lover in a box that comes in the mail. I personally love Summers’ tunes; you can figure out who the normal people are at a party when his songs come on, because they frown and fuss before they decide to go to the fridge for another wine cooler. “Sally” is a spoken word over a clinking atonal piano, and it shows that The Police have done more with their ears than just listen to Marley and The Ramones. Yeah, it’s weird, but so is marrying a rubber fuck doll. Nothing against those who are into that shit, but, y’know…

“Masoko Tanga” always sounded like Japanese or Swahili to me, but it’s probably a mélange of Caribbean patois with a New Wave Edward Leartouch. Someone on the FaceySpaces thinks they’re a series of words Sting culled from a phone book. Whatever. He could be singing about genocide for all I care, because this groove is so killer. It’s got James Brown, Eno-esque sound collage, and that sharp attack that The Police always give you.

The Police always bring it. Outlandos D’Amourhas a punch that few debut albums have; it’s like they were locked in a closet with their gear and a bunch of records from the cut-out bin and came out with a brand-new sound. They rock.

Won’t you be my girl?

MUSIC OF THE DAY-April 17- Roger Miller

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ3dcJZ_J3g&list=PLNyyEmFBGcUy9lT5ip4D7xw-4fKnGYLd0

There have been many artists throughout time who defy easy classification. Most of these people were misunderstood during their time and languished in obscurity, but Roger Miller wasn’t one of them. You can’t call him a straight-up country singer, or a novelty singer, or a TV personality, even though he was all of those things and more. He could be very funny, rip out a stunning vocal, or break your heart with an earnest ballad. Whatever he did he always did it well.

First up is Miller’s 1965 hit “Engine Engine #9”, one of my favorite country songs about realizing the one you love doesn’t really love you. She’s also going to make you go to the railroad station to meet her, but she won’t show up. All you know is that she got on in Baltimore, but she probably ran off with another guy. You’re S.O.L., buddy. Welcome to Loserville. At least you’ve got this classic shuffling melody to keep you going. It’s a charming tune, and it’s indicative of Miller’s talent that this tune could fit in a jazz, rock, or R&B style. That’s a great swinging choo-choo groove on the drums. It’s always good to subtly underscore a song with a musical depiction of what’s going on in the lyric.

Miller could make you think he’s the village idiot, but then he turns around and hits you with some lyrical wit and his classic vocal/guitar breaks. “Dang Me” is one classic example of this, and he uses humor to talk about how shitty life can be:

 

Well, here I sit high, gettin’ ideas
Ain’t nothing but a fool would live like this
Out all night and runnin’ wild
Woman sittin’ home with a month-old child

 

Dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High from the highest tree
Woman, would you weep for me?

Just sittin’ around drinkin’ with the rest of the guys
Six rounds bought, and I bought five
And I spent the groceries and half the rent
Like fourteen dollars and twenty-seven cents

 

Dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High from the highest tree
Woman, would you weep for me?

 

Roses are red, and violets are purple
Sugar is sweet and so is maple surple
Well I’m the seventh out of seven sons
My pappy’s a pistol, I’m a son-of-a-gun

 

Well, dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High from the highest tree
Woman, would you weep for me?

 

Is the narrator slightly touched? Or is he simply telling us of the blue-collar life and its troubles? Or is it just a really fun tune? You’d have to be deep into Kierkegaard if you don’t find this song fun, but maybe I’m sounding like a philosophy student just because I’m probing too deeply into Roger Miller lyrics. He does rhyme “purple” with the non-word “surple,” after all. That vocal and guitar break though—he rips that out differently from recording to recording. In the 1988 movie Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams sang “Da-Nang Me,” but I didn’t get the reference for years.

Pretty much everybody born before 1980 should know “King of the Road”, but in case you are one of those people who doesn’t know this classic, here it is:

 

Trailer for sale or rent,

rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets,

I ain’t got no cigarettes

Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means,

King of the road.

 

Third boxcar, midnight train,

destination Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out clothes and shoes,
I don’t pay no union dues,

I smoke old stogies I have found

short, but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means,

King of the road.

(Modulate, like many good country songs do..)

 

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain’t locked, when no one’s around.

I sing,

trailers for sale or rent,

rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets,

I ain’t got no cigarettes….

 

In case you can’t tell, “King of the Road” a song about being a hobo of some sort. Do they even make hobos anymore? Drifters tend to be shady and violent, but a hobo tends to be an easy-going and broke dude who hops freight trains to get from town to town. Miller’s hobo is someone you probably wouldn’t mind hanging out with for a while, although you might want to jump off at Duluth before he asks you for money.

Miller wrote the country standard “Invitation to the Blues,” but Ray Price made it ahit. Price’s voice is slightly more lonesome to me, but Miller captures the thumping sadness with a wry smile. He’ll get through this; Ray Price isn’t sure about himself getting through it. Miller’s version features some Nashville stalwarts, and they play Price’s classic shuffle groove. It’s a feel that I don’t hear done much anymore (at least not in Yankee territory) and it is such a satisfying groove when it’s done right like it is here. Oh yeah, the girl leaves him and breaks his heart. You can cloak sad songs with an upbeat rhythm and only the sad and forlorn will pay attention while everyone else dances.

I thought Miller wrote the brilliant “Where Have All the Average People Gone?” but it was penned by Dennis Linde. Miller begins the tune by whistling, a common element in his songs. It also portrays him as an average man, even though he wasn’t one in reality:

 

The people in this city call me country
Because of how I walk and talk and smile
Well, I don’t mind them laughing in the city
But the country folks all say I’m citified

The fighting men they say that I’m a coward
Because I never push no one around
Gentle people call me trouble maker
‘Cause I’ll always fight and stand my ground

Funny I don’t fit
Where have all the average people gone?

Some pious people point and call me sinner
Because to them I’ve never seen the lights
Other folks think of me as a preacher
I’m just doing what I think is right

The wealthy people think that I am a hobo
Lean and hungry, writing mournful songs
And the poor, poor people think I am a rich man
But really, I’m just trying to get along

Yes, it’s funny I don’t fit
Tell me where have all the average people gone?

And the government has given me a number
To simplify my birth and life and death
And still my woman thinks I’m awful important
Like the moon and the sun and the sea and the sky and breath

Yes, it’s funny I don’t fit
Where have all the average people gone?
Funny I don’t fit
Where have all the average people gone?

 

I can relate to these lyrics, even I don’t feel average or normal. People would rather be called normal than average, even though the words mean basically the same thing. We musicians tend to feel like outsiders, much like the guy in this song. Now that I’ve been back in California for a few years after nineteen years in Brooklyn, I keep butting up against people who resemble the adversaries in this tune. My New York vibe is too real for some people here. When I first moved to Brooklyn I embraced my West Coast roots and tried to be chill. There’s no winning. But you don’t have to give a shit about this stuff anyway. At least Miller’s gal likes him. Miller-1. Drydo-0.

“Do-Wacka-Do” is another classic comical number in the vein of “Dang Me.” It’s also a great envy-laced fuck-off song. He’s jealous of all the material and romantic possessions the other guy has, and wishes the guy had a do-wacka-do. What “do-wacka-do” means is up to you. To me it’s a metaphorical middle finger up the guy’s ass. Maybe you think of unicorns or puppy dogs. That vocal/guitar break sure is something else, and what a scat solo! People scat the best when they don’t care too much. Most people shouldn’t scat in the first place, but that’s for another post.

“Husbands and Wives” was a cross-over hit even though it’s basically a slightly uncomfortable jazz waltz coming out of Nashville. It’s been covered by everyone from The Everly Brothers to Neil Diamond to Ringo Starr. Maybe Miller’s pronouncement on the state of marriage is still true decades later:

 

Two broken hearts lonely looking like houses
Where nobody lives
Two people each having so much pride inside
Neither side forgives

The angry words spoken in haste
Such a waste of two lives
It’s my belief pride is the chief cause in the decline
Of the number of husbands and wives

A woman and a man
A man and a woman
Some can and some can’t and some can’t

Two broken hearts lonely looking houses
Where nobody lives
Two people each having so much pride inside
Neither side forgives

The angry words spoken in haste
Such a waste of two lives
It’s my belief pride is the chief cause in the decline
Of the number of husbands and wives

It’s my belief pride is the chief cause in the decline
Of the number of husbands and wives.

 

I wish I had come up with “two broken hearts looking like houses where nobody lives.” That’s a damn good line with strong imagery. I see fractured suburbia and a moral compass that was never very good in the first place, no matter what some people say about the good old days. Yeah, it’s hard to suck it up and say you’re wrong, but it’s harder to go through life in a hopeless marriage drizzled with pathos. Divorce sucks, but at least it gives us tunes like “Husbands and Wives.”

“England Swings” is such a cute song that I couldn’t help putting it in this list. Plus, you’ll sing the hook whenever you think about England from now on. Even though 1965 was the time of Swingin’ London., Miller lists a bunch of touristy things that don’t smack of Mick Jagger or Julie Christie. His whistle intro has a bit of forlorn sadness to it, which is counter to the lyric. Funny how whistling can be optimistic or lonesome, depending on how you employ it.  It’s so tunefully square that it’s adorable.

Nothing says welcome to adulthood better than grain alcohol. On “Chug-a-Lug” Miller sounds like he’s sipped a bit before he stepped up to the mic, but that’s probably just part of his charm. It’s got that “I like bread and butter, I like toast and jam” feel, which shuffles along like a backhoe operator running to the bar after his shift. There aren’t many better songs about getting introduced to booze. Homemade wine in a mason jar during school sounds like a recipe for a fun disaster.

Now maybe I shouldn’t end on another funny song, but “You Can’t Roller skate in a Buffalo Herd” is an ode to achieving happiness masked by with a Dada-like lyric:

 

 

You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd
You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd
You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to

 

You can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage
You can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage
You can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to

 

All you gotta do is put your mind to it
Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it

 

Well, you can’t go a-swimmin’ in a baseball pool
You can’t go swimmin’ in a baseball pool
You can’t go swimmin’ in a baseball pool
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to

 

You can’t change film with a kid on your back
You can’t change film with a kid on your back
You can’t change film with a kid on your back
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to

 

You can’t drive around with a tiger in your car
You can’t drive around with a tiger in your car
You can’t drive around with a tiger in your car
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to

All you gotta do is put your mind to it
Knuckle down, buckle down do it, do it, do it

 

Well, you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd
You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd
You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to

 

You can’t go fishin’ in a watermelon patch
You can’t go fishin’ in a watermelon patch
You can’t go fishin’ in a watermelon patch
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to…..

 

Truer words have rarely been spoken. Yet we still don’t know how to put our minds to it to become happy after the song ends. Or do we?

If there’s one thing to learn from Roger Miller, it’s that a sense of humor always helps, no matter how dire the situation seems. If you are feeling like the world kicked you in the ovaries, put these songs on. He’ll take away the pain.

Or at least you’ll have a Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do-Wacka-Do………

 

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY-April 19-Art Tatum

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUwdLMzeNfI0vKSjqg9ZP4OE

“I only play piano, but tonight God is in the house.”  Fats Waller on Art Tatum

 

There are piano players, and then there is Art Tatum. Rachmaninoff called him the greatest pianist alive, andHorowitztried to copy him. There are players after Tatum who have his blazing technique and harmonic sense, but no one touches him in his dizzying speed and originality at the piano.  Stride pianowas a competitive sport back in the 1920s and 1930s, and Tatum won the trophy every time. Oh yeah, he was practically blind and usually had a bit of beer in him.

My dad got me my first Tatum record when I was fourteen, and I was astounded by what I heard. I wasn’t sure if I should keep playing and studying or just give up jazz piano, as his playing can be overwhelming to a young jazz pianist. Pretty much everybody is amazed by Tatum, and if you aren’t impressed then you probably have some complex that Freud figured out.

First, here’s a video of Tatum playing Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.” Watch his body—there’s hardly any unnecessary movement, and his wrist action is nearly perfect. There aren’t many movies of Tatum playing, so this clip of “Yesterday” shows you HOW he plays. He makes it look easy; something nearly all the masters do. You think it’s easy because he’s so relaxed, but YOU try it and see what happens.

This 1949 version of Ann Ronell’s“Willow Weep for Me” covers a lot of musical bases. There’s the slightly mysterious bluesy intro and the semi-rubato of the tune proper up to the bridge. Then the Tatum edge comes into play: he reharmonizes the already sophisticated chords and throws in some tantalizing runs. Like Earl Hines, Tatum messes with the tempo, but he always winds up back on the downbeat.

“Look, you come in here tomorrow, and anything you do with your right hand I’ll do with my left.” Tatum to Bud Powell.

 

W.C. Handy’s blues standard “Aunt Hagar’s Blues” never sounded like Tatum’s version. Aunt Hagar’s wearing some fancy clothes now, courtesy of Tatum’s Art-Deco era harmonies. The movie The Wizard of Ozhad only been in theaters for three days when Tatum recorded this version of “Over the Rainbow” in 1939. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, but I’m not sure where the tornado took us, only that we are in a very cool place. At first it sounds like we could be in outer space, but Tatum brings in the melody we’re on solid ground. He adds some reharmonized chords that would have scared Toto, but he would have come around.

I’m really glad someone made this clip that combines three versions of “Tea for Two,” recorded in 1933, 1939, and 1953 respectively. Tatum didn’t like to play a song the same way twice, so we can hear his musical growth with each track. The 1933 version begins with some whole-tone chords that echo Bix and Debussy. Art sounds like a good stride pianist for the first half of the song, but then then Tatum-isms pour out, and then you know it’s him. It’s even more impressive that this this was one of his first recordings (he was twenty-three). The 1939 version starts a little more smoothly, and he uses the last eight measures as the introduction. He plays the head is a quasi-rubato before double-timing it for his solo. I can’t begin to describe the way Tatum plays; it’s so instilled in me (even though I can’t get anywhere near him pianistically) that I can’t find any words other than to say it’s fucking brilliant. The 1953 has some similarities to the previous takes, but with a few quirks, as you will hear. I could carry on with jazz piano pedagogy terms, but not many people want to hear that. You want to hear TATUM.

 

“I wish I could play like Tatum’s right hand.” Charlie Parker

 

This home recording of Tatum playing “She’s Funny That Way” was on the first Tatum record I bought, and it remains one of my favorite recordings of his. It’s such a pretty tune that hardly anybody does, and the chords on the bridge (as Tatum plays them) always knock me out. He goes so far away from the tonal center that you wonder how he’ll get back, but he always does. “It’s the Talk of the Town” is from that same session, and you can hear the melancholy of the lyric in his playing, at least for a while. The song is about a broken engagement and the gossip that follows. Tatum shows us the sadness of the lyric, but he snaps out of it to give us some fancy frills. I guess he gets over shit pretty quickly, which can be a good thing. Or maybe he doesn’t like to soak in slow tempos.

Tatum did like to play a lot of notes, but every note counted. A person once told me “Of course you think Art Tatum has no taste!” I was on a gig and we were on break, so I didn’t want to cause a scene and tell her she was a clueless pile of shit, so I smiled and walked away. As it turned out, she was an asshole, which didn’t surprise me. If someone comes up to you at a cocktail party and says that John Coltrane or Donny Hathaway weren’t that great, you know that person is a dick and that he is to be avoided at all costs. Stay away from people who think that Tatum was a blind and black Liberace. These kinds of people drown puppies and burn down orphanages. You’ve been warned.

 

Jazz piano legend Hank Jones heard Tatum for the first time on the radio in 1935 and said he thought “they have devised this trick to make people believe that one man is playing the piano, when I know at least three people are playing.”

 

There are so many more Tatum recordings to check out, and like Bach and Duke Ellington, there is no such thing as bad Art Tatum. To close, here are two versions of Tatum playing “Tiger Rag,” the first from 1933 and the second from 1935. The 1933 version is pretty amazing, but it’s the 1935 one that makes piano players either weep or want to kill themselves. There are some serious fireworks going on, but it never feels showy to me. Some piano players feel the need to prove they can play fast and perform high-wire acts on the keys, but Tatum doesn’t need to prove anything; he just does it. And he does it better than anybody.

MUSIC OF THE DAY-April 20-The Louvin Brothers (Volume One)

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUwCPLTDsntv_0N97FiEWDk2

 

There is no better male vocal duet than the Louvin Brothers. Nope. Don’t even try. There have been many sibling duets (The Delmore Brothers, The Monroe Brothers, The Blue Sky Boys) but none of them matched the vocal and songwriting intensity of The Louvin Brothers. I love The Everly Brothers like a family pet, but they are Louvins Lite. When you listen to The Louvins, you aren’t in Phil and Don’s teenage heartbreak world— you’re in a strange yet familiar place, filled with highs and lows so dramatic that you don’t know whether to open another bottle or kneel at the altar.

 

They were a duo of opposites— Charlie was the younger and relatively even-tempered guitar-playing one who often assumed the lower voice in their close harmony, while Ira was the older taller mandolin-toting one with the fury of a devil and the voice of an Appalachian angel. Ira’s voice and inflections bring me to tears nearly every time I listen to The Louvins. For me, he’s the Donny Hathaway of country music—he cuts right to the note and the pain without adding too many notes to show off his gut-wrenching voice

This is the first of two Louvin playlists I’ve made. I love so many of their songs that one playlist wouldn’t do; their career together lasted over two decades and they had so many great songs. I’d like to thank guitar great Adam Levy for turning me on to The Louvins back in 2004 or 2005 when he sang “My Baby’s Gone” on one of his gigs at Brooklyn’s beloved BarBes. It was a night that changed my life; I became a Louvin devotee, and thanks to Jack Grace I was playing with Charlie Louvin within a year. See how dreams can come true, kids?

I’ve always identified with the song, written by Hazel Houser:

 

Hold back the rushing minutes
Make the wind lie still
Don’t let the moonlight shine
Across the lonely hill
Dry all the raindrops
And hold back the sun
My world has ended
My baby’s gone.

 

The milkman whistles softly
As he comes up to my door
The mailman brings the letters by
Just like he did before
They seem so busy all day long
As though there’s nothing wrong
Don’t they know the world has ended
My baby’s gone.

 

I wake up sometimes in the night
And realize you’re gone
And then I toss upon my bed
And wait for day to come
I try to tell my lonely heart
It must go on alone
But it cries the world has ended
My baby’s gone.

 

If you took this lyric on its own, you might think it would be a slow and sorrowful ballad, but it isn’t. The Louvins really hit you hard with “My Baby’s Gone” because it seems so upbeat and cheery, but when you really listen to it, Charlie and Ira are telling you really how despondent they feel. It’s like they’ve put their best suits on with their shoulders back, smiling while hoping you don’t notice the tears running down their faces. Put this song (and many other songs here) at the top of your heartbreak list.

There aren’t a whole lot of vintage videos of The Louvins, and I’m not sure if they were really playing on this one, but it’s important to see what they looked like when they performed. You can see the anguish and psychosis on Ira’s face in every video. He was a mean drunk who would smash his mandolin in intoxicated frustration, but then turn around and belt out a tenor voice that soared above the broken whisky bottles and mandolin shards. I’m fairly sure he’d be called bi-polar today, and probably a few other things. His third wife shot him four times after he tried to strangle her with a telephone cord. He survived, only to hear her say, “If the bastard don’t die I’ll shoot him again!” This, my friends, is some serious shit. Ira found a way to channel his demons into song, and Charlie managed to put up with him for years. I’m really glad Charlie was so patient.

Autry Inman’s“I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” is a heartbreak in reverse; the narrator is meeting his fiancée at a dance and she introduces another guy to him. You’ll hear it. You’ll also hear and see these beautiful harmonies, and look at old Ernest Tubb standing behind Charlie. I wish I could have seen these Opry and Nashville shows, assuming they would have let my Yankee ass in. I did get to play four magical gigs with Charlie, which I’ll detail in the next Louvin post.

Next is an up-tempo version of the old murder ballad “Knoxville Girl.” This song got me into trouble in grad school when I presented this version and the Blue Sky Brothers versions as two different ways to perform a two hundred year old song. Let’s just say that some people don’t like to hear happy waltzes that detail a guy brutally killing his fiancée and suffering in prison for the rest of his life. Of course, I don’t think it’s a wise or kind thing to kill someone, especially someone you love, but it happens. It always has and always will, so if you hear this song and hear of a lovers’ quarrel gone south, you’ll know that this is nothing new under the sun.

One thing I love about this tune is that it tells a story. Not many tunes tell stories; they mostly give you abstract feelings or complain. Not here. The guy is telling you exactly what happened, yet he never tells you why he did it. The Louvins sing it almost like a love song, which makes it all the more disturbing:

 

I met a little girl in Knoxville, a town we all know well
And every Sunday evening, out in her home, I’d dwell
We went to take an evening walk about a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down.

 

She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry
“Oh Willy dear, don’t kill me here, I’m unprepared to die”
She never spoke another word, I only beat her more
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow.

 

I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and rolling eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride.

I started back to Knoxville, got there about midnight
My mother, she was worried and woke up in a fright
Saying “dear son, what have you done to bloody your clothes so?”
I told my anxious mother I was bleeding at my nose.

 

I called for me a candle to light myself to bed
I called for me a handkerchief to bind my aching head
Rolled and tumbled the whole night through, as troubles was for me
Like flames of hell around my bed and in my eyes could see.

 

They carried me down to Knoxville and put me in a cell
My friends all tried to get me out but none could go my bail
I’m here to waste my life away down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl, the girl I loved so well.

 

Don’t be that guy. At least he has regret over what he’s done, unlike Johnny Cash in his version of “Delia’s Gone,” where he’s actually glad he shot her.

Now there are record covers and then there is THISrecord cover.

 

These guys knew about sinning (and doing it right); but they also knew how to sing about salvation, even if Ira was far from a saint. You can read about Satan is Realhere, and this next audio clip is the title track. It’s a slow country waltz with a prayer in the middle, as was the custom of the day in fire and brimstone gospel music. You might not believe in the devil right now, but after you hear Charlie and Ira sing and sermonize you’ll start to think Beelzebub is just around every corner and probably talking to your girlfriend right now. Wait— she’s not with you right now? Well, you better go and find her, or you’ll need to wallow in the grace of God.

If you don’t feel something akin to a shiver from Ira’s song “When I Stop Dreaming,” then you probably think that your job in middle management is just fine. Or maybe you’ve never been in love or had any strong feelings of any sort. If so, this post isn’t for you anyway. Move on. Maybe to an article in Forbes.

These first four measures are some of the most searing moments in recorded vocal music to me. So many Louvin songs are the equivalent to Wagner’s Liebestodor Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloein that it’s such an intense sound that it feels beyond human.

The lyrics aren’t delving into anything we haven’t heard a million times before, but it’s the simple melody delivered by those perfect voices that buckles my knees:

 

The worst that I’ve ever been hurt in my life
The first time I ever have wanted to die
Was the night when you told me
You loved someone else
And you asked me if I could forget

 

When I stop dreaming
That’s when I’ll stop loving you.

 

You may teach the flowers to bloom in the snow
You may take a pebble and teach it to grow
You may teach all the raindrops to return to the clouds
But you can’t teach my heart to forget

 

When I stop dreaming
That’s when I’ll stop loving you.

 

 

Most of us have felt at least a little bit like this song, but have we felt or expressed it like the Louvins do here? As with many amazing and definitive performances, blatant copies of it will sound lukewarm at best. It’s too hard and too pointless to try to sing like the Louvins. Take the song and make it your own, but you’re probably not going to get near this level unless you turn it into a completely different tune with a different feel. Good luck.

If that’s Chet Atkinsarpeggiating the first chord on “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” I’d like to know what he was thinking. It’s one of the more surreal moments in 1950s country music, right up there with Curly Chalker’s pedal steel introduction on Lefty Frizzell’s “Always Late (With Your Kisses).”It’s an Ira tune, and of course it’s about unrequited love. Emmylou Harris had a fine hitwith it later on, changing it enough to make it not feel like a Louvin tune. Of course, she is Emmylou, so she could sing the Paducah yellow pages and make you think they’re all about you. “If I Could Only Win Your Love” has heart-torn lyrics and a really nice melody that could be adapted into a jazz tune by somebody. Hint hint.

There are millions of “she left me” tunes, but “She Didn’t Even Know I Was Gone” tells it as a STORY. The owner of a broken heart is talking to the guy closing up after a dance. Old brokenheart met his gal there to talk about their wedding, only she danced with another guy the whole night and ignored him. Damn, girl. You’re cold, but I’m glad you showed your true self then and not after you got married. It’s a semi-perky melody for such a sad song, which makes it all the better. “Alabama” is one of the Louvins first original tunes, and even though it’s a listing of various memories of the land of Roll Tide, the melody is beautiful. This tune should/could be a theme song for the state itself. The line “where hound dogs are whining and wagging their tails” never fails to make me misty, as hound dogs are better than people. All dogs are better than people.

Damn you, Louvins, for singing another happy sounding song about a dagger through the heart. It’s appropriate that many of these tunes came from their 1956 album Tragic Songs ofLife. Not many sing about tragedy better than the Louvins, and these kinds of tunes of betrayal and early death wouldn’t have been out of place in the 19thcentury. Great music is timeless. The “Tiny Broken Heart” in question:

 

He was just a little farm lad so busy at play
In his little playhouse down by the gate
He stopped to watch a truck that was parking next door
At the home of his tiny playmate

Then he saw his Daddy watching too
As the man swiftly walked to the cottage door
He knew they were strangers that come from the town
Men he had never seen before.

They soon were at their work and he heard his Daddy say
Our neighbors are moving today
Oh no, he cried, dear God don’t let it be
They can’t take my sweetheart away.

I know Dad that you don’t understand
How a heart so young could conceive a plan
I’m only seven now but it’s just like you say
Daddy someday I’ll be a man.

The man who owns the farm where your playmate now lives
He told me it has to be this way
For winter time has come and their work is all done
And now they are moving away.

Let us buy the farm so they can stay
Give them all my toys that dear Santa gave
And give him the pennies in my little bank
Pennies that my darling helped me save.

Some days I can think “Oh, that’s a growing experience every kid has,” or “Such a silly song,” but most of the time I think it’s one of the saddest fucking things I’ve ever heard. I guarantee you that one reason it hits me (like any Louvin song) is that they sing it so earnestly while never becoming sentimental. There’s a detachment to the tears.

When I played “Must You Throw Dirt in My Face” with Charlie (and his very special guest Diane Berry), he announced it as “the dirty song.” It’s another waltz (written by Bill Anderson) about a heartless wench telling the broken-hearted guy how shitty he is and how much better her new guy is. Where do they find these women? Tell me so I can stay away from that part of town. Ira’s mandolin is brilliant as always, but the low tremolo guitar and Floyd Cramer-like piano fills tell us that we aren’t in the sticks anymore—we’re in Countrypolitan Nashville. It’s a good blend of the old and new, but producers were urging The Louvins to ditch the mandolin solos, as it sounded too old-timey. Nowadays, that guitar sounds old-timey. They both are, but that’s part of what makes them sound so good to 21stcentury ears.

I think “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight” is by Bill Monroe, because it’s a bit of an old country standard. It’s a classic tune in every way—even if the lyrics don’t use any new concepts or imagery, the melody is an earworm. Too bad you can’t sing the bridge harmony like Ira does. Charlie’s first sixteen bars are simple and plaintive, but when Ira enters on this line, passions arise:

The rain is cold and slowly falling,
Upon my window pane tonight,
And though your love grows even colder
I wonder where you are tonight.

The chunk-chunka-chunk of the guitar on the bridge goads the lyric and carries the tune along. These subtle parts and production ideas seem so simple, but they add so much.

The standard song “Tennessee Waltz” has been recorded by many artists (most notably a multi-tracked versionby Patti Page), but I don’t think any of them hits the peaks that Ira does on the bridge here. Charlie’s inflection on “and while they were dancing” is one of his finest vocal moments on record. The tempo is not too slow, so the sadness flows over you before you even know it.

In case you aren’t familiar with the tune:

I was dancin’ with my darlin to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see.
I introduced him to my darlin’ and while they were dancin’
My friend stole my sweetheart from me.

I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes, I lost my little darlin’ the night they were playin’
That beautiful Tennessee Waltz.

 

Yes, she’s another harlot. Country singers tend to make bad romantic choices, at least in song. But many of us relate to these tunes more than the happy love songs, maybe because people in love are annoying and boring. I’d take Riff and Mercutio any day over Tony and Maria or Romeo and Juliet. Those guys get the good lines. I think sadness, anger, and heartbreak are probably more universal than love, which is a terrible thing to say, except that it’s probably true.

If you want to hear a great podcast tell you why some country songs make us sadder than any other kind of music, listen to the great Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast about it on  Revisionist History. The Louvins hit me more than any other vocal group in terms of sorrow and the ending of relationships. But hell, they could sing The Magna Carta and make me tear up.

Thank you, Ira and Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music of the Day- April

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 1- The Harder They Come (Soundtrack)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cLClBsHzoo

We are into the first week of spring, but some people in the northern hemisphere are still freezing. But it’s always sunny in Jamaica, or so we’re led to believe from all the tourism ads that hound the TV in the winter. No matter what it’s like outside in Kingston, the music is always inspirational, especially from the time of 1972’s The Harder They Come.  Only the title track was recorded specifically for the film, but the other songs were Jamaican hits from 1967-1972. Many people say that this film brought reggae to the world, and the world didn’t get it soon enough. There are so many great and danceable songs from this era. There are bonus tracks here (on Disc Two of the expanded soundtrack) but they deserve a post of their own, so I’ll skip them in favor of the original track listing.  But goddamn, they are examples of how music can b

The story of The Harder They Come could have come from a film noir or even an ancient Greek myth. Guy (Cliff as musician Ivan Martin) comes from the country with hopes and dreams, but has no money; guy struggles to make money with his hopes and dreams in the big city; guy turns to crime to get money and success; guy is brutally beaten by cops; guy is pissed off and does more crimes while wooing a beautiful woman; guy becomes an outlaw and inspiration for the common people; guy dies violently but we have his music to remember him by. That tale has been told in one form or another for millennia, but as in any story it’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it (Kudos to Sy Oliver and Trummy Young).

Jimmy Cliff not only writes great songs, but he inhabits them, both vocally and physically. His screen presence here is wonderful, and you root for Ivan no matter how many people he kills. It doesn’t hurt that he has one of the best soundtracks there is to accentuate his scenes. I recommend seeing the movie, preferably a version with subtitles. Jamaican English can be a little hard to decipher for most Americans. Until you do see it, put this album on constant rotation. It’s overloaded with positivity and groove.

Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want” should be a mantra for any artist or person who has a passion to fulfill. It’s a more positive response to the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and I prefer the Jamaican backup singers over the latter’s English boys’ choir. It’s a rocksteady groove with an inspiring message. I didn’t know that Desmond Dekker had a hit with it first in 1970, but it is Cliff’s tune and is one of his best-known songs. I have a feeling that it’s The Skatalites on the track, but it could be the core members of The Wailers. Maybe Ted Sirota knows.

“Draw Your Brakes” is the singer Scotty’s version of “Stop That Train”, a 1965 song by The Spanishtonians. It’s a slower rocksteady in a minor key and is the plight of a man trying to stop a train because his baby is leaving. We’ve all been there, but Scotty and company draw us in with words I can’t begin to understand but can recite along with the track. Great harmonies and a guiro part that sounds like a bird taunting the narrator. That bird comes and goes but is always in your ear telling you the train is leaving. I feel sorry for Scotty, but his delivery is so passive that I wonder if he cares more about the girl or the weed he’s been smoking.

I’ve never been a huge fan of much of the Old Testament with its violence and jealousy and ancient fundamentalism, but The Melodians music could convert me to anything if I could hear them sing. “Rivers of Babylon” is one of my favorite tunes and was adapted in 1970 from Psalms 19 and 137. I can’t think of another religious text set to song that comes anywhere near the glory and sadness of this three-minute wonder. It’s a Rastafarian hymn that compares the slavery of the ancient Jews to the slavery of Africans in the New World. Since Ethiopians have Jewish DNA, it’s more than just a metaphor. Just as this tune is more than a catchy melody; it’s got a profundity you can dance to.

Similarly, Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” has a biblical tinge, although it’s more about New Testament-like faith and devotion than it is about Jesus. Cliff’s Ivan is a Christ-like character, but more like Christ with a pistol in his waist upending the moneylenders’ tables. It’s Jamaican gospel without the speechifying. He’s down, but he’s far from out.

Toots and the Maytals- I don’t have to say anything else, but I will in the case there are some people who aren’t aware of their majesty. ‘Sweet and Dandy” is probably the most enthusiastic track on the album, due to Toots’ expressive vocal and irresistible groove. There aren’t many cool songs about a wedding, and I’d bet that the few that exist don’t make you dance and shout like this one. More on this amazing band later.

I’m going with the order of this playlist instead of the original album I grew up with. Cliff plays David to Goliath in the title track, and this song is the basis of the movie’s story. “The Harder they come/the harder they fall/one and all”. He rhymes “want” with “can’t”, but when he says he’d rather be dead than living as a puppet or a slave, my Rhyme Police instincts back down. Besides, it’s Jimmy Cliff, and it’s a glorious song. Whenever you’re feeling down about your circumstances or anything shitty, this album can cure your ails.

Side Two begins with The Slickers and the pulsating rhythms of “Johnny Too Bad”. Like every song on this soundtrack, the musicians on the tracks find a way to play everything perfectly. Unless you count strange endings and out of tune guitars, and I don’t care about those with all the great music. There are no unneeded notes or words in these songs. It’s something I try to do when I play- think of your part and what the music needs rather than trying to show everyone all the shit you can play. Just groove, baby. If I hadn’t found out this tune existed before the movie, I’d swear it and several others were written specifically to illustrate Ivan’s story. You’re getting too big for your britches, Johnny, but here’s a chill-out groove to keep you going.

Desmond Dekker. Dekker’s angelic voice represents a heaven I want to go to when I die. Dem a loot, dem a shoot in Shanty Town. Try to not sing along or have this in your head after you’ve heard it. Oh-Oh-Sevvvenn. This song, and really all of these songs are the sound of reggae before much of the genre started focusing on repetitive bass lines and chords that made white people try to grow dreadlocks. Nothing against that later style of reggae and dub, but on this record there are SONGS.

Toots and he Maytals’ “Pressure Drop” has musical hooks galore, a pulse that forces you to move, inspiring backup vocals, and the irrepressible Toots with a glorious vocal. I’m not alone in calling him the Otis Redding of reggae, and the best thing about that comparison is that Toots is still with us and going strong. Like Otis, Toots hits every song with a full-throated passion. If he was a general leading his troops through song, they would win every battle. “Pressure Drop” reflects Ivan’s struggle as it nears the end of the movie. When you’re living on the edge, you’ll eventually fall off. Or be crushed, as Toots puts it. Some people might know the song from versions by The Clash and The Specials.

I’ll hazard a guess that most of us can relate to “Sittin’ In Limbo” in some way. Jimmy Cliff is at a crossroads of sorts; friends and love have failed him, so he’s moving on, only he doesn’t really know where he’s going. He tells us all this with a melody that won’t leave your ears alone. It’s also got a Wurlitzer electric piano lick that ties the song together, not that it needed binding.        While it’s not the final song on the original LP, it makes for a perfect coda, as the final two tracks are reprises of “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “The Harder They Come”. I’m not a fan of hearing the same song twice on a record, but these tunes are so infectious that I don’t mind. I’ve always listened to this record and wanted more, which is what the second disc delivers.

So play these tunes over and over. They will make you feel sweet and dandy.

 

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-April 2- Marvin Gaye-What’s Going On

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OicTQiPcG_g

It should be obvious to anyone born in the 20th century (and to anyone who has ears) that Marvin Gaye was one of the most soulful singers there has ever been. His voice was so sexy that it could make a dead woman ovulate. His life ended tragically and far too soon, but he gave us so much to be thankful for.

I’ve always thought of  1972’s What’s Going On as the Sgt. Pepper of R&B. But it’s so much more than that. It is a concept album, and like Pepper the tracks segue from one to the next, but the songs themselves carry a social message that Pepper (and nearly all R&B records) lacked. Gaye wrote the songs from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning home, drawing from the horrific tales his brother Frankie told him. All wars are cruel and evil, but returning Vietnam vets encountered an America that was brutally divided, agitated, and destroying itself and its environment. We haven’t learned anything, apparently, and could use Marvin Gaye right now.

This was Gaye’s first time producing his own music, and what he did changed the course of pop music. He used more sophisticated chords than in his previous albums, and adds more funk, jazz, and classical elements to create nearly thirty-six minutes of musical magic. Unfortunately, if you’re listening to this stream on the YouTube link and get ads, the tracks might get split in two, which is really aggravating. Be a sensible person and buy the record.

The album begins with people talking as if they’re on a street corner and rapping about everything that’s going on around them. Then the groove comes in and we hear “What’s Going On”. I love that backbeat sound; it’s not just a snare drum. But wait, there’s so much more to love about this tune that’s become an R&B pop standard. The whole track sound like the players are in different ends of a giant hall, and the sound of two Marvins singing simultaneously can be a bit weird at first, but since we have two Marvins throughout the record, you’ll get used to it. That saxophone intro was meant to be a scratch track, but Marvin loved it, so it stayed on the album. You can’t mention Motown without mentioning one of the greatest bass players of all time, Mister James Jamerson. He was so trashed that he recorded while lying on his back. It’s one of the greatest bass parts in pop history, so I don’t want to hear anyone complaining that they can’t play because of a headache.

In case you haven’t heard this tune already (I’ll withhold shaming for now), here are the socially-conscious lyrics:

 

Mother, mother

There’s too many of you crying

Brother, brother, brother

There’s far too many of you dying

You know we’ve got to find a way

To bring some lovin’ here today – Yah

 

Father, father

We don’t need to escalate

You see, war is not the answer

For only love can conquer hate

You know we’ve got to find a way

To bring some lovin’ here today

 

Picket lines and picket signs

Don’t punish me with brutality

Talk to me

So you can see

Oh, what’s going on

What’s going

Ya, what’s going on

Ah, what’s going on

Right on

 

Mother, Mother, everybody thinks we’re wrong

Oh, but who are they to judge us

Simply because our hair is long

Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way

To bring some understanding here today

 

Picket lines and picket signs

Don’t punish me with brutality

Talk to me,

So you can see

Oh, what’s going on

What’s going on

I’ll tell you Ya, what’s going on

Ah, what’s going on

Right on baby.

 

It was a brave way to start off an album, and many artists followed Marvin’s example of singing songs that were more than pop ditties about love. The next tune sounds like it’s a reprise of “What’s Going On” but it becomes its own thing. “What’s Happening Brother” continues with the sad message of being black in America, but with some different and intriguing chords. The strings and glockenspiel add a nice touch, but the drums and percussion are what drives the tune.

We go from being broke and jobless to being strung out on heroin. Poverty and drug use go hand in hand, as people often need some sort of external release from this mortal coil. “Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky)” skews the United Airlines tagline by turning it into a junkie’s lament. As laments go, not many groove in an Afro-Cuban 6/8 groove like this. Bells won’t be ringing and nobody cares, according to speaking Marvin and vocal Marvin in “Save the Children”. I remember playing this for my dad way back in the early 1990s, and he didn’t like the way Marvin spoke and then sang. I think it reminded him of The Ink Spots and their spoken lyrics between vocal stanzas. The Ink Spots sound cozily dated now, but Gaye’s message is always going to be meaningful whether you like his delivery or not. Sorry, Pops. Dad did like the jazz waltz section at the end, and so do I. You can say that much of this record was built around an A minor 9th chord. Also that B7sus- that’s the sound of “What’s Going On”.

Maybe Gaye is recycling the earlier grooves in “God Is Love”, but you’re too busy devoting yourself to his voice and that sweet melody to care. I don’t always believe in God, but I do when people like Marvin Gaye sing about him. This is a classic Motown/Tamla sound and groove, but not many musicians can duplicate it. It’s just as hard to play “Mercy Mercy Me” correctly; it’s got a lot of swing to it without being a shuffle or a swing tune. The groove is like a quick lope that demands a pimp roll and a pool hall. Then there is the message. Marvin was talking about global warming decades before anyone else, only back then they called it “ecology”. I guess you have to re-name things and concepts to make them sound fresh to the next generation. Gaye is green here. That strange and eerie choir coda is one of the oddest things ever to go down on Motown wax, but it is a harbinger of Armageddon; a fatigued sparrow warning us of the shit that will happen if we keep being fucking assholes to ourselves and this planet.

Flip the record over and check out the low-rider groove of “Right On”. There are so many great elements to this track that it’s pointless to list them. The groove is there, swaying away like an El Camino with a new hydraulic system. Maybe I don’t need the flute the whole time, but the strings and horns make up for the excited flautist. David Van De Pitte’s horn and string arrangements fit in the track so perfectly that they seem like family. Family you love to be around, that is. Van De Pitte’s arrangements elevate the track rather than making the instruments too front and center.

Sonically speaking, the album has a reverberant and dreamy feel, and it’s really apparent when Marvin says that Jesus left us a long time ago in ‘Wholly Holy”. Jesus is still with us, and definitely was around during the making of this track. Sometimes Gaye comes off a bit too preachy to me, but that’s like saying that JFK was a mediocre guy because he dropped his Rs.

“Inner City Blues” has one of the best bass riffs there is. It’s so badass that it’ll make you wanna holler and throw up over your hands. Maybe it’s throw up your hands. Inner-city life has always been a shitty place if you’re poor, and being black doesn’t help, as Gaye insinuates. It’s easy for this white boy to reflect on things that happened when I was in the cradle and far away from the racial mayhem. But if this album doesn’t make you a little bit mad and want to DO something about the bullshit in this world, then maybe you should stick to Pat Boone.

I will always be for Team Marvin, and I think you will be too.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 3-The Bill Evans Trio-Waltz for Debby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZamc4QIpfY&t=17s

To say this album is in my musical DNA is putting it lightly. It should be in everyone’s musical DNA, and if you’re a jazz piano player and you haven’t memorized this record, you might want to pursue another profession. You could make an argument that Bill Evans is the most important jazz piano player, that he is the most influential piano player, or that he is responsible for allowing jazz musicians to be sensitive. I would agree with all three. Without Bill Evans you don’t have so much of the beauty and introspection we have in American music. The man changed the game, and he did it with an unassuming Midwestern personality that made him doubt everything he did. Great artists are filled with great self-doubt, as they feel they can always be better in some way. There is no way to quantify what makes a musician or one of his/her performances “better” than another; it’s a question of personal taste, and one thing Bill Evans brought to the mid-1950s jazz table better than anyone was TASTE.

When I was in eighth grade and hoping to get into the Aptos High School jazz band (one of the best in the country), the magnificent band director Don Keller gave my eighth-grade teacher Craig Johnson a cassette tape to give to me. It had some of his favorite Bill Evans on it, and of course1961’sWaltz for Debby was on it. It changed my life both musically and emotionally because here was ninety minutes of gorgeous but unlabeled music, and I absorbed it slowly enough for it to enter my then-rudimentary playing. I had to figure out what the tunes were by playing through my old copy of The Real Bookuntil I recognized a song from the tape.

That first song turned out to be the Ned Washington/Victor Young song “My Foolish Heart”, which is as lovely a standard ballad as you could ever hope to hear. Evans plays it in A major, which is more of a classical key than a jazz key. The use of sharp keys was one reason Evans’ trio and solo work sounded fresh- everyone else would have played it in Bb, which to me sounds more military than the sound of an intoxicating entry into romance.

There are no vocals, of course, but I can hear and feel the lyrics through Evans’ delicate interpretation:

 

The night is like a lovely tune
Beware, my foolish heart
How white the ever constant moon
Take care, my foolish heart
There’s a line between love and fascination
That’s hard to see on an evening such as this
For they both give the very same sensation
When you are lost in the magic of a kiss
Her lips are much too close to mine
Beware, my foolish heart
But should our eager lips combine
Then let the fire start
For this time, it isn’t fascination
Or a dream that will fade and fall apart
It’s love, this time it’s love, my foolish heart
For this time, it isn’t fascination
Or a dream that will fade and fall apart
It’s love, this time it’s love, my foolish heart.

I hate to say they don’t write songs like this anymore, but they don’t write songs like this anymore. You can feel that hesitation before your heart drops and you finally kiss. Bill knows this.

Oddly enough, the tearjerker of the film “My Foolish Heart” was poorly adapted from J.D. Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”. Salinger hated the film so much that he never allowed another one of his works to be turned into a movie.

Evans had already recorded a solo piano version of “Waltz for Debby” on his 1956 debut album New Jazz Conceptions, but in many ways this is the definitive version (I also love his recordings of it with Cannonball Adderley and Tony Bennett, respectively). I don’t need to tell jazz aficionados about the innovative interplay between Evans, bassist Scott La Faro, and drummer Paul Motian. This is probably the most influential jazz piano trios in history because of this amazing interaction between young masters (Evans was thirty-one, LaFaro was twenty-five, and Motian was thirty). “Waltz for Debby” is no exception. After an intro by Evans and LaFaro, Motian enters on brushes for the melody. Actually, everything these guys play is melody. Instead of merely accompanying Evans, LaFaro’s bass is an equal voice to the piano. His solo is brilliant, of course. La Faro is to modern jazz bass as Jimmy Blanton was to swing-era and bebop bass- both of them liberated the bass from its sometimes-mundane role as second fiddle (pardon the pun) to the rest of the band. His style influenced countless bassists, some of whom (Eddie Gomez, Miroslav Vitous, and Jaco Pastorius, among many others) pushed the instrument even further. Like any artist who revolutionizes music, there are countless LaFaro imitators, and some of them have LaFaro’s astounding technique. But not all of them have LaFaro’s musicality, so their forays into the upper register of the bass and often sound like someone who keeps interrupting a conversation. LaFaro and Motian added to the musical discussion, but they didn’t repeat Evans’ words; they added meaningful comments that showed they were listening and keeping the dialogue going.

Legendary jazz guitarist Herb Ellis co-wrote the now-standard “Detour Ahead”, and while many artists have recorded it, it’s one of those overlooked tunes that should be more prominent in the jazz songbook. Maybe one reason not many people have recorded it is that this version is so perfect. Billie Holiday did a fine vocal on this song, but this remains my favorite version because, uh…. It’s Bill Evans. It’s a little sad at first, but picks up into a bluesy feeling. The song itself uses travel as a metaphor for the pitfalls of love:

Smooth road, clear day
But why am I the only one
Travelin’ this way
How strange the road to love
Should be so easy
Can there be a detour ahead

Wake up, slow down
Before you crash
And break your heart
Gullible clown

You fool, you’re heading
In the wrong direction
Can’t you see the detour ahead

The further you travel
The harder to unravel
The web he spins around you
Turn back while there is time
Can’t you see the danger sign
Soft shoulders surround you

Smooth road, clear night
Oh lucky me, that suddenly
I saw the light
I’m turning back away
From all this trouble.

June 25thshould be celebrated as a jazz holiday, as not only this album but Sunday at The Village Vanguard were recorded live at the hallowed ground of that 7thAvenue club. You can hear every tune from the afternoon and evening sets on The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961.

I also find it hard to find a better version of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance” than this one (except for hearing Cyrus Chestnut play it live at Smoke with Buster Williams and Lenny White. If anyone recorded that set in 2015, please let me know). While LaFaro’s pyrotechnics are astounding, it’s Evans’ understated playing that drives the tune. There aren’t many instrumentalists in history who project the combination of joy, introspection, and melancholy that Evans delivers on every album. You can hear his intelligence and sensitivity with every note he plays. “My Romance” is a hopeful love song, but Evans is aware of the pains of love while celebrating the happiness it can give. This is how I interpret it, anyway. Your results may vary.

Leonard Bernstein could write a tune. Betty Comden and Adolph Green could craft a lyric. There hadn’t been many Broadway songs like “Some Other Time” before 1944’s On the Townand there haven’t been any like it since. Evans used the first two chords as the basis for his 1958 improvisation “Peace Piece” (from Everybody Digs Bill Evans) and for “Flamenco Sketches” on Miles Davis’ seminal 1959 album Kind of Blue. “Some Other Time” combines Debussy, Olivier Messaien, and a sophisticated sort of blues. It’s about saying goodbye to someone you care about, and possibly not knowing when you’ll see him or her again.

Where has the time all gone to?
Haven’t done half the things I want to
Oh, well, we’ll catch up some other time

This day was just a token
Too many words are still unspoken
Oh, well, we’ll catch up some other time

Just when the fun is starting
Comes the time for parting
But let’s be glad for what we had and what’s to come

There’s so much more embracing
Still to be had, but time is racing
Oh, well, we’ll catch up some other time.

 

You can hear hope and sadness in every recording Evans made of “Some Other Time” and “Peace Piece”. He later recordediton his first duo album with Tony Bennett, which is must-listening for any jazz piano player or singer. It’s hard to play this song without referencing Evans in some way. Actually, it’s damn near impossible. Like Miles or Sinatra, when Evans performed a song his version often became THE way to play it.

The original album closes with the trio’s version of Miles’ “Milestones” from the 1958 album of the same name. “Milestones” is one of the first modal jazz tunes, as it relies on only two chords. While most musicians play this and other modal songs like a drag race of scales, Evans and company build off of the chords more artfully. The tempo is quick but not blazing, and Evans’ impressionistic harmonies color the chords in ways that most up and coming jazz musicians of the time wouldn’t have thought of. Evans plays without trying to prove anything, which in the end proves his genius even more. You can hear the probing mind at the keyboard, but it’s never overtaken by the need to show off. La Faro has no problems showing off, but he could due to Evans’ and Motian’s abilities to listen and allow him the musical space. Most trios of the time wouldn’t have allowed a bassist this much freedom, but when you have a wunderkind like LaFaro, you make room for him. When you make room for others, both in music and in life, everything works better. Few groups in jazz history worked better together than this trio.

Ten days after this album was recorded, Scott LaFaro died in a car crash in Upstate New York. He was twenty-five years old.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-April 4- King Sunny Ade and his African Beats- Juju Music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKJDnFlShSc&list=PLdxmChrIZAml7gCk3YHl_Rk2bZWT2jG-_

It’s funny how western music critics coined the term “World Music” as if to lump everything not from Europe or America as the same foreign thing. By that reasoning, The Dixie Chicks are World Music to someone in Zaire. Despite this umbrella terminology, more non-English-speaking music floated into American ears by the early 1980s, and most serious music listeners will have something from another continent in their collections.

King Sunny Ade’sJuju Musiccame out on Mango Records in 1982, and it came with a new term: World Beat. Again, each nation or area has its own beats, and a taiko drum from Japan is a little different than a talking drum from Nigeria.  So “World Beat” is another umbrella term that lets us know that it’s OK to dance in another language. African music didn’t suddenly arrive on America’s shores; Nigeria’s Fela Kuti was already a familiar artist to those in the know, but King Sunny’s American debut brought attention to juju music the way that the soundtrack for The Harder They Comedid for reggae music. It didn’t sound as threatening as Fela’s aggressive and politically charged Afro-funk. Unlike Fela, King Sunny mostly sings not in English but in Yoruba, so most Westerners figured that King Sunny’s smooth voice sang of beautiful things. He mostly was, drawing from African proverbs and the condition of his country’s people. He really is Nigerian royalty, so how in touch he is with his people isn’t for me to say. As I don’t speak Yoruba, I can’t affirm what he’s singing about, but he could be talking about killing white people and I’d sing along. Hell, I’d probably agree with him. The music is hypnotic and grooving and relaxing all at once. Above all (at least for we non-Yoruba speakers) the music is for dancing and feeling better about everything.

“Ja Funmi” means “fight for me”, but the song doesn’t sound or feel like a call to arms. If King Sunny Ade’s music led an army into war, everybody would win. Like most of his output, “Ja Funmi” manages to be calm and dreamy while he tells your head to fight for yourself. No matter what your personal battles are, in King Sunny land you’ll always wind up chilling on the dance floor.

“Eje Nlo Gba Ara Mi” begins with a beautiful vocal harmony line and eases into a gentle groove that feels earthy even when a synthesizer signals a spaceship. All of the vocals are soothing, and the guitars work so well with each other. “Mo Beru Agba” has an Afro-Cuban 6/8 feel that could also be in 4/4. It’s a mindfuck for Westerners- how do we think of some of these groove that feel like two time signatures at once? Salif Keita’s music does this; it’s an African thing that is damn heavy, probably because Africans have been around longer than anyone else. The talking drum, chant-like vocals, and the satellite-calling synth drive “Sunny Ti de Ariya”. Then the guitars show up, and it’s heavenly. African electric guitar playing is its own thing (think of the amazing players on Paul Simon’s Graceland). It is Reason #32 on my list of “I wish I could play guitar”.

“Ma Joiye Oni” is a relaxed groove in E major. Can King Sunny and company even play an uptight groove? I doubt it, and that’s what makes this music brilliant. Ademola Adepoju is one hell of a steel guitar player, and his presence on this track adds another touch of bliss. If you think steel guitar only belongs in country and Hawaiian music, this album will show you that it can fit into a variety of genres, as long as it’s played by a master like Mr. Adepoju. I’m fairly sure that it was Adepoju playing with King Sunny when I saw them at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium in 1987. It was very magical, and I stood leaning in front of stage left, facing Adepoju. He didn’t look happy, or maybe he was vibing me. If I was an African legend playing for a bunch of mostly stoned white people I might have been less than enthusiastic too. I didn’t mind, because he and the band sounded so great. King Sunny was a beam of light, shining positivity.

“365 Is My Number/The Message” has some English lyrics, ostensibly about love. King Sunny’s voice is so gentle that everything sounds like love. I’m assuming that “The Message” is the part that goes into a minor key. The luminescent steel guitar sounds like ceiling candles dripping down to the cathedral floor. It also sounds like swooping bats, although they aren’t malevolent bats and don’t carry rabies. Note again the rhythm guitar parts and the various percussion instruments- they each have a part and they mostly stick with it. If an American hippie band wanted to play this kind of music they’d probably wind up playing too many notes and stepping on each other. The best groove music usually involves simplicity, repetition, and a keen sense of rhythm. Even the synth parts that sound like solar flares don’t distract you from the groove. Here, “The Message” isn’t spoken; it’s shown.

The beginning of “Samba/E Falaba Lewe” sounds like a party I don’t understand but want to go to. They lead you into the dance hall and hand you a strange drink and speak stranger incantations, but it elevates your whole being. It’s kind of a mellow party, but everyone’s moving together even though no one knows each other. You won’t know what you’re chanting with the backup vocalists, but you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.

I think the only way you could come away feeling bad from a King Sunny Ade concert would be if some drunk dude kept slamming into you while dancing, or if someone laced your weed with PCP. Since both of these things can be avoided, go see this band while you can (unless you have claustrophobia or can’t dance/stand for a couple of hours). You don’t need to understand what he’s singing about or be able to describe what you hear in musical terms. You just have to experience it. Put this album on in your living room or wherever you have a good stereo and let the music of King Sunny Ade and His African Beats wash over you.

Nothing bad can happen to you. This is good Juju music.

 

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 5- Paula Cole-Harbinger

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjuao66X0D0&list=PLCB6sf3kc5RXcGFHDCFg1G3E-1JNglH1A

I’m cheating again with a music post that’s about an album I worked on. Of course, it’s a really good one, and there are what I think will be really good stories involved. Harbingeris a brilliant debut album by one of the finest vocalists I’ve ever heard and had the pleasure to work with. (If anyone knows how to edit a Wikipedia page, someone needs to put me on the credits on this. Check the record to see my name if you like. I’m not making this shit up). I am also proud to call Paula my friend, as we’ve known each other since the late 1980s when we both attended (and graduated from) The Berklee College of Music in Boston. If you love sensitive and powerful female singer-songers, you will love this album. Even if your musical tastes run closer to Siberian Death Metal or Krautrock, you’ll find something in this album you’ll connect to. At the very least, listen to it and DO IT FOR THE DRYDO.

Our story (at least as I tell it) begins at Berklee, and specifically in the summer of 1990, when Paula, Chris Parks, and I were in a shabby wedding band that played mostly white trash nuptial receptions in the Boston suburbs. Paula and I rode together in her car, often depressed and dreading the 80s drivel we’d have to play for these people who had little else in common with us besides breathing. She and I had played music together before, and I had seen her sing her strong-willed songs at Berklee concerts, but soon I’d write a tune with her and get my first lessons in songwriting.

Fast forward a few months, and Paula and her then boyfriend Mark Hutchins (RIP-awesome dude and musician) moved to San Francisco, just eighty miles north from where I grew up in Santa Cruz. Together they started recording demos in the Bay Area, and she landed a record deal with a new label called Imago. I played piano and keyboards on some of these demos, including “Happy Home”, “Hitler’s Brothers”, and “Chiaroscuro”, all of which were re-recorded for Harbinger.

Recording began in the spring of 1993 at Bearsville studios, near Woodstock. Kevin Killen (U2, Peter Gabriel) produced the album, and I’ve never worked with anyone who was so hands-on and detail-oriented. He’s got some of the finest ears in the business and is a fine Irishman. He brought a couple of other fine Irishmen onboard- Paul Bushnell on bass and Gerry “Spooky Ghost” Leonard on guitar. Paula had our Berklee friends Jay Bellerose on drums and Kevin Barry on guitar (two of the best musicians I’ve ever played with), as well as Hutchins, who provided percussion and musical support. I worked on three tunes, so I came up for three days to do my parts. Bearsville was an amazing studio up in the mountains of upstate New York, and the silence of the country is a little bit disconcerting when you’ve been a city boy for six years. Plus, the cabins were haunted. But that’s another story.

“Happy Home” is a slice of unhappy family history. I won’t quote Tolstoy, but it’s safe to say that we’ve all had unhappy family experiences, and tales of dysfunction are more interesting than tales of boring bliss. It’s also got more technology than I remember, finger snaps and some sort of delicate sequenced keyboard thing, but the band is stellar, laying it down. This is the first taste of guitarist Gerry Leonard’s extraordinary sonic palette. He showed me what an E-Bow does, and I’ve never heard anyone play it better.

I have an extraordinary fondness for “I Am So Ordinary” and its take on what we now call “ghosting”. Back then we just said “Oh, he must be moving on”, or “Fucking hell, he’s a massive asshole”. Paula taught me that one way to craft lyrics is by taking something from your life and exaggerating or diminishing it. That way it’s not one of those ripped-from-the-diary vomitfests of sonic spooge. You can detach yourself from your subject easier and write about it with a bit of distance and fictionalization. I hope I’m not giving away her secrets, because she told me that she used this method for “I Am So Ordinary” (Paula, you can yell at me if you like or set the record straight). Even this twenty-three year old guy felt this song to my core:

 

I nearly died I suicided softly
I saw her shadow through the cafe window
I watched you lean across the table
I watched you whisper in her ear

And she is your holy Mary
And I am so ordinary
And you can use me if you want to
I know you need me just like an old soft shoe

She looks like me but a bit prettier
She’s a skater and a ballet dancer
I saw her on your motorcycle
In the seat I thought was meant for me

And when your mother came to Boston you disappeared
And then I saw you three together
I guess she makes the best impression
With her charming femininity…

And when your mother came to Boston you disappeared
And then I saw you three together
I guess she makes the best impression
With her charming femininity…

Oh, but I am the one you will call when alone
And I am the one who will give when she’s gone
And so I give
So I give

I tell myself that love is truly giving
Somehow I justify this
Hoping you will understand me
Hoping you will love me back

And she is your holy Mary
And I am so ordinary
And she is your Queen Cleopatra
And I’m just your morning after
And she is your Star-Spangled Banner
And I am just Frere Jacques
And you can lose me if you want to…..

And I am so ordinary.

 

It’s the kind of song this really hits you when you are in the raw throes of early-20s emotions. Everything cuts you deeper and draws more blood when you’re technically an adult but still feeling post-adolescent pains. Songs like this affect you in a different way when you’re decades older and still falling prey to the emotional loopholes you thought you conquered when you were twenty-seven. That kind of pain isn’t as intense as a breakup between early twenty-somethings, but it’s less forgiving when you realize you never had your shit together in the first place. Oh, and the music and melody are beautiful and this crackerjack band never overpowers Paula. It would actually be very difficult to overpower Paula. She kicks the asses of all the Lilith Fair divas, not just for her superior voice and command but for her musicality in a genre (Fem-Pop? Chick-Rock?) that rarely celebrates musicality. Yeah, I said it. I’ll arm-wrestle Sarah MacLachlan to back up that statement.

I remember Jay Bellerose being incredibly frustrated by the click track during the recording of “Saturn Girl”. Sorry, Jay. But drummers, rejoice! One of the best of your kind didn’t like playing with a click because he liked to ebb and flow a bit as the song changed in intensity. Jay has one of the best drum pockets and feels in the business. It’s all about the feel, folks. Even after countless takes and exacto-blade edits, “Saturn Girl” has a great pocket. It’s also a really good song that always felt out of place on the album, but since it’s about a young woman feeling out of place and from another planet, it makes sense. “Saturn Girl” has one foot in the alternative college rock of the 1980s and another in the organic textures that were bubbling up in 1993. Maybe it’s the Aeolian cadences (yes, I said it) that make it feel closer to REM than to anything else on Harbinger. No matter what, it rocks. Alienation is easier to project when it makes you bob your head up and down.

“Watch the Woman’s Hands” is one of Paula’s earliest songs I know of, as she performed it on her Berklee Performance Center concert back in 1990. As great as this recording is, when you see Paula live you can feel the power just from her hand clapping. It’s fierce, as is this message of female oppression over a set major sus2 chords. It might be a bit preachy for some, but the middle section adds a bit of light and hope. It’s a fine way to point out the brutality and ignorance of the patriarchy without saying it in so many words. Paul Harnell’s fretless bass adds a lovely touch, and the funky guitar lick has to be Kevin Barry. Kevin is a treasure that not enough ears have found.

“Bethlehem” is another dysfunctional family song, but I won’t hazard a guess as to whose family it’s about. It could be about all of us, scattered over a descending melody and harmony that’s really quite lovely, and Jay’s brushwork is really nice and hypnotic. Paula’s sixteen-year-old character wants to be a dog or leaf instead of the stressed out high schooler she is. Even though I’m a card-carrying member of the Caucazoidal patriarchy, I totally relate to these lyrics. There are many songs about adolescence that wallow in hormonal self-pity, but “Bethlehem” isn’t one of them. You hear the sadness, but it’s not screaming in your ear for attention. Note that the band is stocked with serious pros, but no parts step on each other, and nothing gets in the way of Paula’s vocals. I credit everyone involved in the album, (and maybe even the vegan caterer) for making it such a strong musical statement overall. All the textures and vocal pads are beautiful.

Now comes the fun part where my knowledge of Bartok’s string quartets came into play. Paula had a good idea of what she wanted for the string quartet, if I remember correctly, but allowed me to orchestrate it and add some things. “Chiaroscuro” is like its title: black and white. It’s one of the more dissonant songs on the record, but Jay’s groove is so disgustingly good that even your Aunt Maude could rock out to it. I came up with the bass line (humblebrag) on a Prophet 5at Paula and Mark’s place in the Mission, but Paul made it his own by playing a furious bass. That’s Paula beatboxing and Gerry’s E-Bow supplying that creepy line. It adds a little danger to the already sexy lyric, then Jay’s beat pushes it even further. Now I hear all these mouth noises and snaps that float in and out of the mix. The bridge is a descending whole-tone section of suspense. Maybe it’s Budapest, 1945. Or NYC, 1993.

That’s Paula’s haunting piano on “Black Boots”. Any alternative-type female in high school can relate to the fashion choices Paula lists. It’s about identification through footwear and clothing and trying to be popular despite being nothing like a cheerleader type. I need to steal those chords. It could be a nice cover for a jazz singer. Hint, hint.

I was slightly disappointed to find out “Oh John” was not a misspelled song about me, but the lyrics give it away, as the closest thing to a road trip Paula and I ever did was a drive to Framingham for a gig. It’s about travelling with someone you love, and it’s told with a catchy melody and radio-friendly guitar chords. This should have been a hit, like a lot of tunes on this record. Imago records folded right after this record came out (this happened a lot back in the day) and Warner Brothers absorbed most of their artists. This record didn’t get as much of a push as it should have. One more reason the old record label system sucked.

Paula is a really good piano player, so I was honored to be asked to play on two songs and write two string quartet arrangements. I played piano and orchestrated the strings on “Our Revenge”, which is a powerful song. I don’t think the term “Smash the patriarchy” was in vogue at this time, but sure tells us about the horrid injustices (white) men have committed over the years. It’s in a rolling 6/8 tempo (with the occasional measure of 3/8, for those counting along at home) and Paula delivers her scornful message with abandon. I believe Jay, Paul, and I did twenty-six takes of this song, then Kevin Killen marked which sections of which takes he liked and cut the tapes with an exacto knife. That, folks, is some serious old school recording technique, and now Pro Tools makes it so easy. I’ll always take the sound of analog tape over digital, although it’s pretty hard to find the engineers and machines anymore to make that happen, not to mention the expense. Also, the sound of Jay’s snare sound came from Kevin running it through an Eventide Harmonizer. It might have been a Bowie/Eno/Tony Visconti influence; looking back it feels like it could have come from Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy. Kevin also printed the sound, rather than mixing it in. That shows that you know what the fuck you want to hear and how to make it happen.

“Dear Gertrude” is such a lovely song, and it’s about a Victorian ghost, or so I remember Paula describing it. I can’t remember which synth made that pad sound, but I bet it’s a Roland. The guitar and backing vocal textures are pretty stunning. Maybe she sampled her voice for the Phillip Glass-like “Ah-Ah-AH” parts; I seem to remember that being the trick. The backwards drums are pretty cool on the interlude.

I played the Herbie Hancock-like piano part on “Hitler’s Brothers”, both here and on the original demo in December 1991 at Different Furin San Francisco. Sure, the piano drives this tune, along with Jay’s killer drum groove, but the vocal and its lyrics will make you want to go out and murder a white supremacist. It seems like there are more of these backwards fuckwads these days, so this song should serve as a vigilant guide for the 21stcentury. There are people who use Orwell as a how-to guide, but the ones we need to be immediately worried about are the self-loathing ingrates that occupy every segment of American society. Kevin Barry’s guitar solo is killer of course. You get to hear the Fuhrer-dunce himself. Yeah, if you’re not angry after hearing this, you’re part of the problem. Soapbox rant over.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, this is generally not a feel-good album. “She Can’t Feel Anything Anymore” is pretty devastating. The music begins softly and cautiously, but as soon as Paula enters, you know something bad is going to happen. You already know she can’t feel anything, but you’ll have to listen to learn the reason why. Paula’s voice, technique, and power put her into an elite camp of singers in my mind, and this tune shows you why. It’s painfully cathartic, only there is no resolution. I’ve been unable to listen to it for that reason on some occasions. You should listen, though.

I didn’t know “Garden of Eden” until I got my copy of the CD, so I don’t know when it was born. It’s pretty dreamy, and has a bit of Peter Gabriel to it (Paula got the gig singing with Peter right after recording this album, which is why she didn’t meet me at The Angry Squire the night she got the call. I can’t blame her. I was a bit envious). The drums flutter and pan over the mix, a studio trick I’ve always liked. It reminds me of Esquivel, but I doubt that The Mexican Ellington was on Killen’s mind when he mixed this.

“The Ladder” was also unfamiliar to me at the time, but paired with “Garden of Eden” it makes an excellent way to end an album. In E Major, the key of Heaven. Does Paula know this? It’s vocals and strummed guitars for the first one hundred and seventy seconds, but the full band enters with a bang. They disappear just as quickly, letting Paula’s multi-tracked vocals carry it out, which is the way a heavy record like this should end. I think she makes it to heaven at the end.

So, deal with my self-propping and listen to the record, preferably on an overcast day when you are alone and drinking tea. Perhaps you will have a cat. Most cats love this record. Dogs do too, but their attention ebbs and flows when they hearHarbinger. They might howl during “Hitler’s Brothers” and “The Ladder”. This is okay. Let them do it. They are learning things about themselves and the way they relate to cats, just as sensitive males will learn a lot about women from this record. At least the kind of women who are worth hanging out with. The popular girls in Bethlehem might understand some of these songs, but it’ll be long after high school, and perhaps it will be too late. They will become the woman in “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”
A lot of people can feel like they’re in Dawson’s Creek when they sing along to This Fire’s   “I Don’t Want to Wait”,but they should be playing attention to the girls who wear black boots and hide their femininity beneath their oversized sweatshirts. Those are the girls who have souls and grow up to be strong and brilliant. Those girls grow up to be women like Paula Cole.

 

Music of The Day- April 6- Merle Haggard- https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUxvGZM0tlqQhKtr0kHzq8NA

There are great poets, singers, and songwriters galore, but there are few of them who really speak to the troubles of the common man. Merle Haggard is one of those poets of the people. Along with Buck Owens, he created the legendary twangy Bakersfield sound, but he moved beyond that with songs that spoke not just to working-class white folks but to anyone who’s nursed a broken heart with whisky or did serious jail time or is in love or any number of things that are part of being human. Merle gave us all this, singing in a voice that ranged from tender to rambunctious, but never full of vocal histrionics. Like his hero Lefty Frizzell, Merle sang it like it is, and sometimes his songs will make you cry into your beer, or remind you that you are loved, or make you want to raise some hell. He’s one fine example of why really good country music (read: not the shit that passes for country now) is white peoples’ soul music. There are some social and political elements I’m not fond of, but Merle was a kind man who in the end wished at times that he didn’t write “Okie from Musgokee”and really just wanted to love his country and flag until a better one came along.

My playlist will piss people off because I’m leaving so much out. Merle was a recording artist for over fifty years, so there are a lot of songs to choose from. I’m mostly going with songs Merle wrote and that aren’t clouded by dated or shitty production choices. We’ve all had bad hair years, so trendy production elements sound good to 1985 years (“Wow! That sounds so new and modern!” but don’t survive their date stamp now. You could say the same thing about most of the Top 40 in the 21stcentury-it’s all gonna sound even worse in a few years. I think the years 1976-1993 really did in a lot of good songs by adding whatever was fashionable at the moment, and a lot of things don’t have the vintage sound of a 1966 Bakersfield track.

So, here goes. If you are mad for me not including a tune or forty, write your own damn post. Or post your favorites on social media or wherever these posts wind up.

I’ve often asked myself “Are the Good Times Really Over?” and sometimes I think they are. Ray Davies thought this too when he sang “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” In this case, Merle is harkening back to the simpler times, or how he and other people think of them. Sure, things are often simpler, but there were tons of things that sucked. But pretend you are an old white guy for a second (maybe you already are) and listen to the America Merle sings about (sometimes a little satirically). Yeah, this isn’t a song for most of the woke generation, but that doesn’t mean a tune like this is bad. I do wish a Ford and Chevy would last ten years like they should, but they ought to go longer than that.

Haggard did some time in San Quentin, so when he sings about prison, I listen. “Mama Tried” is a classic and has been covered by many different artists. I put up the “live” version here because his suit is awesome and I really like what music and variety shows looked like in the 1960s. It’s a rousing singalong about a young man who’s stuck in prison for the rest of his life. That’s a certain kind of agony and gloom that doesn’t usually inspire karaoke singers, but this tune will get you popping, or at least happy that you aren’t this guy:

 

First thing I remember knowin’
Was a lonesome whistle blowin’
And a youngin’s dream of growin’ up to ride
On a freight train leavin’ town,
Not knowin’ where I’s bound
No one could change my mind but mama tried.

 

One and only rebel child
In a family meek and mild,
Mama seemed to know what lay in store
In spite of all my Sunday learnin’,
For the bad I kept on turnin’
Mama couldn’t hold me anymore.

 

And I turned twenty-one in prison
Doin’ life without parole
No one could steer me right
But mama tried, mama tried,
Mama tried to raise me better
But her pleadin’ I denied,
That leaves only me to blame ’cause mama tried.

Dear old daddy, rest his soul,
Left my mom a heavy load
She tried so very hard to fill his shoes
Workin’ hours without rest,
Wanted me to have the best,
She tried to raise me right but I refused.

 

And I turned twenty-one in prison
Doin’ life without parole
No one could steer me right
But mama tried, mama tried,
Mama tried to raise me better
But her pleadin’ I denied,
That leaves only me to blame ’cause mama tried

That leaves only me to blame ’cause mama tried.

 

Folks, don’t kill people or commit armed robbery, unless you want to end up in a song like this. But I guess if you have nothing better to do, you could inspire a hit song. Your choice, champ.

Early on, Merle sounded a lot like Lefty Frizzell. This is not a bad thing, especially when you sing and write “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers”. This is classic Bakersfield twang with an acoustic guitar lead and someone doing a good Floyd Cramer impression. Three chords and the truth, as Loretta said. “The only thing I can count on now is my fingers”. When the one you love betrays you, suddenly you don’t trust yourself or any judgements you’ve made. It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s still a kick in the ass. When it does happen, though, turn it into a country song. Actually, turn anything bad that’s happened to you into a country song. You’ll feel better.

Adan Dominguez hipped me to this tune as I was gathering songs for this post. “Leonard’s a song about Tommy Collins, born Leonard Sipes. I’ve always thought it interesting that country artists and R&B /hip-hop artists will namecheck their fellow performers. Is this a result of working-class artists coming up and making it big, thus giving shout-outs to their heroes and friends? Country and hip-hop are closer to each other than you’d think in some ways like this. Jazz vocalese lyricists will set a Charlie Parker solo to words, but most of the time the results are about as fun as a kidney stone. This tune is a straight-up biography song that never mentions Collins by name, but it is pretty devastating by the time he gets past the Jesus and pills part. Self-referential songs don’t always please me, but this tune is damn catchy.

Merle goes autobiographical again with “Branded Man”, a song about a parolee who can never be seen as a normal and decent person because of his crime. “I paid the debt I owed ‘em, but they’re still not satisfied/Now I’m a branded man out in the cold”. Maybe we aren’t all ex-cons, but a fear ofostracismis always with us.  I think a lot of us can relate to “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”. Actually, if you haven’t felt this emotion at some point, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. It’s a classic country sentiment: I’ve gotta drink to mask my heartbreak and pain. Haggard’s slight twist is that this night it doesn’t work. You will be forced to sing along with the chorus. That’s just the fucking way it is.

“Swinging Doors” continues the smoke-filled bar theme, with a dash of fuck you:

 

This old smoke-filled bar is something I’m not used to
But I gave up my home to see you satisfied
And I just called to let you know where I’ll be living
It’s not much but I feel welcome here inside

And I’ve got swinging doors, a jukebox and a bar stool
And my new home has a flashing neon sign
Stop by and see me any time you want to
‘Cause I’m always here at home till closing time.

 

I’ve got everything I need to drive me crazy
And I’ve got everything it takes to lose my mind
And in here, the atmosphere’s just right for heartaches
And thanks to you I’m always here till closing time

And I’ve got swinging doors, a jukebox and a bar stool
And my new home has a flashing neon sign
Stop by and see me any time you want to
‘Cause I’m always here at home till closing time
I’m always here at home till closing time.

 

He’s sounding a little bit like his pal Buck Owens here, but if I could sound like Buck (or Merle) I’d maybe give up a toe. Or someone else’s toe. This is another singalong, so if you’re scared of channeling your inner redneck, come back when you’re ready. A cold beer and a shot will help.

If you want to guarantee some income for the rest of your life, write a Christmas tune. You might not make as much money or get more adoring fans if you write a sad and scared Christmas tune like this one, but there aren’t many holiday songs that can reach this level of reality for so many people during the holidays. It’s one of my favorite Christmas songs because it talks about a working-class man trying to support his family during the winter months after he’s lost his job. Cole Porter didn’t write like this. Try not to commiserate with the narrator. If you don’t’ feel sympathy for him, you just might be an asshole.

 

If we make it through December
Everything’s gonna be all right, I know
It’s the coldest time of winter
And I shiver when I see the falling snow
If we make it through December
Got plans to be in a warmer town come summertime
Maybe even California
If we make it through December, we’ll be fine.

 

Got laid off down at the factory
And their timing’s not the greatest in the world
Heaven knows I been working hard
Wanted Christmas to be right for daddy’s girl
I don’t mean to hate December
It’s meant to be the happy time of year
And my little girl don’t understand
Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas cheer.

 

If we make it through December
Everything’s gonna be all right, I know
It’s the coldest time of winter
And I shiver when I see the falling snow
If we make it through December
Got plans to be in a warmer town come summertime
Maybe even California
If we make it through December, we’ll be fine.

 

This song will come up again in a December post, so be ready for it.

The saloon talk continues on this live version of “I Think I’ll Just stay and Drink”. It’s another kiss-off song, this time to a former spouse who probably wants a lot a lot more money than she deserves. I hear divorce really sucks, so I don’t think I’ll ever try it. Maybe the take is a little sloppy and I’m not sure saxophone ever belongs in country music, but it’s a live and true take. Yes, they do a play-off of “Okie” and that’s all you’ll get of that song here. It’s always good to see artists live, especially when it’s 1985 and they’re playing like it’s still 1965. Hell yeah.

“Red Bandana” is another kiss-off song, only it’s not so harsh. He can’t change the way he is just to please her, and she’s not Bobby McGee. Guys, can you relate?  Some slick Southern Rock dual guitar work there. Get ready to deal with your liberal anger before you listen to “The Fightin’ Side of Me”. Merle’s not the stereotypical backwards American some of his songs suggest. Like “Okie”, it tells the other side of the Vietnam-era counter-culture wars. Yeah, he’ll beat the shit out of you if you disgrace the flag, even though it’s your right to protest all you want. Great song even if you don’t like conservative country preaching. Also, no matter who the artist is, DO NOT read the comments on YouTube. I doubt you need any more reasons why this world is full of idiots on both sides who can’t even consider critical thinking.

This all-too-short set closes out with the song everyone sang after Merle died on his birthday, April 6th, 2016. I consider 2016 to be the year the music died, as so many icons died and we (coincidentally?) saw the rise of fascism and general ignorance all around. I don’t think Merle would have approved of a lot of things that happened after he died, but nothing like that matters when you hear “Sing Me Back Home”. It’s another prison tale, except the guy doesn’t survive. If it doesn’t make you a little misty, then you might consider empathy lessons.

The warden led a prisoner down the hallway to his doom
And I stood up to say good-bye like all the rest
And I heard him tell the warden just before he reached my cell
“Let my guitar-playing friend do my request”.

 

Let him sing me back home with a song I used to hear
Make my old memories come alive
Take me away and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die.

 

I recall last Sunday morning a choir from ‘cross the street
Came in to sing a few old gospel songs
And I heard him tell the singers “there’s a song my mama sang
Could I hear once before you move along?”

 

Won’t you sing me back home, with the song I used to hear
Make my old memories come alive
Take me away and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die

Sing me back home before I die.

 

It’s a song that deserves to be covered by more people, even though it’s one of Haggard’s best-known songs. I’m thinking again of how R&B and country have things in common. This could be a soul tune, or a rock tune, or a gospel tune. The message is universal; all it would take is someone from another genre and walk of life to sing it in his or her own way.

A great song is a great song. Some people write songs. Merle Haggard wrote and sang country standards.

I hope someone sings me back home before I die.

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 7- The Mitchell-Ruff Trio- The Catbird Seat (and a few other tunes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aU2i4Hk57c8&list=PLNyyEmFBGcUzlXZj4oIcvm3pZkatIktXb

I don’t know how I never knew about this group until Adam Dorntold me about them in March of 2018. Dwike Mitchell (piano) and Willie Huff(bass) were a duo (here as a trio with drummer Charlie Smith) that played together for decades. After the time of The Catbird Seat, Mitchell and Huff taught at Yale (Ruff is still there as of 2018) and focused on playing colleges and touring internationally. They largely stayed away from the clubs, so that’s one reason they aren’t as well-known as they should be. New Haven, where Yale is, is halfway between New York and Boston. The duo was just far away enough from both cities as to not fully belong to either one. Jazz is largely an urban art, and New York has long been its center, so jazz fans don’t automatically flock to Ivy League schools to find it.

You can find some stunning music on this Ivy League playlist. I think that the group’s slight isolation made them find their own voice without having to shout above the din of NYC piano trios. Everyone should experience some sort of artistic Mecca, but you can create some wonderful music outside of any hallowed ground.

The majority of this playlist comes from the 1961 album The Catbird Seat,recorded live at Ruff’s own venue, The Playback Club. If you want to get a steady gig, open your own club. It might not last long, but it’ll be a great way to play for people. Not every song from The Catbird Seatis on YouTube, so buy the album for the whole thing.

I’ll let the music do the talking. “The Catbird Seat” is a slow blues, a style that is often populated by guitarists with the white man’s underbite or pianists who want to show off their blues and gospel licks. You won’t find that here; Mitchell starts off slowly, feeding you tasty bits that lure you in. It’s got the blues thing alright; down but not excessively dirty at first. Ruff and drummer Charlie Smith lay it down perfectly; this tempo is harder for rhythm sections than faster ones, as there is little room for error. If you hit one note or rhythm wrong, everyone who’s paying attention will hear it. Dwike tells us a bit about the gospel, but with a more educated air than that of a country preacher. Sure, they are proud Elis, but they still know the meaning of the blues.

Mitchell’s intro on “So in Love” is a short bit of understated magic. Like Ahmad Jamal, he knows how to use space, but like Oscar Peterson and Hampton Hawes, he knows when to hit warp drive. The first time I heard this version I didn’t recognize it as the Cole Porter standard. They play so relaxed and supple that it feels more like a Van Gogh representation of the song than a Steichen photograph. I wish they had tuned the piano, but it’s a great performance. Mitchell builds his solos like a classical composition- there’s a theme of sorts, he elaborates on it, and the whole improvisation grows in intensity. It’s like a conversation or lecture that gets more passionate as it grows, only without anyone shouting or disagreeing. A jazz combo should be a dialogue, even if the pianist is like the United States to the rhythm section’s United Nations. (Thank you, Thom Yorke).

Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” is a jazz standard, and is very malleable, arrangement-wise. You can do a lot with it, except you have to remember all those cool chords. Smith’s drum groove here is quietly brilliant, and I wish more drummers would use his approach. It’s an Afro-Cuban 6/8 of sorts, but you could think of it as a 4/4 too. Salif Keita and other African musicians employ this kind of cross-meter, and it’s really effective. Mitchell lays down the tune and slowly pulls out the bluesy thunderbolts. His phrasing sounds a bit like Peterson and Hawes to me, but it’s really his own thing. I love his laid-back chorus just before the out head.

“Gypsy in My Soul” is a tightly arranged romp. Those are some sick rhythmical hits. After the head, Mitchell launches into a flowing solo that’s just a little on top of the beat. To my ears, this is intensity and passion; he has something to say and he’s anxious to say it. Ruff’s bass solo isn’t loud enough for me, but it’s flawless. (Most jazz recordings of this era don’t have enough bass) Smith plays a great solo with brushes when most drummers would use sticks and possibly overpower everything.

Lastly, I put up is an hour-long video of the duo playing a concert in the USSR. There’s no date on the video, but I’m guessing it’s from their trip to China in 1981. Maybe it’s later. No matter when or where it is, Willie Ruff learned how to speak Russian for the trip. He speaks to the people in their native tongue after the first tune. Whether his Russian speech is good or not, he is a brilliant man. It’s so cool to see him speak, and I wish I could get to New Haven to meet him. He also plays French Horn, his other instrument.

You will like Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff. You will love them. There aren’t many jazz musicians who play like this and act as ambassadors for the music. Jazz is America’s first art form, and Mitchell and Ruff are not only great spokesmen for it, but amazing and intelligent musicians.

They have always been in the catbird seat.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- April 8- Great Gadd

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUysrCFczrxqpbGzhyZnaH5_

One thing I really admire in certain musicians is versatility. There are geniuses who specialize in one style of music, and they totally kill it. Then there are people like Steve Gadd,who can fit into so many musical situations that you might think he’s a musical chameleon. In a way, he is, but when you hear him you generally know that it’s Steve Gadd. It’s not that he dominates every tune or always plays his bag of tricks; it’s that he fits into a track or style and makes it sound better. He’s got chops but isn’t overly bombastic with them. We’ve all heard him hundreds of times without necessarily knowing that it’s him on a certain song. Well, a lot of drummers know it’s Gadd when they hear him.

So, I’ve compiled a playlist here that demonstrates Mr. Gadd’s sound, versatility, and most importantly, his feel. As he said, “Technique doesn’t mean shit if you can’t play a backbeat and lock it in.”

Gadd was one of a few legendary drummers the picky Donald Fagen and Walter Becker used in Steely Dan. Even though 1977’sAjawas The Dan’s most successful album, the title track is the most adventurous song on the record. Gadd gives us some spaced out cymbal work for the intro and interludes, plus a solid groove on whatever you’d call the other sections. It’s a brilliant track, and the guitar-driven instrumental is so creamy-dreamy when it shows up. Maybe Victor Feldman’s marimbas sound too stereotypically Asian (get it?) but Gadd’s pulse pushes it all forward. All of a sudden, the skies open up and Wayne Shorter appears with a golden saxophone solo, driven by Gadd. For me, that entrance and the ensuing solos are some of the most magical moments in recorded pop music. Then there’s Gadd’s solo on the closing section, with the famous groove he launches into at 7:28. Damn, it gets me every time. Becker and Fagen worked with several rhythm sections on this tune (and many others), recording take after take until they got what they wanted. Gadd did only two takes on “Aja”, and that’s ridiculous in terms of the session’s brevity. It’s along the stellar lines of Pablo Sandoval’s three home runs in Game One of the 2012 World Series, or Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon without breaking a sweat. Pro.

A couple of years later, Gadd recorded withSteps, a pioneering acoustic fusion group led by vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. While this live track verges on the fusion equivalent of a NASCAR race, Gadd’s drums set the mood, whether the tune is an altered samba or a fast swing. The up-swing section happens under Michael Brecker’s shredding tenor solo. Gadd gives us three or four different styles and feels in this one tune, but it never sounds like a “Hey Guys! Check this out!” kind of thing. It sounds like it’s going to fall apart, but Gadd steers the ship through howling winds. Then there’s his solo. Just check it out and hear for yourself.

Back to 1975, and we’re hearing the birth of disco. Most codgers will hear “The Hustle” and remember their flared pants and trying to look like the dancers of Saturday Night Feverand Soul Train. You know what’s better than the half-whispered vocals or the pesky flute? STEVE GADD’S DRUMS. They’re funkier than you remembered. Try not to emulate Travolta.

I’ve always liked Rickie Lee Jones- she’s like the white pop Billie Holliday with a more erratic track record. Pirates is a beautiful-sounding record, even if you can’t understand her lovely mumble at times, especially on “We Belong Together”. Since the album is about her breakup with Tom Waits, it makes sense that there would be some raggedy elements. The production is so clean, yet Gadd’s tom-tom entrance is full of pixie dust and sparkles, if a drum part could have such things. Jones came out in 1979 seemingly fully formed, arriving from some strange world that ignored the 1960s. This album is slick but doesn’t slip into sterile pop lands.

Yeah, you’re already moving to this next track. Gadd played with Paul Simon on many of his records, but 1979’s “Late in The Evening” is probably Gadd’s grooviest gem. It’s some sort of Caribbean groove driven through New Orleans and finally to the West Village. You’ll feel like it’s always summer when this tune is on the stereo. Simon’s lyrics are great as always, but it’s the band and Gadd that makes this shine.

Now we jump forward a bit to 1981 and Chick Corea’s “Three Quartets.” This is the second quartet, and it’s dedicated to John Coltrane. It’s a mighty serious endeavor to play a tenor saxophone quartet tune and invoke the greatest of all. But, hey, this is Michael Brecker. Chick Corea on piano of course, Brecker on tenor, Eddie Gomez on the direct-to-the board bass (sometimes I can’t deal with bass sounds of the 1970s-early 1980s) and the great Gadd on drums. It’s a medium-up swing in C minor, brilliant, but what surprises me is the way Gadd builds it up to the end of Gomez’s solo. The usual thing for a drummer and a rhythm section to do would be to bring the volume and intensity for the next solo. But Gadd keeps it up, and then you realize he was only playing mezzo forteonce kicks it up a notch during Brecker’s solo. Then there’s his solo, which shows the Gaddisms that make him so recognizable. When I pick it apart I hear how many polyrhythms he’s doing, and how he used a lot of metric modulation in his playing. That’s all musician fancy talk, but the main thing is that it’s a hard thing to do, yet Gadd makes it so musical. Whether he’ll admit it or not, I think Jeff “Tain” Watts (another drum god) got some home his patented metric modulations from Gadd.

Now let’s jump back to Rickie Lee Jones. “Chuck E.’s In Love” was a hit from her 1979 self-titled debut album. It’s amazing that a tune with so many changes and wonderfully blurry vocal phrasing got to the pop charts, but that chorus is so catchy. It must have sucked to be named Chuck in 1979 America because people would always assume you were in love. Maybe it didn’t suck for Chuck E. Weisshimself, though.  I like Gadd’s half-time feel on the verse a little better than the full-out shuffle on the chorus, but it’s kind of like enjoying the first three quarters of a great movie because the plot is more interesting than the ending. Some of the best music from a strange year, that 1979.

I included “Take Five” from George Benson’s 1974 album Bad Benson because I figured we should hear Gadd play in 5/4. It’s also a Don Sebesky arrangement (although it’s more minimal than the adventurous charts he wrote for other CTI records) and Benson kills it. Kenny Barron delivers a cool Fender Rhodes solo, and Gadd makes 5/4 danceable even for people outside of the Balkans. Maybe a little dated with a touch of velveeta, but that cheese has some spice.

So does “Humpty Dumpty”- another Chick Corea tune from his 1978 Lewis Carroll-inspired album The Mad Hatter. It’s the only swinging song on the record, so it sticks out compared to the classical leaning of the other tracks. It’s Corea on piano, Gomez on bass, and the under-sung Joe Farrell on tenor sax. Check out how Gadd stops for two or three beats in the middle of Chick’s solo. It’s brilliant, but when I hear someone else try to do that it sounds forced. It’s always more musical when the original player does it, and less so when the acolytes have a go. This tune was in The World’s Greatest Fake Book, which was a LEGAL songbook for musicians and maybe the first of its kind. We got a hold of it in high school and played “Humpty Dumpty” (poorly), so this track is burned in my brain.

For the last tune in this far from comprehensive playlist, I’ve included a live 1975 TV version of Paul Simon and company playing “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” This is Gadd’s best-known drum part, which he said came about while he was warming up in the studio. The song is well-known to anyone who remembers the Carter administration, so it needs no introduction. It’s great to see Gadd play the groove live, big hair and all. Simon has a great band here, even if he looks like Picasso’s blue acrobat boy. He’s Paul Simon, so he can look like he’s on the canvas of Guernicaif he wants to.  The drum grooves on the chorus and the solo section are classic Gadd; he lets you know he’s there and that it’s him, but he’s all about the music. And isn’t that what we musicians are supposed to be?

Rock on, Mister Gadd.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- April 9-Tom Lehrer- An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8d0GwzY6cA

I don’t there ever has been or will be a musical social satirist better and more insightful than Tom Lehrer. He can be darkly funny (“Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”) cynically prophetic (“We Will All Go Together When We Go”) or use Gilbert and Sullivan as a musical mnemonic device for scientific tables (“The Elements”). Whenever I listen to him I hear someone who is sharper and smarter than me, and we can all benefit with those kinds of people in our midst. His biography as amazing- mathmetician, professor, musical theater director, children’s music composer (“The Electric Company”, for one), ann on top of all that he’s a brilliant songwriter. He’s also a great piano player and singer, even if he doesn’t give himself enough credit. Plus, I love anyone who says something like “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

There are only a albums of Lehrer singing his own songs (see “That Was The Year That Was”for even more greatness), but I chose An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrerbecause was an album thirteen-year old me bought, at my dad’s suggestion. Lehrer’s songs can appeal to all ages-from tweens to  nonagenarians-because he covers so many topics and sings about them in such a charming manner.

The first tune here is one of his best-known-“Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” This tune, like many of Lehrer’s songs, would wind up offending somebody these days. Lehrer is a lefty agnostic, but he mocks anyone who deserves it. The PETA people won’t like that he sings about feeding strychnine to birds, but the song is so hummable that even your most humane impulses won’t be able to stop you from singing along. Lehrer has a little Groucho Marx in him, but with a more provoking and dark eye.

“Bright College Days” is a realistic description of university life. Lehrer graduated from Harvard and taught at MIT and the University of California in Santa Cruz (he still resides there, as of 2018), so he knows a bit about college partying. He claims to have invented the Jell-O shot, which should earn him a plaque in every frat house.

The songs are amazing, but his spoken introductions are just as mentally stimulating.  The next tune “A Christmas Carol” makes fun of the whole holiday season and what we truly celebrate: money. Don’t stand under the reindeer as they fly by. Lehrer re-writes the words to  Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Major-General’s Song” to sing a song about the periodic table. I wish I’d paid more attention to “The Elements” when I got a C-minus in chemistry, but there wasn’t much hope for me there anyway. I’m astounded by how he even came up with this,  and still in awe of his ability to sing all those words so quickly. I would like to hear a rapper cover it, as so many of them have quick tongues. Q-Tip- are you listening?

Most people wouldn’t think of combining Sophocles and stride piano, but that’s why we have Tom Lehrer. As a teenage boy, I could practically sing the whole sing, and I still do from time to time. People look at me funny when I do, but maybe that’s not the fault of the song. “Oedipus Rex” is a well-crafted lyric about a king who had sex with his mother. That’s not the sort of thing you hear in nightclubs, but Lehrer pulls it off:

From the Bible to the popular song,
There’s one theme that we find right along.
Of all ideals they hail as good,
The most sublime is motherhood.

There was a man, oh, who it seems,
Once carried this ideal to extremes.
He loved his mother and she loved him,
And yet his story is rather grim.

There once lived a man named Oedipus Rex
You may have heard about his odd complex.
His name appears in Freud’s index
’cause he loved his mother.

His rivals used to say quite a bit,
That as a monarch he was most unfit.
But still in all they had to admit
That he loved his mother.

Yes he loved his mother like no other.
His daughter was his sister and his son was his brother.
One thing on which you can depend is,
He sure knew who a boy’s best friend is!

When he found what he had done,
He tore his eyes out one by one.
A tragic end to a loyal son
Who loved his mother.

So be sweet and kind to mother,
Now and then have a chat.
Buy her candy or some flowers or a brand new hat.
But maybe you had better let it go at that!

Or you may find yourself with a quite complex complex,
And you may end up like Oedipus.
I’d rather marry a duck-billed platypus,
Than end up like old Oedipus Rex.

 

After the applause, Lehrer retorts “The out-patients are out in force tonight, I see.” He wasn’t a gag writer- he was (and still is) a quick-minded performer who is comfortable with letting you in on whatever joke he’s telling you.

“In Old Mexico” begins with Tom telling us that the gall bladder was rated as one of the most popular organs, that a guy studied animal husbandry until he got caught doing it, and that that doctor later specialized in “diseases of the rich.” All this sneaky and subversive talk is a prelude for “In Old Mexico” and Lehrer’s over-pronunciation of bad Spanish. It’s a dark spin on Mexican folk songs and annoying mariachi bands. Only Lehrer can pull off rhymes like:

 

The mariachis would serenade
And they would not shut up till they were paid
We ate, we drank, and we were merry
And we got typhoid and dysentery

But best of all, we went to the Plaza de Toros
Now whenever I start feeling morose
I revive by recalling that scene
And names like Belmonte, Domingu’in, and Manolete
If I live to a hundred and eighty
I shall never forget what they mean.

 

Lehrer moves north of the border to riff on folk songs, specifically the old cowboy standard “My Darling Clementine”. He sings and plays his idea of how Cole Porter would have written the song, basing his version on Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.” He stops mid-song to play an Italian opera version, then a bebop version that would have impressed Kenny Clarke. He mines Gilbert and Sullivan again to end the suite.

Nothing is safe from Lehrer’s songwriting, and the military is no exception on “It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier.” Some of his humor is innocuous and some of it cuts to the quick:

 

When Pete was only in the seventh grade, he stabbed a cop
He’s real R.A. material, and he was glad to swap
His switchblade and his old zip gun
For a bayonet and a new M-1
It makes a fellow proud to be a soldier!

Even when Lehrer is goofing in a PG-rated way, you can feel his scorn for hypocritical behavior. He sees it everywhere, and there are so many songs on other albums that get to the heart of peoples’ stupidity. “She’s My Girl” has another witty spoken opening that leads into a realistic portrayal of unattractive people in love. It sounds a bit like “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” at first, but it’s a stride piano ballad that accompanies a list of what the narrator’s lovable but not-so-smart wife is and does. As funny and self-deprecating as the lyrics are, it’s a love song, and I could see someone do an irony-free version of it in the manner of Tom Waits. I’d say Tom Waits could do it, but he probably has twenty songs like it  stashed in a trunk in Pomona.

Like some kids of the 1970s, my introduction to sex came from sneaking peaks at Alex Comfort’s book “The Joy of Sex” when I could  find it in a bookstore. But my education about fetishistic sex came from Tom Lehrer, which is something he’d be overjoyed to hear. “The Masochism Tango” is one of his most famous tunes. He managed to sing it during the uptight Eisenhower years when not many people in popular culture were talking about sadomasochism. I must quote the master in full:

 

I ache for the touch of your lips, dear
But much more for the touch of your whips, dear
You can raise welts
Like nobody else
As we dance to the Masochism Tango

Let our love be a flame, not an ember
Say it’s me that you want to dismember
Blacken my eye
Set fire to my tie
As we dance to the Masochism Tango

At your command
Before you here I stand
My heart is in my hand …
(Yeechh!)
It’s here that I must be

My heart entreats
Just hear those savage beats
And go put on your cleats
And come and trample me

Your heart is hard as stone or mahogany
That’s why I’m in such exquisite agony
My soul is on fire
It’s aflame with desire
Which is why I perspire when we tango

You caught my nose
In your left castanet, love
I can feel the pain yet, love
Ev’ry time I hear drums

And I envy the rose
That you held in your teeth, love
With the thorns underneath, love
Sticking into your gums

Your eyes cast a spell that bewitches
The last time I needed twenty stitches
To sew up the gash
You made with your lash
As we danced to the Masochism Tango

Bash in my brain
And make me scream with pain
Then kick me once again
And say we’ll never part

I know too well
I’m underneath your spell
So, darling, if you smell
Something burning, it’s my heart … (hiccup)
‘Scuse me!

Take your cigarette from its holder
And burn your initials in my shoulder
Fracture my spine
And swear that you’re mine
As we dance to the Masochism Tango.

 

I understoodS&M because of this song. ( I wasn’t practicing it in junior high school, so don’t get any ideas). It sounds almost tame now, but this was in 1959, fer criminy. He was ahead of his time in so many ways. He was edgy then and would be offensive to some people now, but I don’t associate with those people anyway.

Henry had a silent 3 in his name and wrote about a necrophiliac coroner. How did Tom get away with this? You have to listen to his introduction to the survival hymn “We Will All Go Together When We Go” before you hear a cynical but realistic take on nuclear war and its total destruction:

When you attend a funeral,
It is sad to think that sooner or
Later those you love will do the same for you.
And you may have thought it tragic,
Not to mention other adjec-
tives, to think of all the weeping they will do.
But don’t you worry.
No more ashes, no more sackcloth.
And an armband made of black cloth
Will some day never more adorn a sleeve.
For if the bomb that drops on you
Gets your friends and neighbors too,
There’ll be nobody left behind to grieve.

And we will all go together when we go.
What a comforting fact that is to know.
Universal bereavement,
An inspiring achievement,
Yes, we all will go together when we go.

We will all go together when we go.
All suffuse with an incandescent glow.
No one will have the endurance
To collect on his insurance,
Lloyd’s of London will be loaded when they go.

Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
We’ll be French fried potatoes by and by.
There will be no more misery
When the world is our rotisserie,
Yes, we will all fry together when we fry.

Down by the old maelstrom,
There’ll be a storm before the calm.

And we will all bake together when we bake.
There’ll be nobody present at the wake.
With complete participation
In that grand incineration,
Nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak.

Oh we will all char together when we char.
And let there be no moaning of the bar.
Just sing out a te deum
When you see that I. C. B. M.,
And the party will be “come as you are.”

Oh we will all burn together when we burn.
There’ll be no need to stand and wait your turn.
When it’s time for the fallout
And saint peter calls us all out,
We’ll just drop our agendas and adjourn.

You will all go directly to your respective valhallas.
Go directly, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollahs.

And we will all go together when we go.
Ev’ry hottenhot and ev’ry eskimo.
When the air becomes uranious,
And we will all go simultaneous.
Yes we all will go together
When we all go together,
Yes we all will go together when we go.

 

Nuclear war was a very real threat during the Cold War, and it is still in the cards today. The nice thing about total annihilation is that death is instant and no one will be spared, except for maybe heads of state and the very rich. I wouldn’t want to be in a bunker with them and neither would Tom, I’m sure.

Lehrer directed a Shakespeare-themed revue at UC Santa Cruz a few years ago, and a few of my friends were involved. It’s really nice when your musical heroes are just like you expected them to be. As he signed my Tom Lehrer SongbookI geeked out and told him that he’d made my life better. He smiled wryly and quickly replied “Oh don’t say that. We’ve only just met.” ZING! There was a piano at the after-party, so I slinked over to it and started playing Lehrer songs (without singing, of course). I was playing “We Will All together When We Go” as Mr. Lehrer was leaving. He waved goodbye and I waved back. His parting words were “At least you have good taste in music.”

Thank you for making my life and so many other peoples’ lives better, Mr. Lehrer, and I hope I see you again. I’m only a few miles away.  Perhaps we can meet down by the old maelstrom.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- April 10- Fud Livingston

Now, I’m well aware that Fud Livingston isn’t a household name, unless your house is dedicated to hot jazz of the 1920s and 1930s, but you will be familiar with the man and his music after you read and hear this. You might be somewhat taken aback by his advanced harmonies and brilliant clarinet and tenor saxophone playing. You might be drawn into this oft-neglected music of a distant time, back when women bobbed their hair, everyone’s liver contained bathtub gin, and jazz was THE popular music. I look at the black and white pictures and listen to these wonderful tunes and get a feeling that somehow I was there in a previous incarnation. Maybe I drowned my sorrows with Bix, or achieved nirvana after hearing Fats Waller rip it up at a Harlem rent party, or maybe I just wasn’t there at all and relate to the music because it’s so damn good.

I came across the world of Fud through the highly informative book by Richard Sudhalter Lost Chords: White Musicians and their Contributions to Jazz, 1915-1945. Yes, we Caucasians have added a lot to the jazz canon, and Sudhalter’s book turned me on to such music and musicians that I hadn’t been aware of. Fud’s playing influenced many clarinetists and saxophonists who emerged in the late 1920s-1930s, but it’s his compositional and arranging abilities that really changed the ideas of what a jazz composition could do.

I’ll start off with “Doin’ Things” as recorded by violinist Joe Venuti and His New Yorkers:

This gem from 1928 sounds like a Warner Brothers cartoon sunrise, only Carl Stallingwasn’t composing for the movie business yet. Raymond Scott’smusic was a few years away. You can hear where a lot of composers got their stuff from when you listen to Fud’s tunes. Hardly any small jazz groups of the day featured the flute, but here it is, like the sun emerging from a cloud of horns. It’s got three modulations and a whole-tone passage before the actual tune appears as a swirl of instruments under a trumpet melody. It’s a somewhat through-composed piece, and owes more to classical music and piano pieces by Zez Confrey than to Louis’ Hot Five. Ellington wasn’t at this harmonic level yet; only Bix was doing stuff like this, but only in his piano compositions. “Doin’ Things” does things that some myopic critics might say isn’t jazzy enough, but that’s not the point. It swings and it’s both smooth and rough. Someone needs to give me a transcription of this.

I want to thank Jon-Erik Kellso, Michael Steinman, and the magic of Facebook for getting me the piano transcription of “Imagination.” I asked the social media hive mind if anyone had a transcription of this amazing piece and Bam! Michael sent a PDF immediately. Here is the 1927 recording by Miff Mole and his Molers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRse_POTBfI

 

It’s also closer to classical music, form-wise. The intro is almost normal, and the first section sounds standard at first, but the Fud harmonies come in, slowly and subversively. It’s a catchy but hard-to-sing melody with a lot of range. The arrangement is fairly complex overall, and I’d love to hear it played live someday. Maybe by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks?  There are so many things going on here that I feel a bit overwhelmed. I don’t think we’ve really caught up to Fud yet.

The gerund-laden titles continue with “Feelin’ No Pain” as played by Mole’s Molers, with a ripping clarinet solo by Livingston:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PiTDYO0d1g

This up-tempo piece sound like standard trad-jazz fare at first, with group improvisation around Red Nichols’ trumpet melody. Fud’s solo is wildly inventive, and his phrasing sounds fresh to modern ears. Adrian Rollini’s baritone sax and Eddie Lang’s guitar solos are examples of what hot jazz is at its finest. The horn soli is tight, as is Nichols’ trumpet break. Sudhalter refers to the last bit of the piece as a jazzklangfarbenmelodie, which is easier to play than to pronounce. It’s a neo-impressionistic swinging wonder.

The klangfarbenmelodie reappears in the intro of “Humpty Dumpty,” played here by Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra. Gershwin was tackling harmonies like this, but not in the swinging way Fud does here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgDpyrA-7TA

Johnny Hodges took a bit from this (Dorsey on alto?  Bobby Davis?) as did Duke and the entire Basie sax section from 1958 on. There are more wondrous harmonies that defy description. Then there’s the magic of Bix and his singing cornet. Frank Signorelli’s piano solo takes it someplace else; it sounds like a secluded street in Queens where the jazz pixies play.

This playlist doesn’t cover most of Fud’s magic, but there are so many things to unearth in these pieces that thoroughly examining each one would keep a jazz musician busy or a long time. I’ll close with a standard song that Fud co-wrote, “I’m Through with Love.” This is Nat Cole’s trio version from the 1940s, and he hits me in a way that no other version has duplicated.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWS60YDgwVw

“For I must have you or no one/ So I am through with love.” Who hasn’t felt like that?

If you are a composer or arranger, put these tunes on repeat until you hear each instrument’s part. Then tell me what’s going on, because I’m too amazed to be able to figure much of it out.

Fud lives.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 11- Squeeze- 45s and Under

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qd1V9YtDe7I&list=PLDU49XHSWL4OF4RGDagq2rP3_lbWCp9Xw

Anyone who went to or was near a college in the 1980s or 1990s will probably know this album, or at least some of the songs. If you really haven’t heard the brilliance of the songwriting duo Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, then maybe you’ve lived in Mongolia for the past four decades or never strayed from your bible study. Squeezeis in the same songwriting league as their English contemporaries Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and XTC. Some call it the English New Wave, but it’s sophisticated pop with just enough Beatles and Motown in it to sound familiar. As for melodies and lyrics, Squeeze produced (and continues to produce) some of the best rock/pop music there is.

45s and Underis a chronological compilation album of singles the band released between 1978 and 1982. It leads off with “Take Me I’m Yours,” and its home organ drum machine and James Bond intro guitar lick. It’s a little more synthy than the usual guitar-driven Squeeze tunes, but that’s Jools Holland for you. We are introduced to the Difford-Tilbrook vocal style, where the lead  vocal (Difford) is doubled by another vocal an octave below (Tilbrook). You’ll find this on many of their tunes, especially on the choruses.   Their melodies are already memorable, but this vocal sound makes a song easily identifiable as Squeeze. Difford’s voice is pretty easy to recognize on its own, though.

“Goodbye Girl” is so damn catchy that you’ll probably want to listen to it over and over. You’ll probably want to listen to this whole album over and over. It’s got that edgy guitar and percussion that sounds like you’re in the islands, or maybe in a sub-tropical airport. Difford’s vocal is brilliantly tuneful, especially on the third verse (1:47) when he sings “ It doesn’t bother me.” That little twist on the original melody is two seconds of pop genius. Between the vocals and the instruments, there have to be at least five hooks in this tune.

“Cool for Cats” combines Cockney New Wave with a bit of disco. The disco feels a bit out of place, but it might have sold some records in the late 1970s. The breakdown is a bit odd, but the groove keeps going. These guys sound like they live down the street from Joe Strummer, but he doesn’t stop by and doesn’t know what they’re doing in their rickety flat.  The lyrics are a series of different adventures, only the people involved don’t succeed like the cool cats on TV. That’s one way to look at it, anyway.

There have been few songs about marriage and kids fucking up your life like “Up the Junction.” When Dan Petty pointed the lyrics out to me back at old Berklee, I took them to heart. (Dan also loaned me his cassette of  45s and Under, for which I’m eternally grateful.)

 

I never thought it would happen
With me and the girl from Clapham
Out on the windy common
That night I ain’t forgotten
When she dealt out the rations
With some or other passions
I said “you are a lady”
“Perhaps” she said. “I may be”

We moved in to a basement
With thoughts of our engagement
We stayed in by the telly
Although the room was smelly
We spent our time just kissing
The Railway Arms we’re missing
But love had got us hooked up
And all our time it took up

I got a job with Stanley
He said I’d come in handy
And started me on Monday
So I had a bath on Sunday
I worked eleven hours
And bought the girl some flowers
She said she’d seen a doctor
And nothing now could stop her

I worked all through the winter
The weather brass and bitter
I put away a tenner
Each week to make her better
And when the time was ready
We had to sell the telly
Late evenings by the fire
With little kicks inside her

This morning at four fifty
I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator
Where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter
Within a year a walker
She looked just like her mother
If there could be another

And now she’s two years older
Her mother’s with a soldier
She left me when my drinking
Became a proper stinging
The devil came and took me
From bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly
No more nights nappies smelling

Alone here in the kitchen
I feel there’s something missing
I’d beg for some forgiveness
But begging’s not my business
And she won’t write a letter
Although I always tell her
And so it’s my assumption
I’m really up the junction.

 

Granted, the narrator isn’t the brightest of chaps, but he sure sings a great song. Like them or not, Holland’s synths are what separate Squeeze from the straight guitar bands. More hooks, and a great story song. People don’t write enough story songs anymore.

“She was frigid like a Bible” is a great way to begin a song. Get them with the first line and draw them in, I always say. “Slap and Tickle” has a bit of bubbling sequenced keyboards alongside a song about sexual activity. Usually, saxophones are for erotic moments, but a synth will have to do. It’s not a very erotic song anyway; it’s  more about awkward teenage sexual frustration. But it has witty and somewhat opaque lines like this:

If you ever change your mind
Which you do from time to time
Never chew a pickle
With a little slap and tickle
You have to throw the stone
To get the pool to ripple.

 

A straight-forward line about the moodiness of women, followed by a sexual metaphor that’s more Mississippi Delta than East End. That’s great wordplay.

I got through a few bad times (and good times) by singing along with “Another Nail for My Heart.” “In the bar, the piano man’s found another nail for my heart.” I’ve played tunes that have brought back sad memories for people. I’ve sure played them for myself. It’s a peppy tune for a series of unhappy love events:

 

The case was pulled from under the bed
She made a call to a sympathetic friend
And made arrangements
The door was closed there was a note
I couldn’t be bothered, maybe I’ll choke
No more engagements

 

With where have you beens
And faraway frowns
Trying to be good
By not being ’round

And here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart
And here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart

 

That stupid old bug
That kills only love
I want to be good
Is that not enough

 

So play me the song
That makes it so tough
Another nail for my heart
Then play me that song
That makes it so tough
Another nail for my heart

I had excuses, those little boy lies
That she computed by watching my eyes
And told me firmly
She couldn’t stand it, I’m bad on her heart
She dropped her makeup and I found the bar
Now it concerns me

 

I’ve had a bad time
Now love is resigned
I’ve been such a fool
I’ve loved and goodbyed

So here in the bar
The piano man’s found
Another nail for my heart.

 

Is it an omniscient point of view in the first verse? Are we seeing the woman the narrator is in love with before he tells his story in verse two? I’m not sure,  but Squeeze songs play with the narrative and point of view, something self-obsessed singer-songers don’t always get. It’s not always about you—why don’t you sing about what the other person is going through? I bet you won’t be able to sing it so wonderfully as this tune.

These guys also use unconventional words and locales that a millennial probably wouldn’t understand. “Pulling Mussels from the Shell” could be another sexual metaphor, or the eventual emptiness of consumerism, or simply about preparing seafood. It doesn’t matter when you’ve got a track like this.

 

They do it down on Camber Sands
They do it at Waikiki
Lazing about the beach all day,
At night the crickets creepy

Squinting faces at the sky
A Harold Robbins paperback
Surfers drop their boards and dry
And everybody wants a hat

But behind the chalet
My holiday’s complete
And I feel like William Tell
Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet
Pulling mussels from a shell
Pulling mussels from a shell

Shrinking in the sea so cold
Topless ladies look away
A he-man in a sudden shower
Shelters from the rain

You wish you had a motor boat
To pose around the harbor bar
And when the sun goes off to bed
You hook it up behind the car

But behind the chalet
My holiday’s complete
And I feel like William Tell
Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet
Pulling mussels from a shell
Pulling mussels from a shell

Two fat ladies window shop
Something for the mantelpiece
In for bingo all the nines
A panda for sweet little niece

The coach drivers stand about
Looking at a local map
About the boy who’s gone away
Down to next door’s caravan

But behind the chalet
My holiday’s complete
And I feel like William Tell
Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet
Pulling mussels from a shell
Pulling mussels from a shell

But behind the chalet
My holiday’s complete
And I feel like William Tell
Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet
Pulling mussels from a shell.

 

That’s a killer guitar solo, too. The instrumental sections in Squeeze tunes are better than the average Brit-Pop, even if Jools plays a few too many wrong notes on his piano solo here. I always thought it was “Behind the shouting”, but I guess it’s about a French home.

The second lyric of “If I Didn’t Love You” is “I’d hate you”. That’s pretty black and white- love and hate fighting it out in a relationship. The “If I” vocals-in-octaves repetition would sound creepy by itself, but it’s got a panicked synth to go with it. It’s their “Rock Lobster” moment. “Singles remind me of kisses/albums remind me of plans” is a lyric I wish I’d written. It’s certainly a sentiment more than a few of us have felt. There’s a trippy guitar solo that’s inventive but would be too long for a pop record today. You can do a variety of dances to this tune. I am right now.

The love-hate continues with “Is That Love?” It’s got a Beatles-like cadence at the end of the chorus. The bridge is my favorite section: “Beat me up with your letters, your walkout notes/ funny how you still find me right here at home.” It’s an example of a song with a middle section that’s just as catchy as the chorus. The ending is a flanged Bach, and only now did I realize that the chords are very baroque. It’s even got that Picardy third!

If you don’t like “Tempted”, or at least won’t sing along when the chorus comes, then you are still in that goddamned bible study and should confess your sins to Difford and Tilbrook. This is one of the best pop songs of the latter half of the 20thcentury. I say latter half because the subject matter wouldn’t  have found its way into say, an Irving Berlin song. Plus Berlin didn’t have Difford’s voice and a rocking Hammond B-3 organ.

I imagine everyone reading will have heard this tune, but since Squeeze’s lyrics are often tricky to decipher, I’m enclosing them here:

 

 

I bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste
A flannel for my face
Pajamas, a hairbrush
New shoes and a case
I said to my reflection
“Let’s get out of this place”

 

Passed the church and the steeple
The laundry on the hill
Billboards and the buildings
Memories of it still
Keep calling and calling
But forget it all, I know I will

 

Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
What’s been going on
Now that you have gone
There’s no other
Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered

 

I’m at the car park, the airport
The baggage carousel
(The people keep on grindin’)
Ain’t wishing I was well
I said it’s no occasion
(It’s no story I could tell)

 

At my bedside empty pocket
A foot without a sock
Your body gets much closer
I fumble for the clock
Alarmed by the seduction
I wish that it would stop

 

Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
What’s been going on
Now that you have gone
There’s no other
Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered

I bought a novel, some perfume
A fortune all for you
But it’s not my conscience
That hates to be untrue
I asked of my reflection
Tell me what is there to do?

Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
What’s been going on
Now that you have gone
There’s no other
Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered.

 

There. Now you can sing along with all of the correct lyrics, or at least the lyrics I’ve found them seem right. It’s one of the best songs about adultery. Maybe it’s not really adultery, just sex, but I’ve always felt that one or both parties in the sexual transaction are married. Or is he fooling around because his love left him? Is she gone on a trip and he’s shagging someone else with the old slap and tickle? Somebody ask the fellows for me, please.

“Black Coffee in Bed” is another earworm of broken love. Check out the early 1980s videofor a look at the guys themselves. Meanwhile, read along and decide for yourself what’s going on:

 

There’s a stain on my notebook
Where your coffee cup was
And there’s ash in the pages
Now I’ve got myself lost
I was writing to tell you
That my feelings tonight
Are a stain on my notebook
That rings your goodbye

With the way that you left me
I can hardly contain
The hurt and the anger
And the joy of the pain
Now knowing I am single
They’ll be fire in my eyes
And a stain on my notebook
For a new love tonight

From the lips without passion
To the lips with a kiss
There’s nothing of your love
That I’ll ever miss
The stain on my notebook
Remain all that’s left
Of the memory of late nights
And coffee in bed

Now she’s gone
And I’m back on the beat
A stain on my notebook
Says nothing to me
Now she’s gone
And I’m out with a friend
With lips full of passion
And coffee in bed.

 

I think of the old torch song “Black Coffee” when I hear this; it’s a similar tale about a caffeinated and wounded heart  trudging through. Our guy is getting out of his flat a bit at least, but he’s sure fixated on that notebook. I love the stain on the personal space to describe how she wounded him. There are hooks here that won’t leave you alone, kind of like her careless cup placement.

The collection ends with “Annie Get Your Gun,” another instantly hummable hit. I love that synth bass; I notice some things now that I didn’t before now that I’m checking the songs out in depth. The chorus modulates back and forth, but you aren’t aware of it. It’s not like they were thinking of switching keys; it was likely more of a “Hey! This guitar chord sounds cool here!” moment. Oddly enough, Alan Tarney the producer on this 1982 track, took the completed song and recorded his own parts. The band wasn’t happy about it, but they added drums and “Annie Get Your Gun” was a hit. Squeeze broke up after this song came out. Coincidence? They have broken up and reunited more times than George Jones and Tammy Wynette, but the Difford-Tilbrook combination has always been there. Are they the New Wave Lennon-McCartney? You be the judge.

Even if you aren’t a rock or Brit-Pop person, I might have to shoot you if you don’t think these melodies and lyrics aren’t catchy. If you haven’t listened to this record, then I’m sure my blathering will get you to buy it immediately. You can’t resist once you’ve been tempted.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 12- Herbie Hancock- Speak Like a Child

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k_jIqQp-68&list=PL7C2CB1E8742FF30D

Herbie Hancock has long been one of my idols, as he is a brilliant pianist/keyboardist/composer and can play nearly every style of music. And play it damn well. You know it’s Herbie playing no matter what the music is.

I was in utero when this disc was recorded (March 1968), and I felt comfortable when I first heard it, like the child in the song was going to be me. Sometimes I wonder if we have other-worldly connections to music that was created just before and after our births. I’ve felt connections like this to everything from Andy Williams to The Velvet Underground. Sure, maybe I heard some of this when I was an infant, but my folks weren’t into the Beatles or Herbie Hancock. Yet.

Speak Like a Childis one of my favorite albums anyway, pre-natal connections notwithstanding. With all the war and angst going on in 1968, Herbie wanted to make an album that embraced the feeling of innocent childhood without being or sounding childish. I’d say he accomplished that, although the music might be too sophisticated for a six-year-old. Overall it is less turbulent or experimental than most jazz records of the day, some of which reflected the tenseness of America in the 1960s.

The most notable things about this record (aside from the perfect performances) are Hancock’s compositions and his arrangements. Speak Like a Childhas a standard rhythm section (Herbie on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Mickey Roker on drums), but the unique sound here comes from the unorthodox trio of horns. Thad Jones is on flugelhorn, Jerry Dodgion on alto flue, and Peter Phillips on bass trombone. Nobody else I know of wrote for this group of instruments, and that’s what gives Speak Like a Childsuch a warm and different sound. It also has the advantage of being a Blue Note record, and it was recorded by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder at his studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

“Riot” kicks off the album. Herbie recorded it with Miles on the album Nefertiti, and it DID sound a bit like a riot. The version here sounds more like a mostly peaceful protest that doesn’t tie up traffic. There’s still a sense of urgency, but nobody’s throwing punches. The melody sounds like the evening news in 1968; something is going down, but we’re going to underplay it because we don’t know what’s going on. Herbie used voicings that aren’t standard chords; I hear a bit of Bernstein’s West Side Storyin there in the way he groups the three horns. If you want to know how to use diminished scales in a solo without sounding like you’re playing scales, check out Herbie’s solo. I could listen to this head over and over, and I probably should to figure out what he’s doing.

The title track is a bossa nova, but it’s a little more subversive than a Jobim tune. I love the way the melody alternates between the piano and the horns. The horns often act as a pad underneath the piano, and they provide a lovely color under Herbie’s solo. The chords are so rich, and the horns add a warmth you don’t find in most Blue Note records. I wish more records could be like this; there is that urgency without bombast.

Until today I had no idea that Ron Carter’s composition “First Trip” was about his son Ron, Jr. Ron! Holler! If you were a good schoolkid at Ron’s nursery school, you got to come home on the first trip. Such a good son. “First Trip” is a fun medium swing tune in AABA form and is the only tune here that doesn’t feature horns. I should play it more myself, as the chords are semi-normal but challenging to play over. Of course, Herbie slays it, even doing a little McCoy Tyner lick in the chorus that sounds like his last, because Roker plays like it is. That’s always an uncomfortable thing on the bandstand- you’re committed to playing another chorus, but the rhythm section thinks you aren’t and gets softer. I usually stop my solo when this happens, but Herbie always gets a pass from the jazz police. Playing that extra chorus is like saying goodbye to a friend you know you won’t see again for a while. The parting feels final. But then you run into them five minutes later, and it’s a little awkward. That’s what playing an extra chorus feels like to me. Mickey Roker has his own swing feel here; he doesn’t sound like Elvin or Tony or Max or other drummers of the era. He’s swinging yet sensitive

I wish I had childhood toys like the ones Herbie depicts in “Toys.” There are such great lines and harmonies, all above a medium slow swing groove. The toys sound forlorn and made out of strange materials. It’s like a blues, but with that sophisticated Herbie touch. The chords go from urban down-home to post-impressionistic, something that most other composers wouldn’t do as well as Herbie. Herbie does just about everything musical better than just about anybody.

“Goodbye to Childhood” is as sad as it sounds, with slightly dissonant horns on top of a slow broken swing. My childhood’s end felt a bit like this, only everyone else around me was listening Devo and Prince. More on them later. Roker’s pontillistic drumming and cymbal work makes this this piece gel. The horns are announcing the beginning of adolescence, but Roker is the guidance counselor in seventh grade who lets you know that your feelings are okay.

Miles recorded Hancock’s “The Sorcerer” on his 1967 album Sorcerer, but I like this slightly calmer trio version better. I’ve tried to play it like Herbie does, but his phrasing is hard to duplicate. We artists should only imitate up to a point, anyway. It’s a medium-up swing and features many Herbie-isms that pianists like myself have tried to emulate, with the emphasis on tried.

Like many great albums, I want to hear more after the needle lifts off the end of Side B. There are alternate takes on the re-issue that are worth hearing, but I want to hear more of this sextet. Herbie used a sextet on later records, but not with the softer edge that Speak Like a Childhas. I’ve long wanted to combine the band of Herbie’s record Thrustwith the horns from Speak Like a Child.There’s still time for me. If we musicians think that we are still in musical childhood or adolescence, then we can grow and make even more music without the psychological threat of old age.

Play Speak Like a Childfor your children. Or for other peoples’ children. Or for sensitive tween who are trying to make sense of it all. There are no words in these songs, but there sure are a lot of feelings. And if we don’t have feeling in our songs, then we don’t have music.

 

MUSIC/WORDS/IDEAS OF THE DAY- April 13- Radiolab

Radiolabis a radio show and podcast that I got turned onto not long after it came out. A friend was raving about the episode “(So-Called) Life”and a woman who found out.. Naw… I’ll let you listen to Karen’s story yourself. As you should listen to ten zillion hours of Radiolab episodes because they’re all intelligent and well-researched. There is no one theme other than the unending quest for knowledge, as demonstrated by the hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich.

My good friend Dylan Keefe started working for and producing parts of Radiolab episodes. Dylan is one of the best guys in the world, so he fit in well to the Radiolab scene, at least from what I perceive. (They let him go be a rock star with Marcy Playground when he’s not at WNYC.) Dylan previously worked on the award-winning radio program On the Media, which is hosted by Bob Garfield and my friend and old Brooklyn neighbor Brooke Gladstone. Dylan got me in to play piano and write some music for On the Media, and in 2014 he asked me to record minor-key folk songs in different languages for the Radiolab episode “Translation.”I coerced my opera singer friend to sing “Three Blind Mice” and other folks songs in minor-key German. Dylan and company added more voices and languages in New York at the WNYC studios. Ah, technology. I think it came out pretty good.

“Translation” is but one of over a hundred fascinating and entertaining episodes. I’m partial to Jad and Robert’s narrations, as some of the producers not named Dylan have lisps or low-talk, two things that fuel my misophonia.If you are as intrigued by the American legal system as I am, I highly recommend Jad’s spinoff series More Perfect, which approaches legal decisions and   the Supreme Court from several different angles. If you’re a law junkie (or a judge or lawyer) then this series might help your career. Not that I know for sure, as I’m just a piano player.

So check out Radiolab. You can download all of them for free on ITunes, but I highly recommend donating to the show, as it is funded by grants and public radio. Who knows if there will be any funding for the arts and humanities in a few years? When the earth and its varied inhabitants are roaring from their respective thrones of ignorance, you can always find solace and wisdom in an episode of Radiolab.

And go see Dylan when he’s on tour as a rock star. Tell him Drydo sent you.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- April 14- Great Tenor Sax Artists

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUwxpjfUOQdGiqtr0r4MkPJ4

I made this playlist based on the six songs of an old LP my dad had in his collection. I found it when I was fourteen or so and listened to it even when I was obsessing about more modern jazz. This is a very small sampling of great tenor saxophone players of the 1930s-1940s. Quite incomplete, I’d say, but the LP format in the early 1950s was brand-new and couldn’t hold much music on either side without sacrificing sound quality.  Six tunes is all you need with musicians like this, because each song is mindbending in its own way.

How do you get one of the greatest guitar players in jazz history to play rhythm and not solo? You start out by being Coleman Hawkinsand Benny Carter. This 1937 version of “Crazy Rhythm” was recorded in Paris when Hawkins and Carter were visiting the new Hot Jazz guys. This tune swings like hell from the very get-go, with the two sax greats harmonizing the melody in a  tight syncopatation with their French counterparts. I had no idea who the French saxophonists were, and I didn’t realize that they were the first two soloists. Goddamn. Alto player Andre Ekyan solos first, and I always figured it was Carter, because Ekyan’s and Alix Combelle’s solos are so melodically and rhythmically perfect, that they HAD to be American (at least to my ears and prejudices for decades until today when I read more about the session). You could write several tunes just from each solo. It’s funny that how for decades American classical composers imitated the European masters, only to have the roles reversed when it came to jazz. Recorded jazz had only been in existence for twenty years when this was recorded. Those hot jazz guys sure picked up on it quickly.

Benny Carter solos after Combelle’s tuneful Hawk-like improvisation. Man, Carter can play some lines and melodies. The Hawk follows with a delicious solo, and I just read that the reason Django didn’t solo was because he wanted Hawkins to take another chorus. You can hear Django say “Go on! Go on!” They end it with an ascending line that puts a cap on the tune.

The second track a little slower, but swings just as hard. Chu Berrydied far too young, but he left behind some great recordings, including this Lionel Hampton-led version of “Sweethearts on Parade.” It’s vibraphone master Hampton’s recording date, but Chu adds so much to it that I think of it as his record. Berry was one of Coleman Hawkins’ disciples, but you hear much more than an imitation of the great Hawk. I hear Berry’s influence on players from Illinois Jacquet to Earl Bostic all the way to King Curtis. Chu often employs what my Berklee teacher Rick Peckham referred to as “The Hot Tonic”, meaning you play the root of the chord over and over in different rhythmic groupings. It’s an underused device in current jazz, but when it’s done right it gets the listener’s attention.

The first chorus is a perfect example of how two soloists can play at the same time without getting in each other’s way. Hamp elaborates on the melody while Chu solos in the close background. I’ve always marveled at how Chu is basically soloing through the whole song; not many players could make that work. I also love Hampton’s vocal— it’s a silly tune, but he gives it a nice touch. When it’s time for his actual solo, you can hear him step closer to the microphone then back away from it when it’s Hamp’s solo. That’s some old school recording technique. The only place I’ve seen performers move toward and away from the mic lately has been on country and folk performances. It’s self-mixing, so that’s one less thing for the sound engineer to worry about.           There have been so many superb saxophone features over the years, but Bud Freeman’s 1939 version of ‘The Eel” is easily in my top ten—up there with Trane, Wayne, Warne, Brecker. Damn, that would be a hard list to really come up with. Anyway, this is pure late-era Chicago jazz, and it swings hard. Bud’s phrasing is so ridiculous—the two tenorists I think of who have a similar approach are Boots Randolph and Chris Cheek. That’s a very odd trio of tenor players, and I’d give some other guys’ balls to see them all play together. It would have to involve bringing Bud and Boots back from the dead, but I think there’s an untapped market for Vampire Jazz.

Flip the record over and be surprised by the tinkle of a celeste and a Happy Trails bass line. It’s Illinois Jacquet’s1949 recording of “Black Velvet.” I’m trying to define the sound of tunes like this—the harmony is more advanced than the swing era, but it’s not camping at the bebop beach. To  me it sounds like the promise of a glittering new life for the GIs returning from World War II.  I hear the towering city buildings, pretty and slightly liberated women, and the scent of jazz lounges. My ear also hears a bit of film noir crime jazz alternating with the promise of sunny beaches and babes in Southern California. This is all a theory, though. Maybe I’ll come up with a name for it and really research it as I keep writing about music. “The Jazz Between The Wars”?

At first, “Black Velvet” sounds like a cool big band piece, only there is no tenor solo until 1:28. But once Jacquet enters he takes command. The guy had such a command of the instrument. Check out those eagle-like swoops and bluesy runs. He’s chatting you up in while your friend the big band is telling you about the song.  Some of these pieces in the playlist are so good that whoever uploaded the 33 1/3 recording put the same track twice.

I’ve already written about Ben Webster’ssolo on Duke Ellington’s 1940 version of “Cottontail,” but if you are a jazz musician and can’t sing part of his solo, then you’ve got a little work to do. We all do, really, because Ellington’s arranging is genius. This was an era where you had to SAY something with a solo. It’s not that we modern jazz cats and kittens don’t make musical statements, but there’s a sense of urgent melody in all of these tracks. I try (when I remember) to create new melodies when I improvise and not just spew all the secret piano knowledge I’ve been gathering. When I’m out of musical and improvisatory inspiration, I go to records like these.

Charlie Ventura’sname doesn’t get batted about the jazz batting cages too often these days, but after you hear “High on an Open Mike” you will want to hear more of him. Don’t be scared of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral’sbebop vocal melody— maybe it’s not for everyone, but I’m in favor of it. I like to use wordless voices as horns when I can, but I don’t let them get too much power. Ventura has a lot of power, though. He’s got a bit of R&B honk at times with a the coolness of Lester Young (who is conspicuously missing from this album) and a bit of Stan Getz (also missing here).

 

I’m picturing these six tenor players at a party, and assessing their personalities by the way they play:

 

Hawk’s trying to win you over with tales of his badassery. He wins. He likes to hang out with the younger guys, who imitate a lot of what he does but can’t keep up with him at the bar. They’ve mostly learned to not challenge him at music or whisky, because they will end up in worse shape than Hawk the next day. Again, he always wins.

Chu is just a happy guy with a lot of energy who you want to hang out with, and you’ll go with him to that no-named bar at two in the morning. He loves Hawk and will do anything for him.

Freeman is the thin and aloof guy who stands in the corner and seems to be judging you. He knows his superiority, but he’s not bragging. He’s the well-dressed dude at the party who’s a little intimidating, but once you get him talking he’s funny and quick-witted. He’s a friend of the other guys, but doesn’t hang out with them too often.

Jacquet brags a little bit but doesn’t dominate the conversation. He’s got the gift of winning you over, and ladies will succumb to his bedroom talk. You can hear the seduction in his playing. “Baby, you look so fine tonight…”

Ben Webster has some witty and funny things to say, but ladies, when he moves closer and starts speaking low with that vibrato as wide as the Sahara, you will have no choice but to be enthralled by him. The drag is that he’ll be gone the next day, headed to another town. But he’ll buy you breakfast and flowers.

Ventura isn’t the center of attention at the party as he’s sort of the new guy, but he’s sharply dressed and has a small crowd around him. He talks to the other guys, and has a great vocabulary with a sharp wit that can entice the ladies. They’ll be attracted to him, but there’s some mystery with the brunette who hovers around him—is she with him? Is he married to someone else? The thrill of decoding his mystery might make a lady talk to him after a couple of gin rickeys, but he might leave the party early and alone. She’ll be charmed and bewildered by him, but won’t see him around for a while. If she doesn’t encounter him again, in a month she’ll be dating Paul Quinichette.

So there you have it, folks—six amazing tenor saxophonists strutting their stuff on record and at an imaginary party I created. Hope you liked it. I wish this party actually happened, but we’d have to discover time travel.

If I could travel back in time, you know I’d see any one of these guys play in person. For now, let them tell you their individual stories. Due to the time restrictions of an LP, they’ll each have less than five minutes with you. Soak it up.

 

 

 

 

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-April 15-Al Green-Al Green’s Greatest Hits

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csZV3w_nscg&t=5s

Is Al Greenthe last of the great soul singers? I wouldn’t argue with that. There have been many good R&B singers since the late 1970s, they mostly take their best ideas from the old soul singers. I’m not sure that there’s been a serious male soul music innovator since the Reverend Al told us about love and happiness. If you haven’t been exposed to Green’s music already, this compilation will make you a believer.

It’s kind of sad when performers become born again, as it changes their music, and mostly not for the better. When Green became a reverend in 1976, his record sales dropped, as he was singing about God and seduction. Vice is more fun to write and sing about than boring fundamentalism of any sort, so Green’s songs of loneliness, lust, and sex attracted more ears than the songs that told you you’re doing your religion wrong. Still, I’d go see Reverend Green preach in Memphis and walk away stunned, I’m sure. A great singer is a great singer, and I believe in God a little more when folks like Green sing about him.  This collection covers his early years (1970-1977), so God hadn’t entered the picture yet.

This musical story, like so many soul stories, begins in Memphis and the legendary music producer Willie Mitchell. (If you want a really good book on the history of soul, read Peter Guralnick’s book “Sweet Soul Music.” Thanks to Anthony Wilson for the recommendation). Mitchell’s production style is so classic sounding that you immediately know you’re in Memphis from the first measure. Then you can be pretty sure you’re going to hear Al Green sing. Green draws you in with his crooning on “Tired of Being Alone,” before going nearly full throttle as he tells you he’s alone because you left him. YOU left Al Green. Shame on you. The groove is laid back with a funky edge that will make your head start to move, if not your whole body.

I first encountered “Call Me” on a compilation of hits from 1973, which I got when I was six. I didn’t totally get this tune then, because I was years away from understanding the beautiful harmony and instrumentation. It’s a similar feel and sentiment to “Tired”, but he’s a little more in control of his love situation. She’s gone, and he did some bad shit, but they’re probably going to wind up back together. Al Jackson’s drumming (I think it’s him on most tracks) cements this tune. If the groove wasn’t this deep, Al would just be complaining. “I’m Still in Love with You” is another soul-stirrer, with nicely arranged horn and string parts by Mitchell. Those female backup singers make the chorus more memorable, not like this track needs help. Now that I’m listening to this record for the first time in a while, I’m realizing that the tempos are pretty similar. But who cares when it’s soothing for your soul?

One of many cool things about “Here I Am Baby (Come and Take Me)” is the minor-key verse (the Aeolian mode, for you musical pedagogues out there) and that subtle sexy organ part. The horns enter at the pre-chorus and pave the way for the major-key chorus. There’s that Memphis Southern grit here, which is why I tend to like Stax records more than Motown records. It’s a drier sound with just enough dirt. Green’s falsetto is one of the best in the business, and I love the way he alternates between it and his full soul voice. Even though he gives you a lot, you can tell that he’s still holding back some power, because he’s saving it to seduce you once the record is over. He’s not the in-your-face belter that Otis Redding was, but it’s that subtlety that distinguishes him from other soul singers, some of whom tend to emote a bit too much for my taste.

Originally, Green’s soulful cover of the Bee Gees “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”next on the disc, but on the re-issue it got replaced by one of Green’s defining songs. You might not recognize the intro to “Love and Happiness” at first, but once that guitar hook enters (Steve Cropper?) you are in Al’s world. Musically, it’s one of those tunes that is typical of Southern folk and blues—it has two or four beats more in a section; they aren’t evenly shaped like most tunes from, say, the Great American Songbook. But this isn’t Rodgers and Hart, dammit, it’s Al Green, and your body will move in ways they never thought of on Broadway. I’m not sure what else I can say about this tune except that it’s a classic and you should know it backwards and forwards. It’s a soul standard, although most people play it wrong because of those pesky extra beats and slightly off-kilter chords. Love will make you stay out all night long, among other things.

For some of us, “Let’s Stay Together” will always be associated with Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction, but of course the soul standard goes further back than that. Even though the narrator is scared of his relationship breaking up, he’s so in love you that even if times are good, happy, or sad, his relationship will survive. Al Jackson’s drum groove acts as marriage counselor, and when he goes to quarter notes on the snare drum, you better listen. It’s another R&B standard every decent pop-soul musician should know, even though it’s another tricky form to play. It’s longer and more varied than you think, and if you’re the keyboard player, you’re expected to know the all of the parts and the string lines. Man, even “Old Devil Moon” is easier to remember.

Next is the low-down shuffle cover of The Temptations’ funky 1969 hit “Can’t Get Next to You” While the Temps shout about her coldness over a 16-note hi-hat groove, Green and company tell you about it from a barstool in a pool hall. His flutter vibrato and falsetto compliment his Otis-like pleading. Like on the other tracks, The Memphis Hornsadd that special sauce that ties the soul sandwich together. Green can do anything except get the girl. It’s the R&B version of “I Can’t Get Started.”

“You Ought to Be with Me” continues the desire motive, with those lovely major-7th and minor-7thchords that let us know we’re in the 1970s, baby. It’s a little more harmonically sophisticated than previous Motown and Stax records. Yes, you will want to be with him before the song is over. Once he’s won you over, he says, “Look What You’ve Done for Me” and those horns on the chorus tell you that he’s not lying. These songs really lead together, as he’s tired of playing around and wants to settle down while telling you “Let’s Get Married.” He doesn’t want an engagement, though—he’s ready to go to the judge or preacher TODAY. He draws you in on the slinky breakdown when he will wipe all your tears away. Al Green always has a tissue for you.

Even though these next two tunes aren’t on this best-of album, I’m including them because I think it’s great when soul singers cover country songs, and vice versa. Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” has been covered more times than I can count, but this is one of my favorite versions of one of my favorite tunes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2IpoTKnDPw

Here The Rev covers Willie Nelson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA7JhcF1rPs

They are the same rock-hard 12/8 groove and feel, but don’t let that fool you. You’ll forget that they were originally country songs.

Listen to Reverend Green and let him take you away from wherever you are and to wherever he’s telling you to go. He might lead you to his church in Memphis, or to a bedecked bedroom in a strange Southern city, or to some musical version of heaven. Maybe he’ll do all three, because he’s the last great soul singer, and he can do anything.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY-April 16- Johnny Costa- Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjEnvwRfgj0&t=187s

If there has ever been a kinder and more thoughtful person on television than Mister Fred Rogers,I’d like to meet that person. In case you are either too young or too old to remember or be familiar with the children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it ran on PBS (with some interruptions) from 1968-2001. Not only was it a breakthrough in children’s programming, but it had Pittsburgh native Johnny Costasupplying the soundtrack. Art Tatum called Costa “the white Art Tatum”, which is like Jehovah saying that there actually is another god, and that he is pretty cool. Costa might have become more renowned if he had moved to New York City or another post-war jazz capital, but he stayed in Pittsburgh, where Rogers’ show was mostly filmed. Costa and his trio provided a live soundtrack to Rogers’ warm and gentle voice.

I put up Costa’s 1986 album of songs from the show, but there are clips from the show that demonstrate his versatility. The 1986 album shows you how Costa could dazzle; like Tatum he’s almost too much for a trio. Sometimes he’s a bit busy in his playing, but then he pulls out a Tatum-esque run that stuns me. My favorite thing about the Costa-Rogers partnership is that the show introduced kids to serious modern jazz. It’s no wonder that when I first heard Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson I felt I was in a safe and warm place.

Here’s one version of the theme song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eInUUfyqa5o

I like the celeste and vibes on the intro; it’s a cool combination that’s effective in small doses, but it sounds so fresh when you use it. Then Costa switches to piano for some octave runs to cue Rogers’ slightly shaky vocal. Mister Rogers’ intonation and phrasing aren’t important here—his humility and thoughtfulness is all that matters.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n92Rnq7olrQ

Costa plays a rumbling piano ostinato to signify the sound of the train, and the celeste represents the rain whistle (tri-tones). The celeste also gives us that dreamy childhood sound (thanks to Tchaikovsky and The Nutcracker), and the train shuttles us off to the land of make-believe.

There is no video on this one, but this train is running on a rickety track. Charles Ives and Alberto Ginastera board at sixteen seconds in:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYNgW5Dr21M

If you don’t want to hear Rogers speak to the kids, fast-forward to 0:49 and hear Costa go off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1Dvq0cDRsI

Costa and his band recorded different music for every show. Here’s one version of the ending theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cY70y_g20GA

It’s like someone gave Teddy Wilson a double espresso and told him someone in the club has a gun. Blistering.

Even though I feel better when children aren’t around, I would LOVE to be a musical director for a smart kids show like this, and I owe a lot of that desire to this show. Performing on Sesame Streethas always been one of my lifelong goals. I would also want to do as Costa and crew did and play live in the studio with the action. Watch this interview with Costa. It’s incredible. Those wrists! His technique is nearly perfect:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=xUI2GpXX3gI

Finally, if Rogers’ 1997 Daytime Emmy Award speech doesn’t make you tear up a little, then you might want to check yourself to see if you actually have a soul:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Upm9LnuCBUM

 

Fred Rogers was an ordained minister before he went into television. Unlike so many mega-church pastors today, he radiated kindness, humility, and charity. Former United States president Jimmy Carter is kind of the Fred Rogers of politics. Both embody true Christian ideals (as in: be kind to everybody), and they both have made the world so much better.

The beauty of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhoodis the sincere and simple performing by Roger juxtaposed with the startling modernity of Costa’s piano. We need that kind of yin and yang in every aspect of life.

Thank you, Fred Rogers. And thank you Johnny Costa for making our cradle-through-elementary school years a little more vibrant and sophisticated. We are all better because of you.

 

 

Music of the Day- March 15-31

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 15- Day of Dad

My father, Hayden Dryden, was born on this day in 1932. He was a good man, a kind and patient man, but he was also a musician. He was a damn good trumpet player and educator who gigged every weekend, so we could have the things that his elementary school teaching salary couldn’t always provide. I am a musician because of him. I am a damn good musician because of him. I have a really good ear and knowledge of musical history because of him. So, I’m going to write about some music he hipped me to throughout the years that made me a better musician and a better man. So here goes, Pops….

Franz Josef Haydn-Symphony #94 in G Major, AKA The “Surprise” Second Movement

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Cs_f3GupCo

Dad played me music early on, and I was always amazed that Haydn was born in March of 1732 and Hayden was born in March of 1932. I didn’t think it was a coincidence when I was four years old, and I still don’t. This isn’t the version I grew up with, but my conductor and classical music friends can chime in on other versions. With classical music, especially with orchestral works, I’ve mostly been about the compositional elements rather than trying to figure out which version was the best or as historically accurate. Dad didn’t care about stuff like that, or least didn’t impress it upon me, so I don’t give a rat’s ass about whether this recording was done at the right frequency or in the right conditions or whether the musicians ate the same kind of mutton Haydn did.  Both Dad and I rebelled against some of our college music professors, and in his final weeks he heard and understood my grievances with a certain grad school class I had. This was one way we understood each other and something bigger than us.

Drydens are not to be fucked with, and neither was Haydn. This movement has a certain surprise to it. If you don’t know the piece already, turn it up loud and wait for it. Recently I was working on a Haydn Cello Sonata late at night and was wondering how I should play the Rondo movement. Did I have it up to speed? Was I getting it right? Dad spoke to me (no, I did not hear his voice, but I knew he was talking to me from beyond) and told me not to worry, that all I had to worry about making it musical. Of course, it opened up the piece to me in a revelatory way, and I understood Haydn on a much deeper level. It brought me so much joy.

This is why we play music, people. We get to communicate with the universe and with our loved ones because we can access that Big Unknown if we really want to.

Bela Bartok-Piano Music for Children– Bartok at the piano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3un2XV9E6Y

You know you have a hip dad when you’re six years old and starting piano lessons and he gives you a book of Bartok’s piano music for kids. By exposing me (and technically, my sister) to stuff that was decidedly modern and 20th century, he got my ear attuned to dissonance. I think this early exposure to this type of harmony made me think of it as comfort music.

You also get to hear Bartok SPEAK here. My Hungarian is a little rusty, but I’ll let my more cultured friends have a crack at it. I’ve always been drawn to Balkan music, and I’m sure Dad had something to do with it.

Here’s Bartok with his son in 1928, forty-one years before the picture of me and dad.

Clifford Brown- Easy Living

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59til4fU1tk

Dad was a trumpet player, so when I was getting into jazz he told me, “If you’re going to learn jazz, you better know the greatest trumpet player ever.” I still can’t argue with that statement. There have been and will be more Brownie posts, but I’ll focus on this performance from 1953. Clifford was twenty-two but already had his voice and sound. This tune kind of became my parents’ theme song, so I’ll quote the lyrics here:

Living for you is easy living
It’s easy to live when you’re in love
And I’m so in love
There is nothing in life but you

I never regret the things that I’m giving
They’re easy to give when you’re in love
I’m happy to do whatever I do for you

For you maybe I’m a fool
But it’s fun
People say you rule me with one wave of your hand
Darling, it’s grand
They just don’t understand

Living for you is easy living
It’s easy to live when you’re in love
And I’m so in love
There’s nothing in life but you.

I didn’t learn the lyrics until a few years later when Toby Williams sang them with me. Thank you, Toby. Clifford captures the meaning of the song and tells you his own story at the same time, the way all jazz giants do.

Finally, but hardly the last thing Dad ever introduced me to (I can’t begin to fathom how much he gave me) is a famous piece by a famous Russian that has a lot of that non-diatonic harmony that is a warm blanket on a wintry day to my ears. Dad took me to see The Firebird Suite when I was eight or so, and it was pretty heavenly. We were up close, right side at the old Cabrillo College theater. Hayden co-founded the Santa Cruz Youth Symphony with the beautiful Craig Johnson, so I ‘m pretty sure he had a personal connection to the performance. I found his old record in the shelves when I was sixteen or so and wore it out.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-R1C6Wma3TQ

This isn’t the Boulez version I thought we had, but it’s still Igor, dammit. This suite helped me get through adolescence by realizing that there was something bigger and better than high school and teenage angst. A lot of music did that for me, but Stravinky, like Debussy, sent me to ancient fields with flaxen haired ballerinas who actually liked me, unlike the girls at school. This is the power of music- that it can transport you, alter your mood, give you clarity and vision, and just make you a better person.

Just like my dad did for me.

Love you, Pops.

ALBUM OF THE DAY- March 16- Ry Cooder- Paradise and Lunch

This is one of those albums that I can credit one person who turned me on to it. Steve Walsh (amazing musician and great dude- Hi Steve!) played this for me at our apartment in Brooklyn in 1998. I was only familiar with Cooder’s name and reputation as a great guitarist. This hooked me, although I love it so much that some other Cooder records don’t hit me quite so hard, except Buena Vista Social Club and his work with Beefheart. Paradise and Lunch lives up to its quirky title but is not as colorfully uncomfortable as its cover. It’s a groovy fun and rootsy record, and it has FATHA HINES on it, so hell yeah.

It’s 1974 and Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman are at the mixing board with some of SoCal’s finest musicians in the live room. (It’s also a beautifully recorded and produced record, which happens when you have masters like these two). Side one starts off with “Tamp ‘’Em Up Solid”, a traditional tune and a phrase I should use more when I don’t know what I’m talking about. We’re on a well-running country train, piloted by Cooder’s guitar and drowsy understated voice. There are many examples here of why Cooder has been called one of the greatest guitar players in the world. The backing vocals sound like some came from a coal mine and some came from a revival meeting. I didn’t know who Washington Phillips was when I heard this record, but now I know the Mr. Phillips was one of the greatest things to happen to music. Cooder covers “Tattler”, a Phillips original he recorded in 1929. This version unsurprisingly sounds nothing like the original, which should be obvious with the chorused (phased?) guitar to open the song. WE know are probably in the 1970s, but it’s not date-stamped. Neither is the line “True love can be/such a sweet harmony/if you do the best that you can.” God bless you Mr. Phillips and you too, Mr. Cooder.

Blind Willie McTell was one of those aptly named country bluesman who is more known to blues and Americana aficionados, but he should be taught in school, if you ask me. Which you didn’t. But I’m apparently not stupid, because McTell’s “A Married Man’s a Fool” tells us that a married mans a fool if he thinks his wife loves no one else but him. It’s a cynical tale clothed in humor and a swampy groove, so guys, let’s just accept our fate and bob our heads with this tune. The song leaves us in an adulterous church and “Jesus on the Mainline” turns that church into a pipeline to Christ that will make you believe, mostly because of the choir, the reggaefied groove, Cooder’s slide guitar, and a Salvation Army-style brass band. Brass bands were more common in recordings of this era, and I think they should make a return. There’s the musical hiccup that sounds like a scratched record on the oddly harmonized “Call him up” riff. I had a Jimmy Swaggart recording of this tune (the cover made me buy it). I can safely say that I prefer Ry’s version.

The California reggae continues with Bobby Womack’s classic “It’s All Over Now”. It’s my favorite version of this rock/R&B standard, because you can’t stop swaying and singing along:

Because I used to love her,

But it’s all over now.

It’s a simple but perfect way to tell a recent ex bye-bye. It should be required listening for any man getting over someone who really did him wrong. The medley “Fool for a Cigarette/Feelin’ Good” combines two different Southern tunes and does it seamlessly. You start singing about feeling’ good and then wonder what happened to the cigarette. “If Walls Could Talk” is a slide guitar soft shoe with a Jamaican one drop. I love the way they blend disparate styles and keep the integrity of both styles. Having Jim Keltner at the drums really helps, of course. And it’s a good thing that walls, shoes, and other things can’t listen to us blabber in private and then tattle on us to the people we are dissing. It’s an old school NSA threat, but things will talk pretty soon, if our Black Mirror future continues.

Most people wouldn’t expect a Burt Bacharach song here, but this is an album of surprises, even if the surprises are so cleverly placed that you don’t think of them as surprises. It’s got a Latin beat, although I don’t want to venture a guess what type beyond thinking it’s a marimba-laden beguine. I don’t know if it’s still a sin to get a Mexican divorce, but it sure sounds like heartbreak here. The album closes with Blind Blake’s “Ditty Wah Ditty”, another title with pseudo-words that like all coded messages probably means coitus. He’s asking if someone will tell him what diddy wah diddy means, so at least he’s as clueless as me. This is where Earl ‘Fatha” Hines comes in, demonstrating why he’s the father of jazz piano. They don’t make ‘em like Hines anymore.
Sadly, they don’t make albums like this anymore. Maybe they try, but they sound digital and too clean. Music should have a little dirt on it sometimes, and Cooder and all the songwriters on this album prove that you need a little grit to play the blues.

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 17- The Nat Cole Trio, Vol. 1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8lZ8Z12p-8

This is the first CD of a 5-CD set, but I think anyone who likes good things should have all five discs, plus everything Mr. Cole ever did. Some people just think of him as a crooner (“Unforgettable”, “Nature Boy”, “Mona Lisa”) but he was so much more than that. SO much more. He quietly revolutionized jazz piano from Southern California in the 1940s, establishing the piano-guitar-bass trio as the primary small group format in an era of loud big bands and bandstands. Nat found his style playing bars and lounges, and this original trio with Oscar Moore on guitar and Johnny Miller on bass. Piano players in the jazz world had mostly been accompanists for singer or dance bands, or master stride piano players. Although there were other piano trios before Nat, he made the trio format popular.

These are the earliest recordings of the trio (1943), although the band had been working since 1937, back before Cole even sang. Yes, America, Cole wasn’t originally a singer. Maybe this is why so many musicians like hos vocal style; he could back it up on the piano. HE could arrange the hell out of tunes too.

The disc kicks off with “Little Joe from Chicago”, which begins as a boogie-woogie blues and goes into straight swing, with gang vocals telling us how badass Little Joe is. This character could be Nat himself. It’s almost a novelty number, but Cole could sing or play the schmaltziest tune and make it sound good. Then it’s the Harold Arlen classic “It’s Only a Paper Moon”, with an amazing arrangement and vocal by Nat. Guitar players- jump on Oscar Moore. He’s playing some shit in these recordings that is mandatory to know, even though he isn’t talked about enough in the overall jazz world. His tone and phrasing kill me. Ina good way, that is. I have probably listened to Paper Moon two hundred times, and it never gets old. It’s a happy yet sophisticated version of an optimistic song of The Great Depression. Hell yeah.

“What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?” is a Walter Donaldson tune from 1926 that Nat croons so well that you’d forgive him even if he shot your dog and ran away with your best friend. It’s all about how the greatest apology is sometimes not enough for some people….ahem….ladies. When you’re at the edge of a cliff in your relationship and have nothing left to talk about, you could sing this song. Maybe she’ll forgive you. Probably not, but if you play her Nat’s version at some point she might be nice to you again someday.

One of my personal favorites on this disc has a W.W.II-era reference that most people won’t get today. “I Wanna Turn Out My Light” is sung from the point of view of the moon, who is working the overnight swing shift:

Said the moon to a star nearby
Look down on that gal and guy
They’re keeping me up too late tonight
I wanna turn out my light

I wish that they’d go to bed
I can hardly hold up my head
I’m hoping the spark will soon ignite
I wanna turn out my light

I think that love is grand
I’ll always lend a hand
But I’m still working the swing shift
I’ve got to be gone when on comes the dawn

I don’t think that I’m unfair
To ask them to take the air
I wish they’d wake up and say goodnight
I wanna turn out my light.

It’s cute, romantic, musically interesting, and told FROM the moon rather than about the moon. It’s a great tune nobody does, and the idea of the moon talking to us is a sly reversal of character narration. “You Call it Madness (But I Call It Love)” is another underperformed tune in the come-back-to-me-because -we’re-both-nuts category. You don’t really get that she left him until the end of the bridge; although the exact status of their relationship is a little fuzzy. But hey, songs that are super direct don’t always let you fill in the blanks in your head. “If I Had You” has always been one of my favorite standards ever since I heard Olive Oyl sing it in a Popeye cartoon. I can’t find the cartoon online, so maybe I hallucinated it as a kid. It’s one of the best standards about desiring someone while telling them how you would be able to do anything if he/she loved you. Lyrically, it’s a precursor to “I Can’t Get Started”, only here the narrator hasn’t seemed to start, so the song is a prologue to asking her out. That’s one way I think of it, anyway. But Cole doesn’t sing it, so you’ll have to believe me. It’s got a great arrangement, and Cole shows his love of Earl Hines and Teddy Wilson. He’s evolving here from the swing era piano player to the Nat Cole we know who used less left hand in his solos, setting the stage for Bud Powell and the beboppers.

“Don’t Blame Me” is another instrumental, this one a classic ballad asking for forgiveness because you fell in love with someone who is incredibly awesome. Cole was still more of a piano player than a singer in 1943, so don’t be wondering why he isn’t singing these sweet lyrics and feelings in your ear. You can hear the sentiment of the song in his playing. That also goes for the bouncy “Three Little Words”, an example of how a piano can control any tune. You’ll have to listen to hear what I mean. “How High the Moon” is another standard, here with a cool and unusual Cole solo and some hemiolas on the head. (That’s jazz talk, for all you non-musicians). In going back to listen to this disc, I forgot how many tunes are instrumentals, because in my head I can hear Nat singing any standard. The overall playing from the trio will probably make you come away from this thinking you heard a lot of vocals, even though half of them are instrumentals.

This is Nat’s second recording of 1928’s “Sweet Lorraine”, a tune he somewhat helped to popularize. He recorded it again (as a vocal) for After Midnight, a record I’ll talk about later. “Besame Mucho” usually gets some kind of Latin rhythm, mostly because it’s originally in Spanish. Nat swings it and sings it English (you might not want to hear it in Spanish again after this) and it has a beboppish intro and outro. “Please Consider Me” is another take-me-back-I-screwed up song that’s a slightly bluesy walking ballad. I’m not sure if he’s asking her to consider him as a boyfriend or consider his feelings. Maybe it doesn’t matter. The folks all come to hear Little “Rhythm Sam” swing in Harlem, and even though the lyric is novelty-cute, it swings so damn hard that you want to be on Lenox Avenue in 1943.

The Caucazoidal radio announcer throws in some hep jive to let Cole introduce a fast instrumental version of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana”. It’s a great way to close out disc one, as it’s a bit of a barn burner. This is how you swing hard without the distraction of a drummer. This trio set the standard for piano trios, even after most trios switched from guitar to drums.

There will be more Nat “King” Cole to come in the next 8 ½ months, so stay tuned for one of the most popular singers and underrated pianists in music history.

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 18- Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov-Scheherazade– USSR State Symphony Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR_Q7NbLzyU

Now, good old Nikolai was no slouch at composing or orchestrating beautiful music. He could also write a great melody, or in the case of 1888’s “Scheherazade”, many melodies. I’ll let the Wiki page tell you more about his story, but HER story is pretty amazing. Scheherazade was a character in One Thousand and One Nights, a classic Arabic book. It’s also a tale of women out-witting misogynistic men (Old school), but I don’t know why a sane woman would want to marry an asshole who already killed a thousand women that came before her. (Insert callous and/or feminist rants here).

These hyperlinks I inserted will tell you more about these things than I can, but the best thing to do is to listen. I chose this version just because it’s Russian and from before the Wall came down, so it’s a less-Westernized and more Russian interpretation. Nikolai pursued the “exotic” sound with much of his music, which might sound like cultural appropriation or playing to condescending views of other cultures to some overly sensitive modern ears, but those people can shut the fuck up and listen to what this genius did here. Even if you don’t know the title and program of this piece, you can hear that it’s a  STORY.

I don’t know if composers in any genre are concerned with telling a story anymore. Hell, I know a lot of jazz musicians aren’t trying to tell us something except that they’ve mastered the changes to every Coltrane song. But where’s the story in instrumental music?

You can find one right here.

ALBUM OF THE DAY- March 19- Lennie Tristano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVSkUM8TQpc

Some of Lennie Tristano’s critics say that he and his music (although there really IS a separation between the two sometimes) are cold, calculated, and un-swinging. I can agree with the first two, but to me he swings really hard and shows a real musical genius. His students became innovators and important jazz figures themselves. The Cult of Lennie was/is a real thing, as a lot of people will credit a blind person with wisdom that he/she may or may not have. Tristano had wisdom; but his role as the blind prophet of jazz has been tarnished by his control over his students. This is all neither here nor there, as the music was unique in the bebop era, when Charlie Parker’s own unintended Messiah beauty made it damn near impossible for most mortals to do something different.

Tristano took bebop and made it his own. There are few piano solos better than 1955’s “Line Up”, Tristano’s) overdubbed solo over the chords of “All Of Me”. His phrasing is so sharp and angular; twisting in unexpected places with a few notes you don’t expect. The first listen might give you a “What the fuck was that?” reaction, but after a while you start to hear what makes him so.. Tristanoish. I’d say that this solo inspired more improvisors than it’s goven credit for. Brilliant.

“Requiem” is a bit sad, as its title suggests, but the initial G Minor sorrow leads to creepy chord clusters and a slow F blues that could be Erroll Garner in an opium den. This, and “Line Up” are examples of Tristano’s use of overdubbing a second piano on top of his first take. Some people didn’t like that. I am not one of those people. If you can record good music, record it however you want to. “Turkish Mambo” combines two pianos with a steady hi-hat pulse to form a line that I see as a camel’s humps, but if the camel was 123 miles long. He does some pretty fantastic stuff over the snaky ostinato, and even if it seems more like a warped mood piece than a jaz tune, it’s still provoking.

Tristano continues in the vein of “Line Up” with “East Thirty-Second”, another gem to the chords of a tune I can’t quite identify, even though the internets says it’s to “Out of Nowhere”. I don’t hear that. You can sing “Star Trek” over “Out of Nowhere”, but not this. Anyone? Or does the link have it mislabeled? The rest of the album was recorded live Confucius Restaurant in NYC on June 11th, 1955. Jazz in a Chinese restraunt? Hey-why not? This is Lennie’s disciple Lee Konitz on alto, Gene Ramey on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. The ballad “These Foolish Things” is one of my favorites, and they give it an understated but slightly tweaked performance, especially on Lennie’s solo. Those block chords sure are trippy in spots. “You Go To My Head”, a wonderful tune by Fred Coots (I love saying his name) is much in the same vein as “These Foolish Things”,  with a probing Konitz solo. The only criticism I have about the Tristano approach is the way he treats the rhythm sections; they seem to be merely timekeeping machines for his concoctions. I don’t treat the bassist and drummer like rented mules, but it feels like Tristano is a colonial prince condescending to a native tribe leader, throwing him a few pennies for his service. It’s still great music, despite my rant there.

“If I Had You” is a little bouncier, with moire killer chord melody work from Lennie. He’s like the uncle you’re not sure about who sits on the couch eating peanuts, not saying anything until he tells you enlightening tales of his youth. You want to listen, though. He even lets Ramey take a bass solo. Fine chap. I really noticed the dry and hard-panned to the left sound of Konitz on “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You”. It’s a Depression-era ode to not being worthy of someone you probably won’t be able to have anyway. Lennie’s explanation of the song is dryly clinical with some cool words about how despite his eccentricities he will make a good partner.

Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are”, a bebop standby, gets a medium paced workout with the almost Desmond-like Konitz’s solo. Konitz is brilliant for playing bebop in the bebop era without sounding much like Charlie Parker, which is about as easy as creating a multi-sided political discussion on social media. Uncle Lennie tells you more war stories on his solo, although they are a little funnier and slightly more engaging.
Decide for yourself if the gift of Lennie Tristano is right for you. For any serious jazz musician, his approach is worth getting into, even if he’s not the total package for you. The rest of us can sit here and make multiple unsuccessful attempts at playing “Line Up”.

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 20- Jerry Reed

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkAu2IyB9Ts

They only inducted Jerry Reed into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year, which is a shame as he would have been great to see him perform and talk. A lot of us who didn’t even know much about anything first encountered him in the Smokey and the Bandit movies (I had no idea there was a THIRD one) as an actor and for the theme song “East Bound and Down.” Despite his aw-shucks-where’s the piece of straw for my mouth persona, he could write, sing and pick up a storm, and could hang in a variety of musical styles.

In 1967 Reed wrote “Guitar Man”, a bouncy blues with his signature vocal delivery that’s part blues, part Cajun, and part country jokester. Elvis covered it and helped to launch Reed’s career. “Alabama Jubilee” is an older than dirt standard in the Sweet Georgia Brown style chord progression, and this one swings, rocks, and has that country back porch vocal that Reed makes sound effortless. Hell, for him it probably was easy. There’s also a great live version here.

Easily my favorite Reed song is one that mixes so many styles into one tune about an alligator-hunting freak in a swamp. Yes, “Amos Moses” was a Cajun, and lived by hisself in a swamp. I encountered this tune at an early age, as we square-danced to it at Mar Vista Elementary school here in Aptos, California. Go Sea Lions! Yes, we square-danced, and yes, we were white. I went over to the DJ/dance-caller’s turntable after hearing this tune, because it was so gritty and funky, and I had to know what it is. That’s some nasty guitar playing, which I assume is Reed. His laugh is infectious as he tells the Bayou story, and goddamn, it sure made square dancing easier to deal with for this ten-year-old.

I’ll skip ahead to the more modernized groove of “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”. You’d think Reed was just a novelty singer from these tunes, but these are catchy tracks. He does the slow song “Smell the Flowers” which still has a little Louisiana grease despite its Caucazoidal tendencies. “Koku Joe” is a relative of Amos Moses in both profession and groove. Dig that cowbell. The next few tunes continue in this Southern musical mish-mash that probably couldn’t get made now for so many reasons. “The Claw” shows off his picking technique, which is somewhat astounding in its unconventionality, at least to my piano-plunkin’ eyes and ears. He worked with Chet Atkins but seems to have known his Django and George Barnes a bit.

“Lord, Mister Ford” is a rare thing: a country song that bemoans the invention of cars and what they do to us. It’s also a social satire on conspicuous consumerism. Most people complain about Henry Ford now for being an Anti-Semitic capitalist, but Reed questions the reason for the automobile in the first place. The aforementioned “East Bound and Down” will turn buttoned up Wall Street workers and Greenpoint hipsters into instant hicks who will sing the refrain at the top of their lungs. That dual guitar interlude is pretty snazzy on top of it all. “We got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.” The Cajun fiddles join some unexpected chords with funky guitars on “Let’s Sing Our Song”. The creature in “The Bird” is a truck stop avian who can sing like Willie and George Jones, ultimately flying the coop and costing a dude five hundred bucks. Yes, this is a real song, and yes, it was a big hit in 1982. “She Got the Goldmine (And I Got the Shaft) is one of the best and funniest songs dealing with marriage, divorce, alimony, and all of the financial problems that go with it. “They split it right down the middle, then they give her the better half”. But we get the fancy guitar picking. “Another Puff” is like Kris Kristofferson on laughing gas singing about trying to quit smoking. It’s an ironic way to end an album, as Reed died of emphysema in 2008.

Reed is out there somewhere, laughing and picking his way through the nicotine clouds, hanging out with Chet Atkins and waiting for Burt Reynolds.

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 21- Modest Mussorgsky- Pictures at an Exhibition

Evegny Kissin, piano: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH_Rsl7fjok

Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (orch. Maurice Ravel)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spU8HnYOMWg

This is one of those monumental pieces in classical music, famous for the original piano version and for several orchestrations of it by composers not named Modest. (From what I’ve read about this mad Russian, the English word “modest” doesn’t quite suit him). My favorite orchestration is by Maurice Ravel, because I like nearly everything Ravel did with music. I like Mussorgsky a lot too, even though it took me years to figure out how to spell his name.

Mussorgsky wrote this in twenty days, which is a fairly short gestation period for a lengthy piano piece. But the best things often come out all at once, and you have to write them down, even if it means constant coffee intake or swigs of brandy. The piece is a suite of ten pieces, various versions of the opening Promenade between sections. The first Promenade moves back and forth between 5/4 and 6/4; not common time signatures for Western music, but more intrinsic to the rhythms of Russia and Eastern Europe. Each Promenade depicts the composer walking from artwork to artwork and reflects his gait. I hear him loping and carrying his heft around in the odd rhythms of the first promenade.

The order is:

Promenade

The Gnome

Promenade 2

The Old Castle

Promenade 3

Children’s Quarrel after Games (I called it Kid Fight in my big band version)

Cattle

Promenade 4

Ballet of Unhatched Chicks

Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle (sounds like a Yiddish movie production company from 1921)

Promenade 5

The Market: Great News

Catacombs

Baba Yaga

Great Gate of Kiev

Each piece can stand alone, but it’s the flow from one exhibition room to the next that ties them together so artfully. It’s a work that many composers and arrangers have adapted (myself included- if anyone ever wants to play my big band version of P at E, I’d love to show it to you) and can stand all sorts of tweaking.

The version that led me and many other people to Mussorgsky in the first place was by the prog-rock power trio Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Sure, it’s a little overblown at times, and maybe I didn’t need Greg Lake’s vocal to The Great Gate of Kiev, but it’s amazing that they pulled this off live. This band was eclectic and ambitious, to say the least.

You could hear a children’s recorder choir play the Promenade and still be impressed. Plus, you’d be singing along in odd-time signatures. Not only was old Modest a great composer, but he had a way with melody you can’t deny.
If you don’t know his other works, like A Night on Bald Mountain (featured in the Disney Fantasia) or his opera Boris Godunov, you might want to check them out. Mussorgsky’s music sounded ugly and unrefined to many of his contemporaries, and I’m glad that it still challenges modern ears. He didn’t try to be unorthodox; he just WAS unorthodox, and for that, we are all better off.

ALBUM OF THE DAY- The George Benson Quartet- The George Benson Cookbook

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3c6yArVkXgI&t=21s

Some people might think of George Benson as a poppier jazz guitarist who sang with his guitar solos. This is the man who made “Breezin’” and “On Broadway” into 1970s R&B/jazz hits. While Benson achieved popularity through playing more commercial music, he always played some tasty guitar.This record from 1967 will make you forget that he is partially responsible for smooth jazz. George Benson is THE MAN.

They come out hard with “The Cooker”, a blues with searing lines played in unison by Benson and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber. The baritone adds a texture that wasn’t found in organ groups with guitar and tenor saxophone (Brother Jack MacDuff and Jimmy Smith, for example).It’s grittier, with a mean punch. The arrangement gives you some unexpected hits and breaks, and does so at a fast pace. “Benny’s Back” is also a blues, but a tad slower with more breaks for unison lines with Benson, Cuber, and guest trombonist Bennie Green. Organist Lonnie Smith (before he assumed the title of Doctor Lonnie Smith) gives us a soulful solo, even if he’s cheating by having bassist Albert Winston hold down the low end. Hammond B-3 players traditionally play a bass line either with their left hand on the lower manual or in the more demanding way: using their feet on the pedals. Either way is hard, which is can say with authority as an organ player myself.

Smith uses some cool drawbar and percussion settings on the intro of “Bossa Rocka”, a slowish groove that would be more sultry if the percussion wasn’t right in your face as you were wooing someone. It’s still a pretty tune, but when you get to “All of Me” you won’t be nuzzling on the divan anymore; you’ll be dancing. It’s also the first Benson vocal on the record; a semi-shouted and inspired gospel-tinged performance. Benson’s voice might take you by surprise, especially after the slow bossa nova. They get into fatback boogaloo territory with “Big Fat Lady”, and you can imagine Big Mama Thornton or Shirley from What’s Happening drunkenly dancing to this in a semi-crowded smoky bar. There are two drummers credited: Jimmy Lovelace and Marion Booker, Jr. They both swing and groove their asses off, no matter who is playing on each tune.

“Benson’s Rider” is a groove I like to call The Bossa-Loo; it’s a funky boogaloo with bossa nova elements. I’m sure there are other terms for it, but I’m sure Benson and company called it MUSIC. Benson owes a bit to Wes Montgomery, Hank Garland, and Django Reinhardt, but he has a little more raw blues than they do, at least on his early releases. Jimmy Smith’s “Ready and Able” is an up swing tune based on the chords of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”, with a fleet and inventive melody and some great solos.  I’m not sure if Benson is referencing a powerful Italian Renassiance family with “The Borgia Stick”, but it’s slightly ominous medium swing in A minor that gives Benson a chance to play over some different chords than in the other tunes. It also has a fade-out, which isn’t very common in jazz records. It feels good, though, and since the amazing John Hammond produced it, I can’t complain. Look up Hammond and find the story of an unprecedented figure in 20th century musical history.

You can get back to dancing with “Return of the Prodigal Son”, another Bossa-Loo that Benson shreds over with bluesy ferocity. He even throws some post-bop lines in there, just to let you know that he can venture outside of the Chitlin Circuit when he wants to. “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid” is a blues standard by the great Lester Young and gives the band a good excuse to play a swing blues.

There are bonus tracks on the CD reissue, but I’m stopping here. I do have to share the first Benson I ever heard, played for me by Chris Charman when we were in eighth grade.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0zKbO7J4xs

“Clockwise” is a blues from Benson’s previous album It’s Uptown. It’s the same band, but there are some impassioned solos, especially from Lonnie Smith. Check out the screaming hemiolas in the middle of his solo. That’s the title of your next band: The Screaming Hemiolas. You won’t swing as hard as these guys, though.

Let the magic of George Benson overtake you. This is a powerhouse band.

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 23- Rufus (featuring Chaka Khan)

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNyyEmFBGcUzxO4bDvm6GcvNCXVET8cCN

Here’s a little playlist I put together that doesn’t hit ALL of the Rufus and Chaka solo records, but it’s a pretty funky mix. Feel free to add your own Chaka tunes below. For me, the next important female R&B singer after Aretha is Chaka Khan. They are from totally different parts of the same soul cloth, but I like Chaka a little more. Maybe it’s because I’ve played “Chain of Fools” on too many gigs. Some of these tunes are R&B and pop standards, so they’ve entered the popular musical lexicon and awareness, but you can’t say enough about Chaka Khan especially in the 1970s with the ultra-funky band Rufus. If it hadn’t been for Wikipedia, I wouldn’t have known that some of Rufus’ band members had a hit with “Bend Me, Shape Me” or that Willie Weeks played bass in an early incarnation. I did know that while Rufus was one grooving band, Chaka helped them sell millions of records and become one of the top R&B bands of the 1970s, if not all time. Are The Roots the last “R&B” band in existence? Why have soul bands gone the way of the dodo? I’ll let other people fight that one out.

I’m starting with the studio recording of “You’ve Got the Love”, and I’ll be damned that no matter how many times I’ve heard it, I always hear the opening riff on the wrong beat. Once the drums come in, I get it, but I feel awfully Caucazoidal. There is a great live version of this and other studio songs on the 1983 live “Stompin’ at the Savoy” with the killer drumming of J.R. Robinson, but I’m sticking to studio recordings here. The rhythm guitar on this track is so sick that I almost don’t the band to come in. We are at the outer end of the funk era with 1981’s “What Cha’ Goanna Do for Me” and go can practically see the lapels on the dance floor suits shrinking as you sway to this. It has a few more sophisticated chords and synths that tell you a new decade is upon us and the funk is changing. It’s gone way 1980s with the sequenced synths and Michael Sembello-sounding guitars of “Ain’t Nobody”, a tune that transcends the sonic nature of its decade. The Reagan Era did more for the Aeolian mode than maybe any other time period. (This musical term also goes hand in hand with the uber-serious cocaine-driven white Reagan Youth music of the era, which has to be some of the worst shit ever created). Chaka does not fall victim to the Aeolian strain of conformity, though She’s too soulful for that.

1974’s Rags to Rufus gave us a few great tunes, including “Walkin’ In the Sun”, which reminds us that even a blind man can tell if he’s walking in the sun. Chaka’s riffs and the vocal harmonies carry this tune despite the unnecessary (in my opinion) strings. I love strings, but when they’re played as a real string section and not like sonic saccharin. The tune has too much f=soul for this to bother me. “I Feel for You” is a hit from 1984 that features Stevie Wonder on harmonica and Grandmaster Melle Mel, along with a nasty bass line and an air of technology. I didn’t know at the time that it was a Prince tune, and it’s one of those rare examples where I might like a cover of a Prince tune more than the original. At least I do on this one, depending on how I’m feeling and if I can deal with feeling fifteen again.

“Through the Fire” is a classic R&B ballad with a great melody and chord changes, even if the production screams Mary Lou Retton heroics and Jheri Curls. The coda is subtlely funky as it fades and is my favorite part of the tune. Guilty pleasure. Dig the Flashdance-inspired video. We’re back into the gritty 1970s with “Dance Wit Me”, which has to be one of the top 20 funkiest tracks ever. It’s too funky to dance to, even though wants you to groove with her. No sane man would say no to dancing with Chaka Khan. Listen to the individual parts of each instrument and how the work with each other. It’s an great example of how each musician can get a little sumpn’ sumpn’ in a tune but not conflict with the other players. Plus the bass line drops out in a chorus and it makes it groove harder. How the fuck do they do that? Of course, the poppin’ bass, guitar and clav all come back for the fade out, along with a pseudo-Latin drum groove that I want to hear like, twenty more minutes of.

Here’s an example of how to make odd-time signatures work in dance music: “Somebody’s Watching You” grooves despite having one leg shorter than the other and using some Chick Corea chord on the bridge. The chorus goes straight for the hook, so if to have a problem with unrelated minor 7th chords, you will be back in soul land. Another fadeout tht I wanted to not happen; there had to have been more dancing going on.

I think it’s often the case that when black artists cover white artists’ songs, they make them better, or at least so different that you forget the original version. The Bee Gee’s “Jive Talkin’” was only a few months old when this slower and sultrier version came out. I could dance to both versions, but I’ll be swooning closer to the ground with the Rufus version, as it’s a tad nastier, in the best possible sense. I will look stupid dancing to either version, so there’s that. As far as slowish soul tunes go, “Sweet Thing” is in the realm of the sexy but not too slow bliss. It’s also got those cool hybrid chords and a cool effortless modulation.

This list closes with Stevie Wonder’s “Tell Me Something Good”, which is a tune any funk band has to know. Actaully, every person on this damn planet needs to know this gem. This guitar-like sound thwacking the riff there is a Hohner Clavinet, and if somebody wants to get me one or my birthday or because it’s Tuesday I’m open to it. It’s also one of the first songs to feature a talk-box guitar, played by Tony Maiden (This was before Peter Frampton made the talk-box guitar a thing). Chaka was recording the song in what she felt was her key when Wonder stopped her and asked her to sing it the way HE wrote it. She’d already turned down a song he’d written for her, which is a pretty badass thing for a 20-year-old singer to do to Motown Jesus. She sang a track of “Tell Me Something Good” in Stevie’s key, then the band came in to record the famous track the next day. She did it in one take.

When I listen to this great music, I can’t help but think of my late basset hound, Rufus. He came with his name, but he was such a RUFUS. He was nowhere near as funky as Chaka and company, but he had a heart and soul that I’ll hold with me forever.

Tell me something good, Rufus.

ALBUM OF THE DAY- March 23- XTC-Skylarking

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85J91FwPrTw

It must feel like spring somewhere today. Or summer. This masterwork 1986 album by the blokes from Swindon is considered their masterpiece, although I would be hard pressed to say which XTC record is my favorite. But on a sunny day, or one awash with warm rain, Skylarking does it for me. It’s a kind of song and season cycle, even if not every song is about the weather. For a record produced by an American wunderkind (Todd Rundgren) in an upstate New York studio in winter, this album sounds pretty damn British. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because, goddammit, I like a lot of things British. I am half-Welsh after all.

You can read about the recording here and here. It’s a fascinating and aggravating story of how two strong wills (Rundgren and bandleader Andy Partridge) butted heads constantly, yet created a pop masterpiece. It’s one of the best records of the 1980s, but it defies the sound of most digital reverb-drenched and gated pop discs of that decade. Part of the record’s sonic transcendence is due to Rundgren’s musicality and production sense. Mostly it’s that Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding are excellent songwriters.

The songs move continuously from one to the other (Prince’s Lovesexy and side B of Abbey Road are much the same way), and the concept and order of the songs was all Rundgren’s from the beginning. Much like Tom Verlaine knew the order of the songs on Marquee Moon before they went into the studio, Rundgren picked the songs for Skylarking and recorded them in the order of the album. This upset the feisty Partridge. Let’s say that friction can produce great art. Nathaniel Fareed posted on Facebook a quote by a woman whose name I can’t remember: “Nothing grows in your comfort zone.” It’s a mild mantra I keep in mind, even though I’ve created some of my best stuff in times of contentment. But not XTC.

So, let’s get to the music.

Oh, wait. I should say that this is the 2010 polarity switch master, and the cover Partridge had in mind before someone thought that a woman’s pubis with flowers might not be a good idea for an album cover. It worked when Lady Chatterley braided her lover’s pubes, but not for Thatcher-Reagan small-minded souls. Then there was the switching of song orders, and taking “Dear God” off the album and putting it back, having The Tubes’ Prairie Prince put drums on AFTER everything was recorded, and doing it three thousand miles away; there are few albums that have anywhere near the pick and pull action and changes that Skylarking has gone through.

Ok, for real. The music. “Summer’s Cauldron” leads us off with crickets. Perhaps they are digital, but I could end up writing too many words if I got as deep into the production as I’d like. There’s an insect-saturated drone synth that disappears when Andy goes into the pre-chorus. Rundgren played the melodica solo, and Partridge enjoyed giving him shit about it in the studio. Oh, Andy, I’d love to play with you someday, but I’m not sure I like Xanax all that much. The crickets become a rhythmic addition to Prince’s one-drop beat. I can’t imagine what the album sounded like before these magical drums. Yes, we go straight to Moulding’s “Grass”, an ode to lawns and all sorts of illicit things you can do on them. You might not like Colin’s voice as much as Andy’s; it takes me some time to adjust to his hollow-sounding accent.  I picture him as a tall and slightly bored Englsih schoolmaster, although one with a benevolent soul. The Indian-sounding strings were Rundgren’s concoction, and the drone is mildly hypnotizing without disturbing the cheeky eroticism that lurks in Swindon’s shrubberies. “The Meeting Place” is another Moulding tune with a very rainy sounding chorus propped up by his bass line, a lovely guitar hook, and some mechanical engine sounds that act as a loop. This was before loops were much of a thing, so bravo to Rundgren for using technology instead of letting it use him. This tune has some nice Yamaha DX-7 sounds that don’t sound like you’re in a 1985 MTV R&B video. I keep hearing new layers every time I listen to these tracks. It’s quite astounding.

I’ve met a few women who hurt like kryptonite, but only a couple have an arching melody like that in “That’s Really Super, Supergirl”. These guys can use some slightly off-kilter chords and make them sound aurally digestible, even to Pat Boone’s ears. Brian Wilson, Steely Dan, and most of all, Stevie Wonder use chords that aren’t straight off the rack, but XTC shops at an obscure retailer on the other side of musictown. There are some chords in their songs that are difficult to define, and that aren’t found in most pop music. Stereo keyboard chirps act as rhythmic charges and texturize the harmony. It helps that Andy’s melodies are as strong as any songwriter in history. Check that guitar solo! Dave Gregory there, shredding on Eric Clapton’s guitar.

It’s back to the weather on “Ballet for a Rainy Day”, and you can feel the English raindrops falling all over the track. When I was transcribing this record (yes, I made lead sheets of the whole record, in case anyone wants them) I found that Skylarking’s harmonies are closer to Mussorgsky than they are to Cole Porter. Or to any 1980s music, for that matter. The subtle transition to “100 Umbrellas”, with its F7 chord, is fooking brilliant. As is the string arrangement by Dave Gregory- it combines George Martin and Bernard Hermann into one of the best string arrangements I’ve ever heard in pop music, even if it is from a town they call misery. What a brilliant tune, and when the strings go down the warped tunnel after the second chorus I enjoy the ride, but the end of the ride makes everything more beautiful. You’ll see.

Not sure about Andy’s rhyming of “cycle” with “umbilical”, but when the song is as catchy as this one, you don’t care who is pushing the pedals on the “Season Cycle”. It’s Pet Sounds put through a mildly hallucinogenic filter with animals throwing strange chords in as the tune goes by. Nature’s transformations never shuffled more beautifully.

SIDE B. Yes, Side B.

One of the best fucking pop songs ever is “Earn Enough for Us”. It’s a terminally catchy tale of a young bus driver who hopes he can make enough money to support the woman he wants to marry, even if he needs to take a job at night. There aren’t enough songs like this; a realistic love song that isn’t so much about love as it is about being able to afford love and maintain it financially. Whenever I get married, this will be one of my musical mantras, even if I’ve won the lottery or have my music getting its fiduciary due. “I’m just praying by the weekend I can earn enough for us.” There’s also tons of ear candy in this tune; from the vocal itself to the guitar-synth hook, to Moulding’s bass line that made him quit the band for a minute. It’s an A-fucking-plus tune.

It might not be the bus driver getting married in Moulding’s “Big Day” but it’s a sometimes-dire pronouncement on marriage. It begins with a wreath of floral expectation and Colin’s congratulation on tying the knot. But then he veers dark and cynical over E mixolydian chords, but it doesn’t sneer so much due to the Indian-influenced drone hiding underneath. He thinks you can make love last, even though the odds are against you and that spring doesn’t last too long. “Another Satellite” wasn’t on one version of the record, which is a shame, because the song grabs your ear while being half on earth and half in orbit. I want to know how they got that swelling guitar sound, but that will take me down one rabbit hole after another and I just want to listen right now. More unusual harmonies here, and this was a difficult one to transcribe. Those ringing digital marimbas sound like transmissions from another sort of civilization. The “Ta-Tas” on the coda prove my point that that if you don’t have lyrics for a final verse, sing nonsense syllables and people will buy your record like it’s Black Friday at Walmart.

“Mermaid Smiled” was removed in favor of “Dear God” on later releases, which is another shame. It’s not like there isn’t enough space on a CD or cassette for all these tunes. Prince even manages to swing a bit under the beautiful and impenetrable vocal harmonies. We’re in seven-beat Mancini crime jazz with “The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul”. The bridge could be an outtake from Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, until it goes back to noir-jazz chords and the naughty flute that tells us that immoral and existential things are going down. Prince gets to go off at the end with the anxiety brass and the minor-major 7th chords. It ends with a short blast of murderous squawks.

“Dear God” is probably the most powerful song XTC ever recorded, and it’s easily the one that received the most vitriol from evangelicals and those whose heads are up their asses. If this song doesn’t make you agnostic, it will at least make you question your spiritual priorities. It begins with a kid singing the first verse and chorus, which makes the song even more off-putting..  It’s also full of chords that seem innocuous at first, but that are devious and subtle in order to reinforce the slightly preachy but monumentally heavy lyrics, which I quote here in full:

Dear God, hope you get the letter and
I pray you can make it better down here
I don’t mean a big reduction in the price of beer
But all the people that you made in your image
See them starving on their feet
‘Cause they don’t get enough to eat from God
I can’t believe in you

Dear God, sorry to disturb you but
I feel that I should be heard loud and clear
We all need a big reduction in amount of tears
And all the people that you made in your image
See them fighting in the street
‘Cause they can’t make opinions meet about God
I can’t believe in you

Did you make disease and the diamond blue?
Did you make mankind after we made you?
And the Devil too!

Dear God don’t know if you noticed but
Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book
And us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look
And all the people that you made in your image
Still believing that junk is true
Well I know it ain’t, and so do you
Dear God
I can’t believe in
I don’t believe

I won’t believe in heaven or hell
No saints, no sinners, no devil as well
No pearly gates, no thorny crown
You’re always letting us humans down
The wars you bring, the babes you drown
Those lost at sea and never found
And it’s the same the whole world ’round
The hurt I see helps to compound
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax
And if you’re up there you’ll perceive
That my heart’s here upon my sleeve
If there’s one thing I don’t believe in

It’s you
Dear God.

It’s no wonder the song enflamed religious passions and enmities. Of course, the record sold more copies because of it. At least the version of the record with “Dear God” on it. XTC has always had a problem selling a lot of records, probably because their melodies are so undeniably perfect that hipsters pan them for being too pop-sounding and teeny boppers and other empty minds don’t see a matinee idol in the band and are turned off by some sonic element that is wondrous to those of us who believe. That was a long string of words. Charlie Haden once said that if someone wanted to torture him, they’d make him listen to music with Ronald Reagan’s ears. I doubt Ronnie would get this record, but…

Hey! Back to the music. Oh wait, it’s “Dying”. Agnosticism wasn’t harsh enough, so Colin wants to talk about his friend’s death and how shitty he was to the guy before he died. On top of it and the odd acoustic guitar chords, Colin doesn’t want to die like his friend did. He’s kicking the corpse again. It’s not quite solemn, and not quite creepy. Just a little uncomfortable, but with a great melody you can almost dance to.

The druids come out for “Sacrificial Bonfire”, which could be at Stonehenge in 8,000 B.C., but if acoustic guitars, tambours, and a giant string section travelled back in time with the band. It’s celestial and fire-ridden at the same time. Is he burning his dead friend from the last tune? It’s about spring and clearing out the bad for the new and good. Renewal with the flame, much like spring emerging from the snows of winter.

That concludes this mighty impressive album by the always-undersung XTC. I’ll have more to say about them down the road. They made videos of each song, in case you want to geek out further, as I often do. You’ll have to look for each song on the YouTubes, but I gave you “Grass”. To see them all, you’ll have to earn it.

Earn enough for us, that is.

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 25- Bela Bartok- Six String Quartets-The Emerson String Quartet

I wrote a few days ago on how some dissonant classical music is like a warm blanket to me, and Bela Bartok’s string quartets are high up in that comfort zone. Sometimes they turn up the electric blanket a bit too high and I have to stop and walk around the cold room, but this is some of the heaviest chamber music there is. It’s not for everyone at all times, but if you like things a little strange, Balkan, and gripping, you have a few hours here to luxuriate in the musical mind of a master. If you want to get geeky like I did, buy the Boosey and Hawkes score and follow along. If you can.

I bought this magnificent recording in college for my amazing class with Berklee professor John Bavicchi, who was an amazing teacher, because he made US do the work, and man, did we want to work. There were maybe six of us in the class, and Bavicchi could be intimidating. He was nearly seventy, bald and broad, and had a quick wit coupled with a dirty mind and a serious knowledge of musical composition. If anyone stammered while explaining a formal analysis of a piece, Bavicchi would lean over his table and yell things like “COW’S ASS?” or, “Good God, man! I don’t know whether to shit or go blind!” He’d probably get reprimanded in today’s PC collegiate world, but we knew he liked us if we showed that we were really dedicated to understanding this extremely complex music.  Bavicchi studied under Walter Piston at Harvard. Piston was a well-known 20th century composer and author of one of the best books on orchestration. It was an impressive musical pedigree.

Bela Bartok (1881-1945) was a Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist who also happened to write some of the most important string quartets in the chamber music repertoire. You can hear his musical development and style develop through each successive piece. The First Quartet, from 1908, has some elements of Hungarian folk music (Bartok documented many Slavic folk songs in his early years, but we hear his own voice emerging from the long shadows of Strauss, Debussy, and the Nationalist composers of the late 19th century. He’s also twisting the already twisty folk songs into a darker and more dissonant sound. In jazz terms, he was taking it out.

He keeps taking it further out, and the outbreak of World War I probably added to the atonality you hear a little more in the Second Quartet. Bartok emulated Beethoven’s quartets in their formal detail. I don’t know if he and Ludwig really counted every eighth note to achieve Fibonacci’s Golden Mean, but the music doesn’t sound like math to me. Unlike, say, Schoenberg, Bartok showed a great range of emotions in his music, not just the formality of a bitter man who hates the world and responds with annoying atonality.

The Third and Fourth Quartets are prime Bartok, if one could really say such a thing. It’s not like he was a slugger in his late 20s who could finally hit the curve ball. Bartok WAS the curve ball. There are fugal, funereal, and frantic movements in all of these quartets, and Bavicchi told us he’d been teaching the Bartok class for thirty years and still found new strettos or tripped-out fugal bits every time he listened to a piece and tread the score.

The Fifth Quartet gets into what they call Bartok’s “Night Music” style- eerie and swirling textures that influenced many a film composer. The Sixth and final quarter was started in Switzerland in 1939 (kind of a safe place during the war) and finished in Hungary in 1941 (not a very safe place during the war). We might think that we live in troubled times now, but Bela lived through two huge wars on his own continent, and managed to give us so much amazing music.

I don’t feel that there is such a thing as a pretty good Bartok piece. The man blessed everything he wrote with his genius. Whether his sometimes-demanding music is for you, I can’t say, but I strongly suggest that you try it out. If chamber music isn’t your thing, the Concerto for Orchestra is one of the greatest symphonic works of the 20th century. But there’s nothing as intense and personal for me as a string quartet, and Bartok was a master of it.

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 28- Vangelis- Blade Runner (The Original Soundtrack)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBR2IBRP2v0

Man, I had no idea there were as many versions of the soundtrack to 1982’s Blade Runner as there are different cuts of the film. I’m trying to figure out which one was the LP that Jonathan Stein played me back in 1986. I knew the film then, but hearing the score alone was another thing altogether. Vangelis didn’t want his score to be released, so he had it re-recorded by The New American Orchestra. I heard that version on LP all those years ago, but I’m going with the original score that didn’t come out until 1994.

Blade Runner is one of my favorite films, no matter which version, and the score (in any form) inhabits a world all of its own. Vangelis, a Greek composer and synthesis, was coming off the feel-good and Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire score, which made him a semi-household name. Try running in slo-mo with anyone over forty, and you will be forced to sing the theme song. Blade Runner was an entirely different film; it is a dark as Chariots of Fire is inspirational. If you haven’t seen the movie, listen to the soundtrack and then watch it. It is a futuristic film noir in rain-drenched sci-fi clothing.

I’ve always marveled at the synthesizer sounds Vangelis creates. They sound half analog and half digital, but aren’t date-stamped to let you know it’s 1982. (Now I want to get a Yamaha CS-80).There are great films and music from 1982; it’s when the 1980s hadn’t become Reaganized completely, but the ideas were veering away from the 1970s. Even the drum machines don’t sound like the era. It’s a warm and cold sound all at once, and really captures and heightens the dark and moody atmosphere of the film. Great film scores do that; you take music out of a movie you really love, and it will probably feel wrong to you, because you’ve been conditioned to hear the film in its finalized state. Blade Runner would be a good film without this score, but I don’t think it would be a GREAT film.

I won’t go through the tracks per se, as this should be something that washes over you, and preferably without YouTube ads, if you can avoid it. Some people might not like the inclusion of dialogue with the score, but I feel the music without getting distracted by the snatches of plot. Vangelis used a saxophone, that noir-ish and seductive sounding instrument. If you want to show mystery and eroticism, add a reverb-soaked saxophone, preferably playing a melody over a minor-major 7th chord. A harmonica adds a nice touch too. This is not to say that Vangelis is using typical sounds of crime-jazz; it’s that he takes bits of them and twists them in his own way. The music sounds slightly familiar, guarded, and distant all at once, just like the movie.

You can use a wordless female vocal to add a sense of ethereal majesty, and Vangelis does that well here. Even when there are instruments and voices that he didn’t play, they don’t stick out like he’s showing off his ability to write for another instrument. They all melt nicely into the soundscape. The alto sax melody on the Love Theme could be really cheesy in another composer’s hands; but to me it’s full of longing, depressed wonder, and a flight of possibility. Yes, Sean Young’s character is cold and desirable. But she wouldn’t feel as sadly sexy without these sonic textures. Hey, this would be great make-out music. Gotta work on that….

“One More Kiss, Dear” is a 1920s song as seen through the 2020s. I don’t remember it in the movie, but maybe it was tucked away somewhere behind a scene. You can see and feel the nuclear rain in “Blade Runner’s Blues”, with a synthesizer taking the place of the saxophone. It’s of another time and for another time. There is a real piano in here too, sometimes detuned, but always sounding like a passage of someone else’s dream. The whole movie and score is like a dream, so maybe I was redundant there. You can hear the rattles of technology and mankind’s chemical-fueled hatred of itself. Does anyone care? Do only the replicants care?

Bjork wasn’t a cult phenomenon outside of her own bedroom at this time, but the vocal on “Tales of the Future” sounds like she mated with Nusrat Ali Khan. It’s a perfect sound for a frightening world that has become more foreign than American. The vocal is by the Egyptian-born Demis Roussos. Anyone who has seen the movie won’t need Rutger Hauer’s dialogue to know which scene it is. “Tears in Rain” is the end of one part of the story; for the very end, everyone has a different theory about what and who Harrison Ford’s Deckard is. I’ll let the film buffs argue over that one.

What you can’t argue about is Vangelis’ score and how it helps director Ridley Scott’s vision of a dystopian and not-too-distant future. There is nothing else like this score and film, and I felt sorry for Hans Zimmer and Ben Wallfisch for having to live up to the original when they scored Blade Runner:2049. They did a fine score of their own, I will say; nodding to Vangelis while crafting a dark sonic place of their own. I like that movie, but I think it bears repeated viewings and listenings.

Just like Blade Runner. If you haven’t seen it, see it. If you have seen it, see it again. But for now, listen to it, preferably on a rainy evening when you’re tired and alone with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and a host of unsure memories.

“If you could only see what I’ve seen with your eyes….”

ALBUM OF THE DAY- March 29- Steps Ahead- Modern Times

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF9kW-8NPqs&list=PLOgAjPtA35NRAjO7zLvU7_itH3H5Ck_Of

This record from 1984 was on heavy rotation for me in high school. Michael Brecker was THE tenor saxophonist to listen to, and this version of Mike Mainieri’s band is still my favorite record of the group. It sounds like the 80s, but not in an obvious way. I used to call this white-guilt jazz, and maybe I still do. Either way it’s a great album by a great band, and I highly recommend checking out all their albums, especially the early ones like Smokin’ in the Pit and their eponymous 1983 record.

The band’s personnel changed from record to record, as well as from tour to tour. I saw them in 2017 and felt like I was in the now and being fifteen all at once, which was better than it sounds. They renewed the old songs and trotted out some impressive new ones. Modern Times got me through adolescence, as it had some contemporary sounds (more synths, well played by Warren Bernhardt), drum machines ( although drummer Peter Erskine didn’t need a machine to show he could play his ass off), The EWI (Michael Brecker has no rivals on this, except for Seamus Blake now), and of course the sometimes-synthy sound of Mainieri’s vibraphone and the impeccable playing of bassist Eddie Gomez.

“Safari” leads off Side A with a sequenced DX-7 flute sound and Erskine’s version of a one-drop groove.  It was harder to groove with sequenced keyboard parts then, as the sequencers were more machine-like that the swing we can get today with workstations and home studio audio apps. But the band makes it groove. The melody snakes around and builds slowly to lead into a nice Brecker solo. Parts of this record verge on what would now be somewhat derisively-termed “smooth jazz”, but I think in this case that’s more because of the sonic texture than the actual music and playing. Mainieri can also write great melodies, a skill that is cherished in most musical circles, but not so much in modern jazz or classical music. Some of those seem to think that if you can hum someone’s tune after you hear it, it must be commercial and therefore inferior. Of course, this attitude is bullshit and there are plenty of jazz and classical composers and performers who love melody. I’m glad Mainieri is one of them.

Perhaps the biggest ear candy on this album is Mainieri’s “Oops”. It’s got another transformed Erskine one-drop coupled with a memorable melody and a catchy bass line. Don’t forget to write BASS LINES if a tune could use them. Otherwise a jazz tune might sound musically blurry and not allow a listener’s ears to attach to it. That’s Drydo’s Directive #44. “Oops” has a longer form than your average jazz piece, but I guess all of the tunes are on Modern Times. Your grandmother could hear “Oops” and sing along with it. I bet she couldn’t do that with Anthony Braxton.

They get dreamy and reflective with “Self-Portrait”, with a vibes solo that echoes Gary Burton, but it is all Mike’s. Vibes can sound cheesy to some people when they’re played in a certain way, but they’re nearly always warm and comforting to me. Brecker sounds like he’s climbing a mountain on his solo. Anyone trying to figure out how to play like him will hit a mountain, too, but it’s an unsurmountable peak. The song fades out, but I don’t like fadeouts in jazz. I wanna hear the whole thing, dammit.

The sequenced synth in Warren Bernhardt’s “Modern Times” is one of my favorite things about it, especially the way it plays some outside harmony while still sounding palatable to a novice listener. If you want to add subversive chords to your tune, do it SUBTLELY. I love the way the tune opens up for Gomez’s bass solo; it’s like being on a plane that’s ascending through the clouds and bursts through into the blue sky. They do the same thing for Bernhardt’s piano solo, which has some arpeggios that are so perfect that fifteen-year-old me questioned my abilities and future as a jazz musician. I got over that. But I still love the tune, percolating gloss and all.

Turn it over to Side B. I used to listen to “Radio-Active” on my Walkman and imagine how cool I’d seem to the other 9th graders if they heard it too. Now I’m sure they wouldn’t change their opinion about me, but this tune made me feel like I was in the middle of exciting music technology. There’s not a lot musically to the tune except for a synth bass line, Brecker’s double-tracked saxes, killer drum programming, and an Asian riff that would probably upset the PC jazz police today. It works. You don’t need to be complicated to make something sound good. That’s Drydo’s Directive #32. I’d like to see this come on the stereo in a dark hip club today, just to see how the patrons would react.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but Eddie Gomez is only on about half of the record. They were moving into a more electronic plane, so there’s a lot of synth bass here. It never feels mechanical to me, though. Gomez does play an uplifting bassline on “Now You Know”, which is in itself a positive and hopeful sounding song, even if it sounds like it’s on an island cruise with Spyro Gyra. I picture the guys in Hawaiian shirts on a jungle beach, each with a macaw on their shoulders. Hey, it sounds happy, like the Lydian chords that shine a light at the end of a really bad week. Brecker’s soprano gets a bit CD 101.9 for me, but it’s Michael Brecker, so he can do whatever he wants. Brecker left us in January 2007, which was incredibly sad for many of us. I got the privilege to record with him and his brother Randy with the band Urbanator (long story for another time) and with Michael on a tune I wrote with Lenny White called “Abyss”. The thrill of playing a tune I co-wrote with the master left me too stunned to realize what had happened. That’s also a story for another post.

The album concludes with Mainieri’s “Old Town”. I’d like to know where this town is, because this tune didn’t sound old then and doesn’t sound old now. There are more perky drum machines and synth basses, plus an ominous melody that’s probably synth and EWI. The best part? It’s when Tony Levin enters on Chapman stick. It might be my favorite thing on the album now, and I’ve practically memorized the whole thing. His groove and sound are so thick and deep. There is nothing in the world like Tony Levin on stick or bass. Erskine’s marching band drums sound like a second-line funeral where everyone’s been snorting Adderall. You don’t expect it, and it’s so refreshing when he and Levin enter.

So, if you don’t have this album in your collection, buy it. When the kids are listening to whatever new electric jazz thing they’re into now, I like to point them in this direction and say, “See where your shit came from?”

Modern times, indeed.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-March 30-The Little Willies

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_wqSl9nJ1I&list=PLNyyEmFBGcUxIpgJpNizRFHgpLQXlppkK

I’m sort of cheating here, as this is something I played on, but it’s one of the most important things that’s happened to me. Plus, I’m really fucking good at music, and so are my friends here. If you don’t like old country music, this might make you come around just a bit.

I’d met Ms. Jones when she first moved to NYC in 1998 or so, and friends said she was a good singer and piano player. She invited me to her club audition for Blue Note Records (at the second incarnation of Deanna’s, for jazz club trivia buffs) and she blew everyone away, myself very much included. Many million hit records later, she was doing a side project with some friends playing old country tunes, but I didn’t know their name or anything. I had a night off, and asked Tim Luntzel (who was on the road with Jesse Harris) if he knew of anything to go check out. He said, “Go check out The Little Willies!” So I braved my slight claustrophobia and headed to the Lower East Side.

Drummer Dan Rieser and I met at Berklee, and he’s always been one of my favorite drummers who plays any tune I write sound better than it should. I’d done some jazz gigs with bassist Lee Alexander, and he was a great player, Norah’s musical right-hand man, and an awesome hang. I’d played with guitarist Jim Campilongo in the first version of Van Hayride (more on that later) and had been dazzled by his trio, like so many other people. I’d seen/heard singer-songwriter Richard Julian at The Living Room and known his name but hadn’t witnessed his brilliance close up. And of course, there’s Norah, who I can safely say is my favorite female vocalist of all time. She could sing The Magna Carta and make me cry.

I sat down and said hello to everyone, ordered a Maker’s Mark, and listened. I was expecting fun and badassery, of course, but I didn’t expect to be shown a musical world I’d only had passing acquaintance with. The Little Willies that night (and every night I saw them or played with them) were a musical epiphany for me, and while I’ve seen and listened to so much amazing music over my considerable years, there have been only a handful of concerts that made me wonder “where has this music been all my life-and how do I play it-and why has my brain chemistry changed?” I was crying into my bourbon one minute and laughing with everyone the next, all in the name of beautiful songwriting in the hands of transcendent musicians.

Yeah, it’s not what most musicians think of as musical nirvana: a mostly-cover countryish band playing in a hole in the wall on a Tuesday night. But I was hooked and mildly obsessed with craft of songwriting and the perseverance of classic songs through neo-angelic voices. I’m a better lyricist and accompanist today because of this night. I was so blown away that I found a way to sneak into the band (thanks for the help, Luntz!), squirming my way onto gigs and eventually onto the album. Thank you, Willies, for letting me in. I’m a better accordionist and organist because of you guys. Hell, I’m a better person and musician because of you all.

On to the album, which was recorded in a few different studios in NYC in 2005. Bob Wills’ “Roly Poly” starts out the record like it did that night at The Living Room. Campy gets to go off with his Telecaster magic, and the best song about a fat kid sounds less demeaning to corpulent children when you have this lovely female voice telling you about him. Rieser kicks off Hank’s “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” with a nasty drum groove that sounds like a drunken Fats Domino and Johnny Cash getting thrown into an alley in the French Quarter. It’s a Richard vocal with harmonies by Norah. She’s amazing because she can either sound like a comforting harmony singer, or come at you with that sweet and smoky voice. I often hear and think of smoky throats with N and R, not because they smelled like nicotine and emphysema, but because they have some natural seasoning in their voices that adds a down home texture without sounding like they’re still on the farm. Check out that organ part!

Yeah, that’s Jonesy singing Elvis on “Love Me”, and we non-singers did a gang vocal on the bridge. We were called The Ordinaires. Also, Jones has always sounded like herself on the piano. I can tell it’s her playing on any track, whether she’s singing or not. That’s really hard to do. Sometimes I don’t even recognize MY playing on a recording. But yes, you will love her. Check out that organ part! “It’s Not You, It’s Me” is more than a wryly clever use of a semi-clichéd relationship line; it turns the idea of taking one for the relationship team into a dismissal of the lazy partner. At least that’s the way I hear it. It’s an original that country swings and could be covered by jazz singers.

I had only a slight idea of who Kris Kristofferson was before that night at The Living Room. He was a guy with a beard who I guess sang country music and who showed up in A Star is Born and Convoy and other movies I hadn’t seen. After that night, after I’d hassled RJ and NJ to tell me everything about every tune, I was a KK Konvert.  If Hank Williams is the Hillbilly Shakespeare, Kris is the Southern Dickens, Da Vinci, and Henry Miller all wrapped up into one bearded package. I know of no other country singer who quotes Voltaire in his songs, but Kris’ breakthrough on the Nashville in 1968 was a musical Enlightenment unto itself. “Best of All Possible Worlds” needs no pan-gloss on the melody and lyric, and I believe RJ when he sings about drunkenly running into a cop and getting thrown into jail. Kris’ original sounds a little scarier because of his deep and scratchy voice, but this version made me picture Richard throwing down at a poet party and running out into Ludlow Street. He has never done that in real life, I’m sure, but follow the story of the song and bop your head to this fast train groove and Campy’s tweaked-out solo of Fender bliss.

Another Kris tune they did that night isn’t on this album (it’s on the second album) was “For the Good Times”. I was barely familiar with the tune (it’s been covered many times) but I was not prepared for the emotional onslaught Norah provided. It’s a devastating tune about having one last night with someone you love even though that person doesn’t love you and the relationship is over. I’ll write more about it on Kris’s day.

One post-1968 songwriter who rivals Kris, if not surpasses him, is Townes Van Zandt. Fucking TOWNES. Here was another singer-songer I’d never really known, and Richard laid his soul bare for us that night with “No Place to Fall”. Townes’ version is great, of course, but The Willies here play it a lot slower, and it milks the tears out of me:

 

If I had no place to fall

And I needed to

Could I count on you?

To lay me down?

I’d never tell you no lies

I don’t believe it’s wise

You got pretty eyes

Won’t you spin me ’round

 

I ain’t much of a lover it’s true
I’m here then I’m gone

And I’m forever blue

But I’m sure wanting you.
Skies full of silver and gold

Try to hide the sun

But it can’t be done

At least not for long.

 

And if we help each other grow

While the light of day

Smiles down our way

Then we can’t go wrong

Time, she’s a fast old train

She’s here then she’s gone

And she won’t come again

Won’t you take my hand?

 

If I had no place to fall
And I needed to

Could I count on you?

To lay me down?

 

There are no fancy words or super-fancy chords here. It’s a man mildly pleading for help and love in spite of his personal issues. Townes, like John Prine, will make you laugh one line and bawl your eyes out in the next. I love Townes because he sounds like a woefully intelligent hound dog, and I love Richard because he coaxes a new feeling out of a beautiful song.

Lee Alexander’s “Roll On” could have easily been on one of Norah’s solo records, but I’m glad it’s on this one because I got to play organ on it. It makes me feel like I’m at the end of a long drive, slightly worn-out but comfortable and content. Maybe that’s not what Lee meant, but I’m rolling with it. I was also thrilled when I was in a drugstore one night in San Jose and heard this on the stereo. It’s always a strange but satisfying feeling to hear yourself in a public place.

The Little Willies started out as a Willie Nelson cover band, only to drift into other songs of nobility. If you don’t think Willie Nelson is a national treasure, then stop reading this and move to Antarctica, because we don’t want you here. Norah sings “I Gotta Get Drunk” like someone who wants to be inebriated, and it always feels like a party when they do it live. I can’t imagine Jones spending her whole paycheck on some old wreck, but that’s what we call poetic license. Or some other high-falutin’ term. It’s fun and breaks up the melancholy for a needed moment.

I had no idea who Harlan Howard was or that he wrote or co-wrote five thousand songs. Richard explained that in “Streets of Baltimore” we go from the sticks to the big city and back in sixteen lines. It’s one of the best story songs there is, and RJ and NJ show us one reason why country is white peoples’ soul music.

 

I sold the farm to take my woman where she longed to be
We left our kin and all our friends back there in Tennessee
I bought those one way tickets she had often begged me for
And they took us to the streets of Baltimore.
Her heart was filled with laughter when she saw those city lights
She said the prettiest place on earth is Baltimore at night
Oh well a man feels proud to give his woman what she’s longing for
And I kind of liked the streets of Baltimore

.
Well I got myself a factory job I ran an old machine
I bought a little cottage in a neighborhood serene
Yet every night when I came home with every muscle sore
She would drag me through the streets of Baltimore.
Well I did my best to bring her back to what she used to be
But I soon learned she loved those bright lights much more than she loved me,
Now I’m a going back on that same train that brought me here before
While my baby walks the streets of Baltimore.
Yes, my baby walks the streets of Baltimore.

 

Gram Parsons did a great version of this tune, but I’m partial to this track, of course. I need to know how Dan Rieser got that backbeat sound. I would have realized it was a good song if I’d heard it somewhere before that night, but the Willies made me realize it was a GREAT song, and that their performance accentuated that. I think there’s accordion buried in there….

“Easy As the Rain” is a Campy-Julian concoction, and I’m sure the band added more to the song than just the beautiful sound and feel. Listen for RJ’s falsetto on the climax of the bridge and the way he and Norah sound like one person with two voices. Campy’s solo is reflective and reinforces the heartfelt lyrics of a long-lasting love. I’d have to call this song and performance gorgeous. Also a tune that deserves to be covered. Check out that sultry and thoughtful organ part…

Besides “Roly Poly, I knew at least one other song that night: Jimmy Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud”. I knew it from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s version with Doc Watson singing a story that could only come from the American South. You can hear the horse trotting in the groove as the narrator rides out of Arkansas in a few lines of violence. I’m sure those bastards deserved it. I can’t picture Richard on a pony, but when he sings this he could be astride Marty Robbins’ strawberry roan stallion.

Next is another Willie tune that was made famous by Ray Price. “Night Life” might as well be about my life, or about my life for nearly two decades in New York. I’m still a nocturnal creature, but as I’m in suburban California at the time of this writing, I’m far away from the nightclubs and streets that give me so much energy and inspiration. But Norah takes us on a tour of the somewhat-seedy environs of after-hours living and makes me feel that, yeah, the night life ain’t the right life, but it’s MY LIFE.

The album closes with an original by the band that always makes people laugh, especially New Yorkers. “Lou Reed” is a fictionalized tale of driving through West Texas and seeing a guy in black tipping cows. Yes, cow tipping. Yes, Lou Reed. No, it probably didn’t happen. But I can see it happen, in all its mud-soaked glory. (My apologies to the cows. No animals were harmed during the making of this album. Maybe some livers, but that’s a different story). It’s a catchy tune, and lyrically brave. It takes some stones to rhyme “boot varnish” with “Jim Jarmusch”. If there’s any time for witty and cultured wordplay, it’s in a tune like this that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

So that’s the debut album by my friends The Little Willies. As great as this record is, seeing them live (preferably with the sixth man popping in) will hit you even more. That is, if you can ever see them live. If I die before everyone in this fine band does, someone please set up a memorial and make sure they play. Music can hit you in your brain, your soul, or your heart. This band hits me in all three places, and I’ll be forever grateful for their music, friendship, and the musical revelations they bestowed upon me.

Roll on.

 

Music of the Day- March 1-15

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 1- Artur Rubinstein- The Chopin Collection

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed2ZtwCDvvw&list=PL050B847FDA1CA642

Suffice it to say that this is one of the greatest pianists playing the music of one of the greatest composers for the piano. Rubinstein’s Chopin really hits me. There are no words for the beauty and passion here; you have to listen. Chopin revolutionized piano playing and composition, and he is worth knowing more about in case you already don’t. You can look up Rubinstein here. They were both rock stars of their day, and you can hear the reasons why.

The Preludes and the Nocturnes are my favorites, although there is no Chopin that isn’t brilliant and beautiful. The Preludes were based on the tonal scheme of Bach’s Preludes and run the gamut of emotions. If you can, listen to the Nocturnes like I did one summer night in 1997, with the sound of a storm overheard swirling around the beautiful night music. Any sort of storm will work in any season, but it has to be dark out. You shouldn’t wake up in the morning to listen to the Nocturnes.

Ballades, Sonatas, Polonaises, Waltzes, Concertos, Etudes, Mazurkas, Impromptus, and so many more- this IS piano music. Spend the rest of your life with these recordings. They will never steer you wrong.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-March 2- John Coltrane- Transition

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYVKRpr8GxM

Picking Coltrane albums is like picking Duke Ellington or Beatles records- there are so many to choose from and one only has so many days in the year. At least I do. This album has two versions, both released posthumously. The 1970 version has “Dear Lord” but is replaced by “Welcome” and Vigil” on the 1993 CD reissue. “Welcome” was also on Kulu Se Mama, another important Coltrane record. Weird. It should be all of these tunes that Rudy Van Gelder recorded in 1965.

Trane, in case you don’t know him, is one of the titans of jazz, if not all music history. He was an obsessive practice room saxophonist, and you can really hear his dedication. While there are a few Trane musical mannerisms, he rarely feels mechanical to me. He is sheer passion and energy and music.

Transition lives up to its name; this is the Coltrane quartet on the edge of the avant-garde while ripping the lid off mostly one-chord jams (“Transition”), frenzied melodicism (“Welcome”) and a dissonant set of instrumental prayers (“Vigil”, “Suite….”). This is often not easy music to listen to, but if you get heavy into the man and band that came closer than anyone to the musical divine, you’ll be amazed. Since it’s Jimmy Garrison’s birthday, I should point out his bass solo in the middle of the suite. He begins by tapping the strings with the wooden part of the bow (col legno, for those who like fancy music terms). Then he plays his signature double-stops followed by a melodic passage. The band enters unexpectedly, thrashing about. Pianist McCoy Tyner sounds like no one but himself, and the equally legendary Elvin Jones kicks some serious ass on the drums. You can identify each member of the quartet by only listening to a few measures of them playing. That is incredibly hard to achieve as a musician- your unmistakable sound and musical identity. All that said, I wish Elvin was higher in the mix.

For all the amazing music that feels like it’s about to explode, my favorite tunes here are the ballads. “Welcome” has always felt like what I’d hear if I actually made it to heaven. It’s not the music of the spheres; it’s above the spheres. It does sound a bit like Happy Birthday, but maybe that’s why it’s so accessible. Tyner’s arpeggios swirl over your head and around the room as Coltrane guides you through your ascension into the happy afterlife.

As for “Dear Lord”, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces in the jazz pantheon, and another sign of Trane’s divine connection to the universe. It’s in my musical DNA and is something I strive for in my own music. Even if I don’t believe in a Great Creator all the time, I feel that there has to be something bigger out there when I hear 1960s Coltrane.

Coltrane knows.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- March 3- Fishbone- Truth and Soul
https://www.youtube.com/watch…
I was already a big Fishbone when this record came out in 1988, and this only made me admire them more. I also got to go to my first Fishbone show that year, which is an experience anyone who gives a shit about energetic music should experience.
On Truth and Soul, the band starts to prove that they have a social conscience and are badass musicians. We Fishbone fans knew these facts already, but they were surrounded by hilarious party grooves that sounded like they could have come from a variety of frat houses. No other band blends so many disparate styles into a singular style like Fishbone.
It’s a good thing I was young and didn’t know that “Freddie’s Dead” was a Curtis Mayfield tune from the movie Superfly. I would have had my soul card revoked. Needless to say, they come out blasting, with guitarist Kendall Jones laying down the original guitar riff, but with about seven degrees of distortion. The song’s message is straight forward: if you want to be a junkie, you’ll probably wind up dead after being ripped off and abused. Curtis’ trademark falsetto here gives way to Angelo Moore’s near-sneering anger. Fishbone has a lot of great fuck-you moments that make you feel really good, even if you’re the one Angelo is telling to fuck off.
The video for “Ma and Pa” gives an example of the energy of a Fishbone show. It’s an upbeat skank-less ska tune that makes the breakup of a family sound like a Cailfornia beach party. ‘Question of Life” is a horn-driven tune that could have only been created in SoCal. Phillip “Fish” Fisher has a distinctive groove and sound here and throughout all Fishbone records. In a decade of questionable snare drum sounds, Fish always sounds natural. Perhaps we can thank producer David Kahne for that. “Pouring Rain” is a modified reggae with a creamy guitar line and swelling brass and minor 9th chords that would feel forced if most other bands of the era tried to use them. “Deep Inside” gets closer to their punk roots. A band like Fishbone can happen when you put inner-city black kids into white suburban San Fernando Valley- if you’re around a lot of different influences and sub-cultures you unconsciously adopt some of their elements. I wish more Southern people would do that, but…
“Mighty Long Way” is a happy shuffle that reminds us that friendship is deep bond. It begs for a drunken singalong with your lifelong buddies. “Bonin’ in the Boneyard” is classic Fishbone, with not-so-subtle references to sex and a pogo-inducing groove with an in-your-face horn line. The remixes of this tune are damn good too, but I have those on a separate EP. Norwood Fisher shows his slap bass skills. YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAAAHHHHHH!
“One Day” begins with an urgent tick-tock and a guitar line that sounds more New Wave than South Central. When you add the Ba Bum Bum Bum vocals and lyrics of social decay, you get a mishmash that can only be Fishbone. “Subliminal Fascism” isn’t very subliminal, with a punk-circus track supporting the lyrics:

I read the paper
and I watch the news
it don’t give me the blues
It just gives me the blacks
Starvation on the radio
They don’t play the facts
They play the crackerjacks

Subliminal Fascism gettin’ under your skin
so you better wake up U.S.

Well the bad gets worse
Too fucked up
And the hate grows more each day
So when the infected try to affect you
Don’t listen to them when they say
Follow the rules and forget the bomb
Communistical patriotic
The plan is subtle but it’s in the open
Kingpin’s Nazi scheme getting under your skin

So you better wake up U.S.

The music might sound like you’re in a fun mosh pit, but this is some deep finger-pointing at the racism that exists around and underneath us. There is more racial and social commentary in “Slow Bus Movin’ (Howard Beach Party). If you don’t know of the Howard Beach incident, click here. The country music references serve to remind us that there are urban rednecks everywhere. “Ghetto Soundwave” is a series of vignettes about how shitty it can be to be black and poor in America. The tune and hooks are so catchy that you don’t notice the blatant lyrics if you’re just partying.
An acoustic guitar with a chorus pedal? A near-ballad on a Fishbone record? “Change” could have been a 1970s meadow rock tune, but it wouldn’t have this power without Fishbone. It would also sound very Caucazoidal. It’s a beautiful way to close the American version of the record.
Please don’t ever change, Fishbone.

 

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 4- Chris Squire, Miriam Makeba, Jan Garbarek

Why these three artist who would seem to have nothing in common with other? For one thing, they are all legends in at least one musical genre. For another thing, they were all born on March 4th. And another thing: I love them all.

Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is one of the best tracks of the 1980s. Trevor Horn’s (The Buggles, Seal) production was cutting edge for 1983, and to me it has aged well, unlike so many songs of the era. I didn’t know that the song was written by South African guitarist and singer Trevor Rabin, who joined the group for 90125. Bassist Squire wrote the bridge, but the rest is Rabin’s. They brought the original vocalist Jon Anderson back to sing on the record after Rabin’s voice didn’t sound distinctive enough.

I’ve always loved the crispness of the sound; the chorused guitar parts that give a hint of mystery, the fat bass line, the simple but pocket-heavy drums of Alan White, and all those sampled fancy things. The samples Horn used (those horn blasts) came from “Kool is Back” by Funk, Inc., and were run through a Fairlight. (If anybody wants to give me a Fairlight, I’d give it a good home). But it’s Squire’s bass that really pushes the tune. He is one of the best rock bassists in history.
I’d be really impressed if Wikipedia’s claim is true; Rabin wrote the bass line and hook while sitting on the toilet. The loo can be a very good place for solitary creativity, if you can let things go, so to speak. It’s a very impressive track.

 

Miriam Makeba probably needs some introduction to most Americans, even though she fled her native South Africa for NYC and became internationally known before she was thirty. She sold millions of records, but is as well known for her civil rights work and her criticism for the evil Apartheid system of South Africa. You might say that she is the queen of South Africa. I wouldn’t argue.

If you argued with me about this song, however, there would be trouble. You would have to be the inbred brother of the Grinch to not feel better from this song. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what she’s singing about (at least until she explains that it’s a South African dance). You HAVE to dance to this song. There’s not much to it except that it’s three minutes of groove and joy. It’s also a little wistful to me somehow, as if she’s telling us that shit is fucked up in this world, but we have each other and we can dance.

Ms. Makeba performed the song in Italy in 2008, then collapsed and died from a heart attack.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ApEMtY71Do

Jan Garbarek is a Norwegian tenor and soprano saxophonist with a sound the size of the Arctic Circle. His is a very warm sound, but I see fjords and icy terrain when I hear him. I first got to know him from Keith Jarrett’s records for the ECM label that featured fellow Scandinavians Palle Danielsson (bass) and Jon Christenson (drums). That’s the quartet here, recorded live in Tokyo in April 1979, but not released until 1989, when a bunch of us Berklee kids got a hold of it and reveled in the crazed harmonies of Jarrett’s tune and the energy Garbarek and company put out. It’s intense. That’s really the only word for this performance- it’s like a guy who has some really interesting and important things to say, but he’s a little too close to you as he speaks, with his friends adding things to his diatribe. This is one version of post-Coltrane tenor playing that has always stuck with me. Dig that metric modulation in the coda that fades out so calmly.

I could have used many other recordings (It’s Ok to Listen to the Gray Voice, My Song, Belonging), but this has something a little different. Maybe it’s because it’s live and recorded in a country that actually cares about jazz that makes it memorable; this quartet is one of the best groups in post-bop jazz.

Get to know all these performers if you don’t already. It’s not like these are the only songs each of them did. You’ll find all sorts of things in their respective catalogs.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY-March 5- Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yIFsbOtmao

Just find everything these two pickers did and put it on permanent rotation. Here is another one of those American stories- people move somewhere to find a better way of life and bring their culture with them to mix with whatever the local scene is. In this case, Jimmy and Speedy came to Southern California after World War Two to play country music. It so happened that a lot of other musicians moved there at the same time, and Leo Fender was building solid-body guitars and tube amps in Fullerton. It’s these confluences and happenstances in musical history that always fascinate me.

Jimmy (guitar) and Speedy (pedal steel) met while playing on KXLA’s Hometown Jamboree in 1949. They recorded and performed with Tennessee Ernie Ford and other SoCal country stars. However, it’s the recordings these two made together that created one of the best country-swing-bebop mashups and showed the world that they were some serious musicians. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuGvIVnWnTM
            Certainly, there was no one technically anywhere near Bryant, and Speedy’s almost-comic steel playing makes you forget that he’s really damn good. Check out “Stratosphere Boogie” and tell me that’s not some of the greatest guitar playing ever recorded. He’s not just playing fast; he’s phrasing and playing melodically and, oh yeah, playing a 12-string guitar in thirds at a tempo that would have impressed Sonny Stitt.

Check out “Bryant’s Bounce”, a bouncy swing with Charlie Christian and Django influences. It’s all Bryant, though, showing that he and Speedy can play the jazzy chords, and play them well. It is a minor revelation if you haven’t heard playing like this and assumed that jazz and country have been separate factions throughout history. “Little Rock Getaway” is later Bryant sans West, but it is shredding like no other.
Speedy and Jimmy are no longer with us on this terrestrial plain, but they will always be swinging and fretting as long as people have music to listen to. There are plenty more tunes of theirs you can find out there.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 6- Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys- The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol.2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeAwrPqRBaE&list=PLADY77jQv2bPZcrb2pDbe_ShuYxJFfO2n

Two country-swing posts in a row? That’s not a problem, especially since it’s Bob Wills’ birthday. Wills was the fiddle player and bandleader who combined honky-tonk country and swing to create Western Swing. He’s also the guy you hear calling “AHHHH-HA!” behind soloists and Tommy Duncan’s vocals. Wills is more influential than most people realize, but you’ll probably feel something to draw you in here.

Wills’ catalog is huge, so I’m zooming in on these recordings from a live radio show on San Francisco’s KGO in 1946. You get a lot of Wills’ hits here, but since they weren’t confined to the three-minute limit of 78-rpm records, they get to stretch out the songs more. And so many of these songs are classics. I dare you to listen to “Take Me Back to Tulsa” without singing along or moving some part of your body. Wills brought horns into country music, and with it a jazz sensibility that went against the string bands of traditional country. You’ve also got the pedal steel of Leon McAuliffe, a master of the instrument. Guitarist Eldon Shamblin knew something about Charlie Christian, and he’s got a grit in his tone that pre-dates the overdriven rock guitar sound by a few years.

They play “Faded Love” as a medium pace instrumental with some great steel work by McAuliffe. “Right or Wrong” is one of those Wills classics with what I call the “Sweet Georgia Brown” chord progression, although many songs have this harmonic pattern. It starts in one place and takes you somewhere else, but you don’t feel any bumps along the way. “Bring It on Down…” is a standard old-timey sixteen measure tune that manages to be about sex without any direct reference to it. So many great songs have used metaphors for sex, but not many have a tweaked-out guitar solo from Tiny Moore. Tommy Duncan calls out Tiny’s name, so I’ll say it was him.

“Cherokee Maiden” has the requisite stereotypical Indian war chant that was common of any old song that dealt with the exoticism of the American Indian. If you can get over that, there’s another great Eldon solo. The tune was co-written by Cindy Walker, so chalk one up for the female songwriter crew. “Steel Guitar Rag” is a great blowing tune and another excuse for Wills to shout during the solos. If anyone else did this while I was soloing, I’d probably be pissed off, but this is BOB WILLS.

You should stay all night and “Stay A Little Longer” to dance and sing to this one. Pianist Millard Kelso has some Teddy Wilson in him to go with his country tinge. There has never been a better song written about a fat kid than “Roly Poly”. You couldn’t get away with writing this now without offending someone. Hell, so much of country music of this era is a tad uncomfortable to us now, sociologically speaking. I can look past that to hear the music. “Cotton-Eye Joe” is a folk song that more than likely came from enslaved African-Americans before the Civil War. The Joe in question stole a gal away from the narrator. It’s a square-dance standard. “Time Changes Everything” is by Duncan, and makes you dance over the strains of heartbreak and the passage of time. “Corrine Corrina” swings the folk song yet keeps the odd-number of beats that folksingers used. “Ida Red” is a barn dance incarnate, and was a big hit for Wills and the Playboys. “A Maiden’s Prayer” is a tad slower and sweeter here than the other versions I’ve heard, so I like it a little more. Fiddle trios should come back into popular music. I had no idea it was originally a piano piece by a 19th century Polish composer whose name I can’t spell. Wills wrote the lyrics, although it’s often an instrumental.

This volume closes with “San Antonio Rose,” a Wills classic that every aspiring country musician should know. The horn interlude before Duncan’s vocal could have been written by Fud Livingston; it’s not strange, but you sure don’t expect it. Not everything in Wills-land is diatonic, but that’s what make him stand apart.

If this is your first time at the barndance, welcome. There are many Wills acolytes out there, stirring up trouble and dancers. Get into Wills and The Playboys and you’ll want to have a hoedown in your living room.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY- March 7- Tower of Power-Back to Oakland

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjkxqodVxg8&list=PLG2na-qjU_4qSht7FO2LYmIk9ZWjuNLv8

I have long been of the mind that there has been no part of the world (outside of James Brown’s tour bus) that was funkier than the Bay Area between 1968-1975. Sly, Herbie’s Headhunters, Santana, and so many other bands were grooving out here back in the day.
But then there was Tower of Power.

If you have not felt The Power before, 1974’s Back to Oakland is a great way to start. “Oakland Stroke” is so goddamn funky that they had to split it up between sides A and B. It’s too grooving to dance to, with Rocco Prestia’s bass, David Garibaldi’s how-the-fuck-does-he-do-it drumming, Brent Byars conga playing, and Bruce Conte’s slick guitar work that eases so seamlessly into the mix. Those are just the first three elements in the TOP quotient.

“Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)” is quietly greasy. It has a great vocal by Lenny Williams and a creamy solo by Conte. This is head-bobbing music that will free your hips.

It goes without saying that the core of Tower of Power is in the horn section. This is what I think of as the classic lineup:

Emilio Castillo- Leader, tenor sax, and vocals

Lenny Pickett- Tenor Sax

Greg Adams- Trumpet, Flugelhorn

Mic Gillette- Trumpet, Flugelhorn

Stephen “The Doctor” Kupka- Baritone Sax, the King of the Low End

 

Not only did TOP have one of the funkiest rhythm sections ever, they had a horn section that was tighter than a frog’s butthole. Not to mention one of my personal keyboard heroes, the great Chester Thompson. I owe so much to him as a piano/keyboard player, as I’ve tried to steal everything he played on these records and other recordings with Santana.

“Just When We Start Making It” is a classic 1970s 12/8 soul ballad about a relationship on the edge. Chester plays a great chorused Hammond B-3 solo.  “Can’t You See (You Doin’ Me Wrong” makes major 7 chords sound funkier than they ever hoped they could be. Listen to the way the individual parts interweave and complement each other. There are quite a few notes, but nobody steps on anyone else. Side One closes with Thompson’s instrumental “Squib Cakes”, a joyous jam. I wish more records sounded like this, musically and sonically.

“Time Will Tell” is a sweetened R&B waltz with violins that I would be fine not hearing, but they do make for easier slow dancing. “Man from the Past” sounds like it could be an Al Green jam at first, but Williams and the East Bay grit take over. Garibaldi shows here that quarter notes on the hi-hat can groove as hard as anything. Man, this rhythm section….

“Love’s Been Gone So Long” is an inspirational soul ballad with some fancy chords surrounded by major triads. It feels like Gamble and Huff went to Memphis for a spell and found this horn section on tour. I’m not sure what “The Chop” is, but Lenny Williams has it, so I want it, or at least want to experience it in a juke joint in 1974 Richmond.  I have a feeling it’s some sort of macho that I couldn’t possibly muster, so I’ll just say the groove and arrangement are a tad nasty.

“Below Us, All the City Lights” has a Bacharach-esque flugelhorn intro and more of those pesky strings that let us know that this is ballad time. Parking and loving while overlooking all the city lights. It is a beautiful thought, as long as The Zodiac killer isn’t watching you.

The second half of “Oakland Stroke” fades in and reminds you that, alas, you are merely human and cannot play shit like this. Grooves like this are for THE PROFESSIONALS. It is also one of the cruellest fadeouts in recorded music. I want to know what happened next. Maybe that groove is like David Foster Wallace fictional movie “Infinite Jest”, where everyone who watches it dies. Perhaps you would die from too much funk if you listened to the whole thing.

Would you die from an Oakland Stroke?

That’s how I’d want to go out.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY-March 8- Maurice Ravel- Piano Music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fynAXPALdhE

If you aren’t familiar with one of my favorite composers, here are a few links to get you started on his piano music. Ravel (1875-1937) is placed in the French Impressionist section of classical music histories, although he didn’t like the term. Most musicians don’t like being labelled. He created some incredibly difficult piano music, but also some slightly less-challenging beauties like these.

First is Alicia De Larrocha, one of my favorite classical pianists. (More on her on her birthday). The Sonatine is in three sections, all in various levels of dreaminess. Just sit back and listen.

It’s amazing how two piano players can take the same piece of music, play the notes and markings, but have such wildly different interpretations. First, here is Walter Gieseking’s take on Le Tombeau de Couperin:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk1lHzm2GGQ

He’s playing it slower than I would expect, but he brings out some things with his approach that make it sound like a new piece to me.

Now here’s the Errol Flynn-looking Samson Francois:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0l7rYbDiW4

Holy shit is he playing it fast. Maybe he doesn’t draw some thing out of the pieces like Giesiking does by milking every note, but it’s fleet-fingered. DO I have a preference? Nope. They both play it better than me, so I like to hear differing musical opinions.

Would I swing it harder?

Hell fucking yeah.

And I bet Maurice would have appreciated it. Jazz liked him and he liked jazz.
There will be plenty more Ravel in the upcoming months.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 9- The Monkees

Sure, they weren’t really a “band”, didn’t get to play on most of their records, and didn’t live together in a groovy L.A. pad like they did on TV, but The PreFab Four were far more than the manufactured boy band the industry people tried to make them into. Frank Zappa liked them, and I like a lot of things Frank Zappa liked. The Monkees used the best songwriters and session musicians available in the late 1960s-1970s and wrote and played some really good songs when they finally gained some control over their music and image.
This is some of the best goddamned pop music ever recorded and I love it. Bite me.

This is a playlist I created of some of my favorite tunes of theirs. It begins with “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees!” Hey! This was their TV theme song that opened the show. In case you weren’t raised on Monkees reruns weekdays afternoons in the summertime like me, this played under the opening credits. They introduce themselves as the new generation, and they’ve got something to say. A kinder, gentler version of the young people who protested the Vietnam War and wanted free love. They’re just trying to be friendly, and I think you’ll agree.

“I’m A Believer” begins with that great organ hook and lets Mickey Dolenz tell us of his romantic cynicism getting washed away. It was written by NEIL FUCKING DIAMOND, the Jewish Elvis. He could write a tune. Are you believing in The Monkees yet?

“Last Train to Clarksville” drags us in with more instrumental ear candy, this time a twangy guitar riff that was probably played by SoCal studio ace Tommy Tedesco. This song was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who were responsible for many Monkees hits. It’s a song about romantic desperation from the point of view of a phone call. You can feel the urgency of the semi-harmless lyric in every aspect of the production.

“(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” is one of the most garage rock tunes The Monkees recorded. It’s a grungy sneer at the girl who uses the narrator to gain social status. Dude of course is telling her to fuck off without actually saying it, so it begs for various obscenities to be yelled out as you’re pogo-hopping on the dance floor like a sorority girl after a ketamine hit.

I’ve always felt a dream sensation when I hear “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere”. A lot of these songs feel like I knew them before I was born, and that I was a young man in love with a beautiful woman, or the allure of a beautiful woman. But she always vanishes by the time my dream ends, probably when the gang of harpsichords falls down onto the chorus like flying rodents in a French cathedral. I want this sound whenever I like in my life. Music, more than pictures, reminds me of would-be or lost loves. This feeling extends into “She” and a video of the band playing in various settings with random characters in and out of the frames like Alice In Wonderland in Malibu. Why aren’t there girls like that now? Or videos like this anymore? I miss Technicolor and youth full of hope, wearing bright colors. It’s also got a gritty fuzz pedal sound that represents She herself.

He’s so serene, he’s got a TV in every room, and the kid don’t understand- “Pleasant Valley Sunday” is one catchy tune. This is my favorite pop commentary on the bland consumerism and soullessness of most white suburbs, and it has that catchy twangy guitar line. Note to songwriters: If you have a catchy verse melody but can’t come up with new lyrics, try the “Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba” device that Mickey Dolenz sings here. Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote it about West Orange, New Jersey, but I’ve always heard it as a SoCal thing, or maybe about one of John Cheever’s short stories. (“The Swimmer”, anyone?) “Daydream Believer” is a chewing gum high school ode to a prom queen who dreams and maybe feels sad. For some reason, this is the 1986 remix, which has DRUMS THAT SHOULD NOT BE THERE. All four Monkees played or sang on this tune, which is cool. Almost as cool is that trumpeter Shorty Rogers wrote the arrangement. West Coast jazz meets West Coast bubblegum? Sign me up!

A few friends have been in Davy Jones’ predicament at times- two women who love you and you’re up Schitt’s creek even though you love them both. “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” is the predicament he’s in as the ladies are about to meet.  It ends before we hear him choose, but it sure gets in our heads. “I see all kinds of sorrow!” That’s not a line you hear in a lot of pop songs, so I’d like to thank Neil Diamond again. “You Just May Be the One” is a modified blues by Michael Nesmith, head Monkee. It’s part California, part Country, and a touch of Rubber Soul. The clip here from the show is pretty damn silly, but The Monkees were more surrealistic and counterculture than most people give them credit for. Nesmith’s country leanings come back with “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round?” He’s a Yankee who wins over a Mexican maiden, although I’m not sure if he met her in San Antonio. Nesmith is an underrated everything, (he produced REPO MAN, for Pete’s sake) and I didn’t know he wrote “Mary Mary”, a fun number with a Mickey Dolenz vocal. Mickey was my favorite Monkee until he permed his hair. I’ve spent way too much time thinking about that.  It’s the so-called Wrecking Crew on the track, augmented by Peter Tork on guitar. I”ve tried to sample Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon’s drum work on this for years, to no avail. Run-DMC did a version, and yes, it was illing.

“Randy Scouse Git” is by and sung by Dolenz, and has a little old-timey feel with a psychedelic kettledrum. Mickey also scats up a storm after and before he yells at The Establishment. I like it when they yell at The Establishment. All four Monkees played on this. Mr. Diamond kills it again with “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and its merry-go-round chorus with that hard guitar strum. Also, claps with oh-oh backup vocals will nearly always make a song catchy. “For Pete’s Sake” closed the TV show, at least how I remember it, so it closes my playlist. It’s a hippie-lite paean to freedom and love. Who doesn’t that, especially with a great tune supporting it. The song has always like it starts in the middle to me, but I don’t mind.

Look, if you don’t like The Monkees, I’m not going to say we will have problems, but I will test your cynicism by asking if you can listen to this entire playlist without singing along or moving to the giddy rhythms. Come at me.

We gotta be free.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 10-Bix Beiderbecke and The Wolverines, Bix Beiderbecke solo piano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=em1tqOfwDas

It’s Bix day. There are trumpet players who dazzle more, or who have chops and phrasing beyond belief, but there’s only Bix, and he hits me in some smilingly forlorn place of my white boy soul. Louis Armstrong is the king, of course, but Bix sounds like he knows me. Eddie Condon allegedly said that hearing Bix was the sound of a girl saying yes. That phrase alone should appeal to any romantic, lapsed or not. No matter which band he’s with, Bix cuts through. He doesn’t sound like Satchmo, which is kind of like being a pop musician in England in 1966 sounding nothing like The Beatles. Preferring Bix over Satchmo is like preferring The Kinks over The Fab Four, or Thomas Hardy over Charles Dickens. Maybe I’m stretching it. With Armstrong, you hear sheer joy and some shades of sadness, but with Bix there’s a semi-detached melancholy that still manages to have a bit of a sunny streak. It’s no wonder than he drank himself to death by age twenty-eight. Alcoholism in The Jazz Age was like dying of consumption if you were a 19th century artist.

On to the music. This is some early Bix with The Wolverines (I’m saving Bix and Tram for later). It was 1924, the age of Gatsby and flappers and Prohibition. Fortunately, it was the first time Bix Beiderbecke recorded, He was only twenty-one, but he already sounds like himself, even when they’re playing tunes already made famous by other bands (“Fidgety Feet”, “Royal Garden Blues”,” Tiger Rag”). The Wolverines were a Midwest band, but made it to New York City to play and record some of these tunes. Damn, I wish for time travel so often when I listen to some music, just so I could see and hear it live. I’d listen to everything Bix played, even if he was so trashed he couldn’t stand up.

Don’t let the old-timey sound fool you, in case you have an aversion to traditional jazz and the primitive sounding recording. This was the sexy rock and roll of its day, after all, when jazz was new, daring, and more than a little bit licentious. Bix’s brief solos are the highlights, of course. He left The Wolverines for Jean Goldkette’s band later in 1924 and set off on the next part of his career. Sadly, he achieved more fame and recognition after his death. If you really want to be known as a great artist, die young.

Bix was also a great piano player and composer, even though he was unorthodox a=in many ways and had questionable music reading skills. “In A Mist” floored me when I was 14 and first heard it, and it still does. The Wolverines and other bands occasionally flirted with whole-tone chords and other colors of the French Impressionists Debussy and Ravel, but “In a Mist” ties those composers together with jazz. It’s still strikingly modern.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO86nFQ9b68

The same goes for “Candlelights”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgYLoJ7WAJw&list=PLEpd8BvqqZdzDBrsN26psCZQOmU7I56WH

“Candlelights” sounds like he’s walking along the Seine with a flask, thinking of modern art and New York skyscrapers. “In the Dark” sounds like he gets around fine at night. It’s interesting how he uses light and visual terms for his solo piano pieces. It’s like he’s playing Monet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv-R3upxi_U&list=PLEpd8BvqqZdzDBrsN26psCZQOmU7I56WH&index=68

For some reason, I can’t find the original version of “Flashes” on YouTube. You can listen to some fine modern interpretations of it, but once I hear Bix, I don’t want to hear anyone else for a while.

Enjoy the young man with a horn. He is a musician for the ages.

 

MUSIC OF THE DAY- March 11- Ornette Coleman- This Is Our Music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIhca6mZuAk&list=PLK0awoIlXvaTX-etssykZDBW9B_CmyiFU

Ornette Coleman scared a lot of people in the late 1950s with his unusual approach to the alto saxophone and to music. That said, I think he’s one of the most bluesy and melodic improvisers in music history. Thanks to Al MacDowell (Serious badass bassist who played with Ornette for decades) I got to witness the man run a few rehearsals, and he even explained harmolodics to me. It seemed so simple the way he explained it, but I got home and it was gone.

This was my first Ornette record with the classic quartet Ornette, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass (the look on his face on the cover always made me think he wanted to kill me) and the amazing Ed Blackwell on drums. This was cutting edge in 1960, and still sounds raw, especially Ornette. He’s right up front, starting with “Blues Connotation” The melody is a blues, but from there I can’t tell where they go, except that it’s pulsating pretty damn hard. I really love Blackwell’s sound on the drums. Gretsch? Tuned high? Drummers- chime in. Don Cherry enters and it’s not quite as startling, except that he’s on the left side of your stereo. He cuts off prematurely (to me) for a Blackwell solo. Mr. Blackwell absorbed some Max Roach, but he’s his own force.

For some reason when I was seventeen, “Beauty is a Rare Thing” calmed me down from the perceived stress of high school. I definitely had different coping mechanisms that other Gen Xers. It’s a lament of sorts, but the rare beauty they’re espousing is closer to Dali than to Degas. It gets a little ominous toward the end. Nowadays they would have put some reverb on the horns to soften them up. I wouldn’t mind that. But it’s Ornette!

“Kaleidoscope” sounds at first like someone stuffing a peacock down a garbage disposal, but once you get adjusted to the harsh, you’ll hear the melodic ideas. This version of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” is not your great-grandmother’s version, unless she was hanging out at The Five Spot back in the day. Even though I’m a piano player I’ve never missed the lack of chordal instruments in most of Ornette’s early stuff. Gerry Mulligan did it, so why not Ornette? This is perhaps the most tonal of the tunes, which isn’t saying a lot, as they take justified liberties with everything. “Poise” begins with a little musical pointillism, then loose but forceful melody by Coleman and Cherry. How Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell keep the train going is beyond me. The time is incredibly elastic, but they always know where it is.

 

MUSIC/SPOKEN WORD OF THE DAY- March 12- Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen-Poetry for the Beat Generation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oS4xa53MWSY

If you dig the Beat Generation like I do, this is a goldmine of post-war imagery washing over you like a million drunken eyeballs. You get to hear Kerouac’s voice with its working-class Boston intonation, and the multi-talented Steve Allen improvising a piano piece under the poetry. This first one is a panoply of Northern California place names and saloons and rushes of people and faces. Dig the way he says “San Francisco”. You have to experience the whole thing with an open ear to the words, then do that twenty times, then listen to what Steve Allen is playing and realize that it’s far more bop-bluesy than cocktail lounge.

I’m not sure what a slouch hat is, but I want one now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ov9Ra4Kkp-w

I really wish there were talk shows like Steve’s around today. “How would you define the word Beat?” “Sympathetic”. I don’t see Jimmy Fallon bringing poets on his show and playing guitar behind them, unless it was a purely comic thing. It’s hard to believe there was television like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LLpNKo09Xk

I never thought of The Beat Generation in color. This is a bit of a revelation, even though I first heard the duo years ago. Check out the rhythm section behind Allen and Kerouac. That’s some SLOW blues, and that shit is hard to play, especially when you’re making up a poet who speaks over the pulse, not with it. Kudos to that invisible drummer and bassist.

No self-respecting Beatnik (or anyone with a soul) doesn’t love Charlie Parker, the messiah of bebop. “Charlie Parker was the Buddha!” Jack says. Steve gets a little Monk-ish here while Jack says that Bird is as good as Beethoven, a notion I can’t argue with.

“How sweet a story it is when you hear Charlie Parker tell it”.

“Charlie Parker, forgive me for not answering your eyes.”

“Charlie Parker, pray for me and everybody in the nirvanas of your mind where you hide.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBkIcvbQd-8

I start to miss Greenwich Village when I hear “McDougal Street Blues”. His New York was earlier than my New York, but there’s a soul there that will never die, no matter how many soul-deprived tech bandits move in. “Imagelessness”, he says, and the chessman are silent. Watch the scenes of last millennium’s Gotham float by you as his voice commands you.
There are more collaboration of Allen and Kerouac, and you can find them on the “Poetry of the Beat Generation” CD. I’d like to thank the late Bruce Arkin for turning me on to this record so many years ago.

So long and take it easy, because if you start taking things seriously, it is the end of you.

 

ALBUM OF THE DAY-March 13- Chick Corea-Now He Sings, Now He Sobs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLBmOp69Wgk

Are you a jazz piano player who is feeling down about your playing? Sorry, kid, today is NOT your day. Chick Corea will make you consider another instrument or career, possibly something that isn’t anywhere near music.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a little. After the Picasso- in the -piano- room opening of “Steps”, Chick launches into some pretty rad lines that owe quite a lot to McCoy Tyner, only on crank. He’s on top of the beat at an already fast tempo. Miroslav Vitous is one of the most accomplished bassists around, and on drums is ROY HAYNES. Roy Haynes can do ANYTHING. He’s playing with relative newbies here and he sounds even more modern than them. I think most drummers would agree that Haynes’ ride cymbal sound on this record is so fucking awesome that the recording should be placed in the Hall of Fame. Wait, jazz doesn’t really have a HOF. Oh, but The Grammys do. Get on it, jazz. You’ve been warned.

This minor blues (“Steps”) segues into a brisk Spanish Locrian major ultra-fancy modal tune called “What Was.” I don’t care how the analytics want to label it, harmonically, as long as they call it impassioned musical knifepoint brilliance. This was recorded in 1968, a pretty uneasy year in America, so I feel an urgency here that is rare in a lot of recordings. It’s not that other artists don’t care as much as this trio did, but that there are times when music has an electricity about it that can’t be measured. Miroslav was twenty years old. This record could be enough to make a lot of average bassists to take up bricklaying (which is a great craft and mostly pays better than being a double bass virtuoso. No offense to the bricklayers.)

Chick was deep into the I Ching at the time, which is a good thing to be deep into. When you’re only twenty-six and really damn good a little ancient Asian divination never hurts. The trio had never played together until the recording session. They sound completely dialed in to my ears. Sometimes no rehearsal is the best rehearsal, since this is considered one of the greatest jazz piano trio records in history.

“Matrix” has a matrix; that is if you can call a loose F blues a matrix. Sure, there are some jazz kids who can play like this now, but Chick did it this way first, without the compact disc, computers, SSRIS, or the Internet. Miroslav shreds here, so bass players, keep practicing. However, this record should inspire rather than detract, even though we all need records and musicians to keep us humble. The title track is a slightly anxious jazz waltz that has a few musical ideas that became Coreaisms. I can’t believe this was his first record as a leader. Excuse me while I contemplate my career while throwing myself into the practice room for the next two years.

“Now He Beats the Drum, Now He Stops” begins with a thoughtful piano intro with some string muting and other prepared piano effects. The rhythm section enters, and they play over a set of chord changes around C minor and a few housebroken harmonies. It’s more brilliance at a slightly slower pace. Don’t be scared off by the haunted house scrapings of “The Law of Falling and Catching Up.” It’s a completely improvised piece, because it was the 1960s after all. This particular experiment is less about melody and harmony than it is about sheer sound and texture. Imagine a Kandinsky painting set to music with ghosts and chains and you’ll rest easier. It’s fun.

There are bonus tracks with the CD reissue, but I’m going to stop with the original LP because I could go on and on about this amazing trio record. I already have, but it’s worth your while to put this in your collection.

 

March 14- Sinatra at the Sands.

Goddamn Word lost the fucking thing.