A Twist of Doc: “Everything Is On The One”

July 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Lately I’ve been harkening back to a time in my hazy youth in which rock n’ roll seemed too square and being a jazz musician felt unattainable. I was a frustrated self-taught blues guitar player in his teens in search of something else.

As much as I worshipped the blues, by the time I was 13 the image, true attitude, sound, and feel of greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Son House had all but vanished.

There were still many blues legends with a lot to offer but for the most part blues had morphed almost completely into blues-rock. Stevie Ray Vaughan was the leader of the pack and he had thousands of clones. Vaughan passed away in 1990 but today it’s still the same. Blues clubs and radio stations are still flooded by men and women who all dress like a discount combo of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan on layaway. And they all fall back on the same overindulgent stock blues licks.

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

I saw the writing on the wall back at the age of 13. Once again the rock establishment was co-opting the blues for a white audience, as had been done in the ‘60s and I didn’t approve or want to go along.

I had always been a geeky wallflower who had sat on the floor at school dances or avoided them altogether. I wasn’t going to ditch the blues or give up trying to play jazz, but I was in search of a more primal sound that could get to the core of all contemporary musical genres and didn’t take it self too seriously. I found what I was looking for in funk.

The very first bassist I played with in high school turned me onto George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. I was already deeply into the funk of Sly And The Family Stone and James Brown so this was the logical next step.

My first reaction was laughter. Hearing Parliament’s “The Mothership Connection” felt like the first time I had ever been truly stoned. Granted I probably was very stoned at the time. It was musically sophisticated with slick, jazz-inspired horn arrangements by Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley (formerly of James Brown’s band), thumping baselines by ex-James brown protégé Bootsy Collins, and classically infused psychedelic keyboard work by Bernie Worrell. The most shocking element was George Clinton or “Dr. Funkenstein” rapping (more than a decade before rap music was around) over the music using street slang and profanity in an over the top, super silly fashion.

There was also the meteoric guitar work of P-Funk guitarists Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider, Mike Hampton, and Dewayne “Blackbyrd” Mcknight which cemented George Clinton’s concept of “organized chaos” and is still a huge influence on my playing today.

I also bought and taught myself electric bass after hearing the albums Ahh The Name Is Bootsy Baby, and Larry Graham’s slapping on Graham Central Station’s “The Jam.”

James Brown

James Brown

When it came to listening to funk music – whether it was James Brown, Sly Stone, or P-Funk — I felt I had to sneak off somewhere to do it, like I did with comedy albums by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. It wasn’t just the language; it was the attitude which made rock music seem like the squarest music in the galaxy. There was this delightful nastiness mixed with a true freedom to all of it and I started collecting funk records by the stack full. From James Brown, Sly Stone, all incarnations of P-Funk and Bootsy Collins, to The Ohio Players, Con Funk Shun, Brick, and Earth, Wind And Fire, I had to have it all. Suddenly I wasn’t too shy too dance and I was out there at funk concerts and parties shaking my ass and making a fool out of myself but not giving a shit. That’s freedom. That’s funk.

Of course my steady diet of marijuana and psychedelic drugs helped aid this drastic change and allowed me to see all things as being sublimely funky. My guitar playing became funkier and more focused on that “one” beat that is the spiritual core of funk music. James Brown emphasized the “one” and P-Funk took it to new and wonderfully ridiculous heights. The “one” is where all musicians meet up and are in sync with the universe.

Sly Stone

Sly Stone

Although funk remains as spiritually relevant with young music lovers and musicians today in a way similar to reggae, the music’s greatest pioneers and practitioners have constantly been dismissed as novelty acts by the mainly white controlled music industry and what’s left of it. Times have been hard for Sly Stone and George Clinton over the past few decades.

I’ve never truly understood why. Sly Stone was as talented, inventive, and revolutionary as all four Beatles combined. Sly not only influenced hundreds of funk and rock bands, he also changed the shape of jazz forever. Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters would not exist without Sly. Miles Davis worshiped Sly and his music was forever changed by Sly’s influence.

Why is it that Sly Stone lives in a mobile home today? Why is George Clinton having to fight for the rights to his own music but still sells out concerts all over the world? The white rock bands of the ‘70s did as much drugs (if not more) as any of the funk legends and they’re still able to get record deals. The rock machine can stay behind and support the nostalgia of Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young, or even The Rolling Stones no matter what trouble these artists have gotten into over the years or the dips in their record sales.

I can’t help but think that if these artists were black, they’d know how it feels to be relegated to novelty act status by main stream media and have to fight to keep what they created. Keith Richards can dress and act as crazy as he wants and there aren’t the same consequences as there have been with Sly Stone or George Clinton. It doesn’t make any sense.

With all that said and as overtly un-funky as the music business has always been, there are the fans. Since my introduction to funk back in my teens, I’ve learned that there are no fans like funk fans or “funkateers.” The love is felt all over the world by people of all ages. We ex-“Psychedelic wallflowers” keep the music fresh. Not to mention the millions of hip-hop and rap artists who have sampled funk records since day one and continue to do so.

George_Clinton

George_Clinton

Tuesday, July 22nd was the 73rd Birthday of George Clinton. I was lucky enough to work with Dr. Funkenstein in the studio over 23 years ago and we spoke many times during the ’90’s at airports or backstage as he and The P-Funk All- Stars toured constantly going “all around the world for the funk.” They’re still out there touring right now. So, today I thank you, Dr. Funkenstein, for freeing my mind and ass collectively and a very funktacular Happy Birthday. Never quit. Keep on funkin’, we need it now more than ever. I also thank all current and past members of P-Funk, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Junie Morrison , and Sly And The Family Stone, Larry Graham, James Brown, and the list goes on.

The record industry may be dying out, old, corny, and not able to dance, but thanks to you, Dr. Funkenstein, everything is still on the one.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 


Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: June 19 – 22

June 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

With Summer arriving in all its glory, I thought it would be helpful to concentrate the Picks for this long, mid-June weekend on the rich array of music to be heard here in the Southland.

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

- June 19. (Thurs.) Sally Kellerman. Sally’s back, and that’s great news for all fans of irresistible singing. Better known to many as “Hot Lips” from her role in the film version of Mash, Sal is a vocalist who brings vivid, story-telling qualities to every song. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of one of her recent Los Angeles performances. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 19 – 22. (Thurs. – Sun.) Marcus Miller. Multi-instrumentalist Miller, moving smoothly from bass clarinet, brings a sparkling array of jazz inventiveness to everything he plays. His current group includes saxophonist Alex Han, trumpeter Lee Hogans, keyboardist Brett Williams, guitarist Adam Agati and drummer Ronald Burneer, Jr. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

John Chiodini

John Chiodini

- June 20, (Fri,) The Denny Seiwell Trio. Drummer Seiwell’s resume includes gigs with an array of world class bands in genres of every style. This time he leads his own stellar group, featuring John Chiodini, guitar and Joe Bagg, keyboards. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- June 20. (Fri.) Chuck Manning and Steve Huffsteter. Two of the Southland’s most inventive jazz horn players, saxophonist Manning and trumpeter Huffsteter wrap their improvisational skills around every tune, stimulating each other’s creative imaginations. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) The John La Barbera Big Band. La Barbera’s Big Band hasn’t yet received the attention it deserves, and here’s a chance to see them in action in Sherman Oaks, on the broad stage of Jazz at the Cap.  (818) 990-2001.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. Here’s a rare, and not to be missed, display of jazz vocalese in the competent musical hands and soaring voices of this trio of world class singers. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 21. (Sat.) The Grand Reopening of the Alex Theatre.  Emmy and Tony award winning performer Martin Short joins Matt Catingub and the Glendale Pops Orchestra for a spectacular evening of song, dance, comedy and pure entertainment.  The Alex Theatre.  (818) 243-2611.

Les McCann and Lee Hartley

- June 21. (Sat.) Lee Hartley & the Les McCann All-Star Band. The appealing vocal team of Hartley and McCann are great on their own, and even better when their surrounded by the superb musical backing of guitarist John Chiodini, pianist Barney McClure, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Enzo Tedesco. Jazz at the Rad.  (310) 216-5861.

- June 21. (Sat.) “Nutty.” Jazz for Jetsetters. This always-intriguing jazz octet applies a broad stylistic array of jazz rhythms and styles to their interpretations of pop and rock classics. If you loved the ’60s, dopn’t miss these guys. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

- June 21. (Sat.) Opening Night at the Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl kicks off a spectacular Summer season with the induction of Kristin Chenoweth, The Go-Go’s and Pink Martini into the . The celebration will climax with a spectacular fireworks display.  Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame (323) 850-2000.

 

 

 


Q&A: Doc Wendell – A Twist Of Misery

May 26, 2014

 

By Devon Wendell

There has been quite a bit of hype for multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and sardonic poet Doc Wendell over the last decade. As a teen in New York City, Wendell worked in the studio with Donald Fagen and Steely Dan on their “comeback” album Two Against Nature. The late John Lee Hooker nicknamed Wendell “Doc” when he was 13 years old. Doc also got to jam, study, and hang with some of the biggest names in the blues such as Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, Buddy Guy, and Johnny Johnson, playing at various night clubs around the tri-state area before he could legally drink.

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

Since moving to Los Angeles in late 2008, Doc has recorded with such rock n’ roll and R&B luminaries as Bonnie Pointer and Marty Grebb. Now Doc is writing the lyrics and music for what he designates as his first “solo” album which he has titled The Big Bimbo On The Map which he plans on releasing sometime in 2016.  Recently I had the misfortune of meeting up with the sarcastic and dismissive Doc Wendell for a Q&A in a small, dingy, smoked filled recording studio in Hollywood. When I arrived, Doc was sitting on a filthy gray couch, chain smoking into a sea shell ash  tray, downing Coca-colas, all while thumbing through Mark Voelpel’s book Charlie Parker For Guitar.

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Devon Wendell: Hello Doc. It looks like I’m interrupting you. I write for Don Heckman and had…

Doc Wendell: (Interrupting) Oh you, Don Heckman’s lackey. Where’s Don? He’s got the cool byline.

Devon Wendell: I’m here so you’re just going to have to get used to it.

Doc Wendell: Yeah, I know your angle. You think you’re some edgy New York writer who lives in LA now and hates it…How cliché. You and your anal retentive details on every review, Jesus Christ, Give the readers a fucking break already.

Devon Wendell: At least it’s obvious that you’ve read my work.

Doc Wendell: Unfortunately. You are a spineless publicity whore. You’ve sent every goddamn thing you’ve written to my publicist and even to my personal email address. Even I get bored sometimes.

Devon Wendell: With what? You’re redundant style of blues styled rock, funk, and fake
jazz?

Doc Wendell: Absolutely. If I don’t have the power to bore myself who will? Oh yes you  of course.

Devon Wendell: Let’s talk more about the fake jazz thing. You claim to be a jazz historian and enthusiast like myself but all I hear in your guitar, harmonica, and bass playing are over-indulgent pentatonic scales and patterns and overly pretentious lyrics.  Your lyrics on “Vanishing Angel” from John M. King’s Cinder’s Still Burnin’ from 2011 are self effacing at first but then trail off into nonsense.

Doc Wendell: Thank you; that’s the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life. What does “nonsense” mean exactly in 2014? Life is so absurd that it’s like living in some awful Jodorowsky film that never fucking ends. Nonsense has more meaning than anything else at the moment, certainly more than this pitiful interview.

Devon Wendell: If that’s true Sir “Doc”, than you’ve achieved a lot in your career. So you’ve gone from running errands for Donald Fagen to what? Someday releasing your first solo album? When? And, will anyone care by 2016?

Doc Wendell: You’re assuming that someone cares now or ever did and that I give a shit if they care or not. I haven’t lived in this town that long.

Devon Wendell: Touche Doc. I certainly don’t care.

Doc Wendell: Really? Great, want to run my fan club? Maybe be my new manager? The current guy Doghouse Reilly is on his way out so there’s an opening for you.

Devon Wendell: I’d rather have oral surgery from my hind quarters.

Doc Wendell: I can arrange that. I’ll call some of the boys back in Brooklyn.

Devon Wendell: Oh yes, Mr. “New York” has threatened me.

Doc Wendell: More like a promise. You tell me; how did you get Buddy Guy, Gregory Porter, Nathan East, and all of those great players to sit through your pedestrian, almost Rolling Stone Magazine stupid questions?

Devon Wendell: You have the audacity to compare me to a dimwitted, baby boom era obsessed, musically brain dead Rolling Stone Magazine writer? You know what? Take your fake blues tough guy act and go fuck yourself. You play too many damn notes that go nowhere anyway.  This interview is over, Doc.

Doc Wendell: Finally you’ve gotten interesting in this interview and you want to call it quits? This is getting good. What else you got for me laddie buck? (Stomps out his cigarette butt into the shell).

Devon Wendell: Yeah, give me a call when you actually learn to play real jazz. Goodnight Doc.

Doc Wendell: Goodnight. That was great. I mean it. Best interview yet.

Devon Wendell: More like your first interview and probably your last.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

 

 


Bye Bye Bird From Hollywood: The 59th Anniversary of the Death Of Charlie Parker

March 11, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When listening to “Dizzy Atmosphere” recorded live on September 29th, 1947, with Dizzy Gillespie at Carnegie Hall, it’s hard to believe that tomorrow, March 12th, Bird will have been dead 59 years. In that solo alone, Bird captured the future, present, and the entire history of jazz in a frenetically beautiful but blatantly violent and brutal manner.

It’s those kinds of contrasts that made Bird so great. And it can be found at any point of his career.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

On recordings like “Koko” and the famous alto break on “A Night In Tunisia,” Bird launched us into the stratosphere like a rocket on fire. And on ballads like “Embraceable You” and “Meandering,” he took us plunging down deep into frozen arctic waters like a falling meteor from space. At times he defied nature and at other moments he altered it with a supernatural ease and dexterity.

Charlie “Bird” Parker died almost 20 years before I was born and before I go any further, I’d like to state that I don’t care how much junk he shot, or how much booze he drank. None of that is my business and Bird’s music is larger than all of that. I can only fixate on the sound and the unfettered energy that it gives me. Every accented phrase, crescendo, substitute chord, passing tone, and “altered” melody line or “head” follows me throughout every nuance of my life.

I first heard Bird’s music in grade school on a compilation cassette from Japan, featuring a mix of Bird’s Verve, Dial, and Savoy recordings. “Leap Frog” was the first track on the tape and the sound of his alto sax was like a laser beam. I saw thousands of colors not yet named by man, dancing in my head. I heard the blues from deep inside the dank, all-night bars in Kansas City with its patrons of prostitutes, pimps, and people trying hard to avoid the nightmares of all night, home bound isolation. Bird painted so many pictures, so fast. It’s hard to keep up with the imagery and sometimes wonderfully overwhelming. The boundless history of music is all there too, from Bartak, Stravinsky, and Shoenberg to Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, and Johnny Hodges.

Bird’s ghost is on the move too. Not in Kansas City and certainly not in Los Angeles. It’s in New York City. Bird owned the spirit of New York when he lived there like no other artist in history. I’ve felt his sinister duplicitous charm while walking through Alphabet City.

Charlie Parker with Miles Davis, Tommy Potter and Max Roach

One time in a tepid state of depression, I sat in my Brooklyn apartment sipping chamomile tea and reading Ibsen’s The Wild Duck Rosmersholm, unable to pry myself out of my beat up old arm chair. Suddenly I heard “Yardbird Suite” in my head and I felt invigorated for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. I was able to get up and at least make myself a good dinner. I grabbed a copy of Bird’s Dial recordings and played “Yardbird Suite” over and over as I made a plate of spaghetti and a tossed salad for one. It may be the anniversary of Bird’s death, but all I can feel is the sheer vitality in that composition as well as on pieces like “Scrapple From The Apple,” “Donna Lee” and “Relaxin’ At Camarillo.”

After being baptized by Bird’s music I soon discovered Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Billy Eckstine, Tadd Dameron, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane to name just a few. For a while, I was dismissive of post-Parker jazz (I hate the word “be-bop”) because I felt that he and many of his disciples had taken the music as far as it could go, especially around the time of his death. I still often wonder if that is the case as I still hear Bird’s influence all around me on every instrument.

Well, Bye Bye Bird from Hollywood. I’m glad you made it home, far away from this place. Maybe we’ll meet up someday on the old Avenue B.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


A Twist Of Doc: The Dangers Of Writing About Jazz

February 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

In my head I can hear Billie Holiday singing “There Is Music Everywhere.” She sang it with such glee as opposed to her better known and more tortured melancholy recordings. And she was right. It’s all around us at any time.

Devon Wendell

Devon Wendell

Since I became a music journalist several years ago, I’ve tried to write about it all, or most of what has surrounded me and crossed my path. Writing about rock n’ roll, folk, blues, and all forms of music that fits into the beloved boom era- nostalgia soundtrack seems to be the safest route when writing about music, especially today, so I’ve learned. I’ve written pieces on Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Richie Havens and everyone rejoiced.

Whenever “Purple Haze,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” or “Hey Jude” has been mentioned with “positive vibes” or enthusiasm (a better choice of wording), I got a lot of readers and no hate mail.

Jazz, on the other hand is a different story. There’s danger and risk involved in writing about jazz just as there is danger and risk in playing the music.

The jazz community seems to love my jazz pieces, especially the musicians and fellow jazz writers. A lot of them can tell I’m a musician writing from a musician’s perspective.

But for some reason unknown to me, I’ve gotten more than a fair share of bitterness, disdain and even bullying threats from a few writers. It seems to come from those writers obsessed with the “counter culture” rock music of the ‘60s. I’d like to make it crystal clear that I love good rock n’ roll. Ike And Tina Turner, Jackie Breston, early Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, these artists have been an integral part of my being and musicianship. There have been times in which I’ve criticized the rock ‘n’ roll industry and its dominating power over all genres of music and how dismissive they can be towards jazz and blues unless those genres give into some of the not so clever clichés of rock music to please some of the not so cultured rock fans.

The fact that Led Zeppelin has billions of dollars paid to the band for their versions of songs written by other artists, many of whom died in poverty, also irks me.  But this has more to do with dishonest business practices than the music. And let’s face it, those running The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame could use a few courses in music history. John Coltrane is not rock and Muddy Waters was great in his own right, regardless of who he has influenced in the rock n’ roll world. I don’t subscribe to that precious brand of narcissism.

My criticisms have been misconstrued by a clannish bunch of old hippies who do anything but practice “peace and love.” I didn’t have images of flower children in my head when one of these writers verbally harassed me for not writing the ten thousand and third article on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles arriving in America. This guy couldn’t help but throw how much money he got for his piece and how little I make.

That week I chose to write an educational piece on the jazz tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley instead. I have nothing against the Beatles but I wanted to write about Hank Mobley. Too many have asked “Who is Hank Mobley?” No one has asked me who The Beatles are. They need more publicity like Jay-Z or Beyonce need it. Come on people! The media had already been overly saturated with Beatles articles and memorabilia, making the actual event seem Warholian in its abundance of repetitive images, robbing it of any true meaning and dignity.

After receiving several emails of; “You think you’re so smart don’t you asshole snob?” and “Only a handful of folks give a shit about jazz!” “jazz is dead, long live rock!” and “We changed the world back then man! Write about The Doors!” I knew it was time to break all contact with these psychopaths stuck in a time warp. They’re gone for now and I can breathe easier.

The other danger of jazz writing is a good kind. I remember reviewing Kenny Burrell at Catalina’s in Hollywood. After I wrote my review, the late Mike Melvoin (who was on piano that night) blasted me for not noticing that he had quoted Horace Silver’s “Room 608” during one of his solos. I loved it because although he was a little pissed off, his love of the music came through in his comments. He knew I was younger than a lot of jazz writers and wanted to make sure I really listened to every nuance in a performance. I was upset with myself for missing the damn quote! This also meant he was reading my work and paying attention.

I like that sense of risk which keeps me on my toes. That’s positive criticism, which I can work with. As for the other kind, I’m glad to say it’s quieted down for now and I feel for those rock writers who keep their musical worlds so small and follow the herd for a quick buck. The anger has passed, so there’s been some growth.

So I’ll just keep doing what I do and write not only about jazz, but rock, cumbia, maybe some hip-hop, even klezmer music if the mood should strike me. And I’ll enjoy and learn from the risks. “There Is Music Everywhere.”  Indeed.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


A Twist Of Doc: Hank Mobley – The Unsung Hero Of Bop.

February 7, 2014

By Devon Wendell

For tenor sax players, the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were a time for hard blowing, fitting in as many notes as possible within a few bars, and trying to break free from familiar patterns.

Sonny Rollins was the reigning king of articulation and might on tenor sax until Coltrane’s second stay with Miles. Although his was more of a cult-like following at the time, and there were plenty of people who didn’t like what he was playing, Coltrane would change the direction of the instrument forever. Rollins was still loved and began to play even harder and faster as a result of Coltrane’s impact on jazz.

Rollins, Coltrane and Johnny Griffin were considered to be the fastest tenor men in the game. Although these men were genius players and writers, many other fantastic contributors were left in the shadows. It’s always been difficult for music journalists and the media to pay attention to more than a few groundbreaking artists at once.

Hank Mobley

Hank Mobley

One such artist who never seemed to get his fair due during his time was Hank Mobley, who died in 1986 at 55. Mobley’s round tone and nimble, melodic blues based phrasing helped define the entire hard-bop genre.

Not only was Mobley a member of the original Jazz Messengers led by Horace Silver, he recorded and composed some of the most original, hard swinging compositions in the entire history of jazz. He also recorded with the top musicians of the day, both new on the scene like Lee Morgan, Grant Green, and Freddie Hubbard, as well as older legends such as Art Blakey, Art Taylor, and Kenny Dorham.

His two most heralded albums, Soul Station and Roll Call, both recorded in 1960 on Blue Note are among the most sophisticated and thoughtful albums recorded for the label.

The albums consist mostly of Mobley originals. And the most amazing thing about compositions like “Cattin’,” “B For B.B.” (recorded in 1956 with Donald Byrd on The Jazz Message Of Hank Mobley on Savoy Records), or “Take Your Pick” and “The Breakdown,” both from the Roll Call album, is that one can easily hear these as big band arrangements. Which is hard to say about many of Mobley’s contemporaries, especially as the ‘60s drew near. That sense of the blues that swung all night long that Count Basie, Duke Ellington, as well as Monk, and Dizzy kept with them when composing and playing, were present in Mobley’s writing and blowing. And his sound is immediately identifiable.

Someone could blind fold me and play me a Mobley composition that I’ve never heard, covered by an artist that I’ve never heard and I’d know it was his within the first four bars. There’s still something sweet and endearing to Mobley’s “High And Flighty” tone and his big, bright arrangements. I first noticed it on “Hankerin’” from Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers and Curtain Call (Both on Blue Note) which were given to me by a friend when I was 14.

Leonard Feather may have penned Mobley as “The middleweight champion of the tenor sax,” but I don’t think Feather meant it as a put down. Stan Getz was great and he played softer than Rollins or Coltrane. What’s great about jazz is that there’s room for many styles and sounds. The media may not grab onto it at first or ever, but the musicians and music lovers do. Mobley could and did play hard throughout different periods of his career. Check out his bold, angular lines on Freddie Hubbard’s Goin’ Up album on Blue Note from 1961 or “Hank’s Shout” from Introducing Lee Morgan With Hank Mobley’s Quintet on Savoy. Hank comes out swinging and never stops.

Mobley stayed true to the game until he retired with respiratory problems in the mid-’70s but his music continues to grab the attention of new jazz aficionados’ and keep the love of longtime, loyal fans like myself.

Thanks Hank.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


A Twist Of Doc: My Swingin’ Bubble.

January 10, 2014

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

2013 was a year of musical disappointment, death, bitterness, and pristine isolation for me. I got the usual offers from greedy chuckle-heads to play gigs or do sessions for no money. Not much in the way of good new music came across my desk, and a seemingly endless list of primarily jazz musicians that I knew and loved died, including Donald Byrd, Frank Wess, Cedar Walton, Mulgrew Miller, Jim Hall, Yusef Lateef, Ricky Lawson, Dwayne Burno, and way too many more to list here.

All of this forced me to give into the inherent antisocial beast that dominates my psyche and daily decisions and actions. I became a recluse for many months and I loved every second of it.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker

Having also become even more disillusioned by rock n’ roll and the people who support that music and its imperialistic rule over what’s left of the music business, I grabbed stacks of classic Swing Era jazz, bebop and hard bop CDs on Blue Note, Savoy, Prestige, Columbia, and the Riverside label and ducked down deep into Doc’s swinging little bubble. It’s a safe place with just a boom-box, guitars, hot coffee, iced cold Coca-Cola, and no downloaded music so I could try to limit logging onto the internet and other non-serene activity. And no Rolling Stones brand vodka or Jimi Hendrix I-pad holders.

Horace Silver

Horace Silver

This didn’t always work, however, and I found myself falling for an awful internet hoax on the death of one of my idols, Horace Silver, as well as several time-wasted battles with angry nitwit trolls on Facebook. It was as close to hiding out as one could get in 2013 without having to enter a federal witness protection program.

Thelonious Monk

For the most part, it was myself and Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Bird, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro, Woody Shaw, Jackie Mclean, Bud Powell, Johnny Griffin, Lee Morgan, Monk, Blue Mitchell, Miles, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Duke, Basie, Kenton, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins, just to name a handful.

With everything swinging this hard, life was perfect and in the moment. No one could touch or drain the historical significance out of the records that I had immersed myself. Not in the way they had done to rock n’ roll and even a lot of great, straight ahead blues over the last few decades.

Kenny Dorham

Kenny Dorham

None of the jazz players I listened to obsessively needed hoards of uneducated imaging teams attempting to “brand” their music to a younger, uncaring demographic. No dumbed-down explanations, publicity stunts, and twitter wars had to be applied to Kenny Dorham’s trumpet playing or Jimmy Heath’s tenor sax work, which gave me solace and much needed energy.

All of the artists I mentioned who passed away this year were also on my constant play list.

Jim Hall

Jim Hall

I needed them more than ever. Too many years of the insanity of trying to survive in the music business had taken me away from them and now they were gone. No more going to The Village Vanguard or Blue Note and asking Frank Wess or Jim Hall musical questions and sharing laughs after their shows. No more Yusef Lateef showing me how to play the hell out of the blues ten feet from my face. All I had were a flood of memories and fantastic recordings at my fingertips.

Although the music was incredible, the solitude and depression of my trusty little bubble began to make me feel as if I had given up as a musician and a writer. Do I want to be that bitter old blues player endlessly bitching about how the industry kept him down? As I approach 39? In part yes, I like those guys. But I also need and want work. The notion of labor was enough to burst my bubble instantly.

It’s a new year and time to try to put myself out there again. All of that great music is still playing loudly in my tiny bedroom and will until the day I die. But now I’m looking forward to submitting much more copy to my beloved boss and teacher Don Heckman, and I’m searching for good musicians to play and record with in 2014 without a thought of industry needs or trends. Let them retreat to their own bubbles as I often retreat to mine, though mine is vastly superior.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


CD Review: James Booker’s “Classified: Remixed And Expanded” (Rounder Records)

October 16, 2013

By Devon Wendell

The late, great James Booker’s recording career was just as mysterious and inconsistent as his troubled life would allow. Some of his earliest studio recordings got lost, he’d often back up or collaborate with other major artists, many of whom he inspired greatly – like Jerry Garcia and Doctor John. Or Booker simply opted to release a bevy of live recordings of his own throughout the ‘70s.

He only made a few studio recordings in his entire career. And one of them was Classified, recorded in October of 1982, just a year before his untimely death. These sessions are newly remixed and re-released on Rounder Records.

Although Booker’s New Orleans boogie-woogie piano and blues and soul stylings were slightly inspired by artists such as Professor Longhair, Jelly Roll Morton, and Ray Charles, Booker’s music became a genre and life-force onto itself, influencing generations of musicians from Doctor John to Harry Connick Jr. And his influence and genius are certainly prevalent throughout all 22 tracks of Classified: Remixed And Expanded.

James Booker

James Booker

The title track “Classified,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” and Titus Turner’s r&b classic “All Around The World” feature Booker’s soulfully cocky, jive-filled vocals, along with piano playing that isn’t quite New Orleans Creole, and not quite boogie- woogie or blues, It’s all James Booker. At times Booker blends classical scales and chordal voicings with rhythm and blues in a truly virtuosic manner. “Warsaw Concerto” and “Madame X” explore Booker’s ability to incorporate classical piano with raw soul, even more strongly than Ray Charles had done shortly before him.

“If You’re Lonely, “Angel Eyes” and Doc Pomus’s masterpiece “Lonely Avenue” (popularized by Ray Charles) are Booker’s twist on blues and soul ballads which are destined to bring first time listeners and older fans to tears.

Sometimes Booker accompanies himself on piano or is backed by a tight and non- intrusive band consisting of Alvin “Red” Tyler on sax, James Singleton on bass, and Johnny Vidacovich on drums.

There is a brutal and haunting quality to all of these recordings, even on the up-tempo medleys like: “Tico Tico /Papa Was A Rascal/ So Swell When You’re Well” and Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina /Bald Head.” Booker’s wonderfully strange use of majors chords against minors is awe inspiring and sounds like no one else.

Sometimes Booker will move slightly behind the beat, right on top of it, and use space and syncopation like a jazz musician’s approach to piano. Just check out “I’m Not Sayin’.” Booker was the Thelonious Monk of New Orleans soul.

Booker was also fearless and never doubted his choice of material on these sessions as he conquers Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road,” Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog,” Fats Domino’s “One For The Highway,” and even Nino Rota and Parti Siae’s “Theme From The Godfather.” Booker swings hardest here when he takes those daring risks, and he never fails to create something completely original each time.

A mournful reading of Allen Toussaint’s “All These Things” is harrowing in its intensity and easily one of the album’s many highlights.

Booker’s rendition of Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn’s “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” features some humorous and funky Hammond B3 playing . And a gospel version of Edward Buzell, Bert Kalmar, and Harry Ruby’s standard “Baby Face” shows off Booker’s more playfully humorous side – a side that is often overshadowed by his tragic life and death.

The compilation ends with the rollicking instrumental “Three Keys” and a slow and pleading cover of the gospel standard “Amen.” Booker’s voice sounds as if he’s on his knees crying out to the heavens in pain.

The remixed sound is stellar throughout this compilation and extra takes of “If You’re Lonely” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” help make Classified: Remixed And Expanded an essential glimpse into the mind and soul of one of American music’s greatest, influential, and most original musicians of all time.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Film Review: American Masters: Jimi Hendrix- “Hear My Train A Comin’”

October 4, 2013

By Devon Wendell

The Experience Hendrix estate and the good people of PBS present a brand new Jimi Hendrix documentary, Hear My Train A Comin’ as a part of their American Masters series. There was an advanced screening of the film at The Sony Entertainment Room in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, October 2nd. It will air nationwide on PBS on November 5, when the DVD will be released.

Directed by Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology and Festival Express), Hear My Train A Comin’ takes us on a chronological journey through Hendrix’s entire life. The film starts with Jimi’s troubled childhood in Seattle, then his days as a U.S. paratrooper, to his stint on the chitlin’ circuit, (backing up some of R&B’s greatest legends of the 60s such as Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, and Wilson Pickett to name a few) and of course his taking London by storm during the height of the swinging `60s and becoming the most influential guitar player of all time.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

The film features loving accounts of Jimi’s musical genius and his gentle personality by legends who knew or played with him such as; Steve Winwood, Ernie Isley, Billy Cox, Noel Redding, Chas Chandler, Mitch Mitchell, Dave Mason, Buddy Miles, and Sir Paul MCcartney. We also hear from Jimi’s father, the late Al Hendrix, his half-sister Janie, and his cousin Bob Hendrix, plus an array of journalists and a few of Jimi’s many girlfriends.

Although it’s great to hear tons of loving accolades and admiration for Jimi by so many different people, the message gets redundant quickly and the film could have used more music footage and less talk. It’s made clear over and over again how dedicated Jimi was to his music as he recorded, gigged, jammed, and practiced around the clock. But we don’t really learn anything more than that and most of us already know this about Jimi.

The film also only presents us with baby-boom era rockers and fails to examine how Jimi impacted other musical genres of the `60s and `70s such as jazz, blues, and funk.

Aside from footage that fans have already seen countless times like excerpts from The Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock, The Band Of Gypsies, and The Berkeley Concerts, there isn’t much of anything we haven’t seen before. The only “new” stuff are very brief portions of “Foxy Lady” and “Tax Free” from the Miami Pop Festival in 1968, and a quick shot of “Spanish Castle Magic” from The Isle Of Fehmarn, Jimi’s last official concert before his death in September of 1970.

Sir Paul MCcartney’s accounts of how Jimi Blew the English rock scene away (including himself and the other three Beatle members) upon his arrival in London in 1966 is the most interesting and heart felt celebrity appearance in the entire film. But no matter what is said about Jimi by his band members, friends, and girlfriends, we don’t get a true insight to who Jimi really was. There’s a huge void. Even with the presentation of Jimi’s personal letters home to his dad from the Army and later from England after the formation of The Experience, there is still a shroud of mystery surrounding Jimi’s life.

There is also a blatant glossing over of Jimi’s self destructive behavior in a possible attempt to white wash his image.

overHear My Train A Comin’ does have some fine moments like film footage shot by Jimi and drummer Mitch Mitchell of moments on the road on planes and long car rides between gigs from The Experience’s first tour of America of 1968. There is also footage of Jimi jamming backstage at Madison Square Garden with The Rolling Stones in `69 with audio but just as the music gets cooking, it’s cut off by more talk, usually right as Jimi begins to solo. There isn’t that balance between interview segments and music that the Warner Brothers 1973 film Jimi Hendrix, (directed by Joe Boyd, John Head, and Gary Weis) successfully achieved.

Bob Smeaton could have cut this film down by 30 minutes. Two hours is very long for a documentary that often loses focus and feels repetitive.

With that being said, Hear My Train A Comin’ is a suitable introduction for young people who don’t know anything about Jimi Hendrix. However, for those of us who do, this is yet another Jimi Hendrix documentary with too much of the same stock footage, opinions, and speculation which makes me think we’re only supposed to know so much about such a genius.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


A Twist of Doc – An Appreciation: The 43rd Anniversary Of The Death Of Jimi Hendrix

September 18, 2013

 By Devon Wendell

September 18th, 2013 and all I can think about is Jimi. How his music and legacy has haunted me my entire life. Jimi Hendrix died 43 years ago today, over 5 years before I was even born. Yet every feedback drenched note, cascading soulful ballad, and harrowing wammy-bar dive bomb has almost followed my every move since the age of ten.

It was something I hid and was ashamed of in my formative years because Jimi was associated with and marketed to a rock ‘n’ roll audience which was a no no for a “pure” bluesman like myself. Or so I believed. Although I had known the direct link between Jimi and Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, as well as the deepest of the Delta and Country bluesmen such as Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton, when I first heard his music, he was mainly seen as the father of heavy metal.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

He was lumped into the same group of “classic” rockers such as Led-Zeppelin and The Who,which I failed to understand. I hated and still hate heavy metal or most rock music and Jimi’s music is far more profound than any of that stuff and is closer to a Robert Johnson or Miles Davis. I chalked it up to ignorance on the part of everyone who had been brainwashed into thinking all guitar music is “rock n’ roll” and buried this feeling of having an overwhelming link to Jimi until the rest of the world caught on to the depths of his creativity. That finally seems to have happened.

He was the only famous artist that I could relate to on a musical and personal level, though everything I had learned about Jimi was speculation from books and articles. And some of the famous artists with whom I got to come across who actually knew Jimi personally – like Jack Bruce and Buddy Miles – told me that there wasn’t a way of “Really knowing Jimi.”

I grabbed onto those second hand scraps of images with all of my might. Jimi’s shyness, insecurity, frustration, self-destruction, and the playboy image made my youthful self-loathing somewhat less painful. Plus I had a guitar which was little more than a blank canvas before my teens.  

Now I’m an adult and know the dangers of associating my self with anyone else’s image, true or false but at times when I’m playing my guitar, my way, to the best of my ability, I feel Jimi there with me. Sometimes he likes what I’m doing and sometimes I see him in my mind’s eye wincing at a missed note or chord gone horribly wrong. Because I had some of the same chemically induced demons as Jimi, I try not to take these feelings too seriously anymore. I nearly followed Jimi and Robert Johnson into an early grave but somehow I miraculously survived.

I try my best to shake Jimi’s influence on my playing now the same way a young, ambitious saxophonist may struggle with all of his might to shake the influence of Lester Young or John Coltrane but it’s not that easy because his music is everywhere, in every genre now. Jimi’s music is sacred and shouldn’t be mocked.

September 18th, 1970 marked the passing of contemporary music’s last true virtuoso. There certainly hasn’t been anyone as influential on a single instrument since his death.

We’re all still waiting for the next one to come from somewhere and the longer it takes, the more we must pause to give thanks for his life and music. Rest in peace Jimi.  

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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