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.


A Twist Of Doc: “Pure” Misery

June 13, 2013

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Many fellow musicians or fans of my music and journalism assume that I’m a “purest” based on my love of blues, jazz, classical, and old R&B, not to mention my very open disdain for the everyday, nauseating, chart topping, American Idolized hit. Yes it’s true, I think the crap that the music industry dummies dump on the masses is as bad for the brain as drinking gasoline, I have a love for all kinds of music. This wasn’t always the case however.

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

I tried the “purest” route as a teen when I first discovered the music of Muddy Waters, Son House, Robert Johnson on the blues end, and Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk on the jazz side of things. I adopted a carefully crafted snobbery that made me feel and appear less of a geek in the eyes of my classmates than I truly was.  But I was far too uptight.

I was deadly serious about learning the guitar, practicing up to 16 hours a day most of the time, but something was missing — Fun! It was easy to fall into the doomed romanticism of Robert Johnson.  But when I got to a party (on the rare occasion I got invited to one) I was a depressing, sullen wall flower. People who danced and the music they danced to made me sick.  Plus I refused to listen to the ‘60s rock music that my parents preached about (except for Hendrix) because I felt it was just watered down versions of the much older and “pure” stuff. I was a real downer.

Two things happened to shake my tree and change my rigid perception of life and music.  The first was my introduction to LSD and marijuana, the other was the formation of my very first band in high school in Brooklyn. The two happened almost simultaneously.

James Brown

The drugs had me smiling for the first time since I was practically an infant and the bass player of my first band introduced me to the world of funk. While I brought my blues influence to the band, he brought that nasty funk. I was introduced to the recordings of James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Bootsy Collins. I had heard these grooves before at parties when DJ’s would spin hip-hop records by artists who heavily sampled the funk artists of the ‘70s.  But I never knew it came from a purer (there’s that word again) and older source.

Between my lazy and destructive attempts at mind expansion and these infectious rhythms that were accentuated by the one beat, everything suddenly made sense and I was wide open to all musical possibilities. I felt the musical and cultural link between all genres of music. Funk had opened the flood gates.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

From then on, on any given night in my tiny Brooklyn bedroom, you could hear me listening to plethora of artists such as: Eric B and Rakin, Ultra Magnetic MC’s,  Sly And The Family Stone, Motown, Cal Tjader, Eddie Palmieri, Weather Report, Albert Collins, The Velvet Underground, Prince, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Charles Ives, Chopin, Eric Dolphy, Mingus, Stockhausen, and even The Renaissance composer John Dunstable.

The doom and gloom of the blues mystique had softened and I now found the fun in music while still being able to cling to my geekiness. My playing accelerated to a new plateau as well.  The drugs made it feel as if I had improved much more than I actually had.  But I had broken free of living a life of “Pure” misery, only listening to the oldest recorded forms of a musical genre. My curiosity of the musicology of everything I was now hearing was also sparked.

Now the drugs are gone but I still try to be as open as I can. I may often be highly critical of current and past pop culture trends in many of my articles, interviews, and op-ed pieces, After all, if I weren’t bitter, pissy, contradictory, and slightly insane, I wouldn’t be in the music business. But it’s all music to me that’s connected and when I open my guitar case, I say a prayer for the dead “purest” in me.  The “purist” who would have kept me playing one style for one person instead of many styles for at least two people.

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


An Appreciation: Hugh McCracken — A Fond Remembrance

March 29, 2013

By Devon Wendell

I was saddened when I learned that Hugh McCracken passed away of leukemia yesterday – March 28th, 2013 – in New York City.

While working at Donald Fagen’s recording studio in New York in the 90s, I was constantly surrounded by the top session musicians of the world on a constant basis, especially during a Steely Dan recording project. Some of these titans included: Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Paul Griffin, The Brecker Brothers, and Hugh McCracken. I was absolutely terrified and intimidated by just about all of them with the exception of McCracken. He didn’t have the ultra-cool, funky, macho boastfulness that Purdie and some of the others had that could make a wannabe, geeky musician and engineer like myself feel like the most un-hip person in the world.

Hugh McCracken

McCracken was very approachable and generous with his musical abilities. I wanted to meet him the most because I was not only a budding guitarist, but also a blues fanatic and I knew that McCracken played the original guitar rhythm track on B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” which is one of the most original and tasteful guitar parts ever recorded.

During down time, I’d be in the live room of the studio rapping cable or taking down microphones while McCracken would be laying down some sweet bluesy licks and chords, alone on a chair in the corner. He had a relaxed, pensive look on his face.

I was very young and played in an overly, flashy manner, not trusting in the economical power of the blues. Larry Carlton had donated a Gibson semi-hollobody guitar to the studio that I used to play all the time. On a few occasions, I’d talk to McCracken and show him some fast blues runs that I had learned. He’d look at me without judgment and say, “Well, try it this way,” while cutting everything I had shown him into a half or more. It made what I was playing sound sloppy and rushed. He knew exactly how to get right to the point with a few perfectly placed notes and with the right tone.

He taught me that you couldn’t always play like Godzilla behind a good singer or in a larger orchestral sound. All I thought about before then was the guitar solo and putting my stamp on everything too loud and too fast. Can you imagine if McCracken had tried to play like Buddy Guy or Hendrix on Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen?”

McCracken also changed my perception of playing the guitar with other artists in the studio. He made it work throughout his entire career with everyone from The Funatics in his youth in New Jersey, to Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, James Taylor, John Lennon, The Four Seasons, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Aretha Franklin, and countless others as a primarily New York based player.

So many guitarists today could learn from MCracken’s example of not tossing out your entire technique within the first four bars and really complimenting a song in a extremely imaginative and funky fashion. I wouldn’t be a session player without having heard McCracken’s timeless guitar playing. He will be deeply missed.

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


A Twist of Doc: The 2013 NAMM Convention Performance Highlights

February 1, 2013

 By Devon “Doc” Wendell

The 2013 NAMM (National Association Of Music Merchants) convention took place in Anaheim California between Thursday, January 24th and Sunday, January 27th. Despite throngs of inebriated metal heads roaming the Anaheim streets, instrument booths in the convention hall, and thousands of music merchants packed into the Anaheim Convention center like sardines, there were several stellar musical performances by some legendary names and innovators in the music industry, especially in the jazz and blues categories.

Here are some of 2013 NAMM’s many concert highlights:

On Friday night, Hammond Organ presented its two-plus hour “Hammond Soul Summit” Concert at The Anaheim Marriot, which featured some of the instrument’s greatest and most influential practitioners.

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Kicking off the show was the legendary jazz and funk Hammond B3 pioneer, Dr. Lonnie Smith performing with the incredible Chester Thompson (Tower Of Power and Santana) and Larry Goldings (Al Jarreau, Maceo Parker, John Mayer).  The three organ titans performed a loose and funky rendition of Smith’s classic “Keep Talkin’.”  Backed by a dynamic rhythm section (Jay Didimo on drums and Jack Maher on electric guitar), Smith and Thompson began swapping bluesy organ licks, trying to upstage one another, pushing the exchanges to ecstatic heights. The energy was electric and took the predominately rock loving NAMM audience back to school. Goldings soloed on an acoustic piano preset on his electric keyboard, playing jazz-fueled gospel chops while Thompson and Smith comped rhythm changes and walking organ bass lines behind him. Unfortunately, they were only allotted time to play one number.

Marty Grebb

Marty Grebb

Up next, Marty Grebb (Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Etta James) took the stage, backed by some of the greatest session players in the world (Reggie McBride on bass and Alvino Bennett on drums) with special guest, 12 year old blues guitar virtuoso, Ray Goren.  After a Jimmy Smith-esque blues shuffle showcasing the young Goren’s fiery electric blues guitar runs and Grebb’s down-home B3 style, another guest was introduced — Marty Grebb’s old musical partner from the Buckinghams,  Dennis Tuffano, on vocals.  Together, Tuffano and Grebb sang The Buckinghams’ 1967 hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”

Though it was hard for Tuffano to come close to topping Grebb’s soulful, Ray Charles- inspired vocals, he proved to still have the fire. This was the most nostalgic and exciting moment of the convention. Goren played some tasteful B.B. King style licks with the maturity of a musician 3 times his age, proving that he’s definitely someone to watch out for.

Larry Goldings

Larry Goldings

Larry Goldings returned to the stage with his trio (Jack Maher: guitar, Jay Didimo: drums), performing a brilliantly original arrangement of the Sonny Rollins classic “Doxy.” Golding’s imagination, fluidity, and inspiring skills incorporated many of Rollins’ saxophone lines in his organ solo and made it look easy.

Although many hard-rock acts dominated the main stage throughout the convention, Nick Smith And Friends performed a set of pure jazz at 4:00pm on Saturday.  Tonight Show keyboardist Smith was joined by an all-star band consisting of Marvin “Smitty” Smith: drums, Cory Jacobs: keyboard, Trevor Ware: Upright bass, James Manning: Electric bass, Antonio Julius: trumpet, Ray Fuller: guitar, and Kamasi Washington on tenor sax.

Nick Smith

Nick Smith

Performing a set of hard-bop originals such as “Alternative Way,” “Slow But Surely” (a masterful tribute to Thelonious Monk), and “Tony Williams” (a salute to jazz drum legend Tony Williams), Nick Smith And Friends proved to be one of the most consistently brilliant jazz bands around today.  Amazingly (believe it or not), Nick Smith played with the syncopation and humor of Monk and virtuosic energy and fluidity of McCoy Tyner in what I can already predict will be among my top ten performances of 2013. Marvin “Smitty” Smith’s bombastic drumming pushed the entire band to play beyond their comfort zone, which is what true improvised jazz is all about. And Kamasi Washington’s playing brought to mind the adventurous spirit of a young Wayne Shorter or mid-60s Joe Henderson.

Even the band’s final tune, “Yeah” (which was a slight venture into funk/fusion) felt fresh and fun without the typical clichés of those genres. Nick Smith And Friends’ too short set was filled with an understanding and love of the history of hard-bop, modal jazz, with just a hint of fusion.  Later that evening Muriel Anderson’s “All Star Guitar Night” was presented by Yamaha guitars, and a benefit and silent auction for The Music For Life Alliance took place at The Anaheim Marriot’s Platinum Ballroom.

Though the big name acts like Stanley Jordan, Robben Ford (who received The Guitar Player Certified Legend award at the event) and host and performer Muriel Anderson were the big name draws of this “exclusive” event, it was some of the lesser known names who were the most interesting of the long showcase.

Mimi Fox

Mimi Fox

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Jazz guitarist Mimi Fox performed elegant and thoughtful versions of Wes Montgomery’s “Four By Six” and Chic Corea’s “Five Hundred Miles High,” using open harmonics and sweeping arpeggios, all while playing lead and rhythm simultaneously. It was easy to see why Fox has been sought after by Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall, and Branford Marsalis, among others.

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Ian Ethan Case

Ian Ethan Case

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Ian Ethan Case is a young guitarist with a style that is both sonically and visually original and unorthodox in all the best ways. Case’s performance at this showcase surely had many six-stringers rethink the possibilities of the guitar. Case plays a double neck acoustic guitar in a unique and percussive manner, strumming the six string side of the guitar with one hand, while fretting chords and lead sequences on the 12 string side with the other hand, over the neck of the guitar while occasionally thumping his fists on the instrument’s body, creating polyrhythms. One must see this to believe it. His ideas were endless, playing a style that had elements of country, acoustic rock, and bluegrass, but is a completely unique sound nonetheless.

Case’s ballad “Anthony’s Lullaby”, dedicated to his infant son, had a dream-like, dissonant yet dark, melodic quality to it. It was refreshing to witness a guitarist who has created his own style and is not emulating a host of other players.

Vocalist Toots Hibbert and guitarist Carl Harvey are know for their work in the prolific reggae band Toots And The Maytals, but their acoustic, Delta Blues renditions of the Maytals’ classics “Reggae Got Soul” and “54-46 Was My Number” was a brilliant departure for these two men from the reggae world.  As both men strummed acoustic guitars, with Harvy playing an occasional piercing lead, Hibbert’s vocals sounded like a cross between the late Reverend Gary Davis and Richie Havens.  Their country blues arrangements gave the songs new fire and soul. This was pure blues without any of the affectations that many guitarists of other genres who try to conquer the blues are often guilty of falling back on.

James Hill

James Hill

Ukulele master James Hill and bassist Bakithi Kumalo (bassist on Paul Simon’s Graceland album) brought some much needed humor to this event, performing a witty reading of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” with Hill singing and playing the chord changes on ukulele and Kumalo playing the funky bass line on a small, short scale bass.  The sound of Hill playing those syncopated minor ninth chords on a ukulele made his performance one to remember for a long time. Although Hill is a skilled musician, it’s rare and refreshing to see an artist at an event like this who doesn’t take himself too seriously and isn’t afraid to show it.

So that’s it for my NAMM 2013 highlights. At a huge event like this, it’s quality over quantity as there were hundreds of performances during the four day convention.

Like most of the NAMM attendees, I’m exhausted yet already curious about next year’s lineup of showcases and events.

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


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