An Appreciation: Farewell Jack Bruce

October 28, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Jack Bruce passed away on Saturday at the age of 71. It’s yet another hard-to-accept cold shot for any rock fan who fondly remembers what the rock medium had to offer in its late ’60’s/early ’70’s heyday. The luminaries of the field are disappearing slowly but surely. But around that time, rock was the most interesting, cutting edge genre around. Short-lived as it was, to call it inspiring in its time would be to understate the point.

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

And Jack Bruce was at the forefront of all of this. He was a founding member of perhaps the first supergroup out of England, the mind-blowing power trio Cream…(as in the Cream that rises to the top). Their sound was bigger than the sum of the parts. Along with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream put psychedelic blues-rock on the map with a sonic boom. The group featured guitarist Eric Clapton, drummer Ginger Baker, and one Jack Bruce on bass. The band blew the doors open in the blues-rock field. Their jams were marathon sequences of long solos, top-flight musicianship, and decibels-a-plenty. Twenty minutes for a song like Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” became de rigeur and a true showcase for players as strong as they were. Ginger Baker still complains that he lost most of his hearing having to be near Bruce’s unbearably loud bass rig, night after night.

As a writer, lyricist, and playing harmonica and bass, Jack Bruce was actually the wild card in Cream. His fingerprints were all over their many iconic songs from what we now remember to be an incredibly brief period between 1967 and 1969. But what a run it was. The lyrics Bruce wrote to songs like “SWLABR,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “White Room,” “Dance the Night Away,” and “I Feel Free,” were beautifully evocative meshes of blues, mythology, and juxtaposition – yet they were also full-on psychedelic anthems. Great imagery from him! And Cream arranged for the album art to match the music. Just to see their albums in the local record store was to look at things differently. But upon listening to the record, it was so hard to believe there were only three guys putting all of those ideas and huge sound across so deftly. They did set a standard. Many folks might argue convincingly that Cream was a career zenith for Clapton, as well.

As a bass player Jack Bruce certainly took the busy angle of things a long, long way. His solos would often be as long as Clapton’s. But he was unusually melodic, and downright intriguing to listen to. Live, he was one of the busiest bassists to come along. He played leads on his bass. Guys like John Entwhistle of The Who were also playing sizzling lead bass lines at the time, but Bruce was going for broke on the same stage as Eric Clapton, in his prime. Gotta step it up to do that! In this way he was hugely influential to a generation of developing bass players. It became obvious that it was going to be OK to stretch out as a rock bassist…if you had the chops and the ideas. Many people I know literally wore the grooves out of albums like Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire, learning to play either guitar or bass. Cream offered that much talent to draw from.

After Cream was through, Bruce continued to hook up throughout the ‘70’s with guitar heavyweights like, Leslie West (no pun intended), Mick Taylor, and Robin Trower. While the psychedelia was over, the music continued to flow. Some of the stuff Bruce did with Carla Bley and Mick Taylor in the mid ‘70’s was brilliant, part of an impressive musical arc for Bruce, post-Cream.

Ultimately, Jack Bruce will be remembered most for his work with Cream and when people think of that band, it’s impossible not to be taken with the many levels they succeeded on. Whether lyrically, compositionally, or instrumentally, Jack Bruce’s legacy will continue to inspire people who can grasp what he was doing then. It was quite brilliant, indeed.

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To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Photo of Jack Bruce at the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival by photo-journalist Bonnie Perkinson.



Brian Arsenault Takes On: Dead (and loses again)

October 25, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

I ‘d like to write something about Jack Bruce dying. But I can’t. “Crossroads” keeps playing over and over again in my head. By the way, he is dead isn’t he? Not a hoax, like one report said.

Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce

I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce living. But I can’t. “I Feel Free” keeps playing in my head over and over again. Guess he’s free of this “mortal coil” now. I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce’s music. But I can’t. “Sunshine of Your Love” just seems so empty now. My head won’t play that one. ‘

I’ll say this. He and Ginger never did get along very well, they say, but I think “they” never heard them play together. Man, it was magic. Over, under, sideways. Just banging off each other and Eric and it was like a frigging 90 piece orchestra. I don’t really care if they didn’t say nice things to each other.

This Wall Street stock trader I know saw one of the Cream reunion shows in New York about a decade ago and said Bruce and Baker yelled at each other between just about every song. Then just nailed it when the next song began.

Jack Bruce taking a photo of the .audience at the  Playboy Jazz Festival

Jack Bruce taking a photo of the .audience at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Yeah, yeah Clapton has gone on to be a mega rock star, but was he ever as good as when Cream was soaring in concert or dazzling in the studio. Cream was one of the last rock “bands,” you know, not just a front man with some sidemen but a fully integrated organism where the disparate parts blended together to create a single identifiable sound.

Individually, Bruce, along with John Entwistle between them developed rock’s lead bass to a fine art form. They could play under but they could also play over. They could follow or blaze the trail. The Ox is gone too. So’s Noel Redding.

Damn, I guess somebody’s gonna die from that era about every month now. Hope it’s not every week. Too damn depressing.

I’d like to write something about Jack Bruce living. But I guess the hoax stories were the real hoax and he really is dead. Damn.

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Photos by Bonnie Perkinson were taken at the 2012 Playboy Jazz Festival, in Jack Bruce’s last appearance in Los Angeles.


Who Killed Cock Robin? A Reflection

August 11, 2014

by Brian Arsenault

There will be a lot of tributes to Robin Williams. Mine is simply this: whatever you fear in your darkest corner about how crazy or fucked up or ridiculous you may be, Robin was willing to say he was more so. Damn brave that and it was very comforting for the rest of us but it must have been a hell of a burden for him.

Robin Williams

To explode like in “Good Morning Vietnam” I suspect you have to plant the bombs deep in some hidden corridor where no one else goes. To ponder what demons pursue us in “Goodwill Hunting” you must have to feel the talons of such demons digging all the way in. To rave on stage for a couple hours making all kinds of sideways connections you must have to fight down that energy after with a strength that isn’t always there.

Hemingway killed himself in a state of severe depression. Sylvia Plath. Maybe Van Gogh. Others. About my only firm belief about anything is that if you are going to have one extreme, there will be an equal counterbalancing opposite extreme. It is a sobering fact of life that if there is to be goodness there must be evil, if there is to be fidelity there must be treachery, if there is to be great joy there must be nearly unbearable sadness.

So think of where Robin sometimes went when he wasn’t regaling a theater audience for a couple hours, making people nearly wet themselves laughing. When he wasn’t working on a doctor who brought joy by putting on a clown nose, when he wasn’t poking fun at an interstellar overlord who happened to be his boss, when he wasn’t putting out the fire on Mrs. Doubtfire’s bosom. For there to be so much light, there had to be consuming darkness.

Shocked at his passing? Sure. Surprised that someone who achieved art not to mention fame and fortune well beyond we mere mortals could end it? Not really. Saddened but not really surprised. It may simply mean that the price has been paid.

So long. It’s darker tonight.

A Remembrance: Horace Silver

June 18, 2014

By Devon Wendell

When I think of Horace Silver I think of how challenging it must have been to bring that old style of blues and gospel back into jazz during the heyday of bebop. Sure the blues was a part of bop; Bird, Dizzy, Miles, and Monk loved it, played it, and used it in their compositions but in a more abstract and modern fashion. Silver’s blues, even when mixed with Latin jazz and bebop was more “old timey” or “back home” blues that many lovers (and some of the players) of the newer jazz sound veered away from and even felt ashamed of.

Horace Silver

Horace Silver

I first heard Horace Silver in high school on the album A Night At Birdland By The Art Blakey Quintet on Blue Note Records with Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown, Curley Russell, and Blakey of course. His style jumped out at me. A young Clifford Brown was playing much like Fats Navarro and Donaldson was using up all of his stock Bird licks. Russell and Blakey too were in that bebop groove but then this aggressive, cocky, and percussive blues piano sound came in and it was like a left hook to the face.

I was so used to straight-up bebop players like Bud Powell, Dodo Marmarosa, Al Haig, John Lewis, and Barry Harris. Although I heard remnants of Teddy Wilson and Count Basie, Silver’s approach, reminded me more of the Chicago blues pianists I had grown up on like Otis Spann, Little Johnny Jones and Eddie Boyd. But the purity of Silver’s blues/gospel style somehow fit perfectly in the bop idiom. It complimented it and brought more of the blues out in the soloists in his many groups or artists he backed up on a countless number of classic sessions.

After my encounter with the live Blakey album, I sought out other recordings by Silver such as Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers, Blowin’ The Blues Away, 6 Pieces Of Silver, Finger Poppin,’ and Song For My Father.

Horace silver

Horace silver

I also heard Silver’s piano work on Sonny Rollins Vol.2 (With two pianists consisting of Silver and Thelonious Monk) and Miles Davis’ Bags Groove. No matter what the musical setting or with whom he was swinging with, Silver let it be known that pure blues and gospel are and will always be valid in jazz. It helped to create the music. It’s the heartbeat of jazz that makes everything swing.

Silver (along with drummer and collaborator Art Blakey) wanted jazz to be more accessible and danceable to people and less of a secret society of highly skilled players who may have seemed harmonically, rhythmically, and socially unapproachable to the masses. And so hard-bop was born and many of its greatest practitioners played and honed their skills in Silver’s bands – players such as Junior Cook, Hank Mobley, Louis Hayes, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Blue Mitchell, Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, and James Spaulding to name only a few. Silver schooled musicians back into the blues at a time when many players were studying Ravel and Schoenberg looking for something new outward.

Silver’s style changed jazz. Even though he isn’t on the recording, Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers Moanin’ was a direct reaction to Silver’s influence. Bobby Timmons who wrote the hard- bop anthem was a descendant of Silver’s style. Silver’s classic composition “Song For My Father” continues to reach audiences of all ages, even many of whom aren’t jazz geeks like myself. For me, Horace Silver’s sound will always be synonymous with Blue Note Records.

Horace Silver passed away Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at his home in New Rochelle N.Y. at the age of 85. From now on, whenever jazz musicians try to ditch the blues and gospel roots — as has happened many times throughout the music’s history– I hope the ghost of Horace Silver will come down from Heaven, kick their tight butts and remind them where the swing came from. Goodbye “Senor Blues.”

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





A Tale To Tell: Of Death and Dying

June 7, 2014

By Brian Arsenault

I forgot the joy of gum. For a long time. Years actually. The neat little package. The double wrapping. The fragrance you get just before popping it into your mouth. The wish that the flavor would last longer. I became a grownup, I guess. Cigarettes for a long while. Not gum. Later there was that partial dental plate to deal with, don’t ya know. Might pull the damn thing right off and glom up my mouth.

Then Mom was sick in the hospital and I kept asking over the phone, before I did the daily three times drive, if there was anything she wanted. One day there was something. Gum. Gum? OK gum.

Arriving at the store I realized I hadn’t bought gum in years. Bunch of different flavors and brands. Didn’t recognize anything. So I bought five packs. Finally spotted Doublemint. Hey, I know that one. Took the pocketful of packs to her room and dumped them on that tray on wheels they put the inedible meals on. Sick as she was Mom laughed at that. In the end, I probably chewed more of it than she did. I’m back. Gum junky for life.

Mom never had much more of anything after that day. Not gum or coffee– she loved coffee. Or food or much of anything. Not even medication, except for the one that kept the pain away.

I came in the second day at the hospital and she had told the staff no more IV, no more anti-biotics. No more treatment. No more anything. Could Dr. Kevorkian be called in to assist. She actually said something like that.

She was incredibly brave. Not sure I wouldn’t call for EVERYBODYYY like Norman Stansfield in The Professional, before Matilda said hello. And I knew, I just knew the young doctor was proud of her. Mom knew without knowing the full diagnosis. A lot more than persistent pneumonia which in a 92 year old woman was bad enough.

What he really wanted to know was if I was going to throw myself across the bed and sob for every treatment and test they could give my mother or was I going to show a little courage myself. He seemed almost relieved when I said I’d comply with her wishes.

He didn’t want to hurt her at the final stage. First, do no harm. That’s the credo, isn’t it?

So now Kath and I are slowly cleaning out her place, finding photos and stuff I haven’t seen for decades. It’s a form of time traveling, of circling above places and events and sensations when anyone else who ever shared them is gone. A strange feeling.

And I keep wondering what day I should call Mom to go for groceries. Did I call yesterday? No, oh damn, she’ll be annoyed. My sister in law Linda, another only child, told me she still does that two years after her mother died.

I wonder if Mom’s mad at the cable company again. Do they know it’s her by caller ID and fight over who has to answer. And she was never completely satisfied with my explanation as to why the money in her bank account wasn’t kept In Cash right at her branch. Not happy either that the bank statement was mailed from another state.

Unlike Camus, I know when mother died, to the minute. Like Camus, I’m not sure how I should feel. A piece of you gets cut away and it’s not coming back. Still, the sun’s coming up over the hill behind the house this morning. And they’re still making gum.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.



An Appreciation: Devon Wendell and Don Heckman Remember Tony Gieske

February 27, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Tony Gieske

Tony Gieske

Tony Gieske was right there amongst the greats that I grew up worshiping. He had photographed, Interviewed, or reviewed the masters like John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie to name just a few. His stellar career spanned over half a century.

As a student at NYU, I used to go to The New York Public Library and read his terrific interviews and articles for The Washington Post, The New York Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and The Hollywood Reporter while listening to the great artists he covered on my walkman. Tony’s humility, love, and seemingly limitless knowledge of jazz came through in his writing. He also stayed current on the jazz scene.

Many years later I was blessed to be able to be a colleague of Tony’s while working for Don Heckman and The International Review Of Music.

I got to know Tony while covering The Playboy Jazz Festival for Don and iRoM. He was an unassuming, charming man who was running all over The Hollywood Bowl taking amazing photos. He’d ask me who I was covering for the day’s program and then I’d see him in front of the stage snapping away. Most of the photos on my articles, Q&A’s, and reviews were taken by Tony. His photos always captured the fire of the performance.

I told him in 2011 how much of a fan of his I had been most of my life. He thanked me very humbly. I knew he loved Dizzy Gillespie and played cornet and I mentioned that I’d rather be playing trumpet like Dizzy, Fats, Lee Morgan, or Freddie Hubbard (All of whom he had witnessed in person) than play the guitar. He said with that one of a kind smile; “You know your stuff. I can tell by your writing. You could learn the trumpet fast.”

And then he was off to take some more photos. I felt elated. He had read my stuff.

He never boasted or bragged about his prolific career. He just smiled and kept doing what he loved. Tony Gieske will be missed and he will always be loved by musicians and the musically obsessed like myself.

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By Don Heckman

I’ve been around writers, photographers and editors all my working life. But I never met anyone who combined the roles of writer/photographer any better than Tony Gieske did.

Tony Gieske

Tony Gieske

I was familiar with his work while we were both deeply involved with the ’60s music scene in New York — Tony at the Herald Tribune, me at the Voice and the NY Times . Our paths crossed frequently in those ever-exciting years. And we quickly discovered that we had similar approaches to our writing and reviewing, founded on the fact that we both had been, and occasionally continued to be, professional musicians.

Like Tony, I believed that music critic/reviewers should be trained, experienced musicians. And his reviews continually triggered responses from the musicians he reviewed, expressing their pleasure that their work had been covered by someone who “got” what it was they were doing creativel.

In recent years, we ran into each other after we both relocated to L.A., where Tony worked for the Hollywood Reporter while I wrote for the L.A. Times.

In more recent years, I was proud to have Tony as a regular contributor, as a reviewer and a photographer, for my International Review of Music blog.

His writing style – with its literary qualities, his deep understanding of the music and his constant sense of whimsical humor – were among the best-, most frequently-read posts on iRoM.

And while you’re reading some of his reviews, be sure to look closely at his photos. We have many contributing phographers for iRoM, and Tony was one of the most unique. Like the great French photgrapher Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tony believed that a picture should be taken at “The Decisive Moment.” With jazz artists, capturing the “decisive moment” is vital, and no one did it better than Tony Gieske.

Add to that all of his warm, engaging personal qualities, ever-present even on the most stressful job environments, always quick with a jibe, eager to discuss some inside aspect of the music we were hearing.

Tony passed away Saturday after a long illness. He had been missing from the music scene for many months dealing with his malady. It was never quite the same without my dear friend. And it never will be.

Tony Gieske was one of a kind.

A Remembrance: Lou Reed

October 28, 2013

By Devon Wendell

Lou Reed; the King of New York, is dead. This information still doesn’t compute with me.  And at the same time, Lou’s death symbolizes the end of an era for this fellow native New Yorker.

About a week before Lou’s death, I learned that the historic Roseland Ballroom in NYC will be closing its doors forever after being a part of New York’s rich cultural heritage for 94 years. Lou Reed’s death was the final blow for me. Both Lou and The Roseland symbolized a New York that no longer exists due to mass gentrification and corporate consumerism. Masses of hipster trust fund kids (Who may one day turn Central Park into another Urban Apparel, tall sky scraper, or overpriced, trendy coffee shop) own the City now.

The grit and soul that Lou Reed, Hubert Selby Jr., William Burroughs, and John Rechy wrote about has been polished away. This is why I left and moved to Los Angeles in 2008. I’m too poor for the new New York City.

I had known Lou Reed off and on for most of my life. I first met him at Matt Umanov’s Guitar shop on Bleeker Street when I was purchasing my first electric guitar. I was ten or eleven. My mother was buying me a cheap Japanese knock-off of a Fender Stratocaster.

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

I already knew some of Lou’s songs like “Take A Walk On The Wild Side,” “No Money Down” and “Satellite Of Love.” But that didn’t matter to me. He was trying out some amplifiers and effects and I just wanted to know what they were so I asked, “How are you getting that sound?” At first he laughed and looked at the shop owner and turned to me and said dryly, “Years of bad playing.” He and the shop owner both laughed.

My mother whispered in my ear; “Don’t talk to Lou Reed, he’s mean.” My mother has never been great at whispering at a silent level and Lou heard this and said “Listen to your mother and I’ll listen to mine” and laughed.

About ten years later when I was a student at NYU, I would see Lou all over the place. In guitar shops, pizza parlors, at poetry festivals, or grabbing an egg cream at a news stand called The Gem Spa on 2nd Avenue near Saint Marks Place. For years I would just nod my head and keep walking, fearing my mother’s advice. One morning before my first class of the day, I decided to stop for breakfast at Pamela’s Coffee Shop on Broadway, just down the Street from NYU. I sat alone and I saw Lou sitting alone reading a newspaper, wearing his signature leather jacket and dark shades.

I had been studying the great Jewish American poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz with whom Lou studied with when he attended College at Syracuse University.

I was very excited and decided to engage Lou about this. I expected him to chew me up and spit me out into the far reaches of the Bronx but instead his eyes lit up.

“You’re reading Delmore huh?” He replied. “He was the greatest man I ever knew.”

We then had an hour long conversation about Schwartz’s short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” as well as James Joyce, Yeats, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr. and Raymond Chandler. We also talked about electric guitars which we would continue to do every time I’d see him after that. He knew more about guitars and gear than any musician I have ever known. We were both gear geeks and proud of it. Lou also invited me to do tai-chi with him very early in the morning in Washington Square Park many times, which I kindly declined.

To me Lou Reed was more than just the godfather of punk, goth, and alternative music, he was a permanent fixture of New York City like The Brooklyn Bridge or the Boardwalk in Coney Island. I was always guaranteed to run into Lou and have a true New York conversation with him. I never asked him about The Velvet Underground, Warhol, or his own career and I think he respected that.

As kind as Lou was, there was a “Fuck you” attitude when it came to fans or lunatics on the street approaching him and invading his personal space.

Lou was no ass kissing, people pleaser, which I could identify with, but which has made personal and professional relationships a struggle for me here in L.A. Sometimes a good “fuck you” is necessary and as honest as you can get. Lou was all about honesty. His music could be painfully honest but there was always a vulnerability to Lou’s lyrics and how he sung or read them. Whether he sang about domestic violence, death, drugs, sex, disease, alcoholism, or fear, it felt as if he were holding your hand through these realities. And New York City was the most prominent character in just about all of his songs and poems.

Lou was the poet of New York’s gritty streets but those streets are far from gritty anymore and the colorfully eccentric and intelligent characters that Lou spoke about are all gone. Now Lou has joined them as a sea of automaton hipsters flock the streets, too cool for school, and dressed like consumer shills. As I say goodbye to the Roseland Ballroom and Lou Reed, I realize that you really can’t go home again.

Goodbye Lou.

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


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