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.”

* * * * * * * *

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.

 * * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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

An Appreciation: Lou Reed

October 27, 2013


By Brian Arsenault

I was feeling pretty good. Saw both my real football and American football teams win this weekend. It’s been cold and windy. But sunny.

Then I went on the damn internet and saw that Lou Reed had died.

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Lou who took me to Berlin — “Oh baby, it was paradise” — that magnificent work that the critics first panned and the public ignored.

How do ya think it feels,” Lou?  It kind of feels alone.

I just watched the film of your 2006 concert performance of Berlin which reminded me that people finally came to see what a great work it is.

And before that, when all those West Coast hippy bands were writing cute little tunes about Marrakesh and tokin’, you took us to the damn damage of lurking heroin. Dangerous not because it made you feel bad but so damn good while it was killing.

Was “Sweet Jane” a he or a she? We weren’t sure but we damn sure knew the pain was real.

You knew a lot about pain. The pain your parents gave you with electroshock treatments to keep you from being bi. The pain of watching lesser lights become what they call “superstars” while radio stations feared you.

The pain of misfits on the street: drag queens, junkies, failed musicians, angry poets. You know, people.

They finally invited you to the White House. How did that ever happen? How did it feel? But you did nice at the White House and as Ken Bruen writes of Jack Taylor, you didn’t do nice.

What you did was honest and raw and so effen real. Some got titillation from “AWalk on the Wild Side,” but you knew it was damn hard to walk through a life.

Glad you could be with us as long as you could. You took a hard edge to tell us something about what it is to be human. Can’t ask for more than that from a poet.

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 230 other followers