Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Hanging Out With Quincy

April 6, 2014

By Brick Wahl

I was beckoned once to Quincy Jones’ table – his bodyguard chased me down in the parking lot with a “Mr. Wahl, Mr. Jones will see you now” – on some bit of jazz journalism business that turned into he and Freda Payne and me and my wife Fyl drinking wine and talking till way past Vibrato’s closing time.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

All was dark save the light above his table, Quincy laughing and pouring and regaling and asking my wife about punk rock and telling us at length, of all things, about New Order and what a smash they were. The talk was of whatever the wine loosened up or I thought to ask, I can’t recall, just late night free association, an infinitesimal bit of the total Quincy Jones experience.

Meanwhile, in the shadows, the help stood patiently waiting for Freda to say maybe it was time we all went home. We did. It had been just another night out for Quincy Jones, one of thousands, and a favorite ever jazz journalism memory for me.

Brick Wahl

Brick Wahl

It wasn’t the first time we’d met – he once plunked down in the seat next to mine at a press event and turned to me to fill in his memory every time something slipped his, which immediately rendered my own a complete blank, and I slunk down in my seat wondering why couldn’t he have sat way over there.

But that night at Vibrato was something special, precious even, the kind of story you can tell till the end of your days, till it becomes part of your own mythology and people will tell, at your wake, that he once got drunk with Quincy Jones.

* * * * * * * *

Quincy Jones photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

To read more posts at Brick Wahl’s personal blog click HERE


Humor: The Top Ten Words And Phrases Over Used By Rock/Pop Journalists.

May 19, 2012

By Devon Wendell

Growing up as an aspiring musician, besides practicing the guitar, bass and harmonica obsessively like a geek, I also read a lot of books, articles, reviews, and interviews on all kinds of music. In doing so I found myself most aggravated by the writing in the “major” music publications like Rolling Stone, Spin, etc. There were always historical inaccuracies, poor grammar and — most bothersome — overly used cliches in describing an album, performance, or artists.

Years later, I still read the stuff churned out by many publications and find the same old catch phrases. I see images of Lester Bangs’ ghost looking bored as he reads many of the obits on artists like Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston.  I find much of today’s music journalism as derivative and repetitive as the music of today, but maybe we writers are not completely to blame? Maybe we need better inspiration or, conversely, maybe we just to be annoyed by the work of several artists for a few months.

I do admit I’m a bit of a snobby-nerd and appreciate jazz and blues journalism over mundane, pseudo-hippie rock writing.  But its time for a change in all those areas.  So I’ve compiled a top ten list of overused phrases and words in the music journalism world that I feel should no longer be permitted. And I’ll admit that I’m just as guilty of falling back on these innocuous cliches as anyone on the staff of Rolling Stone. Especially when I’m overly tired, or just being lazy, a condition that both musicians and writers are familiar with.

But maybe I’m doing this to cleanse myself and push my intellectual barrier much further. I got an A+ in advanced Chekhov in college, so why can’t I find some new and more creative adjectives for Leonard Cohen’s latest music? I know he’s expecting more, so here you are Leonard. Let the exorcism begin.

1) “Prolific Artist”: This has been used way too liberally in reference to musicians who are simply down right lazy in regard to their body of work. It would seem most musicians are prolifically under-productive, even those considered the most brilliant. So let’s be prolific writers by continuing not to use these words.

2) “Pivotal Recording”: Here’s another one that’s been used way too much. Not every recording by, say, Bob Dylan, Sonny Rollins, or Prince can be called “Pivotal.”  In fact, this term doesn’t always have to be used as a positive.  How about trying it as a negative.  Like, for example: “That new Justin Bieber recording is a pivotal recording in the world of crap?”

3) “Scorching, burnin’,” or “blistering”: These are frequently used in reference to an instrumental solo, mainly guitar.  But we journalists should be trying our best not to sound like Jack Black or Beavis And Butthead.

4) “Eccentric,” “esoteric” or “weird”: Come on journalists, these go-to, cop-out terms are just another way of saying you don’t understand a lyric, a chord progression, or a musical style. It’s perfectly OK to say “What the Hell is this?” Or “Screw you Donald Fagen, I only got my GED or writing gig after my stint as roadie for Grand Funk Railroad!”

5) “Jazzy”: Rock journalists who know nothing about jazz will often use this one too freely when they hear a chord progression with flatted 5th, 7th, and 13 chords, basically anything more sophisticated than 3-chord rock. Sorry to break it to countless rock journalists, but there was nothing “jazzy” about the Grateful Dead. Just because you improvise on a pentatonic scale past the twenty minute mark doesn’t make you a jazz player, just self-indulgent, really stoned, or both.

6) “Poet-Rocker”: Just because a rocker writes a lyric a little more sophisticated that “Yeah, baby, baby,” doesn’t make him a poet. Many ambitious rockers may rip-off some Shakespeare or Rimbaud and I applaud their efforts in obtaining a library card, but they really should find their own language.  Sure, Dylan, Cohen, Waits, and Springsteen get a pass in this area, but even with these artists, those two labels have been overused.  I’d like to hear something more along the lines of Polka-Poet or Klezmer-Poet. This also goes back to number four. It seems many music journalists refer to a musician as a “Poet” when the lyrics are over their heads. If a lyric isn’t understood, it’s usually assumed it’s about drugs.  But that’s only right half of the time. Come on folks, it’s rock not rocket surgery.

7) “Pseudo-Pop”: Isn’t this redundant?

8) “Retro-Rock”: Again, isn’t this redundant?

9) “Groundbreaking”: I’ve heard this in reference to people artists like Kanya West, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Sorry but that’s just wrong. These musicians may be groundbreaking in terms of how much money they make for their record companies, but artistically? I’m not saying these artists haven’t entertained millions or that they lack talent.  But where will their albums be in five to ten years. Come on writers, let’s try not to sound like snotty purists stuck in the past.  And let’s not lower the bar any more than we already have.   There’s got to be a balance.

10) “Beautifully haunting”: These words together make more sense in terms of silence or a description of a really attractive stalker or an apparition. A song, an album, a performance, or even a note can of course be beautiful, too.  But if it’s haunting you, talk to your shrink.

* * * * * *

To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.


Humor: Allen Mezquida’s Smigly Goes Online

April 8, 2011

By Don Heckman

Smigly is back.  Which should trigger a celebratory cheer from anyone who’s familiar with animator/musician Allen Mezquida’s intriguingly quirky character.  Like Mezquida himself, Smigly — a Charlie Brown for adults — is a jazz saxophonist trying, in whatever way he can manage, to respond to his Muse.

And it ain’t easy.  In the latest installment, he explores a contemporary path — the internet — with the aid of the Big Phat Band.  As Mezquida explains it, “Smigly gives it his best shot playing jazz on line.”

Here’s what happens:

To see more of Smigly in action, and meet Allen Mezquida, click HERE.


Humor: 24 Things Producers Don’t Want To Hear But Always Do

February 21, 2009

Once again, we’ve had a message from iRoM’s Grammy-winning producer/composer/musician  friend, providing us with another sage commentary about what it takes to survive in the record business:

24 Things Producers Don’t Want To Hear But Always Do

1. “I think we need a trombone”

2. “Did you know my wife sings?”

3. “I am doing my own, original music”

4. “This will sell. I am certain of that”

5. “Its a cross between jazz and hip hop”

6. “I want to use my band”

7. “People will dig this”

8. “Its not a tribute”

9. “It is a tribute”

10.”I think we need to add another trombone”

11. “Did you know my son’s a producer?”

12. “I know its an all-Gershwin project but I have this great original…”

13. “Can my girlfriend co-produce?”

14. “I just discovered this amazing high school drummer and I want to

have him on this date”

15. “I don’t really need a producer”

16. “Can you produce my next project?……what label would be

interested?….do you know anyone there?”

17. “I want to rap on one track”

18. “I know the budget is 90K, but I still just want to make a trio

recording”

19. “Yes we COULD have those well-known professionals on the session

but my pianist, who is unknown, would feel hurt”

20. “I am into ‘ambient’ music”

21. “I am into ‘electronica’ music”

22. “Could you get that incredibly busy, expensive and famous musician

you know to guest on this project as a favor to me?”

23. “Could you just call the legendary musician at home and bypass his

manager, agent and lawyer as a favor to me and then we can

use the name to ‘sell’ the project?”

24. “Could you listen to my last project?……Do you know who would be

interested in releasing this?”


Advice to an Unhappy Jazz Piano Accompanist

January 26, 2009

The following was submitted by a prominent Grammy Award-winning producer/composer/musician who wishes to remain anonymous. It offers novel solutions for the insufferable lounge gigs that an Indian pianist has to endure. — CD

  • Every night find a rationale to play, including wild fantasies and vendettas.
  • Re-harmonize as much as possible all the time, to the exclusion of the original intent of the song. You are a long way from Tin Pan Alley, so take advantage of the distance. For the singer, this is what is called “the learning curve.” Harmony manipulation is the “secret hand shake” between “those who know and those who don’t” and this device usually is the determinant factor to answer the question if he/she is the enemy or the friend. 
  • Insist on having your own mic on a boom stand, not only to clutter the stage but to allow you the opportunity to create a feedback situation on stage. This is a kind of eardrum torture and sure to stop the music dead in its tracks, so wear good earplugs. Only use when you really can’t stand the song any more. A good 5-minute unexplained trip into the excruciating side effects of feedback cannot be underestimated as a groove-breaker.
  • The mic is an essential element to your arsenal — the bulkier the boom stand the better — and get a mic that requires a pre-amp and five cables, just so the floor is a hazard.
 
If this does not get you fired after the first set, these other tips will come in handy:
  • Extend intros to the point where the singer has no clue when to come in and the dead space is worth the effort. Talk about an awkward moment. All this confused clamor, silence and then “Some Enchanted Eeeeveee-Ning….” Talk about surreal.
  • Another fun device is to do the intro 1/2 step below or above the actual key of the arrangement. The transposition below the starting point is especially difficult to navigate.
  • Never just end on a chord. Take it out for a few moments so that the mood of the song is all but lost. How do you program a set with Cecil Taylor intros and endings?
  • Learn how to play and sleep at the same time.
  • Try to play showing no emotion at all, like a robot. Keep your eyes open, no smile, no reactions, turn pages like a machine, think Devo. This will make the audience start looking at you because you are doing nothing. That sums up the direction of vocal/piano duos: the art of nothing.
  • Put something that smells really bad on the singer’s microphone — this is a priceless prank that goes way back — and India is the home of things that smell really bad. Just blame it on the karaoke crowd at happy hour, but make sure that the smell is really bad and you do it on the big night after the soundcheck. Make the intro a big buildup, the singer walks on the stage, grabs the mic, begins to sing and then that horrible smell makes the facial expression change from joy to horror in seconds. Concentrated skunk essence is preferred. (The instrument equivalent is alum on mouthpieces and honey on piano keys and the always-good-for-a-laugh rubber-snake-in-the-bass-case).
  • Make one note, common to all of the singer’s songs, out of tune on the piano and claim you don’t notice. It will drive him/her crazy.
  • Ghost the singer’s notes softly as if there is an echo. Use the mic gently. This will cause some confidence issues.
  • Become extremely eccentric on and off the stage: wear funny hats and don’t wear shoes; put things on the keyboard that make no sense, like a Viking helmet with a stuffed crow impaled in one of the horns; put a cow on the guest list every night. After all, it is India.
  • Always have sunglasses on, no matter how dark the club, and, to add to the above eccentric behavior, put on two pair of sunglasses, so when people ask you to take off your glasses to see your eyes they get another pair of sunglasses. That gets them out of your hair. This is your only private world and hipness counts.
  • If you are working with a male singer, have songs like “The Man I Love,” “Can’t Help Loving That Man,” “Will You Marry Me Bill” and a Clay Aiken medley in the songbook and make sure these are requested every night by questionable members of the audience. Guilt by association. If you are working with a female singer, insist on doing songs about prostitutes. Guilt by association.
  • Add vocal harmonies, softly in the background, using the beloved mic, and make sure you use the dissonant intervals to a premium and then say “It’s a Gil Evans thing.”
  • Do facial pantomime as the singer sings, so that the crowd laughs at serious songs to his/her befuddlement.
  • Modulate at will and then blame it on the singer’s pitch.
  • Pay someone to constantly call the bar so that the phone always rings when the singer is on stage.
  • Write his/her home phone number in the men’s room saying “Fun at all times 24/7/365, call….”  This works both ways and you only have to go into one bathroom.
  • Leave music books around the singer and make a bet with a friend that he/she will never notice them, then join Accompanists Anonymous®. Mr. H. Danko is the president and founder.

Humor: Jazz musicians Look to Federal Budget For Bailout Support

December 23, 2008

Here’s an excerpt from a recent post by jackzucker at The Gear Page (www.thegearpage.net) that tells it like it really is.  To read the entire hilarious post, click here: http://www.thegearpage.net/board/showthread.php?t=480598

Washington, D.C.  In light of the recent downturn in the American economy, the nation’s jazz musicians have joined the long line of lobby groups looking to Washington for support as the economy slides into a deepening recession.

The jazz industry is asking Washington for a bailout package and major subsidies on par with that of the auto sector.

As such, jazz musicians also want access to credit and tax breaks to stimulate investment and help the development of new recording and performance opportunities.

“This recession has really got me dragged, ya dig?” says Luther “Hip Bones” Jones III, a New York City saxophonist and a cornerstone of the little known Wall Street Avant-Garde jazz scene. “I mean, now that gigs aren’t flowin’ like they used to, I actually have to get up before noon and find a way to make some coin!”

Similarly, Jones’ associate Willie “Fat Cheeks” Hughes comments that with the economy in near chaos, the demand for his jazz bagpipe skills has waned considerably.  Hughes also noted that with a sluggish economic situation, he will soon have to find another girlfriend or else face certain “homelessness.”

While this crisis has been brewing for some time, a recent spike in the number of trombonists delivering pizzas in New York’s Greenwich Village has brought this dire situation to the public’s attention…


Humor: I Need Your Grammy Vote

October 28, 2008

By John Altman

I’m really disappointed.  My new CD – “The Jazz Soul Of Paris Hilton” — has not been nominated for a Grammy. The follow up to my brilliant CD “Britney Spears – The Jazz Years.” it has garnered rave reviews in the Jazz Press and received NOT ONE vote in this year’s Grammy build-up. I worked closely with Paris, herself, assembling an all star-aggregation of jazz talent to interpret the Abdullah Ibrahim/Boney James-inspired compositions composed by the reality TV star and all around credit to society.

I’m especially proud of “I Come From Barack Obama with a Banjo On My Knee” for its understanding of social issues that concern the talented Ms Hilton.  Accompanied by all-star players, it is reminiscent of Max Roach’s “Freedom Suite.”  Paris, along with guest rappers Jay Z, Jazzy B and fiery jazz virtuoso sax man,  Kenny G, delivers an astonishing piece of jazz social commentary.  Backing her is an incredible, handpicked line up of jazz artists, including Herbie Hancock on clavinet, Woody Allen on clarinet and Wynton Marsalis on the internet.  With possibly one of the best rhythm sections ever assembled in the history of jazz recording – George Segal on banjo, bass virtuoso Charlie Haden on second banjo, Marcus Miller showing his versatility on solo banjo, and Diana Krall and Elvis Costello sharing drumming duties – showing why jazz is still a living art form appreciated by millions all over the world.

Other guest appearances include Cuthbert Marsalis, the least known member of the jazz dynasty, probably because he is an English aristocrat who does not play any musical instruments and did not invent jazz in 1980.  Also present: the legendary godfather of Smooth Jazz and easy listening — Cecil Taylor.  Michael Buble croons the all time favorite, “I Never Heard of Mel Torme,” and James Carter plays “Salt Peanuts.”  Oops, that should read Jimmy Carter, reprising the famous White House duet with Dizzy Gillespie that defined his jazz credentials.

Some of the critical raves:
- “I laughed till I cried” – Don Heckman, LA Times
- “What a load of rubbish” – Nat Hentoff
- “Is this man serious?” – Brick Wahl, LA Weekly
- “Brilliant!!!” – Stanley Crouch, NY Times
- “My personal iPod favourite” – George W. Bush

Please vote for me in category 10,996 of this year’s Grammys – “Best Jazz and Hip Hop album by a Country Smooth Jazz Crossover Artist Not in the English Language”

I promise not to write again until the Emmys are upon us, when I will be soliciting votes for my two reality shows – “News Reading With The Stars,” in which professional ballroom dancers learn to play pro football and read the news, and “America’s Idle,” in which no one has a job any more due to the bizarre global economic policies of the last 8 years.

John Altman is a musician (alto saxophone), award-winning film and television composer, writer and all-around raconteur, who decided that it was time for a commentary on the expanding list of Grammy categories.  He will be performing with his quartet at Spazio in Sherman Oaks on Friday November 7.  (818) 728-8400.


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