Radio: Further Thoughts About KJAZZ

June 26, 2013

By Norton Wright

Some final words about the KJazz benefit concert at Disney Hall providing much needed financial funding for KJazz Radio, the station which in various incarnations has been serving the southern California listenership for over 30 years.

Here are ten, perhaps little known facts about the station provided by Station Manager, Stephanie Levine –

1. The KJazz annual operating budget is just under $2 million and is judged to be a very efficient operation given its 24/7 programming and its live DJ staff of 10… Jazz radio stations in NYC and other areas have higher operating budgets.

2. As a listener supported station, KJazz raises about 85% to 90% of its annual operating budget from its audience donors via three pledge drives per year, primarily in Southern California but also around the nation and world.

3. But even with that strong listener support and some modest grants, the station often runs at an annual shortfall of $200,000 to $300,000 — that shortfall being covered by the generous financial contributions of Saul Levine, the station’s General Manager…Incidentally, Mr. Levine takes no salary from KJazz.

4 In the year 2007, Mr. Levine stepped in to reorganize the station and brought it back from the financial straits that threatened its closure, all on behalf of the licensee of KKJZ -= the California State University, Long Beach Foundation, for whom the station is operated.

5. In any given week, the station’s Arbitron Cumulative Audience is over 458,000 listeners making KJazz the most listened to full-time jazz station in the nation. The station also has a large number of listeners on the Internet – approximately 100,000 listeners in any given month.

6. A typical KJazz listener listens to the station’s programming, off and on each day, for about 1 hour.

7. KJazz daily play lists of tunes are particularly organized to provide a satisfying jazz experience for that listener who switches between radio news, traffic & weather reports, and other programs and tunes in to KJazz for that 1 hour each day. The reason that the station often repeats the same tune in the course of a week’s programming is to increase the chances that its typical listener will catch some of his/her favorite jazz tunes in the course of a day’s or week’s listening.

8. KJazz DJs make suggestions about the play lists for their shows, but the playlists for the weekday DJ’s shows are organized under the direction of General Manager Saul Levine. The music in specialty programs is determined by the programs’ hosts, e.g. John Pizzarelli’s Radio Deluxe, Ramsey Lewis’ Legends of Jazz, Bob Parlocha, et al.

9. Last Saturday night’s First Ever KJazz Summer Benefit Concert raised substantial funding, and the station has already received considerable positive feedback from donors asking that the event be made an annual one.

10. Whenever you are interested in making a tax-deductible contribution to KJazz, the station’s telephone pledge line is (800) 767-3688.

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As noted above, sometimes KJazz Radio is criticized for what a steady, all-day listener considers too many repeats of the same tune in the course of a day’s or a week’s programming. But it’s helpful to remember that the station’s daily play lists are designed to please that listener who gets to listen to the station for only 1 hour a day and wants a chance to hear some of his/her favorite tunes during that one hour. For the steady, all-day listener, it may be an occasional drag to hear the same tune several times a week on KJazz, but do all-day listeners really object to hearing some jazz classics played two or three times in the course of a seven-day week?

Sometimes criticism arises regarding KJazz’s play lists that emphasize modern jazz standards rather than the new work of up-and-coming artists or those newcomers pushing the jazz envelope. Yup, I personally would like to hear  KJazz play more of today’s new and super talented artists (e.g. Jason Moran, Halie Loren, Jenny Scheinman, Graham Dechter, Nik Bartsch, et al.) — and KJazz may already be leaning in that direction. Given that the station chose to open last Saturday night’s Benefit Concert with Harvey Mason’s new, fusion sextet, “Chameleon,” much to the delight of the audience, maybe those kinds of successful experiments will prompt the station to schedule a weekly hour or two focusing on new jazz talents — or at least infuse its weekly playlists with more of the jazz scene’s promising newcomers. Wasn’t it Dizzy who said, “With the eating, comes the appetite.” Or was it, “If you play it, they will come.”

All of which is to suggest that, in today’s America, there is occasionally the tendency to make perfection the enemy of the good. KJazz may not be perfect, but it is very good station, and in return for a contribution of modest dollars a year, we get some very heavy and satisfying jazz programming.

Congratulations and thanks are due to General Manager Saul Levine and his lean, hard-working KJazz staff who are keeping the jazz torch burning in southern California, across America, and around the world.

To read more posts by and about Norton Wright click HERE.


Op-Ed Commentary: Guns and the Connecticut Killings

December 17, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

(I know this is a place to write about music but the music just went out of my life for a while. I can’t stop thinking, as Neil Young did, about all the kids who’ll “never get to fall in love, never get to be cool”.)

This is all I have to say about guns in America.

Enough.

We have too many. They are too powerful. They are death dealers. Guns do kill. That’s all they are for.

Enough.

Oh, I understand that evil was loose. That people once called it the Devil, and some still do, because how else to explain it. Calling it mental illness in our modern, scientific age doesn’t make it any better. The depth of evil at work here was not just to destroy children and families but to shatter Christmas for all who would be happy now.

Yet what  I have to write about is guns so my head won’t explode. My heart has already broken.

And it all comes down to one word.

Enough.

So let’s have some guts about it. Let’s ban automatic weapons, especially essentially military combat type rifles. (And don’t quibble please about nomenclature. You know what I mean.) And toss in automatic pistols and pump action shotguns while we’re at it. And any weapon that holds a ridiculously large ammunition clip.

Oh, let’s also rid ourselves of ammunition that can go through thick cement walls and blast a hole as big as your fist in any flesh it hits.

Nobody sane needs those kinds of weapons and too many of the insane have them. Do we need any more proof?

Make it illegal not to turn over these weapons immediately. Make possession of them a finable offense and double the sentence for any crime committed with them.  Once received, melt them down, break them down, pound them into plowshares. If you suggest that I am emotional about this, damn right. If you are not, why not?

I don’t want to hear about protecting your home. A double barreled shotgun and a revolver are enough but wouldn’t better protection be a saner, less armed world?  If only criminals will have guns, as you gun lovers love to suggest, well, it will be easier to identify them and put them away.

And spare me the Second Amendment nonsense. There aren’t any of you likely to be called up in a “militia” (quaint old word) and if you are, feel free to bring your musket. As someone once said, the Constitution is not a death pact.  There’s nothing in it that says we can’t regulate weaponry for our safety and security.

For those who think they’re going to hold off a repressive government with their little home arsenal, good luck with that missile the fighter jet is about to flame you with. Don’t think you have a tank, either.

A repressive government is best held in check by an informed and intelligent citizenry, not your own personal Alamo.

The latest mass murderer, whose name should never be spoken except to be cursed, tried to buy a rifle and couldn’t because of sane gun laws. So he went home and got Ma’s, shot her and you know the rest. The horror.

Enough.

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


Op-Ed: Bob Dylan’s Appeal From One Generation To Another.

June 4, 2012

Times Have Changed

By Devon Wendell

On Tuesday, May 29th, President Obama presented Bob Dylan with the Medal Of Freedom — designated as the nation’s highest civilian honor — at the White House.   Obama’s comments at the ceremony about Dylan’s influence on his life and American culture were the typical “Voice of a generation” spiel that Dylan himself has rejected throughout his 50-year career. This got me thinking about the vast differences between Dylan’s appeal to the baby-boom generation who witnessed him first (like President Obama) and my generation, which followed.

I’m 37, and I recall viewing Dylan first on the “We Are The World” video. His phrasing was off, his tone nasal, and I thought it was the worst sound I had ever heard. My Mom drilled into me that this man “changed the world for us.” But I shrugged it off, and that was it until high school.

I attended a Quaker school in Brooklyn which was run by some aging hippies who were downright obsessed with the ‘60s culture they grew up in. The school’s Principal even had Allen Ginsberg come and read “Howl” on two separate occasions in front of the entire staff and student body.

I was already a stubborn purist who had discovered blues and jazz at the age of ten and looked down on rock and folk music. At that time, I didn’t even like The Beatles or The Stones. For me it was all about Muddy Waters, Son House and Albert King, as well as Miles, Bird, Monk, Coltrane, Ellington, and Rollins. I also liked Motown, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix, whom I’ve never considered to be a Rock n’ Roller.

I was a young, budding musician and believed rock and folk lacked originality and richness and was geared towards teeny-boppers and the pop-charts.  There was nothing remotely interesting about The Byrds or Peter, Paul and Mary to me.

The few friends I was able to collect shared my musical views and taste.

We also had resentments towards our parents and teachers. (The irony is not lost here.)

One summer afternoon, a few friends dropped by my house to hear me practice my electric guitar, listen to records, and sneak some wine.  One of them had brought a tape compilation of Bob Dylan songs.

I was weary because this kid also liked punk, which I found boring and stupid.  He knew I had a chip on my shoulder and liked the sound of rage or just being fed-up.  Howlin’ Wolf singing “I’m Gonna Leave You Woman Before I Commit A Crime” — that was real to me. When I saw the kid had a Dylan tape, I instantly thought of whining hippies in the mud, flowers, and unicorns.

After some arguing, I finally let him play the tape and I couldn’t believe what I heard.  The music was fantastically snarling and evil. “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend,”  “You’re an idiot babe. It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe,”  “How does it feel to be on your own?” “Forget the debt you left, they will not follow you,” etc.  Most of the music was set to Chicago blues or music I could relate to, so that got me too. It was clear that Dylan loved and understood American roots music and was proud of it at a time when it was being co-opted by The British Invasion.

I loved everything I heard. This wasn’t the “Times They Are a-Changin’” Dylan that my teachers and my mother spoke of.  This was a big middle finger to the world.

My friend proceeded to show me bootleg videos of Dylan’s press conferences from 1965 following the release of “Highway 61 Revisited,” in which Dylan was chain smoking, dismissive to the press, and seemed emotionally disengaged.  My pal also told me the story of how Dylan had stood up in front of  The Emergency Civil Liberties Union in 1963, a month after the assassination of JFK and declared, “There is no difference between the left and right anymore,” and that he wouldn’t be some musical puppet for anyone’s political agendas.

Suddenly Dylan seemed as rebellious and complex to me as Charles Mingus. I started really listening to Blood On The Tracks, Blonde On Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, and Oh Mercy. I identified with the way he viewed the world as being hideously absurd, rejecting old notions of how to live and think, and most importantly the way he viciously struck back at heartbreak. With pen and tongue he relentlessly did it in a way that was both harsh and beautiful.

I felt the pain and necessity in that brutality that stemmed from his sorrows. At the same time, where you had the viciousness of “Idiot Wind,” “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” you also had “If You See Her, Say Hello,” “A Simple Twist Of Fate” and “Ramona,” in which Dylan wasn’t afraid to show his vulnerability.

That dichotomy of the pissed off nerd poet (Boy, could I really relate to that), who even said “Fuck you” to the Pete Seegers and the growing “counter culture” of his day, and the forlorn poet, whose pained verses reflected his struggles to maintain a healthy/long lasting romance, seemed more universal than the “Blowin’ In The Wind” Dylan. Wars pass, and so do trends, but the Dylan loved by my generation tapped into the same themes as did Shakespeare, Yeats, Thomas, and Rimbaud.

This being the case, I was a little disappointed that Dylan didn’t unleash the beast at The White House when receiving the medal, voicing his disgust towards such trite ceremonies and the current political climate.  To me, his lifeless stare as the President rambled on spoke volumes – he didn’t act like someone who was completely grateful for the award. But who knows how he really feels, and does it matter?

What matters is his music, and that’s something all generations can appreciate.   Wait, that sounds too corny.  Dylan would hate it.  Ultimately the great thing about Bob Dylan is that you can’t sum him up.

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To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE


Brick Wahl: Keeping It Real 2

February 26, 2012

By Brick Wahl

Just realized there are still comments bouncing around on this. Don Heckman’s got clout….

My whole point in that original rant is that if things continue as they are there will be no place left to play. The jazz scene has shrunk by at least two thirds in the past ten years. Clubs literally cannot afford to book the stuff. It not only does not draw people, but it literally drives them away. People leave. They listen a bit, get bored, pay their tab and leave. More leave than don’t leave in many, if not most cases. You book jazz and you will have empty rooms. The exception is the Blue Whale, but that exists because USC is nearby and has such a strong jazz program. It’s the hang for all those kids and their friends, and for jazz fans who can’t believe there is a club booking such cool crazy shit like you can see at the Blue Whale. The downside of that is that those kids don’t buy a lot of drinks and even less food. College kids are broke, and college kids who study jazz are, um, bookish….and party they don’t. If people don’t party the club doesn’t make any money. And if clubs don’t make money they close….or change music. Even the Blue Whale complains about a lot of lousy turn outs (though they seem to be doing well whenever I’m there.) .

Brick Wahl

And, oh yeah….the Movable Feasts are big successes…but they are concerts…. They are presented as concerts, marketed as concerts, structured as concerts. Concerts have always done much better than clubs. They feature well known names from NYC or Europe. Plus the place has, I believe, student rush tickets. And most importantly of all…the Jazz Bakery does not rely on bar tabs and door money for its funding. It is supported by patrons. That’s how it stayed open all those years when no one was showing up a lot of nights. But as far as genuine jazz clubs — not performance spaces but clubs that try to feature jazz a few nights a week — well, those are disappearing fast. Vibrato makes its money off its menu. Blue Whale by being a hip college joint with a vast pool of young talent to feature.. And there’s scattered other spots that have the weekly jazz night that does well. But they are few and far between, and certainly not part of any city-wide jazz scene, a scene that existed a few years ago.

So players can say that they play for themselves and don’t worry about whether people like it or not (and I think that is the general attitude)…..but that means that within a couple years there will be virtually nowhere to play And certainly almost nowhere to play for pay. I used to fully support that attitude, I loved it. Then I noticed that all the clubs were gone.

Btw…one of the signs of the shrinking jazz scene is its fragmentation….there’s a young experimental scene that’s centered at the Blue Whale; there’s a very white mainstream jazz scene that finds a home at Vitello’s, and the black cats hang on at Nola’s and a couple other small spots. There always was a young cat-old cat divide and a white cat-black jazz divide in LA, certainly in the seven or eight years I was writing things up. I was always trying to get the scenes together more. To mix ideas, influences, players. But the opposite has occurred. I don’t know what to say about that. Except that I don’t think it’s a good thing.

Incidentally, saw Jon Mayer at a bare Desert Rose a couple Saturdays ago. He was brilliant as ever. Highly recommend seeing him there if you’re near Los Feliz on a Saturday night. And Ben Wendel and combo at a very packed Blue Whale a couple weeks ago was a thrill, man. Loved every second of it. And so sorry to see that Mssrs. Melvoin and Holloway slipped away this past week. Oh well.

OK…..I’ve run outta words…..take care everybody….

To read Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 1 click HERE.


Keeping It Real: A Minority(?) Opinion From Norton Wright

February 9, 2012

A few weeks ago we published a commentary from Brick Wahl regarding today’s jazz clubs, the musicians who perform in them, and the audiences who come (or don’t come) to hear them.  Click HERE to read Brick’s entire post.  In many respects, the commentary was directed at the musicians themselves.  We’ve had many responses – all of which are attached to the commentary.  But when we received the following brief essay from Norton Wright — an occasional iRoM contributor, a long time jazz fan and a fine artist who has created a series of abstract paintings inspired by various jazz artists – we decided to publish it on its own.  Norton suggested we title it as a minority opinion, but we think it may be more than that (thus the question mark).  (To read an earlier Q & A with Norton and view more of his paintings, click HERE.)

 By Norton Wright

Contrary to Brick Wahl’s recent “Keeping It Real” advice to jazz musicians, my thought is that jazz is more than a career and certainly more than a hobby — it’s a calling. Jazz musicians and their audiences have always been a proud minority, oft times working to make a living in non-musical jobs by day so that we can all swing at clubs at night. The closing of so many jazz venues here in Los Angeles is indeed gloomy news but no reason to give up on the rich and ever-changing art form of jazz music. Though in L.A. the convenience of Charlie O’s, Donte’s, Shelley’s Manhole, The Troubador, et al is a thing of the past, Ruth Price’s Jazz Bakery/Movable Feast at the Musicians Institute 1655 N. McCadden Place (just off Hollywood Boulevard) is packing in audiences four hundred strong.

Norton Wright

Like her original Jazz Bakery, Price’s Movable Feasts could point the way to a jazz renaissance for venues where the expensive overhead of food and drink (and their accompanying noise!) are jettisoned in favor of making the music the sole focus of the evening. And if you still prefer some carbo-loading with your jazz experience, the International Review of Music and other internet sources list an abundance of jazz venues where – contrary to Brick’s critique – the fan base has not melted away to non-existence, and performing jazz artists are not “looking into a crowd and seeing nothing but colleagues and students.”

Am I mistaken but did I get the vibe from Brick’s article that he has something against musical knowledge when he advises today’s jazz artists that –

“You all seem to hear the technique, the mechanics, you can see the music in your head. It unfurls in your skull like one of the Auto Club road maps, showing you where everything is and how to get there. But we listeners don’t hear it that way. Not at all. We can’t. We hear just this great, exciting music. We dig the groove, or get kicked up by the swing, or are blown away by some intense solos. That’s what we hear. I shouldn’t speak for other critics, since they aren’t as musically illiterate as I am, but I can for the fans, since that’s all I am. And that is how us fans hear those records. Illiterately. We don’t know what’s going on like you all do, but we dig them. Dig them a lot. We don’t have to be music majors to understand them. They had elements that appealed to us…the swing, the groove, the attack, the passion, the feeling…..”

My reaction to the above is that “…the swing, the groove, the attack, the passion, the feeling…..” are valid criteria.  But for many jazz fans, there can be even more. Certainly a college degree is not necessary to enjoy art, but I do believe that the more you know about any human activity, be it the arts, politics, medicine – even wine tasting – the more you’ll enjoy it.

Norton Wright's painting "Four Miles" (Saluting Miles Davis)

Making this point is the Miles Davis quote criticizing his idols for not learning more about other styles of music –

“ I couldn’t believe that all them guys like Bird, Prez, Bean, all them cats wouldn’t go to museums or libraries and borrow those musical scores by all those great composers, like Stravinsky, Alban Berg, Prokofiev.” (from Ashley Kahn’s book “Kind Of Blue: The Making Of The Miles Davis Masterpiece”).

My feeling is that knowledge enhances musical appreciation substantially more than Brick’s reference to an Auto Club road map showing you where everything is and how to get there.

A closing thought. The jazz scene has indeed changed from when I was a young whelp in NYC, and a luminous array of jazz clubs beckoned round the clock – Bop City, Birdland, The Composer, The Embers, The Hickory House, Basin Street, The Vanguard, The Half Note, etc. But those were simpler, easier days. Now Americans have so much audio and visual stimuli available to them 24/7 that jazz is still only the province of a proud and resilient minority.

AND WE FANS DO URGE YOU JAZZ MUSICIANS ON!

We’ll find you — from Vitello’s in Studio City and Catalina’s in Hollywood to the Blue Note in NYC, Milan and Japan, from Jazz Alley in Seattle to the Attucks Theater in Norfolk, Virginia, from A-Trane in Berlin to Aketa No Mise in Tokyo – on Kjazz Radio 88.1FM – on Amazon.com’s CD buying service – and in the jazz studies programs and universities and high schools across the country. Bravo and  brava to you guys and gals who keep the jazz torch burning!

P.S. In the late 1950’s, the late jazz critic Whitney Balliett defined jazz as “the sound of surprise”… Ain’t it cool that now, five decades later, we can still find jazz venues presenting something more surprising than Madonna grinding her 54-year-old tush at the recent Super Bowl for a TV audience, so many wincing at the possibility of yet another “wardrobe malfunction”!

Photo by Faith Frenz.


OpEd Commentary: The Numbers in the Music

May 11, 2010

By Fernando Gonzalez

The recently released Recording Industry in Numbers 2010, the report by the International Federation of Phonographic Industry, the London-based organization that represents record companies, offers a snapshot of the changing state of the business.

Predictably, overall sales numbers declined (at 7% globally) — and the industry sees piracy as the most important and dangerous challenge. But perhaps the most intriguing news here is the confirmation, in hard numbers, of a changing business, one in which physical sales are going the way of the 8-track and digital sales continue to grow (9.2%, or U$ 4.3 billion, ten times the value in 2004) although not enough yet to compensate for other losses.

In discussing piracy, the report notes the positive impact of legislation to combat piracy.

In a recent interview in his offices in Miami, Raul Vazquez,  IFPI Latin America’s Regional Director, said “The impact of digital piracy is much graver than the physical piracy — but the solution is much easier. It’s graver because it impacts the natural consumer of music be it of digital or physical product. That’s not the case with the physical piracy. But solving should be easier. The biggest obstacle [to solve digital piracy] is the lack of cooperation by the service providers and the lack of will by the governments.”

Susan Boyle

Here are some facts from the report.

- It’s notable that in the music sales chart the number one seller reflects the power of … television.  Susan Boyle’s I Dreamed a Dream was the best global selling album of 2009. It sold 8.3 million copies. It’s hard to begrudge her success. She can sing – and it looks as though many of us still like a good Cinderella update.

Michael Jackson

- The rest of IFPI’s Top Ten list includes #2 Black Eyed Peas (The End) , Michael Jackson (thrice, with #3 This is It, #8 Thriller and #9 Number Ones,  confirming that, in pop music, death continues to be a great career move), #4 Taylor Swift (Fearless), #5 Lady Gaga (The Fame), #6 Michael Bublé (Crazy Love), #7 U2 (No Line on the Horizon) and #10 Andrea Bocelli (My Christmas) .

- Global sales for 2009 declined by 7.2% to US$17 billion. The United States and Japan, the world’s two biggest markets, account for 80% of the decline. In the rest of the world, the fall was 3.2%.  But in Latin America, digital music sales nearly offset the loses in physical sales. In that region the decline was only of 0.7 %.

- Physical sales dropped by 12.7% globally.

- Digital sales rose by 9.2% to US$4.3 billion, more than ten times the digital market value in 2004.

- In the United States, digital sales account for nearly half (43% ) of the recorded music market.

- More  than 30 countries experienced double-digit growth rates in digital sales. And in 17 of those markets – including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and UK –  digital sales grew by more than 40%.

-There are now more than 12 million tracks available from over 400 legal music services worldwide.

- Contradicting popular belief, the reports notes that “Growth in live music revenues (up 4%) has slowed significantly in the last three years.”

- Also, according to IFPI, “Peer-to-peer (P2P) piracy remains the most prevalent channel for illegal distribution of unauthorized content, accounting for more than 20% of internet traffic globally. In Latin America this increases to 35% and in Europe to 29%.”

For more info check http://www.ifpi.org


OpEd Commentary: “We Aren’t The World” by Morgan Ames

February 17, 2010

WE AREN’T THE WORLD

By Morgan Ames

The Olympics Opening Ceremony brought us the three minute version of “We Are the World 25 for Haiti,” put together with enormous vision and heart by Quincy Jones.  But it was also disturbing.  How could modern celebrities make so much money and be so lost outside their own boxes?  Has the business changed so drastically that there is no way to show these un-apprenticed souls what simple, straight ahead performing is about — the kind where it doesn’t matter if there are cameras or not.  You just bring it.  Outside their comfort zones, in this carved and ripped project, many of them come over as well-meaning but oddly helpless at being themselves.

There was a last minute space problem at the old A&M Records, where the original video was recorded.  Quincy had a soft spot about it and wanted to do the new version there.  Michael Jackson must have been on his mind.  Nobody knew till too late that Studio A was not large enough to hold this production.  Once there, artists had to shear off to other recording rooms to concentrate on…what?…oh yeah, themselves and their solo lines.  Ironically, it suited.  Modern artists often record with each other by sending incomplete tracks from one person’s studio to the next.  Each puts on his/her part, totally controlled and vibed, then sends it on.  At A&M that night, these solo moments were elaborately covered, each so-so note caressed on film and made too important, not to mention over-emotionalism while singing (or failing to sing) a few notes as if they hadn’t already sung them several times while honing their grimaces for the camera, knowing that pitch correction would be done afterward if necessary.  More important than the song’s effect was…oh yeah…the overwrought solo lines.

Interspersed was the large group of celebrities who sang the choruses, some of whom didn’t seem to get what was going on, even if this was a song to which some of them were potty trained.  Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand?  Tits on a bull.  Josh Groban?  There’s no way these performers can downsize to one line and not look weird a glossy 20 pound sausage in a one pound skin.  Music conducting and supervising?  Brilliant.  Song?  Classic.  Filmmaking?  Uncomfortably beautiful.  Rapping?  More tits on a bull.

But Quincy is wise.  Reportedly, the piece has already brought millions to the relief effort.  Quincy has loved rap/hip hop from the first moment he heard it.  He embraced the history, the social movement, the blow-out energy.  Unfortunately, what dragged along with these elements into the sales spotlight was a pretty savage sense of music, proudly unschooled.  Money poured in.  (Imagine the surprise of the record company execs, which the hip hop community bypassed completely.)  Soon the rest of the business scrambled up to the money.  In place of musical settings we got dense, trance-y rhythm tracks, over which the dialogue that is called lyrics was overlaid.  In place of signing more musical artists, we got video elites, hooded sweatshirts, ripped abs, crotch women and belligerence.  In place of songs came production deals.  The apprentice system was gone.

Today, with notable exceptions, mostly old school, this is what has replaced songs in the music making industry.  The switch from songs to tracks has been largely unconscious,– except to people who were making music before the switch.  We noticed.  We are still perplexed.  How could hip hop wipe away generations of accepted musicality and craft, and so quickly?  Did no one have a hunger for a melody anymore?  Not surprisingly, musical elements are seeping back into the mainstream but they are primitive.  They have no history and must reinvent the wheel, one simple chord at a time.

With his huge heart and finely crafted musical talent, rarely recognized for what it is, Quincy is somewhere in the middle.  He has done a lot of good for individuals, especially brilliantly talented ones like Will Smith who were already well on their way to success when they met him — and they all come to do homage to him once they make some money and buy the bling they do not yet know is cheesy.  (They learn though.)  He showed them about humanity and success together and all of us need a model for that.  But does the subject ever come up with rappers about Quincy sitting alone in a sweaty room writing charts for the Basie band and Sinatra, charts so skilled and inspired that they became a part of the fabric of our lives to this day?  He knew his craft.  By his standards, how many young pop artists even know what craft is?  They think they do.  You can bet Q knows the difference.

Quincy-love has inadvertently created a dark side.  Through sheer magnetism and  authority, Q has blended the anti-musical, pro-ignorant elements of hip hop with mainstream music.  Music, being the lighter energy, flew from sight.  Maybe it would have happened that way anyway, but it’s been a sorry, if accidental, use of his power.  “We Are the World 25” is a grave example.  The three minutes chosen out of the seven-minute video to show at the Olympics, featuring rappers, was designed to bring in dollars and it did.  But wasn’t it also meant to show off the best of current American music culture?  What it actually showed was one over-inflated slice.  Quincy loves youth and newness, but he knows what he knows and has his limits.  In this case he organized, at which he is unbeatable, and then showed up to conduct.  And that was for Haiti.

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Morgan Ames is a multi-hyphenate in the Los Angeles music scene.  She apprenticed with Quincy Jones for three years.  She sang and contracted back-up singers for Queen Latifah for the opening of the 2010 Super Bowl (“America the Beautiful”), for Celine Dion (God Bless America”) for the 9/11 telethon, and LeeAnn Rimes for the 2002 Olympics Opening Ceremony. She conducted singers on stage for Paul McCartney at a Green Peace concert at the Hollywood Bowl (“Hey Jude”).

Morgan has written songs with Johnny Mandel, Dori Caymmi, Bob James and others; her songs have been recorded by Diane Schuur, Roberta Flack, Peggy Lee, to name a few; and she’s performed with, among others, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, John Williams and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.  Her voice can be heard in films such as “King Kong” and “Van Helsing,” and the TV shows “According To Jim” and “My So-Called Life.”

She co-produced “Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra” which was #1 for 33 weeks on the Billboard jazz charts and garnered two Grammys, one for a song she wrote with Frank Foster (“You Can Have It”).  As if all that wasn’t enough, Morgan also taught songwriting at UCLA for four years, and has written more than 100 liner notes, including Miles Davis and Quincy Jones albums.  She can be reached at: Morgan Ames.


Op-Ed Commentary: Why I Won’t Be Renewing My NARAS Membership

January 14, 2010

by Drew Daniels

Well folks,

I spent half a day waiting for a doctor to call back, so whilst waiting, I logged onto the Grammy member page and suffered through dozens of full album tracks from the nominated listings in the Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, and Best New Artist categories.  I am compelled now, to shower.

This crap is so bloody awful, that the responsible morons at NARAS who simply list the nominees based on record sales figures alone,* totally heedless and regardless of a recording’s content of craft or quality, should all be fired  and replaced with people who have at least SOME musical sensibility, instead of NONE AT ALL.  The listening and musical judgment skills of those extant would be more appropriately applied shoveling spilled iron slag in an anvil foundry.

It’s far past time when sales should be the sole criterion for an award that isn’t simply labeled “Best-Selling Record Of The year,” “Best-Selling Album Of The Year,” “Best-Selling Song.” “Best-Selling New Artist,” etc.  Let’s at least be clear so the disingenuousness of crap-mongering isn’t compounded by lying about the crap’s suitability to be labeled “Best” –of anything.

One can understand the Grammy Academy’s unwillingness or refusal to consider good music as viable despite sales, because it might require they’d actually have to listen–maybe even go out to hear musical artists whose records are not located at the front of the stacks at Wal-Mart, by huge amounts of “placement promotion money.”

The present Grammy-nominated tracks and albums, and the singers who make them are the clearest example yet of what happens when over-caffeinated karaoke singers are hired by cynical promotion companies, sent to a Guitar Center store to buy ProTools, AUTOTUNE, dozens of distortion plug-ins and (the exact same) bad drum samples, and are then left to see how stupid they can get on drugs and booze.  These people are totally unqualified to dabble in either music or engineering, and thus the noise pollution formed by the confluence of misunderstood and misapplied engineering tools by totally talentless music hacks and pretenders, is mind-numbingly criminal in its emotional effect on anyone with enough music experience to whistle.

I shall not renew my NARAS membership; there is no point.  Music has been killed, dead, by cynical lawyers and MBAs, engineers and other non-musicians who’ve been empowered to put noises on shiny plastic disks and iPods, and by cynical, greedy and short-sighted software engineering and marketing firms bent on profits no matter what the terrible consequences.

I may never listen to the radio again for fear of being assaulted by:

1.  Tracks that are ALL LOUD, ALL THE TIME.
2.  The daily stampede of singers with “Mariah Carey Disease.”  (melismatically mangled melody)
3.  AUTOTUNED vocals that obscure any trace of possible craft.
4.  The words “shit” and “fuck” liberally substituted for vocabulary in everyday song lyrics.
5.  The despicable stupidity and cynicism of music marketers.
6.  The astonishing lack of originality of ALL promoted “music” acts.

If not for my wonderful recording and mastering clients, I would take up forestry tomorrow.

Mark my words, big business is evil.


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