Stories To Tell: “Happy St. Patrick’s Day”

March 16, 2012

By Brick Wahl

I was watching Going My Way on TCM for the first time in ages a couple nights ago. It’s about as Irish as it gets…Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. It so reminds me of my mom’s side, my grandfather, the whole bit. We were raised on that side. My pop was German, raised fiercely Lutheran and German speaking. Kein englisch in diesem Haus.  Immer deutsch. Even though that house was in Flint, Michigan. Catholics were verboten, too. The Thirty Years War was still being fought in those days in some places. Every German Lutheran Church was a battlefield, a besieged city.  As if the America all around it didn’t exist.

Brick Wahl

Brick Wahl

My Dad, though, met my Mom. It was at a party at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey; he had a new blue Buick. She had blue eyes, a hint of a brogue and was lovely and Irish Catholic to her very bones. The laugh, the temper, the father who drank a wee bit. Old Germans had listened to Hitler on the shortwave, while the old Irish boys hung out in bars and sang. Can’t you meet a nice Irish boy? he grumbled. But he didn’t mean it. They never did. Didn’t even mind he wasn’t Catholic. The kids were going to be going to Mass, don’t you worry Pop. They’d all be confirmed by a priest. He drank port to that and sang and a little bit of heaven fell out the sky that day. So my folks were married. In Ankara, Turkey. And then Istanbul. It’s complicated. NATO and all that. But they found a priest somewhere over there and the neighbors threw them a big wedding party. Dad had a zillion photos of it, racked up in slides. A local Roman Catholic priest pronounced them man and wife. Martin Luther spun in his grave. A black lamb was slaughtered, as if it were still ancient Greece. The blood was vivid red in the photo. Dad said some of the kids got the eyeballs. It’s a delicacy. All us kids went ewwww. Mom just winced. That poor thing, she said. The poor little lamb. The party went on for days, everyone in the village was there, plus some. Hundreds of people. Those were the days. They thought they’d never end.Fifty some years later Dad was long dead (and died Catholic, and got a wake), and all of us were hanging out with Mom. We’d driven out to Arizona to see her. The nuns had said if we want to see her one last time we’d better get there as fast as possible. We left at four or five in the morning, driving across the Mojave as the sun was rising over it. Desert dawns are the most beautiful things you can ever see. Pastels and shadows. Birds. A zillion butterflies. Rocks in crazy piles and jagged mountains promising no water at all. Buzzards smell sweet death in the air.

The party began as soon as we got there. Five of the six siblings, a couple wives, an energetic swarm of grandsons. Plus dogs, birds, turtles, fish and a cat. The piano was played, some guitars, a saxophone, whatever made or tried to make music. We talked and talked and talked. The food was endless. We joked and talked and ate and mom, riddled with bone cancer, talked and joke and even ate. Her imminent death was just a given, something to be discussed, even kidded about. It was normal. Sad but normal. The order of things. Not much you can do about it she told me. And laughed. Her kids were there, their kids were there, there could not be a better way to go. At one point the priest came by and all became solemn as he delivered Last Rites. We all stood around her bed. The ceremony was ancient and beautiful. Two thousand years of beauty. You could see the worry released in her face. Afterword he switched to his civvies and joined the party. Everyone talking, looking in on Mom, letting her sleep. Eventually it broke up. Mom was awake. I said so long, we’ll see you tomorrow, and kissed her on the forehead. She smiled.

She died the next morning. My brother Jon was in  the room with her, playing Mozart on the piano. She slept uneasily. Mumbled about home. Home, home, home. Then she let out a little gasp, breathed hard for a minute, and was gone.

The wake began immediately, just a small wake, her kids, her brother, the wives and grandsons and nephews. It was sad, but it was nice. We had the bigger, boozy wake later, after the internment. This was just the family hanging out. The priest came by. The sisters. She just decided it was the time to go, one of the sisters told me. She worked in a hospice. We thought Mom’d hang on for weeks, she said, a slow horrible bone cancer death. But she decided it was time, with all of you out here. She smiled at the thought. That’s the way it should be. I nodded.So now it’s a couple years later and I’m watching Going My Way. At one point Bing, the young priest, is trying to get Barry Fitzgerald, the ornery old priest, to fall asleep for chrissakes. So he sings the old Irish lullaby “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral.” Some of my earliest memories are of my mother singing me off to sleep with it. The melody sways in the breeze, the words loll, and sometimes it sounds like the most beautiful tune you ever heard.

And it took me back to the morning Mom had died. She was still in the bed, looking peacefully asleep. We had each of us slipped in alone throughout the morning to bid her farewell. No one made a big deal about it, we’d sort of break off from the chatter and walk in for a few minutes. At some time that morning I entered and there she was sleeping, looking beautiful. Just like you want the dead to look, just how we want ourselves to look. I gazed at her a minute, and began singing “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral” in a hushed voice, so as not to wake her. Just a couple choruses. Then I said Goodbye, Mom, kissed her forehead one last time and stepped out again to join the living.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

* * * * *

Happy St. Patrick’s Day is the first entry in “Stories To Tell,” a new iRoM platform that will feature reminiscences, fiction, tall tales and short stories with musical references. 


CD Review: Mark Abel’s “The Dream Gallery: Seven California Portraits”

March 14, 2012

Mark Abel

The Dream Gallery: Seven California Portraits (Delos Records)

 By Brian Arsenault

When you live in Maine as I do, the whole North American continent away, California is a dream, a myth.  Endless summers, movie stars, L.A. freeways, L.A. Woman.  Haight-Ashbury and noir novels from Raymond Chandler to Robert Crais.  It’s there somewhere over the horizon with a sea on the left instead of the right. Sunsets over water not sunrises.

So I approached Mark Abel’s The Dream Gallery with a real sense of anticipation.  What can I learn about this mythical place that so many bright, creative people call home?

What I got were cardboard cutout characters framed by awkward lyrics crammed into uncomfortable musical boxes.  I mean I am glad I didn’t read Abel’s self descriptive phrases “postmodern art song” and “alternative classic” (Really?) before I listened, or I would have really loathed this album.

Herein we have a shallow housewife from San Diego and a smug one in Berkeley. I could get as much depth from watching “Housewives of Orange County.”  We have a punk kid who hates his elders for bankrupting Social Security and a town “named for a hefty ex-president.”  Hint, Taft is dead.

The singers are capable enough, but they struggle with lyrics that seem failed attempts at Broadway stylings. Or are they “postmodern” poetics? Often, the pompous, ponderous “classical” orchestra seems in almost comic juxtaposition — as with an LA rich bitch bemoaning her husband’s affair with a much younger woman “so lithe and smart, a walking tribute to the plastic surgeon’s art.”  We have moved on to “Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Maybe Abel needed an Elton John to his Bernie Taupin, although Taupin never wrote lyrics so awkward and obvious.  If he did Elton threw them away. Or maybe Abel could have just published his lyrics as prose/poetry.  Some could even have even appeared in The New Yorker for highbrow Easterners to “look down on everyone.”

As noted, there are some more than capable singers here.  Carver Cossey is a basso profundo whose song — “Lonnie ” –  comes closest to being touching. And Tom Zohar is just the right mix of resentful and youthful for “Adam.” The women are all good.  Mezzo soprano Delaney Gibson promises so much more in “Carol,” with her opening line “My husband is a killer” than the rest of the see-how-trite-I-am song manages.  And so it goes.

Talent overcome with cumbersome arrangements, pretentious “alternative classic” orchestration and lyrics that just don’t illuminate California and Californians or move the listener. Honestly, you’ll understand at least Southern California better listening to late Beach Boys.  Maybe even early Beach Boys.

Hey, maybe a second review from a Californian would be fair.  He or she might like it better. Or dislike it more.

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


Katz of the Day: Reflections on Charles Mingus

March 13, 2012

By Michael Katz

 This Friday night’s appearance of Mingus Dynasty in a UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall brings to mind the first and only time I saw Charles Mingus perform.  It was at a small club called the Good Karma, in the basement of a health food store in Madison, Wisconsin, circa 1976.  I’d guess that Mingus was presenting work from the Changes One and Changes Two albums that were released around then, though Sue Mingus suggests he might have been performing Cumbia and Jazz Fusion, which I recall most distinctly from the Mingus Big Band’s Que Viva Mingus.  What I do remember was getting there early and seeing Mingus sitting alone in front of his bass, going over music that would be played that night, the rest of the band nowhere in sight. He was a large man in a small room – it couldn’t have seated more than a hundred folks, if that. I had seen other big jazz names there — Mose Allison, Eddie Harris, George Benson – but none of them would fill the place like Mingus and his band.

I didn’t know, as Sue Mingus related recently, that he had just been given the key to the city. If that seems a little incongruous to someone performing in the basement of a health food store, consider that the mayor was (and currently is again) Paul Soglin. In 1975, Soglin would have been barely 30, having arisen from the anti-war movement that swept over Madison to become mayor in 1973. The Changes albums had songs titled “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” and “Free Cell Block F, Tis Nazi USA,” so it’s not surprising that Soglin – whatever his level of jazz sophistication — would have considered Mingus a kindred spirit.

The fusion of jazz and politics was an essential part of the Mingus ouevre, but it shouldn’t obscure the fact that he was one of the great composers of our time. He could be growling, or soulful, or bluesy, often all at the same time. His more contemplative, elegiac work, most notably “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” the homage to Lester Young, as well as “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” were stirring and memorable. His compositions featured complex weavings of the horns and piano in his basic quartet or quintet, but they were engaging and immensely listenable.

Some of the more overtly political themes were clearly reflected in the music.   “Haitian Fight Song,” suggests the undercurrents of struggle and darkness in that historically beset land. (Though it also showed up in a VW Jetta commercial a few years ago). “Medititations on a Pair of Wire Cutters,” is similarly brooding and conspiratorial as it builds to a crescendo.

In other tunes, such as the above-mentioned titles from the Changes albums, it’s harder to see the connections, or maybe the issues have just lost currency over the years. “Rockefeller” and “Cell Block F” are bright, aggressive compositions that still sound great, if somewhat disconnected from their original source. And of course there is no shortage of gospel and blues. “Mingus Ah Um,” which was recorded in 1959, leads off with “Better Git It In Your Soul” and includes, in addition to “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,”  “Fables of Faubus” and “Pussy Cat Dues.” The recent reissue CD, which also includes the albums The Clown and Pithecanthropus Erectus is a must for anyone’s desert island list.

All this leads up to Friday night’s Royce Hall concert by the Mingus Dynasty septet. By supporting groups such as Mingus Dynasty and the Mingus Big Band, Sue Mingus has kept alive the legacy of her husband, who was diagnosed with ALS in 1977 and died in 1979 at the age of 56. Here in LA we don’t get the weekly exposure to the music that the Mingus Big Band provides in New York, though they have toured here on occasion. The smaller Dynasty is closer in size to the classic Mingus groups, and features stellar personnel. Alex Foster on reeds and Boris Kozlov on bass are co-leaders, along with fellow Mingus Big Band stalwarts Seamus Blake on tenor, Ku-umba Frank Lacy on trombone and vocals, Donald Edwards on drums and David Kikoski on piano. Rounding things out is emerging trumpet star Avishai Cohen. The opportunity to see this group playing Charles Mingus’s compositions is sure to be a rare treat.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, Katz of the Day.

 


Picks of the Week: Mar. 13 – 18

March 13, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Willie Nelson

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  Willie Nelson and Family. Legendary is a word that actually has some veracity when applied to the music and the career of superstar Nelson.  He makes his first appearance at Disney Hall on a bill that also includes his family members, as well as a group led by his son, Lukas NelsonDisney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s Guitar NightPat Kelley’s the guest guitarist, celebrating his birthday in Guitar Night’s loose and swinging format.  Bassist John Belzaguy and drummer Kendall Kay lay down the heat that will keep the music cooking.  Lucy’s 51. Toluca Lake.  (818) 763-5200.

Janicey Brar/Billie Holiday

- Mar. 13. (Tues.)  Janicey Brar. Tribute to Billie Holiday  “Tribute” performers – singers and musicians who take on the persona, the performing style and the image of famous artists – are far more rare in jazz than they are in popular music.  But Milwaukee’s Brar, who spent years impersonating Tina Turner, is one of the exceptions.  The simulation of Billie Holiday that she’s doing for this performance has been praised for its impressive musical and visual qualities.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Mar. 14. (Wed.)  Otmaro Ruiz.  Venezuelan-born pianist/composer Ruiz moves comfortably and authentically across stylistic and genre boundaries, playing straight ahead jazz, Latin jazz, pop, rock, salsa, fusion and beyond.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400. http://www.in-housemusic.com/calendar.html

- Mar. 15. (Thurs.) Julie Kelly and Stephanie Haynes. A pair of veteran jazz singers, each with her own unique style, get together for an evening of vocal jazz magic. Neither is heard in the Southland as often as they should be, so don’t miss this chance to check out their engaging skills.  LAX Jazz Club at the Crowne Plaza.  (310) 258-1333.

"Casablanca"

- Mar. 15. – 17. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Casablanca.  Here’s the formula for a truly fascinating evening.  Max Steiner’s memorable score for Casablanca performed by the Pacific Symphony under Richard Kaufman, live in sync with a big screen projection of the cinematic masterpiece.  Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.  (714) 556-2787.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  The T.S. Monk Sextet.  Drummer Monk, blessed with the genetic heritage of his father, Thelonious Monk, has established himself as a solid musical talent in his own right.  Carpenter Performing Arts Center.    (562) 985-7000.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.) Jose Rizo’s “Mongorama.” Jose Rizo’s knack for assembling solid musical aggregations continues with the nine-piece Mongorama’s exciting explorations of Mongo Santamaria’s charanga-jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Frankie Valli

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  Frankie Valli. The ‘60s teen heartthrob, lead voice of the Four Seasons, revisits some of the iconic group’s hits – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” “Sherry,” and more. Segerstrom Hall.   (714) 556-2787.

- Mar. 16. (Fri.) Mingus Dynasty. More than 30 years after the passing of Charles Mingus, his music is still being kept vividly alive in the hands of the seven piece Mingus Dynasty Band.  Expect to hear such classics from the large Mingus catalog as “Better Git It In Your Soul, “ “Haitian Fight Song” and Pithecanthus Erectus.”  Royce Hall.  A UCLA Live concert.    (310) 825-2101.  To read Michael Katz’s Reflections on Charles Mingus click HERE.

- Mar. 16 – 18. (Fri. – Sun.)  Chuck Loeb Quartet. Guitarist Loeb celebrates the release of his CD, Plain and Simple, hewing to the title with a program of lively, hard swinging music, baked by the stellar ensemble of  Mitchel Forman, keyboards, Lionel Cordew, drums and Eric Marienthal, saxophones. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

Johnny Mandel

- Mar. 17. (Sat.) Johnny Mandel Big Band. One of the true treasures of contemporary American music – reaching from jazz to film to song and beyond – Mandel makes one of his too rare club appearance, leading a band of all-stars in a program that will be filled with familiar melody and irresistible rhythm.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Mar. 17. (Sat.)  Spectral Scriabin. Georgian pianist Eteri Andjaparidze and lighting designer Jennifer Tipton enliven composer Alexander Scriabin’s desire to blend the spectrum of colors with the full panorama of musical pitches.  The performance includes excerpts from Scriabin’s Poeme Languide in B Major and the Feuillet d’Album in F-sharp Major.  The Broad Stage.    (310) 434-3200.

San Francisco

Dave Grisman

- Mar. 16. (Fri.)  The Dave Grisman Quartet.  Mandolinist Grisman has been one of the primary shapers of contemporary acoustic music for decades. And he’s still finding new expressive methods – currently with a group that includes bassist Jim Kerwin, flutist Matt Eakle, percussionist George Marsh and guitarist Grant GordiYoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

- Mar. 18. (Sun.)  The Uri Caine Trio. Mention an area of musical expression – from early classical to contemporary electronics to staright ahead jazz –  and pianist/composer  Caine has been there at one time or another.  His current interest focuses on his acoustic jazz piano trio, with John Hebert, bass and Ben Perowsky, drums.  The San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  An SFJAZZ 2012 Spring Season Event.     (866) 920-5299.

Washington D.C.

Stanley Jordan

- Mar. 15 – 18.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  Stanley Jordan.  Solo guitar.  The master of the tap-on style of jazz guitar playing Jordan is always at his best in a solo setting that allows his improvisational imagination to roam freely.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.

New York

- Mar. 13 – 18.  (Tues. – Sun.)  The Heath Brothers.  Jazz history comes alive when Jimmy Heath, saxophones, Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums get together to recall the high points of their decades of jazz prominence.  They’ll be backed by Jeb Patton, piano and David Wong, bass.  The Village Vanguard.   (212) 255-4037.

- Mar. 13 – 18. (Tues. – Sun.)  Eddie Palmieri.  The veteran pianist/composer/bandleader celebrates  his 75th birthday.  A musical pioneer virtually from the time of his appearance on the scene in the ‘50s, Palmieri has been one of the principal creative forces in the growth of Latin jazz.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

Mira Awad and Noa (Achinoam Nini)

- Mar. 15. (Thurs. )  Noa and Mira.  Israeli singers Noa (Achinoam Nini) and Mira Awad are superb artists, dedicated to peaceful coexistence in their country.  Singing in Hebrew, Arabic and English, Israel’s top Jewish (Noa) and Arab (Mira) singer/songwriters perform together on behalf of the Abraham Fund.      The Rose Theatre at Lincoln Center. (212) 258-9800.

Boston

Mar. 17. (Sat.) Betty Buckley.  Tony Award winner (for her role in Cats), Buckley also has a resume listing performances reaching from Broadway musicals to film, television and recordings.  And she is especially compelling when she’s in an up close and personal night club setting, bringing utter believability to every musical story she tells.    The Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.

London

Iain Mackenzie

Mar. 18. (Sun.)  Iain Mackenzie & Swing City.  Mackenzie, one of the U.K.’s favorite jazz singers uses his strong baritone and brisk sense of swing to carry the torch for the vocal tradition of Mel Torme, Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra and more.  He’ll be backed by the solid drive of the eight piece Swing City band.  He’ll do a pair of matinee shows – at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Ronnie Scott’s.    020 7439 0747.

Milan

Mar. 15. (Thurs.)  Miroslav Vitous.  Czech-born Vitous was one of the ground breaking acoustic bassists of the ‘70s, often grouped with the likes of Scott Lafaro, Dave Holland and others. Emphasizing his compositional interests in recent years, he makes one of his rare club appearances.  He’ll perform with Robert Bonisolo, saxophone and Aydin Esen, piano.  Blue Note Milan.    02.69.01.68.88.

Tokyo

Mar. 14 – 16.  (Wed. – Fri.)  Billy Childs Quartet. Pianist/composer Childs takes a break from his Chamber Ensemble performances and his role in Chris Botti’s band to stretch out with the world class companionship of Steve Wilson, alto saxophone, Scott Colley, bass and Brian Blade, drums.  Blue Note Tokyo.  03-5484-0088.


Live Music: Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra in a Jazz Roots Series performance at Knight Concert Hall in the Adrienne Arsht Center.

March 11, 2012

By Fernando Gonzalez

Miami, Florida.  Can we have Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in some juke joint or hole-in-the-wall neighborhood jazz club just once? Just for the fun of it. It will probably never happen – economics wouldn’t allow that, for starters. But listening to, and watching, Marsalis and the JLCO at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, Friday, part of the JAZZ ROOTS series, was to wish for a setting that would have them take their jackets off, their ties loosened up and let it all hang out. We got perfection, thank you. Now just preach, brother. It was that good — and tantalizing.

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

For all the seriousness with which he has tackled his role in jazz and American culture, there has always been something of a mischievous streak to Marsalis’s work and approach. Maybe it’s New Orleans. Maybe it’s just jazz itself  — a music that at its best is both deep and joyful. Friday, both aspects were present, the serious, preservers-of-the-tradition ensemble playing, impeccably referencing Ellington and the big band tradition, and the let’s-have-a-good-time blowing.

The first half of the program had the more somber hue, as it was comprised of Marsalis’ music including pieces from the Oratorio Blood on the Fields,  the  Abyssinian 200 Mass, and the Spanish-tinged “The Tree of Freedom,” from the Vitoria Suite.

The second part, which opened with an off-the-program appearance by violinist Mark O’Connor for a delightful version of “Corrine, Corrina” with a seven piece group off the Orchestra, had more of the feel of a blowing session – if a tightly structured one. It included a nice arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Señor Blues,” a reading of Kenny Dorham’s “Trompetta Tocatta,” set up as a Ryan Kisor feature,  and closed, appropriately,  with “The Caboose,” a selection from Big Train, a 1999 extended work by Marsalis that plays, in part, as an Ellington tribute.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

There was some exceptional soloing – and to name the soloists would mean just about to name every player in the band, as they all seemed to have at least one featured moment and made the most of it.  But with the JLCO, the ensemble is the star of the show. The writing makes the most of the section work, setting up calls and responses, countermelodies and lush backgrounds.  And the execution, including the band’s casually forceful swing and its care for dynamics, has by now an impressive exactness and sheen. There is a risk in that too, but Friday there were enough touches of humor and passion throughout to keep things loose and inviting.  More of that can only make Marsalis and the JLCO even more effective.

Photos by Manny Hernandez.

To read more reviews and posts by Fernando Gonzalez click HERE.


Here, There & Everywhere: Have You Ever Wondered?

March 10, 2012

There’s been some thoughtful discussion lately here on iRoM about the interaction between musicians and audiences.  A lot of it was focused on performers’ obligations to their listeners.  Check out Brick Wahl’s Keeping It Real 1, and Keeping It Real 2  and Norton Wright’s  Keeping It Real: A Minority Opinion, along with the readers’ comments, to get the full picture. 

And here’s another perspective with a different slant.  I first blogged something about the subject three or four years ago, pointing a finger at both the players and the audiences.  Since the questions I raised at that time remain virtually unanswered, I thought I’d ask them again.  (Continue reading below for the responses.)

By Don Heckman

Have you ever wondered:

- Why…

Band leaders always seem to announce the names of the band members in the middle of loud applause? Making them virtually indecipherable.  Can it be that some of the leaders are worried that the band members might receive a better reception than they do? Let’s hope not.

- Why…

Every solo by every musician (and singer) — regardless of its quality — is applauded? Granted that musicians deserve and appreciate response from their listeners, what’s the real value of such an all-inclusive response?  And why can’t it wait until the end of the piece? At which time, the leader — after the applause — can give much more meaningful recognition to the soloists. The added benefit of that approach would be an opportunity to actually hear the subtle connections that good musicians frequently make between solo passages — a repeated riff, a variation on the previous player’s concluding phrase. Good stuff, and most of it missed in the rush to clap, cheer, hoot and whistle.

- Why…

If we’re going to have so much applause, why can’t we also have some mass audience hissing directed at the fools who can’t wait until the last note fades before they establish their presence with a whoop, a holler or a deeply insightful, “Yeah!”?  God forbid that the music should actually have an opportunity to come to its own creative conclusion without audience assistance.  It can, you know.  If you listen.

- Why…

The drum solo always has to wait until the last number? It’s become like clockwork — here comes the Dreaded Drum Solo and the intermission is next. Surely drummers deserve something better than a pro forma appearance positioned as a last minute afterthought?

Anyone have some answers?  Send them along.  I’ll be happy to share them.

* * * * *

March 10: BRICK WAHL HAS SOME ANSWERS:

By Brick Wahl

Easy.

1)

Band leaders never know the names of the musicians in their band, or else they are too high. Sometimes, though, musicians have long Polish names and no one knows how to pronounce them anyway.

2)

The musicians’ Moms and Dads might be in the audience and the audience doesn’t want to embarrass them. Later, Mom and Dad are replaced by grandchildren, and you’d have to be a real creep to want to make them feel bad. So applaud already.

3)

In the past, massed hissing in jazz clubs has led to shootings, beatings, and riots. Sometimes all in one night. I once let out a deeply insightful if ill-timed “yeah” that accidentally caused a bass solo, so I learned my lesson.

4)

Drum solos used to occur during the intermission.  Consider yourself lucky.

* * * * *

March 11: NEAL WRIGHTSON HAS SOME ANSWERS:

By Neal Wrightson

I agree with #1. It is often frustrating when band leaders introduce the band while they are playing, while the audience is clapping and hooting, etc. But not all do this. Some actually take some time to introduce each band member, even waiting for the applause to die down. I think your theory is true sometimes – I sense in the timing and perfunctory quality of some intros a disdain for the exercise, and maybe the band members. But other times I think that musicians are not always speakers, and are ‘tone deaf” about the importance of the moment.

As for the other objections – I think that the loose quality of a jazz concert and audience is part of the history and tradition. Sometimes the vocal responses remind me of a revival meeting or inspiring speech, where the audience is moved to vocalize their enthusiasm. I am torn about this, because sometimes audience members can be maddeningly insistent on adding their “contribution” to the performance, but overall, I think I prefer this wide-open, democratic quality to rapt attention and people “shushing” each other. I love Keith Jarrett, but he is a good example of this; a bit of a prima donna, much too grumpy about every little noise and interruption. Jazz is, to a great extent, an audience participation experience. The energy of the audience makes an important difference to a performance.

As for drum solos, (and bass solos) as the parent of a jazz drummer I would say that they are only occasionally brilliant, and do not often add to the piece as a whole. I agree that they are often included at the end pro forma, instead of as an important element in a specific piece. Yet a beautiful drum or bass solo is inspiring and as important as any other soloist in an ensemble. My drummer son tells a joke about a drummer who is researching the roots of jazz and goes to Africa. He is being led by an African drummer to a village where remarkable drumming takes place. They are walking a long way, and as they get close they can hear the drumming. Then the drumming stops, and the African drummer stops dead in his tracks “Oh! oh!” he says. “What’s the matter?” the musician asks, with dread creeping into his voice. The African says “When the drumming stops – next is the bass solo!”

* * * * *


Katz of the Day: Reflections on Mountain Dew

March 9, 2012

By Michael Katz

The revelation that Stephen Colbert is really a folkie at heart wasn’t all that surprising, if you follow his show. Still, as a retired camp counselor, it was a kick to see him with Don Fleming, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello last night, listening to old reel to reel tape recordings from the collection of folklorist Alan Lomax. Being the possessor of innumerable Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary albums, I was well aware of Lomax and the roots of the music that extend back to Woody Guthrie and beyond. But when they returned from a commercial break to actually sing, it was an old Appalachian folk tune that was way up on the North Star Camp hit list of the 60’s and ‘70s: “Mountain Dew.” I won’t say that Emmylou and Elvis sang it in the same way that a bunch of kids from mostly well-to-do Jewish homes did around the campfire, but still:  Gimme some of that good old mountain dew, mountain dew, and them that refuse it are few (Are few!) You’ll feel no pain, while it drives you insane…

Okay, you get the picture.

Stephen Colbert

If I were to pick the three songs that we sang most from that genre, I would go with “Mountain Dew,” “Shanty Town” (It’s only a shanty, in old Shanty Town… The roof is so slanty, it touches the ground…) and “Goodnight Irene.” The latter, written by Leadbelly, became a sort of emblem for us in the mid-seventies, thanks to one particular counselor with a large collection of Woody Guthrie albums – I’ll just call him “Tom” — and to this day when I hear “Goodnight Irene” I still think of a couple hundred campers and counselors on the last night of camp, holding hands, rocking gently in the cool Wisconsin night.

So of course, when Colbert and friends came back from the last commercial break, they were singing “Goodnight Irene,” with Costello on the uke and Colbert along on guitar and vocals. You can hear the whole song:

Diana Krall

Now I have to admit I’m still a little sore at Elvis Costello for up and marrying Diana Krall, extinguishing a torch that I’d been carrying since I’d seen her on a Tuesday night at a half-empty Jazz Bakery in 1995, singing from her Only Trust Your Heart CD, long before anyone knew of her. I flashed forward to a night at Catalina’s in Hollywood, not too long after that. I’d come to see pianist Benny Green’s group. It was Ray Brown’s birthday, and he was in the crowd. The great bassist being one of Diana’s mentors, she had slipped in unannounced for the celebration. She was sitting alone at the bar for what seemed to be the longest time, and I tried to gather enough courage to walk over and introduce myself. If I had only known she would eventually fall for a guy who could sing all the verses of “Mountain Dew.”  And play “Goodnight Irene” on the ukulele. I could do that! (Well, not the ukulele part.)

Well, the rest is history. Diana and Elvis got married in a castle in England. I now envision them sitting in front of the hearth, on a foggy, windswept night, sipping imported moonshine and singing the chorus to Shanty Town: I’d give up a palace, if I were a king. It’s more than a palace, it’s my everything…

Okay, maybe not.

But I can still do all the verses to “MTA,” if anyone’s listening.

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To read more reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s new personal blog, Katz of the Day.


Wisdom of the Great Songbook: Howard Dietz’s “Dancing in the Dark”

March 8, 2012

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“Waltzing in the wonder of 

why we’re here,

Time hurries by,

We’re here and we’re gone”

- Howard Dietz (with Arthur Schwartz)

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To read more Wisdom of the Great Songbook click HERE


CD Review: Halie Loren “Heart First”

March 7, 2012

Halie Loren

Heart First (Justin Time Records) 

 By Brian Arsenault

Oh yeah, this is good stuff.  If you could walk into a club with Halie Loren and this band playing the title song and all, you might never leave.  You’d just learn to drink something like vodka on the rocks even if you never liked it before.

Halie Loren

What you have here are some terrific jazz standards and compositions from Bob Marley to Van Morrison to Charley Chaplin, not to mention some fine tunes from Halie herself. All performed unerringly by the singer and this great little band assembled from her road group and some other first rate musicians.

Early up you have “C’est Si Bon” done en francais and you have visions of your own midnight in Paris. A couple songs later there’s “Sway,” pure Bogey and Bacall. Hemingway in Havana after a day of marlin fishing.

“Heart First” shows Ms. Loren can write this kind of stuff herself.

It’s later, though, on “Taking A Chance On Love” that I felt, for one of the very few times ever, that here was a singer who has a gift for phrasing which comes close to Sinatra’s stylings. She just makes this old standard hers.

Halie Loren can even make a light little vehicle like “Lotta Love” have depth and resonance.

Want more?  Somewhere in infinity Bob Marley is torching up a blunt and smiling to hear Halie’s version of “Waiting in Vain.” It’s reggae gone jazz.  It’s so different yet so true to the immortal Marley.  Interestingly, perhaps even strangely, the reggae beat comes not here but near the end when she does her version of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.”

And then there’s “Smile,” the Chaplin ode to getting through the pain with a grin.  It’s almost not fair to use this tear jerker to win over even a nasty old reviewer.  But it works. Oh, and if you don’t like the accordion part, we have nothing to discuss.

The musicianship throughout is top shelf. I’ve never heard a cello play under and support a singer’s voice quite like Dave Bradley combines with Halie on her composition “In Time,” which she dedicates to the people of Japan where she apparently is wildly popular.

Alternately sexy and smooth, sultry and wry, Ms. Loren uses her not inconsiderable gifts well. I only found a couple of the standards less than satisfying.

It may be that I have just heard too many versions of  “Feeling Good” in recent years or maybe the song is just a little cloying. And I thought the arrangement of  “All of Me” tried just a little too hard to get something new out of the old saw.  Weirdly, the drums sounded like they could play behind a Mario Brothers jaunt through troubled lands.

But Heart First c’est si bon. Truly.

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


Picks of the Week: March 6 – 11

March 6, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

John Pisano

- Mar. 6. (Tues.)  John Pisano’s “Guitar Night.” Pisano takes his ever-entertaining, ever-popular  “Guitar Night” to a new venue.  To celebrate the move, the featured guest is veteran guitarist Mundell Lowe.  Lucy’s 51. Toluca Lake.  (818) 763-5200.

Mar. 6. (Tues.)  The Gonzalo Bergara Quartet.  Guitarist Bergara and his crew bring Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz firmly into the 21st century.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- Mar. 6. (Tues.)  Hod O’Brien and Stephanie Nakasian.  Pianist O/Brien is one of the authentic beboppers, continuing to mine the still rich sounds and rhythms of bop for new musical discoveries.  Here, he also backs his wife, singer Nakasian. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Mar. 6. (Tues.)  The CJS Quintet in a “Tribute to Dexter Gordon.”  The CJS Quintat, always eager keep mainstream jazz alive and swinging, explore the muscular music of Dexter Gordon.  CJS is Chuck Johnson, saxes, James Smith, trumpet, Koji Ono, piano, Trevor Ware, bass, Kenny Elliott, drums. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

- Mar. 6 – 11. (Tues. – Sun.)  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Dance at its finest is a fundamental aspect of every performance by the Ailey dancers.  Three programs are offered, featuring Ailey classics and contemporary works.  Check website for schedule.   Segerstrom Hall  (714) 556-2787..

Jeffrey Kahane

Mar. 7. (Wed.)  Jeffrey Kahane and members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra present a 15th Anniversary Celebration of Kahane’s tenure as Director of the LACO.  The program showcases Kahane’s far reaching skills as a pianist in the Bach French Suite, the Brahms Piano Trio No. 1, a broad selection of Chopin works and a new Gabriel Kahane composition.  Disney Hall.    (323) 850-2000.

- Mar. 7. (Wed.)  Tull, Korb, Proulx. An evening featuring a sterling trio of jazz instrumentalist/singers – drummer Dave Tull, bassist Kristen Korb, pianist John Proulx.  To read a recent iRoM review of a Proulx performance, click HEREVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Nellie McCay

- Mar. 9. (Fri.)  Nellie McKay.  Singer, pianist songwriter McKay is one of a kind, making every performance into a compelling creative adventure.  To read an iRoM review of a recent McKay performance, click HERE. Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- Mar. 10. (Sat.)  Cecelia Coleman Quartet. L.A. native Coleman, who has been living in New York, returns to remind us of the intriguing qualities of her piano style. She performs with trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Ramon Banda.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Mar. 11. (Sun.)  Billy Childs Quartet and the Kronos QuartetBill Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers.  A fascinating evening of jazz and jazz-oriented chamber music.  The Childs Quartet and Kronos play individual sets and then combine to perform a Childs composition.  Frisell opens the show with the engaging sounds of his guitar, viola and drum trio.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- Mar. 8 & 9.  (Thurs. & Fri.) Patricia Barber. Pianist, singer, songwriter Barber brings emotional and intellectual illumination to everything she plays and sings — whether it’s from the Great American Songbook or her own folio of works. Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

- Mar. 10. (Sat.)  Lynne Arriale Trio.  Pianist Arriale combines an airy harmonic imagination with a briskly effervescent rhythmic feeling.  Yoshi’s San Francisco. .  The trio also appears at Jazz Alley in Seattle on Mar. 13 & 14.   (206) 441-0729.

- Mar. 10. (Sat.)  “Salute to Toots Thielemans.”  A stellar assemblage of players,  led by harmonica player Gregoire Maret, come together to celebrate the life and work of the one and only Toots.  The group also includes Oscar Castro-Neves, guitar, Kenny Werner, piano and Airto Moreira, percussion.  Herbst Theatre.  An SFJAZZ 2012 Spring Season event.  Salute to Toots Thielemans.  (866) 920-5299.

Chicago

David Sanchez

- Mar. 8 – 11. (Thurs. – Sun.)  David Sanchez Quartet. Puerto Rican-born Sanchez, one of the finest saxophonists of his generation, enhances his inventiveness with traces of his Caribbean roots.  Jazz Showcase (312) 360-0234.

New York

- Mar. 6 – 11. (Tues. – Sun.)  Freddy Cole Sextet.  Cole’s conversational vocal style is backed by the richly melodic improvising of saxophonist Harry Allen in a showcase of Cole’s new album, Talk To Me. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.   (212) 258-9800.

- Mar. 6 & 7. (Tues. & Wed.)  Edmar Castaneda, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Miguel Zenon.  Expect musical fireworks from this encounter between Castaneda’s fiery harp playing, Rubalcaba’s adventurous piano work and Zenon’s far-ranging saxophone playing.  The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

Berlin

- Mar. 8. (Thurs.)  Dino Saluzzi, Anja Lechner and Felix Saluzzi Trio. The trio of prominent Argentine musical artists – bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, his saxophonist brother Felix Saluzzi and cellist Anja Lechner – assemble to play selections from their fine ECM album, Navidad de Los Andes.  A-Trane.   030/313 25 50.

Tokyo

Lou Donaldson

- Mar. 7 – 10. (Wed. – Sat.)  Lou Donaldson. The playing of veteran alto saxophonist Donaldson, still in rare form at 85, provides a compelling link to the bebop era of Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt.  Blue Note Tokyo.   03-5485-0088.

Milan

- Mar. 10. (Sat.)  The Ron Carter Quartet. Bassist Carter, who has played with virtually every major jazz artist of the past five decades, steps out with a group reflecting his own musical thinking: pianist Renee Rosnes, percussionist Rolando Morales-Matos and drummer Payton Crossley.  The Blue Note Milan    02.69.01.68.88.

John Pisano photo by Bob Barry.

Nellie McCay poto by Tony Gieske.


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