An Appreciation: Remembering The King

May 15, 2015

By Devon Wendell

I just cannot process the fact that B.B. King is no longer on this earth. How can it be? It’s like trying to imagine life without oceans, trees, and air to breathe.

No one in history changed the approach and sound of the electric guitar like B.B. King. Sure, there were T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian before B.B. came along, but no one made the guitar sing like the king did. That bright tone, that fast vibrato, those trills and string bends all made the electric guitar sound even more vocal than the human voice.

B.B. King

B.B. King

B.B. played with a confidence and finesse that has influenced generations of guitarists such as Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and just about every blues and rock guitar player that I can think of, including myself. Even Miles Davis claimed to be inspired by B.B. King’s guitar voicings in his autobiography.

My greatest memories of B.B. are personal. After I got my first guitar at the age of 12, I would obsessively practice along with his records, trying to learn every lick. The albums that I focused on the most were Live At The Regal Theater, Live At The Cook County Jail, and Live And Well. I wore those records out. I knew that if I could learn to play that clean and with that much finesse that I could not only be taken seriously by adults, but I could also play in any genre of music.

I was right. After a lot of hard work, I was taken seriously and I could make that B.B. King style fit anywhere. But no matter how much so many of us have tried to imitate his style, there was only one B.B. King. Anyone can discern the copy cats from the real thing by listening to one note. That’s all it takes.

On my 21st Birthday, I spent at least a couple of hours upstairs at The Blue Note in N.Y.C. hanging with B.B. after one of his spectacular performances there. We spoke about music, life, the road and women. He briefly let me play his beloved guitar Lucille and warned me about how the music business can wear you down in time. He was right about everything. I know that more today than I did then. But at that time I felt completely lost. I was head first down in the bottle and had briefly considered quitting music. That changed for me on that cold January night with B.B., and I decided not to stop playing for anything.

B.B. King never gave up in any situation and displayed more true dignity, strength, and humility in the face of adversity and hardship than any musician I have ever met.

That memory still keeps me going strong, even when the chips are down. I still go back to that night when I think of putting down the guitar. What B.B. had passed on to me that night was not mere wisdom, but the strong spiritual connection felt within the heart of the blues. B.B. King’s sound is reminiscent of that feeling we get when we first fall in love. No one could get to that mournful yet celebratory place that is the blues quicker and more gracefully than him.

B.B. King may have passed away on May 14th, 2015 at the age of 89, but his spirit and music will live on forever. I pray that the true king of the blues shall rest in peace. Thank you B.B., for giving me and so many around the world a true purpose in life.

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


A Twist Of Doc: Jazz Appreciation Month

April 6, 2015

By Devon (Doc) Wendell

So April is Jazz Appreciation Month. I don’t know exactly what this means but I hope it will have a positive impact upon jazz and the jazz community.

Jazz has really taken a beating from the outside world; from the false representation of jazz education in last year’s award winning film Whiplash, to a report by David La Rosa of The JazzLine News in early March stating that “jazz has become the least popular genre in the U.S.”

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

This report was solely based on Nielson’s 2014 end of the year totals. Of course these statistics don’t count independent label sales and releases, which renders it an outmoded means of learning what’s truly selling and not selling for any genre of music today.

We in the jazz world are used to dealing with disrespect on a constant basis. From ridiculously untrue stereotypes portrayed by Hollywood; from the historically inaccurate Bird directed by Clint Eastwood, to Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Round Midnight with its cheesy romanticized clichés that give the non-jazz educated viewer the impression that jazz is a old man in exile in Paris.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

Anti-jazz propaganda is everywhere. One blogger here says John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” was the “last true jazz recording”; another one there says “jazz is dead”; and on and on. Some of us might complain about Whiplash (which portrays a supposed “jazz instructor” who resorts to physical violence and humiliation in order to inspire his students to greater heights) or some disrespectful comments about Wayne Shorter. But the jazz world moves on fast.

There’s music to be made and we knew the odds were stacked up against us from the very start. But none of it will ever be as potent and as focused as the music, which keeps on growing and swinging. Sure we struggle, but that moment when everyone is playing beyond themselves and challenging one another on the bandstand or in the studio is the true reward and enough to drown out all of the bullshit.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis

Jazz is about being in the moment. A perfect moment even born out of an imperfection or two, depending on the day and the many moods of the players involved. Jazz, at its best is total honesty and clarity. No images of violence, junkies dying in Paris street alleys, or uninformed blogs can take that away from the music.

With all of that said: I truly hope that Jazz Appreciation Month will support and encourage more positive images of the music and the musicians. With or without the negativity, jazz will last forever.

To find out more about Jazz Appreciation Month click HERE, and to find out about International Jazz Day on April 30 click HERE.

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


CD Review: Dave Stryker’s “Messin’ With Mister T”

March 25, 2015

By Devon Wendell

What could be better than guitarist Dave Stryker and his famed organ trio (Jared Gold: Hammond B3 organ, and McClenty Hunter: drums with Mayra Casales guesting on Percussion) paying tribute to Stryker’s ex-employee and mentor, the legendary tenor sax giant Stanley Turrentine? On Messin’ With Mister T (Strikezone), Stryker has assembled an all-star lineup of some of the finest tenor sax players in jazz to do just that.

And the results are marvelous. Although Turrentine passed away 15 years ago; his spirit is felt throughout this loving homage.

Stryker and the band kick things off with a stellar take on Turrentine’s “La Place Street” with Houston Person blowing for “Mr. T.” At times, Person’s fat, warm, bluesy tone and phrasing are very similar to Turrentine’s style. Stryker’s fluid and melodic arpeggios weave in and out of the melody with elegance and soul. Gold’s B3 playing is reminiscent of Jack Mcduff and Groove Holmes in that it is rhythmic yet subtle and funky.

Let’s check out the action on all the other tracks.

Mike Lee is the featured tenor player on Michel Legrand’s mid-tempo ballad; “Pieces Of Dreams.” Lee’s playing is sweet and economical. Stryker is the shinning star on this number, with some thoughtful, understated, and swinging guitar phrasing.

Don Braden plays it cool without venturing too far from the melody line on the album’s title track, which is a straight blues.

An absolute album highlight is hearing Jimmy Heath blowing his soul out on Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.” Heath and Stryker never play a note or phrase that doesn’t belong exactly where these men have so masterfully placed them.

urrentine, Freddie Hubbard and others.

Dave Stryker with Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine and others in New York City in June 1987.

Chris Potter seams to get better and better every time he picks up his horn. His playing on John Coltrane’s “Impressions” is daring, original, and hard swinging.
Hunter’s drumming drives the band and goes into strong be-bop mode.

But a rendition of Freddie Hubbard’s “Gibraltar” is an unusual choice for a Turrentine tribute. Although Bob Mintzer plays some strong tenor lines, this arrangement goes a little too far into smooth jazz turf for my liking.

Like Chris Potter, Eric Alexander is always on the move and constantly developing his style. His playing on Milton Nascimento’s “Salt Song” is no exception. Stryker’s guitar lines dance and swing with the Brazilian percussion rhythms laid down by Mayra Casales.

Javon Jackson and the band stay true to that jazz-soul sound on Turrentine’s “Sugar.” You can feel Jackson reeling himself in so as not to over-blow, which would not fit this particular piece, which is more about groove than hard-bop acrobatics.

That groove feel continues on “Sidesteppin” featuring Steve Slagle, who really lays back with the band on this funky Stryker original.

Completing the album is a brilliant reading of Turrentine’s “Let It Go.” Tivon Pennicott’s tenor explorations are the most adventurous on the whole album. Pennicott’s bop playing pushes the band to greater heights and soon everyone is cooking like they should. Stryker’s guitar attack is more percussive and daring.

Messin’ With Mister T (the album will be released by Strikezone Records on April 7th) is a soulful, well thought out tribute album to one of the greats. Stanley Turrentine would surely be proud of Stryker and all of the truly dedicated musicians who gave their all on this delightful project.

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


An Appreciation: Clark Terry

February 23, 2015

By Devon Wendell

There’s no way my piece on Clark Terry will be as journalistic and informative as my boss Don Heckman’s was in the L.A. Times obituary, but I had to say something about the master himself, in my own way.

I can’t imagine life without Clark Terry. That tone on the trumpet and flugelhorn was so warm and clean that it caressed and nurtured you out of the darkness. His phrasing swung harder than life but not in a flashy fashion. Terry’s lines were elegant, sly, and precise. They were perfect.

I grew up on Clark Terry. The first record I heard with Terry on it was Ellington At Newport from 1956. But it was Terry’s 1957 masterpiece on Riverside Records; Serenade To A Bus Seat that got me hooked. Like Coleman Hawkins, Terry came from the big band era and wasn’t afraid of the be-bop and hard bop schools of thinking and playing. Serenade To A Bus Seat is proof of that. Terry burns through Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” with confidence and soul along with bop masters Johnny Griffin, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. The entire album stays at that level of brilliance.

Clark Terry

Terry didn’t just go along with the changing music scenes, he added to them. A rarely spoken of gem and one of my all-time favorite recordings from the late ‘50s hard bop era is In Orbit, recorded with Thelonious Monk. Terry and Monk (along with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones) play some of the most beautifully twisted blues you’ll ever hear in your life. Neither musician is trying to reinvent the wheel here; they are just having fun and swinging beyond belief.

I got to meet Clark Terry at The Village Vanguard in NYC sometime in the mid-‘90s.  He wasn’t performing. Johnny Griffin was on the bill that night and I spotted Terry seated close to the bandstand.

After the show I nervously approached him and he joked, told stories of Duke, Basie, Miles, and the music business. He may be the kindest person I had met up to that time in the music business. I had worked with so many narcissistic jerks that Terry’s presence was warm and sweet, just like his sound. His smile and sense of humor were larger than life.

Of course I’m sad that Clark Terry has passed on and I send my deepest prayers and condolences to his family.  But I’ve got the album Top And Bottom Brass playing loud as I write this and stacks upon stacks of other classic Clark Terry recordings that I’ll be playing all night so I feel great. This man left us with so much to cherish and learn from and nothing can take that away.

Rest in Peace Clark Terry.

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


CD Review: Bob Dylan “Shadows in the Night”

February 10, 2015

By Devon Wendell

 

I doubt I’ll be buying Shadows in the Night, the latest Bob Dylan album. Aside from Love And Theft, his albums since the late ’90s have lacked the vocal phrasing that made Dylan so great. Some of them sound as if he recorded the vocals using a click track set to different songs.

 

I  don’t mind the raspiness of his vocals but the timing has been off for a while. And if you’re going to tackle Sinatra, timing and perfect phrasing are everything.

 

 

And we don’t need yet another minor key blues dirge about being old and miserable, though boomer consumerism and nostalgia know no bounds. So this baby will sell and at least get that generation into more sophisticated compositions and arrangements.

 

 

Hey Bob, try an album of Edith Piaf covers. Those dim-wits at Rolling Stone will give 4 or 5 stars to anything you do.

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To read more posts and essays by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE


2014 Remembered: A Year Of Funk

December 30, 2014

By Devon Wendell

2014 was a strange year for music. I recall thinking to myself halfway through The Playboy Jazz Festival in June; “Okay, so everyone is going funk now. Wynton Marsalis’ head would explode!” To many jazz purists, funk is considered to be sellout music.

Critics and fans freaked out when Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock adapted the influence of James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton into their music. And it’s still a topic of debate.

Good funk, real funk thumbs its nose at people and musical genres that take themselves too seriously and engage in sniveling, purist nitpicking. Funk also incorporates jazz, blues, rock, pop, country, gospel, hip-hop and disco. Anything can be thrown into the funk stew if you’re sincere about it. Funk is more than a musical genre; it’s an attitude and lifestyle that makes the wildest of rockers look like squares. Primarily, funk is about shaking your ass with pride.

George Clinton

George Clinton

2014 was the year that George Clinton released the first Funkadelic album in 33 years. First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate features 33 songs, a song for ever year that there wasn’t a Funkadelic release. This may be Clinton’s most adventurous recording since 1972’s America Eats Its Young. George is accompanied by such P-Funk veterans as Rodney “Skeet” Curtis, Michael Hampton, Blackbyrd Mcknight, Michael B. Patterson, Garrett Shider, Kendra Foster, and dozens more. The music is very diverse on this record.
Funkadelic of today tackles electronica, hip-hop, heavy metal, and neo-soul with that one of a kind, in your face, over the top George Clinton attitude.

Sly Stone is also featured on 4 tracks on this 3 plus hour package of glorious filth. Clinton even uses the auto-tune effect the way Sly Stone and Roger Troutman used a talk-box several decades ago. To enhance the music, not correct it.

Prior to the album’s release, George Clinton released his first ever memoir along with writer Ben Greenman; Brothas Be Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? Which is one of the most compelling and candid musical memoirs ever released. The book shines a light on the many tales and experiences of founding father of Parliament/Funkadelic. Click HERE for my iRoM review.

George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic continue to tour the world, putting on 3-4 hour shows a night.

Cosmic space-bass pioneer Bootsy Collins hit the road again strong in 2014, using the name Bootsy’s Rubber Band again with most of the original Rubber Band members intact. At the age of 63, Bootsy (who played bass and wrote for James Brown and P-Funk on some of their most influential recordings) shows no sign of slowing down. I’m hoping he and the Rubber Band make their way to Los Angeles soon so this funkateer can get down!

Of course, if I didn’t mention Prince’s contributions to funk in 2014, I’d be risking my life!

Prince

Prince

The Purple one released two albums back to back this year; Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age. Prince’s guitar work, vocals, and production are stellar on both releases but I did find these albums to be a bit derivative and sounding a bit too close to Bootsy’s Rubber Band and late ‘70s Funkadelic. These albums are funky, but left me wanting more.

Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

 

 

And then you had pop artist Bruno Mars jumping on the funky band wagon with his “Uptown Funk” collaboration with Mark Ronson. It’s a little too close to James Brown and Zapp for my taste but the public loves it and this may help the pop world take funk more seriously as a genre onto itself.

 

 

 

Last but not least, after a 14 year hiatus from recording, D’Angelo returned with Black Messiah. This may be the most overly hyped release of any record that I’ve witnessed in many years. D’Angelo started out in a neo-soul bag but in recent years, he’s tackled songs by Parliament/Fukadelic during his live shows and grown as a musician, writer, and vocalist.

There’s no doubt that this album owes a lot to Sly & The Family Stone’s darker recording of the early ‘70s (There’s A Riot GoinOn & Fresh) in it’s dissonance. At times it’s too much and the lyrics are inaudible.

D'Angelo

D’Angelo

Songs like “Till It’s Done (Tutu”), “The Charade’, and “1000 Deaths” speak directly to the political climate in America today but I wish I could understand the lyrics more clearly. That Quaalude/Depressed introspective slurred vocal effect was mastered by Sly Stone but Sly’s lyrics were clearer than this. Black Messiah is still undoubtedly funky. The band (called “The Vanguard”)features some of the greatest musicians in the world from Questlove Thompson from The Roots on drums, master session player Pino Palladino on bass, to trumpeter Roy Hargrove on trumpet, and P-Funk’s Kendra Foster on vocals. Foster also co-wrote seven of the albums tracks. Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest is also a credited writer.

Some people love D’Angelo’s “comeback” album and many others are on the fence but the same can be said about Funkadelic’s latest. As George Clinton has said; “Funk is like a fine wine, it gets better with age” so time will tell how well these records fare with fans.

So 2014 was one funky year, in more ways than one. Musically, some bold statements were made by some bold artists. Funk is still the most sampled music in hip-hop and you hear the music’s influence in rock, jazz, blues, and soul. Although the music industry has treated funk as a novelty since the ‘70s, it will now be forced to look at it as a serious art form that is constantly developing and moving into many diverse directions.

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To read more posts and essays by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE


A Twist Of Doc: “Where Is The Love?”

October 12, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

Los Angeles, CA.  Okay, so I’ve been a professional music journalist for about 6 years now. I’ve witnessed quite a lot of change in that time in dealing with publicists and well, not all of it has been good.

It’s always been cool to poo-poo the press. Somehow many musicians and artists alike see us as being “The Man” or representing the establishment and not being able to “get the artist.” Recently I even heard the term “jazz police,” which refers to a circle of mostly New York based jazz critics that have control over who becomes big and who doesn’t. Only paranoid, bitter jazz musicians could dream up something so preposterous.

If only we had that power or any power at all for that matter in 2014.

When I first started writing for Don Heckman and The International Review Of Music, the publicists at live venues would adhere to any requests that I would make. I never asked for much, simply a set list and the list of any and all band members of an act that didn’t have that info posted or updated anywhere on the internet. Sometimes I’d ask the artist in person, through Facebook, or their website, and they were just thrilled to help out.

Now all of that has changed. My audience has grown all over the world, but I’ve got to ask you publicists: Where is the love? Even some of the same festivals that I starting covering 6 years ago are now less than helpful and even less than friendly. I won’t name names because they might sick their goons on me and I try to live a safe, goon free life.

With that said, let’s agree that we need each other and yes, I appreciate that plus one so I can bring my girlfriend to the shows. This also goes for you labels out there. It wouldn’t hurt some of you to send me your new releases before the actual release date now would it? Maybe for a blurb or two, remember? Again, I said some of you. Many of you get them to me early and even enclose a nice letter and plenty of info on the CD. But let’s all try a little harder to lift each other up.

Yes, I may sound like an overly optimistic dreamer in believing that this world can change. But that’s just my nature. I’ll hold out for that old time love as long as I can.


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