A Christmas Jazz Tale

December 24, 2014

by Don Heckman

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the gig was running late;
No sugar plums, no candy canes, just another overtime club date,
Holidays are work days in a jazz musician’s life,
A chance to make some extra bucks to take home to the wife.

Chanukah’s over, Kwaanza starts tomorrow,
The Ramadan fast just ended,  and I’ll forget the others to my sorrow.
If you want to make a living in the music world these days,
You’d better learn to celebrate in many different ways.

The clock slowly turned toward the midnight hour,
As we played a jazzed up version of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
We labored on, “White Christmas,” “Frosty” and “Silent Night”;
And I wondered if we’d still be jamming “My Favorite Things” at first light.

But we finally got lucky, as the leader kicked off the last medley.
The singer mauled “The Christmas Song,” a version Mel would have found deadly,
We did the “Jingle Bell Mambo” and the “Drummer Boy Bossa Nova,”
And wrapped it all up, with a rock “Hallelujah” coda.

I packed my horn, gave the guys my best wishes and headed into the night.
The streets were dark and quiet, the stores closed up tight.
Not that it would have mattered, since the gig barely paid the rent,
And whatever I could afford for presents had already been spent.

I walked through the falling snow, filled with memories of Christmas past,
Of marching bands and Christmas parades, of lighted trees and times too good to last.
And I wondered if my kids, when adulthood beckons,
Would remember their holidays with the same sweet affection.

My footsteps led me home to a house warm and cozy,
Where my wife and my children lay innocently dozing.
So I sat for a while in the late night still,
Watching the snow fall gently on the hill.

When I suddenly heard a familiar sound in the distance,
A rhythm section swinging with hard driving persistence.
But this one was strange, something I’d never heard before,
A brisk and spirited clatter I can only describe as hoof beats galore.

Then a new sound, one both familiar yet odd,
Called out through the snowflakes, like a leader commanding a squad.
“On Trane! On Dizzy! On Monk! On Duke!
On Sonny! On Bird! On Miles! On Klook!”

The next thing I heard was just as amazing,
A set of riffs, hard-swinging and blazing,
Played on an instrument that was new to me,
The sting of a trumpet, the silk of a sax, the tone of a bone, all blended with glee.

I ran to the window to see what was coming,
And was met with a sight incredibly stunning,
What looked like a bright red ’57 Chevy,
Pulled through the sky by eight reindeer in a bevy.

They landed in my yard and the driver leaped out;
Grabbing a pack from the back he quickly turned about.
I blinked my eyes at this strange apparition,
His cheeks like Dizzy, his smile like Pops, as natty as Miles, a man on a mission.

“Call me Father Jazz,” he said as he came through the door, “musicians are my specialty.
I’ll even make a stop tonight with a little something for Kenny G.”
Then, opening his pack, he lightly danced to our tree,
Placing presents beneath it, ever so gently.

“There’s a drum set for Alex,” he said, “that kid has great time.
And a guitar for Allegra, ’cause the songs she writes are so fine.
And the books and the wristwatch you wanted for your wife,
That you couldn’t afford, living a jazz musician’s life.”

This is way too weird, I thought, it must be a dream;
Something like this is too good to be what it seems.
“Oh, it’s the real deal,” said Father Jazz, with a riff-like snap of his fingers.
“You’re on my list of serious jazz swingers.”

Moving to the doorway he turned back for a final review:
“And if you’re wondering why no box has been left for you,
It’s because your present has already been given.
You know what it is? It’s the spirit that makes your imagination so driven.”

“Musicians like you know that the gift of music is the gift of love.
It’s a gift that can only have come from above.
And those non-jazz Beatles had it right, for all our sakes,
When they said, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make’.”

He bounded lightly through the snow to his flying red Chevy,
Blew a celestial riff on his amazing horn — so heavy!
And urged his team forward with a rallying command,
“On Dizzy! On Bird! On Miles! On Trane!”

As his eager steeds rose into the winter sky,
Father Jazz called out one last stirring cry.
Looking down with a radiant smile and a farewell wave:
“Stay cool, Bro’ and keep the music playing.”

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.

Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Hanging Out With Quincy

April 6, 2014

By Brick Wahl

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

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones

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

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

Brick Wahl

Brick Wahl

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

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

* * * * * * * *

Quincy Jones photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

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

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

May 19, 2012

By Devon Wendell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * *

To read more posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Humor: Allen Mezquida’s Smigly Goes Online

April 8, 2011

By Don Heckman

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

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

Here’s what happens:

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

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

February 21, 2009

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

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

1. “I think we need a trombone”

2. “Did you know my wife sings?”

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

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

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

6. “I want to use my band”

7. “People will dig this”

8. “Its not a tribute”

9. “It is a tribute”

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

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

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

13. “Can my girlfriend co-produce?”

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

have him on this date”

15. “I don’t really need a producer”

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

interested?….do you know anyone there?”

17. “I want to rap on one track”

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


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

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

20. “I am into ‘ambient’ music”

21. “I am into ‘electronica’ music”

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

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

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

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

use the name to ‘sell’ the project?”

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

interested in releasing this?”

Advice to an Unhappy Jazz Piano Accompanist

January 26, 2009

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

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


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