Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: The Shape of Words To Come

July 17, 2015

Brick Wahl

By Brick Wahl

To me jazz and language are pretty much one and the same. Same rules, and same lack thereof. Everything you can do in jazz you can do with language. I listen to jazz players and words stream through my head with the music. Sometimes it’s visual – I can see the words pour out of the bell of a saxophone, weaving crazy narratives that match notes with words and fill the room with jazz and language. Maybe that’s not normal, I know, but I see it. Words and notes, melodies and narratives, syncopation and stress, meter and, well, meter. Back to the head, end of paragraph.

Language is this amazingly flexible thing you can just totally mess with. You can be as creative as you want with it. But people are so obsessed with using only the right words, the right grammar, the right spellings. But who the hell decides what is right? It changes every generation. A few years ago alright made people crazy. Before that it was altogether. Before that it was already. Just about every alsomething was all something, and people raged and raged but they died and the two words became one word as they mouldered in the grave unable to say a word in protest.



I say talk however you want. Write however you want. Even spell however you want. I say language is a living thing, not something dead and rulebound and not supposed to change ever. I think it is supposed to change always. It will change always, as it always has. I say everything your English teacher taught you was wrong.

Language is expression and language is jazz and jazz means freedom. What Ornette Coleman did with jazz, you can do with words.

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To read more of Brick Wahl’s essays on his web site click HERE.


Ornette Coleman: An Appreciation

June 12, 2015

by Brick Wahl

A jazz promoter asked a fascinating question:
Do you think Bird would have dug Ornette? I have wondered about this. Not that Bird is the ultimate arbiter of good and bad, but Ornette was arguably the next major innovator in the music and Bird died JUST before Ornette came on the national scene.

And the consensus was yes, Bird would have dig it.



But I think maybe the commentators, nearly all of them jazz musicians, were looking at this from our own perspective today, thinking Bird thinks like we do. I’m not so sure. Bird might have appreciated it, as a concept, maybe, but I think he wouldn’t have liked the delivery. Ornette was a huge jump from be bop, a totally different philosophy. Bird was reworking the rules of swing, but still within the rules. Ornette rejected those rules. That is a gigantic conceptual leap and there’s no reason to assume that Bird would have dug it. Don’t forget Max Roach punched Ornette out, sucker punched him, it’s said, in the green room after a set. Max was not pleased.

I remember when I used to have long conversations with old be boppers – they’re few and far between now – I was struck by their conservatism, jazz-wise. It’s a generational difference. I’m not so sure that Bird would have been able to reject his own ideas and embrace Ornette’s rejection of be bop. Revolutionaries rarely accept the next revolution, especially as it is nearly always a reaction to what they had themselves created. Today we still see Louis Armstrong as a reactionary, as revolutionary as he was, because he loathed be bop and all it represented. I doubt Bird would have hated Ornette, but I can’t see him taking it too seriously.

I’m not a jazz musician, though, so I really don’t know. I’m just riffing, off on a tangent, doing my own thing. The ideas come and the words just flow with them. Let go of the narrative and let pure free thought express itself, see where it goes. That seems appropriate somehow.

So long, Ornette.

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.

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Quincy Jones photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

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

Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Checking Out Charmaine Clamor’s New CD

February 23, 2014

By Brick Wahl

Heard several tracks in progress from Charmaine Clamor’s new recording recently. Quite a selection of tunes – none of the usual jazz standards at all.

Charmaine Clamor

Charmaine Clamor

Instead there’s a remarkable take on “Imagine” (a tune that rarely survives covering) propelled by some really striking rhythmic piano by Laurence Hobgood. There’s a surprising ”O Shenandoah,” a George Harrison tune, a Carole King, a take (in Spanish) on a Mercedes Sosa tune, which she nails, and at long last she’s recorded her knock out interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Very passionate vocals even by Charmaine’s standard – that’s always been her thing, the passion – and she’s showing subtleties untapped till now. The sound is full and warm and rich. This thing has crossover potential I think (KCRW and that end of the dial definitely) without selling out to commercialism even one iota.

Ernie Watts by the way, sits in and kills it, and drummer Abe Lagrimas picks up the ukulele in about as uncliched way as you can imagine. One of my favorite pianists around town, Andy Langham, even takes the bench for a couple numbers. And while I can’t say enough about Hobgood’s presence here, it’s Charmaine’s record through and through, it’s her feel, even on the instrumental passages it never gets away from her.  Anyway, I totally dug it.

This is major label stuff if I ever heard it.

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The album, which will be titled “The Better Angels,” will be released soon.

Photo by Faith Frenz

To read more fascinating essays from Brick Wahl, check out his personal web by clicking HERE.

An Appreciation: George Jones (1931 – 2013)

April 28, 2013

He Stopped Loving Her Today

By Brick Wahl

I’ve never told anyone this before, but there was a two week stretch there maybe a decade and a half ago when I must have listened to “He Stopped Loving Her Today” a hundred times. Over and over. Once turned to twice turned to thrice turned to twenty times. I couldn’t tell you why, but there I was, in the dark, maybe a little stoned, George Jones singing this most perfect song ever in a tone I knew I could never match in words even if I spent a lifetime trying.

George Jones

George Jones

I met a trumpet player once, a fine jazz musician, a bebopper, who confessed to me over a couple whiskeys that he wished he could play like George Jones sang. The other jazzers kind of laughed nervously, unsure what to say. I said nothing. I knew exactly what he meant.

I started writing this a verse or two into the tune. A couple sentences later I spun it again. And again. He stopped  loving her today fades, a piano descends five notes, strings disappear way into the background and are gone. They’re Nashville strings but you couldn’t tell here, they’re so subtle, the band is so subtle too, the drummer swings the thing like a funeral dirge. Which it is. They placed a wreath upon his door.

I had a fight with the wife once, said things I wish I hadn’t, hid in the living room in the dark, and kept thinking about those letters by his bed, all the I love you’s underlined in red.  I played the song. Played it again. Again. I went into the bedroom and said I love you. It was underlined in red.  In my mind I mean, three little words underlined in red.

This might sound like the dumbest thing you ever heard, but then I’m not talking to you people. I’m talking to the people who heard George Jones finally died, the ol’ Possum, and found themselves singing they left a wreath upon his door. You knew you would too. And you knew you’d cry just a little. Which you did. He stopped loving her today.

To screen a video of George Jones and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” click HERE.

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To read more Brick Wahl posts on his personal web site click HERE

Brick Wahl Keeping It Real: Charlie Parker’s Alto

January 19, 2013

By Brick Wahl

There’s was a piece in the  L.A. Times recently about an auction in Hollywood. Cool stuff like you can’t believe. I’ll pass on Norma Shearer’s monogrammed silk sheets, no matter who was on them. And speaking of Jimmy Stewart, they have one of his beds too, stretched extra long, which I can dig. But then I have a bed.

I’ll be bidding on Charlie Chaplin’s top hat and cane, though. The hat wouldn’t fit me, but maybe he gave Paulette Goddard a playful swat with that cane as she soaked in the rays on the deck. That was that wanton excursion to Catalina. They claimed they’d been married but nobody believed it.  Like it mattered what they thought. Charlie Chaplin was an American hero…no, a god. Paulette an absolute doll. I’d give the hat a toss and it would land square on the hat stand here behind me with movie star perfection. The cane I’d hold onto, grasping it as Charlie Chaplin might have grasped it.

I’ll be sure to bid on Bing’s boater, too…maybe he shared a reefer with Satchmo under that very brim. They used to get so high together. Probably not the same straw hat, though.  Bob Hope would have sat on that one already, then the camel would talk, and Dorothy Lamour sing. But it’s fun to think of Bing Crosby stoned. Might explain those slow crooning tempos.

Here at home our 32nd anniversary is coming so my wife gets Jimi Hendrix’s turquoise jewelry.

As for me, though, what I really want is that alto saxophone pawned by Charlie Parker. I like to think he pawned it in Hollywood, sometime between setting his hotel room on fire and wandering around the lobby naked. Maybe he even pawned it naked. Probably not, but who knows? Who cares? It’s Charlie Parker’s alto saxophone. I’ll go top dollar on that.

Well I would go top dollar, but I just spent all my money on rent and a six pack.

That sax solo stare –- Charlie Parker (with Tommy Potter) from a NYC date in the late ’40′s.  You listen to Bird today, 65 years later, and he still sounds radical.

To read Brick Wahl’s personal blog, click HERE.



Live Jazz: The Jon Mayer Trio at H.O.M.E.

January 10, 2013

By Brick Wahl

Beverly Hills, CA.  Saw Jon Mayer Tuesday in Beverly Hills at a club called H.O.M.E.  A trio gig, with rock solid down the middle Chris Conner on bass, always good, and Roy McCurdy on drums. They don’t make drummers like Roy anymore. All that power. Not Elvin Jones power, but metrical power, swinging like he swung everybody, Cannonball Adderley and everybody. Jon was playing a huge piano that was last tuned in 1967 or thereabouts but he didn’t seem to have much trouble with it.

I was at Charlie O’s one night — might have been this very same trio — and I was sitting with John Heard back at the bar. Heard was digging Mayer’s playing, totally digging it, and said Mayer was the real thing. “That’s the way they used to play” he told me, “trying stuff on the fly, taking big risks like that. Just pure creativity. They don’t do that anymore.” He said something like that, anyway, back at the bar downing a brandy, me a whiskey. We listened to Mayer working through whatever it was he was aiming at, and I got it.  Heard what John Heard was hearing.  Saw in Jon Mayer’s face that creative process Heard was marveling at.

Jon Mayer

Jon Mayer

Sometimes an idea wouldn’t pan out and Jon would curse to himself and strain a second to rebuild it into something that would work. Fearless improvisation, falling back on nothing but the centrifugal force of pure jazz improvisation to carry it along. It’s like Mayer doesn’t see a beautiful lattice of possible patterns, nothing he learned in school, nothing somebody else did before. That doesn’t even seem to exist to him. He’s not making art, like pianists tend to do anymore, he’s making jazz. Pure jazz.

At H.O.M.E., it was jazz the way it was played in NYC in the 1950’s, when Jon was first gigging. You can imagine the heavy cats he had to play with, play for — hell, there was a session with Trane, even — back when jazz was at its absolute apogee. Those were the days that all jazz musicians look back at now as Olympian, as something jazz players now would give anything to be part of, and Jon Mayer was there, really was. You can hear it in those crazy clustered chords of his, these sensitive yet almost dissonant things he drops in where almost everyone would lay out a straight melodic line. I mean not dropping any huge Monk clomps, not even dropping one handed bombs like McCoy Tyner, but instead turning the melody into pieces, oddly shaped pieces he lays out with spaces between them that distill into single notes that splash on the keys like drops of rain water. He does this even in the most gorgeous tunes, a magnificent “Green Dolphin Street” or something by Tadd Dameron, or something he’s drawn up himself.

I dunno, I find writing about jazz piano impossible, absolutely impossible, and I flail around looking for ways to explain something that I don’t even understand. I wrote about jazz in the LA Weekly for seven years and never did learn how to write about jazz piano. I failed again with this. But Jon Mayer’s piano playing affects me like no other, I just listen in disbelief wondering how his musical thought process works. And I wonder if anyone else in town realizes what a treasure this jazz player is, and why they aren’t lining up to see him. He’s that good.

To read more posts by Brick Wahl on his personal website click HERE.


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