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.

OrnetteColeman

OrnetteColeman

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.


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. 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 250 other followers