Friday, July 25, 2014

Reg Kehoe, the Marimba Queens... and that bass

Source: ... tapewrekcs ...
Although posterity is, generally, a just filter, it's still a filter. Like the scale of a map reproduces geography, it simplifies and narrows reality. Therefore, whatever reaches us music fans from the past is just a modicum of material with almost undeniable artistic value but subject to legal and corporate considerations: who has the material, and whether they have the rights to publish it. Or the resources. Or the will to do it.

Let this solemn introduction give way to what will be the most absurd video ever in these pages. In 1944 (according to IMDB), percussionist Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens, recorded the fourth and last segment of a soundie (the grandfather of video clips) entitled A Study in Brown, directed by Ben K. Blake for the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America. The orchestra was formed by Kehoe, seven percussionist ladies, plus the exuberant double bassist Frank Di Nunzio, Sr. There's not much left to say regarding the music. As for their popularity, they are mentioned in several issues of Billboard, mostly in the 1940s.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Remembering Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter

"I just hope I’m remembered as a good blues musician."
—Johnny Winter, just a month ago, here.

With his mane of white hair and willowy constitution, Johnny Winter was very easy to spot. He was also one of the true electric guitar heroes. He's passed away while on tour in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 16 according to his representative. He was 70.

Given his longevity and visibility, there'll be obituaries everywhere summarizing his life, his ups and downs, and his music. For many, especially the followers of less amplified musics, he could be loud and strident. His mid-1980s LPs, victims to the mastering practices of the time, are a good instance of that brittle, piercing sound. Still exciting blues and rock'n'roll if you ask me. Like so.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Goodbye, Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden 1937-2014
(source: his own website)

Charlie Haden was the unlikely bassist. A product of the Grand Ole Opry, of all places, he became the young, fresh, white face of the "new thing" in 1959, when Ornette Coleman opened at the Five Spot in NYC on Tuesday, November 17th. The chronicles tell a tale of "everybody" checking out the new group, from Willem De Kooning to Leonard Bernstein, and Haden himself has told how he played with his eyes closed in front of such an imposing jury of bass players as Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware, and Percy Heath, among others.

Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman's Quartet in 1960

Since then, during his long and fruitful career, Haden proved to be extremely adaptable: he played and recorded with everybody. There seems to be, in his approach to music, a sort of universal root that enabled him to connect with anyone. At the same time, he wasn't afraid to speak his mind, as he did with his four Liberation Music Orchestra albums, and yet everybody seemed to love him.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dizzy in Antwerp '59

Dizzy Gillespie, Teddy Stewart - Antwerp, Belgium, 1959

Things that pop up on the internet: in September 1959, Dizzy Gillespie was touring Europe with his regular quintet, under the auspices of George Wein and his Newport Festival organization, in the company of a few musicians from an older generation. By the look of it—there's not so much information about the event at hand—the last date of the tour took place in Antwerp, Belgium, where the footage below was filmed. The first bit was broadcast in 1960 on French TV.

In his biography, Wein highlights two points about this tour: first, it showed him a lesson on how Europe worked at the time (a lesson with a price tag of $30,000), and second, in his long and illustrious career, it was the first time ever he felt he'd gained the trust of a great musician, namely Dizzy Gillespie, something he only became aware of thanks to the long time both his and Dizzy's spouse spent together on the road.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Following Eric Dolphy

For all the lack of audience and shaky economic prospects, your average jazz musician is someone who works very hard to master their instrument and knows music theory inside out. Even if it doesn't permeate all of it, there is, within jazz, an honourable tradition of art for art's sake, of the fight against oneself and the infinite choices offered by music and sound. In more detail, the profile of a jazz musician as a young person today would be someone who got started early in music, has gone through “classical” studies of some sort, is a versatile virtuoso with their instrument, and will have to go through New York City at some point of their lives as some sort of validation.

Just like Eric Dolphy.

Eric Dolphy by Naiel Ibarrola

Dolphy, together with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane (he worked with both), was the most influential “reedman” to come up in the early 1960s. Be it on flute or, especially, on alto sax and bass clarinet, he established a way of playing that still sounds contemporary. By what can be heard today, I suspect that Dolphy has at least a comparable following among musicians, even though Coleman and Coltrane are more visible figures in the canon. But posterity is fickle.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The joy of Horace

Horace Silver pictured in 1989 by Dimitri Savitski (Wikipedia)

Since back in 2007 when bassist Christian McBride made a passing comment on Horace Silver's Alzheimer, his passing yesterday was not unexpected news (so much so, that a rumour became news and spread like fire earlier in the year).

There are very fine obits around (like this one) about Silver's wonderful life, so we'll skip that.

His legacy, what remains after the man's gone, is phenomenal. As a piano player, his style was very rhythmic (watch out for that left hand, which can also be heard in contemporaries such as John Williams and Eddie Costa) and somewhat sketchy, as if he was dotting down ideas for new compositions as he was playing them. A prolific composer and a tasking leader, his music was lively, bluesy, gutsy, churchy, with feeling.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The drums of bossa nova

Marketing has gone truly global. At least for those of us living in the Western world and glued to a screen with access to the internet, there are trends that everybody seem to subscribe to, at least for a minute.

Right this minute, there are two trends leading to Brazil, one the biggest in the world, the other just a musical footnote. The latter is about the 50th anniversary of the release of Getz/Gilberto (never mind all the empty blurbs — it is a masterpiece), which may give the impression that bossa-nova is all Brazil ever had to offer musically (it isn't) or even that it didn't really blossom till the Americans got involved in it.

Again, publicity-wise that may be true, but musically nothing surpasses João Gilberto's first three albums recorded between 1959 and 1961 back in Brazil. And even for the Americans, things didn't really take off until, after a few trials on their own, they got the Brazilians involved, which made the difference between great (like Stan Getz's album with Charlie Byrd) and a masterpiece.

Listening to Jazz/Samba and Getz/Gilberto, there's one huge difference between the two albums. Whereas for the former it seemed necessary to have two drummers to reproduce Brazilian rhythms (and the percussion gets quite heavy), there's only one drummer on the latter, and what he does is a wonder of subtlety and dynamics. It's Washington D.C. v. Rio de Janeiro; Deppenschmidt & Reichenbach v. Banana.

Milton Banana (c. 1979)

When I first read the name Milton Banana as the drummer in Getz/Gilberto, I thought it was a joke. It was actually the alias of Antônio de Souza (1935-1998), who not only played on Getz/Gilberto, but also on João Gilberto's first LP, which established what we know as bossa. He was the original bossa-nova drummer.