Friday, December 16, 2011

Portrait of Ella

I'm with Diz on this one.

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, New York, circa. Sept. 1947. Photograph by William Gottlieb for Downbeat. (From the Library of Congress archives)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wanted: Magic Bassist

Spotted this recently on Seattle-Tacoma Craigslist Talent Gigs and had to share.
Established band with a lot of original material and more always being created. Practice in Bellevue at Evolution studios 2-3 night a week. Looking for a solid, creative bass player with his/her own unique voice to add to our music. This IS NOT a hobby band.

The right person for this band will possess a burning desire to be on the road touring, recording albums and playing in front of thousands of people every night. Someone who eats, sleeps and drinks bass would be nice.

For now though, at the local level, we need someone who can be available at a moments notice to play a show and is ready to move quickly when it comes to promotion, getting a video done (whatever is needed) and traveling out of state for a gig (most likely just the west coast for this year)

You must have a job, money, transportation, professional equipment and a vision of the future. You must be the type who never thinks he is good enough and strives to be better, always. You must be willing to work to give the best live experience for the audience that's possible. You must be able to do improvisational jamming.

We don't give a f*** what your age is. We don't give a f*** what you look like. As long as you are an honest, responsible, hard-working musician/person then that's about 40% of the battle.

The remaining 60% is the ability to express yourself through your instrument. If you happen to like guys such as John Paul Jones, Geddy Lee, Phil Lynott and Stanley Clarke then well, I think there is a good chance this will work. Really though, it doesn't matter who you are influenced by. Just be good and getting better.

We prefer to bring someone in the first time to just jam with us. No pre-listening to the music. If we like each other and think it may work we will give you a CD to learn from and we may even show you some tunes while we are jamming. Who knows what may happen. Just be flexible enough to handle it. We will book the room in one hour blocks to get a feel for the situation. If it is apparent within the first few minutes that it won't work we will kindly ask you to leave. No hard feelings. It's just business. And we expect you to do the same. If it feels good and sounds good we will jam for the whole hour.

We are a ROCK band and I like to consider it 70's rock with a heavy groove and modern sensibilities.

No slouches, f*** ups, drug addicts, narrow minds or mooches.

No, thank you.

Image above Air Guitar Hero by DavidDMuir.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mel on Louis

So I'm on a Mel Torme jag. Sue me.

I'm reading his book My Singing Teachers: Reflections on Singing Popular Music (Oxford University Press, no less, 1994), which includes this anecdote about Louis Armstrong:
I got to know Louis over the years and found him to be a warmhearted, loving man. He had a great pride in himself and his accomplishments, particularly his role as unofficial goodwill ambassador from America to the world.

He had a great sense of humor, sometimes biting, sometimes self-deprecating. I remember once, when I was playing the Paramount theater in New York, he came bounding up the stairs to say hello to some musicians on the floor above my dressing room. I yelled at him: “Hey Louis, what's happening?”

He bounced back into my doorway, grinned that Chinese grin of his, and said: “White folks still in the lead.”
Next book in the stack: Terry Teachout's Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong.

[Photo of Armstrong from 1946 by William P. Gottlieb from the Gottlieb Collection at the Library of Congress Flickr Feed.]

Friday, February 4, 2011

Crushing the Velvet Frog

A publicist dubbed Mel Torme "The Velvet Fog" sometime in the late 1940s for the singer's signature smooth style. Torme hated the nickname, but it clung to him like ivy, as the poet once said, like a slug to a garden path, like toilet paper to a shoe, like a dryer sheet to a polyester pantsuit.

Torme would later joke about his "velvet frog voice." So it's hard to tell whether some drudge toiling away deep in the bowels of picked up on Mel's joke (see screen capture above). Or was just being sloppy. Probably the latter (although that person did go to the trouble of adding a diacritical mark to the final vowel of "Torme" up in the title tag, even if it is pointed in the wrong direction. But I obsess, and digress.)

According to my sources at the retail behemoth, this "bug" has been noted in the system and should one day soon be corrected. But maybe it would make Mel's ghost happier to let his joke stand. He does seem to have come to terms with the moniker, later titling his 1988 autobiography It Wasn't All Velvet.

Whether the Velvet is Foggy or Froggy, “The Very Best of Mel Torme” is an amazing deal. Fifty songs by one of the greatest vocalists who ever lived (and if his autobiography is remotely accurate, boy, did he ever live), working some of the best arrangers of the 20th century, all for $6.99. Smooth, man, real smooth.

Recommended reading:
"Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Dek-tette" by Thomas Cunniffe

(Special thanks to Queenie Sunshine for the dryer sheet simile.)

UPDATE: The bug report was entered on 31 January. As of 8 Feb, the page is still froggy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Russ Long Rides Again

The music of Russ Long got another public airing recently, this time in Topeka, Kan., an hour west of the pianist's home town of Kansas City, Mo. Arranged for septet by Long's long-time bandmate Gerald Spaits, the bakers dozen tunes included the pianist's most widely known, Save That Time.

Long died just over five years ago, after a long illness, but not before recording the septet arrangements for the appropriately-titled album Time To Go. Here's an interview I did with Spaits shortly after the album came out.

Or listen here:

I did my best to agitate for a performance of Time To Go as part of a Russ Long tribute for the Folly Theater's Jazz Season. Didn't happen. But it still could. And would still be fitting.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Sakamoto Brings the Noise

If you find yourself in possession of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s new album Out of Noise, here’s my advice: Get on a train.

A deluxe edition of Out of Noise is being released in the US by Decca (dropping 28 September) with a companion CD, Playing the Piano, which came out last year. Playing the Piano contains a dozen solo piano versions of earlier Sakamoto compositions (“self-covers,” he calls them, including themes from The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, and The Sheltering Sky) performed by Sakamoto himself. Despite a bit of banging and pounding here and there, it’s all pretty easy on the ears.

Out of Noise
is another matter. The new disc also features a dozen tracks, all exploring the hazy area where noise morphs into music, and music disintegrates into noise.

All of which makes Out of Noise more of a challenge for the ear. I don’t think I helped myself much by loading both Playing the Piano and Out of Noise onto my iPod and attempting to listen to both at a go. Playing the Piano ends with Bolerish, from the soundtrack of Brian DePalma’s Femme Fatale. Out of Noise opens with hibari, a solo piano piece as peaceably formal, at first, as anything on Playing the Piano. But soon the rhythm seems to stutter and notes begin to enter the chords at odd angles. After an hour of flowing melody, I found myself in choppy waters and wanting to crawl ashore.

Out of Noise is a different experience taken on its own terms, something I discovered by chance a few weeks ago on the 7:30 train from Seattle to Portland. As we clicked through a foggy landscape of back yards and parking lots and blurring trees, I started hibari and found it transformed into a meditation exercise. Indeed, “meditation exercise” seems like the best way to describe Out of Noise, one that has the world around us as it’s object.

A few of the tracks feel formally composed. hwit and still life feature the pristine bowing of early music group Fretwork, and to stanford is another solo piano composition, but most feel more like soundscapes where human elements (guitars, voices, etc) are more likely emerge and recede. The most affecting of these, glacier, incorporates recordings of Sakamoto’s 2008 trip to Greenland with Cape Farewell’s Disko Bay climate change research expedition. Sakamoto has involved himself in ecological issues in recent years and it’s hard not to feel, especially in this piece, a painful sense of the climate we know and depend on melting away.

[Here's a video of glacier, complete with climate change factoids]

Curiously, a neighbor's barking dog or a passing truck fit into the flow of this music in a way they wouldn't in a Haydn symphony or even a Philip Glass arpeggio fest. (The first time through firewater I had to pause it to make sure that the barking I heard was indeed the cocker spaniel down the street. Later, I almost missed the pooch.)

It’s inspiring to see a master like Sakamoto continue to stretch himself with new challenges and new collaborators like Christian Fennesz, Keigo Oyamada, multi-instrumentalist Skuli Sverrisson. That said, Sakamoto the composer, Sakamoto the ordering intelligence, is who emerges through all the noise.

Not everything works, at least for me. The track in the red includes samples of human voices--most prominently an older black man’s saying things like, “I just feel like, you know...” and “...a little lost, but...” against a gently pulsing background of ambient noise and a keyboard. Sadly, the intent here is too obvious and isn’t taken far enough. It’s hard not to hear an echo of Primitive Radio Gods’ more overt Phone Booth. Likewise, the Reichian jibber jabber of composition 0919, which closes the album, sounds like something one robot would create to annoy another robot and made me want to break plates, and not in the happy Greek way. Strange too, that minimalism should feel like such a throwback at this point.

It’s also inspiring to see Sakamoto sticking to the album concept for Out of Noise, with the separate pieces arranged deliberately and flowing on a set course. It’s inspiring to see any artist do that, although it also feels quixotic to do so in the track-skipping musical landscape we live in. Yet another climate to be saved.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

TNLD Podcast 003: Stan Kessler of The Sons of Brasil

The Sons of Brasil have been bringing the bossa (and samba and other styles of Brazilian music) to audiences in Kansas City for almost 20 years. So who cares if none of them are Brazilian?

The Sons of Brasil released While You Were Out, their second CD in 2009. I talked with one of the founding Sons, trumpeter/composer Stan Kessler, about the group's love of Brazilian music, how they got started, and how the group's dynamic has evolved over the years.

Huge tip o' the TNLD hat to Stan Kessler.


Download TNLD podcast 003 [right-click, save-as]

Cuts featured in this podcast are:
  • Joao (Kessler)
  • Bala Com Bala (Bosco, arranged by Kessler)
  • Salvador (Kessler)
The Sons of Brasil are:
Stanton Kessler - Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Danny Embrey - Guitars
Roger Wilder - Piano/Synthesizer
Greg Whitfield - Bass
Doug Auwarter - Drums/Percussion
Gary Helm - Percussion
With Luiz Orsano - Percussion
I would love to hear any feedback you have. Leave it in the comments or email it to

Finally, a loudly hollered thank you to Jake Blanton for our theme music. Jake, wherever you are, you are awesome (but you already knew that).