Radio Soulwax compiled 500 guitar riffs in an ADD-friendly, hour-long montage of iconic chug and shreddage*. It's a pretty incredible piece of painstaking stitchwork. Wallow in the nostalgia and/or get turned on to new (old) shit. Either way, you can't lose—unless you just plain hate rock.
*I know it's a year old, but I missed it. You may have, too.
Brazilian illustrator Butcher Billy has a series of drawings featuring post-punk and new-wave icons recontextualized as superheroes. The set includes Morrissey, Siouxsie Sioux, John Lydon, Ian Curtis, Devo, Robert Smith, and Billy Idol recast as comic-book characters you probably read about as a youth. Gawk at the well-wrought pictures here.
Dunno about you, but this seems to me like a very Derek Erdmaniacal project.
Tip: Jason Pettigrew
Being compared with Charlie Parker ain’t too shabby. But, perhaps, when a critic couches it like this—"(He’s) given up all pretence of individuality - I think it’s time he stopped playing Parker and went back to playing Stitt"—it’s bound to sting a little bit.
I doubt Sonny Stitt dwelled on such proclamations too much. The man was busy working with some of the greatest names in jazz history. Stitt’s output as both a bandleader and sideman was nothing if not prolific, appearing on hundreds of records during the course of his 40-year career.
In this gem of an interview from 1965, Stitt offers great personal insights and a clearly thought-out view of what being a professional jazz musician was all about. This particular quote works well as both a creed for playing music (jazz or otherwise) and how to comport yourself through life in general: “You can’t be stepping on people, now-music-wise or any other way. You can dislike what they do, without having to bug the cat who’s doing it. Maybe you can pass a little hint now and then-what he’s doing wrong. But you’re not supposed to try and correct him too much. He’s got a mind of his own. You got two painters-they’re going to paint the same picture. Each sees it in his mind’s eye his own way. So you got two different pictures."
In the same interview, he addresses the comparison to Charlie Parker (whom he had met and with whom he played early on in both of their careers—probably when the aforementioned critic was still in short pants): 'Parker said: “You sound like me.” I said: “Well, you sound like me.” And we agreed: “We can’t help that, can we?” Then we’d go off and get some beer, play some music, or something'
Another fantastic story regarding Stitt's prowess comes from Art Pepper's autobiography. Pepper prefaces the account of Stitt sitting in with his band at San Francisco’s famed Black Hawk and the evening's epic musical battle by likening Stitt to James Joyce and placing him on a pedestal alongside the original alchemists of bebop. The ensuing duel over the changes of “Cherokee” had Stitt soloing first: 'He played, I don’t know, about forty choruses. He played for an hour maybe, did everything that could be done on a saxophone, everything you could play, as much as Charlie Parker could have played had he been there. Then he stopped. And he looked at me. Gave me one of those looks, “All right, suckah, your turn.” And it’s my job; it’s my gig. . . . He’d done all those things, and now I had to put up or shut up or get off or forget it or quit or kill myself or do something. I forgot everything, and everything came out. I played way over my head. I played completely different than he did. I searched and found my own way, and what I said reached the people. I played myself, and I knew I was right, and the people loved it, and they felt it. I blew and I blew, and when I finally finished I was shaking all over; my heart was pounding; I was soaked in sweat, and the people were screaming; the people were clapping, and I looked at Sonny, but he just kind of nodded, and he went, “All right.” And that was it. That’s what it was all about.'
Sonny Stitt was a saxophonist's saxophonist. He is widely cited as an outstanding and innovative player by other important musicians of his era and beyond. His style and chops still hold sway among jazz musicians to this day. You’re learning how to play your horn? You’d better be checking out the ‘Lone Wolf’!
With hype for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories* spiking, now may be a good time to reflect on a live performance from the French duo’s early days—just for stark contrast’s sake.
This 1996 clip from Wisconsin’s Even Furthur festival reveals a unit working with a much rawer, rougher, and ravetastic palette of sounds than heard on Daft Punk’s post Homework releases. Between you and me, I prefer this side of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s oeuvre. It’s unlikely they’ll ever return to this acidic, gritty, meth-y style, but you never know. When you get as big and rich as Daft Punk, you can pretty much do whatever the hell you please (see the Beatles, Radiohead, Steven Soderbergh).
*I’m waiting until the hubbub over RAM subsides before listening to it. I think that will yield a more measured analysis. That's how irrational I am.
Teddy Riley & Blackstreet play Showbox Sodo tonight with Dave Hollister and DJ Kun Luv!
Eventually, there was a struggle for souls between the two modes. Hiphop, which was still young and still trying to break into the mainstream, began attacking the more established black elegance—its line of attack was the perceived effeminacy of escapism. Black men were seen as doing nothing but wearing nice clothes and looking in mirrors (watch a Morris Day video). Real men, according to hiphop, did not wear nice clothes (that was for women and gay men)—instead, they wore military uniforms, tracksuits, and sneakers.
If you want to think about music in terms of "models of similar, interval-preserving, registrally uninterpreted pitch-class and metrically durationally uninterpreted time-point aggregate arrays,” then you really should consult the lifework of Milton Babbitt. Mr. Babbitt is one of the grandfathers of modern electronic music and has left behind an immense career to enjoy and interpret. His contributions to music, the teaching of music and their contemporary implications are worth your scrutiny. No Babbitt = no Aphex Twin? You decide.
Kaoru Abe's career, by contrast, was very short but has left an indelible mark on free music and hard-edged improvisation. A fierce saxophonist in line with Albert Ayler, Peter Brötzmann, Frank Lowe, and other frontline free music players, Abe's work in the early '70s preceded and predicated the burgeoning Japanese noise music proliferation of the late '80s and early '90s. His terrifying squalls fall squarely into lease-breaking territory. Play this stuff loud enough and you will be evicted from your apartment in no time—or, at least, the police will show up to find out whom you are murdering.
Speaking about early experiments with the then-new synthesizers, Babbit said, "I could change certain qualities of a tone while keeping other qualities, like the pitch, consistent. I could hear what I was playing as I was playing it, using trial and error. We had no precedent and we were extrapolating from no known theory. Theories about what could be heard and what couldn't be heard were essentially wrong because they had never been tested in those conditions."
Although Abe was extrapolating from known theories, he leaves behind formalities and his playing becomes purely emotive, the sounds of a screaming soul. In his own words he was seeking "sound that stops the capacity for judgment." Two disparate starting points and two different ends that test the ideas of what can or cannot be heard as music. You decide.
This mash up of Babbitt / Abe by DJ Bold Mushroom is a terrific alignment of the cerebral academic approach to electronic synthesis and the holistic art of fire-breathing improvisation:
"Wes Montgomery played impossible things on the guitar because it was never pointed out to him that they were impossible." ~ Ronnie Scott
Do you play the guitar? Are you a beginner, an advanced player or somewhere in between? Are you a super shredder like Yngwie, Vai or Satriani? A classical guitarist? No matter what your level of expertise, let’s try a little experiment. Pick up your guitar and try playing all the things you know how to play using only your thumb on your picking hand. Easy, right? Congratulations! Now you can play like Wes Montgomery.
Montgomery developed his unorthodox approach simply to keep the volume down when he practiced at home. "My wife came to the door and asked me would I kindly turn that 'thing' off. Well, 'thing'? It was a guitar and amplifier, you know? So I laid my pick down on the amplifier and just fiddled around with the thumb. I said is that better? Oh yes, she says, that's better."
Thanks to Mrs. Montgomery his technique, which has influenced countless guitarists, became so ingrained and second nature that he no longer gave thought to this unusual style of playing. He explains
A friend of mine said: "I was just thinking have you noticed where your thumb moves? " and it was a thought, because I'd been worried about the left hand - the neck. If I looked at that, and it comes out, everything's all right. I really hadn't thought about the right hand before. So I decided: when I go up for the next set, I'm going to watch and see what happens. I let it get started first, then I looked back - and it would stop! Just looking at it - I had a block. So I don't look at it.
While you watch this week’s clip, keep an eye on Wes’s thumb and listen closely to the sounds he produces. Marvel at the apparent ease of his playing style and the gloriously mellow tone of of his guitar. Dig the awesome articulation and speed of his single line leads and groove on the subtlety of his chording and trademark parallel octave runs. It's no wonder his name is on the short list of jazz guitar greats. Wes was and still is the bomb. Treat yourself and spend a little quality time with Wes Montgomery.
The man who, by all accounts, practiced relentlessly to hone his playing to a fine point certainly had a good sense of humor, quipping 'I never practice my guitar - from time to time I just open the case and throw in a piece of raw meat.'
Emile Berliner answers the question of what makes a talking machine talk, clearly and tersely: “Fundamentally it is this,” he says. “Sound thrown against the diaphragm makes it vibrate. If a needle is attached to the center, and made to touch a moving surface, for instance, semi-hard wax, the pointing of the needle will trace or cut sound vibrations into the wax. If now the diaphragm and needle are made to retrace the record, the vibratory tracings previously made will cause the diaphragm to re-vibrate and thereby reproduce the original sound.”
Emile Berliner is the man responsible for the invention of the flat disc record—the very same format that record enthusiasts enjoy to this day. The above quote from Berliner comes from an excellent and well-detailed early history of the phonograph titled "Talking Wax" by Leroy Hughbanks, which you can download here as a PDF file. If you have any interest in the early history of records, this is a wonderfully informative place to start. Another good book on the history of records and the early music industry is "The Fabulous Phonograph" by Roland Gelatt.
This week's clip offers a rare glimpse of a 1937 recording session with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra at Master Records Studio and includes a brief appearance from the marvelous vocalist Ivie Anderson. It is, perhaps, the earliest account preserved on film of how records were recorded, plated, and pressed. The film shows the production of 78 rpm discs, as the Long Playing record or LP and 45 rpm single were still another dozen years away from being introduced to the record-buying public as a viable commercial format. The process shown is still the basic method for the production of records today.
An interesting thing to keep in mind is that at the time this was filmed, electric microphones for recording music had only been in use for about a decade. Prior to 1926 all commercially released records were recorded acoustically, meaning no electrical signal was involved between the musicians and the recording device (this important development is discussed in "Talking Wax"). Duke's earliest recordings were made acoustically and he must have been thrilled by the technological advances in recording that unfolded during the course of his career.
Listen and learn:
RCA Victor presents Sound and the Story
The entire process of recording and manufacturing phonograph records in 1956 explained.
Note: the first 35 seconds or so are silent.
A few thousand years ago, some genius figured out that the marijuana plant had euphoric effects when eaten or smoked. Once they figured this out, they must have immediately tipped their local musician friends to this groovy plant and its far-out properties of intoxication. The imperial court musicians started wearing dark sunglasses and could be found between sets out in the alley giggling madly and speaking unknowable (to squares) slang to each other. At least that's how I'd like to imagine it went.
Paeans to the magic plant began to appear in blues and jazz songs by the late 1920s. In the hip-talking jazz world of that time it was known by such interesting sobriquets as reefer, tea (also T), mary jane, gage, muggles, jive, mezzroll, muta, lozies and weed. Vipers were the users of the plant and were named such by the hissing sound they produced when inhaling on a reefer stick. Tsss. Tsss. Vipers, man, vipers.
These not so thinly veiled references to getting high and feeling groovy sent waves of fear through conservative white America and by the mid '30s an aggressive anti-marijuana campaign was spearheaded by Harry J. Anslinger. A few of choice quotes from Anslinger include "Marijuana is taken by musicians. And I'm not speaking about good musicians, but the jazz type," “reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men” and "Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters." What a guy.
Obviously Harry needed to chill out, smoke a joint and listen to some good jazz.
Too bad Harry never hung out with Mezz Mezzrow. Perhaps things would’ve been different if Mezz had explained to him, "It's a funny thing about marijuana, when you first begin smoking it you see things in a wonderful, soothing, easygoing new light. All of a sudden the world is stripped of its dirty gray shrouds and becomes one big bellyful of giggles, a special laugh, bathed in brilliant, sparkling colors that hit you like a heat wave. All your pores are open like funnels, your nerve ends stretch their mouths wide, hungry and thirsty for new sights and sounds and sensations; and every sensation, when it comes, is the most exciting one you've ever had."
Blaze one with Cab:
The good Stuff:
What this week's clip has to do with jazz is, quite frankly, tenuous at best. What this week's clip has to do with awesome is everything. Perhaps the editorial powers that be at this fine publication will excuse the delinquency of my jazz reporting duties when they gaze upon the mightiness of biG GRunt. Hey, at least the spelling of biG GRunt looks sort of jazz.
If you are unfamiliar with the Ginger Geezer and his merry band of cronies, you must correct this oversight posthaste. As you delve into their unique brand of terribly British avant-garde dada music theater you will see that jazz (among many other influences) has indeed been absorbed and regurgitated with surreal and comically absurd results. Think of Spike Jones and His City Slickers on acid with robots and a shapely leg Theremin and you’re kind of starting to get close. Kind of.
That they started out as a mock "trad" jazz band that spoofed old jazz novelty and music hall numbers from the 1920s is readily apparent on their first recordings as The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. In my book, just titling a track "Jazz (Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold)" is enough to merit inclusion in this weekly column. biG GRunt was born out of the ashes of the Bonzos and unfortunately didn't last long. The scant extant recordings and this marvelously rocking and ridiculous video clip are all we have to remind us of the powerful weirdness that was biG GRunt. If you are intrigued by this example of psychedelic chicanery, you would be well suited to go back and explore all things Viv.
If I'm not sacked for general insubordination and posting such trivial pish posh under the guise of jazz, I'll be back next week with a primer on smooth jazz. (Kidding!)
enJOY biG GRunt:
Please enjoy the following story from Jacob James' vast collection of wonderful stories about celebs from his brush with fame while playing with the Lashes!
As our band was getting more popular, our record label booked us a series of high profile shows in the effort to show off that we were, in fact, the next cool thing. These shows made money but never scored us the kind of cool points they were supposed to. Something always went awry. Three shows stand out in my mind: The Time We Played NASCAR in Florida (we played right before a staged wet t-shirt contest), The Time We Opened For Trey Anistasio from Phish on a Moored Boat in New York City (aquatic puns welcome), and The Time Eric's Clothes Were Stolen From the Playboy Mansion.We were asked to play the Playboy Mansion through our successful and well-connected A&R guy, when such a thing existed. He had an assistant who had a sister who worked as a publicist for some part of Hugh Hefner's empire, and she would do us the favor and book us and then we'd be famous and make everyone lots of money and rule the world. Then we got the contract.
Now that E and M's dreams have come true, let us decide once and for all: Which lugubrious pop song celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher do you prefer?
Exhibit A: Elvis Costello's "Tramp the Dirt Down":
Exhibit B: Morrissey's "Margaret on the Guillotine":
"I think one day…music will be a lot freer. Then the pattern of the tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern, and won’t have to be forced into conventional patterns. The creation of music is just as natural as the air we breathe." - Ornette Coleman
For our first foray into Free Jazz territory, we present you with a fine ensemble piece by Marzette Watts and Company. The clip for this week is an excerpt from the track Backdrop for Urban Revolution from Watt's first and only record on the ESP- Disk label. It is a wonderfully raw and churning example of free playing produced at the height of the roiling American avant-garde scene.
Considering the tumultuous nature of the era, it's not surprising that such aggressive music began to emerge in the jazz idiom (although some would refute that this music had anything to do with jazz). Precedents set by Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp and others began to take root with a number of young players and they in turn would rend the fabric of jazz. The climate of the art world, the civil rights movement, the spontaneous theater of 'happenings', increasingly experimental sounds and sights produced by classical composers and filmmakers, all lent themselves to the emotional temperature of the moment and ultimately helped to open up the strictures of the music that came before. Behold, The New Thing! Energy Music!
For the guitar nerds out there, it's also fun to contemplate Sonny Sharrock's guitar playing on this track. Recorded December 8th, 1966 this piece of fire music occurred while the charts boasted such pop nuggets as Good Vibrations, Mellow Yellow, Devil With A Blue Dress On and Winchester Cathedral. Jimi Hendrix was cutting his first recordings as a bandleader around this same time and, of course, went on to melt faces with his psychedelic blues based guitar pyrotechnics. To think about how Sharrock approached his instrument at this time and for the rest of his career, which as evidenced in this recording was already incendiary and yet seemingly devoid of blues phrasings, it is no less revolutionary than that of the Voodoo Child's.
Free your mind:
A lesser known (these days) but wonderfully talented musician described in Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz as a 'sparkling modern soloist' Terry Jean Pollard excelled at both piano and vibes. At the tender age of 16 she began her professional career in her hometown of Detroit. Active on the happening Detroit jazz scene in the late '40s and early '50s with a variety of ensembles, she would achieve her widest recognition when she began working with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs in 1953.
The Gibbs Quartet featured Pollard as pianist and second vibe player which made for an exciting combo especially when the pair would rock a single set of vibraphones simultaneously! During her tenure with Gibbs (1953 – 1957), the quartet cut several records together and in 1955 she recorded her sole album as a bandleader for Bethlehem Records, simply titled Terry Pollard. After winning the 1956 Downbeat Magazine New Artist award Pollard left the Gibbs Quartet in 1957 to return to Detroit and raise her family.
Ms. Pollard kept busy from her home base, recording with fellow Detroit musicians Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, and Dorothy Ashby, as well as performing over the years with many others, including Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Ross & The Supremes. At one point she also fronted The Terry Pollard Septet, an all-female band that included the wonderful guitarist Mary Osborne.
Quoted in Lars Björn's book Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920-60, bassist Will Austin recalls his stint in the Terry Pollard Trio during their long running engagement at the Hobby Bar: “A lot of musicians would come and sit in. Sometimes Alice McLeod (later Alice Coltrane) would come in…she was something! She played almost exactly like Bud [Powell]. When Terry and Alice got up there, very few horn players wanted to get up there with them. They played up tempos constantly…that was something to hear! Alice on piano and Terry on vibes.”
This writer, for one, would've loved to have heard that!
Dig this fantastic 1956 performance on The Tonight Show:
From her 1955 S/T album:
Glastonbury, continuing its tradition of over forty years, shames all others.
It was Brian Goedde, the first hiphop critic in a major Seattle paper (he was an editor at The Rocket in the late 90s and a big supporter of Silent Lambs Project), who recognized and wrote a small book about hiphop geography, which comes down to hiphop's fascination with place, hood, street. Recall one of the greatest opening lines in all of rap: "Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden, we used to kick routines and presence was fitting..." As Larry posted yesterday, the fascination with place has been transformed into a site-specific art project called "Rap Quotes"....
A century on and the evolution of jazz continues to unfold. There will always be traditionalists and there will always be those who desire to walk the coals to find the next level of blowing. The intention of these weekly posts will not be to hold your hand through the chronology of jazz history, but to give you an idea of the many directions you can choose to go in the exploration of the myriad, complex, and curious forms that fall under the moniker of jazz.
Herbie Hancock is the kind of guy who has been there and done that. Producing landmark jazz albums in the '60s and '70s as well as garnering a massive mainstream crossover hit wit "Rockit" in the early '80s are just a few accomplishments of his illustrious career. A sort of jazz renaissance man Hancock was one of the architects of post-bop, the next in line after Monk and Bud Powell, and continued on to be at the cutting edge of developing jazz/funk fusion.
During his time as a member of Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet he was simultaneously releasing seminal post-bop records under his own name as well as working on numerous sessions as a sideman. Even after the Davis quintet dissolved, Hancock contributed to the important and transitional Davis records In a Silent Way, A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and the superlative On the Corner. These forays with Davis were delving deeper into incorporating heavy rock and funk elements and the idea of "Time, No Changes" established by the SGQ would reach its pinnacle. It would also distinctly inform the direction of Hancock's solo output in the early '70s.
After producing three great atmospheric and funky experimental, psychedelic jazz records in the early '70s Hancock decided to get sexy. The result was 1973's Head Hunters LP, a milestone of jazz/funk fusion. Hancock stated, "I began to feel that I had been spending so much time exploring the upper atmosphere of music and the more ethereal kind of far-out spacey stuff. Now there was this need to take some more of the earth and to feel a little more tethered; a connection to the earth.... I was beginning to feel that we (the sextet) were playing this heavy kind of music, and I was tired of everything being heavy. I wanted to play something lighter."
Unlike the dark acerbic maelstrom of Davis' output of the same period the Headhunters did indeed create a lighter more accessible groove while maintaining a deeply funky momentum. Head Hunter is one of the largest-selling jazz albums ever, but its popularity and influence have moved well beyond the world of jazz, and its importance remains undiminished. As the kids say, it's sick.
Make yourself comfortable and spend some quality time with this brilliant 1974 footage:
Ever the gear aficionado, Mr. Hancock demonstrates the latest sampling keyboard (in 1985) to the kids on Sesame Street:
Punk-rock catalyst/poet Richard Hell will be reading from his excellent autobiography I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp and discussing it with local music scholar/critic/occasional Stranger freelancer Chris Estey at the Rendezvous tonight at 7. (Read Estey’s review of the book here.)
A member of important NYC groups like the Neon Boys, Television, the Heartbreakers, and the Voidoids, the Kentucky-bred Hell (real name: Richard Meyers; current age: 63) ran away from a Delaware boarding school to New York City, where he met up with his fellow delinquent pal Tom Miller (later Verlaine) and they schemed and dreamed their way to literary and musical notoriety. Hell’s haphazardly spiky haircut and safety-pinned, torn and frayed T-shirts as well as his preternaturally cool demeanor and whip-smart lyrics planted fertile ideas in the mind of Malcolm McLaren, which led to the conception of the Sex Pistols.
Hell’s memoir also serves as a sharply observed portrait of New York’s world-historical music-biz actions during the ’70s, from the perspective of an impecunious poet/musician working at indie book and video shops. He also dishes some dirt on the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, and other key figures of NYC’s late-’70s/early-'80s musical milieu. In the process, Hell’s famous formulation, the “Blank Generation,” comes off as paradoxically rich. (He also has a fantastic way with describing the effects of the drugs he used.)
Hell paves his Destiny Street with vivid, arresting prose, unspooling incisive observations and anecdotes up through 1984, two years after the release of the album of that name, at which point his musical career was effectively over. An epilogue depicting a chance meeting with Verlaine—several years estranged from Hell—looking at books in a dollar bin is incredibly touching—healing, even.
More info on tonight’s event here.
Please enjoy the following story from Jacob James' vast collection of wonderful stories about celebs from his brush with fame while playing with the Lashes!
A few blocks shy of the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, there is a small bar called Hyde Lounge. Our friend had a gig there as a weekday deejay, so in 2005 my friends and I spent time there whenever we were in Los Angeles. It's closed now, but in that era the Hollywood heavy hitters that frequented Hyde were there for the exclusivity and the discretion.
Not us. We were there to see famous people. Because we were sure we were about to BE famous people. Like, really soon. And when it came to celebrity sightings, the Hyde never disappointed.
It wasn’t the muscle, the limos, or the actual red carpet that had us spooked the first time we went to Hyde—it was the first bar we'd ever been to with its own Social Director. And this one was a sharp-jawed, clipboard-carrying, movie villain named Mercedes or Portia or Adrianna or something.
The Social Director’s job is twofold. One, protect the egos of anyone in attendance worth more than a couple million dollars by making sure they have a special time. Two, make things happen as dictated by publicists and managers—pull the strings, kiss some ass, and dammit, get both those actresses into the same frame for the guy from US Weekly.
We checked in, and lists were referenced. Blackberries were consulted and walkies were talked on.
"They’re friends with who?"
"They’re what band?"
"Six? Did you say six dudes? And no girls?"