Why is it that well-meaning people everywhere seem to think that peace, hope and love come about through the desire for a world filled with peace, hope and love? Does the food on your table come about as the result of your desire to eat a meal? It may start there, but, unless you’re willing to work for your food, no meal will be forthcoming. Good intentions alone are meaningless. Only when they're combined with the necessary knowledge, skills and action, will there be anything to eat.
You asked the question; “do you like the newest version of our song”? My answer depends on what you mean by “like”? Like, as in “I really like it” or, “compared to suffocation, it was swell”! I tend towards the latter. As a demo tape it kind of works. As a finished product it aspires to mediocrity. Let me explain further with a story.
As I was driving home from taking my wife and son to work, I turned on the radio. That in itself could be viewed as a mistake, but, for the time being we’ll think of it as an act of god. The radio happened to be on that station out of West Palm Beach called the “Gator” their motto being “If we ever play anything that diverges further than an ant’s ball hair from the predictable, we’ll gladly kill ourselves”! As I drove along, the mellifluous sounds of Guns and Roses was playing what constitutes a thoughtful ballad, with lyrics so horrible I could see the hole in the ozone layer expanding. Then, came the guitar solo, a reworking of every cliché ever played by a long haired guitarist trying to figure out how to play, but, since he had cool hair, that was good enough. After that, came some more music that may have at one time been considered good, but now had been rendered a threat to national security by its mere existence. It was then that I had an epiphany. If subtlety is out of the question, maybe we should just go with it.
Here’s my suggestion. First, kill the piano. His playing is just there, it adds nothing but sound which takes up space. Second, I will rerecord a good old fashioned, strum-o-rific guitar part, one that locks in better with the bass and drums. They don’t really seem to be capable of a serious R&B groove, so let’s do it their way, better than fighting it. I will then plug directly into my POD and dial in a sound that will kill all life from at least a mile away. After that, comes the organ—and last, but not least, a grittier vocal, one that lacks any hint of understatement. That way we can please our new audience—the people who listen to the “Gator”—the ones whose motto is “If it doesn’t sound like rock from the 60’s, 70’s and possibly 80’s, we can’t hear it”. I mean, they literally can’t hear it, like a dog whistle to a human. But we will have a new and important fan base—one that looks like us, and maybe, just maybe, will like us. We can only hope.
Mr. Sasquatch….just kidding, its Signor Sasquatch
East Coast cool meets Brazilian Bossa Nova—Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gerry Mulligan in an informal setting at Mulligan’s New York apartment. Gerry Mulligan was “The” baritone sax player for virtually the whole of his musical career. Some of which was no doubt due to the limited number of individuals playing the bulky instrument. He was an adventurous and innovative player, bandleader, arranger and composer. He was also a seminal figure in one of jazz’s shining moments, “The birth of the cool”. The Miles Davis sessions that took the heat of Be-Bop and shifted the focus from the blistering tempos and virtuosity that were the music's hallmarks, taking a more lyrical approach, something that exemplified Miles’ music throughout his career.
Mulligan wrote and arranged three of the pieces on the influential session, “Jeru”, “Rocker” and “Venus De Milo”, arranging three others as well. His baritone sax was a core part of the band’s sound, and his lighter, breathier approach was a departure from the more traditional sound of players like Harry Carny, the influential longtime mainstay of Duke Ellington’s band.
He was one of the first horn players to perform in a piano-less trio, a risky move that opened things up harmonically, enabling greater melodic freedom for the soloist, but, it also demanded a much higher level of interplay between the remaining players. Without a piano or guitar to lay down the chords it would be easier for the soloist to get lost, it likewise placed greater demand on the bass player to fill in the gaps, and it was more challenging for the audience as well.
He formed a band with trumpeter/singer/ Chet Baker, a sort of super group of the West Coast Jazz scene, which became the cool, California equivalent of some of the best bands on hard Bop scene in New York.
Antonio Carlos Jobim, the other half of this duo, was a composer, guitarist, pianist and arranger. His songs; “Desifinado”, “Corcovada”, “Dindi”, “The Girl from Impanema”, “One note samba”, “How Insenstive”, “Meditation” and “Wave”, to name just a few, created a global phenomenon. His blend of lyrical melody and jazz harmony, melded to Afro/Brazilian rhythms crossed virtually every age, racial and ethnic boundary, selling millions of records in the process.
Jobim wasn't solely responsible for creating bossa nova, but, he wrote a good deal of the music's primary repertoire and shaped its sound in a way that has few parallels in modern music. His influence on jazz musicians alone would signal him as a creative force equal to many of the traditions most important figures.
The clip here is of Jobim and Mulligan in Gerry’s apartment, with Jobim on piano and Mulligan on clarinet, instead of the usual baritone sax. The clarinet offered a subtler sound befitting the music’s natural lyricism. It appears to be from the late fifties or early sixties when bossa nova was at its peek.
Gerry’s work as an arranger influenced Jobim—and Jobim’s music in turn influenced Mulligan. You can hear Gerry trying to negotiate the unique rhythms and syncopation that are part of Jobim's composition, “One note samba”—giving us a window into the private world of musicians, and the kinds of intimate conversations had between diverse musical compatriots that are seldom seen by an audience.
You’ve got to love You Tube. It is an astonishing repository of a lot of meaningless idiocy, but, it is no less a storehouse of some of the world’s great aesthetic and intellectual effort. Here’s a wonderful example of exactly that, a duet between Fred Astaire, a man who needs no introduction, and Oscar Levant, a man of excessive gifts and equally obsessive traits.
Levant was a friend and well know interpreter of George Gershwin’s, a classically trained piano virtuoso, raconteur and wit, and a clinically diagnosed obsessive compulsive. Levant covered his tracks well with a colorfully expressed personality and a devastating sense of humor. You can see all of this on display in his rambling introduction and interaction with his wife and Astaire, who sits patiently waiting for Levant to focus. Once he does, he and Astaire play what sounds like an off the cuff version of Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners” including a false start.
Fred Astaire, with his seemingly effortless artistry, shows once again why he is so highly regarded as a singer, and one of the finest interpreters of “The Great American songbook". In fact, many of the greatest composers of America's greatest period of musical creativity wrote specifically for Astaire. Watching the man perform here indicates why. There are no dramatic flourishes, just a straight to the heart of it, quiet statement of the lyric and melody, with a master’s gift for interpretation and phrasing. Levant likewise, plays with authority, almost overstating the case, but, quickly reins it in, keeping pace with Astaire’s more subtle reading.
The film clip could use a good digital cleanup, but, who can complain when two of the 20th centuries historic musical figures are caught for posterity, talking, playing, and reminiscing about Irving Berlin’s upcoming birthday and music. It’s about as close as any of us will ever get to experiencing what it must have been like at a dinner party with some very talented guests in the 1920's or early 1930's when they were just starting out. George and Ira, Oscar Levant, a young Fred and Estelle Astaire, maybe Irving Berlin or Cole Porter sharing stories and jamming on that new music called jazz.
By the time of this performance, both were aging veterans whose public careers were on the wane. Their talent, however, was undiminished—and if anything was all the richer. Suggesting that youth is a fine thing, but, age can bring a refinement of craft that can only come with time and talent. The performance here makes it clear that Fred and Oscar had plenty of both.