Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Happy International Jazz Day!

Well, here we are with the 7th celebration of International Jazz Day. What better way to honour it than to check out this performance of Shelly Manne and his Men on Jazz Scene U.S.A. from 1962. It's great to see this footage of Shelly. he looks so relaxed and balanced, and man does it swing. I could watch his right hand forever! Enjoy.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Erroneous Impressions

 NOTE: I am aware that Scott K Fish posted the Kenny Clarke footage previously on his excellent blog.   I actually put this blog together a couple of weeks ago ( sure ,Ted, sure! )  and I realized that I'm putting in a slightly different context here so I'll go ahead with my original post....

Firstly, don't get the wrong impression about this post. It's not about this.....

Whew! I hadn't seen that in a while! Also, there's a great version of this tune on last year's "Both Directions At Once".

Now, on to my point.
I'm paraphrasing here, but Keith Jarrett said something to the effect of that if you haven't seen someone live, you don't really know their playing, and if you've seen them only once, that doesn't count. Now for a Canadian of my age, they are many great Jazz musicians I've never seen live. My knowledge of Charlie Parker, for example, was gathered only through recordings. I'm sure seeing Bird live was a whole other dimension!
Mentioning Mr. Parker is a good segue to a great drummer who played with Charlie Parker who I had an erroneous impression of, based on the recordings I'd heard. I was VERY aware of Kenny Clarke's importance in BeBop, Jazz, and drumming history in general. Unfortunately, most of the first recordings I heard were like this.....

Don't get me wrong. I love this record, and I bought in my first year of university and it made a great impression on me. It's just that a lot of the drums recorded on the Savoy label sound sort of dry and pinched, especially the snare drum and cymbals. Add to that a very obtrusive plate reverb on the horns and I find I like these recordings in spite of the sound rather than because of it. Kenny tends to play very sparsely on these recordings and doesn't use a lot of toms or velocity in his playing. It's beautiful and tasteful, but I did find myself thinking that his approach was rather cerebral and reserved. I eventually picked up the "Monk Plays Ellington" recording, which sounded a little more open to me, although he really sticks to playing the time, which sounded perfect to me for that situation.
Then one day piano great Dave Restivo hipped me to THIS recording.....

All of " A Tribute To Cannonball"  is killing" and the drums sound nice and open. The drums are very exciting on this! There is also a lot more "chops" displayed on this recording from Clarke. When I first heard it the difference was so dramatic from the Savoy recordings I thought he'd just played a week opposite Buddy Rich's band or something! Definitely sounds more like someone who is going for it!

Then, just today, I stumbled upon this.....

Wow! Nice aggressive jazz drumming! Lots of single stroke language, toms, and Kenny Clarke sounds as modern as any current drummer! I think this gives a much more accurate view of what Kenny Clarke was playing like on gigs!

I guess the lesson for me is to keep searching out different sources of the great players. Also Clarke's playing, like all of the greats is complex, nuanced, and situational.
If anyone builds a time machine I'd go to 52nd St. in New York in the '40s. I'm sure Kenny Clarke would consistently blow my mind! :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The rise and fall of the studio musician

This post of was inspired by thoughts I had upon hearing of the passing of drumming great Hal Blaine. Mr. Blaine was part of a unique group of musicians that played on many of the hits of the '60s and '70s. They were almost always uncredited for their work. Hal Blaine's group ( dubbed the Wrecking Crew ) was located in California, but there have many examples of similar situations in various locales and eras, wherever commercial recordings are made. It is interesting to note, this sort of exclusive society of people who played on the vast majority of recordings hasn't ever really existed beyond the movies/television and the Pop?rock area. For instance, there was no "ghost' piano player on the Goldberg Variations  and then Glenn Gould was hired to be it's good looking, eccentric face. As well, there doesn't seem to be any incidence of say, Johnny Griffin going in to record at Blue Note and his work being substituted for a tenor player with more "studio chops".

Let me be clear, I think it's great that, eventually, the great Mr. Blaine and his cohorts, along with the people who played for Motown, etc. got their due. The other side of this, however, is the recognition of the studio musician also led to its fetishization. AS well, music magazines and bands like Steely Dan's tendency to use a different band for every tune furthered this attitude among musos. I think the feeling in the recording industry ( at least the commercial side of it ) was that if you didn't have one of the "cats", you weren't going to have a good recording at all. This led to a lot of musicians               ( especially the drummers ) in bands being replaced on recordings. Check out the documentary on Chicago ( Now More Than Ever ) and hear the frankly heartbreaking story about how Danny Seraphine was replaced on some tracks without being informed! What makes this particularly bizarre is that, at the time, Chicago was signed to Warner Bros., a label with considerably big pockets. So, if producer David Foster wasn't satisfied with Seraphine's playing, he could have told the rest of the band to chill for a couple of days and worked with Chicago's actual drummer on the intricacies of the click track etc. It's interesting to note that when Bob Ezrin worked with Kiss, he did pretty much what I've just described. He has more patience, I guess.

I believe this whole worshipping of one way to play, sound, etc. or that there's one absolute way to play a tune led to recordings eventually sounding more generic. If a limited amount of people play on all the hits, aren't the hits all going to sound the same after awhile?                                                

Another issue is that bands have alchemy, and as soon as one person is removed, that alchemy is destroyed. I don't think it's a coincidence that the Beatles' recordings didn't truly capture the imagination of the listening public until Ringo Starr was established as their recording drummer. Ringo was of a similar age and had the same influences as the rest of the band, but Andy White, although a very capable drummer, did not. This is borne out on the out takes that White plays on. Lightning will probably strike me for this, but I've always felt that Steely's Dan's best drummer was Jim Hodder, the one who played all their original gigs. Which leads me to......

Another aspect of this is loyalty. A recording is a reward for doing all the crummy gigs at county fairs where the drums get covered in dirt and horse manure. It's a payback for all the low pay, tough load-ins, and lack of sleep. There's no better way for a young player to get experience recording than actually doing it. Imagine how the world would have been different if Miles Davis hadn't used Tony Williams in the studio because he thought he should have someone more experienced!

Let me make this abundantly clear. I have nothing but love and admiration for all the studio greats that have made such great music, I'm just suggesting that at times, there may be other options.


Monday, April 8, 2019

How flexible are your ears?

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a post about learning how to wiggle your ears. ( Although I've always been jealous of people who can do that. )

                            Potentially an ear wiggler!

No, today I was going to talk about how we all tend to listen to all music in the same way, despite it's differences and the variety of things we can learn from it.

Example A
My theory teacher when I was an undergrad at McGill introduced me to this piece and I've loved it ever since. Check it out....

Now, what do I love about  the Hadyn Variations? Well, the orchestration is beautiful, it's a great way to learn about taking a musical theme and varying it, and the melody is very pretty. If I was listening for a deep funky groove, or lopsided rhythms, or electric instruments, I would be very disappointed.

Example B
This artist actually performed in my hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan when I was a teen and this represents a very compelling era of his music for me.

In this case, I really like the poetry of the lyrics, the groovy clavichord and percussion, and even the relative lo-fi of the recording. Super exotic instruments? Wild orchestrations? Nope. I actually know a couple of Jazz musicians I know and admire a lot who reject Reggae completely because it doesn't have many chord changes! Huh? And one of these people EVEN DOUBLES ON DRUMS!!! If you can't appreciate Sly Dunbar's fantastic drumming on this, I don't really know how to respond!

Finally, this is an artist I've listened to a lot, although I slept on this particular recording until recently

No, Paul Motian's music does not have blazing displays of technique, and in this case, much Bebop language or much of a tight groove. But, I'm not listening for those things so I can enjoy the deep improvisatory vibe, the beautiful instrumental colouring etc.

The point is, there's tons of great music to listen to, enjoy, and learn from as long as we don't view it all with the same expectations!!! Enjoy!