Archive | March, 2011

Jackie McLean: Right now

31 Mar
Jackie McLean

Jackie McLean: Bluesnik

Remembering alto saxophonist Jackie McLean on the anniversary of his death five years ago at the age of 74.

McLean grew up in Harlem in a musical neighborhood — Sonny Rollins was close in age and home — and his work was a constant in the early 1960s. From 1959-67 he produced almost 20 albums for Blue Note, and few complained that his volume was affecting the quality.

McLean’s output, was in part, because like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and others,  he had lost his cabaret  card, which entitled him to perform in New York. said McLean, befriended by Charlie Parker, was warned by Parker to avoid drugs, “even as he asked to borrow his horn so he could pawn it to buy a fix.” But McLean served six months in jail during the height of his production, in 1964, although he reportedly beat his addiction when he got out.

McLean became a teacher of music at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, where today the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz is named for him.

“McLean’s playing was once described as hurt, lonely and, as a result, angry,” wrote Ira Gitler in the liner notes to 1961’s Bluesnik album. “This was true of an earlier Jackie. Today he is still very much a hard swinger but the anger has abated to a large degree. He has matured in many ways and this is reflected in his music.”


John Lewis: Django

29 Mar

Remembering pianist John Lewis on the day of his death at age 80 in 2001.

Lewis joined the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1952 when it really was modern, and stayed with it through its breakup in the 70s and reunion in the 80s. He also taught, composed and played — with Charlie Parker, Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young before the MJQ, with others or even solo post-MJQ.

Perhaps Lewis would be even better known if it weren’t for the MJQ, or if he didn’t have the same name as a famous leader of the labor movement or the congressman and civil rights leader from Georgia.

The Juilliard School’s Loren Schoenberg on “John Lewis ranks with Ellington, Mingus, Monk and Morton as one of the great jazz composers.”

Below is a link to Lewis playing Django, which Lewis wrote in tribute to the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt after Reinhardt’s death in 1953. Performed in 2000 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, it was one of Lewis’ final renditions of perhaps his most famous composition. Less than a year later, Lewis died of cancer. 

Around the World: Italy’s Enrico Rava

28 Mar
Enrico Rava's The Pilgrim and the Stars

Enrico Rava's 1975 ECM release: The Pilgrim and the Stars

The word bravo may have its roots in Italian opera tradition, but it could just as easily apply to Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava. Because Rava, born 71 years ago in Trieste, in the northeast of Italy, deserves to hear the word often for his prodigious career.

Rava’s website says he has produced more than 30 albums as a leader; it almost seems as if he recorded them for 30 record labels with that many different groups of musicians — from all over the world — playing with him.

The favorite here is Rava’s 1975 release for ECM, The Pilgrim and The Stars (Il pellegrino e le stelle, if our translation is correct), but there’s plenty to choose from.

From “Contemporary Italian jazz can be said to have begun with Enrico Rava,” wrote Mike Zwerin.

And how. Rava is still active; his most recent release was 2009’s New York Days for ECM. Below is a link to Rava playing the Italian pop star Lucio Battisti’s Mi ritorni in mente (Me returns in mind, if our reverse translation is accurate).

Wrote Nat Hentoff in the liner notes to Rava’s 1983 release Andanada, for the Soul Note label: “I can’t prove it, but I would bet that if the album you’re holding had been made in America by an unknown or relatively unknown American hornman, there would be a rush of attention. Somebody might even be so heretical to say that by contrast with the wondrously skillful but emotionally conventional Wynton Marsalis, for instance, this guy goes deep into himself to tell his stories — with results that stay in the mind after the music has gone . . . (Rava is) one of those musicians who plays as if each solo might be his last.”

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes: Wake Up Everybody

24 Mar


Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes: Greatest Hits album


Remembering Harold Melvin of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, who died on this day at age 57 in 1997.

Melvin may not have even been the most famous member of his own group — lead singer Teddy Pendergrass, for reasons more than music may have been — but Melvin’s Philadelphia soul group had four top-five hits and two No 1s from 1972-75.

Pendergrass left the group in 1976 and it never rose as high again.

Melvin suffered a stroke and died in 1997; two other members of the group — Pendergrass and Bernard Wilson — died in 2010.

And if the lyrics to Wake Up Everybody (by Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Carstaphen; link below) are, well, hopelessly hopeful, maybe the world isn’t a better place today without Melvin & The Blue Notes, but a little worse off for his absence.

Bobby Short: You Do Something To Me

22 Mar

Remembering Bobby Short on the day after the anniversary of  his death at age 80 in 2005.

Short was famous for calling himself a saloon singer, which made him sound like the guy you wanted to go to Karaoke Monday with. Hardly.

His home bar was the Cafe Carlyle at The Carlyle hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side — we shudder to ask what the drinks cost, let alone the rooms.

But the best bargain there was Short, who performed standards on the rocks — heavy on the Cole Porter — for more than 35 years for New York’s elite. Of course, you could avoid the cover or two-drink minimums and elbow-rubbing by buying an album.

From Enid Nemy’s New York Times obit on Short (link below): “Over the years, Mr. Short transcended the role of cabaret entertainer to become a New York institution and a symbol of civilized Manhattan culture.”

New York Times on the death of Bobby Short

Around the World: Spain’s Paco de Lucia

21 Mar
Paco de Lucia

Paco de Lucia's 1990 album Zyryab

Paco de Lucia is the man most familiar with the taste of Spain on one of the most famous and popular guitar albums ever made — 1981’s Friday Night in San Francisco, a live recording de Lucia made with John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola. Every night is Friday night with any of the cuts from that album.

de Lucia was born Francisco Sanchez Gomez in 1947 in the southern Spanish city of Algeciras, across the bay from the Rock of Gibraltar. Perhaps he could see the Rock from his home. It was there in Andalusia, in the south of Spain, according to almost all biographical accounts, that he was raised to be a guitar player in the flamenco tradition by his father, also a guitar player.

He took his stage name from his mother’s name Lucia Gomez. 

Said Guitar Magazine’s Ralph Denyer on the liner notes to a self-titled de Lucia album: “Lucia is one of the world’s great solo guitarists . . . You don’t have to make any conscious comparisons; just listen to any recordings of Paco’s contemporaries. No contest.”

He wrote those words in 1975. Thirty-six years later, they’re still true.

Next Monday’s Around the World: Italy

John Sebastian: Wild About My Lovin’

17 Mar
Lovin' Spoonful

The Best of the Lovin' Spoonful

Birthday greetings to The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, who celebrates No. 67 today.

Sebastian stopped making magic with The Spoonful  in 1968 and the band disbanded shortly thereafter. But they had seven top-10 hits in a two-year period from 1965-66; fortunately most of them can be heard on any oldies station, where they’re as popular as ever.

Sebastian, the son of a professional musician, was the group’s primary songwriter; it formed in the Greenwich Village scene that was home to Sebastian.

The group’s names comes from Mississippi John Hurt’s Coffee Blues:

Well please ma’am just a lovin’ spoon
just a lovin’ spoonful
I declare I got to have my lovin’ spoonful

In 2000, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

John Sebastian, from “We were grateful to the Beatles for reminding us our rock & roll roots, but we wanted to cut out the English middlemen, so to speak, and get down to making this new music as an ‘American’ band.”

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