Archive | May, 2011

Bob Dylan: Song to Woody

24 May
Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks

Bob Dylan's 1974 release Blood on the Tracks

Birthday greetings to Bob Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, who famously celebrates No. 70 today.

From here, the only question is whether Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks is the greatest album of music ever made, or second greatest. Of course, there are probably Dylan fans who wouldn’t rank it in their top five — of Dylan albums (I once had a consistent late-night visitor who wanted to hear nothing but Blood on the Tracks at 3 a.m., and insisted it was the greatest album ever made; surely a night of carousing had no influence on his judgment).

If nothing else, Blood on The tracks must surely have some of the greatest liner notes ever written. “So forget the Dylan whose image was eaten at by the mongers of the idiot wind,” wrote Pete Hamill on the album’s backside. “Don’t mistake him for Isaiah, or a magazine cover, or a leader of guitar armies. He is only a troubadour, blood brother of Villon, a son of Provence, and he has survived the plague . . . Listen: the poet sings to all of us.” 

The poet Dylan is reputed to be named for, Dylan Thomas, died at 39 in 1953 while on a poetry-reading tour in New York. Dylan has often denied it, and said he took the name from an “uncle.” “I’ve done more for Dylan Thomas than he ever did for me,” Dylan said in 1966. (Ironic that Dylan Thomas might have been the namesake for Bob Dylan, and his verse certainly was for the title of the great baseball book “Boys of Summer.”)

A link to Dylan’s Song to Woody, one of his very early songs.

Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
‘Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along.
Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn,
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born.
                                                                                           Bob Dylan, 1962



Around the World: Czech Republic’s Miroslav Vitous

23 May
Miroslav Vitous album Atmos

Miroslav Vitous' 1992 album Atmos, with Jan Garbarek

If you’ve ever seen or heard a bass solo by Miroslav Vitous, born in Prague in 1947 when it was Czechoslovakia and Communist, and wondered where the energy came from, the answer is an unlikely place: the swimming pool. Vitous was an Olympic-caliber swimmer as a teen, before he toweled off and left for America in the 1960s and the Berklee School of Music.

Since then he has gone the distance — one of the founders of Weather Report, one of the feuders with the late Joe Zawinul, one of the record label ECM’s most celebrated and featured artists.

Vitous, from a 2004 interview at (link below): “There wasn’t much choice. I wanted to play music, so I went. Someone gave me something absolutely amazing: the discipline and strength to deal with physical situations. As a professional athlete, you have to conquer so much in training. There are so many difficulties. Even when you cannot go anymore, you have to keep going. You have to catch your second breath . . . What I learned physically from swimming I transferred to my mental state. You can imagine how tough it was to be a young 19-year-old from a Communist country in New York alone. You need a lot of mental strength to hold things together. I learned how to survive and keep going. I owe all of that to swimming.”

It was that mental strength that helped him during a less-than-amicable split from Weather Report, which lingered like a bad divorce years later. “There are some things that happened when I was departing,” Vitous said in the interview, more than a quarter century later. “It was dirty. It was not fair. There were other things not done well besides the money . . .”

Vitous moved on — to other groups, including his own, other collaborations and other continents, moving back to his native Europe in the late 80s after two decades in North America. He’s continued to teach and compose and play and record.

Vitous from “I am a Slavic musician and it is deeply inside of me.”

Below is a link to the song Epilogue from Vitous’ 1969 album Mountain in the Clouds, with John McLaughlin (guitar), Herbie Hancock (piano), Joe Chambers (drums) and Joe Henderson (sax).


Miroslav Vitous interview

Pete Townshend: Slit Skirts

19 May
Pete Townshend solo album

Pete Townshend's 1982 solo album: All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes

Birthday greetings to The Who’s Pete Townshend, who celebrates No. 66 today; forget whatever it was he said in My Generation, he can’t pretend growing older never hurts.

It was announced this week that Townshend has a publisher (Harper Collins) for his memoir, “Pete Townshend: Who He,” which will be released next year.

We’re not sure how it will compare to Quadrophenia or Who’s Next or Empty Glass, but we’ll be queuing up to buy it on the day that it’s available.

Townshend: “”I know I am good at what I do as a performer and composer, but since my early teens I have been happiest when writing. Writing is my principal daily occupation. Rock ‘n’ roll is a tough career, however cynically or comically it is portrayed by its detractors. I am lucky to be alive and to have such a crazy story to tell, full of wild adventures and creative machinations. I am happy that I am able to write my book myself, in my own ‘voice’ that many readers will be hearing for the first time.”

From Townshend’s own voice, on Slit Skirts:

I don’t know why I thought I should have some kind of divine right to the blues
It’s sympathy not tears people need when they’re the front page sad news.
The incense burned away and the stench began to rise
And lovers now estranged avoided catching each others’ eyes
And girls who lost their children cursed the men who fit the coil
And men not fit for marriage took their refuge in the oil
No one respects the flame quite like the fool who’s badly burned
From all this you’d imagine that there must be something learned


Elvin Jones: Afro Blue

18 May

Remembering drummer Elvin Jones on the day of his death in 2004.

Though Jones’ career was long and his resume extensive, like McCoy Tyner, he’ll always be known for one thing above all others: he was part of John Coltrane’s quartet at its most important time.

Jones himself, from Right from the beginning to the last time we played together it was something pure. The most impressive thing was a feeling of steady, collective learning . . . If there is anything like perfect harmony in human relationships, that band was as close as you can come.”

From Peter Keepnews’ obit of Jones at  “(Jones) in turn influenced Coltrane, Mr. Jones’s ferocious rhythms goading Coltrane to ecstatic heights in performance and on recordings like  “A Love Supreme” and “Ascension.”

It was, in  part, because of Jones that the quartet made the music it did. From Lewis Porter’s book “John Coltrane: His Life and His Music”, quoting bassist Steve Davis:” “That first night Elvin was in the band . . . he was playing so strong and so loud you could hear him outside down the block. Trane wanted it that way. He wanted a drummer who could really kick, and Elvin was one of the strongest, wildest drummers in the world. After the gig, Trane put his arm around Elvin and took him to a barbecue around the corner, and bought him some ribs. Trane and Elvin were tight from then on.”

Jones parted with Coltrane before the saxophonist’s death — Keepnews speculated Jones might have been offended by Coltrane’s decision to add a second drummer — and he led his own band for years, mentoring younger players as he became more and more of an older hand. Life Magazine called him “the world’s greatest rhythmic drummer.”

Wynton Marsalis, from “Elvin is so great it will bring tears to your eyes. I mean, damn, somebody play drums like that! Just that he could figure out all that.”

Jones was part of one of the most famous families in jazz. Older brothers Hank, who died a year and two days ago at age 91, was a famous pianist and Thad, who died in 1986 at age 63, was a famous trumpeter. In all, Jones had nine siblings.

Jones was 76 when he died of heart failure in Englewood, N.J.


Around the World: Holland’s Hans Dulfer

16 May

One of the great joys of the North Sea Jazz Festival (July 8-10 this year in Rotterdam; if you want to go) is that it brings you close enough to see saxophonist Hans Dulfer on his home ground.

Dulfer normally performs every Wednesday at Amsterdam’s Jazz Cafe Alto, an intimate little club just off the Leidseplein (for a pre-concert meal, we recommend the rijsttafel at the Puri Mas nearby). If you’re lucky, Dulfer’s equally talented daughter Candy, also a saxophonist, might accompany him.

One concertgoer’s experience, from (link below): “If you don’t shut up when he asks you to, he’ll play ridiculously loud. If you don’t clap your hands until they bleed he’ll give you an angry look. If you don’t ‘drink your ass off’ in between sets to sponsor the already very successful cafe, he will tell you to in a language that seems to resemble English if you listen carefully. As you can imagine, it’s quite a show and the tourists love it.”

Of course Dulfer is (as is Candy) more than a club performer. He is renowned in Europe and especially popular in Japan; his album Big Boy, from nearly two decades ago, brought him the nickname of the same name.

Lutgard Mutsaers bio of Dulfer for EMI Records, from Dulfer’s web site, “Hans Dulfer loves to push the limits of acceptable behavior a little bit far . . . The building of his own legend is high on his agenda, if he would have one.”

The Hans Dulfer experience


Sidney Bechet: St. Louis Blues

14 May
Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet, with Lionel Hampton

Remembering the great clarinetist/saxophonist Sidney Bechet on the day of his death (and his birth) in 1959.

Bechet is often credited with being the first great jazz soloist; today he has long been surpassed in fame and recognition by artists who need only one name or a nickname.

Bechet, Creole in heritage, was born in the same city — New Orleans (but three years earlier, in 1897) — as Louis Armstrong, who first leaped past him in fame and recognition.  Both went to Chicago but Bechet continued traveling, finding far more comfort, appreciation and applause in Europe.

Bechet was so popular in Europe it’s said the character of Pablo in Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf was based on him.

Bechet’s temper was as shrill as a note played badly — he was deported from both England and France in the 1920s. Surprisingly enough, both incidents  involved women.

A more sedate Bechet returned to France in 1950, where he married and lived the rest of his days.

New York Times critic Robert Palmer:  “By combining the ‘cry’ of the blues players and the finesse of the Creoles into his ‘own way,’ Sidney Bechet created a style which moved the emotions even as it dazzled the mind.”

Duke Ellington: “Bechet to me was the very epitome of jazz . . . everything he played in his whole life was completely original. I honestly think he was the most unique man to ever be in this music.”

Bechet was 62 when he died on his birthday in Paris.


More on Sidney Bechet: Sidney Bechet, The Wizard of Jazz, by John Chilton

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