Archive | June, 2011

John Entwistle: The Quiet One

27 Jun
The Who's Who By Numbers album

The Who's 1975 album The Who By
Numbers, the cover drawn by bassist John Entwistle

Remembering The Who’s bassist John
Entwistle, who died on this day in 2002.

Entwistle was known as The
Quiet One (and the Ox) in the group, but like the youngest
voice in a family struggling to be heard, it was just as much that
all the other personalities of the group in its early days —
Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon — were louder. Which
is what Entwistle himself suggested in his song “The Quiet
One.” Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman famously described
Entwistle as “the quietest man in private but the loudest man on
stage.”

In the Who, that wasn’t easy. But Entwistle made his
voice heard when there was a lull. He was the first to produce
a solo album, and eventually did five in all. He drew the
caricatures and cover for The Who By Numbers; how many Who
fans never noticed Entwistle’s signature in the lower left?

And he
consistently wrote songs to the group’s albums (except for
Quadrophenia), his production increasing as the years went on.
Boris The Spider (A Quick One), My Wife (Who’s Next), Success Story
(Who By Numbers), Trick of the Light, 905 and Had
Enough (Who Are You), The Quiet One (Face Dances)
and Dangerous and One At A Time (It’s Hard) were all authored
by Entwistle.

The circumstances of his death mixed rock and roll
and Las Vegas. He had retired for the evening with a Vegas
stripper, and the coroner’s report said he died of a heart
attack induced by cocaine use (Entwistle had high blood pressure,
high cholesterol and heart disease; he smoked, he drank
. . .).

The band was there to open a concert tour the next day, in
part to help Entwistle pay off some debts. The tour went on,
Townshend noting the tragic irony.

Entwistle was the second member
of the band to die a drug-related death, Moon preceding
him by 24 years. Entwistle was 57 years old when he died.

Rock
critic Dave Marsh on Entwistle, from counterpunch.org: “John
Entwistle was the first musician to figure out how to use the
bass for carrying forward melody and weaving additional themes
through a song, while still stabilizing the beat — that is, he
figured a way to balance the extreme playing of Pete Townshend and
Keith Moon simultaneously, a stupendous feat . . . There
wasn’t any precedent for what Entwistle did, and all bassists since
— from Jaco Pastorious to Doug Wimbish and beyond owe him
their sense of freedom.”

Part of the lyrics to Entwistle’s The
Quiet One: Everybody calls me the quiet one
But you just don’t understand You
can’t listen you won’t hear me
With your head
stuck in the sand
I ain’t never had time for
words that don’t rhyme
My head is in a
cloud
I ain’t quiet — everybody else is
too loud

A link to a live version of the song
below:

sources: Thewho.com, the independent.co.uk,
counterpunch.org

Clifford Brown: Joy Spring

26 Jun

Remembering Clifford Brown and Richie Powell and Nancy Powell on the day of their death in 1956.

Today is the day the music died 55 years ago in jazz, in a car crash on a rainy night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Brown and Powell had played in a session in Philadelphia, and were on their way to Chicago for a date the next day.

Trumpeter Brown was just 25 when he died, Richie Powell — the pianist in his group, and brother of the great pianist Bud Powell — just 24. Brown’s loss to jazz musicians was every bit as devastating as Buddy Holly’s would be to the young genre of rock and roll three years hence. Said Brown’s drummer Max Roach, according to Ben Sidran’s book Talking Jazz: “I was really in never-never land for quite a while.” (Brown’s groups were an impressive array of talent; they included Roach, Powell and saxophonist Sonny Rollins, among others.)

There were several bitter ironies to the tragedy:

  • Brown had survived a horrific car crash six years earlier in June of 1950. He was already a rising talent in the jazz world, but he suffered severe injuries — including two broken legs — that required skin grafts and a full body cast.
  • It was while hospitalized for the 1950 crash that Brown learned of the death of fellow player trumpet player Fats Navarro, Brown’s closest confidante in the jazz world, at 26. According to Howard Gillis in a jazztimes.com piece, Brown named only Navarro when asked to name his favorite trumpet players. According to Gillis, Brown’s widow Laura Brown Watson told jazz historian Leonard Feather: “(Clifford) idolized Fats Navarro. That was his heart.”
  • Navarro’s death was hastened by drug addiction and tuberculosis. Brown was widely reported to be free of the addictions that killed so many jazz players so young.
  • The accident happened on Brown’s second wedding anniversary, and his wife’s 22nd birthday.

Saturday a group of jazz players went to Brown’s grave site in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., and played in his honor. They finished with the song Benny Golson wrote in Brown’s honor, I Remember Clifford, which seems only appropriate on the 55th anniversary of his death.

A link to Brown’s composition Joy Spring, played by the Max Roach-Clifford Brown quartet, above:

sources: wikipedia.org, Members.tripod.com, shout.net, jazztimes.com, delawareonline.com

Around the World: Hungary’s Laszlo Gardony

23 Jun
Pianist Laszlo Gardony

Laszlo Gardony's 1994 album Breakout

Pianist Laszlo Gardony was born in Hungary in 1956 — the year the Soviet tanks crushed an uprising there — and he trained at the Bela Bartok Conservatory in Budapest. Like Bartok, he emigrated to the United States seeking freedom — Bartok from the Nazis in World War II, Gardony from a Communist regime that he felt stifled his musical expression.

But after that the similarities fail. Bartok was older and lived barely past the end of the war, composing in trickles. Gardony thrived in his move to the States, receiving a scholarship to Berklee and joining the faculty there after graduation. As an artist, he expanded his audience and earned critical acclaim. It might be wider if he had produced more than nine albums in the last quarter century, but if you’re a jazz fan not familiar with his work, you should be.

“My circumstances in Hungary weren’t allowing me to take the music as far as I wanted it to go,” Gardony told Downbeat’s Bill Milkowski on the liner notes to the 1989 album The Legends of Tsumi. “I had become a professional but I really wasn’t able to play the music I wanted to play. It was mostly just sessions and gigs.  I really had no connection to the spiritual side of music with this type of playing. It got very predictable, so I decided to make a break.”

Moving to the U.S. was his big break, but he didn’t let go of his homeland entirely.   “. . . in some sense Hungary is a musical melting pot, because it has been the center of so much commotion over the centuries — lots of wars and migrations,” Gardony told Berkshireweb.com’s Seth Rogovoy in a 1996 interview. “The whole Hungarian philosophy was that whoever lives here is considered Hungarian, and therefore there were lots of influences mixed in to the culture.”

You can hear them in Gardony’s music, which he plays with a seeming ease that belies his talent. And you can see Gardony with that full head of hair — more often if you’re in his adopted New England, where he performs more frequently.

Allaboutjazz.com’s Tom Greenland: “Who said, ‘those who can’t do teach?’ It’s not necessarily true, as some of the best jazz musicians can be found hiding out in institutions of higher learning. Laszlo Gardony is a case in point.”

A link to Gardony’s solo rendition of Mahalia below:

sources: lgjazz.com, wikipedia.org, berkshireweb.com

The Kinks: Life Goes On

21 Jun
The Kinks: Sleepwalker

The Kinks' 1977 album Sleepwalker

Birthday greetings to the man behind the Kinks, Ray Davies, who celebrates No. 67 today.

Here’s hoping Davies takes his birthday wishes literally, even if that’s not how he would have written them.

So many of Davies’ best lyrics, and they are numerous and hard to choose from, are tinged with double entendres, irony or satire. For instance:

  • “Well, I’m not the world’s most masculine man
    But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man
    And so is Lola”
  • “We are the Village Green Preservation Society
    God save Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety
    We are the Desperate Dan Appreciation Society
    God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties”
  • “My girlfriend’s run off with my car,
    And gone back to her ma and pa,
    Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty.
    Now I’m sitting here,
    Sipping at my ice cool beer”
  • “I think I’m so educated and I’m so civilized
    ‘Cos I’m a strict vegetarian
    But with the over-population and inflation and starvation
    And the crazy politicians
    I don’t feel safe in this world no more
    I don’t want to die in a nuclear war
    I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an ape man”
  • “My bank went broke and my well ran dry.
    It was almost enough to contemplate suicide.
    I turned on the gas, but I soon realized
    I hadn’t settled my bill so they cut off my supply.”

You can listen to Davies’ work all day and all of the night — and he’s recorded enough music over the last 50 years to do just that — and not tire of it, then discover something missed on a cut played numerous times. It’s like watching a favorite movie over and over and over, and getting something new out of it when you watch it again.

Davies, from a 2011 story by Rachel Cooke at the guardian.co.uk (link below): “It’s not that I write in secret. I’m not an Emily Dickinson. But it’s a private world for me . . . not so much now, I’m more open these days. But when I started out I was shy about it because I suddenly had ideas that people were actually listening to. It was quite a big thing.”

From the liner notes of their 1964 self-titled album, their very first: “(Ray Davies) is the leader of The Kinks . . . He composes, listens politely to what the others have to say about his compositions, and then insists that they record exactly what he wrote in the first place.”

That’s how it went for most of the next 30-some years, except Ray probably listened to brother Dave less and less politely, and vice versa, until the band broke up in the mid-1990s. God couldn’t save The Kinks forever. But as Ray might say: Life goes on. Here’s hoping it goes on and on and on for him, and he keeps writing music about it.

Ray Davies interview from May 2011

Around the World: Poland’s Tomasz Stanko

13 Jun
Tomasz Stanko's album Lontano

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's 2006 album Lontano

It’s bad enough to lose your teeth, even worse when your vocation depends on them.

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko lost his in the 1990s, not long after his country lost more than four decades of Communist rule. Stanko was nearly 50, and as his country regenerated, so did he — his teeth were replaced, and so was his lifestyle. Stanko said it was about then he stopped using drugs, and re-taught himself to play the trumpet.

From the New York website thirteen.org: “Some great trumpet players who have lost their teeth and replaced them say they never fully regain their technique or their old comfort on their instrument. In Stanko’s case, things turned out differently. He got new teeth and regained his glory by playing hours of long tones while watching television.”

Stanko from a 2002 article on jazztimes.com: “All those long tones, long tones. I even played them watching television — stupid soap operas, football, Tour de France. Tennis was best!”

Our head hurts just thinking about Stanko, practicing the trumpet, watching the ebb and flow of a long rally, back and forth and back and forth (but not as much as thinking about Stanko’s countryman of an earlier century, the great novelist Joseph Conrad, about whom it was once said, “he thought in Polish, arranged his thoughts in French and expressed them in English.” Conrad took issue with the quote).

But after all those hours watching Sampras and Federer and Graf and the Williams sisters, Stanko’s art was again equal to theirs. Stanko is 68 now, and he has always cited a 1958 tour where he saw Dave Brubeck as one of his first introductions to jazz.

Stanko, from a 2006 Nate Chinen New York Times article: “The message (of jazz) was freedom. For me, as a Polish who was living in Communist country, jazz was synonym of Western culture, of freedom, of this different style of life.”

A link below to the song Tale (the pictures accompanying it are almost as good as the music).

Sources: thirteen.org, jazztimes.com, nytimes.com

Next Around the World: Hungary

Ray Charles: I Can’t Get Enough

10 Jun
Ray Charles album: genius loves company

Ray Charles' 2004 album Genius Loves Company

Remembering Ray Charles, born Ray Charles Robinson in 1930, on the day of his death in 2004.

It’s no coincidence that so many Ray Charles albums have the word genius in the title. As Muhammad Ali might say, It ain’t bragging if it’s true.

We count 6 (and two more after his death):

  1. The Genius of Ray Charles
  2. The Genius Sings the Blues
  3. The Genius After Hours
  4. The Genius Hits The Road
  5. Genius + Soul = Jazz
  6. Genius Loves Company

Other album titles included The Great Ray Charles and The Fabulous Ray Charles. And yet none of it is praise enough (and for the record, our favorite is Genius + Soul = Jazz).

“Ray Charles opened my eyes,” said singer/songwriter James Taylor, in the notes to Genius Loves Company, where he accompanied Charles on Sweet Potato Pie. “I couldn’t believe human beings could make such soulful, joyous noise. Turns out they can’t . . . only just Ray.”

Which is the point, isn’t it? Does there even exist a picture of Charles at the piano, sunglasses on, not smiling if he’s not singing? And not just smiling shyly, but boldly and loudly? How could a life with so many tragic beginnings — blind at 7, orphaned by 15 — produce so much joy?

And yet has there ever been a more heartfelt rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow than Charles’?

That really does equal genius.

Linking to Ray singing I Can’t Get Enough, because who can ever get enough of him?

Ronnie Lane: Annie

4 Jun
Ronnie Lane/Pete Townshend: Rough Mix

Ronnie Lane and Pete Townshend's 1977 album Rough Mix

Remembering British guitarist/songwriter Ronnie Lane on the day of his death in 1997.

Lane is best known for his work with Faces and Small Faces, but what we like him best for was his rarely remembered collaboration with The Who’s Pete Townshend, the 1977 album Rough Mix.

The album was part Lane, part Townshend, part guests John Entwistle, Eric Clapton and others, and all quality from first track to last. Townshend’s songs Misunderstood and My Baby Gives It Away were great, but so too were Lane’s Nowhere To Run, Annie (see below) and April Fool; the two artists co-wrote only the title track.

John Pidgeon, on rocksbackpagesblogs.com, said Rough Mix only happened when Lane asked Townshend for a loan. Townshend turned him down, Pidgeon said, but suggested an album.

Pidgeon on Lane’s song Annie from Rough Mix: “It’s a cliché to call a song timeless, but ‘Annie’ sounded as old as the century. It could also have been the work of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie or George Gershwin. Or a century older and by John Newton or Charles Wesley, since, sung in church by a choir, it would certainly have sounded like a hymn. Expressed most directly in its ‘God bless us all’ plea, the song was infused throughout with a hymnal tone, its melody uplifting, its message that in spite of mortality, life was ongoing, that even in death was optimism. A hymn by Ronnie Lane would almost be worth going to church for.”

Lyrics from Annie below, or why Pidgeon wrote what he did:

When all the colours have faded
When ol’ Jack comes to call
Don’t tell them no, tell them maybe
Oh Annie, may God bless us all
Oh, yeah, Annie, may God bless us all
                                        Ronnie Lane

From sfloman.com “The album doesn’t try to make any ‘big statements’ or do anything new, and as such I’d rank it as a minor rather than a major classic, but Rough Mix is at least that, as this overlooked gem of an album sounds as good today as the day it was recorded.”

I disagree in only one respect. It sounds better.

Lane died at 51 from complications of multiple sclerosis, 21 years after he was first diagnosed with the disease, right about the time Rough Mix was recorded.

Sources: sfloman.com, wikipedia.org, rollingstone.com, rocksbackpagesblogs.com

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