Archive | August, 2011

Van Morrison: Precious Time

31 Aug
Van Morrison's Back on Top

Van Morrison's 1999 album Back On Top

Birthday greetings to singer/songwriter Van Morrison of Belfast, born George Ivan Morrison, who celebrates No. 66 today.

Morrison has produced 33 studio albums in his career, one for every other year he’s been alive, or nearly two for every three years of his professional life. Prodigious, indeed.

More than half — 18 — are in this collection, which makes us wonder what we’re missing with the other half. Or put it this way: a third of his studio albums have been recorded after he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 (“. . . in the tradition of the great Irish poets and the great soul singers, he is the Caruso of rock and roll,” said The Band’s Robbie Robertson at Morrison’s induction).

There have been at least three tribute albums done of Morrison’s songs, and we’ve passed on all of those. Better to hear Van Morrison sing Jackie Wilson Said than anyone else.

In the meantime, we’ll save space for the 16 Morrison albums we don’t have, and for whatever more Morrison produces in the years ahead. And we’ll remain mindful of what Morrison sung in Precious Time (link below), from the 1999 album Back On Top (not that he ever wasn’t):

Precious time is slipping away
You know you’re only king for a day
It doesn’t matter to which God you pray
Precious time is slipping away



Brad Mehldau: River Man

24 Aug
Brad Mehldau: Elegiac Cycle

Brad Mehldau's 1999 release Elegiac Cycle

Birthday greetings to pianist Brad Mehldau, who celebrates No. 41 today.

You may not need be a scholar of German literature or philosophy or Romanticism to understand Mehldau, but it doesn’t hurt. His liner notes and interviews are full of varied and detailed references from Thomas Mann to Brahms to Coltrane to Beethoven to Rilke to Ginsberg and Kerouac to Plato to acid jazz to the “masters.” It’s exhausting, but enlightening; the listening to his music is easier than the reading, but both are worth the effort.

“The ever shorter and shorter life span of each trend perpetuates a sentiment that’s characteristic of some of our jazz critics these days,” Mehldau wrote in the fascinating liner notes to his 1999 album Elegiac Cycle. “To be a Master, you must do one or more of the following:

  • “A.) Imply, with the help of Yes-Men, that you are nothing short of a Messiah.”
  • “B.) Rise from prolonged, unexplainable obscurity.
  • “C.) Have a good portion of your work recorded before 1965.
  • “D.) Die.”

Mehldau has done none of the above. And while we’ll leave it to the experts to determine Mehldau’s place in the jazz world, we know where his place is here — in the antique we call a CD player or the iPhone.

Mehldau’s music is as diverse as his thinking — you can listen to him perform songs of Paul Simon, the Beatles, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Monk, Evans, Radiohead or Charlie Chaplin, as well as his own work. And his liner notes are equally interesting and varied — you can find discussions of anything from mortality of art to the art of composition.

“Alas life is short, art is long,” Mehldau wrote on Elegiac Cycle. “Great music packs a primordial punch. And when the wind is knocked out of you, something great takes place: You get to feel your own mortality. (italics Mehldau’s) . . . The process of improvisation is a kind of affirmation of mortality. Even in the moment you’re creating something, it’s already gone forever, and that’s precisely its strength. Improvisation would seem to solve the problem of death by constantly dying as it’s being born. It scoffs at loss, and revels in its own transience.”

Got it? If not, just listen. And if you do, just listen. And enjoy.

A link below to Nick Drake’s River Man:


Around the World: Israel’s Anat Fort

22 Aug

It’s a small world when vacation intercedes. Around the World resumes this week and will continue weekly:

Here’s where Israeli pianist Anat Fort is like all of us, according to her website: she spends too much time on the computer, drinks a cup or two of coffee a day and sprinkles her week with good chocolate and red wine.

Here’s where she’s different from most of us: her musical rabbi is renowned drummer Paul Motian, her teacher was pianist Paul Bley and her album And If  was picked as one of 2010’s 10 best in jazz by’s Fred Kaplan.

“The Israeli-born pianist Anat Fort’s second CD with her trio is turbulent but spare, knife-edged but tender, brimming with melodic hooks that loop in sinuous shapes and a slightly klezmeric insouciance,” wrote Kaplan, in words that might be easier to understand if they were in Hebrew if you’re not a jazz fan. Or even if you are.

But know that it’s high praise indeed. And that Fort and her international trio — American bassist Gary Wang and German drummer Roland Schneider — perform up to it.

Born near Tel Aviv and trained classically, Fort came to America to study at William Paterson University in New Jersey. She’s divided her time between the U.S.’s established jazz scene and the burgeoning Israeli one ever since.

Wrote Geoffrey Himes in the Jewish Times: “Anat Fort is not the first person to discover that you can understand your homeland from a distance in ways you never could while living there. But she has translated those insights into compositions and arrangements marking her as one of the most promising pianists in jazz.”

The Village Voice’s Francis Davis said Fort was “a real discovery,” after her debut album, A Long Story, for ECM. A discovery that should be met with a hearty Mazel Tov.


Jamie Cullum: Photograph

20 Aug

Birthday greetings to British pop/jazz pianist-vocalist Jamie Cullum on his 32nd, though it’s hard to tell by looking at him. He still appears barely more than a day or two older than, say, Justin Bieber.

Cullum is Britain’s biggest-ever selling jazz artist, through a mix of boyish charm and enthusiasm, cover songs, and talent in the mold of Harry Connick or Peter Cincotti. He’s been called Sinatra in Sneakers, though it’s difficult to imagine the original Frank ever having smiled as much as Cullum.

Cullum produced his first album himself on a budget that would barely pay for parking. Within a decade he had sold millions of albums and collaborated with Clint Eastwood on the score to the latter’s movie Gran Torino. 

Said Eastwood to Cullum on the radio show the latter hosts, according to “You jumped off the piano . . . I thought, ‘Hey, this guy’s going somewhere!’ I did feel that you were bringing an entertainment value to jazz, or swing or blues or whatever you were playing . . . that had long been missing. I became a fan on that evening.”

The link above is to a song written in 2005 (lyrics below).

When I look back on my ordinary, ordinary life,
I see so much magic, though I missed it at the time.




Joe Jackson: On Your Radio

11 Aug
Joe Jackson: Night And Day II

Joe Jackson's 2000 album Night and Day II

Happy birthday to Joe Jackson, born David Ian Jackson, who celebrates No. 57 today — hopefully with a drink and a smoke, if he wants one.

No matter how you may feel about “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, or Jackson’s many swings or changes in style, give thanks to Jackson for this: he helped a whole new generation get acquainted with Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway and their genre with his 1981 Jumping Jive album. Jackson’s brief tribute on the back was almost as good as the music:

When my dad was my age, jazz was not respectable. It played in whorehouses not Carnegie Hall. These classics from jump, jive and swing are all from the 1940s . . . our main inspiration, Louis Jordan, the king of jukeboxes, who influenced so many but is acknowledged by so few. Like us he didn’t aim at purists or even jazz fans — just anyone who wanted to listen and enjoy. Reap this righteous riff.

There’s been much to reap in Jackson’s career. The album title Night and Day is taken from a Cole Porter song; his current project is a tribute to Duke Ellington, and his other albums have fallen everywhere on the eclectic scale, in parts witty, sarcastic, angry and consistently unpredictable.

“I’ve always been pretty diverse,” Jackson tells Michael Hill on his website, “It you go back and listen to the first album, you might find that it’s pretty eclectic. I think that artists, especially new ones, get slotted into one movement or genre or another. People were so anxious to put me in a certain category that they didn’t notice how eclectic Look Sharp! was, so they acted surprised a bit later. It’s kind of ironic.”

Many of the pictures of Jackson on his website have him looking sharp, with a cigarette in hand. In fact, there’s a separate header for Smoking; the campaigns against it in public are apparently his biggest peeve. He left New York, reportedly to live in Germany, in part because of it.

From a 2003 op-ed piece Jackson wrote for The New York Times:  “New York used to have an edge — that sense that something thrilling can happen at any moment and that anyone, not just rich people and tourists, can be a part of it. Now even the bohemians are turning sanctimonious . . . the smoking ban is the last straw, the thing that has me packing my bags in utter

Leaving New York? Say it ain’t so Joe.


Johnny Dodds: Perdido Street Blues

9 Aug

Remembering clarinetist Johnny Dodds, a day after the anniversary of his death 71 years ago.

Dodds’ story is not unfamiliar: born in New Orleans, moved to Chicago, once chic, soon passe, died young at 48, his work even more obscured after his death.

And yet, as the Facebook page created in his honor notes: “You may not know the name — but Johnny Dodds’ influence on 20th century music is profound.”

It can take a lot of digging to be reminded why. Even in his most famous group, as part of the King Oliver band, he competed for attention with Louis Armstrong and Oliver, but not for his peers’ respect. Hugues Panasie, in his book the Real Jazz:  “He plays the blues as very few jazzmen have, irrespective of instruments . . . Johnny Dodds should be cited as a perfect model for any clarinetist who wishes to play the blues well.” Be assured the more-famous clarinetist Benny Goodman was listening to Dodds.

The Oliver band split up — Armstrong staying with Oliver, though Dodds would record with Armstrong in the band “The Hot Five,” which became “The Hot Seven.” Dodds remained in Chicago as the jazz scene shifted to New York, and played with his brother “Baby” Dodds in a band that made, at best, $80 per week, according to Patricia Martin’s The Solo Style of Jazz Clarinetist Johnny Dodds: 1923-38. Plus tips.

Dodds continued to perform and record, according to Martin, until suffering his first stroke in 1939. He returned to music, but a second stroke killed him a year later. In tribute, Sidney Bechet composed (with Milton Nelson and W.C. Barnes) and performed Blue for You Johnny, according to John Chilton’s book, “Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz.”

Jazz historian James Collier, “For many listeners Johnny Dodds’ playing epitomizes the New Orleans clarinet style.”

Listen to the link below to understand why.


Sources: The Solo Style of Jazz Clarinetist Johnny Dodds: 1923–1938, Patricia Martin;

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