On the heels of the deaths of iconic rock musicians David Bowie and Glenn Frey comes the very sad news that Maurice White, the founder of the Earth, Wind and Fire, has died today at age 74. White’s music came to prominence in the thick of soul’s musical ascent, and E W & F embodied the sound of urban America at the time, their message communicated optimistically and on a large scale. White’s band possessed an unusual crossover appeal — the fact that his death has invited praise from[…] Continue reading »
On March 28, 1965, a concert benefiting the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School was held at New York’s Village Gate. Featuring John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra (he played but his music didn’t make the album) and Albert Ayler – artists described by Black Arts Music Coordinator Steve Young as “The Beautiful Warriors” and “magicians of the soul”– the performance was recorded and subsequently released on Impulse Records as The New Wave in Jazz.
This recording is significant for its brilliant “free jazz” performances, but also for Amiri Baraka’s (known as LeRoi Jones at the time) liner notes’ connection of music and politics. It is a reminder of the historic, turbulent times in which this music was created. The Selma to Montgomery marches took place in March, 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated in February. The war in Vietnam was dramatically escalating. And, jazz music was continuing to evolve, the most obvious example being the[…] Continue reading »
In 1956, shortly after recording Songs for Swingin’ Lovers — which included the ultimate Frank Sinatra tune, Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” — Sinatra’s career was white-hot. His record contract with Capitol was up for renegotiation, which posed a financial challenge for Capitol, who competed with other labels, particularly RCA, for Sinatra’s services. “When we took him on two and half years ago, Frank couldn’t get a record,” Capitol executive Alan Livingston told Downbeat. “Now, every company in the business is after him.”
After signing Sinatra to a seven-year contract that carried an annual guarantee of $200,000, Sinatra biographer James Kaplan writes that he had a “virtual carte blanche to record whatever he pleased. The suits were happy enough with their star to grant him an indulgence or two, and the first was[…] Continue reading »
This morning came news of the passing of Meadowlark Lemon, the face of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 20 years, his peak coming during the height of the civil rights movement. It was a complex time to be a Globetrotter, who at one time (prior to Lemon’s tenure with the team) was a legitimate and powerful basketball entity that was so good in 1948 it beat George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers, to that of a team so focused on clowning that, in the words of Bruce Weber in today’s New York Times obituary, “some thought to be a discomforting resurrection of the minstrel show.”
It was also a complex time to be a fan of the Globetrotters, whose occasional appearance on national television always elicited […] Continue reading »
In the days of the LP – and in particularly during the 1970’s – reissue or compilation releases were a great way to be introduced to artists, or to expand a personal collection. These compilations were generally two LP sets, which not only meant there was a lot of music, but also that the gatefold package allowed for extensive liner notes. When you bought an album like this, you knew that the writer had space to write meaningful biographical sketches, tell personal stories, and wax philosophically about the artist’s overall contribution to the music.
This weekend I spent some time with several of these compilations, and the one that caught my interest was the 1975 Milestone Records Bill Evans compilation titled Peace Piece and Other Pieces. The package features the music originally released on […] Continue reading »
I’ve been revisiting some favorite recordings this week, among them the classic 1958 Cannonball Adderley-led session Somethin’ Else, with Hank Jones, Art Blakey, Sam Jones, and, in a rare appearance as sideman, Miles Davis. The tune I have been stuck on is “One For Daddy-O,” a blues written by Cannonball’s brother Nat that features a flawless blues solo by Miles.
I dug into the liner notes and was reminded of how the critic Leonard Feather used this particular solo as a platform on which to describe the essence of the “deeper and broader blues of today,” refuting a “misinformed” Ebony piece of the era that suggested that
Back in 1937, Jelly Roll Morton was part owner of a sleazy night club upstairs from a U Street hamburger stand in Washington, D.C. At the time, I was finishing high school and playing gigs around the city as often as they came my way. I was a good, proud, seventeen years old then, and quite naturally very little remained which I did not know about life and music. I used to hang around with […] Continue reading »
In November, 1946, at the height of his popularity, Dizzy Gillespie took his big band out on the road, and in 1947 hired Ella Fitzgerald to tour the South. According to Ella’s biographer Stuart Nicholson, she had been added to this tour in response to Gillespie’s Hepsations tour in 1945, whose groundbreaking sound “had confused and confounded the southerners,” and because Ella could “create balance after the unrelieved diet of bop…The Gillespie band saw Ella as a former swing era star, light-years removed from what they were doing, a palliative to help their music go down with the public.”
Even with Ella, however, things could be challenging. The audience would “listen, stand around and applaud,” band member Howard Johnson said,” and try and pretend they dug it. I think they appreciated the artistry of Dizzy because […] Continue reading »
“What Ornette was actually doing is something that is still needed in this country — the same thing. It’s not considered popular, but he had a sense of mission. A lot of the great stuff is not the best-seller — it’s interesting or thought-provoking, stuff that makes you want to transfer [ideas] from music to something that you do in another profession.
“We need someone to do that. If everyone was doing the same thing, like the same thing pop-wise, that’s like a lake without any outlet: everything in there gets poisoned and dies. [People like Coleman] work as antidotes to the sleeping powder that we drink…think…ingest.
“I think the music that’s called “future stuff” is the soundtrack to the […] Continue reading »
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Horace Silver writes of five different occasions he played with Charlie Parker.
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