Kool and the Gang, Heaven at Once

This massive hit album had a number of big singles, including Funky Stuff and Hollywood Swinging, and an epic jazz jam, Wild and Peaceful, that gave it its name. It also had this song, which should have been corny or terribly MOR but instead, to my ears, is bravely earnest and sweet and delightful. Scientists of sound, indeed.

Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers and Billy Cobb, So What

This is jazz, recorded live in 1960 in Sweden. So What is a classic jazz cut, the first track on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. It is the kind of music that even if you think you haven’t heard it, you’ve heard it.

This live performance from Sweden is a classic demonstration of jazz and why. Fantastic performers, all five of them, take the tune and turn it into something huger. Yeah, that’s the best word I can come up with. Huger. A better word than amazing, but that, too.

If you want to check out the original album cut, which is great, too, here it is.

Wikipedia note: The actor Dennis Hopper at some point claimed that the name of the song came from a philosophical conversation Hopper had with Davis, during which Davis would say something and Hopper would say, So what?

Prog Rock Episode

I loved ELP’s version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

I loved Yes. I liked the Moody Blues. Fucking King Crimson.

Kelefah Sanneh wrote about prog rock in the New Yorker earlier this year. You can read his excellent piece here.

I loved much of this music. Virtuosity was important, but so was a big bottom. In my memory this was music that pounded was aggressive, like rock, but also exulted in notes and playing, and felt really good.

Sanneh gets that, which is why I’m here.

One thing I remember was that Scott Muni, the program director of WNEW as well as DJ, would often put on a whole side of Yes or the Moody Blues in order to take meetings while DJing. That usually worked, though WE knew.

There are lots of good suggestions about what you should listen to in Sanneh’s story, so go and listen to them. I’ve had three conversations in recent weeks about the Mahavishnu Orchestra. As Sanneh says, not prog, but passing.

And more than anything, you should listen to Bitches Brew.




Ella Fitzgerald Was Born 100 Years Ago

The centenary is a big one, and Ella’s is coming up next week. She’s perhaps the greatest of jazz singers, without a doubt in that conversation and most likely on top of the heap, but rooting around in her discography yesterday I came up with a record called Sunshine of Your Love, which was recorded in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel in 1968.

It isn’t a rock album, but it takes it’s title from Cream’s classic rock song.

I find the cover of Hey Jude, which precedes this on the elpee, to be the worst of rock-jazz fusions, but this is different and pretty hot. Not Cream, but rockin’. I can just imagine the hep cats in their Nehru jackets at the Venetian Room, waving their cigarettes over their Scotch on the rocks as they listen in time.

Oddly, thinking about jazz and rock and what can work across the genres got me thinking about Anything Goes, an old Cole Porter chestnut that happened to be a hit single for a band called Harpers Bazaar in 1967. Ella covered it in 1956, and unlike the willful nostalgia of the insipid Harpers Bazaar version, and other cute stage versions of the tune, her version is absolutely adult and knowing. An acknowledgement of the ways and passions of the grown ups in the room.

This doesn’t make the music rock, the song is an 80-year-old show tune, but it connects the tune to the emotional directness and honesty that grew out of jazz and soul and r&b in the 50s into much of the best rock songwriting of the 60s and 70s. The singer does that, with the help of a crack band.

Happy birthday, Ella!

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, from Striking It Rich

I didn’t mean to dwell on this, but I happened to put the Hot Licks’ great album Striking It Rich—which came as a die cut fold out, that opened like a matchbook—on tonight and was reminded of more great Dan Hicks songs.

Here are two, tracks one and three, that I feel compelled to share.  Great songs, clever arrangements, ace (but not showy) solos, all the homely appeal of a ukulele  band, with all the jazz chords and standout performances.

Giorgio Gomelsky is Dead.

This was a big week for deaths. David Bowie, of course, but also baseball great Monte Irvin, terrific actor Alan Rickman, and scroogie throwing Luis Arroyo, whose best season was the year I totally fell in love with baseball. Which is, I think, why I said, oh no, when he showed up in the obits.

Screenshot 2016-01-16 00.00.41Giorgio Gomelsky was in those same pages today, and you can read William Grimes’ excellent obit for him here. I bring nothing to this except the desire to highlight a few facts and link to a few of the many odd bands that Gomelsky worked with over the years.

The biggest ones were the Rolling Stones. He gave them their first paying gig at the Crawdaddy Club. They each took home almost a buck, which is better than many bands today. Jagger’s School of Economics savvy kicks in for sure.

But he lost the Stones to the droogie Andrew Loog Oldham, so he signed up the Yardbirds. Well done!

One of the cool details from Giorgio’s life is that he was born on a boat going from Odessa, Ukraine, to Genoa, Italy.

Google maps does not offer a boat option for transportation, but this is not an easy trip.

Screenshot 2016-01-16 00.11.31

The most surprising fact in Giorgio’s obit is that he gave Eric Clapton the Slowhand nickname.

I had always assumed that it was because Clapton is so dexterous that he made fast playing look slow. That’s what I thought. But no!

Here’s the real story, from Grimes’ obit:

“Mr. Gomelsky also gave Eric Clapton, the group’s original lead guitarist, his nickname. Mr. Clapton told The Daily Mail in 2013: “I used light-gauge strings, with a very thin first string, which made it easier to bend the notes, and it was not uncommon, during frenetic bits of playing, for me to break at least one string, While I was changing my strings, the audience would often break into a slow hand clap, inspiring Giorgio to dream up the nickname of Slowhand Clapton.””

Incredible, no? To me, yes.

But Giorgio went on to better things. I’m sorry that I had no idea about his Tonka Wonka Mondays at Tramps. Brave mix ups of rock and jazz musicians willing to jam should have been a natural for me, but I missed it. This was the bar/club that gave Buster Poindexter a regular showcase, and where I got to see Big Joe Turner live, huger in some ways than seeing the Stones in ’73 at the Garden.

But I digress. The cool thing about Gomelsky, at least according to his own words in his obit, is that he had no eye on a music career, but merely wanted to make things right. I like that impulse.

Here’s a few clips from folks he worked with. But read the obit. I wish more lives like his were memorialized.

This clip is really great. I’m posting more Magma soon. Wow.

Fred Frith’s band, Henry Cow, covers a Phil Ochs song.




David Bowie has died. Blackstar.

Blackstar, David Bowie’s latest album, came out last week. I’d read the warm, enthusiastic reviews but only sampled small pieces before word came this morning that he’d passed on. I was waiting until I found the whole album, Google Music didn’t have it, but it turns out YouTube did. We’ve written about many Bowie songs and projects here over the years. This cut is a worthy piece of ambitious and pleasurable music suffused with the mythmaking heart found in everything David Bowie created. A look backward into a dark future without him (but with his art) that starts today.

Cage Match: Greg Maddux v. Bill Frisell

frisellI did not get to see The Upper Crust last night, but my life-long mate Stephen Clayton and I did venture across the bay to San Rafael, to Terrapin Crossroads (Phil Lesh’s place) to see Frisell and his band touring behind the guitar player’s latest disc, Guitar in the Space Age. maddux(Note that I have wanted to see the guitarist for years.)

True, it ain’t rock, but, that does not mean the music doesn’t rock. These guys–for this video is the same band Stephen and I saw–were arguably the most talented collection of musicians I have ever seen playing live with one another. The interplay and musicianship and notes chosen by the collective was breathtaking (watch this and you will see what I mean).

But, in deference to my previous Edge  v. Tekulve post, I have started thinking of guitarists in terms of ballplayers, and this time, I could only think of the great Cub and Brave, Greg Maddux as a parallel.

Both can clearly paint the corners, and are artists with a true craft within their respective profession. And, they don’t really look alike, but do sort of have the same look in their eye in the above pics, huh?

Stylish, smart, never overtly overpowering, yet always dominant, Maddux could make the perfect pitch just as Frisell squeezes out the perfect note. Both Hall of Famers!