So the weather on Oct.14th wasn’t nearly as terrible as I hoped that it would be. After a summer of very comfortable temperatures, BYOV doesn’t really need to have nice weather any more as our turnouts have been a bit slim.
So at 3pm and the sun shining brightly, I waited in the dark recess at the back of Barbès sipping coffee and hoping some fellow music geek would show.
And then there were geeks! Let’s not go crazy. We had something like twelve people all told but considering the last few months, that was a tidal wave.
I was happy to see a crowd for one of my favorite collection of themes to date. Here they are:
A) Multi-kulti. We want to hear interpretations of roots music that we've never heard before.
B) All souled out. Bring an example of an artist who would be considered a "sell out." Is he/she really selling out? Should we dismiss as gimmick or learn to love?
C) This one is for the ladies... Let's hear your favorite female artist regardless of genre.
We’ve come to expect some interesting music and opinions. #15 proved to have plenty. Read on.
1. George Russell – “All About Rosie” from Modern Jazz Concert (Columbia Adventures In Sound WL127, 1957)
Presented by Joel Harrison – CD – Theme: A
Joel: “This interpretation of a traditional theme is one of the best of the 20th Century by one of the best composers/arrangers of the 20th Century.”
That was a strong statement by a man who is very studied in the art of arrangement and composition.
Within five seconds of listening, Steve was able to guess George Russell’s reinterpretation of the old African American spiritual “Rosie, Little Rosie.”
Steve: “How does the nursery rhyme go?” Don’t really know.
Joel: “This could have been written today. It sounds so modern.”
The piece was written for a showcase at the Brandeis University Jazz Festival in 1957. Some thought they remembered a televised broadcast of the piece being performed, perhaps the same performance that was recorded on June 10th at the Festival.
“Is that a flute I hear?” No, vibes.
The ensemble included Teddy Charles on vibes, pianist Bill Evans, guitarist Barry Galbraith, trumpeters Art Farmer and Louis Mucci, saxophonists Hal McKusick and John LaPorta, bassist Joe Benjamin and drummer Ted Sommer.
This particular selection has been released on a couple of different audio incarnations, the easiest to find being the Columbia compilation The Birth of the Third Stream that featured selections from Gunther Schuller’s Music for Brass and Modern Jazz Concert. The latter release presented selections from the Brandeis Festival, including “All About Rosie.”
2. Amina Claudine Myers – “Jailhouse Blues” from Salutes Bessie Smith (Leo Records LR 103, 1980)
My selection began with a bass solo, which prompted the question if the piece was by the bassist. No it wasn’t but the mystery artist would appear soon after.
It was pretty quiet in the room as the piano and vocal came in.
Steve was quick at guessing the tune, which was Bessie Smith’s “Jailhouse Blues.”
Steve: “Talk about incredible non sequiturs…”
Apparently, there were quite a few hidden sexual innuendos dispersed throughout the lyrics of Smith’s tunes, including this gem.
There were still no guesses at who the artist performing the piece was, though there were plenty of heads nodding along.
“What year is this?” 1980.
No one guessed pianist/organist/vocalist Amina Claudine Myers.
Steve: “That makes sense.”
The track featured accompaniment by bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jimmy Lovelace.
“Kind of wish it was just bass and piano.”
The track fit the themes of female artist and transformed roots well. Depending on how you view Myers’s career trajectory, listeners could potentially view Myers’s signing to Arista/Novus and her pop attempts on the label as selling out. Personally, I have no problem with these releases.
Joel remembered taking Myers and saxophonist Dewey Redman on tour in the 1980s. He said that during a sound check, the two began to play an impromptu spiritual duet. He recalled it being some of the best and most beautiful music he heard on the tour and requested that they perform a piece like that in concert. Joel was rebuffed but still holds the memory dear.
3. George Shearing ft. Marjorie Hyams – “Conception” from (The Definitive George Shearing, Verve 2002 (1949))
Robert decided to dig a little deeper for his selection. He thought that we might guess the composer/headlining artist but maybe not pick up on the musician he intended to present, a female performer.
The track was a fairly standard jazz ensemble recording featuring both vibes and piano.
Richard: “Well… It isn’t Gary Osborne or Terri Gibbs…” That was pretty obvious. Terry Gibbs might have been a better guess. Gary Burton?
“Is the mystery artist the vibraphonist?” Yes.
Steve began to reel out names of vibists before settling on possibly the only female vibist, Marjorie Hyams.
Steve’s omniscience determined that this recording must be George Shearing’s “Conception,” which was recorded on July 27, 1949.
Along with vibes, Hyams also played piano and was a skilled arranger. She had performed in groups led by Woody Herman, Mary Lou Williams and Charlie Ventura prior to playing with Shearing. From 1951 to 1970, Hyams performed and taught around Chicago. She died in June 2012.
The track also featured drummer Denzil Best, who could also play trumpet and piano. Best even accompanied Shearing on piano while Shearing manned the accordion on another recording.
Shearing was an adept accordionist, having begun his career in a blind accordion band in the United Kingdom.
4. Laura Nyro – “Tom Cat Goodbye” from New York Tendaberry (Columbia KCS 9737, 1969)
Presented by Zak Shelby-Szyszko – LP – Theme: C
I’m so proud of Zak for bringing a piece of vinyl. The virus is spreading.
Zak prefaced playing his selection by saying that this particular female artist has been a major favorite of his for some time.
Of course, Steve guessed singer/songwriter Laura Nyro immediately. I think that we’re going to have to institute some sort of time limit before Mr. Futterman can give his guess. Shot clock?
Me: “Is the volume okay?”
“Yeah… But can you take some of the reverb off?” Some scoffs.
Steve asked Zak if he felt that Nyro was properly lauded as an artist.
Zak: “No. She has been grossly underappreciated.”
Kimberly: “She was a goddess. She has never gotten her due as a songwriter.”
Robert remembered seeing a marquee at the Fillmore East that had Miles Davis opening for Nyro. The association with Miles was a bit deeper than that as Nyro had invited him to appear on one of her recordings. He turned the appearance down stating that she didn’t need him.
Nyro did have a penchant for jazzier sounds. A later recording featured Alice Coltrane and Gregg Allman on the same track.
New York Tendaberry was an early record but Nyro’s style and prowess grew exponentially from record to record.
Steve: “She grew in giant leaps beginning with very concise pop songs which grew into these big, involved compositions.”
Zak was impressed by Nyro’s handling of transitions in her music. The compositions could be very herky-jerky, going from one musically concrete segment to another but handled with panache.
Zak: “It gives her music a certain freedom but there is control within that freedom.”
Kim: “This gives the effect that she was really playing for herself giving the listener a sense of eavesdropping. ‘Okay… Let me leave…’”
Jason asked what had become of Nyro. She passed away in 1997 after a fight with ovarian cancer. She recorded sporadically in the late 1970s with large breaks throughout the 1980s. In 1988, Nyro began to tour again in smaller venues. Her final album Walk the Dog and Light the Light was released in 1993.
Nyro was an activist as well as an artist. She was a feminist (she led an all woman band for some time) and was also a vocal member of the lesbian community.
In the end, Nyro has remained a cult figure but one who has kept resurfacing with more and more interest.
5. Captain Beefheart – “Bluejeans & Moonbeams” from Bluejeans & Moonbeams (Mercury SRM-1-1018, 1974)
Always a fan of music of the more bent variety, Richard brought a synth filled, schmaltzy number performed by an artist incredibly hard to pin down.
Jason: “I recognize that voice…”
Richard: “This record was a famous sell out record from a famous sell out.”
We listened on with open ears but puzzled faces.
It happened to be Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart. After nearly a decade of making idiosyncratic/weird avant-blues records, Beefheart tried to swing for the commercial seats. After releasing three middling records in the early 1970s, Beefheart’s Magic Band quit. His next recording, Bluejeans & Moonbeams, was recorded by a quickly assembled ensemble before going on the road for tour dates that were already booked.
The record was a soft-rock bust. Richard proved there were Beefheart fans of all creeds.
“Is that Gary Lucas on guitar?” No. It is someone you’ve never heard of. (Dean Smith as a matter of fact.)
Zak: “This sounds better than the rest of Beefheart’s stuff…” Gasp!
There seemed to be a general consensus that Beefheart’s earlier material was the strongest. Zak just ain’t down with no Troutmask.
Then the synth solo came in. Laughs all around.
Steve to Richard: “I don’t know what’s weirder: Beefheart doing this or you defending it…”
Richard: “It’s the shit! Beefheart attempting to be normal is weirder than just about anyone else.”
There was also the question of whether Beefheart was ripping off Dr. John or vice-a-versa. Not likely. Mac Rebennack had already had a long career in New Orleans as a songwriter and session guitarist before he moved to California and created his Dr. John persona. The fact that other musicians were working along similar lines in California in the mid-1960s was purely coincidental and reflected the popularity of certain music in these locales. The fact that Van Vliet and Frank Zappa attended the same high school should not be overlooked as their musical tastes seemed to converge.
6. Muddy Waters – “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” from Folk Singer (Chess LPS-1483, 1964)
Steve: “Now here is a great example of a roots artist paying homage to another roots artist.”
Kim: “Ohh… Meta.”
Steve: “Yeah… It’s meta.”
We heard an acoustic blues set with two guitarists and a very familiar vocalist.
Robert: “Oh yeah… Muddy Waters doing ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.’”
This was blues legend Muddy Waters’s rendition of the “Original” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” which featured Willie Dixon on bass, Clifton James on drums and Buddy Guy on guitar. The album was recorded in September 1963 in Chicago as an intended all acoustic project. Waters had already begun playing electric guitar by then.
Steve: “Can you get any more behind the beat?”
A number of attendees were trying to, apparently, as they drummed along on the tables.
Zak: “It is so relaxed. And you could recognize Waters’s voice anywhere.”
7. Jonas Knutsson - “Polska Efter Tommos Anders, Älvdalen, Dalarna” from Blåslåtar (Country & Eastern, 2011)
Jonas Knutsson & Horn Please – “1:a Lorikspolskan” from Horn Please! (Country & Eastern, 2007)
Presented by Jason Weiss – CD – Theme: A
Jason brought two tracks by the same artist that had elements of roots music that was jazz in essence.
“Try to imagine which country…”
We heard a frolicking solo soprano saxophone in a very folkloric and melodic setting.
“Is it Middle Eastern?” You could imagine it that way, but no.
Steve: “It is a soprano sax sounding like an Eastern instrument, though.”
Richard: “It reminds me of Jan Garbarek. It sounds Nordic.” It is.
Jason played another selection from the same artist that featured more instrumentation, which really fleshed out the sound.
The saxophonist was Jonas Knutsson, a Swedish musician who recorded these two albums for percussionist Bengt Berger’s Country & Eastern label. The first was a solo soprano record and the second was a collection of traditional Swedish songs arranged for six horns (two players happened to be women).
Steve: “Oh! He must have sold out!”
The latter piece was credited to fiddler Bjorn Stabi. Jason had come across Stabi and his peer Ole Hjorth’s music as a young man at the Berkeley Public Library. Recordings of their repertoire were included on the Nonesuch Explorer record series released in 1971.
Apparently, Jason’s attraction stuck and was aided by the improvisatory concept of Knutsson. (Not to mention Jason’s attraction to the soprano sax.)
We talked briefly on the history of Scandinavian musicians using folkloric elements in their work. A recent favorite of mine has been the duo recording between Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Håkon Kornstad entitled Elise , where the Norwegian musicians take traditional Norwegian hymn melodies and improvise around them. A beautiful record.
8. Yma Sumac – “Taita Inty (Virgin of the Sun God)” from Voice of the Xtabay (Capitol Records L244, 1950)
Presented by Gilles Laheurte – CD – Theme: A & C
Our new attendee, Gilles, brought a selection featuring a cultural mash-up done by a talented female vocalist.
The opening gong bang set us up for a cheesy arrangement but the incredible high ranged, operatic vocals were inspiring.
Indefatigably, Steve: “Yma Sumac.” It would seem so.
Gilles was impressed by Sumac’s incredible range, apparently four octaves and “even five octaves at her peak” according to Wikipedia.
Sumac was born in Callao, Peru in 1922. She recorded in Argentina before making her way to the States where she was signed by Capitol Records in 1950.
I asked into what genre she would be placed. There was obviously a large exotica/lounge music market in the 1950s as mood music was in vogue as stereo equipment became more accessible.
Steve: “There are definitely certain elements of camp at work here.”
It might be unfair to confine such an extraordinary talent to such a pedestrian genre. Ultimately, we decided to be magnanimous and simply agree that her work “defies category.” Nice of us, huh?
As a whole, we didn’t know much about Sumac. Jason mentioned that there were recordings released by Bernard Stollman’s ESP label.
Richard: “Well it’s all there on the Google.”
9. Fiona Apple – “Every Single Night” from The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Clean Slate/Epic 88691978631, 2012)
Presented by Jeremy Udden – MP3 – Theme: C
Next, Jeremy played some pop music. Admittedly, a little bit out of this group’s comfort zone.
This was the first tune off this popular female artist’s new recording that was released about three months ago. Jeremy had been a fan for some time but felt that this was her best work to date.
For pop music, this was pretty idiosyncratic. A mixture of tin-pan alley, typical pop form and a little something special (or just bizarre). It had to be Fiona Apple.
Not everybody was familiar with Ms. Apple. Not too surprised here. A couple had heard about her only recently because of her latest trouble with the law at a renowned traffic stop in Sierra Blanca, Texas and a certain cache of marijuana and hash. But who hasn’t been pulled over there? Willie? Snoop?
Jeremy felt that the new work was especially well conceived by Apple’s new producer, Charlie Drayton.
I mentioned that I had become a fan of Apple in my teens because of my father. Dad would sporadically purchase music by female artists to play while he cleaned the house on the weekends. “I like when women sing to me” was his favorite retort. Some were winners: Tidal. Some losers: Toni Braxton.
Being a horror and b-movie buff, Kimberly enlightened us a bit on Apple’s father, who had attempted a career as an actor, his most famous role occurring in Christmas Evil.
“He had issues and then he had her…”
Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Wink…
10. Ran Blake – “Lost Highway” from Driftwoods (Tompkins Square TSQ2097, 2009)
Presented by Joel Harrison – CD – Theme: A
Joel thought of another artist to present.
“This guy is one of the greatest interpreters of American music. We’ll see if Steve can guess who.”
“Is this just piano?” Yes.
A lone, heavily reverbed piano sang out. The music was extremely subdued and introspective. There wasn’t an identifiable melody, rather, it was a rumination on a possible melody.
Jason: “Whatever he plays is always special.”
Joel: “I like that he always does little pieces. He is so concise.”
It was certainly true that most pieces that Blake performs barely make it to five minutes. Pretty odd for an improvising musician. Refreshing might be a better work, no?
“Was that improvisational or was he playing some tune?” Yeah, it was totally improvisational.
The tune that Blake was re-interpreting was Hank Williams’s “Lost Highway.” Whether Blake was using pieces of the melody or harmonic changes could not be discerned. Blake is the master of creating a mood. It is no surprise that many of the themes that he chooses to work on are from film scores, the ultimate mood music.
11. Dinah Washington – “What a Difference a Day Makes” from What a Difference a Day Makes (Mercury SR-60158, 1959)
Presented by Zak Shelby-Zsyszko – YouTube – Theme: C
Zak wanted to play this classic track for his mother, Linda, who happened to be gracing us with her presence that afternoon. This happened to be her favorite female musician.
The lovely vocals of Dinah Washington were recognized immediately.
Joel: “Listen to those background vocals. Wow… What a great arrangement.”
Zak wanted Linda to stick up for her fav: “What made Dinah your favorite singer?”
Linda: “It’s just her voice. She has this sassiness. She also has this weariness. It just speaks to me.”
Zak: “Her voice was never as clean as Sarah (Vaughan) or Ella (Fitzgerald). There was pain in there. Like she had lived these lyrics.”
Kimberly: “(She sounded) Almost like she was smiling through the pain.”
Steve: “That blues inflection… Mmm…”
Zak: “But she has this power but never takes advantage of it.”
Washington had known despair and heartache. She had been married seven times. (“Wow… Almost as many marriages as Larry King.”) There were also her addiction problems with drugs and alcohol. If anyone could express sorrow, it was Dinah.
12. Meadow ft. Laura Branigan – “In The Beginning: When You Were Young” from The Friend Ship (Paramount PAS-6066, 1973)
Kimberly wanted to play this tune featuring her favorite female artist just to see if she had found a “Steve Stumper.”
Steve was quiet for a moment, then: “I know this!”
Kimberly: “I spoke too soon.”
Still Steve mulled over the potential vocalists.
Jason: “Is this recent? From the ‘70s?” Oh. This is so ‘70s.
“Did she have a long or short career?” Shortish.
Jason: “Joan Armatrading?” No. But a good guess.
“Did she have a major following?” At her peak, yes, but then a major fall.
“Where was she based?” New York City.
Richard: “Judy Henske?”
Steve, finally: “Melissa Manchester?”
Kimberly kindly gave more hints. This was a group effort from 1973. The singer then went on to a solo career that was plagued by bad material, e.g. Michael Bolton and Diane Warren.
Still more shakes of the head.
Kimberly: “She had a couple of big hits in the ‘80s: ‘Gloria’ and ‘Self Control.’”
No one guessed vocalist Laura Branigan. This recording was from an album called The Friend Ship by the band Meadow. In 1979, Ertegun signed her to Atlantic but held up releasing anything as the label tried to find the proper way to market her. Eventually, the plan was a bad one.
Kimberly expressed her appreciation for Branigan’s “unmatched pipes.”
“She has power but also vulnerability. To me, Edith Piaf is her only rival. The material was the only issue.”
Another example of what could have been...
Kimberly: “Sorry… I didn’t mean to bring everyone down.”
We weren’t bummed. We were enlightened.