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Friday, June 27, 2014

3:12 am edt          Comments

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The jazz nexus

Get ready for a post that is so deranged it could be harmful to your health.  Don't blame me if you come away from it insisting that America go on the gold standard.

In 1994 Paramount released the first Next Generation Star Trek film, entitled, appropriately enough, Generations.  It was a good film, not a great film, but one that I enjoyed when I saw it in its original release, as well in subsequent viewings on cable.  It featured the epic meeting between Captains Kirk and Picard, as well as the destruction of the original Enterprise.  What's not to like?

For this post, however, I'm going to focus on a small portion of the film -- a five-minute sequence in which Kirk and Picard find themselves marooned in the Nexus; an extra-dimensional realm in which ones thoughts and desires shape reality.

For Picard this meant re-discovering a love interest from his youth whom he had abandoned for the sake of his career.  For Kirk it basically boiled down to going horseback riding.

No matter, though, they were happy, at least for five minutes.  Once they realized that they had to get back to saving the universe they left the Nexus and  returned to reality, or at least what passed for it in the Star Trek universe.

Which brings me to the jazz portion of this post.  It is my belief that there exists a jazz nexus.  That is to say that there is a zone that can be entered in which the beat becomes wide enough so that the musician possesses unlimited powers.  While in the jazz nexus he can do no wrong and so is capable of executing an unlimited amount of ideas with effortless fluidity.

It's not an easy place to get to.  It takes a symbiotic and cohesive unit, as well as a nurturing performance space with a sympathetic audience.  It's not somewhere you can get to on your own.  I believe that's why musicians have chosen this life, which at best is a non-lucrative existence that comes with years of dues paying and struggle.

As for me, I believe that at some point in my youth -- I can almost remember the exact night  -- I stumbled into the nexus and was given a brief glimpse of what it had to offer.  Once I had the bug I dedicated my life to trying to get back there.

Musicians such as Wynton Kelley and Hank Mobley lived in the nexus.  Mortals such as I are allowed in for a brief taste every so often --  long enough to keep me going playing $50.00 gigs secure in the knowledge that I will return.


4:34 pm edt          Comments

Friday, March 2, 2012


Have you all noticed how loud life is getting?  I'm not talking about the street noise of a bustling city -- I like the mayhem of honking horns and people screaming good-naturedly, or angrily at each other.  I'm talking about ancillary noise that did not exist a decade ago.

When you go to a movie, even before the trailers begin, there are commercials playing at an uncomfortable volume.  Forget the feature, which is deafening.

When I lived in New York I used to dread walking by the Peruvian folk bands playing on the street, or in the subway stations.  You know those guys:  They're  the ones with the amplified pan flute players.  What is it with the pan flute anyway?  First of all, the instrument itself is an abomination.  Second of all, nobody wants to hear it.  And third of all, they are particularly offensive when PLAYED THROUGH MARSHALL STACKS!

Closer to home, I am distressed about how loud jazz music has become.  In the old days bass players didn't have amps -- they were felt more than heard.  Perhaps this explains why they felt so good!  These days you have bass players playing through amplification at uncomfortably loud levels.  The drummer ends up having to play louder, and the horns and piano require micing.  Ultimately, unless you're playing at a serious listening venue,  the audience talks louder.  It's a vicious cycle.   Or is it a vicious circle?


It's vicious.

9:25 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The first and last word on jazz piano: Bud

There have so many pianists that have shaped the legacy of jazz music but there is one who towers above them all. Without Bud Powell there would be no Wynton Kelley, no Horace Silver, no McCoy Tyner, and no Chick Corea. Certainly Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, and Sonny Clark would have sounded much different. Even the pianists you might think are not influenced by Bud, such as Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, owe a great deal to the master. Early Bill Evans recordings reveal a close stylistic affinity with Powell, and Jarrett has recorded many of Powell's compositions on his trio dates- enough to let you know that he has more than a passing fancy.

The first Bud record that I owned was s Verve "twofer" called The Genius of Bud Powell, which comprised his trio and solo work from 1949-1951. I was just fifteen, new to jazz, but from the opening off-to-the-races intro of Tempus Fugit, Bud had won yet another disciple.

It would be impossible for me to overstate his importance to jazz pianists. The connection I felt to him was instantaneous and thrilling. These sessions, recorded in such a brief span of time, are the lexicon from which future pianists would study.

His technique is prodigious, but not as frightening and daunting as that of Art Tatum. He's just mortal enough to allow you to have a smidgen of belief that it is attainable.

The technique, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Check out his clarity of ideas. He rarely repeats himself, even on the extended choruses of All Gods Children Got Rhythm, Tea For Two, and Parisian Thoroughfare. His attack is hard, yet he never forces the beat. He is secure in the center of the beat, rarely clams a note, and is so confident in the up tempo numbers that they hardly sound fast at all - just musical. His ideas, in fact, are so well-formed that he becomes a be-bop impressionist - painting in colors we could not dream of.

These sides, and I've heard them hundreds of times, never get old to me. I am as dumbfounded listening to them today as I wax 35 years ago. His ballad playing is like no other pianist I've ever heard. Phrases come in clusters, seemingly unrelated to the beat, but that is only an illusion; his time is never less than perfect. He appears to have found a way to use the maximum amount of pedal without ever slurring notes. He is romantic but never scmaltzy.

His personality looms over everything. From the startling originals, Hallucinations and The Fruit, to the clever re-working of the standards Tea For Two and Cherokee, he is in command and the music has such forward momentum that you almost get the feeling that his sidemen - Max Roach and Ray Brown - giants in their own rite, are merely along for the ride. This is bourne out on his solo sides of 1951, in which the tunes are so alluring, and his time so strong that on first listen one can be forgiven for not noticing the absence of a rhythm section!  Bud, you left us far too soon, but thank you for all that you have given us. We can never repay you, and we will never forget you.


7:33 pm est          Comments

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Keitho has left the building

On Saturday, after a week of heartfelt goodbyes, going away parties, and more tears than a Terms of Endearment 30th year anniversary revival, we have left New York City.  I was glad that my last memory was of the Northern Blvd Best Buy — it will lessen the nostalgia.  Around 2:30 PM we crossed the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey thus concluding my life in New York City.

I remember my first night in New York some 26 years ago.  I stayed with my cousin who had an apartment at the Esplinade Hotel on West End Ave and 74th st.  It was a cold, rainy night, and I was holed up in his bedroom.  He was working late so I was by myself, or so I thought. 

 I had this clock radio that a neighbor had given me as a going away present.  It still works — we keep it in our upstate house.  I turned the radio on and tuned to a Rangers-Islanders playoff game.  Not that I gave a rats ass about hockey in those days, but I was so excited to be in New York that I would have listened to Ed Koch reciting the Gettysburg Address had it been on.  (I should note that these days I have a much greater appreciation of hockey and intend to root on my San Jose Sharks….doesn anyone even know the way to San Jose?)

So I’m listening to this game and it’s the second overtime.  All of a sudden the Islanders scored to win the game and  I heard this blood curdling scream emanating from the adjacent bedroom.  I can’t begin to describe the agony and utter despair that was contained in that five second outburst, but suffice it to say that I had never heard anything like it.  It was like a dying wildebeest going though heroin withdrawal while giving birth to twins.

I smiled and thought, “Now, I’m in New York!”

1:01 pm edt          Comments

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