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Hardly Strictly Jazz

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Back To... SOUL

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While everyone else seems to have been attending jazz festivals, I've been flying under the radar with film and TV music jobs, so I haven't had the time to write about the summer's recorded music treasures, and it has been bountiful for record/CD fans. Not least of all because some really careful and wise music fans have made sure that round things with a hole in the middle deliver something digital downloads can't: a real package. Two come from Memphis, one from The Other LA (Lower Alabama). There are three this summer that stand out from the pack. ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Pryor Experiences

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If it seems like everything is being anthologized into a box set these days, that's because it is. While on a trip to Amoeba Music (the enormous record store from where I live about a block), I took stock of all kinds of box sets. There was even one of the Mitch Miller Sing Along With stuff. Oh joy. The thought of being trapped in a room with someone who could get through even one disc of that... Horrors.In those pre-Seinfeld days, standup comedians made live albums (roughly one per year), played Vegas showrooms, toured nightclubs, appeared on ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Reliving Elvis

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No matter how much is written, or by whom, Elvis Presley remains impossible to explain. The usual “young white rocker who could sing black" is as inaccurate as any standing American mythology. His legacy has been as mangled as his career was, often to the detriment of the work itself. Yes, at the time of his death, Elvis had become (to use Frank Zappa's description) “that poor guy, that drug-infested blimp." Yes, by 1962 he had become the star of bad movies that spawned mostly bad songs.But look closely, and a much more complex and magnetic artist comes ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Carole Simpson Remembered

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As news of Donald Byrd's passing was leaking out slowly, jazz educator Keith Pawlak sent me a note on Facebook asking if I had heard that pianist/vocalist Carole Simpson had passed away.Her name is barely known except to a few collectors who specialize in female singers of the Eisenhower era. She was during that period almost an archetype--a gorgeous, glamourous blonde with an intimate singing style not far from June Christy and a pianistic approach that borrowed most heavily from George Shearing and Errol Garner. Her first album, All About Carole (Capitol) was an all-standards affair that featured ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Beyond The Blues

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Back when I was a kid--I was born in 1965--the first comprehensive push for children's education about American Black History was on. Elementary school libraries suddenly included books about Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver, and there were even a few books about jazz and blues for young readers.I wish I could remember the title of the book about blues I found in my school library when I was in the fourth grade (about 1976). It was less a history of blues than profiles of several musicians, including Billie Holiday and Leadbelly, neither of whom is ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

John Hartford: Aereo Plain/Morning Bugle - The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings

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John HartfordAereo Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Brothers RecordingsReal Music2012 This 1971 album was to the emerging newgrass movement approximately was Bill Evans' Village Vanguard recordings were to jazz piano trios: the flexible blueprint for the genre. Evans and singer/multi-instrumentalist John Hartford both successfully found ways to dissolve the “soloist and his enablers" tyranny, working instead towards the integrated ensemble as the musical engine.Shortlived though this group was, this unit--alternately called The Dobrolic Plectral Society or just “The Aereo Plain Band"--was a revolutionary force in bluegrass music. They only lasted ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams For Beginners

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Fifty years after his death, Ernie Kovacs is de rigueur. Mainstream, even. His angular, imaginative approach to humor was impossible to imitate, but his influence on television-specifically television comedy-is intractable. He's the Thelonious Monk of the small screen. And just trying to play in a Monkish style always points out that Monk is Monk and nobody else is, so it is with TV and Kovacs.The jazz world often assumes that the avant-garde thinks and operates independent from the mainstream. We'd be shocked to find saxophonist Ellery Eskelin on singer Jane Monheit's new disc.But there are other ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Frank M. Young and David Lasky: The Carter Family - Don't Forget This Song

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Frank M. Young and David LaskyThe Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song192 pagesISBN 978081988361Abrams ComicArts2012In recent years, the music biography has turned notable corners. The post-punk generation, coming largely from the world of fanzines and urban weekly newspapers, has become a big chunk of the literary establishment, and they've brought with their stylistic practices with them. Editorial expression, format, research procedures-new era.There are obviously still compelling books to be written in the old style of traditional biographical narrative/scholarship. The One (Gotham, 2012), RJ Smith's biography of ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Your Past Will Come Back To Haunt You: Omnivore and Dust To Digital - Two Record Labels That Matter

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When I was growing up, a great many labels actually worked hard at having an identity. Blue Note meant something, as did Stiff, Rounder, Sugar Hill, Fania and many more (even some of the majors). Music fans actually bought stuff with a sense of trust for the people who put it out. Packaging, production style, taste, and aesthetic pointed to (big idea) a real live art vision behind each release.I've worked with and for several reissue labels, and there are basically two kinds: The cheap “just throw it out there" chop shops, and those run by stone music ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Crimejazz: The Sound of Noir

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Crimejazz!In 1923, Caroll John Daly wrote Knights of the Open Palm. Published June of that same year in the pulp magazine Black Mask, its protagonist was Race Williams, an acerbic private eye. This was the first hardboiled crime story, and it touched off a world of crime fiction. That same year, trumpeter Louis Armstrong recorded for the first time, and that touched off a world as well. There was no connection to speak of, except that each is an important first.The golden age of film noir is basically 1941 (The Maltese Falcon being the first classic) ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Los Lobos: Kiko - 20th Anniversary Edition

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Los LobosKiko: 20th Anniversary EditionShout! Factory2012Looking over the punk-era rise of Los Angeles roots rock, reveals an embarrassment of musical riches. The prototypical outfit was The Blasters, a literate working class rockabilly-tinged barband whose songs (written by Dave Alvin) were knowing, compassionate stories of real American life, and they inspired a movement of imitators. Then there was X, fronted by the husband/wife team of John Doe and Exene Cervanka, whose punk aesthetic also drew on a wealth of American roots music, from Woody Guthrie to rockabilly and beyond. It seemed at the ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

A Few Frames Of Public Access Art

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Music and television have always worked together, and through the history of the medium, apocolypses have happened because the world was tuned in together. Language quickly becomes hyperbole when people recall Elvis Presley or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Ricky Nelson's fantastic weekly performances on his parents' show (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet), any number of jazz artists on the old Steve Allen show, Elvis Costello on Saturday Night Live (although Devo was better), or Michael Jackson moonwalking on the Motown 25 special.Growing up in Philly in the 1970s, “big" music televison was (for me) Soul Train, ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

Art Restoration: Laurie Pepper and Widow's Taste Records

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It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote, “In American life, there are no second acts," which means he clearly was not an Art Pepper fan.Pepper was one of the great alto saxophonist stars of the bop era, famed not only as a Stan Kenton sideman, but also for his own albums as a leader. In 1951, he placed second in the alto saxophone category in Downbeat Magazine's annual poll, losing by fourteen votes to Charlie Parker. Tragically, Pepper's drug habit meant that he spent way too much of the fifties in jail, despite playing some of the best ...

HARDLY STRICTLY JAZZ

England Swings Like A Pendulum Do

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Several years ago, when the Skip Heller Trio was touring all the time, I came across a disc called London Is The Place For Me: Trinidadian Calypso In London, 1950-1956 (Honest Jons, 2002), a collection of calyspo music recorded in London. The music and accompanying thick booklet were full of revelations: the history of postwar migration from Trinidad to London, the role of jazz, Jamaican music and Latin music in the evolution of calypso... there was a lot. The first three volumes of London Is The Place For Me went with me everywhere for months, and they were the soundtrack ...



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