Dr. Billy Taylor: An American Classic
As a teenager, forty years ago, living in a New York suburb, I first heard Billy Taylor on WNEW-AM. He played great music, and was so cool and informative that he proved to be the catalyst for even greater exploration in my increasing fascination with Jazz. When I finally moved to Manhattan several years later, he became a regular part of my day on WLIB.
Over the past four decades, I've heard him live, with great Trios, and enjoyed his work on NPR, CBS Sunday morning and with Jazzmobile, the Harlem based organization he founded to bring Jazz back to the streets of New York.
Eight years ago, when I helped put together Jazz Central Station, the mega-web site that went to Jazz heaven, Billy was the artistic advisor. Around the same time, I wrote an extensive tribute that appeared in Jazz Times magazine, on the occasion of his 75th birthday. It's no surprise that everyone wanted to pay homage to Billy, one of the most respected and well liked people in the world of Jazz.
After Jazz Central Station ran amok, I worked with Billy on another multi-million dollar production, GMN Jazzplus, which featured streaming audio and video of live performances. In 2000, we recorded Billy's Women in Jazz Festival, dedicated to Mary Lou Williams, at the Kennedy Center, and some other memorable gigs. But, sadly, that's all gone now as well, another victim of the dot.com bust. Another wonderfully produced, well intentioned site didn't last, but our friendship did.
Last year, I redesigned his website, and now work with him producing content. Still active and plugged in at 82, Billy uses his website as the medium to keep his fans posted, and sell his books and music. He's selling downloads on the site, as well as a number of his CDs and books.
One of his books, Taylor Made Piano,
has just been reissued. It was the basis of his popular NPR series and serves as essential reading for anyone who wanst to know truth story of the history and development of Jazz Piano.
Dr. Taylor speaks the truth, gently, and without malice, but he is truthful. As one might expect given his warm and engaging public personna, Billy genuinely loves people and really finds great inspiration in teaching young people about Jazz. Their enthusiasm is contagious. He still gets a thrill hearing a new player with something to say and has been an inspiration to many young musicians.
As previously announced in Paris last fall, Dr. T. will retire from active performing after a presentation at the Kennedy Center program next month. Billy's Trio, featuring Chip Jackson and Winard Harper, will be joined by special guest Jon Faddis for a concert entitled "Diz," in a tribute to one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, Dizzy Gillespie. This concert follows a special distance learning program, "The Legacy of Dizzy Gillespie," which Billy will present on March 1st and 2nd, for high schools around the country. So if you're anywhere near DC, put that on your must list.
Earlier this month, Billy received the Recording Academy (NARAS) Trustees Award. The Trustees Awards recognizes outstanding achievement in a non-performing capacity. There was a big ceremony the day before the Grammy broadcast, where Billy was honored. And on Sunday, millions of people heard his name announced, and saw a brief video segment in honor of Billy, including a historic musical meeting: Billy with Duke Ellington and Willie "The Lion" Smith. (As fate would have it, that brief clip was really the only instrumental heard at the Grammys, this year.)
It seems appropriate that Billy coined the expression "Jazz is America's classical music." He's one of our classic creators. A great musician, composer, broadcaster, educator and spokesperson for the music he loves so deeply. The Jazz Auction
There was a big, first ever Jazz auction last week, which sold off, to the highest bidders, one of Charlie Parker's saxophones, letters and music written by John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, one of Dizzy's trumpets, and lots more. The proceeds will go to musician's families, foundations set up by musicians and some, no doubt to Jazz at Lincoln Center, who hosted the event. (What about the Jazz Foundation of America. I hope they're getting some money for the invaluable work they do.)
I'm happy musician's families and foundations were able to get some funding from these items, but, I still find myself wondering why we're selling off these important cultural artifacts to the highest bidder.
Interestingly, the winner's names were not disclosed. And although someone suggested they should "donate" these artifacts to the Smithsonian, they are under no obligation to do so. The Smithsonian doesn't have the funding to actually purchase these items. It seems there are few Jazz benefactors.
John Coltrane's original score and notes for A Love Supreme
is a national treasure, the equivalent of the Declaration of Independence. Instead of being displayed at the Smithsonian, or on a travelling exhibit, it's going to be hanging in someone's living room. That just doesn't add up for me no matter how I try and justify it. From Information to Distribution
Speaking of new media, last time, I wrote about how Starbucks and Apple are poised to become major players in the music world. This week, Yahoo announced the opening of a media center in Santa Monica, a stone's throw from Hollywood.
Ever since the dawn of the Internet revolution, Web companies have dreamed of allowing customers to call up films and television shows with the click of a mouse. Bit Torrent filesharing has managed to jumpstart this, in a way that finds the Supreme Court ready to consider the matter.
Nevertheless, the opening of the new Yahoo Center suggests that, at last, this era may begin in earnest. For now, Yahoo's goals are modest -it has no intention of producing a mega box office hit. Yet many people, yours truly included, believe that the day of original video programming for the web is just around the corner, and the trend could not only transform the entertainment industry but also turn firms like Yahoo into the Disneys of the new millennium.
New computer chips literally pack the power of a super computer onto a chip that goes into your PC. When they become the standard, in a few years, there will be a dramatic increase in the quality of video streamed over the Net.
The Internet is changing from an information platform to an entertainment point to point distribution medium. Companies like Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, have a natural advantage, and many observers expect them to parlay that knowledge into multimedia empires that reach across the entertainment landscape.
Stay tuned... Collateral
I finally caught up with the Tom Cruise/Jamie Foxx film Collateral
last weekend on DVD. In case you haven't seen it, there's a very amusing scene involving Miles Davis, and his music.
Cruise plays a hit man, and Foxx, his driver (under protest). After several murders, Cruise has Foxx take him to an LA Jazz Club on Central Avenue where "Dexter Gordon used to play."
At the club, there's a trumpet player leading a group, playing "Spanish Key." Only it's not the musicians/actors in the film, but the original Miles recording, from Bitches Brew.
In the film, they pretend like they're playing the music but for those of us "in the know," this is almost comical.
The trumpet player/club owner is in trouble with a drug cartel, hence the appearance of hit man Cruise. When confronted with the possibility of his death, the trumpeter offers to just disappear. Cruise makes him an offer, answer this question, and you can live: Where did Miles Davis study?
The trumpeter pauses and tells the story of how Miles' father was dentist with money and how he sent his son to Julliard for his music education.
At this point Cruise takes out his gun and blows him away. Jamie Foxx is rather upset, and asks why he was killed, that Miles did study at Julliard. As they step over the body and exit the club, Cruise tells him that Miles may have gone to Julliard, but that he only stayed three weeks and left, to work with Charlie Parker on 52nd. "That's where Miles studied," hitman Cruise tells us, "on 52nd Street with Bird."
So brush up on your Jazz trivia my friends, you never know... But if you see Tom Cruise coming, run anyway. He may try and convert you to Scientology. Bret Primack, Filmmaker
I went to NYU Film School intending to be a filmmaker. After graduation, I worked in documentaries and industrials before falling in love with writing and becoming a journalist. After nearly two decades of pounding out priceless prose in articles, liner notes and press releases, and crafting several plays, I discovered the web. With seconds, I was hooked forever. I soon began my life as a web creator, which has been the focus of my activities the past decade. But all the while, the filmmaker within has been lurking. Waiting, patiently, hoping for a return.
In the past few years, with the advent of digital technology, it's now possible to make movies using a Mini DV Camera and video editing software. Add the Internet to the mix, a technology that allows for point to point distribution, and we have revolution in filmmaking taking place. Independent filmmakers are everywhere.
I am happy to report that I have recently joined this revolution, with my Digital Camcorder and Vegas Editing software. When I went to film school, back in the late 60s, we were entirely dependent on some very convoluted technology to make movies. Now, I can do it all myself, from shooting, editing, mixing, special effects, everything.
I invite you to view my rebirth as a filmmaker, an EPK I did for Joe Lovano's new CD, Joyous Encounter.
The CD, one of Joe's best, will be released in May and features the same Quartet from his last release, Hank Jones, George Mraz and Paul Motian.
Windows Media -Joe Lovano -" Joyous Encounter
Real Media Version -Joe Lovano -" Joyous Encounter
" The King is Dead
I can't believe Hunter S. Thompson is gone. This is what happens as the years tick on. Our role models disappear from the living landscape. Just in the past few weeks alone, Arthur Miller and Hunter S. Thompson have left us. Great writers whose impact was significant on several generations.
For journalists of a certain age, myself included, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was a true American icon. The Godfather of Gonzo lived as he wrote, fierce, uncompromising, and, hysterically funny at times. Fueled by a horn of plenty stocked with every mind altering subatance known to man, his working methods were sometimes excessive. Yet his prose was, more often than not, at least in his early years, brilliant. Even with the dramatic exit that assured him of the immortality on the heels of sudden death, he will be missed. Big time.
From his 20th Century American classic about the 60s, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (I hated the movie): "We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
Some spirits burn too brightly for their earthly vessels. Hunter S. Thompson was one such spirit. His wave has broken and rolled back, but the high-water mark he left behind lives on. We will ever see another like him?
Speaking of dramatic effect, I sometimes listen to conservative talk radio and after HST's untimely departure, I happened to tune in to the raving lunatic who bills himself as Michael Savage. This guy makes George Bush and his brethren seem as tame as swans in the morning mist. Savage, whose name is totally appropriate, spoke about the danger of men like Allen Ginsberg, and Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and Hunter S. Thompson, and how their embrace of drugs and radical politics has totally polluted our society and brought America to the edge of destruction.
Hunter would find that most amusing. Sadly, he's gone and men like Michael Savage rule the airways. Fear and Loathing for the new millenium.
Favorite quotes from the Good Doctor...
"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people -including me -would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
Next time: "Why I Was Deleted From Paris Hilton's Cell Phone"