Aural Hygiene, Part Two

As I revealed in a much earlier post entitled "Aural Hygiene", I often combine dental-hygiene appointments with CD-shopping because my favourite record store Atelier Grigorian is right around the corner from my tooth-scraper. I repeated this "jazz S&M double-play" this week with some serendipitous results, which in turn led me to remember some stories. As they preserve so much precious music which would otherwise be lost, jazz records provide an indispensable current linking memory, songs, emotion, important musical developments and musicians' stories to form the backbone of jazz, its very mythology. On the way to the store, gums all a-tingle, I was thinking of a Gene Ammons listening kick I've been on lately, which has served as a kind of astringent antidote to hearing too much treacly Christmas music over the holidays. I think of it as a "Jug jag", because Ammons was nicknamed "Jug" for his massive, square head. I've been considering writing a piece on Ammons and mentioned this in an email to my good friend Bill Kirchner, who sent me what I thought was an article he wrote about Ammons and his frequent partner in crime, Sonny Stitt. It was terrific, containing among other things a detailed overview of the evolution of the two-tenor battle from its earliest days. I thanked him for this, saying that the article read like the liner notes to a record, which he kindly let go without comment. At home that night, I dug out a 1962 Stitt/Ammons record called Boss Tenors In more [...]

When A Man Loves A Movie

Along with more gender-appropriate gifts, I bought my wife Anna a copy of the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals for Christmas. I felt slightly guilty about this because I knew I wanted to see it too. On the other hand, Anna's a big fan of the soul/R&B music which this movie would definitely touch on, and then some. She also really enjoyed the similar music docs Standing In the Shadows of Motown and Twenty Feet From Stardom - how's that for rationalization? Anyway, we watched the film last night and it was fascinating. It inspired and moved us beyond words, but I'll attempt to write a few about it anyway. Using a collage technique like the other two docs - weaving together music tracks, old and new footage, live interviews with the famous and not-so-famous into a narrative - this movie tells the story of the birth and evolution of what came to be known as "the Muscle Shoals sound", forged in the tiny Fame Studios in the small, rural-Alabama town of the same name. Relative to its size, this backwoods hole-in-the-wall yielded as many famous records as any other place in the world. Almost as much attention is paid to the unique environment of Muscle Shoals as the music made there. The stark beauty of the place is captured by some of the most clear and vivid cinematography I've ever seen, it almost makes your eyes hurt. Many comment that the area, which is surrounded by a lot of water - swamps, lakes and the Tennessee River - has magical and mysterious musical more [...]

The Truthful Edge of Big Joe Turner

Last Friday around midnight, my wife Anna picked me up from the subway after a gig. As I opened the car door to load in my bass, I was hit by a blast furnace of music, not loud, but intense, like a freight-train. A fat, romping beat and a thundering, edgy voice that could only be one guy. As always when I unexpectedly hear great music coming from a radio, I was stunned and just stood there for a second, transfixed and shaking my butt in the cold like some spazzed-out lunatic. "Jeezus, it's Joe Turner" - wow, does that ever sound good." Anna gave me a look which, despite the smile in her eyes, said, "Bozo, could you put the bass in the car already, so we can get home?" Righto. The voltage of it held me as I got in the car, this was "Hide and Seek", one of Big Joe's biggest jukebox hits from his peak of popularity sometime in the mid- '50s. It's far from his best work, but it still gets to me. The band was underpinned by a pianist - likely Pete Johnson - laying down some killer boogie-woogie, accompanied by a relentless, loping shuffle from the string bass and drums and some Charleston riffs from the horns. A beefy-toned tenor player took a honking chorus, sounding like a cross between Al Sears and Buddy Tate - man, this was good. But most of all there was Big Joe, with that mountain-jack delivery and hurricane voice. It's the voice of God, if God liked to party, which somehow I doubt. There's just so much weight and raw authority in it, there's never any doubt more [...]

A Gentle Whirlpool of Music

I've been playing the bass for about forty years now and I thank my lucky stars that all of the knowledge I've acquired through experience and study has not blunted my ability to partake of music on a purely emotional level. Whether playing or listening, it's the way music feels - and makes you feel - that counts, and this goes beyond any knowledge, important though that is. No matter what kind, music at its best should move you, take you to a place of joy and rapture, make your mind giddy and your body move, should lift you up. It's this way with a magical clip of Elis Regina singing Antonio Carlos Jobim's beautiful "Aguas de Marco" ("The Waters of March"), which I've included here as a kind of Happy New Year wish to everyone. This is appropriate not only because of the inspirational performance, but because I discovered it for the first time just this past New Year's Eve, thanks to some friends. Along with saxophonist Mike Murley and his partner Leslie Adcock, my wife Anna and I were invited over to Ruth and Jim Vivian's house to ring in the new year. We're all old friends and this same group had a similar New Year's evening five or six years ago chez Vivian. Jim of course is a marvelous bassist and a very intelligent and hilarious guy, but he's also a great cook and wine connoisseur, so the evening promised much eating, drinking and social pleasure. It's a wonder all of the deluxe food and wine didn't kill us, but more important was the social feast, a great unfolding more [...]