7/10/17: US3 & Herbie Hancock

I was always a big fan of this song. I knew they were using samples from Blue Note recordings, but never bothered to track down the original source material.

 

But then it came and found me. I was listening to the radio, and some Herbie Hancock came on:

 

It’s great to listen to the original and compare it to US3’s interpretation. Both tracks are great, by the way, but right now I’m all about Herbie and his Cantaloupe Island.

 

 

 

Image by Larry Johnson, CC License 2.0

09/06/16: Personal motivation and audio cleanliness

Way back in 2011-12, I was unemployed, and it was really rough out there in the job market. Nobody was hiring. For anything.

It was easy to get discouraged, after sending out resume after resume after resume. And yes, cheesy as it sounds, there were songs I would listen to during that time specifically to encourage myself to keep going. This is one of them:

Featuring the late great Bernie Worrell. And note that David Byrne has solved the problem of what a lead singer can do during instrumental parts – just take a couple laps around the stage.

This is from the live movie “Stop Making Sense,” one of the great moments in rock cinema. Why? It’s just a bunch of really good musicians doing a live show and it’s one of those great nights where everything works out perfectly and it’s just magical.

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of live albums. I love when things are beautifully recorded in the studio and you can hear what’s going on. Like you hear on any Talking Heads studio album:

And the studio version of “Life During Wartime” is a great track:

But for me, the energy of the live version, along with the additional musicians, just takes the song to a whole new level. And that energy makes the lyrics have that much more impact – it goes from kind of ironically detached in the studio version to serving up the emotional equivalent of a punch to the stomach in the live one. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s recorded really well.

Of course, I can’t get too precious about pristine studio recordings. First of all, it’s so easy to go too far with that, in which case you wind up with a sound that’s overly sterile (see: The Eighties). Secondly, I’m a big jazz fan, and the stuff I listen to is generally either a live concert, or an album that was entirely recorded in one day.

Here’s “Samba Triste” from Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd’s “Jazz Samba,” an album that was recorded in its entirety in just one day. It went on to hit #1 on the Billboard Album charts, and won Getz a Grammy. It also reminds me of autumn, which is coming up way too soon:

 

Image by Jean-Luc Ourlin, CC License 2.0

3/28/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

Now you’ve done it. You’ve got me started on the Nicholas Brothers. Harold and Fayard. Genuises.

Fred Astaire told the brothers that this sequence (from the movie “Stormy Weather”) was the greatest movie musical number he’d ever seen. The virtuosity of their moves is just stunning.

And yes, that is Cab Calloway leading the orchestra.

Harold and Fayard’s parents were musicians who performed at a theater in Philadelphia. Because of this, they were able to observe the top African-American dancers of the day, and learned to dance by copying their moves. While still in their teens (actually, Harold was 11), they were performing at the Cotton Club.

Here’s a clip from 1936; Fayard would have been 21 or 22, and Harold would be about 15.

And here they dance with Gene Kelly in “The Pirate,” their last film. Both Kelly and co-star Judy Garland had to fight to get the brothers into the movie, and this sequence was cut from the film for many theaters in the South.

Okay, just one more. This is from the movie “Orchestra Wives,” and that’s Glenn Miller on the trombone.

 

Photo by Miika Silfverberg. Creative Commons License 2.0

October 21, 2015

I found this picture of an instrument I’ve never seen before; the “Autophone Organette.”

Autophone Organette Met Museum

I figured I’d see if I could find one in action:

And the punch card thingy made me think of the composer Conlon Nancarrow.

Nancarrow wrote a lot of music that was so technically complex, he couldn’t find anyone who could play it.

So if he ever wanted to hear what his music sounded like, he had to come up with a better solution. Today we’d just multitrack it. But back in the late 30’s, the answer was player piano. Nancarrow punched out his music onto rolls of paper, one note at a time (and that’s a LOT of notes), just so he could hear it back.

Eventually, musicians came on the scene who had the technical chops to play his stuff, and his music is now performed live.

I really like his work, and I think folks who aren’t that familiar with this kind of music might also get into it. Even though it can sound like jazz in a blender, there’s enough relatable content there to keep you involved.

Conlon Nancarrow Fun Fact: I had lunch with Nancarrow and his wife many years ago. They were very nice people.

My ears get tired if I listen to challenging music for too long, so here’s something that should ground us.

It’s the absolute stillness of living in the now.

July 17, 2015

This just popped into my head, displacing “Thank You For Being a Friend,” the theme song to “The Golden Girls.” Thank you, Tony. Thank you, Dawn.

There was a point in the early to mid-seventies where pop songs became so hook-laden that they were almost annoyingly catchy. You hear it for the first time in 10 years and think “That’s a great song! I should listen to it more.” But then after two or three listens, you just can’t take it any more. It’s like skipping the cake and just eating the icing.

Three Dog Night can be like that. Some of their songs are great, and some are just not great songs. And no matter how amazing the hook is, it’s that musical skeleton underneath that makes it work.

Now this is a good song, with a great hook:

I just love that middle part, where they’re all singing in harmony.

I recently bought Three Dog Night’s greatest hits album. I’d had the chorus to “Shangri-La” going through my head for a couple of days before I figured out who the band was*, and they were all over my iPod for about two months. Then I just had to delete them. Too much icing.

But that’s the challenge of writing great pop songs – you have to take risks. And every once in a while you’ll fly too close to the sun, and your magic wings will dissolve into an icky pool of melted sugar.

On a totally different note**, here’s a great non-pop, non-sugary piece by Art Blakey & the Afro Drum Ensemble: