Friday, April 22, 2016

R.I.P. Prince

The music world lost another innovative, creative musician this week:  Prince Rogers Nelson, a.k.a. "Prince" died on April 21 at age 57.  His albums won many Grammys and he achieved success as a songwriter as well.  He is best known for his film, "Purple Rain," and its soundtrack, and for the song "Party like it's 1999."  His blend of classic R&B sounds with modern synthesizers helped define the music of a generation.

Prince  (1979)
Compact Disc 15360

1999 (1983)

Purple Rain (1984)
Soundtrack:  Compact Disc 3666
DVD:  DVD Video 3932

Parade: Music from the Motion Picture "Under the Cherry Moon" (1986)

Sign "o" the Times (1987)

Black Album  (1988)

Diamonds and Pearls (1991)

1993:  The Hits & B-Sides (1993)

The Gold Experience  (1995)

Musicology  (2004)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Miles Davis

Don Cheadle's character study of Miles Davis in the 2016 film, "Miles Ahead" has brought the music of Miles to a new generation of fans, though the film limits itself to the non-productive years of Miles's life: the late 1970s.  He had outlived many of his creative collaborators, becoming an "icon" rather than the revolutionary innovator he had been throughout his career.   Critics disagree about the film, but nobody questions Davis's complex character or his contribution to jazz.  Every list of "best" or "most iconic" or "most ground-breaking" or "must-hear" jazz albums includes at least one by Davis.

In the 1950s Miles was one of the foremost performers of bebop.  His Quintet and Quartet recordings remain some of the definitive bebop releases.  He headlined two quintets, the first with John Coltrane on saxophone, would release iconic bebop albums.  The second, starting in 1963, included players who would be the stars of the fusion movement that combined electrified other timbres and beats with jazz improv techniques.   The movement is known for combining rock music, but also brought in Brazilian percussion and other elements.

For more on Miles Davis, check out these books from the Music Collection.

Miles Davis Quintet (with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums)  This is the original bebop quintet that defined the genre.

  • Round About Midnight:  Recorded in 1955 by the Quintet for Columbia but released in 1957.  This album is considered by many to be the essential album from Davis's original Quintet.
    Compact Disc 15862

Miles as an innovator:
  • Miles Ahead features Miles soloing on flugelhorn with a big band directed by Gil Evans.  The same collaboration would result in Sketches of Spain in 1960.
    Compact Disc 13263
  • Birth of the Cool, one of the most highly regarded jazz albums of all time.  "Hot" jazz of the 1920s was defined by up-tempo, intensely rhythmic pieces meant for dancing.  "Cool" jazz would be known for softer sounds and more languid tempos.  The album was released in 1957, but was recorded in 1949 and 1950 by a nonet consisting of Davis and other innovators of the "cool" sound including Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz.
    Compact Disc 16121

  • At Newport (issued in 1964) was recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival. Cannonball Adderley plays alto sax and Bill Evans is featured on piano
    Compact Disc 19012

  • Kind of Blue, #1 on the Village Voice's list of "Ten Jazz Albums to Hear before you die," this album features John Coltrane, Bill Evans on piano, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).
    Compact Disc 16525
  • Sketches of Spain. Davis and Gil Evans reworked classical composer Joaquin Rodrigo's guitar concerto, "Concierto de Aranjuez," as a jazz piece highlighting Davis in a soloist role with accompaniment.
  • Compact Disc 7833
    Compact Disc 4927 (1997 reissue)

Fusion Years
In 1963 Miles assembled a new Quintet, with George Coleman
on tenor sax (soon to be replaced by Wayne Shorter, later of
 Weather Report fame), Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter
on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.  Several albums include
this new combination of talent:
  • Seven Steps to Heaven, with the same group but with Victor Feldman replacing Hancock on some tracks.
    Compact Disc 19006

  • My Funny Valentine, recorded live in New York in 1964 at the same benefit concert that resulted in "Four & More"  The concert was dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy and raised money to support the Civil Rights Movement.
    Compact Disc 15596
  • Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965, Chicago) is a seven-disc set that features 10-20 minute versions of the Davis's best known  pieces from both the early days and the new group.
    Compact Disc 13227
  • Miles Smiles, with the new quintet, was recorded in 1966 and released in 1967.
    Compact Disc 18991
Read about this album's impact on jazz history:  Miles Davis, Miles Smiles, and the Invention of Post Bop, by Jeremy Yudkin
ML 419 .D39 Y83 2008

  • Nefertiti, recorded in 1967, is considered "hard bop" but hints at the future direction of the members as creators of the fusion movement.
    Compact Disc 19435
  • Bitches Brew was a ground-breaking album that paved the way for experimental cross-over groups of the 1970s "fusion" movement.
  • Compact Disc 18300
    Compact Disc 3612 (1980s reissue with updated liner notes)
  • The Cellar Door Sessions:  Recorded at The Cellar Door in Washington, DC in 1970.  With Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Airto Moreira. 
  • Compact Disc 18253
  • On the Corner features funky bass, electric sitar and synthesizer among other new sounds not usually associated with Jazz.  With Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette.
    Compact Disc 17959

  • Tutu is a rather experimental album, with Davis as a soloist over dubbed performers.  He won a grammy award for this album.
    Compact Disc 7883
  • Amandla pairs Davis with a variety of performers, and the result is a multi-faceted album with influences from funk, African music, and electronic composition.
    Compact Disc 19520

Monday, April 18, 2016

Recent Jazz Acquisitions

During Spring Semester some fabulous jazz CDs have been added to the collection, as well as two books for performers:

Compact Discs:
John Coltrane.  Offering: Live at Temple University
Compact Disc 22794

Bill Frisell. East/West

Illinois Jacquet & Leo Parker.  Toronto, 1947

Fourplay.  Silver
Rudresh Mahanthappa.  Bird Calls

Brad Mehldau.  Live in Tokyo

Charles Mingus. The Jazz Workshop Concerts, 1964-1965
Compact Disc 22802 (7 discs)

Houston Person.  Something Personal
Compact Disc 22704

Ben Webster and Associates
Compact Disc 22803

Brenna Whitaker
Compact Disc 22721

Wes Montgomery.  One Night in Indy
Compact Disc 22807

So You Want to Sing Jazz: A Guide for Professionals, by Jan Shapiro (sponsored by NATS)
MT 868 .S43 2016

Progressive Independence, Jazz: A Comprehensive Guide to Basic Jazz Drumming Technique, by Ron Spagnardi
MT 662.8 .S73 P7 2010

Friday, April 8, 2016

Outlaw Country and Merle Haggard

The music world lost an icon this week:  Merle Haggard died at the age of 79.  He was one of the last remaining musicians of the "Outlaw Country" genre.  This genre was in part a reaction against the clean-shaved, rhinestone-studded "Nashville Sound" of the 1960s.   With acoustic guitar and untutored vocal styles, combined with lyrics from the edges of society, the movement turned country music on its head and had wide crossover appeal.

Merle Haggard: 40 Greatest Hits:  Compact Disc 21410
The outlaw theme is typified in his classic song, "Mama Tried:"
And I turned twenty-one in prison
doing life without parole
No one could steer me right
but Mama tried, Mama tried 
Mama tried to raise me better,
but her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame
                                'cause Mama tried.

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson:  Django and Jimmie
Compact Disc 22799

Willie Nelson and Haggard collaborated on this album in 2015.  The title song acknowledges the influence of Django Reinhardt, the famous gypsy jazz guitarist of 1930s-1950s Paris, and Jimmie Rodgers, an influential white Southern blues musician ("The Singing Brakeman") of the 1920s and 1930s, known for his yodeling.

Willie Nelson's (b. 1933) "Red-Headed Stranger" (1975) tells the story of a heartbroken cowboy who kills a woman for touching his deceased wife's horse.
The yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset
The stranger went free of course
For you can't hang a man for killing a woman
Who's trying to steal your horse.

Waylon Jennings (1937-2002) "Are you Sure Hank Done it This Way" (1975) is an homage to Hank Williams, Sr., and at the same time a jab at the Nashville style:
Lord it's the same old tune, fiddle and guitar
Where do we take it from here?
Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars
It's been the same way for years
We need to change.

Hank Williams, Jr. (b. 1949) summed up his outlaw ways in "Family Tradition," a song referencing his famous (alcoholic) father:
So don't ask me, Hank why do you drink?
Hank, why do roll smoke?
Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?
Stop and think it over,
try and put yourself in my unique position.
If I get stoned and sing all night long,
It's a family tradition!
Johnny Cash (1932 - 2003) a.k.a. "The Man in Black" is famous for singing "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" in the song, Folsom Prison Blues.

It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine
Since, I don't know when
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison
And time keeps draggin' on.

Nashville is no longer the rhinestone capital that it was when Elvis Presley and Porter Wagoner chased the long-haired, acoustic bad boys to Texas and beyond, but the bad boy idea lives on in lyrics that continue to be covered by today's artists.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April is National Poetry Month - The Most Poetic Singer-Songwriters?

This year marks the 20th annual National Poetry Month, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.  While not usually considered "poets," singer-songwriters are indeed poets, who happen  also to set their poetry to music.   A peak period of poetic creativity in song was the singer-songwriter era of the sixties and seventies.  Check out the music of these enduring lyricists:

Bob Dylan's way with words is so well respected that his song lyrics have been published separately from the melodies.  His 1964 song,"Chimes of Freedom," typifies his angry yet empathetic politics, and gift for turn of phrase:
Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Joni Mitchell was part of the singer-songwriter movement in folk revival circles.  Some of her lyrics have become synonymous with the period.   "I've looked at clouds from both sides now" (From Both Sides Now) or "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" from "Big Yellow Taxi" are lines that are part of the American cultural landscape.  "Both Sides Now" from the album Both Sides Now begins with these lines:
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air and feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun, they rain and they snow on everyone
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow it's cloud illusions that I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Gordon Lightfoot immortalized the Edmund Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes cargo ship that went down in rough seas in 1975.  He created a story song reminiscent of old time sea shanties:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'gitche gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy

Don McLean's "American Pie" celebrated or bemoaned (depending on your interpretation) the history of rock 'n' roll during his lifetime.  Scholars and fans have discussed and debated the meaning of the lyrics since its 1971 release.

A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

Many Beatles songs include innovative poetic ideas, turns of phrase,social and personal insights, or just nonsense syllables.  Like Dylan's, the Beatles Lyrics are profound and innovative enough to be immortalized in a book (ML421.B4 D385 2014)  Phrases from their songs have become classic quotations in their own right.  They'll take you to "Strawberry Fields," among other places:
Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It's getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me
Let me take you down
Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever