Friday Night Jazz: Louis Armstrong
Well, given what a mad week/month this has been, and how overdue this is, its that time: Without further adieu, Satchmo:
I'm sure you've heard a Louis song or three: Hello Dolly, When the Saints, What a Wonderful World.
If that's all you know of Satchmo, you are missing out. Considering his innovations as an artist -- amazing song-writing skills, unique vocals, mastery of the Coronet and the Trumpet, especially his stratospheric solos -- these well known ditties are practically boring.
Oh, and after he forgot the lyrics on the 1927 song "Heebie Jeebies," he invented Scat singing.
He was one of the most influential musicians in jazz history, setting new standards for originality and invention.
There are a couple of ways to get to know the works of Louis Armstrong: The most basic is to grab one the Best Of discs. For those of you who want to go this way, try the The Definitive Collection.
The collector types are more inclined to go for the complete earlier years, including his various ensembles known in this box set: The Hot Fives & Sevens. (Note that Columbia version is considered a much inferior remastering: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings).
But of all of the Louis Armstrong works out there, none are more delightful than the many duets he recorded with Ella Fitzgerald. Aside from the small fact that her voice is incomparable to any female jazz singer before or since, there is a strange and beautiful complementary combination that is so unique and incredible. I can listen to these all day long -- they are unique works of art.
You can also check out Porgy & Bess soundtrack, but that is more for fans of that show.
(NOTE: There are all manners of different variations of these, so look at the song list before buying variations of the same album.)
From a WSJ article this past summer:
"From 1925 to 1928, bandleader and trumpeter Louis Armstrong led a recording group, known as the Hot Five and Hot Seven, through nearly 90 recordings. These tracks are now considered among the most seminal, enduring and influential recordings not only in jazz but in American music and include "Big Butter and Egg Man," "Hotter Than That," "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," "Potato Head Blues," and "S.O.L. Blues." In these dozens of sides, Armstrong abandoned the traditional collective improvisation of New Orleans-style jazz and almost single-handedly transformed the music from a group art into an art form for the soloist. He left behind two- and four-bar breaks of earlier jazz in favor of entire choruses of improvisation. In the 1920s, Armstrong would, more than anyone else, take the role of soloist to new heights in American music.
Besides his technical mastery, what else set him apart? His big, beautiful tone; his rich imagination as a soloist; his perfect sense of time; his deep understanding of the blues; his projection and authority; and the force of his musical personality.
And he boasted a gift for personalizing the material he recorded, transforming it into music that is unmistakably his in sound and style and ownership. The essence of jazz -- making something new out of something old, making something personal out of something shared -- has no finer exemplar than Armstrong."
Its a long holiday weekend, and the crowd is off to where ever they are going. For those of you left behind -- or arriving where ever you will be -- check out these tunes:
I love this Death Cab for Cutie song -- and I stumbled across an interesting pair of videos:
The first is this live version, essentially played with no studio effects or tape.
Here's the same video, with what sounds like the official audio version -- all cleaned up, and added backing vocals -- it sounds slightly speeded up also.
Starbucks: $2 Special
I've been meaning to post something on this for a while, but today's "discount" finally did it for me.
As you may have heard, Starbucks has canned their DVDs and CDs. At a recent visit, I picked up Juno (which I have been meaning to see), and for Mrs. Big Picture I grabbed The Kite Runner -- for $7.95 each. They also had the new James Hunter CD (Official site, Amazon, NPR interview) and the latest John Mellencamp disc (Official site, Amazon) were also $8.
But the big thing that caught my eye was their $2 special. Bring your receipt in from any purchase in the am, and after 2pm any Grande Cold drink is just $2.
Value maximizers may want to go for the Iced Frappucino Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino Crème at $4.80 but it weighs in at 510 calories. Or, the Java Chip Frappuccino is 460 calories. I went for the Iced Caramel Macchiato, which cost less, but is practically dietetic at 230 calories.
I cannot recall Starbucks being this promotional since . . . well, ever.
Anyone else raising their promotions to move some product ?
Cheap Concert Tickets!
I am off to see a double bill -- Elvis Costello/Police. Crappy Economy be damned, I paid up for awesome seats. Elvis is ostensibly the opener, but really, I would see him alone if I had the chance. And the Police is a long overdue catch up -- I was supposed to see them at My Father's Place in Roslyn in 1978 or so, but somehow screwed up the opportunity. This is my first time seeing them.
As we noted back in early July, $10 Concert Tickets! (Another Weird Economic Indicator) -- concerts are doing poorly.
I spoke recently with several music industry "Insiders" about this -- they all said the same thing: Touring is terrible this year. They blamed high gas prices, a weak economy and poor job market. The combination does not lead to a LETS PARTY mentality amongst ticket buyers.
A few quotes:
"I saw Melissa Etheridge's business manager last night (he also handles a client of mine). He told me that some dates on Melissa's tour aren't even hitting 60% of total capacity. The promoters are getting killed. She's doing venues size from 2000-5000 seats and her guarantees are $300k. I think you can do the math!
I'm hearing these stories more and more."
"I work on a lot of tours mostly for arena or even stadium acts (U2, Springsteen, Bowie, Police). While I can’t say that those clients have had trouble moving tickets, I can say that we are in the process of doing some new deals with the major “one-stop” promoters, and they most certainly are aware of/nervous about the crappy economy and the import of the art/science of ticket pricing (and related price elasticity/inelasticity)."
and finally this:
"Nice to know that someone out there still goes to see live music."
Friday Night Jazz: River: The Joni Letters
The most interesting Jazz album I have heard this year has been Herbie Hancock's tribute disc to Joni Mitchell -- River: The Joni Letters.
Mitchell's poetic folk and jazz style lends itself well to a more pure jazz interpretation, and Hancock does just that. It does the material great justice.
Considering how fabulous the disc is, it sold next to nothing before winning a Grammy for Album of the Year -- and not a whole lot more since. That's a shame, as it is a cool delight. Perhaps last year's messy and inconsistent A Tribute To Joni Mitchell is to blame... except for k.d. lang's languid version of Help Me, the rest of the album was mostly a bust.
That's a shame, because this album really deserves a chance to shine on its own. Hancock is a legendary jazz musician, keyboardist, and producer. His star-studded list of vocalists includes Corinne Bailey Rae ("River"), Norah Jones ("Court and Spark"), Tina Turner ("Edith and the Kingpin"), Luciana Souza ("Amelia"), Leonard Cohen ("The Jungle Line"), and Mitchell herself ("Tea Leaf Prophecy"). Saxophonist Wayne Shorter adds a smooth and mellow flavor throughout.
One of the highlights of the disc is River (see video below). Hancock creates a fine balance between jazz improvisation and adult pop. Listen to how he arranges this song, pulling its jazz essence to the fore, while Corinne Bailey Rae wraps her voice perfectly around this Mitchell composition.
Perfect for our Friday Night Jazz session . . .
Herbie Hancock featuring Corinne Bailey Rae - River
$10 Concert Tickets! (Another Weird Economic Indicator)
Last night, I pinged a friend about this crazy advert I got regarding a band/tour he is involved with. He can only be identified as an "Anonymous Industry Exec" (Thanks for the Police/Elvis Costello Tix hookup, G!)
"This is shaping up to be a pretty bad summer for touring. A lot of tours are having trouble. The sheds (like Jones Beach) are having a particularly hard time selling seats. The economic difficulties are showing up in weak ticket sales. A lot of people are reluctant to spend all that money on gas getting to the show, paying for parking and then beer -- on top of the concert tickets.
By contrast, movie box office is doing reasonably well, most likely because the prices are reasonable, there have been some decent movies this year and with people staying closer to home, movies are a vacation substitute. Much cheaper to take a family to Wall-E than to Disney or Six Flags...
Note that most of the tickets I have gotten from shows ranged from reasonable (any Jazz show in NYC) to $60 (James Taylor) to $90 (Steely Dan 3rd row) to really expensive (the aforementioned Police/Elvis tour in great seats).
Here's the advert that started this conversation:
Friday Night Jazz Fourth of July Funk
No time for a full Friday Night Jazz -- off to watch the fireworks if the rain holds off -- but here's a funk tune you should check out: James Brown (Part 1 & 2) Buckshot LeFonque : Music Evolution.
Buckshot LeFonque was a group Branford Marsalis formed in his post Sting days (1994 & 97). The goal was to meld classical jazz with rock, rap, R&B and hip-hop. Its really all over the place, with no defining sound.
Except this song. Its got a great groove, with a pure funk first half. Its hip-hop meets be-bop. It manages to meld in some rap in the second half, in a harmonic way that works, and pays an homage to JB at the same time.
You don't need to buy the whole album -- just find this song somewhere and buy it.
UPDATE: I found an embeddable version on imeem.com
Hey Branford, here's an idea -- do an entire funk album. You don't have to channel James Brown on every track (2 or 3 would be fine). But a song with this powerful of a groove is calling out for more . . .
James Brown, Godfather of Soul: RIP
Reflections on James Brown
Friday Night Jazz: Steely Dan
Saw 'em live a few times, most recently on Wednesday night at the Beacon Theater. If you ever get a chance to see a concert in a small venue with large artists, its a very interesting experience (3rd row center doesn't hurt either).
Their music is characterized by "complex jazz-influenced structures and harmonies, literate and sometimes obscure or ambiguous lyrics, filled with dark sarcasm." They are known for their "adroit musicianship and studio perfectionism." (Wiki)
I was trying to figure out the best way to recommend material from The Dan -- which albums you must own -- but I simply cannot offer up anything better than the 4 CD box set.
Steely Dan are justly famous for their use of "chord sequences and harmonies that explore the area of musical tension between traditional pop music sounds and jazz." These 4 CDs reveal a musical dynamism that is unmatched in modern music. The lyrics are sardonic, engaging and humorous. Indeed, it is one of the greatest catalogues in the annals of pop/jazz music history. That's one reason why Steely Dan makes my short list of greatest American Rock and Roll bands. (Note that on Rolling Stone's top 500 albums, Pretzel Logic is #385 and Can't Buy a Thrill is #238.
Also of note: Citizen Steely Dan: 1972-1980 contains what may very well be the best Amazon review I have ever come across.
Your other option is to grab a few single discs. If I had to cut it down to just 3 CDs, here's how I would roll: Surely, you can pick any of the five early Dan CDs -- all are great -- but my favorite is 1975's Katy Lied ($7.97). The album saw took otherwise classic rock style songs, and arranged and played them in a jazz idiom. With Michael McDonald's background vocals, the Dan infused a smoky Soul flavor. It was complex mashup of styles that worked wonderfully.
My second disc choice has to be the great Aja, a groundbreaking 1977 CD. It was a favorite of audiophiles, stunned recording engineers, oh, and dominated FM radio for a year. Aja was even more heavily jazz-influenced than Katy Lied, and was graced with top-notch jazz musicians: Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter and Chuck Rainey.
Aja won numerous awards, shot into the Top Five in the U.S. charts within three weeks of release, and was one of the first American LPs to be certified 'platinum' for sales of over 1 million albums. It was that good. Aja is #145 on Rolling Stone's top 500 albums. If I have any complaint about this slick disc, it was that the radio play was so overwhelming it became a bit played out way back when.
The third selection is Donald Fagen's solo disc, The Nightfly (a previous Friday Night Jazz selection). Even if you get the Dan box set, you have to add this CD to the mix. The WSJ called The Nightfly "one of pop music's sneakiest masterpieces" and I think that moniker fits well. The key to this is the music's timeless quality. It was retro back in 1982, and over the years, has never grown to sound tired or even of a specific era. It remains fresh, even 25 years later.
Not only did the CD win critical acclaim amongst the jazz and pop reviewers, but the disc delighted audiophiles of all stripes. You see, The Nightfly was one of the first fully digital recordings of popular music. Add to that the usual crisp, sleek production The Dan were famous for, and you have a recipe for a phenomenal recording.
Any of the above provides a rewarding aural experience. These are amongst the best music from the 1970s/80s era, and indeed of all time.
Before we jump to the videos, one little bit of trivia: Since both Becker & Fagen were avid readers of 1950's "Beat" literature, they decided to name the band "Steely Dan" after a dildo in William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" . . .
videos after the jump.
Stairway to Heaven is Worth $572 million
They call it a"back-of-the-napkin analysis of the lifetime worth of the most requested rock tune in history:"
"In the big, bad game of rock and roll, “Stairway to Heaven” is undeniably a winner. Released by Led Zeppelin in 1971, the eight-minute song is considered a musical masterpiece and is one of the most-played rock tunes of all time. Proving its longevity, “Stairway” hit the U.K. charts again last fall and was a top download in the U.S., after Zeppelin’s first downloadable album launched on iTunes. But because the band is notoriously protective of its work, “Stairway” hasn’t met its full moneymaking potential. While other artists have made big bucks by licensing songs to Hollywood and Madison Avenue—think of Bob Dylan’s “Love Sick” in that Victoria’s Secret commercial—Zeppelin has shunned most opportunities. We consulted executives in the music, advertising, and entertainment industries to come up with some numbers, real and potential, for the value of “Stairway."
That seems a little rich to me, but hey! It is Stairway. . .
Portfolio July 2008 Issue http://www.portfolio.com/culture-lifestyle/culture-inc/arts/2008/06/16/Stairway-to-Heavens-Revenues
Led Zeppelin IV (aka ZOSO)
November 8, 1971
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones on Stairway to Heaven
Led Zeppelin to Make Its Songs Available Digitally
NYT, October 15, 2007
Videos after the jump . . .
For Those About to Rock, We Have Always Low Prices*
Last year, we noted that the Eagles had "Disintermediated the Major Labels" by selling the CD to consumer via Wal-Mart -- no label necessary.
How did that work out? Not too shabby: The Eagles’ double disc, “Long Road Out of Eden,” sold 711,000 copies in its first week and three million since, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Ironically, the disc is available used at Amazon ($7.98) or in MP3 format for $10.98 -- but if you want a new CD, its Wal-Mart or nothing.
Up next: Veteran rockers AC/DC. Via the WSJ, we learn:
"Wal-Mart is expected to pull out the stops to promote the AC/DC album, the band's 16th studio release, which is to come out in the fall and hasn't yet been titled. Such a push -- including prominent displays of CDs in stores and heavy advertising -- could yield blockbuster sales, in an environment in which blockbusters are increasingly rare. Columbia Chairman Steve Barnett, reached by telephone, declined to comment. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien didn't respond to requests for comment about AC/DC.
But even as it strikes novel deals with a handful of artists and labels, Wal-Mart is preparing changes in its approach to selling the vast majority of music. It is unclear what the upshot of those changes will be, but one likely scenario involves cuts in the number of music titles the chain carries.
Wal-Mart executives, frustrated by perennially declining CD sales, have been quietly exploring changes in their approach to selling music. The company has described different versions of its potential new strategy to different players in the music industry."
What's noteworthy about these deals is that they all involve dinosaurs who's best days are long behind them, going to Wal-Mart for their promotional muscle. Now if Wal-Mart cut a deal with any band that wasn't cranking out albums in the 1960s, '70s, or '80s, I might think there was something very interesting afoot. Say, a Radiohead or a Coldplay or Sarah McLachlan.
But no. The newer bands are going to the internet, rather than WAL-Mart. Their fans skew younger, and are more comfortable on line; Many of them are quite international, and domestic US sales matter less. Lastly, there is something decidely unhip about Wal-Mart that simply doesn't call out to Beck.
Eagles Disintermediate Major Labels, ITMS (November 2007)
AC/DC To Wal-Mart
As CDs Decline, Wal-Mart Spins Its Strategy
Chain Signs Latest Exclusive Album -- And May Cut Titles
WSJ, June 9, 2008; Page B1
For Some Music, It Has to Be Wal-Mart and Nowhere Else
NYT, June 9, 2008
* For you young 'uns, the title refers to a 1981 AC/DC album: For Those About to Rock We Salute You