Archive for “Features”

Features

Liner Notes — Miles Davis In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at The Blackhawk, San Francisco

On the evenings of April 21 and 22, 1961, Miles Davis and his quintet recorded at San Francisco’s The Black Hawk nightclub, a longtime Tenderloin neighborhood establishment described by Bay area music writer Ralph J. Gleason as “gloomy, dirty and unattractive” -– a club kept proudly “repulsive” by its owner, Guido Caccienti, who claimed to have “worked and slaved for years to keep this place a sewer.”

Written by San Francisco Chronicle music critic (and eventual co-founding editor of Rolling Stone) Ralph J. Gleason in a typically witty and often derisible tone, the liner notes to Miles Davis In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at The Blackhhawk, San Francisco are compelling not only because they were authored by Gleason, but also because they are comprised of two distinct biographies -– Miles Davis as “social symbol” of the early 1960’s, and The Blackhawk as an “oblong, corner-saloon-with music” that attracted a “most incredible cross section of American society.”

The recording itself was […] Continue reading »

Features

Vince Guaraldi — a career beyond “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Arguments abound about what is hip and what isn’t when it comes to Christmas music, but few can argue that Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a breath of fresh air in a world otherwise dominated by recordings by Kenny G, Mannheim Steamroller, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Certified “triple platinum” by the Recording Industry Association of America, and ranked by Sound Scan as the #10 best selling Christmas album since 1991, A Charlie Brown Christmas — and his association with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz — is what Guaraldi is best remembered for.

What few of us probably know about Guaraldi, however, is that he was actually a self-proclaimed “reformed boogie-woogie player” who got his start filling in for […] Continue reading »

Features

“Cry Me a River” — Joe Cocker’s remake of a 1950’s torch song

Joe Cocker, the flamboyant British rocker who died yesterday at the age of 70, was best known for his gravelly voice and charismatic onstage personality, but his career was especially noteworthy due to his successful model of interpreting popular songs of the day. The most obvious example -– the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” performed before hundreds of thousands at Woodstock in 1969 -– was his signature career achievement, a performance Paul McCartney yesterday called “mind-blowing,” one that he was “forever grateful for him for having done that.” One could make the case that Cocker’s appearance at Woodstock and his filmed performance of that tune was indeed a defining moment of the rock era.

Cocker also successfully remade Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me a River,” a 1953 torch song originally composed for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in Pete Kelly’s Blues, the Jack Webb film in which Peggy Lee portrayed an […] Continue reading »

Features

A Moment in Time — John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, 1961

In 1960, Eric Dolphy told Down Beat magazine, “At home I used to play, and the birds always used to whistle with me. I would stop what I was working on and play with the birds.” This imitation of birds (who, according to Dolphy, sing in “quarter tones”) was embraced by none other than John Coltrane, who said that the addition of Dolphy — and his philosophy — to his quartet “turned [the quartet] all around.” Dolphy’s playing helped set the stage for the music Coltrane would create later.

Also critical was their friendship, which was especially important to Coltrane since he was so consumed at the time by his alcohol and heroin abuse. Quoting a Coltrane friend, John Fraim writes in his 1996 biography Spirit Catcher: The Life and Art of John Coltrane that “outside of Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy was his [Coltrane’s] only true […] Continue reading »

Features

Memorable Quotes: Gil Evans on Paul Chambers

Paul Chambers, the bassist on many of Miles Davis’ most important recordings — including all that Gil Evans and Miles Davis collaborated on — fulfilled, according to Stephanie Stein Crease, author of Gil Evans: Out of the Cool, “an important role in Gil’s writing. The bass provided a harmonic color base as well as a rhythmic one, a foundation for the shifting polyrhythms among the brass and woodwinds.”

Here is what Evans said about Chambers:

There was nobody ever before or after Paul Chambers, he was such a glorious player. When he played up-tempo it was never the least bit choppy – he could hang onto the preceding note as long as possible before the next […] Continue reading »

Features

On the Turntable — Naked, by the Assaf Kehati Trio

I received a disc in the mail recently from Israeli-born guitarist Assaf Kehati called Naked, a nine song recording that includes bassist Ehud Ettun and drummer Ronen Itzik. It has grown on me to the point of not being able to remove it from my CD player (other than to carry it to my car so I can hear it while driving).

This is the New York-based guitarist’s third album, but it is my introduction to his work. The disc is anchored by the title track, which […] Continue reading »

Features

A Moment in Time — Monk and Coltrane at the Five Spot, 1957

The Five Spot Café, a club located in New York City’s Bowery neighborhood, was the site of a six month gig for the quartet of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, drummer Shadow Wilson, and bassist Wilbur Ware. This engagement — coming on the heels of Monk’s cabaret card reinstatement — marked the merging of two of the most original voices in American music, Monk and Coltrane, in a space where cheap beer and good music attracted some of the city’s most influential artists and writers. Regulars included Larry Rivers, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg.

In Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, author Robin D.G. Kelley quotes Five Spot co-owner Joe Termini remembering the impact Monk’s quartet had on his club: “Once we hired Monk, all of a sudden the place was crowded every night. And frankly, in the beginning, I just didn’t understand any of it.” […] Continue reading »