Acrossthebarline

February 27, 2010

Why not?

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 9:18 PM

I’m in a phase of having a lot to say about jazz and trying to say it in short bursts on social media sites, so I’m mutating this former Zombie Tune Crypt site to one with a strictly jazz focus.

Luckily, my good friend Tom Curry keeps me in cd’s. Tom is the former co-proprietor, along with Bob Porter, of Phoenix Records. This week he gave me “Carnegie Hall X-Mas ’49,” with Charlie Parker and the Jazz Stars and the Stars of Modern Jazz! There is much to like on this disc.

Bud is at his height, with Max and Curly on “All God’s Children…” (Max plays brushes here and this is actually cool for me, as I often find his kit pitched too high for my taste). Bud’s playing leaps off the recording.

Miles, Serge, Stitt, Benny Green join for “Four.” I never got that bullshit about Miles lacking technique. His smoking solo here presages his nonet “Birth of the Cool” solo. Serge sounds a bit fragmented in his solo-playing in short bursts. Yes, Stitt sounds like Bird, but you would not mistake the two-the tone is different, for one thing. Phrasing is similar, although Stitt doesn’t cross as many bar lines as Bird. Benny Green is fantastic-combining a balsy sound with genuine bop harmonic understanding. They also do “Hot House,” “Ornithology”…Well, you don’t want a set list. Let’s move to other highlights:

Hearing early Sassy falls in that category, as she kills on “Mean To Me.” Sarah uses a fair amount of vibrato and some repetition, which stylistically puts one of her feet in the swing camp. And, she’s got stride piano accompaniment, which could actually be her(someone let me know who it is) which also gives it a swing, rather than bop feel. But the quality of her voice is sublime and she doesn’t play fast and loose with the melody as she did later on, when she moved into the Rococo. This is completely seductive.

Getz is, well, Getzian on “You Go To My Head,” joined by the Konitzian Konitz. A full Tristano aggregation pipes in on “Sax of a Kind.”

Eventually, we get to Koko, with Bird and Red Rodney. The head is a bit sloppier than the well-known version with Diz. Then, Bird’s solo is just as fiery and assured as the Diz version. The revelation is Rodney’s solo. I always thought Red was a great player, but I put him half a step below Magee and Fats. At this point, he doesn’t have quite the upper register they did (he developed it later on), but shit-he plays a fantastically adept and creative solo. For this alone, you need to seek out this CD. Someone needs to do a bio of Rodney, prodigy, junky, con man, safe-cracker and serious contributor to jazz.

November 15, 2009

"San Francisco" (Be Sure to drink some hemlock if you go)

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 2:30 AM


If you’ve seen any Time/Life ads for the Greatest Hits of the 60’s, you know John Phillips wore some really stupid hats, but we forgive him because of his talented leadership of the Mamas and Papas. However, we must now ask: John, how could you sink to writing this song? Was your acid connection out of town?

Not only is this a bad song, it was complicit in the media’s growing capacity to create “Movements” out of thin air. This song greased the cultural wheels. It was used to sell the “Summer of Love” (god help us) like a dj uses ‘National Retail Appreciation Day’ to flog his appearance at the local Gap. “The Summer of Love, a Voyeuristic Look at the Rise (and Fall) of Youth Culture” might have been created by a consortium of TV networks. Come to think of it-although I believe the conspiracy was purely accidental-it was.

It was perfect. It was SO telegenic, and with a perfect story arc. First, there appeared all the lovely, bra-less creatures and their mellow, thoughtful hip-huggered boy friends, blowing bubbles, airily dancing to The Grateful Dead, feeding each other sprouts. Then, when that began to grow tiresome, the bloom crashed off the rose and it became about the junkies, panhandlers and screaming love babies. This was a perfect news boom and bust cycle; one which our more efficient digital era would have compressed to at most a week, but which at that time, unfolded over a few leisurely months.

So much for complicity, and context. As for the song itself-it’s possible that “San Francisco” might have been marginally less dreadful if it had been given the full John Phillips harmony treatment. However, it was sung in the jejune, aspiringly-sincere voice of Scott ‘Let a Thousand Bad Mustaches Bloom’ McKenzie. Scott was later to torture listeners with “Like An Old Time Movie.”(“You don’t really need me The way that I need you, Don’t come on so groovy”).

San Francisco lyrics:

If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there…

Then, a little bit of psychedelia tossed in during the bridge, accompanied by a dramatic increase in reverb, just to ‘blow your mind’:

“All across the nation such a strange vibration
People in motion
here’s a whole generation with a new explanation
People in motion people in motion.”

And if that isn’t enough, it’s all just so damned simpleminded. No matter how the complexities of a given era have been quashed by the American craving for digestible sound bites, the artist owes us more. The emptiness of this song smacks of alien pods falling off trucks, androids coaching Little League and my being forced march to stand for “God Bless America” at a baseball game. Encryptment is way overdue and simple to accomplish: this thing is already a zombie. Viva Woodstock.

November 14, 2009

"My Way." Macho Rat-Pack Death Knell, Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 3:00 PM



1950’s teen idol body count: Fabian and Frankie Avalon-alive. Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson-dead. Wayne Newton and Pat Boone? Hard to say. Paul Anka? Alive, but living for the last 40 years in a bizarre psycho-musical twilight zone of his own devising. “My Way,” “She’s A Lady”and “She’s Having My Baby;” this, his enduring triumvirate, is ripe for entombment.

Anka started off in the classic teen idol mold-“Diana,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder”- perfectly acceptable schlock. If you were a horny kid lookin’ to cop a feel in 1958, this was the right stuff.

In the 1960’s he was sucker-punched by Rock, but in 1969, Anka heard a French song called “Comme d’habitude” (“as usual”). He went to France and bought the rights to pen English lyrics. He wrote words as akin to the dry, world-weary French lyrics as Trader Joe’s Burgundy is to Chateau Lafite.

Much as Michelangelo would ask himself how the Medicis might envision Moses and God, Anka says that as he wrote the lyrics he thought: ‘If Frank (Sinatra) were writing this, what would he say,’ adding that the Rat Pack liked to talk ‘like mob guys.’ Huh? I ain’t never heard Little Caesar say this:

“…Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption

…For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.”

True, the unappetizing bombast built into the original French music sets up any set of lyrics to fail. However, Anka, through a combination of mangled syntax, agonizing rhymes and (you’ll like this)faux ego-tique, managed to create arguably the most cringe-inducing climax in American popular music.

Me, I like Sinatra. Smarminess notwithstanding, I know he stood up for civil rights and was a hell of a singer in his day. My Way succeeds at elevating the seamiest aspects of his reputation, flattening the man to self-caricature. There’s ample blame to go around here-Anka, Sinatra, the Frenchmen, the Industry, the Audience, but anyway you slice it, someone must pay and may I say, not in a shy way. For today, we’ll not say neigh, we’ll do it the Crypt Way.

Stay tuned for Macho Rat-Pack Death Knell, Part 2: “She’s A Lady.”

"She’s A Lady." Macho Rat-Pack Death Knell, Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 2:55 PM


In 1971, after “My Way,” Paul Anka wrote and Tom Jones had a big hit with “She’s A Lady.” This tune hovers in a bombastic, syntactically-mangled territory somewhere between the sexless yearning of Anka’s “Diana” and the juiceless onanism of “My Way,” Surely, “She’s A Lady” is destined to become a feminist anthem:

“Well she’s all you’d ever want
She’s the kind they’d like to flaunt and take to dinner
Well she always knows her place…

Well she’s never in the way
Something always nice to say, Oh what a blessing…

Well she never asks for very much and I don’t refuse her
Always treat her with respect, I never would abuse her…

Well she knows what I’m about,
She can take what I dish out, and that’s not easy…”

(!)

So, there are different ways to use the word “lady.” There’s the obsequious ‘lady’ of servants and syncophants addressing the peerage. There’s the baggy-pants shlemiel ‘lady’ of Jerry Lewis. There’s the vaguely exasperated, condescending ‘lady’ of the traffic cop who thinks all women drivers suck.

Then, there’s Anka’s deeply smarmy ‘lady.’ This ‘lady’ is about control. It’s an invitation to a satanic pact: you want minks and diamonds, ok, but…The surface of this ‘lady’ is courtly, but underneath lay a warning: It’s Our Way, Our Code or the highway. What we Big Men on Campus Earth give, we can taketh away.

Tom Jones (damned clever stage name )was the perfect delivery system for the message. For you whipper-snappers who don’t know him, Jones was a tight-pants-ed, frilly-shirt-ed, post-Elvis-hip-swivelling knocker; famous for the piles of hotel room keys that were showered onstage by the ‘ladies.’ He is still gyrating; a kind of priapic elder statesman without portfolio.

I like him. In fact, he’s Having My Baby. (See part 3 of the Paul Anka Macho Rat-Pack Death Knell Trilogy coming soon). However, it’s not enough to keep him and this tune out of the crypt.

Oy Vey-"She’s Having My Baby." Macho Rat-Pack Death Knell, Part 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 2:50 PM

As my other posts show, I’m not exactly an abject sentimentalist, but when I went back to listen to this song, the 3rd and final member of the Anka Trilogy, I didn’t hate it as much as I remember hating it back then. And I hate myself for that.

True, I have no trouble insulting it. Musically, it’s crap; with a cloying quality that would set my teeth on edge if someone told me I had to listen to it more than once in less than a twenty-year span.

But quelle difference between my response in 1974 and my response now.

A close examination shows that the only thing that’s changed between 1974 and 2009 (besides my hair color and the condition of my liver), is that I managed-or succumbed-to the biological pressure and procreated myself. That is, I didn’t actually procreate myself-that would put the cloners out of business-but I did replicate my DNA (c.f. one daughter-at least I’m below the Replacement Rate). And because of that, although it’s hard for this musical cynic to admit, it just doesn’t carry the same freight for me that it used to.

God, how we all hated this song. It was one cog in the Man’s Overpopulation Machine that we knew (I mean really knew) was strangling the planet. Not that it mattered that much, as we were all going to be dead before we turned 30-the proper end of all right-thinking artist-revolutionaries.

Now, 35-years later, a battle rages within. Do I climb down from the elitist position I’ve carefully staked out on this blog and admit that there’s a place in this world for songs like “She’s Having My Baby”?

Well, ah, I suppose I should, but sometimes, hard though it may be, a guy’s got to risk a little cognitive dissonance and consider the greater good, i.e.:

“Havin’ my baby
What a lovely way of sayin’
How much you love me.”

etc., etc…Then, later:

“Havin’ my baby

I’m a woman in love
And I love what’s goin’ through me…”

Hey, don’t worry, hon, that’s just the fluids draining…the same way the flow of my bile seems to be overwhelming the milk of human kindness. So, although my soul calls out like a wounded bat and I know I will hate myself when I see my reflection in my morning Ovaltine, I am flinging “She’s Having My Baby,” along with fellow miscreants “She’s A Lady” and My Way” headlong into the Crypt.

August 25, 2009

Fur Elise-Audio Earwig

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 1:24 AM


You may or may not know this thing by name. If you do, I’m sure the mere mention of it will immediately induce a pounding headache, starting in the sinus area and moving swiftly to the top of your head. If not, head over to Youtube and torture yourself (my lawyers have told me to add: “I say that with all good intentions”).

This Beethoven Bagatelle in A ‘minor’ (he said it, not me) has been subjected to more abuse than Dr. No’s cat; more than Chaplin’s butt in “The Kid;” enfin, more than George Bush’s speechwriters. It has become the centerpiece of every collection of “relaxing” classical music, with its nearest competitor, the dreaded Pachelbel Canon in D Major, a distant second.

There are 50 pages of youtube versions, including ringtones, electronica, Fur Elise played on Dinner Glasses, How to Play Fur Elise on Piano (Parts 1 to infinity) and just for good measure-Fur Elise, Hendrix Style, which I tried to listen to. I found that the only palatable audio level for the thing is “mute.”

Rapper Nas indulges in a little Fur Elise-iana in “I Can.” We like that the message is not the usual bullcrap, and the fact that he doesn’t beat the sample to death, as so much hip hop does. Still, the downdraft from the Fur Elise sample is palpable.

This is the first instrumental I’ve covered, and I can’t beat up the lyrics, so get busy out there, hacks and hackesses and crank out some doggerel for this thing. If you’re at a loss for inspiration, I wouldn’t worry. Just remove your brains, get a hold of Paul Anka’s rhyming dictionary, set the mixer to puree and voila!

August 7, 2009

Musty

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 3:19 PM


My Zumix Radio partner J.T. Potter thought he was making a joke when he suggested the song “Misty,” but that’s his tough luck.

Pity once again the great jazz musicians who became associated with one song (2 previously covered in this blog-Ellington and Kenny Dorham). In this case, it’s pianist Erroll Garner.

As a musician, Garner was an interesting case: Couldn’t read music, which in jazz by the 1950’s, was getting to be rare; made a bunch of records, but only a few clicked; at 5’2″ (nickname: The Elf), he needed to put phone books on the bench to get up to the keyboard. To my ears, he does attain one of the classic jazz goals-you can recognize it’s Garner right away, largely because of the stretching of time, the independence of left and right hands and the frequent use of octaves and tenths, a la Stride players like James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Jackie Byard was a similar eclectic stylist a half-generation later.

A song like Misty served Garner well, allowing for the kinds of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic digressions he liked to make. However, as this song seeped more and more into the popular repertoire, Garner’s version of it came under attack by the dreaded kitch-a-coccus, began to age badly and lost its appeal.

Johnny Burke was the lyricist. Burke was a protean collaborator, who worked with many composers on song ranging from “Like Someone In Love”(good tune) to (gulp) “Swinging on A Star.” These lyrics are not as stupid as most we’ve covered here in the Crypt:

Look at me, I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree;
And I feel like I’m clinging to a cloud,
I can’t understand
I get misty, just holding your hand.
Walk my way,
And a thousand violins begin to play,
Or it might be the sound of your hello,
That music I hear,
I get misty, the moment you’re near.

Problem is, over time, the metaphors weaken, overwhelmed by the bathos of the song’s underlying idea, which is the utter dependence-lack of center-of the person singing the song.

Can’t you see that you’re leading me on?
And its just what I want you to do,
Don’t you notice how hopelessly ‘Im lost
That’s why I’m following you.

Eventually, your response has got to be: “Tough patooties. Get a freakin’ life.”

So, while it started off with better raw material than “Satin Doll,” it’s fate has been justifiably similar. Every wedding in every Elks hall in American resounds with this song. In fact, Mephistopheles himself combines these tunes in a “First Dance” medley, played by a Styxian combo at every Bar Mitzvah and First Communion held Down Below. Nice choice.

July 23, 2009

Number One on the Hit List: Satin Doll

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 11:58 PM



Tune up your dander, Zombie Tune Crypt readers. The first tune I am going to pillory, in fact, the tune that inspired the creation of this blog, is “Satin Doll.”

This tune scores highly in all major Irritation Categories. First of all, while it may have provided some good income for Ellington, the fact that people equate him with this tune and ignore the many works of genius he created is enough to make the little grey cells quiver with anxiety. His great work lay elsewhere. Bartender: another Black and Tan Fantasy. Nuf said.

Secondly, people actually perform this tune to be “hip.” AHHHH! Let’s take a peek at these lyrics, shall we?
“Cigarette holder which wigs me
Over her shoulder, she digs me.
Out cattin’ that satin doll.
Baby, shall we go out skippin?
Careful, amigo, you’re flippin’,
Speaks Latin that satin doll.”

No more line quoting, just one word: Switch-a-rooney. Is it really possible that the great Johnny Mercer created these lyrics; lyrics that grow more and more dog-eared as the years pass? Please tell me he was on the pipe at the time. If you told me he was 12 when he wrote them, I’d believe you. In fact, that would be his only excuse.

Finally, as if this all wasn’t enough-and it is-there’s the simple fact that EVERYONE plays this song, no matter how scant their credentials for playing jazz. In wedding party rooms, pizza parlors, church basements, rehearsal rooms, even in recording studios, for gods sake, this tattered, dessicated tune is being regurgitated.

Hate me if you like, but if you search your heart, you will know I’m right. Join me in taking this un-endearing, tatterdemalion, trite song off life-support. Together we can.

Light My Fire-Just Try It

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 1:37 PM


There are a lot of juicy reasons for consigning this tune to The Crypt. Let’s carry through the metaphore of artistic mis-representation that I started in 2 other entries, only instead of a song misrepresenting the work of a musician, let’s realize that the Doors as a band misrepresented an epoch-the 60’s.

Yea, yea, the Doors. The Doors of Perception. Aldous Huxley, bla, bla, bla. I was there, folks, and I can tell you that to anyone invested in personal transformation, this band was considered laughable and a sell out from the git go. At their best, their songs were dark emanations of the erratic drug/alcohol-driven psyche of Jum Morrison. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that for real power in the 1960’s, musical indulgence and hedonism needed at least some trace of the overtly political . Otherwise, it was simply retail masquerading as revolution. “Light My Fire” is the clearest example of that. As always, look to the lyrics:

You know that it would be untrue,
You know that I would be a ly-ah,
If I was to say to you,
Girl we couldn’t get much high-ah
Come on baby light my fy-ah….

And later, the great rhyming line:
No time to wallow in the my-ah

Bumptious. Egregious.

Other criminal aspects: I give the Doors credit for having recorded an extended organ solo in the original track (Morrison needed time to drop trou on stage). To a jazz sensibility, at least it had a whiff and coloration that led away from the usual 120db Johnny Winter solos of the day. Naturally, as time passed and the culture coarsened, that solo was eliminated from radio versions, rendering un-listenable the versions now played on oldies stations. [The same thing happened with the only listenable part of the pop hit “Spinning Wheel,” by Blood, Sweat and Tears. When that song initially got radio play, you got to hear a fine trumpet solo by Lou Soloff, but it was soon eliminated and replaced by a d-grade guitar solo].

That bowdlerization of Light My Fire may not be the fault of the Doors, but it certainly is another nail in the coffin; another reason to toss this tune into the crypt. Before the entombment, I invite someone to please do something useful with this tune. Turn it into a Baptist Hymn. Re-mix the William Shatner version. The time is well passed when it can be heard without inducing the Old Ennui, so help me extinguish the fire. You know in your heart I’m right.

Dis-"Imagine"-ation

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 1:36 AM


The song “Imagine,” by John Lennon has been suggested for the crypt and, kiddo, it’s easy if you try. I [imagine] there are many people who would react to any critique of this song the way Republicans do to flag-burners, Japanese to Mothra and the good citizens of Transylvania to grave-robbing. Just remember, it was common in the 19th century-the only way for medical schools to get cadavers…

So, no one likes to see an assassination, but boy was I surprised at the reaction that Lennon’s got from my friends. How did the man come to be seen as such a saint? I expect John and Mary Q. Public to indulge in the process of transference that makes them conflate the art with the artist. But my own(sophisticated, media-savvy) friends?!!

What ever kernel of human goodness first inspired this impetus to romanticize the artist has long been successfully coopted as just another way to sell product. Mark it down as first cousin to the Nostalgia Industry-the Artist As Romantic Hero Industry. This industry is not only propagated by mainstream media and PR flacks, but also buttressed by The Academy, which sublimates its own cultural hero-worship into doctoral theses purporting to tell us the real meaning of the Halloween movie franchise and Dylan’s religious conversions.

So, to the strictly musical point: what did Lennon contribute after the demise of Lennon-McCartney? The best of it was “Cold Turkey”, “Instant Karma!” maybe “Working Class Hero.” But look at the rest of his output through the cold light of day and tell me what the fate of his songs would have been had they not been written by an ex-Beatle.

The fact is, none of these songs would have made it to the second round of a local song writing contest.

I have less of a problem with an overtly political tune like “Working Class Hero,” or a self-aggrandizing one like “I’m the Greatest,” or a rocker-albeit completely derivative-like “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” “Imagine,” though, was written to be anthemic (like the moribund “Give Peace a Chance”) and passed into cooptation with nary a shake nor shiver. It could very easily have been confected by Proctor and Gamble’s flack staff and, in fact, has been used to sell everything from American Express to creationism.

Finally, why can’t lame piano players just say no to the instrument of Chucho Valdez, Bud Powell and Glenn Gould?

History has not done this song any good and the situation will only get worse as time passes. So, help save the world just a little bit. Shake yourself free of your worshipful torpor and join me in tossing this song into the Crypt. I’m not a dreamer and I know I’m not the only one.

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