First of all, wishing everyone a happy, productive and fulfilling 2019!
I was not around one hundred years ago, but my grandparents were. My mother’s mom was twenty, and she sometimes referenced the terrible flu epidemic of 1918 and the lives it took. For many, this affected them more directly than World War I.
World War I would end in November of 1918. For many years, Armistice Day, November 11, was a notable holiday in the U.S. until sometime after World War II, when it was renamed Veteran’s Day, honoring those who served in both world wars. Now Veteran’s day is a tribute to all those that served in the U.S. armed forces, the true great heroes and protectors of our nation.
In movies, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton continued to provide silent comedies. The big silent movie hit of 1918 was Mickey, starring Norma Mabel, the famous actress, writer, director, and producer of the 1910s and 1920s.
In 1918, the gifted seventeen-year-old Louis Armstrong was playing cornet on Mississippi riverboats. With prostitution made illegal in New Orleans in November of 1917, not to protect the women involved, but as a step to prevent VD transmission to nearby army and navy camps, Storyville, the red light and entertainment district of New Orleans, and the musicians that made a living in Storyville would take a financial hit: soon Louis’s idol, King Oliver would move to Chicago, and Louis would replace him in Kid Ory’s band.
Pianist, and National Public Radio (NPR) host of “Piano Jazz”, Marian McPartland was born on March 1918, living until 2013. Other jazz musicians born in 1918 include trumpter Howard McGhee, pianist Charles Thompson, pianist Hank Jones, saxophonist Ike Quebec, and trumpet player, composer, arranger and band leader, Gerald Wilson. King of the Slide Guitar, blues guitarist, composer, singer and bandleader Elmore James was also born in 1918. Mr. James was one of the first guitarists in the 1950’s to intentionally overdrive the electric guitar’s amplification to produce distortion for musical effect.
Classical violinist, Ruggiero Ricci was born in 1918 and gave lessons to one of my good friends from college who talked about him in utmost awe and respect. Ricci gave performances as a member of the US Army in World War II and then later, in 1947, was the first violinist to record the complete twenty-four Caprices (Opus 1) by Paganini in their original form. Ricci also championed many twentieth century composer’s violin concertos including Ginastera’s. In total, Ricci made over 500 recordings and performed over 6,000 concerts in sixty-five different countries.
Bebop continues to flourish with live concerts and recordings featuring Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and the up and coming Miles Davis. Imagine being able to go back in time to see Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Max Roach at the Three Deuces!
Coleman Hawkins continues his legacy, releasing his classic solo saxophone single, “Picasso”, almost as an important musical statement as his more famous swing-era masterpiece. “Body and Soul.” Are there any other swing giants that were able to make the transition into Bebop as successfully as the Hawk? Musically successfully that is, since unfortunately, great artists like Coleman Hawkins received very little financial reward in 1948.
Serge Prokofiev, out of favor with the Soviet cultural authorities, premieres his final opera, The Story of a Real Person on December 3, 1948 at the Kirov Theater, Leningrad (now thankfully called Saint Petersburg again). Given an unfavorable reception from the “authorities,” further performances were forbidden to the general public until after Prokofiev’s death, The Story of a Real Person not being performed again until October 1960 at the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow.
Oliver Messiaen’s completes his Turangalîla-Symphonie, a large scale orchestra work commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and later premiered in December 1949 with Leonard Bernstein conducting.
Arnold Schoenberg at the age of seventy-five composes his cantata, A Survivor from Warsaw, written in tribute to the Holocaust victims. Richard Strauss at the age of eighty-four composes his “Four Last Songs” for soprano and orchestra.
Hans Werner Henze and Witold Lutoslawski finish their first symphonies, while Walter Piston completes his third, Brian Havergal composes his seventh, and Nikolai Myaskovsky wraps up his first twenty-sixth, his Symphony on Russian Themes.
Samuel Barber composes Knoxville: Summer of 1915, John Cage his Suite for Toy Piano, Howard Hanson his Piano Concerto, Dmitri Kabalevsky his Violin Concerto, Eduard Tubin his Double Bass Concerto, and famous film composer, later to write the scores to the first two Godfather movies, Nino Rota, takes a break from movie music to compose his String Quartet.
On the extreme, commercial pop-side of music, Kay Kyser with Gloria Wood on vocals score a major hit with a song embedded in my childhood memories, “The Woody Woodpecker Song.” If only the worst pop songs of today, were this good….
At age twenty-eight, Chick Corea had already made serious contributions on studio dates with Herbie Mann, Hubert Laws, Cal Tjader, Dave Pike, Donald Byrd, and Stan Getz often contributing arrangements as well as playing piano. He had also recorded his first solo album in 1966, Tones for Joan’s Bones, with Woody Shaw on trumpet, which was released in April 1968.
Corea started playing piano at age four, developing not only impressive piano skills, but a passionate love for both classical and jazz music. This mastery of the two genres is apparent in this album, the format of jazz trio working well in terms of emphasizing the piano part and facilitating optimal engagement between a small set of artists.
“Steps – What Was” starts with piano solo soon joined by veteran Roy Haynes on drums and twenty-year old Czech classically-trained Miroslav Vitouš on acoustic bass. The work brims with enthusiasm and freshness and, after a brief drum solo by Haynes and before a bass solo by Vitouš, is a wonderful piano-led passage that reveals an early version of Corea’s “Spain” theme.
“Matrix’ includes a brief statement of the theme and a wild ride of head-spinning improvisation, again including room for statements by Vitouš and Haynes.
The next two tracks take their title from the explanation of the third line of the Kung Fú (Inmost Sincerity) hexagram in the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, The I Ching, roughly translated as “Now he beats his drum, and now he leaves off. Now he weeps, and now he sings.” These two works are very different with “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs”, being generally forward-looking, energetic and optimistic and “Now He Beats The Drum, Now He Stops” being more of a two-part composition, with the first section, a piano solo, full of reflection and inner-doubt, and the second section surging with revitalization and purpose.
The last track, “The Law Of Falling And Catching Up” is a free-jazz excursion with Corea directly accessing the strings of the grand piano. Somewhat pointillistic and Webern-like, the piece is sweeping in texture and content yet, at under two and half minutes, compact and focused.
Though sometimes Masekala’s work gets categorized as “Easy Listening”, this album contains some fine jazz and early world-fusion with Masekala providing quality trumpet with fine supporting musicians including uncredited folk-revival guitarist Bruce Langhorne. Baby Boomers will recognize the instrumental “Grazing in the Grass”, which went to the top of the charts, and was later revisited by The Friends of Distinction with added vocals. Also notable is the reflective, meditative rendition of Traffic’s “No Face, No Name And No Number”, Miriam Makeba’s “Bajabule Bonke” and Masekala’s own “Almost Seedless.”
In November 1968, Spirit follows up their impressive first album with an even stronger and more polished second album, again produced by Lou Adler with arrangements by Marty Paich.
The album starts out with Randy California’s rock classic “I Got A Line On You Babe”, first released as a single a couple of months prior to availability of the album, achieving some airplay on FM radio before later becoming a modest hit on AM. Full of energy and unstoppable enthusiasm with a aggressive, celebratory guitar work, it represents youthful romantic optimism reversing the viewpoint of that classic Kink’s song “You Really Got Me” but sharing many musical and emotional qualities.
“It Shall Be” is evocatively sensual with flute and wordless vocals alternating in A-B-A-B-A form with a more down-to-earth B section. This is followed by a set of three semi-psychedelic songs by Jay Ferguson, and a country-like tune, “Darlin’ If” composed by Randy California
Side two opens up strongly with “It’s All the Same,” a mixture between psychedelic and early seventies rock, including a brief, relatively uninteresting drum solo in the middle. The second track, is Caifornia’s “Jewish”, a short but expressive modal-melody pre-progressive track with Hebrew lyrics. The album ends with with three more Jay Ferguson tracks, each with its distinct identity but all three incorporating elements of the psychedelic era of songwriting; note the intriguing guitar work in the not-always-so-consistently-interesting last track, “Aren’t You Glad.”
Bonus tracks are available on the CD, including the artful, ambient instrumental, “Fog” and two other instrumentals by keyboardist John Locke as well as Ferguson’s sweeping, gothically dark “Now or Anywhere.”
This fine double album, one LP from a live concert in June 1968, and the other from 1968 studio recordings, sparkles with precise, consistently clearly articulated acoustic and vocal passages that nicely blend folk, rock, jazz and classical renaissance elements to provide an engaging audio and musical experience. Highlights of the live LP include Danny Thompson’s rendition of Mingus’s Haitian Fight Song, the group’s interesting take on Mingus’s homage to legendary Lester Young, “Good Bye, Pork Pie”, and the medley of three renaissance dances. Highlights of the studio LP include the immersive contrapuntal “Three Part Thing”, Jaqui McShee’s rendition of “Sovay”, the jazzy Brubeck-like instrumental “In Time”, the bluesy “I’ve Got a Feeling”, the classic folksy “The Trees They Do Grow High” and the final track of side two, “Hole in the Coal.” Throughout the four sides the interplay between the two guitars and bass is exceptional. Additional tracks are available on CD that were not on the original two LP Set.
Though not one of my favorite albums, one has to give credit where credit due and there are a number of reasons to recommend this often blues-based, somewhat historic album.
The first is the earthy and relatively respectful rendition of Robert Wilkins”Prodigal Son.” Is that Mick Jagger on vocals? Hard to believe…
The second is Nicki Hopkins on piano.
The third is the mournful “No Expectations.”
The fourth is the bluegrass/country-blues “Dear Doctor.”
The fifth is the anthem-like “Salt of the Earth” replete with a chorus.
The sixth is the Keith Richards application of his chance-discovery of the already existing technique of five-string “open G” tuning, basically removing or avoiding the low sixth string, with the five strings tuned G-D-G-B-D (aligning with the overtone series of G-G-D-G-B-D) and in the case of Richards, and others to follow, using a sliding three-fingered guitar technique.
The sixth is the stretching of the then-current record-industry norms with songs with lyrics like “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Parachute Woman”. and “Stray Cat Blues”, the last two, perhaps even more offensive now in the context of political correctness than in 1968.
The seventh is the historical impact of this record, setting the tone, whether we like it or not, for how future bands would approach traditional blues and country music (like the music found on pre-WWII 78s) and songs about Satan and groupies.
This work veers away from the accelerating trend of greater complexity and sophistication, taking a U-turn towards simplification. It really is a collection of the basics of music, some as simple and crude as the album cover the Stones had originally intended for the album. My apologies if I offend anyone by using the original LP cover that I associate with this album instead of the one prevalent on the CD reissues.
Recorded in 1967, while Stevie Wonder was still 17, this ninth studio album, released December 8, 1968, after Wonder was eighteen years old, is really the work of a mature adult artist. Though Wonder only is credited as a co-author for the eight selections that lists his name, one can distinctly hear the composer of the early seventies albums. Besides the developing compositional skills, we have strong vocals and quality harmonica and keyboard work .
“The House on the Hill” (Lawrence Brown, Berry Gordy, Allen Story) 2:36
James Taylor: James Taylor
There is always something reassuringly soothing in James Taylor’s voice. Like so many baby boomers, my first exposure to Taylor was his second album, Sweet Baby James, which my next door neighbor loaned my in 1970.
This first album, released December 6, 1968, and on the new, but short-lived, Beatles’ Apple label, which signed Taylor after Apple label A&R director Peter Asher (friend of Paul McCartney, brother of Paul’s girlfriend from 1963 to 1968, and member of the British group Peter and Gordon, which had recorded several of McCartney’s songs including their #1 hit, “A World Without Love“) had heard a forty-five minute demo tape Taylor had sent into to the new label.
Overall this is an amazingly strong debut, and rivals or surpasses the quality of later Taylor albums, with the exception of the second one, which has the wonderfully transcendent “Fire and Rain. Beatles fans should note that George Harrison and Paul McCartney make guest appearances on “Carolina on My Mind” and jazz fans should note Freddie Redd’s keyboard contributions.
Besides James Taylor’s simple, home-spun, relaxed vocals, and his quality song-writing, there are some sophisticated instrumental introductions written by arranger Richard Anthony Hewson that are worth mentioning, whether they are an integral part of the track, as with “Sunshine Sunshine” or seem more like they were added after the final take of the song. Yes, they don’t effectively assist in creating a single artistic identity to the album, or even bring out the best in the inherent nature of these James Taylor compositions, but both the handful of introductions and the arrangements have merit and add interest to the album, bringing an additional dimension to the final work.
If you have not heard this album, its worth the effort to check it out, particularly with the number of strong songs, the fine acoustic guitar work and other instrumentation, the quality of the arrangements and production, and the sterling sound quality (for 1968), partly as a result of the entire album having been recorded at Trident studio in England, at that time a state-of-the-art studio, using some of the session time that was previously booked by the Beatles.
Track listing [from Wikipedia]
All songs written by James Taylor unless otherwise noted. Times are from the original Apple LP vinyl label.
Though the first BS&T album, a work of love from Al Kooper, includes jazz instruments, this second album really begins the era of what is commonly called “jazz-rock”, a genre quite different than jazz fusion or rock-influenced jazz. Later adherents to this style, more or less, included American groups like Chicago and Chase, the Canadian band Lighthouse, and the British group If.
This second album (produced by James William Guercio at the same time he was producing the Chicago Transit Authority album) left the generally more critically admired, Al Kooper first BS&T album in the dust, commercially,selling millions of copies and by March of 1969 taking the top US album chart spot away from Glen Campbell, twice until the Hair soundtrack displaced both for a bit, with the BS&T album again rising to the #1 spot for four more weeks in late July and August.
The album provided three top five singles, Laura Nyro’s “When I Die”, Fred Lispius’s arrangement of fellow-BS&T-band member and lead singer David Clayton Thomas’s “Spinning Wheel” and the Al Kooper’s arrangement of Brenda Halloway’s modestly successful single, “You Made Me So Very Happy”.
The album is yet another 1968 that includes music by a classical composer. In this case, this album starts out with an abridged, but tasteful arrangement of two of the three pieces of Eric Satie’s “Gymnopédies.” For many listeners, including myself, this was one of the highlights of the album, and was my first introduction to Eric Satie.
This is followed by BS&T’s extended version of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases”, with its traditional jazz piano trio middle section and then the evocative Dick Halligan arrangement of Steve Katz tune “Sometime in Winter.” Next is “More and More”, which, as a thirteen-year old, was my favorite track on the album, with its fierce brass and drums.
Also, leaving an impression on me was the last track of the first side, Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” As I had not heard the original version, or any Billie Holiday recordings, I made the mistake of considering this the reference version of the song. (What kind of society would make it possible for the vast majority of Baby Boomers to have no knowledge of Billie Holiday until the release of the 1972 film “Lady Sings the Blues”?)
Blues — Part II has an interesting, progressive rock opening with Dick Halligan on organ, which is followed by a short brass outburst and then electric bass and drum solos as well as some flugelhorn, sax, electric guitar, and reflective, bluesy vocals. The album ends with a short reprise of Satie’s first “Gymnopédie“, providing a complete, fulfilling and distinct listening for anyone in 1968 and 1969 that had only a smattering exposure to real jazz. Just as seventh grade Physical Education introduced me to basketball, which led to my watching John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and then in 1969 West, Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain’s Los Angeles Lakers, groups like BS&T and Chicago help lead my way towards the many jazz classics recorded prior to 1968.
Track listing [from Wikipedia]
“Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie” (1st and 2nd Movements) – 2:35