Top 50 JAzz Blog

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

A.I. Reanimates the Beatles

The whole world-why restrict it-the entire universe-knows that the Beatles have released a song called Now And Then. This Frankenstinian effort was, as the YouTube P.R. says: “brought to life and worked on anew with contributions from all four Beatles.” The reconstruction entailed using AI to extract an old John Lennon vocal track and adding new musical backup.

Now And Then is probably the highest profile use of AI in popular music. It shows us that this technology can do something that couldn’t be done before: separate sounds that had already been mixed together. A machine-learning algorithm is trained to learn sonic patterns and create a neural network capable of isolating individual voices or instruments. It can then re-synthesize them to try and match samples of those instruments or voices. It took Lennon’s voice off the demo cassette tape and recreated it, giving us a sampled version of Lennon’s voice (and Harrison’s guitar).

My own view is that the song is maudlin and turgid; glib romantic tripe surrounded by white-bread music. Disclosure: I feel the same way about Let It Be, a McCartney song knee-deep in pseudo-religious semi-anthemic bathos. Worst of all, I never “got” Imagine. 

Now to something slightly more objective: the music industry is desperate. People don’t want to pay for music and for 15 years, album sales and music sales have declined. MRC Data, a music-analytics firm says that old songs represent 70 percent of the U.S. music sales. 

Record companies are plumbing their catalogues for music that can save their plunging bottom lines. But the real force in music is not record companies which are, in any case, a very small piece of very large international corporations. They are technology companies: Amazon, Google, Apple and Spotify, who own the download market. How many of these companies are out there looking for and signing new musical artists? None. It's no surprise that the music industry will use any tool it can to maximize its resources, especially if this tool simultaneously minimizes expenses.

I’ve read through a number of websites from in and outside the music industry. They acknowledge the drawbacks of AI (in a word: it’s not human), but overwhelmingly embrace the use of the technology. Here are some extracts to give a sense of what I mean.

As one website puts it: “AI can help with tasks such as music recommendation, content curation, and even music composition. By leveraging AI as a tool, the music industry can be at the forefront of the next wave of innovation.”

Another site says: “One of the most significant benefits of AI in music production is the ability to quickly generate new ideas and variations.”

A trope widely used is this: “It has democratized music production, making it accessible to those who may not have traditional musical training or expensive equipment.”

Another website states this “Con”: Because many people see music as such an innately human expression, it is often considered as too precious to impart onto technology. The thought of a computer generating a ‘random’ piece of music that hasn’t been painstakingly created by an artist is almost seen as sacrilegious.” However, a few paragraphs later, we read this:Instead of shying away from the idea of this Black Mirror-esque future, the best approach to take is one of optimism and curiosity. While there are always bound to be diehard old school musicians who refuse to use tech, as there are readers who still refuse the Kindle, music producers should consider AI as something to be embraced.”

Another acknowledges this issue: “Moreover, while AI can generate music based on patterns and trends, it lacks the ability to understand cultural context and emotional nuance. Music is not just about melody and rhythm; it’s a form of expression that reflects the human experience. AI, as advanced as it may be, cannot replicate this aspect of music creation.”

It seems as though consumers of music are being asked to choose between an archaic “humanistic” attitude that rejects AI, or a “realistic” one which accepts, even appreciates it and, as the technology gets better and better, will narrow the gap between human and machine-made creation to indistinguishability. People will take sides on this and will impute moral and ethical judgements to buttress their positions.

It would be ridiculous to say the aesthetic application of AI falls into the life-or-death category of debates surrounding technologies like cloning, gene splicing or nanotechnology. Some of the debate is morally murkier, but some applications are obviously abhorrent. For example, as used in the streaming cesspool, to avoid having to pay money to flesh and blood musicians.

I love the Beatles. They were a force; born and fostered in an era when a group might make it past a second album that didn’t sell that well. In my youth, “Rubber Soul,” and ”Revolver” competed for turntable time with Miles, Getz and Coltrane. Now, rather than a generative force, they are a symptom of a systemic breakdown. The whole business is reminiscent of the holographic resurrection of dead musicians.

 It's only a matter of time before the Beatles get the Rod Stewart and Ella Fitzgerald treatment, which gives new meaning to the expression “half-dead.” Yes, pairing Rod and Ella is like putting Twinkie creme filling into a Godiva chocolate; like putting Donald Trump's hair on Sophia Loren's head. It shouldn't be conceived of. It shouldn't be done. But it has been, and it will.

Can anything be done? Those few musicians with real power might exert that power to force streaming companies to pay a fair share to artists. We might all demand those changes. We might also take note that the enemy is us and pony up for recorded music the same way we shell out for HBO, to see a movie, a show or a dance concert.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

In Praise of Raspberries. A La Recherche du Fruit Perdu


Monsieur Proust is welcome to his madeleine. Those little cakes may have a rich provenance, but they are a rather wan substitute for more gorgeous desserts (crème puffs, chocolate mousse, etc). That a madeleine was transmuted by Proust to a “precious essence” can only be ascribed to a hypochondriac’s aversion to leaving his bed. If Proust had smelled and tasted the raspberries in my backyard, his prose would not only have risen to greater heights, he would have been a less dour mec and might even have moved out of his parents’ house.

But I have come to praise raspberries, not bury Proust.

First of all, each raspberry is unique. We’re told as children that no two snowflakes are alike, but all snowflakes taste, smell and look the same-except under a microscope, whereas the variations in size, color, taste and bouquet of raspberries are infinite.

Light pink when emerging, the fruit grows deeper in color, changing over the course of two weeks or so to a deep purple-red. Although a raspberry may be perfectly formed, don’t pick the fruit too early in the cycle. The bouquet is not developed and the taste somehow both flaccid and acrid. As the color deepens the taste and bouquet emerge.

Oenophiles speak of a wine’s “nose” and “body.” The word “raspberry” comes from a mid-15th century word raspise--"a sweet rose-colored wine" and all the complexities imputed to vintages from the Haut-Médoc may be found in this fruit. The bouquet and taste intertwine to create an experience that is pungent and regal; delicate and insouciant; subtle and stentorian.

A raspberry should be eaten in its natural state. Sugar and pectin are no friend to the raspberry, which does not translate well to jelly, preserves, even tarts. Freeze them if you must, but like a person with titanium implants who must respond to excess humidity, they will never be quite the same.

Unlike blackberries, when you pick a raspberry, it will come to your fingers without the central torus: hollow; with nothing pulpy to detract from the taste. When fully matured, the surface texture is pure velvet. A raspberry should yield slightly to the touch, but the tiny sections must cohere. Breeds of raspberries other than my own have many fine qualities, but tend to crumble in the hand, and no matter how quickly you shovel the pieces into your mouth, the experience will be disjointed, like listening to a stereo record through one speaker.

While Proust’s madeleines transported him to les temps perdue, eating raspberries anchors me in the present. It is one of the things in my life that effectively brings me here now. My bushes have yielded fruit annually for the last 20 years, making mid-July glorious even when the weather is not. I have done very little to help my raspberries prosper. Every spring, I cull the dead shoots; no fertilizer, no special watering or weeding.

With apologies to Matthew 6:28-33: Consider the raspberries of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  



Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Booker Little "Out Front" (Recorded April 4, 1961)


The cohort of 1950s trumpet players is a pretty astonishing lot. Booker Little, one of that (often ill-fated) group, died of uremic poisoning at 23 and only recorded between 1959 and 1961. The album Out Front (released in 1961, now being reissued by Candid), is arguably the best recorded representation of his unique voice as trumpeter and composer-arranger. The lineup: Booker Little, trumpet; Eric Dolphy, alto sax; Julian Priester, trombone; Art Davis and Ron Carter, bass; Don Friedman, piano; and Max Roach, drums. All compositions are by Little.

From Memphis and schooled at the Chicago Conservatory, Little was a master technician on the trumpet. His unique tone managed to be both pleading and stentorian, copper and silver, focused but not excessively narrow. His varied use of vibrato, and of the extreme registers of the horn, together with his compositions, were the tools he used to investigate crucial, foundational aspects of jazz.

Although less bluesy/funky, there’s something of Charles Mingus in Little’s compositions, particularly in the stops and starts, along with the variations in tempo. I also hear similarities to the voicings used by Wayne Shorter in his arrangements, such as, for example, in Freddie Hubbard’s 1963 album Body and Soul. (Why so many Shorter tunes have become standards while Little’s are seldom played may be a result of the often through-composed structure of his compositions and, of course, the brevity of Little’s career).

Little was looking for a certain kind of freedom, but it was not the freedom of Ornette or of Dolphy, though they sound very natural playing side by side. Little’s idea of liberty called for more strictures. “Moods in Free Time” is a good reflection of this. The time here is not “free” in the customary sense. It derives its flexibility from a subtly crafted shifting of time signatures — from 3/4 to 4/4 to 5/4 to 6/4 meter.

The songs “Man of Words “and “Hazy Hues” are actually “program music” — a format seldom approached in jazz. The first is Little’s attempt to describe the journey of a writer confronting a blank piece of paper. Ideas are tested until a pattern emerges; at that point the real work has been accomplished. The second tune, almost a concerto for trumpet, limns a painter at work, starting with the germ of an idea and bringing it to completion.

Despite Little’s technical proficiency and knowledge of harmony, he considered technique less important than communication. Little said, “If you insist that this note or that note is wrong … you’re thinking conventionally–technically, and forgetting about emotion.…There are certain feelings that you might want to express that you could probably express better if you didn’t have that [bounding, continuous] beat. Up until now if you wanted to express a sad or moody feeling you would play the blues. But it can be done in other ways.”

Little’s oeuvre is distinctive and deserves wider attention. This reissue is an excellent place to begin to explore his very brief career. Don’t be surprised if you listen and two thoughts arise: “Why didn’t I know this music?” and ”What if…”

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Embalmed, Blotto and Owled: Moving from Dry January into Dry Martini February


Edmund Wilson; a man who doesn't look like he enjoys his work.

Otherwise known for more high-fallutin’ work, writer Edmund Wilson did some of his best work when he compiled The Lexicon of Prohibition, in 1927. He said the list was arranged “in order of the degrees of intensity of the conditions which they represent, beginning with the mildest stages and progressing to the more serious…” I’m not certain I agree with Wilson, although what 'half screwed' meant in 1927 may differ from how we see it now. 

Lit, squiffy, oiled, lubricated, owled, edged, jingled, piffed, piped, sloppy, woozy, happy, half screwed, half cooked, half shot, half seas over, fried, stewed, boiled, bent, sprung, crouched, jazzed, jagged, canned, corked, corned, potted, hooted, slopped, tanked, tight, full, wet, high, horseback, liquored, pickled, ginned, shicker (Yiddish-can be either an adjective or a noun), spifflicated, primed, organized, featured, pie-eyed, cock-eyed, wall-eyed, glassy-eyed, bleary-eyed, hoary-eyed, over the Bay, four sheets in the wind, crocked, loaded, leaping, screeching, lathered, plastered, soused, bloated, polluted, saturated, stinko, blind, stiff, under the table, wapsed down, paralyzed, ossified, out like a light, passed out cold, embalmed, buried, blotto, lit up like the sky, sit up like the commonwealth, lit up like a Christmas tree, lit up like a store window, lit up like a church, fried to the hat, slopped to the ears, stewed to the gills, boiled as an owl, full as a tick, loaded for bear, loaded to the muzzle, loaded to the plimsoll mark, to have a bun on, to have a slant on, to have a skate on, to have a snootfull, to have a skinful, to draw a blank, to pull a shut-eye, to pull a Daniel Boone, to have a rubber drink, to have a hangover, to have a head, to have the jumps to have the shakes, to have the zings, to have the heeby-jeebies, to have the screaming-meemies, to have the whoops and jingles, to burn with a low blue flame. 

As of this writing, I'd move "fried to the hat" to the top of the list. Or is it the bottom?


Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Peaches For Zappa

 In honor of Frank Zappa's birthday, here are my lyrics to "Peaches En Regalia" (every note).


Too lifelike to destroy,
That fruit can bring you joy.

Let’s put those peaches en regalia;
March proudly with them,
Watch them walk down the street.

Please won’t you let them pass by safely;
Don’t spit on them and don’t eat their little feet.

On a melba float, you can gloat,
As you proudly cheer:
“Let the peaches vote,” they can quote,
Shakespeare, they’re sincere,

You won’t feel remote, if you note,
How they wave to you
Just as if you were the proudest parents who had raised them
Like they were your own small fruit-like children.

Teach them loyalty, wisdom, dignity;
Open a can, let your mind expand.


Set them free, remember even fruit has dignity.
When they come tell them hello,
When they leave tell them goodbye and
Come again, next time please stay longer.

Beware of reincarnation, that fruit you eat may be family,
What if you have stuffed a great-aunt in a spongy cake,
Have a heart, what if she is suffocating
In gooey artificial topping.

They like to dress in nice clothes,
A small string tie and a leisure suit.
No sense resisting a clean, well-dressed fruit,
Panama hat and their snakeskin boots.


Zappa used lots of notes with harmony that changes keys,
Arpeggios and passing tones that rise and fall with accidentals,
Winding riffs a twisted rock zoo,
Wah-wah pedals run amok too.


Hear them coming, closer and closer and closer and closer with
Peaches Leading the way;
Peaches happy and gay,
Why can’t we treat them decently and
Not like delicacies, with a social disease.


Choosing fruit that really sings is not as easy as it seems,
No watermelon, pomegranate, seedless grape or sundried raisin
Has the impact of that peach so fuzzy, fully ripe, delicious.


Friday, July 22, 2022

Taking the Sting out of Climate Change: "Summertime"


If I'm to be dragged into the fires of Hades while I'm still alive, I'll take this one along. Originally composed as a recurring aria for "Porgy and Bess," It's been taken in a wide variety of tempos and re-harmonized in some pretty radical ways. Yet, probably because of the strength of the melody, it retains its, well, Summertime-i-tude. All credit to George Gershwin and lyricist DuBose Heyward.

There's a widespread notion about Gershwin having been influenced by a Ukranian song. Wikipedia says:  "The Ukrainian-Canadian composer and singer Alexis Kochan has suggested that he based the tune on a Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows)." Thanks very much to Anton for sending me Nina Matvienko’s version of that song: There are some similarities...

The Summertime Connection, a small international group of collectors has more than 30,000 full recordings of “Summertime,” but herein I offer a mere six examples. My criteria for choosing them was (1) how far away it ranges from the original and (2) how much I like it. Let's start off with a version of the original, performed by Harolyn Blackwell:

Billie Holiday had popular success with her version:

Ella and Louis, of course:

Gil Evans arrangement with Miles Davis (with alternate take):

Janis Joplin live:

And Coltrane:

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Lost New Orleans


One-Nostril Clyde
Toothpick Willie
Joseph 'Vaseline' Brunelle
Clyde 'Ofal' Pivnik
L'il Chicklets
Big Sluice
Leroy 'Creampie' Shavely
Melatonin Slim
Rufus 'Cutacle' Scaline
Buzz The Flea
Girdle and Griddlecakes Duffy(Siamese twins)
Oleander 'Sniffles' Zampa
Two-Crack Max Figgis
Langdon 'Crabcakes' Beaudoin


Sweetie Pie's Monodrome
Mamie's Mantis Hideaway
Queen Lillie's Nectar trap
Pookie's Natural Foods
Betty's Both-Ways Cabaret
Rita's Donuts and Crullers

Musical Organizations

Krispy Taylor's Trudgers
Juan San Juan and His Coffin Twirlers
Harry Ruby and the Minyon-aires
Clyde Baleen and the Super Sieve Six
The South Rampart St. Rhythm Manglers
Ollie's Watchfob Handlers
Louis The Greek's Menthol Stompers
Colonel Butt's Aftertaste Ragtime Orchestra
Ben Bichette's Trough Scrapers


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Jazz Resolutions for 2021

So far, we've had a 100% failure rate with our end-of-year resolutions, and I see no reason this year should be any different. In fact, especially this year. 

If you should wish to reach me, I'll be curled up in a corner, trying to figure out the difference between LinkedIn and Alignable.

This Year's Resolutions:

  1. Open myself to the wonderful world of Tribute Bands.  
  2. Kickstarter campaign for my chops transplant operation. 
  3. Still have 8 "Giant Steps" keys left to learn. 
  4. Outsource hologram of Jabbo Smith.
  5. Stockpile valve oil, before OPEC gets back its leverage.  
  6. Resurrect career of Hal McKusick.
  7. Finish monograph on sepia-ofay combinations.
  8. Re-make “Bolden.”
  9. Continue not to post Miles Davis photos on social media.
  10. [Fill this space-contact author for price list].

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Worst Xmas Tunes

This is not to knock the idea of hearing songs befitting the season. There are some that retain their charm despite being in heavy rotation decade after decade-mostly the religious ones, not the secular ones, although "The Christmas Song" as sung by Nat King Cole and Judy Garland's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" are hard not to like.

The fact that the ones I list below are still disturbing the ether is beyond me. And why didn't "(Everyone's Waitin' For) the Man With the Bag" and "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas" get more traction? Even the best efforts of the Institute cannot elucidate this phenomenon. 



"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (Brenda? Come on)

"Santa Claus is Comin' To Town" (intimidation for the kids)

"Jingle Bell Schlock-sorry-Rock"

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" (Meredith Wilson. you've done a lot better)

"A Holly Jolly Christmas" (If Burl Ives can't make this work, who can?)

"Santa Baby" (Really, Eartha?)

"Feliz Navidad" (It would be nice to have one in Spanish. So much great music down there and we end up with this. )

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" (no comment)

Special mention to "Let It Snow Let it Snow Let it Snow" for the most repetitious title and the most arcane harmonic modulations.


And, just so you don't leave in a bad mood, here's Louis Armstrong doing "Cool Yule.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Music and Political Agita

One thing both Biden and Trump voters seem to agree on is that there’s a lot at stake in this election. The degree of partisanship itself signals how much everyone is worried about the results. Of course, the more partisan you are, the more likely you are to believe that only your side has due cause for concern. The degree to which you accept the idea that someone on the other side has a right to be concerned is the degree to which you accept them as fully human. If you can take a breath and step back from this combative environment, you’ll see there’s kind of an ironic symmetry in this situation and that there are probably emotions that people on both sides are experiencing. 

There may not be a lot of overlap in the musical tastes of Biden and Trump adherents, but music does address at least some of the emotions at play. I’ve been experiencing a complex and wearisome welter of emotions and have tried to choose some tunes that reflect the way this is playing out in my gut. I hope some of it resonates with you and that after this near-civil war, music will offer a way for us to find some common ground.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Stormy Daniels: Super-Heroine

Stormy Daniels: Space Force 

If you're basing a comic book and an animated cartoon series on a sex scandal, who are you gonna choose for your hero? Will it be the always frisky ex-Presidential contender Gary Hart? Jerry Falwell, Jr. and his ménage a trois? What about basing it on humiliated family values and abstinence crusader Representative Mark Souder? 


The eventual winner, it turns out, easily outpaces Hart, Falwell, Mills and their tawdry peccadilloes. For that heroine is none other than Stormy Daniels, adult film star and real-life antagonist of a man easily cast as evil overlord: D. Trump.


The publisher, TidalWave Comics, describes its brainchild Stormy Daniels: Space Force this way: “Captain Stormy Daniels commands the for-hire U.R.E. Helix, a United Republic of Earth starship.  Led by OrDon, a self-proclaimed “very stable genius” and Ruler for Infinity, the U.R.E. seeks to exploit the galaxy’s untapped riches with little regard for who – or what – is out there…Only Captain Daniels, her second-in-command, Dax, her droids, and the mysterious alien, Munch, can save us.”


Co-creator Stormy is excited: “What girl doesn't want to be a sexy comic book character?! I never thought in a million years this dream would come true much less that it would turn out so amazingly! I am so excited to share Space Force with everyone...and not just because it will piss off you-know-who!”


The question we must ask, however, is whether this will actually piss off you-know-who. History says otherwise. The entire sordid tale, one would have thought, might have been enough to penetrate the armor of Trump and his voters. The source of the $130,000 in hush money Daniels was paid by Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen is still not accounted for and may have come from the campaign fund. Trump and co. colluded with National Enquirer owner American Media to keep the story out of the media. A California judge ordered Trump to pay Daniels' legal fees as the prevailing party. None of this made a dent and the fact that Trump was an adulterer, of course, isn’t even an important part of the story. Oh Evangelists, where art thou?


We will see if Stormy Daniels: Space Force is a worthwhile scion of venerable adult comics by the likes of Ralph Bakshi, Larry Welz or R. Crumb. I have a feeling it’s likelier to be closer to Playboy magazine’s Little Annie Fanny and Penthouse 's Oh Wicked Wanda. Still, in an era where humor is circumscribed in the extreme, I welcome something with at least a whiff of transgression. And to be honest, I am curious about that mysterious alien, Munch.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

TOP 10 explanations for the Endless Flow of Miles Davis Photos

Is any one else astonished at the endless succession of Miles Davis photographs? There simply can't have been this many photos of Miles taken during the 65 years of his life. The staff of the Institute has been avidly, even doggedly hunting down the source of this endless fount and has come up with:

THE TOP TEN explanations for the endless flow of Miles Davis photos.
  1. New Drilling in the Arctic
  2. Advances in dowsing
  3. Final accounting of Jimmy Hoffa’s crypt 
  4. Venus in retrograde
  5. Pandemic-inspired cleaning
  6. Excavations at Stonehenge
  7. New Lojack add-on
  8. Milk carton campaign
  9. “Dark Matter” revealed
  10. Uri Geller is back!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Music Biz Post-COVID

The future of the music industry is very uncertain. Everyone's crystal ball is cloudy, but  
I would refer people to my commentary HERE. Your comments on that page are welcome.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Jazz Snacks

Jazz fanatics are particularly egregious eaters-too busy listening to pay much attention to food. I believe this array of sweet treats will satisfy even the most ludicrously undeveloped jazz palates.

Jack the Gummy Bear
Junior Cook Mints
Chick Webb-lets
Almond Joy Spring
Twix Beiderbecke
Pete Jolly Ranchers
Tootie Heath Bars
James Reese Europe Cups
Bentyne Chewing Gum
Charleston Chew Chasers
Baby Dodds Ruth
Wee Dots
Good and Plenty o' Nuthin'
Eddie Lock-Jaw Breakers
Milk Dud Bascombs
Jeepers Creepers Where'd You Get Those Peeps
Pez Prados

So, spin your wax of Bill Evans' Waltz for Little Debby and Stan Getz's Hershey Bar and wash it all down with a bottle of Chateau Neuf de Pops-bell shaped tones with a poetic nose and a hint of okra. Next day, don't forget your dose of Swiss Kriss.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Covid-19 April Fool’s Prep Kit

Five Great Bagpipe Songs to Play On Your Balcony For Your Neighbors

Hand-knitted fingerless mittens

Zorro Protective Mask

Mao Tse Tung Substitute Toilet Paper (“Don’t squeeze the Chairman”)

Social Distancing Enforcement Device

TV Snacks for the Sports-Deprived

Covid-19 Testing Kit (unlimited supply)

And, an Exemption for Dr. Anthony Fauci:

No more surprises on April Fools Day.