Top 50 JAzz Blog

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Tears, Performance and Dindi" by S.G.Provizer

Recently, a comment was posted in response to my piece about Abbey Lincoln and her intense song Throw it Away. "I'd like to sing it," the commenter wrote, "but I'm afraid I'd start sobbing onstage."

I immediately thought of the Antonio Carlos Jobim song "DIndi," as recorded on Wayne Shorter's 1969 LP "Super Nova." it is the only performance I know-live or recorded- which actually includes a performer crying. 

The first part of the track is percussion-mainly Brazilian-and soprano sax outbursts, which in no way prepares you for the vocal, which comes in at about 4:00. The vocal lasts about 3 minutes and the song ends with several more minutes of percussion and sax, alternatingly spacey and aggressive.

The vocalist is Maria Booker. Maria was bassist Walter Booker's wife and Shorter's sister-in-law. She was not a professional singer, but Bluenote producer Duke Pearson had heard her emotional version of Dindi. The accompaniment was just Walter Booker on classical guitar-a stark contrast to the other sections of Shorter's arrangement.

The lyrics of the song are fairly evocative and, indeed, from the beginning, Maria sounds deeply invested. As the song proceeds, she clearly becomes more and more emotional and barely manages to finish, gasping out the last few lyrics. Then, she starts sobbing softly. 

I heard Super Nova a few years after its initial release and my first response was shock. I felt Dindi was lovely, but was unsure if the crying was just a show-biz add-on. My willingness to release deeply into the song hung on whether or not I believed in the veracity of Maria's tears.  After a moment's hesitation, I bought in.

Now, so many years later, I read that Maria and Walter separated just after the recording. What seemed real, apparently was.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Whassup with the Jazz Blogs? By Steve Provizer

I'm seeing fewer and fewer comments on this blog and on all the jazz blogs I go to. Brilliant Corners continues to get about the same number of visits-around 300 a day and, with a mention on one of the "big" sites, can spike up to 500. But there is less feedback on what I write-no matter how many hits.

It's possible the decrease in comments in this blog is a result of my getting less and less interesting. Fair enough. However, when I look around at other blogs, the posts seem fairly consistent, while the feedback is also declining.

So, is this actual web-wide malaise? Is it confined to jazz blogs? If so, is it simply another in the constellation of "shrinking jazz audience" phenomena? Actually, I doubt that. My hunch is that the level of readership is stable.

I think there are two reasons why people comment: To tell their own story, or because they agree or disagree enough with a 'fact' or opinion to be motivated to write.

It's possible all the people who have a story to tell have started their own blogs. That leaves only motivation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Late Night TV Big Band Litmus Test

The attention that used to be paid to jazz on such programs as "The Sound of Jazz," "Frankly Jazz,""The Subject is Jazz," "Playboy After Dark" and events like Clifford Brown on Soupy Sales show, jazz musicians "What's My Line," etc. petered out decades ago.

The late night big band managed to hang around a lot longer, but the recent passing of trumpeter Snooky Young, seen in the photo above and in this video with the Tonight Show Orchestra-struck me as the mortality marker for the 60-year relationship between big band jazz and television.

No longer will cameras spend valuable time scanning the band to show us the likes of Snooky, Clark Terry, Conte Condoli, Jack Sheldon, Ray Brown... And, apart from being able to see these musicians in the flesh, my guess is that it was also a boost to jazz record consumers, as a stable group of jazz musicians did not have to go on the road and could spend time in the recording studio. 

  Late night television carried over the radio idea that big bands were de riguer for variety shows. Late night was America's best well-known dirty-little-secret and the Tonight Show led the pack. While still riddled with taboos (a sketch wherein a WC was taken for a church was censored, leading to Jack Paar's walkout), sponsors were willing to pair jazz music with hosts who had vaguely "hip" credentials: Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs, Al "Jazzbo" Collins (no hip creds except his name), Jack Paar and then Johnny Carson (In his early days, Carson had a fair whiff of disreputableness).

Merv Griffin (a big band singer himself) often guest-hosted, then got his own show and his big band was the West Coast version of the Tonight Show's until Carson moved out there in 1972. Big band vocalists Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore also had successful variety shows.

No doubt sponsors and producers thought that having a large band onstage gave the show some "klass," but, well, it did. It represented sophistication and a grown-up's hedge, if you will, against the onslaught of rock and roll. It also meant that any kind of a musical guest could be booked-tuba to musical saw-as solid accompaniment would always be there. This did lead to some very cheesy rock/jazz hybrids, but we won't go there.

I'm not saying that an anti-jazz stance became a litmus test for late night host survival. However:

David Letterman never cared much for jazz. His band (Paul Shaffer) and that of Saturday Night Live (Howard Shore, but it was really Lenny Pickett's Tower of Power sound on tenor sax) led the new musical way. Letterman may have been too far ahead of the curve, though, as Carson was a pretty staunch jazz fan and chose not to dub Letterman his successor. Dave shoulda feigned interest.

Jay Leno did and kept the big band thing going for a little while, Then, with Branford Marsalis, oversaw the band's mutation into the standard form funk-jazz that started to rule late night TV.

Conan O'Brien's band-Max Weinberg and company-was a hybrid, with a fair amount of swing; perhaps too much jazz in there for Conan to stay on a major network.

Now, who else ya got: Kimmel, Fallon, Ferguson. They might stick around awhile-no jazz.

I'll take a cup of Laphroaig then, for Auld Lang Syne.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tout Ca Change at the FCC

This speaks for itselfMeredith Attwell Baker, one of the two Republican Commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission, plans to step down—and right into a top lobbying job at Comcast-NBC.

How is this acceptable? So far as I can see, my moral standards are not significantly higher than the average person. And yet, so much "business as usual" seems to be carried off on a level that would qualify for one of Dante's inner circles.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Live Group Recording-the Dave Lambert Singers Film

Just want to note the terrific 1964 D.A. Pennebaker film of the Dave Lambert Singers auditioning for RCA. Lambert was a very early practitioner of vocalese and bop vocals and, of course, a member of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. The other singers are Mary Vonnie, David Lucas, Sarah Boatner and Leslie Dorsey, none of whom acquired a much larger reputation. Dorsey was killed driving a gypsy cab in 1988.

It's kind of extraordinary to hear 5 singers standing in a circle, all singing into a single mic, wearing no headphones. The singers make constant eye contact with each other, modulating their performances on the basis of a number of audible and physical signals, overt and subtle. The rhythm section plays in another side of the studio, with minimal sound baffling.

In the ongoing discussion about "live" versus "layered" recording (it is ongoing, right?), this film chalks one up for the naturalists.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Alice in Jazzfest Land-Pt. II" Steve Provizer

In Part I (see below), I vented about what I think is Jazzfest's ill-advised turn toward more BIG NAMES. In the spirit of generous top-ten-itude for which I am famous, here's a look at the more joyous aspects of the event:

1. The Jazz and Heritage Stage (Economy Hall), the traditional jazz tent. Here can be found a cohort of people who Second Line at the drop of a bandana. Black, white, young and real old, the bliss is palpable.
     Three Economy Hall highlights: Don Vappie and the Creole Jazz Serenaders' rendition of Skoodle-um-Skoo (2) Doreen Ketchens-if Louis Armstrong had been a woman (and played clarinet), he would be Doreen. 3) Leroy Jones-the guy is a m-f-er. What he was doing in the Trad tent, I don't know. He played "My Blue Heaven" and other similar tunes, but he is a hard-bopper.

2. Soft-shelled crab po-boys, mufalettas (both vegetarian and turkey), key-lime pie and Crawfish Monica.

3. Mist-ers in the jazz tent (could be more powerful and in more tents).

4. Seriously rockin' hybrids of Mardi Gras Indians and brass bands, esp Jockimo's Groove featuring War Chief Juan and Eric Gordon.

5. They show off the young folk who still blow the horns. NOCA has a lot goin' for it. Jeremy Davenport brought John Bradley, a protegee who is in the 8th grade, onstage. Somewhat frightening trumpet player.

6. More-or-less enough port-a-potty's.

7. The Gospel Tent (caveat: painful decibel level)

8.  People still be playing the blues-with passion.

9. Lagniappe Stage-eclectically, even brilliantly programmed.

10. I had no ticket for Saturday; had one for Sunday, but mistakenly brought an already-used ticket. Both days, I got in. Only in New Orleans.

I will be posting audio, including an interview with Doreen Ketchens, at, so check that out in the near future.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Alice in Jazzfest Land-Part I." by Steve Provizer

The New Orleans jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazzfest) is both blessed and accursed. It brings out both the Jazz Curmudgeon in me and the Jazz Booster. In this entry-the curmudgeon...

I hadn't been to Jazzfest in maybe a dozen years, my patience having been worn thin by the crowds and the limitations of the jazz tent, where people squatted all day, making it hard for those of us who liked to wander around and hear some gospel, Zydeco, etc.

The incursion of BIG ACTS started to jack up the size of the crowds, and back then, the acts weren't even that big-the Allman Brothers, Van Morrison. Now, they are. Bon Jovi, Wellenkamp, Robert Plant, Tom Jones(!), Kid Rock...

This is not a philosophical, moral or musical judgement on whether these acts should be there ("All music is folk music. I never saw no mule sing it"-Leadbelly). Vive la difference. But the presence of these acts and the throngs they draw affects the experience of everyone.

There may be upsides. First, fans of Kid Rock and co. almost certainly come into contact with other kinds of music, although it's a good bet the exposure will be at the outdoor stages, not in the tents that house jazz, blues, gospel, youthful players or very small ensembles. Second, more people get a job-even if it's standing for hours in the hot sun, waving a red flag to signal pedestrians to stop and let golf carts and trucks go by.

Much remains the same-good food, great local musicians-and I'll get to that in the next post. But the fact is, my overall experience was increasingly like America is and less like New Orleans is.

I ain't saying all is rosy on the streets of N.O. If you've been there, you know, but for better or worse, the place is different than any other city in the U.S. It's beautiful/ugly, wily, inventive and desperate. Even when it succeeds in being slick, there's an edge to it, always the sense that the whole thing may spill uncontrollably into the streets and end up in the local lockup.

Jazzfest is headed in the opposite direction. It's an entity whose demographics are increasingly appealing to larger corporations; the natural result of a growth spiral which favors the favored. It mirrors the growth of suburban pop concert venues twenty miles away and the demise of the corner bar.

Again, I'm not talking about some ineffable nostalgia. I'm talking about what sound the wind carries to your ears as you wade through the crowd, about having to look at thousands of people who agreed to put Shell Oil co. logo stickers on their hats and shirts so they might win some free gas and yes dammit, about people who wouldn't recognize a trumpet if you dropped one on their head.

Next time: The Upside: Misters in the Jazz Tent.