Archive for the Music Category

After the Reign – A Tribute to Prince Rogers Nelson

Posted in Blog, Music with tags , , , , , , on Saturday, 22 April 2017, by Stan

Prince1999

I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray

Ruffled shirts. Big hair. Linn drums. Handclaps. Make-up. High-heeled boots. That is how I remember Prince. That is the image fashioned during the 80’s when Prince was generating hit after hit, when MTV had his videos in heavy rotation (when Music Television still played music).

Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last

Like everyone, I was in disbelief when I heard. A colleague fired off an email with just two words: “Prince died!!!” At first I thought it was one of those hoaxes that fly around the Internet like the ones about Sinbad or Queen Elizabeth you hear about every so often. So I turned on the news to see if it was true. Horribly, it was. By then, HLN, VH1, MTV, Centric, and BET had all preempted their daily programming and ran wall-to-wall coverage of all things Prince; either news, interviews, or videos.

I was introduced to Prince and his music when “Soft and Wet” came out. That song was on his album, For You. Prince wrote, composed, produced, arranged, and played all of the instruments on all of the songs on the album. (The only exception was “Soft and Wet”, which was co-written by producer Chris Moon.) That firmly implanted his status as a serious musician in my mind. His legacy as a genius would grow from that point on, especially after appreciating how much Prince’s influences were integrated into his music and performances. From Little Richard and James Brown, to The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and even Miles Davis, each of the artists who inspired him could easily be identified, though the music was unmistakably Prince’s. And Prince paid those influences forward. The list of artists for whom he wrote and/or collaborated with is equally as impressive as it is eclectic. The fame of each of those artists skyrocketed as a result of Prince’s contribution.

When “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” dropped, those songs cemented his standing as more than a one-hit wonder. Both recordings got massive airplay on the radio. The cover photos on For You, and Prince stirred persistent questions about his race, sexuality, and spirituality. Prince addressed each of those questions in his next album, Controversy… but artfully answered none of them.

In high school, our leadership class had an exchange with Garfield High (if I remember correctly). Members from the class at our school got to shadow members of the leadership class at Garfield. We were encouraged to participate in the classroom learning and activities.

During what was then called Nutrition, the quad was the gathering place. Popular music was playing over the loudspeaker. And then “Sexy Dancer” came on. Our leadership class just started dancing like we didn’t care. It seemed like the whole school came out to the quad to see what the commotion was about. We tried to get some of the students to join in. Most were hesitant but a few did. I will never forget that day. We made some friends and kept in touch for a while afterward. It was such a memorable event because we didn’t have music playing during our break periods and they didn’t do much dancing. The purpose of the exchange was to bring schools together to learn about each other. Boy, did it succeed that day! And anchoring that day was the music of Prince.

I’m not a party animal by any stretch of the imagination. I’d go to a handful of parties but ended up holding up the walls most of the time. So it was a huge deal for me when I was invited by a very good friend to go to a local party. It was one of those parties where someone would rent out a ballroom at a hotel and throw the party there. Usually food and drink were available. This one was very large and a couple hundred people showed up.

The DJ was spinning records – literally, ‘cause everything was on vinyl then – but no one was dancing. Song after song played with the same result…nothing. Then he played “1999”. I grabbed another friend who had come along and we headed for the dance floor. I didn’t care if no one else joined us, “1999” was playing and I was going to get my groove on. But they did join us. A steady stream of people crowded the floor. And they stayed out there dancing the entire night. For a wallflower to get a huge party started, that was a priceless memory.

Not long afterwards, “Purple Rain” hit the theaters. I remember seeing it in Westwood with my running buddy at that time. We would say lines from the movie to each other. It wasn’t so much the movie itself that holds a special place in my heart. I think it was “Purple Rain’s” soundtrack and it being associated with all the places she and I went.

When the Purple Rain tour came to town (I think it was at the Forum), I HAD to go. This was pre-Internet so if you wanted to get tickets to a show, you either had to go down to the venue itself or go to a ticket outlet like Ticketmaster. News that Prince was coming to L.A. spread fast. It was going to be one of the hottest shows in town. I remember the line that formed outside the May Company department store (remember them?) in my neighborhood. They had a Ticketmaster inside. The poor guard on duty to open the doors that day must have dreaded what was coming. At the appointed time, he opened the doors and you can probably imagine what happened. Ticketmaster was on the second floor. Fortunately no one got trampled. I was near the front of the herd line and got to the window in good time. I plunked down my money and came away with my prize of decent seats to a Prince concert.

As you would expect, there were quite a few Prince impersonators and impostors. At the old Beverly Theater in Beverly Hills, a guy once came in during one of the concerts dressed like Prince, with a girl on one side of him and a guy on the other. Ostensibly, they were dressed like Wendy Melvoin and Andre Cymone. His height and stature were similar to Prince’s. His mannerisms were just like Prince’s, even down to talking in basically a whisper to his ‘sidekicks’. So good were they at their charade that they even managed to talk themselves backstage. They fooled everyone at the venue…except one person. At that time, Prince’s bodyguard was Charles ‘Big Chick’ Huntsberry. Word got to the sound engineer that ‘Prince’ was in the building. He didn’t buy it.

“Is there a big, white dude with him?” he asked.

“No,” came the reply.

“Then that ain’t Prince.”

The charlatans were ‘asked’ to leave.

Not long after that incident, the real Prince did show up at a concert at the Beverly Theater. James Brown and B. B. King were on the bill. Michael Jackson was in the audience. During The Godfather’s set, he heard that Jackson was in the house and called him up on stage. While MJ was on stage, he whispered something to Brown and told him Prince was also on hand. Prince was then called up on stage. Actually, Jackson “insisted” that Brown call him up on stage. Think about this for a sec: B.B. King (who performed earlier and later came back to close the show with Brown), James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Four legends. Each and all of whom revolutionized music and the music world. Even while they were all performing I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime gathering; it would probably never happen again. That revelation proved true. None of them are with us anymore.

(There aren’t any good quality videos of the entire performance that night or of the segment with Prince. The clip below is probably the ‘best’ one showing Michael Jackson and Prince both being called on stage.)

(This one is the ‘full’ video of B.B. King and James Brown, but for some reason Prince’s cameo was removed.)

In 1989, Prince got the chance to do a soundtrack for a movie other than one of his own. He was asked by director Tim Burton to record a few songs for Batman. Prince came back with a full album. The accompanying video for “Batdance” featured Prince dressed as split personalities: Batman and Joker (Jokey?). I don’t recall ever seeing Jack Nicholson dance in a movie. He did in Batman – several times – to Prince’s music.

When he changed his name to “The Artist Formally Known as Prince” or simply, “The Artist”, or an unpronounceable symbol (which became known as The Love Symbol), I began to lose interest. At first I thought the name change was a publicity stunt. (Remember, this was before the Internet. It was much more difficult to get to the real story back then.) I soon found out the name was something ascribed to him by the media, and that Prince had stopped using his own name in protest of the way he was being treated by his then record company, Warner Brothers. When I finally heard the truth, I applauded Prince for sticking to his guns, for standing up for what he believed in. I also learned that Prince gave a LOT of money to charitable causes that he believed in.

It was also during this time that I got married, moved out of Los Angeles, and with it gained a long daily commute. This had the unintended consequence of removing me from most of the music scene. I continued to hear about Prince every so often but didn’t hear any of his music for many years.

Occasionally I would hear about Prince performing impromptu concerts. Sometimes he’d play two shows, then host an after-party/jam session lasting well into the wee hours of the morning. Reminded me of stories of the Jazz artists from way back in the day. I longed to see one of those shows. I longed to be there for one of those jam sessions. One of my regrets was sleeping on the chance to see Prince when he did his 30-day run in Los Angeles.

In the ensuing hours after Prince’s death was announced, SiriusXM Channel 50 The Groove turned into The Prince Tribute Channel, playing nothing but music performed and/or written by Prince. It ran 24/7 for about 3 weeks solid. I will be forever grateful to SiriusXM for doing that as it allowed me to reminisce, and, best of all, to hear a great amount of Prince’s music that I had never heard before. Madhouse is a perfect example. I was surprised to learn that Prince had some Jazz chops. On reflection, that should not have been a surprise at all given the talent he was blessed with.

Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day. But before I let that happen, I’ll dance my life away

You have to remember, that line was written toward the end of the Cold War and we in the United States had a president whom many considered to be trigger-happy. I liked what Prince said here. None of us knows which day will be our last. Prince didn’t just sit there and wait for it to happen. He danced. He sang. He played. He supported. He gave. He loved. He changed the music industry almost single-handedly. Prince did Prince. And was unashamed to do so.

Prince was all about music. We have nearly 40 years’ worth of it to enjoy. Not many artists can produce music over four decades and still stay relevant. Prince did.

In this age of instant scandals proliferated over social media and the news, it is remarkable that Prince avoided all of that. You don’t see his name dragged through the mud because there is no dirt on him to dig up. Quite a testament to how he lived his life. How many people can say that after being in the public eye for more than thirty years?

Rest in peace, Prince. Thank you for the music you created and inspiration you provided while you were with us.

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Good Night, Lucille (A Tribute to B.B. King)

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , on Sunday, 17 May 2015, by Stan

What can be said when the man who has arguably defined and popularized an entire musical genre for eight decades passes on? How will Blues past be remembered now that its King has gone on to join those that have gone before him – names like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins? What will the future hold for the Blues? Yes, I know Blues is in good hands, especially when you see and hear groups like The Homemade Jamz Blues Band. But it feels as though Blues has lost its leader.

Riley B. King left us on Thursday night. I heard it on the news the next morning. Although I knew he had to cancel some shows last year due to health issues, I figured he and Lucille would be back on the stage after a couple of months.

During his life, countless awards and honors have deservedly been bestowed upon King. B.B. was also a spokesman in the fight against diabetes, which he had been battling for the last two decades or so. But that didn’t stop him from performing. In fact, his love of performing is what kept him going for so long. He was still giving concerts right up until last year.

King was able to incorporate Rock and Roll, Jazz, traditional Blues, Swing, and Pop into his unique style. While doing so, he influenced innumerable artists from across the musical landscape. Artists from the world of Jazz, Country, R&B, Rock and Roll, Blues, Rock, Pop, and more have all drawn on King’s stylings and recordings for their own projects.

Over the course of a career that has spanned nearly 75 years, King has recorded almost 60 albums. It was a song he cut with The Crusaders called “Better Not Look Down” that lead to a long resurgence in his career. After hearing it, I gained even more respect for this man whose music was now spanning several generations.

I’ve heard B.B.’s recording of  “Lucille” several times on SirusXM radio channel 70. Fittingly, the station is called BB King’s Bluesville. This song is a perfect example of why Blues is one of the best mediums for storytelling. Just listen to the lyrics. Bet it answers a lot of questions you’ve had about B.B.’s life. Then play it again. This time listen to Lucille embellish the story. Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

I would guess that Lucille will either go on to a museum or be buried with King. It just would not seem right for anyone else to play that guitar.

Lucille

 

My first introduction to the music of B.B. King was via a song he released in 1962 called “Mashing the Popeye”. My parents had – and still have – a recording of this on a 45rpm. Remember those? My parents played this song quite often in our house. Not only did this song stay in my mind since I first heard it as a toddler, something about it stuck in my subconscious as well: the sound of a baritone saxophone. At that young age I had no idea what a baritone sax was. It wasn’t until junior high school that I actually got to play the instrument that made those sounds I was hearing on that record.

 

Mashing the Popeye

 

While looking up the links for “Lucille” and “Mashing the Popeye”, this next clip unexpectedly popped up on the YouTube player. It is concert footage I was surprised and extremely pleased to find. Why? Because I was at the Beverly Theatre during that concert. That was the night I got to meet Mr. King in person. As if meeting Mr. King in person was not enough, several other celebrities were in the audience and a few were called up on stage. (You’ll have to see the clip; no spoilers here).

 

James Brown and B.B. King – One Special Night – Legends in Concert

 

After 89 years, Riley King’s life has reached the coda. Rest in peace, Mr. King. And thank you for your musical and personal legacy. Thank you for the countless people whose lives you have made an impression upon.

Joe Sample – Gone Back Home

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , on Saturday, 4 October 2014, by Stan

It was when he played with The Jazz Crusaders that I first heard of Joe Sample. My cousin, who is way ahead of his time in his musical appreciation, often talked about The Crusaders (they had dropped the “Jazz” from their name by then). I have many memories of my father playing their music. Hearing them on what was then radio station KBCA (I’m dating myself with that reference) was always a pleasure.

The mid-80’s were a magical period in my life. It was during that time that I got to meet Joe and a couple of members of his family – actually I met his family members before I met Joe. I would later see him play several times live in concert, one of my favorites being at the Playboy Jazz Festival (the 1995 edition, I think) when he brought his trio featuring Doc Powell on percussion. It was amazing how much music came from that small group. Just another testament to how Joe can interpret and reinterpret his own music. In the ‘aughts’ I met a couple of musicians who had performed with Joe and got to hear some stories about what it was like performing with him.

Sample’s music was more than just good music to me. Quite a few of his compositions still evoke emotions, visualizations, and contemplations, and, of course, indelible memories associated with each song.

Over Sample’s lifetime, he recorded nearly two dozen solo albums, recorded 40-plus albums with The Jazz Crusaders/The Crusaders, and compiled almost 2,000 other composing, arranging and/or performance credits. The list of artists he has performed with is as varied as it is lengthy.

Since your browser would choke if I tried to post clips of each of Joe’s songs that I would like to post, here a just a few of my favorites:

With The Crusaders – “So Far Away

 

With The Crusaders– “Mellow Out” (from the Chain Reaction album/Mother, Jugs, and Speed soundtrack)

 

Carmel

 

Burnin’ Up the Carnival” featuring Pauline Wilson and Flora Purim

 

All God’s Children

 

The world has lost another great musician. Rest in peace, Mr. Sample. And thank you for the legacy you have left behind.

 Jazz Around the World – The Inside Story

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , on Thursday, 12 June 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

 

How did Jazz Around the World get started? Well, it wasn’t an intended project. It just evolved into one.

Two years ago I wanted to do something on Facebook in honor of Jazz Appreciation Month. I started out by just posting a link every few days to a video of a few US Jazz musicians. After the first couple of postings, I decided to find a few international Jazz musicians to add to the mix. The feedback I received was positive and motivating.

At the time, the international musicians I featured were those I had heard of before. It was nice ‘revisiting’ them again. By the time Jazz Appreciation Month came to an end, I realized how much I was enjoying posting and watching the videos.

Not long after, an idea began forming, an idea that I could not put out of my head. What if I expanded this? What if I could find Jazz in 30 different countries? What if I could feature a different person or group each day of Jazz Appreciation Month? What if I could turn all of that into an around-the-world journey? Thus was born Jazz Around the World.

Now all I had to do was find another 20 countries. But after thinking about it I realized that I was familiar with artists from at least a dozen more countries. That left only eight or so to reach my goal of 30 countries.

My research began slowly, adding an artist or group once in a while. It began to pick up in earnest around December of 2013. The process led to discovering many new groups and artists. I think that was the best part of this journey.

Along the way I made some unexpected finds. A friend sent me a link last year to a clip of the standard “Four Brothers”. When trying to find that clip again, a group called The Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra appeared in the results. The name caught my attention so I clicked their link. I was blown away by what I saw. It took some digging but I learned that these were high school girls from Japan. I decided to feature them as the closing group on our tour, showcasing them as an example of what today’s youth are doing with Jazz.

One very big surprise was being introduced to Aziza Mustafa Zadeh of Azerbaijan. I woke up one morning and began mentally running through countries that I could include on the tour. At the time I had 29 of them so I only had one left to complete the tour. For some reason Azerbaijan popped into my head. Mustafa Zadeh’s name came up after only a couple of minutes’ worth of research. All I can say is to listen to her. Just listen.

Putting the tour together reacquainted me with groups I hadn’t heard in a long time. Shakatak is one of those groups. It had been nearly a decade since I last heard their music. I remember how much I enjoyed them when they first burst onto the music scene in the early 1980’s. Their music still brings back those memories.

Another thing I experienced was just how versatile these musicians are. Here in the States, we know some artists play at such an advanced level that they are ‘first call’ musicians for many projects, world wide. But once they travel outside the US, we never hear about their collaborations with other musicians. Bassist Richard Bona has an impressive resume chock full of international musicians he has worked with. Because he has worked with so many different artists, that means he is able to play countless different styles of music, not just Jazz. After adding him to our tour, I sat and listened to his music on YouTube for an entire day.

Along those lines, I noticed a handful of US musicians popped up frequently when looking a clips of some of these artists: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, and Marcus Miller. All of these musicians are on the Jazz Around the World tour.

There were a few road blocks along the way. For the visit to Cameroon, I wanted to feature bassist Guy N’Sangué Akwa. But the only clips available on YouTube were of his solos; no full-length material. Since I couldn’t use any of those videos, I was forced to choose another musician from west Africa. That is how Akwa’s fellow countryman Richard Bona became part of the tour.

Another obstacle was labeling – or lack thereof – of music posted on YouTube. There are many, many videos out there that only list the artist or a genre, but not the title of the song. I found some music that I wanted to feature with the musicians on our tour but could not provide song titles because there weren’t any. Note to those who will post new music videos on youTube: please include the song titles. That way, we can actually buy the music to help support the artist so they can make more music for us to enjoy…and for you to post.

Looking up the music of Christiane Legrand took hours. Among the many groups she sang with was a group called Les Double Six. Les Double Six did not use the same personnel on every track during a recording date. So just picking a song by Les Double Six at random may not be the one on which Legrand sang. Of course, the information on the YouTube clip did not show who sang on which song. Furthermore, the Internet itself did not have any information on who sang on which track. Add to that, the album that introduced me to Legrand in the 1970s is no longer on YouTube.

This project has been as much a labor of love as it has been fun to put together. My hope is that somewhere during the course of this tour around the world of Jazz, you will be introduced to artists you may not be familiar with, and that that will lead you to seek out more more music from that artist.

I would really love to get a grant to do this for real; to visit 52 countries in a year and listen to live Jazz in each of those countries. And, of course, write a blog or series of articles about it so more people can experience just how connected the Jazz world is.

World On the left is a graphic of all the countries we visited on our Jazz Around the World tour.

Jazz Around the World – 1 May – California, United States

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , on Thursday, 1 May 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

 

Welcome back to the United States. Unfortunately, here ends the Jazz Around the World tour. I’d like to thank you for joining me on this unique journey. I hope you enjoyed the music as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. One of my dreams is to put together a real Jazz Around the World tour, hitting all of the major Jazz festivals and some of the smaller clubs.

If your flight does not leave right away, we have one more artist who wants to play for you.

Bassist Joshua Crumbly was only thirteen years old when he played along with his dad, saxophonist Ronnie Crumbly on the CD Like Father, Like Son. Fast-forward to 2014: Josh, a native Californian, is currently touring with Terence Blanchard. A recent graduate of The Julliard School, Crumbly is one of the young lions; definitely one to watch.

 

Trio performance at The Julliard School – “Stablemates”

 

With Beka Gochiashvili – Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”

 

Bass solo with Terrance Blanchard in St. Louis

 

Map of CaliforniaThank you again for joining me for Jazz Around the World. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today!

Jazz Around the World – 30 April – Japan

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on Wednesday, 30 April 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

 

Welcome to Japan. Our visit coincides with International Jazz Day. Osaka, Japan has been designated the Global Host City so there will be a lot of Jazz being played here today.

Today Jazz Around the World celebrates the ladies of Jazz.

First up is the world renowned pianist/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi. Toshiko has won countless awards, been nominated for 14 Grammys, and published an autobiography. Though she was actually born in China, she moved to Japan when her family returned there in 1945 after the war. Best known for her work with her big band, Toshiko can also be found performing in smaller groups such as trios or quartets. She has been performing for nearly 70 years and is still active. Let’s welcome Toshiko Akiyoshi:

 

With piano trio – “The Third Movement”

 

Solo at her 60th Anniversary concert – “The Village”

 

Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band – “Harvest Shuffle”

 

 

Our next performer is keyboardist/composer Keiko Matsui. Keiko’s unique blending of eastern and western musical elements defies classification. She discovered saxophonist Paul Taylor, who contributed to several of her albums before he branched on a successful solo career of his own. Please welcome Keiko Matsui:

 

With Branford Marsalis – “Beyond the Light”

 

Forever, Forever

 

Safari

 

 

Coming to the stage now is a group of high school ladies from Takasago High School known as the Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra. I found them last year while looking for a video of the Jazz standard “Four Brothers”. I was so impressed by them and their professionalism, talent, and dedication to their music, that I wanted to have them join our tour. I think you will agree that BFJO is a perfect example of why music needs to be in our schools. Please welcome the Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra:

 

It Don’t Mean a Thing

 

The Way You Look Tonight

 

Four Brothers

 

Map of JapanThank you for joining us here in Japan. I hope you enjoyed the concert. We fly back to the States in the morning. If you have time, we may be able to feature one more artist on our Jazz Around the World tour when we arrive in California.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today.

Jazz Around the World – 29 April – China

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , , on Tuesday, 29 April 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

 

Welcome to China. We will be staying in Shanghai for both performances. Today we will be treated to performances by Shanghai Jazz and also singer Jasmine Chen.

We’ll get things started today with Shanghai Jazz, but before we do, a little clarification is in order: Shanghai Jazz is not the name of the group; it is the name of album – Shanghai Jazz: Musical Seductions from China’s Age of Decadence. The release features more than twenty young Chinese musicians that are at the cutting edge of a resurgence of Jazz in China. Here, then, are a couple of selections from their latest project:

 

The Old Tea House – Shanghai Shuffle/High Society

 

The Love You Can’t Get

 

 

Coming to the stage now is Jasmine Chen. Ms Chen has a gift for singing both in Chinese and English. Her abilities cover both sides of the world of Jazz in China; she sings classic Jazz tunes with her own Chinese lyrics, and she also reinterprets traditional Chinese folks songs in a Jazz setting. Let’s welcome Ms Jasmine Chen:

 

Summer Samba

 

Give Me A Kiss (With Five Below)

 

Take Five

(You may need to turn up the sound for this one)

 

 

Map of ChinaThank you for joining us here in China. I hope you enjoyed the concert. We’ll meet at the Internet Airport for an overnight flight. Next stop on our Jazz Around the World tour: Japan.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today.