Grammy Love for Otis

IMG_3916THIS WAS incredible news!  The in-depth essay I researched and wrote for this beautiful box set,  won  the Best Album Notes  Grammy yesterday.  I am still over the moon, especially because it was a project that set its larger goal as getting all three nights — and all sets — of Redding’s run at the Whisky A Go Go  that April 1966 in pristine listening shape for the world to hear.

Redding was poised to take the next big step in his career and looked at L.A. as not a stepping stone but a launching pad.  These recordings reveal his enthusiasm, prowess and charm.

Here’s a little more here about the set.

And this from the LAT about the Grammy win.

 

 

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“California was a prayer”

THE GREAT NEW ORLEANS musician, raconteur and historian, Danny Barker gave the West Coast 11 months. He was unimpressed, called California “a flim-flam town.” Jelly Roll Morton invested a little more time, zooming from gig to gig, late into the night, drumming up excitement around himself. Harold Battiste, Jr. put down deep roots here in Los Angeles, yet always kept his connection home in New Orleans alive. For a time, he was the first call people from home made when they landed in L.A.; the one who would help you get your footing. In other words, his was the number scrawled on the matchbook.

Each of them journeyed to Los Angeles with a different set of hopes and achieved divergent results. The region shaped them at times as much as they shaped it. California wasn’t just a dream, for some of these Louisiana musicians it was a prayer. My full piece looking at Louisiana  musicians in Los Angeles is now up here at Los Angeles Review of Books.

 

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Live at the Whisky A Go Go

THE OTHER big news really came out of the blue.

I wrote the album notes for the fancy re-issue of  Otis Redding Live at the Whisky A Go Go and got the news that the essay received a Grammy nomination. To say that I was surprised is an understatement.  I’m really happy that it puts Redding’s legacy in the spotlight. Truly gone too soon.

Here’s a short reaction interview that  appeared on the Angel City Press site.

Awards announced this year in New York City, January 28.

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Out of the wings …

Guitarist Tommy Tedesco

Guitarist Tommy Tedesco

LIKE MANY, I had been long waiting for a look at filmmaker Denny Tedesco’s documentary about the L.A.’s famed group of session musicians, The Wrecking Crew.

Earlier this week, I got a chance to speak with Tedesco, son of session guitarist Tommy Tedesco, about his 19 years behind-the-scene efforts to finish the film and secure the music clearances. I wish I had had unlimited space because Tedesco can spin and loft an anecdote like his father. And there were many.

Like any company town, L.A. had it’s own factories. Evidence of work was everywhere. But instead of smoke stacks churning out soot, Los Angeles’s airwaves were full of the fruit of their labor — music.

“They were in a factory town and they were pumping out music and it was fast,” Tedesco says, “But some factories make Rolls Royces while others make Pintos.”

While the decades-long gig kept him close to home, Denny’s father lived a life on the road — L.A. surface streets, freeways and canyon passes. Paging through his father’s old work books were enlightening. Though Denny says he felt his father was around much of the time, it was, he now realizes, an impression of presence, looking back at all the dates, pages and pages of 10, 13, 15 hour days. “My Dad kept his guitars in the car. Always. We had four phone lines at home. And he had an answering service. This was 1968! There was no way someone was going to get a busy signal. The first thing he’d ask when he hit the door: ‘Any calls?'”

It was all about staying a float. 

My piece goes up tomorrow — I will post it then — but until then here’s the film’s trailer:

some jazz appreciation

OF THE many Thelonious Monk quotes that get tossed around (and there are a plenty many), my favorite is his answer to the much-asked question “Where is Jazz going?”

Monk’s retort was quick and sharp: “Where’s jazz going? I don’t know. Maybe it’s going to hell. You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens.”

I was reminded of this the other night at Walt Disney Concert Hall as a friend and I settled in into a nice aerie of seats above the stage for a concert featuring pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman fronting his quartet. Tables turned, I for once was the very happy “plus-one” this evening. redman

I had spent so much of my early jazz-listening days running around hoping I could hear the last of the masters play in person. I got to see many — Elvin Jones, Stan Getz, Max Roach. But there were so many I had missed, some by just a hair. It always hit hard when a name would float up in an obituary, another one down, another one gone. It was like chasing ghosts.

What I heard in Wednesday night’s show was sure evidence of the past and a promise for the future. Music 2012 Brad Mehldau Where Do You Start Two master musicians in the prime of their playing years showing not telling and, in the process, eloquently answering that question. Mehldau’s set was a study in flowing introspection — standards, originals and a props-nod to lesser-known players of the bebop/post-bop era (Case-in-point: You bet I went home and pulled out some Elmo Hope). Redman’s quartet came out swinging — literally: A solid, mood- shifting groove. The quartet went on to lay out a collage of tunes that were pulled both from the American Songbook (a crack-your-heart-wide-open interpretation of “Stardust” for one) and originals — late in the set Redman stared down one his own compositions “GJ”, which he introduced with this admission. “Well, I wrote it, now I’ve got to stick with it.”

And sewn within that tossed off remark, yet another promise.

Here’s that nod to Elmo Hope that sent me digging:

Jazz Appreciation month is off to a very good start …

Are you listening?

The biggest problem with American music right now, is that kids don’t listen. They come by it honestly, Americans don’t listen anyway. When people go to concerts, they say I’m going to see… not, I’m going to hear.”
— Branford Marsalis

IMG_2076OVER THE last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking and writing about listening. I just finished a reported essay about radio and connections over the airwaves. Just as I was putting the last touches on it, I saw another related tangent crawling through in my social media queues: Lots of discussions about listening — primarily the very quality of listening. Much of it circles around what has changed in this transmedia-age where information pelts us from all directions but so often without context and background.

The piece that seemed to kick it off was a repost of a spirited conversation with musician Branford Marsalis from a Jazz Times interview last October with Bill Milkowski. It wanders all over the place in the very best way, but at the core it was about communication — playing and listening and audience.

How do we convince people to listen to this? I never really bought into the whole idea of education as an answer. First of all, this music is not easy to listen to. Most of my regular friends, when they would talk about music, they would recite the lyrics. So they’re not even listening to the music. So how are you going to get a person like that to make a leap from that into pure instrumental music? How are you going to get people to make a leap from pop [music], which is an interactive music, to what jazz has become, which is kind of a passive listening experience? That’s too much of a leap for these people.

The other post that was simultaneously making the rounds — which connects to the thread expressed in Marsalis’ quote above — was a blogpost ostensibly about the shifts in our music listening habits. I posted the link on my Facebook wall and tagged a few friends with whom I either talk about music extensively with or have in the past gone to hear shows or we have formed a habit/pattern of listening.

I was really interested in the range of passionate responses. Even surprised about how emotional many of the comments were. The idea of listening “cut-to-cut” to hear an “album” unfold was something that still held a great sense of import but wasn’t a routine many could create time for anylonger. There was a real sense of longing expressed about losing space in their lives for that sort of surrendered listening. I still do it because I can’t quite focus on very much else when I’m listening to music I have to just let it take over, but I realize I listen less and less like that — also due to time, but format changes have played into that as well. I suppose connected to all of this is a sense of longing — that has to do with the time to take such a journey. That leap that Marsalis speaks of above is crucial in both inhabiting the music and letting the music inhabit you.

Are you listening?

How have your habits changed?

(image: my grandmother’s radio)