Monday, September 29, 2008

Audio Geek: Charlie Haden: Living the Dream and Goin' Home

Yep, catching up on my NPR.

Charlie Haden, a jazz icon with bluegrass roots, a child singing radio star who peformed with his parents and siblings singing until polio impacted his vocal chords. He started playing bass due to a crush on Anita, the then fifteen-year-old female bassist for the Carter Sisters. Haden remembers, "When she picked up the bass and started playing, I said 'man, oh, man, that's it!'"

Women bass players, a powerful force--look what that talented girl set into motion!

Haden comes home to this first love with his latest release, Charlie Haden Family & Friends - Rambling Boy. This record is an inspiration for doing what you love, and demonstrates music can be an important part of a family's expression of the relationships between its members, and a profound legacy of love. This is a family of performers, musicians, and songwriters--vocalist/musicians triplets Petra, Rachel, and Tanya; songwriting son Josh who sings his own song, previously covered by Johnny Cash; Tanya's husband actor/musician Jack Black who supplies vocals, and of course Charlie Haden, who modestly says: "All I did was play bass." Plus there's a host of world-class musicians from the country and jazz arenas who guested on the album out of their deep respect for Charlie Haden.

Live your dreams, live your dreams!

NPR interview with Haden and his children.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Audio Geek: Going Back to the Woodshed - Flea at USC

I'm just posting this because frankly, sometimes you need a little inspiration.

Flea, the bassist for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, has enrolled as a freshman in the University of Southern California program in Music. Not some radical ersatz program, USC is fairly traditional from what I've heard. Flea always wanted to expand his knowledge of harmony and music's building blocks and now he's doing it. Studying Bach chorales; four-part harmony from the mid-18th century.

Why at 45 years old, with money and fame, and a successful professional musical career pursue the academic study of music?

"I love it!" Flea replies.

Get the full story on Flea going back to school, and the seven-year old Silverlake Conservatory of Music. The bassist founded the conservatory after discovering the eradication of his Los Angeles high school's music program as a result of California's passage of Proposition 13 in 1980. From the September 27, 2008 NPR profile: "Flea Goes Back to School."

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Audio Geek: Rupa and the April Fishes

I gotta give it to a someone who is a doctor and professor in one of the most competitive medical/science research institutions in the US, University of Californian at San Francisco, as well as an accomplished songwriter/musician touring nationally and internationally with the San Francisco-based band Rupa and the April Fishes. How does Rupa Marya do it?

She asked for it.

(Yes..., let that sink in...'cause there's a lesson there, people.)

Marya recounts: " after my first year of internship [at UCSF], I went into my program director and said, 'Listen, I'll be a terrible doctor if I'm not an artist, and I'll be a terrible artist if I'm not a doctor,'" Marya says. "'And I need to find a way to do these things.'"

Well, after her conservative older male program director solemnly informed Rupa she was "pushing the envelope" they found a way to make it work. According the NPR profile: "She was able to take advantage of a flexible residency track designed for female doctors who may be expecting children, which allows her to spend six months working and the other half of the year touring." Marya writes lyrics in Spanish, English, French, and Hindi, but most of the songs on the band's debut album are in French. Gotta listen to the profile to get the background on that choice. Once she finished her residency this past July, UCSF took Marya on as faculty. Obviously they agreed that being an artist made her a better doctor and teacher, and valued her unique contributions both to the institution and the field.

I was really moved by her story of how many of her songs are inspired by stories from her patients in a way that captures the spirit of the story and doesn't exploit the details. In that manner puts those stories, that human connection back into the world instead of absorbing all that energy and just internalizing it in relatively silence. Maybe more doctors need to find a creative outlet of that type, maybe that would help some of the unfortunate bedside manner out there.

I think the part-time appointment arrangement is a wonderful option. It sounds so smart for those of us who can't plug ourselves into one discrete life path--but instead find ourselves on a couple of intertwining ones. Something about this reminds me of Toni Morrison's Sula, the way the character Sula was an frustrated thrwarted artist, and that thrwarted energy became something of a destructive rather than creative and constructive force in her own life and that of her community. But that's another thread...

Definitely listen to the NPR profile to hear the story of the band's name, another inspirational conception...

• April 16, 2008 NPR profile of Rupa and the April Fishes
• Rupa and the April Fishes website for the album eXtraOrdinary rendition, from Cumbancha Records
• Rupa and the April Fishes' MySpace page
• NPR September 12, 2008: Song-Of-the-Day Pick: "Poder" by Rupa and the April Fishes, commentary on everything that can cross the US-México border (fishes, wind, money, "pero yo no"/"I cannot")

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Audio Geek: Films to Hear and Watch...

The Wrecking Crew (2008) documentary by Danny Tedesco. From the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival program guide: "What do the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, The Monkees, and The Mamas and Papas have in common? Aside from hit songs, they all recorded with The Wrecking Crew. Meet this extraordinarily talented gang of Los Angeles studio musicians who helped create the soundtrack of America."

The SIFF note neglects to mention the Wrecking Crew also played on historic tracks by band leader/trumpet player Herb Alpert ("A Taste of Honey") and producer Phil Spector (The Ronnettes' "Be My Baby"and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"; Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" which the site (erroneously?) credits to both Ike and Tina, but as I recall, Spector didn't want Ike to perform on the track). Danny Tadesco's father was Wrecking Crew session player guitarist Tommy Tedesco who passed away in 1997.

Normally licensing the film's soundtrack would have put Tedesco in debt so large his great-great grandchildren would still be paying it off. Instead the companies who own the songs (yes, Ray Charles and James Brown are among the few major recording artists who owned their own masters) saw the importance of having the documentary out there (hmm, anticipating increased sales of back catalogues?). I'd like to think the companies wanted to demonstrate their respect of and appreciation for the work of these highly trained, talented players who turned to session work when jazz fell on hard times and used their skills and musicality to transform the sound of popular music. (top photo, Wrecking Crew musicians at a Phil Spector recording session; right, the well-respected bassist Carol Kaye, the only woman to break the gender barrier of that eras session musician arena.)

The Gits (2005/2008) documentary directed by Kerri O'Kane. From the Calgary International Film Festival: "In a pre-Nirvana Seattle, The Gits were the resident musical underdogs. With the unparallelled vocal power of front woman Mia Zapata they set the bar for indie rock in the Pacific Northwest. After inspiring such incendiary bands as Seven Year Bitch to pick up their instruments, they caught the ear of major label record execs who heard the muscular riffs and soulful hooks and realized what fans already knew – The Gits were anything but your typical street punk outfit. Because of this, the tragedy that struck in 1993 was that much harder to swallow. With intimate live footage and interviews with the surviving members,director Kerri O’Kane explores the mystique and digs into the mystery of one of the rock world’s most enigmatic bands. One part THE FILTH AND THE FURY, one part CSI: SEATTLE, THE GITS is a rock doc as engaging and powerful as the music that inspired it."

I know what the tragedy is, but won't get into that here. The documentary is about the music, the fans, the Pacific Northwest punk-inflected music scene before the hyperbole of "The Seattle Sound". The Gits really had something, I never saw them live, but they clearly were a gifted outfit of misfit artists who loved playing and creating together. (pictured right; The Gits, publicity photo)

• Check out this September 9, 2008 profile of The Wrecking Crew by musician/producer and NPR commentator David Was (Was Not Was) on NPR, appropriately titled, "When Overqualified Jazz Musicians Go Rocker."
• Advance coverage of The Wrecking Crew, with trailer(!), from the Monday, May 19, 2008, 90.3 KEXP FM Blog.
• More coverage of The Wrecking Crew over at Fusion 45, with a list of even more profiles of the documentary.
• September 5, 2008 multiple profiles of The Gits (the band and the film) on NPR.
The Gits (band) official website.
The Gits film website.

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Spike Lee on Miracle At St. Anna

Multimedia with Spike Lee narrating his experience of adapting James McBride's book for the screen with script by McBride. (pictured l-r: Matteo Sciabordi, Omar Benson Miller, Michael Ealy, Derek Luke and Laz Alonso; photo: David Lee/Disney Enterprises)

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Guide to Starting a Career in Audio + Jazmine Sullivan

B&H Photo offers a variety of interesting guides. Here's their technical version of "letters to a young artist" for students of audio aspiring to a career in the field.

I don't mean to be a hater, not at all. But I think at some point I feel popular music needs to address more than the various topics that operate under the rose-colored umbrella called love. So we get an album of songs that touch on:
• falling in love
• love betrayed (from the pov of the betrayer as well as the betrayed)
• second thoughts about love left behind
• being a fool in love
• fear of love
• the tragedy of being the other woman, in love.

≈ I think I want a soul song about having to take 3 trains to a job to put food on the table, keep your kids in Payless sneakers, and/or pay your students loans.
≈ How about a love song about finally finding your heart's calling and it not being a romance, but some way you get to meaningfully contribute to your community and feed your soul at the same time?
≈ What about an R&B song about not getting tenure, or not getting that promotion you worked your posterior off for a year to achieve? What about the broken-heartedness suffered by a family getting their house foreclosed on? Or the disappointment in finding a respected supervisor or elder is busy sexually harassing junior co-workers, and not taking care of the emotional needs of his/her family?
≈ What about a love song about a community pulling together to confront corporate environmental injustice? Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project, anyone?

So, really, this isn't hating on Jazmine Sullivan, though I think the Phyllis Hyman comparison might be pushing things (Hyman didn't push that melismatic vocal technique to such a great degree; her technique allowed her to put her emotions right at the front of voice with velvety textures). Sullivan just comes to mind because Giant Step is featuring her release this week. I gotta give props to anyone who can get Missy Elliot to team up with Salt N Pepa on their first single "Need U Bad," plus she's got those richly dense, almost orchestral, horn arrangements on "Lions, Tigers, and Bears." After all, I'm really just musing about the general state of soul music/R&B. Every few years an article comes out lamenting the state of soul, hip hop soul, neo-soul, etc. It's a fair area of contemplation. But it occurs to me that if people want the music to change, it's not just about whether the instrumentation harkens back to Motown or the Philly Soul, or Memphis Stax sound and resultant questions of authenticy, nostalgia and originality. The questions should also deal with how to incorporate new themes, and how to employ instrumentation and arrangements to create works that don't sound banally expository or didactic. But, hey that's just my opinion.

While I'm thinking on music and transformation, here's almost the entirety of Fela Kuti's 1970s hit single about the Nigerian military "Zombie":

Zombie no go go unless you tell him to go
Zombie no go stop unless you tell him to stop

Zombie no go turn unless you tell him to turn
Zombie no go tink unless you tell him to tink

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National Book Foundation's "Five Under 35" commentary

The always incisive Tayari Jones reiterates her previous comments on the links between class privilege and early achievement, while still graciously congratulating this year's winner her fellow MacDowell Writers Colony alum, and "nice guy and fine writer," Nam Le. She also points us to writer Erin Fitzgerald's great cartoon response to the NBF's age ceiling at Rarely Likeable.

I don't Fitzgerald think is going to Hades for this as she fears. As the old folks say: "Tell the truth and shame the devil..." (see image at left, or click on her blog title for full sized image).

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Audio Geek: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Nail It...

Because somebody had to go there, and thank goodness they came with it when they did: Tina Fey & Amy Poehler doing Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton on a recent Saturday Night Live:

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

FELA! + Reginald Shephard + Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

Haven't been writing lately, such is the nature of woodshedding. Sometimes you gotta have extreme focus to unlock the doors of possibility. Of course I can't shut everything out, or I'd forget why I'm doing what I'm doing.

So today was FELA! The musical staged by Bill T. Jones. It's just been extended through October 5, go if you can. The show is truly something else. There are elements I wanted more of, but arguably the show isn't operating either as a straight -up "biopic" or critical biography--though you'll definitely learn a lot about Fela Kuti and post-colonial Nigerian history. It's primarily a celebration of one very complex and charismatic man, and his similarly complex love for his mother, his country, his people, the many women around him who influenced him, performed with him, worshiped him, and even married him en masse, and of course music.(above, the fantastic Sahr Ngaujah as Fela. Photo by Monique Carboni)

This weekend I was also gifted with Itinerary, the 2006 chapbook from poet Reginald Shepherd, who recently passed away. I look forward to reading it. Thanks to Reggie H. over at Noctuary, for the word on the chapbooks, and for a touching entry about his namesharing poetry dopplegänger.

Oh yeah, want more poetry? Check the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival coming up this weekend. Huge banquet of poetry as far as the eye and ear can perceive...

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