Sunday, January 31, 2016

One of my latest, greatest helpers

As a jazz musician whose talents only take him so far, and as readers of this blog will know, I’m constantly reading and thinking about jazz to help my musicianship along. Last year I read Ted GIoia’s The History of Jazz and while I was more than impressed by his look into the history of America’s music, I was particularly taken by the extensive discography to which he made continual reference. After all, if you are going to understand music, even if it is only from a historical perspective, sooner or later you are going to have to listen to it for yourself.
Read for yourself, then listen (or play) for yourself.
That’s what makes this book, Mr. Gioia’s latest work (I think), one of his best to date: it’s extensive discography. And because this is all about a solid core of jazz standards, the information is something that any jazz musician will be able to use at some point. Every song has between five and ten recordings listed for listening and research into the nuances and hidden meanings of the songs, not to mention alternative interpretations and styles. It not only reads like a jazz musician’s hall of fame, it reads like a biological listing of family, genus, and species of the recordings for understanding the very evolution of the song. Even better, the book is indexed by song, composer and performer, so however you decide to come at a song, the author has provided you the resources you need to choose your own angle of approach.

After finishing this book, something that occurred to me is that I should have been taking some notes. At some point, I sort of noticed that the index would help me cross reference recordings and performers, but I really should have been making a list of stuff to look for and recordings to Google or buy. Now, if I’m going to get serious about a song or recording, I’m going to have to go back and research it. There are worse things, I suppose, but I could have used my time more efficiently.

I guess I’ll just have to read this book again, and I guess that will happen sooner, rather than making me even later to jazz.

Monday, January 25, 2016

When a Grammy winner emails

 Like most people my age, I have gone through a number of musical “phases” throughout my life. Most of them were highly predictable, but some not so, like the two years I spent heavily rotating Eminem, Insane Clown Posse, and Blink 182. (Those recordings still send me when I throw them on the Bluetooth speaker or whatever.) I also went through my new age phase, with semi-pop groups like Dream Academy and Mannheim Steamroller, and of course, the then ubiquitous Enya. And while I like to think I’ve moved on from those days, every now and then I catch a snippet and feel something move inside.
The signed cover art... 
I start with all this, because I was recently contacted by the Grammy winning composer/performer Laura Sullivan, who asked if I would like a CD to review on Amazon. I wasn’t exactly ready for what was in store, but I agreed to try it out if the CD was autographed so that I could at least add it to my autographed CD collection if I didn’t like it. Funny thing was, I did like it. Here’s a piece of my Amazon review, slightly edited:

and the signed disc.

I found “Feast of Joy and Love” oddly intriguing and highly listenable, despite me having been more or less immersed in nothing but jazz for the last seven or eight years. This is a really great recording. The production is crisp and professional, and the presentation is bold and well-executed. Technical achievement aside, the music is also quite soothing and highly listenable. The calming effect is noticeable. It’s nice to be able to hear unfamiliar takes on very familiar works, along with pleasant original songs, and to allow the brain to soak it all in. Ms. Sullivan’s voice particularly, when overdubbed in contrasting harmonies, takes on an instrumental quality, sometimes almost spooky, but always bringing out more of the harmonies behind the well-known (and not so) melodies. Even when sounds of nature and "life at large" are blended in suddenly and unexpectedly, I almost did not notice them, as they were so well integrated in the musical structures in which they were used. It’s no surprise that Ms. Sullivan is a Grammy winner in this music category. Her work is truly stunning and deserves to be heard by more people.

All in all it was a good experience, so I would say, if a Grammy winner drops you a line, you might want to answer. You’ll probably get a nice piece of music, signed and personalized, but you also might just open a small window on your past. You never know.