Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Still Listening Out

Long before digital downloads there was the public library. In Santa Monica you could borrow twenty LPs at a time and I always checked out the max. Some were fairly new and clean copies but most of the good stuff was old and frayed and a little scratched up. The scratches sometimes added character to the sounds. Some of the album covers were faced. Others were completely destroyed, the vinyl exiled to a blank sleeve and tiny handwriting half-explaining what was inside. A few compilations said nothing anywhere about the music. I always sampled a few of these at a time and some became my favorites. I’d dub them onto a cassette tape for the car and them until the tape jammed or snapped. Then I’d try to find those same blank cardboard record covers in the library’s jazz racks.

Sometimes I’d catch one of those favorites on the radio—usually an upbeat, uptempo thing, horns harmonizing over a tight rhythm section. I’d listen out for the who and the what and sometimes I got it:

Benny Golson, Stablemates.

McCoy Tyner, Contemporary Focus.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Down Under.

I remembered those cuts and when I had a little money to spend in the record store I’d find the albums on which those tunes were originally recorded.

Over the years, I think I’ve picked up most of those sides but there are still a few I’ve never heard, never been able to identify. I wonder sometimes if I’d even remember them now, thirty-plus years later, if I heard them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Song For My Father

The first time I heard the Horace Silver classic I was in a self-imposed time-warp of my own ignorance. I thought Horace had "borrowed" those opening chords from Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."

Either way, I dug both tunes--and when I heard Leon Thomas slowing down Silver's rockin melody and putting it to words, I turned up the radio dial. I had no idea what was coming.

Thomas intoned the lyrics--

If there was ever a man who was generous, gracious, and good... it was my dad, the man A human so true he could live like a king 'cause he knew... the real pleasures in life To be devoted to And always stand by me So I'd be unafraid And free. If there was ever a man who was generous, gracious, and good... it was my dad, the man

A little schmaltzy, but not coming from Leon's deep inflection.
And nothing schmaltzy about what came next--

First jazz yodeling solo I had ever heard.
Not just yodeling--the dude seemed to be channeling the souls of a thousand pigeons.

Nothing in my life--not even growing up in New York City--had prepared me for that sound.

It bothered me. I wanted to turn it off. But I didn't. Something made me listen. Something important in the rawness of that sound, the jagged edges of emotion slashing against the sweet melody and the sentimental message. It said the ties we have with our parents, the legacy of our past that reaches all the way back, it's not always a pretty sound or a coherent sound but it's a sound we need to recognize if we want to know who we are.