Thursday, August 27, 2009

Presidential Centennial

One hundred years ago today, Lester Willis Young was born in Woodville, Missisippi. Happy Birthday, Prez!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

1959 - The Year Everything Changed

Recently, 1959 The Year Everything Changed arrived at our bookstore. Things like the Cuban revolution, a couple of new states, amongst many others, make up the thesis of this book. From a jazz standpoint, the author covers the changes that occurred in jazz with albums like Miles' Kind of Blue, Coltrane's Giant Steps, Brubeck's Time Out, Mingus' Ah Um and Ornette's The Shape of Jazz to Come.
And another reason I liked this book: yours truly was born 50 years ago on this date. You know you're old when your baby pictures are sepia toned. There's no truth to the rumor that this photo was taken by Matthew Brady.....

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dues and the Abstract Truth

I've had a few people in the arts (music, acting) tell me they're tired of paying dues. Unfortunately, you don't get to decide when you're done.
At least there is a sort of perverted meritocracy to the world of sports. If you make the statistics and help win games, you get the big contract. Winners sell more tickets, which makes the owners more money. Terrell Owens and now Michael Vick have shown that much can be overlooked in the pursuit of the gold. And how many lifetime bans did the late Steve Howe get in baseball?
Pianist Herbie Nichols is one of the countless talented and nearly invisible musicians out there. One of the phrases you'll see in reference to Herbie Nichols is that he played Dixieland/Traditional Jazz gigs "to pay the bills." (One of the many forms of paying dues.) I accidentally ran across one of these stints when I bought a Rex Stewart album (Dixieland Free-for-all) on eBay. Listen to Herbie's solo on Original Dixieland One-Step and compare it with a sample of his playing as a leader . This was a truly versatile and complete musician!
Sadly, it doesn't take much to collect most of his output as a leader. As a start, check out his Blue Note sessions. Besides Herbie's original compositions and playing style, you get either Max Roach or Art Blakey on drums.
He wasn't sidelined by the substance abuse problems that have plagued many musicians. For him, it was leukemia. He died in 1963 at only 44 years old.

There's no telling when (or if) you'll ever stop paying dues.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Happy Birthday, Satchmo!

Louis Armstrong was born on this date in 1901. During his lifetime, he used July 4, 1900 because he didn't know his true date of birth. Many years after his death, critic Gary Giddens a Catholic baptismal record that showed when he truly arrived into the world.

If you're looking for some great Satchmo recordings, try the new Mosaic Records box set. I got it last month and have been listening to it like crazy!

By the way, if you look at the 1910 census, it implies that someone in the household knew young Louis' true age! (Click on the image to make it larger; Louis is on the last line.) As a side note, the Mosaic set contains three takes of a Armstrong composition called Old Man Mose, the tale of someone who's checking to see if the title subject is living or dead. Maybe Louis was inspired to write the tale based on his neighbor, Mose Smith (enumerated just ahead of Satchmo's household.)