Sunday, September 15, 2019

Marian McPartland - Piano Jazz 1990 - In Her Words!

The first episode of Piano Jazz 1978 with Mary Lou Williams (photo)

Bill King: You're in Toronto. What brings you here?

Marian McPartland: We're doing something totally new. We're recording a National Public Radio Piano Jazz show here to get some Canadian artists on the show. I think it'll be broadcast all over Canada. In the states - we've been hoping to branch out.

 The fourteen years we've been doing this, we keep thinking about how to make things exciting and then decided we would come up to Canada and meet the artists here. We've had Bernie Senensky on the show and tonight John Ballantyne. Tomorrow is Oliver Jones. So we're just scratching the surface. I know there's more. 

B.K: This is a first for Canada?

M.P: Yes. Last year we went to England and did it on the BBC. We recorded four pianists, and we're going to do it again in September. It's fun. 

B.K: How did you come across these three gentlemen in Canada? 

M.P: Through various people mentioning them. I knew Oliver already. I had him on the show several years ago. We also had Oscar. I was hoping he would be available but not this time. We'll have to catch up with him some other time. 

B.K: What about your new recording? 

M.P: It's an album of fourteen songs. I've been thinking about it ever since we had Benny Carter on Piano Jazz which was a couple of years ago and I've always loved his music. He's not a pianist as he very modestly says. He arranges for piano which is pretty much what he does. I was so interested in some of his songs. I just thought it would be nice to do some of them on an album. The next thought was well, why can't we have Benny Carter on the album. That's the way it worked out. In fact, we're doing a television show on Wednesday, the Today Show to help plug the album and a few other things and other New York shows coming up. 

B.K: Did you work together on arrangements? He can be quite sensitive about how his songs are portrayed harmonically.

M.P: You know that. Yes, I let him. We met before the date and sat down at his house and hashed out the tunes and talked about how we'd do them. I'd already learned everything very carefully with his harmonies. I think he was pretty pleased when we came to that stage. Everything was arranged - no big arrangements - sort of head arrangements we did on the date. He would say to me, "How should we do this?" I'd either come up with some little idea I had or if I didn't have a plan, and he'd jump in and say, "Well, how about this?" That's really how the whole date went. 

B.K: Quite comfortable. 

M.P: It was. Very easy. We did the first day with him, and he only had to do about four tunes. He was a guest on the album but wound up doing six, and then he said to me, "Well, I'll come tomorrow if you want me to."  I said, "Goodness, we have enough now." The next day we did an all trio thing. It was nice to record with Benny; I mean that's a big deal for me.

B.K: With six decades of songwriting.

M.P:  Incredible, isn't it. Some of the songs are so wonderful. The songs we picked are timeless and go back to the '30s and maybe '20s, but they still sound good today. There is one that I loved which I guess is how I first came to meet Benny was Lonely Woman, recorded years ago by Sylvia Syms, and I kept wondering who wrote that tune - where can I get it. I finally found out it was Benny and I called him up, and he sent me the sheet music. Incidentally, the lyric is written by a guy that lives here in Toronto, Ray Coleman who used to be the editor of The Melody Maker. I must try to look in the phone book and see if he's available. I knew him years ago before I ever came over here. He stayed with Memory Maker for years. 

B.K: How were you able to maintain Halcyon Records and keep it productive? 

M.P: It's the last of the cottage industries because we have we only have 18 albums and although they're still being distributed, I haven't done anything new for several years because I've been with Concord for about the past ten years. Almost everything I did on Halycon is still available, but now the hard part is putting everything on a CD. Oh God, I don't know how we did maintain it. We started Halcyon in about 1970 I think, and I was lucky because I had a friend with lots of money and he helped get started and then he died, and I had a choice of keeping it going by myself or quit. I kept going a little longer.

B.K: You had guests like Earl 'Fatha" Hines, Teddy Wilson and Dave McKenna on the label.

M.P: Jimmy Rowles - several with my ex - Jimmy McPartland and Buddy Tate - Vic Dickinson and some of the great players like that. And then one with a singer Teddy King. 

The one with Teddy Wilson, that was a gem. It was so nice of him to agree to do the two-piano thing and as a matter of fact, we did it at this guy's house who had two gold Steinways - face to face. That's where we made that date. For years in England, Teddy was one of my idols, and subsequently, he did my radio show. I'm happy that we did that before he died. 

B.K: You've been able to branch out and do so many things, even ten years in one club. 

M.P: I was in and out of the Carlyle Hotel for about ten years. It's a very posh hotel in New York where Bobby Short works. He left to go on the road and got me into the room. That started the whole ten-year thing. I would play there for two or three months, but that was during Piano Jazz. I mean, sometimes I would have to record something for Piano Jazz and then get in a cab and go to the Carlyle and play after hours. It's a pretty busy life. 

B.K: How did you come to do radio, and what do you think about the fourteen years you've spent documenting the history of living jazz pianists?

M.P: The second part of the question I think is amazing. I mean, it's something I would never have dreamed of in my whole life. Before this show, they had one hosted by Alec Wilder, the composer. He had this book out, American Popular Song. All his guests were singers. He had Helen Merrill, Tony Bennett, and Margaret Whiting and people like that. The show folded, and they were looking for something to replace it. The people at the radio station called me, and said, We'd like to do a show on the order of the one with Alec except using musicians; what do you suggest? Two pianos seemed the most natural format and the least expensive. I knew scads of piano players. Mary Lou Williams was the first guest, and then we had Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Teddy Wilson, Hazel Scott, George Shearing, Bobby Short and on and on - John Lewis. I was like a kid in a candy store. Just call me up - next week we'll have so-and-so and all of a sudden the people sponsoring us who are the Exon company and NEA and various people liked the show, loved it. So we've been able to keep it going all these years. 

B.K: Do you worry about the changes affecting the NEA, the politicizing of the arts? 

M.P: Yeah, I do, but I just let other people handle that end of things and not worry about it. I plow ahead and think of more shows and ideas - what can we do to keep the thing viable - keep it interesting. I don't know if you've heard any of them up here? 

B.K: In my travels travel across the U.S., it's there - in the car and wonderful to have as a guest passenger.

M.P: Well, that's good to hear. 

B.K: You're working on a book about women in jazz.

M.P: I don't know if that's ever going to get done, because two or three people have already done it. I am trying to write a book, but I think it's going to be more about my life in the music business and all these various women that I know will be in the book. But it just got to be too tough to do an actual compilation of all the women musicians although I probably know most of them and have had a good many of them on Piano Jazz. Gerry Allen, Renee Rosnes; a lot of these new kids coming up are fascinating. It's so much more easy for them now. Things have changed completely. Thank God!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Soul Nation Radio Playlist August 28, 2019

Theme Rhythm Express - Soul Nation
1 Chuck D & The Slamjamz Artist Revue- Talking Loud, Saying Nothing
2 James Brown - Hell
3 Chuck Brown, Marcus Miller, Jill Scott- Love
4 The Mighty Ryeders - Evil Vibrations
5 The RH Factor - Crazy Race
6 J. Boogie's Dubtronic Science- Go To Work (ft The Pimps of Joytime)
7 Oakland Stroke - Fire
8 King Kooba - He's Out Of His Mind
9 Glenn Lewis - Don't You Forget It
10 Masego & SiR - Old Age
11 Trouble Funk - Pump Me Up
12 Larisa Santiago - No Soy Tu Ninera
13 OKAN - Espiral
14 Sly & The Family Stone - If You Want Me To Stay
15 Turkuaz - Mister Man
16 Joel Culpepper & Kojey Radical - Caroline No
17 Funk Worthy - Rock With Me
18 Leon Bridges - Bad Bad News
19 Skibone & Tommy Ski - Take It To The Top
20 Nickodemus & The Real Live Show - Will You Still Be Here
21 Shuffle Demons - Spadina Bus
22 Digital Underground - The Humpty Dance
23 Doug E Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew - The Show
24 Hot, Cold, Sweat - Meet Me At The Go-Go
25 Shafiq Husayn & Anderson.Paak - It's Better For You
26 Jesse Johnson - 100 Watts Of Funky
27 Boog Brown - Act Like You Know
28 The Soultwisters - Soulpudding
29 Soulchef - Brazilian Summer
30 Big Tony & Trouble Funk - Whatcha' Sippin'
31 Bill Withers - You Got The Stuff
32 Ibrahim Maalof - Le Grand Paris
33 Durand Jones & The Indications - Make A Change
34 Marvin Gaye - A Funky Space Reincarnation
Photo taken from The Fader - read about Washington's Go Go Music Movement…/the-ongoing-fight-to-keep-go-go-…

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Soul Nation Radio playlist Aug 20 2019

1 Isaac Hayes - Run Fay Run
2 Wildcookie - Serious Drug
3 Nuyorican Soul - You Can Do It (Baby)
4 Nick Hakim - Cuffed
5 Tower of Power - Hangin' With My Baby
6 The Ugly Duckling - A LIttle Samba
7 Prince - When The Lights Go Down
8 Alysha Brilla - Centre (ft Sridaya Srivatsan)
9 The Souljazz Orchestra - Well Runs Dry
10 Static Panic - Sinful Delightful
11 SiR - D'Evils
12 Cory Wong - Light As Anything
13 Uptown Funk Empire - Celestial Blues
14 Whitney Houston - A Song For You - Love From Welcome Home Heroes
15 X-Ray Ted - Mirror Ballin'
16 Big Sugar - Turn The Lights On

17 Lionel Loueke - Freedom Dance
18 Jamila Woods - Giovanni
19 jacksoul - oneSong
20 The Bamboos - Keep Me In Mind
21 Swindle - Reach For The Stars (ft Andrew Ashong)
22 Veronica Swift - Forget About The Boy
23 Charlotte Dos Santos - Watching You
24 Cliff Beach - Confident (ft The MB's)
25 The Allergies - Nuff Respect (ft Andy Cooper)
26 Flevans - It Just Goes - Ray Mang ReMix
27 Trevor Dandy - Is There Any Love?
28 Cory Wong - Limited World (ft Caleb Hawley)
29 RJD2 - 1976

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Soul Nation Radio Playlist Aug 6 2019

Hosted By Bill & Jesse King
Special Guest: Bill Sharpe

1 Judith Hill - The Pepper Club
2 Betty Harris - There's A Break In The Road
3 Galactic - Hey Na Na
4 RJD2 - A Beautiful Mine - Theme Music From Madmen
5 Erez Zobary - Kaleidoscope Tears
6 Teyena Taylor - Gonna Love Me
7 Bootsy Collins - Z-Classified (ft Buckethead)
8 Bill Sharpe - Bass In Your Face (ft Najee)
9 Up, Bustle & Out - All Out King
10 Samantha Fish - Gone For Good
11 Graham Central Station - The Jam
12 Lonnie Liston Smith - Expansions
13 Rhythm Express - Papa Was A Rolling Stone
14 George Clinton - Atomic Dog
15 Jacksoul - Think You Should Know
16 Cargo Mas - My Favorite Pants (ft Ida Nielsen)
17 Bo Diddley - Hit Or Miss
18 Stevie Ray Vaughan - Scuttle Buttin' Love At Carnegie Hall
19 Lonnie Mack - Wham!
20 Junior Parker - Taxman
21 Bruce Skerritt & The Liamguiga - Project Brimstone Hill Bop
22 Jarvis Church - People Get Ready
23 Funky DL - Nakasu
24 Sly5th Avenue - Let Me Ride (ft Jimetta Rose)
25 SAULT - Let Me Go
26 The Poets Of Rhythm - More Mess On My Thing
27 Snoh Aalegra - Situationship
28 Chris Standing - Stop It (Mercury Mix 2019)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Soul Nation Radio Playlist July 30 2019

Soul Nation Radio
On JAZZFM 91 Toronto
Special Guest: Sean Jones

1 Chuck Brown- Beautiful Life (ft Wale)
2 Miss Emily & Gord Sinclair - Hold Back The River
3 Brian Power, Mike Delgado - I Believe (in the power of love) ft Hil St Soul
4 Tuxedo - Vibrations (ft Parisalexa)
5 Shirley Caeser - It's Alright (ft Anthony Hamilton)
6 Sean Jones & The Righteous Echo - Don't Go Breakin'
7 Marvin Gaye - Got To Give It Up (Part 1)
8 Sly Dunbar - Inner City Blues
9 Randy Crawford - Street Life
10 Graham Central Station - Release Yourself
11 Sean Jones - I'll Be A Fool
12 James Brown - Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine
13 Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns - Four Play (ft Maceo Parker)
14 Willie Mitchell - Take Five
15 The Winstons - Amen Brother
16 Wilson Pickett - Funky Broadway
17 Rare Essence - Hey Buddy Buddy - Live
18 Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers - Bustin' Loose
19 Banda Black Rio - Mr Funky Samba
20 Monkey House - 10,000 Hours
21 Guru & Ronny Jordan - No Time To Play
22 H.E.R. - Lost Souls (ft DJ Scratch)
23 Ms Lauryn Hill - Lost Ones
24 Lizzo - Boys
25 Lucky Peterson - Singin' This Song 4 U
26 Gil Scott-Heron - The Bottle
27 Rhythm Express - Rhythm Express
28 Joni Haastrup -Free My People
29 Orgone - Funky Nassau (ft Fanny Franklin)
30 The MIghty Show-Stoppers - Hippy Skippy Moon Strut

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Soul Nation Radio Playlist July 16 2019

Bill & Jesse King Tues 9pm-12 on JAZZFM 91
Theme Rhythm Express Soul Nation
1 The Sonic Family - Never Stop Dreamin' - Never Stop Jazz Dreamin
2 The Grits - Ug Ug Ah
3 Burna Boy - Anybody
4 Majid Jordan - Gave Your Love Away
5 The Heavyweights Brass Band - Hands Down Lo'
6 Marquis Hill - The Way We Play / Minority - Medley
7 The Persuasions - Good Times
8 New Orleans Jazz Orchestra - Working In The Coal Mine
9 The Heavyweights Brass Band - Dance Out On The Corner
10 Chick Corea & The Spanish Heart Band - Armando's Rhumba

11 Masego & TMXO - African Lady - ADM Remix
12 John Pittman - For Siobhan
13 The Heavyweights Brass Band - I've Got Time For You
14 The Heavyweights Brass Band - This City ft Jackie Richardson & Kevin Breit
15 Stevie Wonder - Boogie On Reggae Woman
16 Manu Dibango - Soul Makossa
17 Arrested Development - People Everyday - Metamorphosis Mix
18 Don Covay - The House of Blue Lights, Part 1
19 Esthero - That Girl
20 Ronny Jordan - Keep Your Head Up (ft Fay Simpson)
21 Tall Black Guy - From Home, To Work, And Back
22 The Bahama Soul Club - Ain't Nobody's Biz-Ness If I Do
23 Joe Armon-Jones - Icy Roads (Stacked)
24 Bobbi Humphrey - New York Times
25 Grace Jones - Libertango
26 Ohm Guru - Tokio Station
27 Blue Lab Beats - Hi There
28 Sunlightsquare - Hanging Tough

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Soul Nation Radio Playlist July 9, 2019 (9 pm-12) on JAZZFM 91

1 Jacob Collier - It's Don't Matter (ft JoJo)
2 A l l i e - Cross My Mind
3 De Souza - Garota Brasilera
4 Quantic - Orquidea (ft Sly5thAve)
5 Latrese Bush & Noel Gourdin - Because Of You
6 Fort Knox Five - The Brazilian Hipster (Skeewiff Remix)
7 Rawallty - Make Me Feel
8 Salt-N-Peppa & En Vogue - Whatta Man
9 Jazzmeia Horn - When I Say
10 The Pointer Sisters Exclusive 1976 Recording from Japan
11 Ebo Taylor - Love and Death
12 Crack of Dawn - Crack of Dawn
13 Mark Ronson - Just (Ft Alex Greenwald)
14 Philip Bailey - Once In A Lifetime
15 Snoh Aalegra & Vince
Staples - Nothing Burns Like The Cold
16 Angie Stone - Everyday
17 Pocket Dwellers - Photogenic
18 Angelique Francis - Should Have Known
19 The Philosopher Kings - I Am The Man
20 Dubmatix - London Calling (ft Don Letts & Dan Donovan)
21 Isaac Hayes - Life's Mood
22 Bernard Wright - Spinnin'
23 Skee-Lo - I Wish
24 Mo'Horizons - Yes Baby Yes
25 The Funkstamatics - Say It, Pt. 1
26 Congi - Red (ft Yazmin Lacey)
27 Betty Newsome, James Brown & Pavarotti - It's A Man's World - Live
28 Remy Shand - Rocksteady

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Dispatches From Festival International de Jazz de Montreal

I’m sitting here and, as I do on each visit to the world’s finest jazz festival, I take a few moments to scribble a few thoughts around the day that passed.

The concept of one-Jazz is no longer as a new generation of experimenters bend and shape to a world in migratory flight. At year 40, and I must say, with little or no physical celebrations on the surface, the festival is aware of the tastes and connections visitors to the event expect.

The grounds around festival central are grumbling and rumbling and being renovated around the needs of the supremely successful event. Montreal itself is under a construction boom from above and below – a good portion addressing aging infrastructure needs. At the heart of the major digs, the jazz festival breathes life into the central core.

The crowds are here and, much like TD Downtown Jazz and the Beaches International Jazz Festival, the streets are lined with buskers, food stalls, the occasional bluegrass unit and a solo piano situated where any passerby can play in front of a curious audience.
It was year ten when I attempted to snap a photo inside a theatre of Chick Corea and band. Let’s see – thirty years ago? I was a serious novice packing a Kodak Instamatic. I stood centre aisle and bravely framed a moment of Corea’s blistering set when the built-in flash lit the concert hall like a blazing asteroid entering earth’s atmosphere. With that came a tap on the shoulder and threat of eviction.
I’ve been seriously photographing Festival de Jazz a good twenty-five years. Long gone are Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones,  Aretha, and Ray Charles – and in place now the likes of Roberto Fonseca, Nate Smith, Manu Katché, and Jacob Collier.
On Canada Day, the evening's major concert venues were given over to remaining jazz draws; George Benson and Diane Reeves. Only a few steps beyond, trumpeter Christian Scott and Tunde Adjuah were walking the sold-out hall into the present day and down the road. It was serious Afro-Cuban – Afro-hip hop fusion jazz. Scott laid out his vision and where he wished to transport the audience and then asked all to chill and enjoy.
Lorraine Klaasen dug deep into her South African roots and took charge of the overflow crowd - a good many sporting lawn chairs and cushions out for a rare night under the stars and absent horrendous weather. Klassen has lived a good portion of her life in Montreal and was most definitely a crowd favourite.
Dispatches July 2, 2019
Pianist Wray Downes was recognized by the festival for his long-enduring career now in the 88th year as a performer; musicianship and exceptional contributions to the development of Canadian jazz. The affair was held in the press room of Montreal Jazz Fest with a question and answer session. The hour-long conversation centered on Downes' ability to stay true to the genre, long term as an educator, and early life experiences studying with Oscar Peterson at the Toronto based centre of jazz learning, The Advanced School of Contemporary Music, during the early '60s.
Downes' responses were deliberate, thought-provoking, on point and sincere. He spoke of moments when he was overcome with fear and uncertainty when being evaluated by his jazz mentor. He also discussed the strain of teaching and touring and the demands the music makes on a player whose intent is always to give the maximum effort when playing before an audience. As Downes was handed the award, he asked for help holding the hefty object, then broke into tears. Downes has outlived his mentor and is now one of the remaining connections with Montreal’s glorious jazz past that can also count Oliver Jones amongst its top tier jazz pianists.
The night belonged to the people; streets jammed to capacity. Audiences in Montreal, whether circling a street performer or within the confines of a concert facility, come with open arms. Applause arrives as if every action requires a reaction. This was evident when a child sits behind one of the several public pianos placed strategically throughout the central core. It’s the same for each street performer: wild applause, a hug and dozens of selfies. Indoors the same applies.
Drummer Nate Smith, with his ensemble Kinfolk, gave a somewhat subdued performance at the Monument-National in collaboration with CBCMusic and the long-running Jazz Beat, yet you wouldn’t sense the crowd saw it that way with their rapturous approval. Smith, for his part, is notable for the ease at which he can switch between genres, immaculate playing and instructional videos. He is a marvel to watch in person. On this occasion, he played within the jazz standard – not standards but within the gates of jazz history. Where Christian Scott pushed the boundaries of jazz the night before, Smith was contained and situated dead centre in a comfortable jazz zone with plenty of history to back him up.
The night was owned by young multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier, a Herbie Hancock discovery and a Quincy Jones mentored prodigy. Collier had the welcome opportunity to play in one of North America’s best-designed venues – Club Soda, which at standing capacity houses 975 patrons and has been in play some 35 years. This is a dream performance venue.
The stage was resplendent in instruments, all situated and positioned to make Collier’s mad dashes between each an aural playground and part of the visual choreography. Collier entered as if blown from a cannon and then proceeded to engage the audience in a sing and chant. Back and forth this went until the room pleaded for the weight of instruments and with two side-mates in toll – a bassist and second keyboardist - Collier crashed down into the piano.
It was dazzling showmanship as if staged by a master manipulator with a Ph.D. in performance art. Collier strutted, mugged, engaged, and entertained while laying out a futuristic blend of jazz, hip hop, funk, and a stylistic mixture of sounds and genre fusion, never heard before. Between piano and percussion interludes, Collier dug his fingers into the fretboard of the electric bass – pulled and tugged as if directed by the funk master himself, bassist Bootsy Collins then darted off in another direction as if the late great Jaco Pastorius was whispering in an ear.
Jazz began as a showman’s game, and on this night Collier and company gave us an excellent read on what to expect in the coming years.
Dispatches –July 3, 2019
The press gallery was packed to hear one of prog rock’s long-living disciples recall his job as assistant engineer on the Beatles' Let it Be and Abbey Road sessions – and engineer on The Dark Side of the Moon for Pink Floyd.  Alan Parsons didn’t disappoint. This was a heady session given over to questions about the technical efficiencies of present-day recording sessions compared to the halcyon days of the early ’70s.
Parsons spoke of long days trying to recreate reverbs and delays from scratch through the use of rooms as reflective sound chambers and specific miking techniques and the fact that what took the length of a day to accomplish can now be scaled down to a matter of minutes through the use of Pro Tools. He also acknowledged having a sophisticated recording studio in his home in which his wife insists all work end by dinner time, not the day round sessions that inhabited a good portion of his life. In fact, Parsons wears those studio eyes, a sort of glazed over appearance born after decades of overnights fixated on a mixing board and listening to endless playbacks. Parsons' live show focused on his best-known works: Eye in the Sky, Sirius, Don’t Answer Me and three selections from his latest project that explores the world of magic.
Toronto was on display today with two popular favourites, singer Alex Pangman, and drummer Larnell Lewis, commanding centre stage. Pangman held court on the Scene TD stage facing several thousand captivated revelers. The sun beat down on the long stretch of concrete as the crowd cheered each boogie-style piano solo from pianist Peter Hill and each New Orleans trill and a muted blast from trumpeter John McLeod. The groove was steady and paced to give Pangman plenty of room to deliver a solid performance - one this crowd took to heart.
Down a side lane, drummer Larnell Lewis and band drew a sizeable audience at Place Heineken. This is one of the rare club-like outdoors tents that looks as if it can handle a good three hundred people. Beyond the rim, another five to six hundred can gather in an intimate setting.
Lewis, along with multi-instrumentalist Rob Christian and pianist Jeremy Ledbetter rode the fusion train to a finale stop while picking up passengers along the way. This is muscular jazz played with conviction and contemporary thought. The song passages toyed with rhythmic and harmonic shifts with Lewis' rock-solid pocket the source of extreme weather. Lewis swirls, and kicks and pops in step with the now. It’s the kind of drumming you hear the worlds best deliver daily. The crowd recognized the level of commitment and artistry and rewarded each solo effort with sustained applause.
The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre was a delight. The tribute arrived in 2017, courtesy Sly5thAve. That night at the Wilshire Abell Theatre included some of L.A.’s best musicians. The piece was conducted by producer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka 11, aka Sly5thAve. This night was a recreation and a tribute to the original concept that came from a benefit concert to raise funds for a new music school in Compton.
Held in the Monument-National – a theatre of great acoustics and stately elegance, the night was an aural landscape of hip-hop beats and symphonic intent. The merging of worlds succeeded on many levels.
How Deep is Your Love? The classic Bee Gees hit keeps rolling around in my brain because of one man, PJ Morton. Knowing Morton was playing one floor below in the press gallery in L’Astral made the already long jazz day a must wait and see.
Morton for his part took the stage in front of a legion of followers all familiar with his Grammy-nominated Gumbo, his first self-released studio album. The New Orleans born entertainer is both an excellent singer and keyboardist with loads of stage presence and easy manners even when a digital keyboard mounted above his suitcase Rhodes piano malfunctioned. Behind Morton, a crack band well-versed in the intricacies of vintage soul and R&B. From the downbeat, a fierce James Brown style rhythm rained down on the capacity room setting the stage for a well-crafted and conceived set of originals.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Toronto, Basketball, The Pointer Sisters and Japan

As we prepare ourselves to what could possibly be a first NBA basketball championship for Canada and the city of Toronto, I reflect back some 43 years ago while touring Japan with the Pointer Sisters and what the game means to me and a world coming to terms with a sport then on the cusp of international recognition.

It’s summer 1976 and the Pointer Sisters are touring Japan. Each city comes with a sound check and early concert. For us guys in the trio – Chester Thompson drums, Jeff Breeh bass, me - piano and road crew – Louis Lind etc. – there’s plenty time to kill. “The girls” as they were affectionately called went about doing whatever they did during off hours. The rest of us were on a discovery mission. For me, it meant finding a game of “hoops.” Tokyo was overwhelming, mostly given over to shopping and back alley eating, yet when we hit that rails it was all about ‘game on.’

Osaka, I found a YMCA. I begged the front desk for use of the gym. At first, they were apprehensive reciting membership rules, but much like every stop throughout the country, they knew who we were. Our visit was carried on tv. The young woman relented and handed me a child’s size basketball and directed me to the gym. Before me, eight-foot goals. Nothing seemed right, but for this desperate young man, anything was possible. As I started shooting several young men began encouraging me to dunk the ball. This I did for their amusement and with ease. Ten-foot goal? I could barely touch the rim. I truly play from beneath the rim – no lift in these shoes. I scored a round of applause each time I improvised a dunk. Even with an enthusiastic audience, this wasn’t basketball.

A day or so later we find ourselves in the port city Kobe, known for its rare beef. I abandon the hotel and walk along the ocean side into a mist, eventually coming to an overpass and basketball goal situated mid- center a dirt floor - chicken feathers mixed in the blotches of mud. From below I look up at a rim absent a net and thought how fine it would be to just shoot a few against a backdrop of shipping vessels and expansive baseball netting another side of the overpass. Then it happens. A young man in baseball garb runs over, smiles and gestures at the goal, again smiles and runs back into a shed. A moment later he returns with a basketball and hands to me. My heart sinks. I’m grinning at the world and it’s smiling back. I begin shooting and dreaming I’m back in LA where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is hanging out and notching a bucket here and there when suddenly the shed turns into a clubhouse and a full cadre of baseball players, dressed to the nines run out and start tossing and fielding baseballs. Then batting practice. You hear the whack of the bat and instead or a soaring 300 ft blast – a fifty-foot blast into netting. It’s Japan – there’s no space.

As time ran away from me, I walk over and return the ball. It was then several players ran over and hugged me. My God; sports, players, passerby’s, friendship, - it was at that moment I knew the world was much smaller than imagined and the things that link us all are the simplest and least complicated. A song, a ball, a location, and good people.

Bill King – Soul Nation

Friday, June 7, 2019

Dr. John – “The Spirit Kingdom is More Powerful than Just This Meat World.”

Born in New Orleans in 1940 as Malcom Rebannack, Dr. John began playing piano at age six. His first recorded date was at 14, coinciding with his job as an A&R man at Ace Records. In the mid-50s, an A&R man’s responsibilities were to find a promising artist, hire the musicians and cut and master the records, all for $60 a week. By the ‘60s, John was working with Frank Zappa, Phil Spector and Sonny and Cher, on whose studio time he cut his first Gris-Gris album which established him as Dr. John: the Night Tripper.

One of favourite all time conversations were with the good doctor some seventeen years back. Doc was penciling notes on a music chart, prepping a set list and smoking a Sherman cigarette. I admit being a shy/nervous but the moment I saw him locked into pad and paper I felt a genuine calmness. The good doctor was gracious and we spoke mostly the same language, the mysteries of life and music.

Here’s that conversation.

Bill King: In your biographical notes you state: “I don’t wanna know about evil. Only the delicate balance of anutha zone, way past Shapaka Shawee, more ancient than the olive tree. Before Rosacrucian mysteries, or Freemason vestries.”
Dr.John: It’s right where we settin’ at, you know. I know about evil. I’ve lived in this racket, the music industry, where you’re comin’ up with gangsters and whorehouse gamblin’. I know about that evil stuff.
If you walk down Spadina where any of those music joints were, they were dealing narcotics. Well, I don’t want to know about that. I’m about feelin’ some good things today. I want to feel love and feel good.
B.K: You go on to say, “The spirit kingdom is more powerful than just this meat world.” Have you had experiences that have brought you in contact with a supreme-being or spirits from another world?
D.J: The sense of breathin’ puts me in touch every day with the spirit kingdom. If I wake up today, I’m breathing and I’m happy. If I can pinch my meat (pulls the skin on his arm), I not only know that I’m alive, but I’m feelin’ something. I not only know I’m alive. But I’m feeling something.
When I had the church in New Orleans from 1967 to 1989, I saw a lot of things like cures being done. Things that I couldn’t explain. I saw a Mother Catherine Seals bring what looked like a dead baby back to life by grabbing something out of the child. I don’t try to understand or figure it out ‘cause if it ain’t broke, why fix it.
B.K: You grew up in New Orleans’ Third Ward, which was fairly integrated. There were Afro-Americans, Cubans, German and Irish along with Caribbean immigrants. When did your ancestors arrive in this community?
D.J: I know my family is supposed to be from the Bas region of France. They arrived in New Orleans in 1813 or 1830. They had a place on Bayou Road which is now Governor Nicholas Street.
My great, great, great aunt Pauline Rebennack was involved with a guy who had my name, Dr. John. He was a banbera cat and they had a whorehouse out by what they call “Little Woods” in New Orleans.
Bayou Road was a historical street in what they call the Treme area of New Orleans today. Jelly Roll Morton grew up on that street. The one thing the Third Ward was famous for was that Louis Armstrong was born there. Unfortunately, the politicians in New Orleans decided not to keep his pad a tourista spot and tore it down. It’s a movie equipment store now. That’s typical political stuff.
B.K: Did the composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk have a profound influence on the evolution of New Orleans music after his visit to Cuba in the mid-1800s?
D.J: Louis Moreau Gottschalk studied at that college in Paris with Chopin and became a hit in the area because he wrote all the folk songs.
Not only was he the first classical composer of the United States, but, in his day, he was regarded as the fastest piano player alive. In his music written before the Civil War, you can hear all the elements of the samba, the rumba, the habanera, the tango and a lot of the elements of what came to be known as ragtime.
When Van Dyke Parks turned me on to this cat, I heard a piece Gottschalk wrote called, Bambula: Danse des Negres. It was about his memories of livin’ on St. Anns Street across from Congo Square where the slaves used to do their shuck gris-gris thing for the slave masters or what they do in Haiti today for the touristas. You can not only hear the Yoruba influence, but also how it was already Caribbeanized in a way.
When I recorded one of his pieces, The Litany of the Saints People, on Goin’ Back to New Orleans, we had the number one record in Haiti, Nigeria, Brazil and Greece. They all knew the piece, whether it was the Orisha people from Brazil, the Chango people from Jamaica or the Santeria people of Cuba.
People cried to it because we put strings on it like Gottschalk wrote. It was a tribute to him, but also a piece I’d heard in church with just guitar and a bunch of drums.
B.K: The Brazilians have also had a profound influence. Can you pinpoint a specific rhythm pattern or harmonic consideration that was absorbed into local music culture?
D.J: The Second Line rhythm in New Orleans is connected to the Brazilian samba. It’s just a little different. Cuban rhythm is in the centre of the beat, the Brazilian rhythm is a little more ‘round the beat and in New Orleans, it’s all around the beat, pullin’ it. That’s where funk comes from, just implying the rhythm of the samba.
For the last 40 years, I’ve played the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, so I never get to see what it’s like. I’d love to go to Brazil just to see all the samba clubs. It’s a fascinating connection of rhythms we play.
You know the Cubans’ first entry into the United States was New Orleans. Most of them came through our ports. The ones, who stayed, kept their thing intact and added something to the New Orleans things.
B.K: New Orleans had three opera houses in the 1800s. Where else did you find that in America at the time?
D.J: A good friend of mine, Teddy Gumpus, who was one of the guys whose grandfather started unions in America, played in 1920 in the old French Opera House. When I came up in the ‘60s, it had burnt down and was then a strip joint.
In the 1920s, Teddy sang Pagliacci at the opera house. He was famous for doing Popeye the Sailor Man. I forget what instrument he plays, the oboe or something, but but he played the melody on the original tune Popeye.
B.K: Dr. John: The Night Tripper was based on a 19th century doctor. Who was this person and why did you adopt this persona in staging your first tour?
D.J: The original Dr.John was a banbera cat from Africa. My name is Malcom John Michael Crow Rebennack, so John is actually my second name. My Gris-Gris name is John Gris-Gris John.
Now, since I retired in 1989, I can put those things out there. It was a natural adaptation and the fact people call me ‘professario’ or ‘doctor’. There were certain jackets hung on me, typical New Orleans stuff. People call me snake, others call me crow. I think the Dr. thing hung on because I like to read a lot.
B.K: You’ve written a piano book which delves into turnarounds and embellishments which are essential to this music. How did that come about and is it still in print?
D.J: Happy and Artie Tram wanted me to send a paper to my manager giving them permission to reissue the thing. I’m real grateful to have met so many piano players around the world who say the book has helped them. I’m also happy about preserving it on CD ROM.
For New Orleans players like Huey Smith, James Brook, Allan Toussaint, Art Neville, Professor Longhair, who I learned all kinds of turnarounds from, they were their signatures.
Other guys like Pete Johnson of Kansas City or Albert Ammons in Chicago had different kinds of turnarounds. But New Orleans had variety. I could tell which guys played on sessions by some of their turnarounds.
B.K: What’s ahead?
D.J: Right now, I really want to spend some time fishin’, before it gets frostbitten cold.