June 11, 2013 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Musical Education & Sage Advice
I recently found a great site containing quotes from many fine jazz and studio players. I’d heard many of them before, but it was nice to find many of them in one place. To these quotes, I added some of my own observations, coming from a lifelong love of music and deep admiration for musicians.
The late Joe Pass was a brilliant soloist, and a very humble man, who spent a lifetime honing his craft. At the same time, he often admitted to being somewhat lazy. He didn’t practice a great deal, and really disliked doing scales, feeling it was a mind-numbing activity. He claimed to know the barest minimum of music theory. He told his students to back off with their “brilliant” improvisations, and learn the melody inside and out before attempting to be a “big time soloist.” Like he said, “learn tunes.” His sometimes playing partner Herb Ellis took this concept one step further, advising his students to quietly (or silently) sing the tune as they’re playing. There’s no better way to get inside a melody than to sing it. Read more
May 2, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Andy Nelson, the Later Years
I was reminded of my uncle, the late Andy Nelson, after receiving an email from the son of the couple who bought Andy’s palatial log house in Lake George, NY, back in the early 1970s. I’m not sure of the whys and wherefores, but it was decided that the buyers of the house make a small down payment, and then proceed to make monthly payments directly to Andy. The papers were drawn up and it turned out to be a fortuitous event as you, dear reader, will see further on. Read more
April 22, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Interesting iPhone App With a Musical Bent
I don’t often find inspiration for articles from Time magazine, but I sure did this time. The November 22, 2010 issue included a feature on the 50 best inventions of the year. Mixed in with yet another car that can be converted into an airplane, and a boat made from discarded plastic bottles, were a couple of Apple-related items.
First was already ubiquitous iPad, which the article states, “is the fastest-selling non-phone gizmo in consumer-electronics history.” Read more
March 18, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Wholly Cats! Charlie Christian’s Contribution to Modern Music
Swing jazz was all the rage in the late 1930s. Big bands could be heard every night on one live radio broadcast after another. The big stars were the tenor sax players like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young—likewise piano players like Count Basie, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, and scores more. Bandleaders like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glen Miller, and others dominated the airwaves. Read more
March 18, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Melody From the Sky — Scott Robinson, a Review
I downloaded this album, originally released in 1999, from eMusic recently, as it had a favorite guitar player of mine (acoustic guitarist and raconteur Marty Grosz), and loaded it on my iPod where it mixed in with almost 11,000 other tunes. I think I played the album once while driving (went to the recently loaded playlist), but it must have been a brutal commute (I drive 90 miles a day) and I must not have been paying much attention. Read more
March 18, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Great Musical Jokes
I was just listening to my iPod in shuffle mode as I scanned the various job boards (yup, another statistic…) when a wonderfully wacky recording of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards performing/murdering the old warhorse I Love Paris, popped up. Read more
March 18, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Conversations with Great Jazz and Studio Guitarists
Author Jim Carlton has done a wonderful service to the jazz guitar community with this collection of conversations with a number of outstanding guitarists from the jazz and studio fields. Jim, an industry “insider,” has known a number of his subjects for many years. This friendship and familiarity made them more likely to open up as they never had previously with interviewers. We also get to hear many “inside baseball” anecdotes from the folks who were there, playing in historical sessions, and whose dropped names range from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra to Bill Haley’s Comets to Barbra Streisand. Read more
March 18, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Concert Review — Hot Club of San Francisco
I recently attended a delightful and unusual jazz concert at the Society of the Four Arts, at Palm Beach, Florida. The performing group was the Hot Club of San Francisco (HCSF). The HCSF is a Gypsy jazz band (I mentioned them in my jazz guitarist of the world blog a few weeks ago). By Gypsy jazz, I mean that they play the music popularized by and in the style of Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, who performed as a group from the mid 1930s until the beginning of WWII in 1940.
The Quintet of the Hot Club of France was lead (a rather loose term as it turns out) by French gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Django was a true Manouche Gypsy, descended from dozens of generations of Gypsies, who, as conscripts left India to fight Muslim invaders in the 11th century. The new book Django Reinhardt and the Illustrated History of Gypsy Jazz, by Michael Dregni, described the history of the various Gypsy tribes as they migrated throughout Europe over the period of almost 1000 years, as well as the story and music of Django and his successors. Briefly, Django grew up in a musical family, and was accomplished in a number of instruments including guitar, bass, violin, and others, and was just beginning to make a name for himself when he was severely burned in a trailer fire. He almost lost a leg, and his left hand was horribly disfigured due to tendon damage that paralyzed and deformed his third and fourth finger. Even with this damage, over an 18 month time period, Django relearned to play his guitar, modifying his playing style to make up for his lack of dexterity, and created an entirely new sound. Even with his problems, he was lightning-fast and learned to use his damaged fingers to partially fret the first and even the second strings. He was also a musical sponge. He couldn’t read music (nor could he read and write until very late in his brief life), but with one hearing, could perform the tune, with new and inventive improvisations. He was deeply influenced by the music of Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Bix Beiderbecke, and the guitar/violin duo of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, which he melded into traditional gypsy music. He put a group together with his guitarist brother and another guitar player, a bassist, and violinist Stephane Grappelli. They recorded extensively throughout the 1930s and briefly got back together after WWII, when Django began taking in the influences of American bebop, being played by US soldiers stationed in Paris and elsewhere. He continued to grow musically up to his sudden, tragic death due to a stroke in 1953. He was 43 years old.
Gypsy music is mainly performed with stringed instruments: guitar, bass, violin, and may also include accordion, and rarely brass instruments. The hallmark of the Gypsy sound is a very heavy rhythm beat. The rhythm guitars provide percussion effects as well as the guitar sounds. Over a number of years, a particular rhythm style known as le pompe was developed, and is immediately recognizeable. Playing le pompe is hard work. Rhythm players have to maintain an often breakneck tempo without skipping a beat, so they need strong forearms. The string height on these specially-designed Gypsy guitars is relatively high, requiring great strength in their left hand to keep playing for long sets.
The music of Django Reinhardt’s was ignored by the general public the next 20 years or so, but slowly began a resurgence. By the late 1970s it was back in full force with players like Babik Reinhardt (Django’s son), the incredibly young Bireli Lagrene who recorded his first album at age 13, and scores of others. By the late 1980s, there were dozens of Gypsy and non-Gypsy performing groups playing the music of Django Reinhardt to great acclaim, all over the world. The Hot Club of San Francisco was formed as this music, and swing music in general, began to achieve wide popularity.
The concert began with a fine up-tempo piece that pleased everyone in the crowd except for rhythm guitarist Jason Vanderford who suffered a broken string (I truly felt his pain). He continued to play rhythm chords, but at the end of the first tune, he beat a dignified retreat to the stage left wings to replace the broken string. The show went on while this was going on with leader Paul “Pazzo” Mehling doing a beautiful rendition of Django’s Tears, with expert accompaniment by violinist Olivier Manchon, bassist Art Munkres, and their second rhythm guitarist, Jeff Magidson.
Frankly, I was so wrapped up in the music, I failed to keep track of what tunes were being played. The group played about six or seven tunes when they moved to the other part of the performance: Silent Surrealism. Basically, the band played selected music behind four short silent films, chosen for their artistic merit, and an interesting link back to the Gypsies. Two films by American director Charley Bowers, a contemporary of Charlie Chaplin, It’s a Bird (1930), a really funny tale about a metal eating bird, and Now You Tell One (1926), were shown. These prints were actually shown by Gypsies in Europe, who would travel from town to town, and project the films on the side of a large building to paying customers–these two films were actually digitized from prints found in the possession of European Gypsies. Both films demonstrated great innovation and comedy. They were deeply steeped in the tradition of the tall tale, and made heavy use of stop-motion animation and other state of the art (for the 1920s) special effects.
The remaining two films, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), directed by James Sibley Watson Jr., and The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912), directed by Harold Shaw, and produced by Thomas Edison, were fine miniatures in their own right. The Fall of the House of Usher used amazing special film effects, mainly done within the camera, that would make the best German directors of the time envious. The final film, Thomas Edison’s The Land Beyond the Sunset, is a touching tale of a poor young boy who is enamored of a storybook tale. The poignant and ambiguous ending leaves you with a small tear and a small smile.
It was a wonderful concert, one that left me wishing for more. Afterwards, the band members came out to the auditorium lobby to sign CDs and t-shirts they had for sale, and chatted with members of the audience. I got a chance to tell them the story of the time my uncle, the late Andy Nelson, played for Django, who was touring with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1946.
The Hot Club of San Francisco is at the very top of their game, and one of the finest Gypsy jazz groups on the scene. If they are playing near you, run, do not walk to the ticket counter. If you can’t wait, buy their CDs at all the usual online places (you probably won’t find these CDs at your neighborhood music merchant, unless your neighborhood has a Virgin Megastore, or other such music superstore–most of those are gone now) such as Amazon.com, TowerRecords.com, Barnes and Noble (I didn’t mention Borders or Virgin Megastore online stores, because they are managed by Amazon.com), or download from the iTunes Store or emusic.com. You can also purchase HCSF CDs at their own website, and you can see them performing two tunes on this YouTube link.
I wrote this review in 2008. The HCSF recently (Feb. 2012) returned to S. Florida, doing a concert at the Watson B. Duncan Theater at Palm Beach College at Lake Worth, FL. They did another wonderful variation on the silent films theme, with a few new personnel. I was also able to come up with an iPhone moment. During the intermission, a nice lady sitting next to me wondered if the director (Charlie Bowers) was the lead actor in a really funny silent film (accompanied by expertly-played gypsy jazz). Well, after taking the phone out of Airplane Mode (you do do that in a theater, don’t you?), I went to the IMDB (International Movie Database) and looked up the film. I was able to tell my seatmate that indeed, Charlie Bowers did play the lead role in the flick. Another iPhone moment! Oh, and I did remember to put my phone back into Airplane Mode before the concert resumed.
March 18, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on A Jazz Guitar Sampler on YouTube
I haven’t done one of these in a while, and I have a few days off from work, so what better time to catch up on things MyMac? Sometimes it’s just not enough to hear CDs or old, scratchy LPs to enjoy and sometimes discover for the first time outstanding practitioners of the jazzmaking art. Read more
March 18, 2012 by Larry Grinnell · Comments Off on Jimmy Raney — Bebop’s Quiet Master
Jimmy Raney, one of the great unsung heroes of bebop jazz guitar was born in Louisville, KY, in 1927. He moved to Chicago in 1946, where he played as accompanist to piano player Max Miller. He also worked with Artie Shaw and Woody Herman before moving to New York City in the late 1940s. Here, he teamed up with tenor saxophone player Stan Getz, with whom he recorded extensively from 1951 to 1952. He replaced Tal Farlow in the Red Norvo Trio in 1953, and remained with him until some time in 1954. He worked in and around New York, including working in Broadway theater pit orchestras until he returned to Louisville in the 1960s. Read more