Saturday, January 1, 2011

In Memoriam: Alex Chilton

The Box Tops: The Letter


Big Star: I'm In Love With A Girl


Alex Chilton: Baron of Love Pt. 2


Chameleonesque singer-songwriter Alex Chilton, a legend of the Memphis music scene, died in March on the cusp of a comeback, perhaps the fifth or sixth such comeback in his long career - more if we include such personal notes as his escape from Hurricane Katrina, and his scheduled high-buzz set with a resurrected group performing under the name of the grungy proto-altrockers Big Star at SXSW in 2010, which went on as a tribute without him just days after his passing [and which included was also originally intended to include Big Star cofounder Andy Hummel, who in a curious synchronicity of events, would pass a few months later].

But though his post-seventies turn to post-modern jazz tinged with Memphis soul never brought him the same recognition as his earlier work, Chilton, who at sixteen had made a splash with The Box Tops - the first recording artists to have a Memphis recorded, nationwide, number one hit - and then in his early twenties resurged at the helm of Big Star, is still recognized widely for his role in the evolution of modern Rock music; both bands featured prominently in the annals and archives of both the Stax museum and the Smithsonian museum of Rock and Blues, which I just came back from visiting down in Memphis, and their song On The Street found fitting placement as the theme song for That 70's Show. I shared my own tribute over at Cover Lay Down in the days after his death, but fittingly, today's post also marks the sixth time we've visited him here at Star Maker Machine since our inception. Surely, it won't be the last, either.

In Memoriam: Kate McGarrigle

Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Tell My Sister


Happy new year to all of our readers. Before we leave 2010 behind completely, let me say that this week of tributes would not be complete for me without Kate McGarrigle. After the beauty of her music, Kate McGarrigle makes me think of family. That may seem odd, given the fact that her marriage to Loudon Wainwright III famously ended badly. But McGarrigle was at the center of a series of annual Christmas concerts which included her children, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, her ex-husband, and various members of the Roche clan, who were included because of Loudon Wainwright’s later relationship with Suzzy Roche. So even if the structure was far from conventional, this all tells me that family was important to Kate McGarrigle. And the bond between her and her sister Anna was clearly very strong. So, I’m not sure which sister wrote Tell My Sister, but it seemed appropriate. The line in the song, “I’m coming home”, perhaps takes on a new meaning in this context, but that seems appropriate as well.

This is not, perhaps, the usual kind of writing for a tribute post. Other people have written some tributes to Kate McGarrigle that are far more beautiful than anything I could do. To conclude, I would like to refer you to one those, here.

Friday, December 31, 2010

In Memoriam: Abbey Lincoln

Abbey Lincoln: Talking to the Sun


Give a listen to Talking to the Sun. The song opens with just the drums. That’s just one drummer, but he’s playing an intricate pattern that sounds like it came from Africa. The band joins in, and the music is definitely jazz, but that African feel is still there. Abbey Lincoln starts to sing. Her voice sounds like a second horn, (is there such a thing as an alto trumpet?). She perfectly captures the emotion of the lyric, and her words are clear. After stating the theme, she takes a solo. She skats at the end of the song, but, before that, she is singing the words over, but working magic on the music. The emotion of the piece is only enhanced.

The description above, for me, perfectly captures the artistry of Abbey Lincoln. The connection to Africa did not show up in all of her work, but it was important to her. During the 1960s, she would become active in the Civil Rights Movement. At the time, she also pursued an acting career, and there was hardly any music. In the 70s, even the acting stopped. Her marriage to Max Roach had ended, and she withdrew from the spotlight. When she returned in the 80s, however, she more than proved that she still had it. She focused on the music from then on. Talking to the Sun is from 1984. Lincoln was never afraid to experiment with a wide variety of musical settings, but she never forgot that it must always be about the song. In her early career, from 1956 to the early 60s, she sang other people’s songs. But the later part of her career also proved that she was a fine songwriter as well. Lincoln is gone now, but thirty-five years of music remain. I suspect that jazz singers will be listening to, and learning from, that body of work for a long time to come.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Memorium: Hank Jones, Herb Ellis, and James Moody

memorium jazz
Hank Jones – Herb Ellis – James Moody

Hank Jones: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes


Herb Ellis: Sweet Georgia Brown


James Moody: Moody's Mood For Love


The world lost three major American jazz legends in 2010. Hank Jones was 91 at his death, Herb Ellis, 88, and James Moody, 85. All three began their long careers just after World War II in the mid 40's, and all three continued playing and recording well into the 90's and later—Moody recorded a new CD just this year.

Hank Jones, brother of equally famous and talented Thad and Elvin, was a pianist who worked mainly in New York City. Among many of the artists he recorded with are Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Goodman, and Lester Young. The song featured here is a solo effort on a CD by his intermittent group, the Great Jazz Trio, from their 2004 album, Someday My Prince Will Come.

Herb Ellis, guitarist, was another post-WWII musician who toured and recorded with Ella, as well as Jimmy Dorsey, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Byrd, but he was best known as a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio in the 50's. This version of Sweet Georgia Brown is from the 1980 self-titled album of the Monty Alexander (piano), Ray Brown (bass), and Herb Ellis Trio.

James Moody was a saxophonist best known for his 1949 hit song, Moody's Mood For Love, an improvisation of I'm in the Mood for Love. Moody was a long-time collaborator of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie but also played with Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, and Eddie Jefferson. I'm spotlighting his hit, although I'm not sure if this was the 1949 version or (more likely) a later remake.

Monday, December 27, 2010

In Memoriam: Robbie Jansen & Tony Schilder

Tony Schilder Trio feat. Robbie Jansen: Montreal

(Album out of print)

The jazz scene of Cape Town, South Africa, is quite unique. A port city, it has consolidated the sounds of the Malays who once were imported as slaves by the Dutch with the jazz and soul music collected at the docks from visiting American sailors, the harmonies of Africa with the need to move impelled by the music from Brazil and Cuba, riding the influences of Stan Getz, Miles Davis and Hugh Masekela — and, above all, because it is jazz, the riffing with the collaegues on the scene. It is a scene like no other, a genuinely multicultural melting pot in which the artist is equally at home producing experimental jazz or fusion as he (usually it is a man) is with getting people to dance. Cape jazz has even produced its own form of dance, called the Jazz, which borrows from the Latin types of ballroom dancing. Though never really salacious, it can be very sexy indeed.

Few exponents of Cape jazz sought their fortunes outside their country, or even country. The few who did with success include Jonathan Butler and Abdullah Ibrahim (who before his conversion to Islam was known as Dollar Brand; the nickname acquired because he always had a stash of US currency to buy jazz LPs from sailors). Many of the jazz men who stayed behind became local legends; most have died in undeserved poverty, true martyrs for their art.

The ultimate Cape Town jazz song is Dollar Brand’s Mannenberg, named after the ghetto Manenberg, which is populated by the mixed-race people classified under apartheid as “coloured”, dumped there because their previous homes were located in areas declared “white”. Brand’s multi-racial backing band included the saxophonist and singer Robbie Jansen, a man of prodigious talent and bad habits. Like most of his peers a political activist, Jansen was known to be a generous man who encouraged young talent.

His recorded output was scant; a couple of LPs under his name, a few more on which he appeared (such as those by Pacific Express, Butler’s old band, and briefly Juluka). Above all, Jansen was a live performer. And as such, at a nightclub in ca. 1988, he delivered the greatest interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On I’ve heard (he later recorded the song; alas, I’ve not heard it).

Jansen died on July 7 at 60. Less than half a year later, on December 8, his frequent jazz collaborator and friend Tony Schilder died at 73, after a long illness.

Tony Schilder was known as the gentleman of jazz; always impeccably dressed with polite manners, he played the keyboard like few could. Dollar Brand wrote his jazz symphony about Manenberg, but Schilder made the place his trademark through his co-ownership of and residency in the 1980s at the stylish nightclub Montreal, incongruously located in the rough township. The club’s theme song, a lovely slice of music (with, it must be said, pedestrian lyrics), was recorded twice: in 1985 with Robbie Jansen on vocals (it is that version featured here) and in the 1990s with Jansen and Butler sharing the microphone.

Like Jansen, Schilder built a reputation as a live act. As far as I know, he recorded only three albums, the first of which, titled Introducing Tony Schilder (1985), was produced by Jonathan Butler, who also sang and played guitar on it (and had a song, JB's Back In Town, named after him). That set, with great vocal tracks and Latin-flavoured instrumentals, remains one of my all-time favourite jazz albums – objectively so, even if that preference may be clouded by the nostalgia for my younger, more handsome nightclubbing days...

After Jansen died, a trade unionist proposed that the city of Cape Town name a street after him. I believe a whole district should be named after the greats of the Cape Jazz scene.

Read an excellent post on Schilder at this outstanding blog.

In Memoriam: Lhasa de Sela

Lhasa de Sela: Anywhere on This Road


Lhasa de Sela, Lhasa to her fans, was born in Mexico and eventually settled in Montreal. She had, as they say, “big ears”; she heard everything as she traveled throughout North America and Europe, and it all became part of her sound. So one song might show the influence of gypsy music, another might sound jazzy, still another might suggest her Mexican roots, and all on the same album. She sang in Spanish, English, and French, and sounded comfortable in all three languages. The constants that made her albums work as coherent packages were the passion of her vocals and her musical imagination. Perhaps she would have made more albums if she had known how little time she had, but, as it stands, only three albums, made from 1997 to 2009, are her legacy. Lhasa completed her last album while battling her illness. She succumbed to breast cancer on New Year’s Day, 2010. She was 37.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In Memoriam: Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie Dio & The Prophets: Love Pains


Elf: Happy


Elf: Good Time Music


Roger Glover: Love Is All (feat. Ronnie James Dio)


Before he replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the frontman of Black Sabbath in 1979 and formed his own classic band Dio in 1982 and became the godfather of heavy metal, Ronnie James Dio had decidedly softer music on his repertoir. Being part metalhead, part softy, I find nearly everything the man recorded in his 53 year career irresistable.

Everything from the doo wop and r'n'b of Ronnie Dio & The Prophets (Love Pains is the b-side from their 1962 debut single), to the rockin' and rollin' swagger of Elf, from his guest spot on Roger Glover's wonderfully whimsical and silly The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast (based on the children's book of the same name) to heavy metal thunder of Holy Diver. Everything.

But on May 16th stomach cancer took one of the most powerful voices the world has heard. How pipes that huge could fit in a body so tiny remains a mystery.