Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Mr./Ms.: Ms. B.C.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Ms. B.C.

When you’ve been a theme-oriented blog for as long as Star Maker Machine, it is not surprising that we occasionally repeat themes, or in this case, have a theme that nudges up against an earlier one. Almost exactly two years ago, for our “Titles and Honorifics” theme, I wrote about Fela’s “Mr. Follow Follow,” which would work for this theme (although my colleagues seemed to write mostly about doctors or royals, which itself was another theme….) 

But it isn’t so much the theme that matters, but the music, and the writing, right? 

I like jazz, but I don’t know an enormous amount about it because there’s only so much time in the day, and most of my music listening is more in the rock genre. To some extent, I’ve found learning about jazz to be intimidating, but listening to the music can be amazing. I’ve written about non-fusion jazz a bunch of times, but considering my lack of deep knowledge, I’ve mostly focused on big names, unlike my rock or folk posts that often focus on lesser known artists. And I’m OK with that. 

We’ll continue in that vein today, with a song, “Ms. B.C.” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Blakey was one of the great jazz drummers, with a career that started in the big band era. In the 1950s, Blakey and pianist Horace Silver formed the Jazz Messengers, and over the next 35 years it became a primary incubator of talent, with nearly every famous jazz musician spending time learning from Blakey. In the late 1980s, there was a small jazz club, Mikell’s, on 97th and Columbus in Manhattan, just down the street from my apartment, and my wife and I and some friends went there a few times—but not nearly enough. One night, we saw one of the last, if not the last, version of the Jazz Messengers. While I don’t remember who was in the band that night, it was pretty amazing. 

“Ms. B.C.” appeared on a 1981 album, modestly titled, Album of the Year, featuring Blakey, alto sax player Bobby Watson, Billy Pierce on tenor, James Williams on piano, bassist Charles Fambrough, and a barely 20 year old Wynton Marsalis. Written by Pamela Watson, wife of Bobby, and a composer, arranger, pianist, singer and music educator, it was dedicated to Betty Carter, a singer who, like Blakey, had a reputation for discovering and nurturing young jazz talent.   It's pretty great.

And just because, here’s an intense version recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1982, with most of the same band, but with Branford Marsalis on alto and Donald Brown on piano:

Sunday, February 28, 2021


Have you ever realised how many Jones's there are in music. And I don't mean performers, I mean in the material. Is it the commonest surname in song? (Answer: Possibly. Unless Mr and Mrs Postman of Poughkeepsie beg to differ.) So why is that, do you think? Is it because of the pervasive influence of the Welsh, creeping into all our genepools? Extensive research (wikipedia) tells me that, after Smith, Jones is one of the seven commonest names in the US and, again after Smith, the second commonest name in the UK. Plus it's short, it's anonymous by virtue of its ubiquity and it rhymes with bones. (I made that bit up. I mean, sure, it does rhyme with bones, but that may not be the reason for the popularity. But consider the possibility.)

Let's agree the above is the best Jones, a song I have adored these long 18 years since it became a staple on any mixtape song selection I have ever made. A glorious riot of teenage dreams for stardom, it is a true story. Or, at any rate, Mr Jones, singer Adam Duritz's buddy Marty Jones, and he did spend a night at the New Amsterdam, getting drunk and imagining how, if they were famous, they would get the girls they could only ogle. Funny thing fate, as, courtesy the song, Mr Duritz did become a big big star. As for Marty Jones, did he ever become someone just a little more funky? Sadly, that much I don't know.

So, back to Adam Duritz, and his wanting to be Bob Dylan. The Bob Dylan, above, I'm assuming, at peak mystique. As a boy I was, obviously, familiar with all the early hit singles, and bought Greatest Hits, an early step in my obsession with recorded music, and I remember two songs standing out in particular. Firstly, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, because it was such utter shite, beyond the hey man, he said stoned schtick, and Ballad of a Thin Man, because it was just so damned cool. My views haven't changed, and the chunk out the vinyl just around track side 2 track 5 confirms that, it being the UK version, trainspotters, as well as revealing that Ballad of a Thin Man wasn't actually on the record. But you catch my drift.

When Mr Jones recovers from the shock of seeing his paramour in flagrante, he realises it was time to get him some cool. So off he shuffles, tail between his legs, possibly to the New Amsterdam, with the aim of smartening up his act. And, boy, can he shake his stuff. David Byrne could have been an archetypical Mr Jones, himself, almost the antithesis of hip, all nerdy shirts and mannerisms, yet somehow transcending all that and being just that figure he lampoons, but, hey, after all, "he is not so square". And that feisty arrangement, years before it became the thing, something to relish and wonder.

Mind you, it hadn't always been like that. Little did all those hipsters and hepcats know, but Mr Jones had a further backstory, the stuff of tragedy. Tragedy was, of course, de rigeur for the early Bee Gees, as their stage wear above demonstrates. (Nope, I'm not going to make a joke or insert a glib clip to any of their later work.) No wonder he had developed a little problem.....

That's right, too clever by half, here the neat insertion of a 'Jones' meaning a habit. OK, the lyrics aren't so subtle, but the song is OK in a non-threatening way, but it at least enable me to share my learning. So, if you have a 'jones' for something, we all know it is lifted from junkie slang for their fix, but, similarly, having a 'yen' for something comes from the exact same territory, 'yen' being a corruption of yan, meaning a craving, usually for opium. Well, I didn't know that.

So it's about time something turned good for our titular friend. So what better than a night out with the delightful Ms Winehouse. And before you smart alecs tell me she actually had quite a yen for a jones, it apparently refers to her, um, alleged friendship with the rapper Nas. (Actually me neither.) It isn't a bad song, even if it leads you into expecting something a bit more like this.

Finally, and to draw to a close the long and sorry saga of Jones esquire, and it's a rum old do, suggesting all sorts of shenanigans. I'm not too sure quite what Richard Butler, the lead Fur was thinking about here, but it seems, as fiction becomes fact and facts become fun, it refers to a real life Mr Jones. Sad, but true, my little scenario thus far is based upon little more than my fevered imagination. But Butler's Mr Jones, and possibly even Mrs Jones, refers to one David Jones. This one. I like to imagine all the Mr Jones' might also be. Try it.