Actor Hugh Laurie, star of the hit TV show House, is quite an accomplished musician. For years he admired and emulated New Orleans pianists and their sound – Dr. John, Professor Longhair, and Allen Toussaint to name a few. He recently traveled to our great city for the first time to see and hear the sights and sounds of the Crescent City first hand, a pilgrimage that culminated in a PBS special/concert and his first album. Laurie collaborated with Vocalist Irma Thomas (The Soul Queen of New Orleans) and the aforementioned Allen Toussaint).
Here’s a brief excerpt that includes a few kind thoughts regarding New Orleans.
“I feel like this is a city that doesn’t fear death. It’s looked death in the eye. Los Angeles on the other hand – everybody’s absolutely terrified. Terrified of getting old, terrified of wrinkles, terrified of dying.
“Music fills the streets and clubs of New Orleans like nowhere else. It’s a city that sings itself to sleep at night, and sings itself up in the morning. I’ve never known a place or people who so massively exceeded my expectations. It is more than I hoped it ever could be, and I hoped for quite a lot. This has been my Jerusalem.”
I recall watching Amy Winehouse perform during the GRAMMY awards in 2008, and I watched her get showered with awards and accolades shortly thereafter (5 GRAMMYS that evening). There were 2 things that were plainly obvious to those inside and outside of the recording industry that night: 1) This is an immensely talented performer with enormous upside potential 2) Winehouse was on a dangerous path and perhaps the tip of a downward spiral, given her problems with addiction and the underlying emotional issues that all too often derail the careers of emerging artists. I couldn’t help think that there was something terribly afoul and enabling with the idea of heaping praise on a woman in such peril after she declared in song, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, no, no, no.”
We speak of the power and merits of artistic expression in this forum a great deal, but the story of Amy Winehouse is a cautionary tale. Exposing children to music and the arts provides a valuable outlet for their emotions, and is a tool in teaching them to live productive and healthy lives – but it’s just a start. It’s important to realize and acknowledge its limitations as well. I’m no expert, but I think it’s safe to say that Winehouse’s underlying issues could not be resolved by a piano, guitar, or microphone.
I’ve spoken to music therapy experts, and they’ve echoed these sentiments as well. We must be realistic and practical in espousing the power and benefits of music and music education. Those who oversell its potential provide ammunition for the skeptics and sabotage the scientific advances made by the true practitioners of music and sound therapy, arts integration, and arts education in general.
I have a certain affinity for the music of the early 80′s and the dawn of the music video era. The new wave era on balance will not be remembered for the virtuosity of the musicians nor the sophistication of the music, though it’s noteworthy to mention that The Police, Elvis Costello, Blondie, The Pretenders, and The Tubes were born of that time. Yet there was an energy and excitement that captivated the music world back then.
The disco age was dead. Punk rock had shaken the music world out of its doldrums, but had faded as brilliantly as it had emerged. More importantly, music has the ability to connect us to other times in our lives.
I’ve also had the privilege of speaking to music therapists regarding the connection between music and mood. In the simplest sense, even a non-trained musical ear knows that certain (major) chords or sounds seem “happy,” while others (minor chords) evoke sadness or are more appropriate for horror movies. Of course, their science goes well beyond those basic theories, allowing breakthroughs with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, Down Syndrome, and Autism.
That brings me to yesterday.
I was having a bad day – No particular tragedies, just a series of life’s little aggravations. Then, while strolling through the grocery store, a tune played from the speakers above. The recognizable intro to “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. It was the 1st video ever played on MTV back in the day, and the video production levels were so primitive that there was an innocence that permeated the music videos of that era. The song “Our House” by Madness followed. From what moment forward, my day and my attitude changed for the better.
What music changes your mood?
Here’s a suggestion if you’re an iPod or .mp3 player owner. Rather than playing your favorite albums and songs, set your player to randomly select songs. You’ll find great tunes you’d forgotten about – what I like to call hiden gems. Here are a quick 5 that I found on my iPod recently:
This week my cover story for local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine’s New Orleans Jazz Fest issue: Interview/profile of legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.
Thanks again to Laura Tennyson, Communications Strategist for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for arranging this interview and to Josh Danzig and the staff at Where Y’at magazine for the assignment. Photo credits: Romney Photography
(From left to right: Ed Petersen (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Harold Battiste), Harold Battiste, Irvin Mayfield, Jr., Victor Atkins (standing – recent performance paying tribute to the music of Ellis Marsalis, Jr.), and Ellis Marsalis, Jr.
I can remember my first day in a rock band like it was yesterday. I made the life-changing decision to pursue guitar lessons in the summer of 1978, just prior to my 14th birthday. From that day forward, I spent 2 years with a singular goal as my source of motivation – to reach the level of proficiency that would allow me to play in a rock and roll band. “Oh, Susanna,” “Good King Wenceslas,” and “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore” were simply a means to an end.
Then after 2 years practicing on my Acoustic guitar, the planets aligned. Cousin Steve, a drummer knew Kevin who could sing. He asked me and cousin Jay (another guitarist) if we wanted to start a band. Stonehawk was born, and the rest is history.
A couple of second-hand guitars (as Bachman-Turner Overdrive once sang), an amplifier from American Rent-All, and we were on our way. The first song we attempted was “Peace of Mind” (Video below) by the band Boston. Jay strummed the intro chords for 4 measures, and Steve and I kicked in with the drums and lead. “Now you’re feelin’ kinda low ’bout the dues you’ve been payin’…”
I can say that the “high” of making what I considered real rock music for the first time was one of the greatest memories of my adolescence. New band members and another band would come and go over the years (Mark and Darryl and Darrell and Joe, then Private Joy with Rocky and Mark). We knew that the odds were long on success, but the possibilities were endless. So when a few of my former bandmates started a comment thread of reminiscings on Facebook recently, I found myself frustrated – I wanted to find a hidden transcipt of every conversation, every joke – a diary of every band practice, every silly discussion we had about selecting a band name or a songlist – planning the details of our imaginary world tour.
“It sometimes occurs to me that the thing that scares us the most when we’re young is the unpredictability of the future. Then, the thing that scares us the most when we’re older is the predictability.”
Here’s to the unpredictability of youth, and to all of the past members (at one time or another) of Stonehawk: Band for the ’80′s.
The greatest malady facing our culture today is the fact that we seem to value fame more than talent. It’s a phenomenon that has been exacerbated by the explosion of reality TV and the likes of Snookie, Kendra and Hank, American Idol cast-off William “She Bangs” Hung, and the laundry list of dysfunctional characters parading themselves across the screen on a nightly basis. It’s particularly sad when those flashes of stardom flame out, because there’s essentially no talent or substance to fall back on.
And that brings us to the story of Meatloaf. The animated rock/pop vocalist and performer burst onto the music scene in 1977 with the blockbuster album Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums of all time worldwide. The success of that album made the thought of any follow-up attempt daunting for the overnight music sensation. From the various accounts, it seems that he suffered from a temporary loss of his ability to sing brought on by psychological effects of that newfound stardom. The encore recording attempts were plagued by additional challenges including disagreements with his collaborative partner on B.O.O.H., drug use, and financial woes.
Then the music world changed. In the late 70′s and early 80′s, punk rock shook the music world. Video music brought on the likes of Duran Duran, The Cure, The Human League, Depeche Mode, and a plethora of fashion-focused, synthesizer-based pop stars. Only a few years after achieving blockbuster success, Meatloaf was perceived by record industry executives as being as outdated as the mood ring and the pet rock, (pardon the 70′s references).
But when in doubt, he fell back on his talent. Meatloaf was one of the most dynamic live performers of the 70′s rock era with a powerful voice. He took his larger than life act on the road to small bars and clubs. Meatloaf gave the same exhaustive live performances that he once gave in sold out arenas, and word began to spread. The audiences and venues began to grow, until the late 80′s and 90′s when the recording industry once again took notice. 16 years after the release of B.O.O.H., Meatloaf released Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell which included “I’d Do Anything for Love,” a #1 hit in dozens of countries worldwide.
Venerate people committed to excellence and hard work, and society wins. Applaud shallow fame, and we get what we deserve.
Here are a couple of promotional resources for Jazz artists, followed by a lengthy list of general jazz resources for jazz musicians, students, educators, and aficionados.
Most fans of internet streaming audio are familiar with Pandora. Accujazz.com is an internet jazz radio site that allows you to segregate by instrument, styles, eras, etc. The site claims 400,000 unique listeners per month.
If you are an artist (or represent a record label) and you’d like them to play your music on the site, here is the contact information for AccuJazz:
Or you can mail your CDs and promotional material to:
400 N. Wells St., Suite 408
Chicago, IL 60654
AllAboutJazz.com is a leading website for jazz articles, CD reviews, profiles, events calendars, etc. Musicians can create profiles, events calendars, and post videos to the site. This site is one of the most popular jazz sites on the web, with over 800,000 unique visitors per month.
MENC: The National Association for Music Education is the leading arts education organizations, working to ensure that every student has access to a well-balanced, comprehensive, and high-quality program of music instruction taught by qualified teachers. MENC has a jazz education website with a number of links
Jamey Aebersold Jazz. Educational products and links.
Jazz improvisation resources Univ. of Wisconsin.
The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Numerous online resources.
The Stan Getz Library at the Berklee College of Music.
Jazz Corner. News, resources, forums.
JazzBeat.org. Links and resources.
Jazz.com. Articles, reviews, more.
Rifftides. “Doug Ramsey on jazz and other matters.” A blog.
RedHotJazz.com. Essays on jazz before 1930.
Jazz Review online magazine. Reviews and news.
And finally, credit and thanks to MusiciansWay.com for the heads up on a number of these sites. The website is the companion site to the book The Musician’s Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness by Gerald Klickstein, published by Oxford University Press.
In a previous post, I wrote about the struggle and dilemma of the artist – the fact that as you hone your skills you might perhaps begin to appeal to an increasingly narrow audience – and the idea that “simplicity” often outpaces “complexity or sophistication,” at least from a commercial standpoint. I was reminded of that idea again this evening while watching television.
I am a huge Todd Rundgren fan. Todd has been at the forefront of most every music innovation of the last 4 decades. From music video (as a creative medium rather than a commercial), to “interactive” CDs, to subscription-based fan subsidized recording, he has broken ground time and time again. Oh, and his musical legacy is phenomenal – as a producer, musician, composer, etc., etc., etc. (BTW, it’s a crime he’s not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but that’s another story).
I love his use of background vocals, the chordal complexity, the wit, edge, and outrage in his lyrics, and mostly his overall musicianship. But which Rundgren song do I hear most often? A simple ditty known as “Bang the Drum All Day.” It is played in every sports arena and most recently as the background music for a series of Carnival Cruise Line commercials.
Here’s one of Todd’s most beautiful compositions, “Pretending to Care,” a song I first heard as a cover by Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel on an album (Yes I have the vinyl version) called Short Stories with pianist Fred Hersch.