Category Archives: Music History

New Orleans Blues in the Night

Copyright Michael Cortello Photography

It is said that truly great musicians give the same inspired performance whether the audience numbers 5 or 5,000. I was reminded of that fact when we traveled down to the French Quarter last Saturday night to let my son Michael capture a few late night photos. On the “Moonwalk” that borders the Mississippi River, we came across this New Orleans Street Musician with nothing but a harmonica, a microphone, and a small amplifier. We encountered him, alternatively blowing his instrument and wailing bluesy lines for a handful of late night strollers around 11:00 p.m.

For more great New Orleans photos, visit Michael Cortello Photography .

Free download: My song “City Soldier” (Ms. Romy Kaye on vocals) that is a tribute to the street performers of New Orleans.

Hidden Music Gems from the iPod

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:

All That I Need is Love by Melody Gardot

Express by Marilyn Harris

Eternal Love by Utopia

Skylark by Kim Prevost and Bill Solley

Esplanade by Tim Laughlin and Hank Mackie

Phoebe Snow (1950 -2011)

Phoebe Snow was one of the most distinctive and versatile vocalists of the last half century. Though she is best known for the hit song “Poetry Man,” her career was so much more diverse, spanning decades and crossing genres. She was most revered by fellow musicians, and the artists with whom she has worked over the last 40 years reads like a “Who’s Who” of the recording industry.

Here’s Phoebe performing her signature song:

The Continuum of Jazz: Article/Profile of Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield, Jr.

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.

Read “The Continuum of Jazz” from Where Y’at magazine

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.

My profile of Irvin Mayfield, A Golden Trumpet and a Midas Touch (2010)
My profile of Ellis Marsalis Encouragement, Support, & Exposure: The Lessons of Ellis Marsalis, Jr. (2007)

Peace of Mind, Boston, Stonehawk, and a Lifetime of Memories

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. 

Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield: Interview/Article Preview

If those of you living outside of New Orleans want to know why natives like me love it here, one reason is the plethora of and accessibility to great artists. The artistic ability per square mile in this city is astounding. I wrote an article that will appear in local entertainment publication Where Y’at magazine during New Orleans Jazz Fest in late April/Early May, and had a chance to interview legendary jazz musicians/educators Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and Irvin Mayfield.

I never get tired of speaking to great musicians and artists, particularly about the creative process and the courageous nature of developing your artistic gift in the face of daunting challenges. Here’s an excerpt from my interview – a quote from Irvin Mayfield, Artistic Director of the GRAMMY Award-winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and of the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans, regarding his esteemed predecessors in jazz and music education:

“Nobody starts to play basketball because they had a great coach. They play basketball because they saw Michael Jordan. As much as I have respect for all of the classroom time that these gentlemen (Marsalis and Battiste) have spent, I would never have been interested in them if they couldn’t play. We call these guys educators, but was Louis Armstrong any less of an educator? Was Cannonball Adderley any less of an educator? Was Miles Davis?”

– Irvin Mayfield

(Pictured left to right, Myself, Irvin Mayfield, and Ellis Marsalis)

My profile of Irvin Mayfield, A Golden Trumpet and a Midas Touch (2010)
My profile of Ellis Marsalis Encouragement, Support, & Exposure: The Lessons of Ellis Marsalis, Jr. (2007)

Thanks 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.

Sleeveface: Fun with Vinyl Album Covers

Today’s post is just for fun. Thanks to my friend Teri for giving me a heads up on this website that features pictures of people superimposing album covers over themselves to create fun faux pics. There’s probably more appeal in this to those of us who actually remember vinyl album covers.

When I interviewed Joe Santa Maria for my book Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music, he reflected on the joy of vinyl albums as a boy:

“I can still remember that Christmas my mother got me the best gift in the world, The White Album,” he said. “The double records and the posters and the pictures. I can still remember coming home from Christmas. I couldn’t play the record. I got it, but then I couldn’t play it [until he came home later that day]. I had to walk around with it all day.”

He added, “Coming home Christmas night and crawling into bed and just looking at The White Album! Like ‘I’ve got The White Album!’ Looking at the lyrics and then just playing it really soft so no one could hear it. And to this day, it’s still my favorite album of all time.”

“That is missing from music now,” he said in reference to the purchase of tangible vinyl as opposed to digital downloads. “I can’t wait to see what the cover looks like, and I can’t wait to flip it over and stare at it while I’m listening to it. The bands don’t have that kind of lure to them. You had no money, so it was a big deal that you bought it. It was so much fun.”

Link to the website

Rock Vocalist “Meatloaf” and the Lesson of Fame vs. Talent

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.

Resources and Links for Jazz Artists and PR Personnel, Fans, Students, and Educators

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. 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:
Lucas Gillan
Brand Director

Or you can mail your CDs and promotional material to:
c/o AccuRadio
400 N. Wells St., Suite 408
Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 1-312-527-3879 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.

Here’s the link to the musician profile start page at AAJ

You might even find a few articles there contributed by a certain music education advocacy author and blogger

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. Links and resources. Articles, reviews, more.

Rifftides. “Doug Ramsey on jazz and other matters.” A blog. Essays on jazz before 1930.

Jazz Review online magazine. Reviews and news.

And finally, credit and thanks to 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.

Artistry and Success, Part 2: Todd Rundgren

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.