Category Archives: 60's

Strange Occurrences ~~ Miles in Tokyo w/ Sam Rivers

This recording from June 1964 is a strange one. Miles had thought he had finally settled on his new quintet after discovering Herbie and Tony (after Frank Butler was nixed and Victor Feldman decided to return to LA), but then George Coleman left the band. I’m still not quite sure why George Coleman left the band, although I have heard that he is a strange (and rather cocky) fellow, so if anyone has any insight into this it would be interesting to hear.

What would be even more interesting to hear is who recommended Sam Rivers. Not to say that Sam Rivers isn’t worthy of being recommended, but it just doesn’t seem to be a good match for this band. Sure, it was 1964 and Miles had yet to really break ‘free’, Ornette Coleman was already well established and this was only 6 months or so before A Love Supreme was recorded, but Sam Rivers just seems like an aggressive push when Miles was still playing standards.

Much has been said about how Miles slowly opened up as the band members around him pushed him further and further, but we’re not quite there yet on this recording. George Coleman played very much inside the harmony, a natural progression after Coltrane left, but Rivers abandons it completely. His style is not very reminiscent of Ornette’s, which was much more blues based; I’d say Rivers holds much more in common with Dewey Redman than anyone else, and if there is any good example of this comparison it is this record.

On the slower numbers, such as “My Funny Valentine”, Rivers plays much more within the harmony, but clearly only by ear. When the tempo jumps and the energy climbs, he veers off almost completely. But alas even Herbie, Ron and Tony weren’t ready for this lack of boundaries. There certainly is a lot of excitement and energy when Rivers solos, but most of it is rhythmic rather than harmonic experimentation.

This is the only official release with Rivers on it, and if anyone knows of any bootlegs I’d be very much interested to hear about them. But even as an official release it escapes many people’s catalogs and memories; few people have it or discuss it. I would recommend it if you’re a fan of Miles OR Rivers, but mostly if you’re just interested in hearing the gradual development of Miles classic quintet from standards and changes to originals and freer forms.


On the Beatles and Counterweights

This week’s long-awaited wedding between iTunes and the Beatles may have been overhyped, but amid all the deflated and angry responses are some impressive figures: Within 24 hours of the announcement that the Beatles were finally available on iTunes, all 17 albums were in the top 50 most downloaded, and 3 were in the top 10. 5 songs were in the top 50 most downloaded as well. But what is most interesting, I think, about the top selling Beatles songs in particular is that of the top 3, one was written by George, one by Paul, and one by John.

People love to argue about who was the ‘greatest’ or ‘most important’ Beatle, but I think this helps show that what was so special about them is that they complemented each other so well. Harrison famously felt under appreciated in the band, something that helped lead to their polarization towards the end, and the posthumous vindication of “Here Comes the Sun” being the best selling Beatles song on iTunes helps put to rest the question of the magnitude of his contribution.

But because the vast majority of the Beatles catalog is under the Lennon/McCartney name, the battle between who was the more influential member continues to this day. What I think these iTunes stats help show is that without one or the other, the Beatles wouldn’t have been what they are today. Yes, Lennon and McCartney are called the greatest songwriting duo of all time and such, but most people know that by the time Revolver came around, Lennon and McCartney were for the most part writing separately. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t influence each other, however. John and Paul were each other’s perfect counterweights, they helped tweak each others writing to push it to the next level, and they prevented each other from straying too far from a common sound (yes yes I know there are exceptions, like “Revolution 9”, but lets just say Yoko tipped a balanced scale).

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how rare it is for a single artist with a single vision to reach huge success. It seems that in the vast majority of cases, widespread popular and critical acclaim of a band or artist can only come with a significant collaborator or counterweight. Jagger and Richards, John and Taupin, Ellington and Strayhorn, Becker and Fagen, Rogers and Hammerstein/Hart, Tyler and Perry, Page and Plant, Hall and Oates, Henley and Frey, Hayes and Porter, Goffin and King, Gilmour and Waters…the list goes on. And not all of these were ‘songwriting duos’, some were producers and writers, some were guitarists and singers, some were lyricists and songwriters. Some were even just stubborn and strong personalities (The Police? Talking Heads?) that forced compromise.

There are very few examples of artists who have risen to huge success without ANY counterweight whatsoever. Prince comes to mind, as does Joni Mitchell (Blue, in particular), and Bob Dylan, but even these are very idiosyncratic acquired tastes. To reach the level of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Elton John, the legendary status where even the biggest haters can’t deny your place (example: I’m not a huge Rolling Stones fan) there needs to be someone pushing or pulling you in a different direction. Only then, it seems, can a catalog worthy of such inflated hype as Tuesday’s Beatles announcement be developed.

Now, the question is whether all their genius is worth 256 kbps…


Influence ~~

Another bizarre one. I wouldn’t call this influence so much as daylight robbery, but it’s not actually that simple. Alan Silvestri is a seasoned film scorer, having been in the business for about 40 years. His score for “Forrest Gump” is one his most memorable and lauded works, even though he didn’t come away with an Oscar or a Golden Globe. But what is most interesting about the main theme from this score is that it bears an extremely strong resemblance to a very specific rendition of a classic pop song. And who recorded the rendition? An unquestionably major influence on Silvestri. A few notes:

– This specific rendition is from a 1969 album

– The song’s most famous version was sung by Richard Harris in the 1960’s.

– The melody as played by the “renditioner” is actually slightly different than how it was written, but clearly connects the original song to the theme from “Forrest Gump”.

– Very ironically (and this is a dead giveaway), Silvestri won a very prestigious award recently that bears the name of the “renditioner”.

Alan Silvestri’s:

And the 1969 rendition of ____? (performed by _____?):

Perhaps if someone brings this to light I will post the most famous recording of the original song.


Re-harmonization of the Week ~~ Body and Soul

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The Problem With John Coltrane ~~ Part 2: Technique

(See Part 1)

Few would categorize the beginning of the 21st century as a time of jazz-information overload. We all know that jazz is escaping more and more from the public eye. But the diffusion of music-related technology and the prevalence of ways to download mp3s for free has made music of eras-passed especially available to the curious listener, and this applies to jazz probably more so than any other type of music. The average music publishing company is not raking in the majority of its profits from much recorded before 1970 other than Elvis. Thus, the crackdown on mp3 blogs leaves most jazz recordings (including/especially out-of-print and rare records) readily available. Combine that with the fact that each year jazz education programs across the country are increasing their enrollments, and you’ve got a lot of this music changing hands very quickly. Being a child of the 80’s (add 30 years to this song), I was (un?)fortunate enough to have begun my serious delving into this music pretty much at the exact turn of the millennium. That being said, from the start I was already being subject to a large dosage of a jazz-information overload. This meant that unlike children of anyone prior to the internet revolution, I wasn’t necessarily inclined to start at the very beginning of any presumed listening list. The internet and CD burning allowed me to begin at one of any number of branches of a large tree, and extend individually down it until I felt the need to jump to another. The largest and most prominent branches were not necessarily the ones I needed to grab onto, and because of their over-exposure, were sometimes the ones I would consciously avoid.

One album that I avoided in such a way was John Coltrane’s Blue Train. This album is undoubtedly a ‘classic’, certainly in the ranks with Kind of Blue, Time Out, Headhunters, and all the other albums that even the most casual listeners can name off the top of their heads. And because of this album’s reputation alone, I spent at least 10 years refusing to listen to it. I was a jazz snob from day 1, and that meant that I was disinclined to associate myself with what the commoners listened to; I was above that. But in retrospect, and after all my listening inbetween, I have found that going back and finally listening to it has given it a meaning I would not have originally discovered. When I listened to John Coltrane’s solo on “Blue Train” recently, for the first time, I heard the present, the future, but certainly not 1957.

“…the barrage of notes in his extended solo helps to create the urgency of a man spilling out his inner-most feelings” – Lewis Porter, Coltrane Biographer, describing Coltrane’s tenor solo on “Blue Train”

What I heard speaks volumes about John Coltrane and his lasting legacy, but it shines very poorly on the current state of the music, and the way that most current jazz musicians approach the music. John Coltrane was an incredibly versatile artist, one whose legacy stems as much from his compositions and albums as his solos and technique. He was also a smart musician, and he knew when and where to show off certain abilities. Compositionally, Coltrane’s albums tended to occupy one of two distinct categories. On albums such as Ballads, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, and My Favorite Things, he showed off his power of interpretation. However on albums like Giant Steps, Crescent, and A Love Supreme, Coltrane sought to highlight and focus on his own compositional ideas. These were purposeful differentiations, and they were crucial to building the overall effect of Coltrane’s oeuvre. But what many don’t understand is that Coltrane made very similar decisions regarding his technical output.

The Quintessential’s Quintessential:

An inherent characteristic of Coltrane’s flurrying technique is that it is distracting. That does not need to be a negative property, but unfortunately the legacy that Coltrane sowed through his masterful ability can indeed be distracting in the worst way. Players today have become blinded by technique, and more often than not this preoccupation comes at the expense of good music.

The true technicians of early jazz were mainly self-taught and most, upon reaching a desired level of ability, plateaued. Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, among others, maintained the same general technical ability throughout their entire careers. Charlie Parker, in particular, still holds a special place today as a remarkable technician, but it should be noted that this technique emerged very early on in his career and went virtually unchanged until his early death.

The next generation of artists that began to emerge from the be-bop era had a greater amount of technical development to undergo because of the natural virtuosic abilities of artists like Parker and Armstrong. However, upon reaching greater fame and credibility, artists such as Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter (who, contrary to what many believe, were remarkable technicians at an early age) scaled back their technical output in favor of developing other aspects of their music.

John Coltrane represents a breed of musician unlike the two previously mentioned, and one that today dominates the scene. Coltrane was a restless spirit, and one content only on reaching further into the unknown. In terms of his technical output, this meant moving from the depths of harmonic exploration to the depths of sonic exploration.

Of course, this kind of constant development is important for the music, but only the most masterful musicians are tastefully capable of balancing endless technical development with musicality. Today, unfortunately, players, listeners and critics alike are much too concerned with technical ability than quality output, and it is because of the success and misunderstanding of Coltrane’s restlessness that this has occurred.

“Ohhhh, KILLIN!”

A prime example of Coltrane’s legacy as a technician stands in his song “Giant Steps.” To this day, “Giant Steps” has a reputation of being one of the most difficult jazz standards to play, but its reputation is still somewhat misunderstood. In reality, the composition is remarkably simple: there are only nine chords in the entire song, V-I’s or ii-V-I’s in three keys that constantly repeat in an ascending or descending augmented pattern. And Coltrane’s solo, while stunning, is quite repetitive (for example, in the master take, on the ii-V-I in F, Coltrane plays various permutations of the “5-6-7-8 of ii, 6-5-3-2 of V, 5 of I” pattern at least 10 times in his two-and-a-half minute solo). But performing the song is still considered a bellwether of technical ability, and the song has thus been overplayed and overstudied.

Overplayed not just on computers and CD players (and record players?) either. If you want to torture yourself by sitting long enough at a jam session, you’ll hear it called. And it will be called most likely by someone with something to prove. And it will be counted off as fast as the rhythm section is willing to play it. And it will last for what seems like an eternity. And why not? To the musicians at a time like this, there is no audience, so why not play for as long as possible? In an interview with Ted Panken, a veteran of the jam-session scene (and someone who was able to emerge unscathed), Roy Hargrove, succinctly summarized the problem Coltrane has created at jam sessions, and pleaded for humility:

“It’s very needed. Excuse me, but a lot of times, especially now, when I got to the jam sessions, people are so ego! I’ll give you an example. We’ll play an F-blues, and everybody with an instrument will get up and play, and it goes on for three hours. Each musician will play 100 choruses. There’s no humility there…everybody can’t be John Coltrane!”

Largely due to Coltrane’s legacy as a technical powerhouse, many modern musicians neglect to appreciate his moments of restraint. A saxophonist friend once told me that “everybody knew” Coltrane’s worst solo was on Miles Davis’ recording of “You’re My Everything” from the album Relaxin’. “Why?” I asked. “Listen to how much space is in-between his phrases. He’s lost, he has no idea what he’s doing.”  This is pure ignorance. Too many people believe that technical ability cannot be reflected in restraint. And what if, perhaps, it can’t? Why does it always have to be shown off? For too many young musicians, the first thing they hear is ability, and the last thing they hear is music. I’m sure that if Coltrane had known he would have had such an effect on future generations, he would have taken some time out from blazing forward to pause a moment, breathe, and step back. I’m sure, because he cared that much about the music.


Re-harmonization of the Week ~~ Oleo…

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It Never Entered My Mind…