Waxing & musings. Strangely, Michael Jackson's passing last week didn't come as too much of a shocker. When I read the terrible news on my Blackberry, the alert seemed more like just another surreal stunt in the pop star's life rather than a tragic final event. Since Thriller in 1983, Jackson's long series of perilous life choices only fueled tabloid newspapers and TV shows, and he seemed to relish the high-stakes cat and mouse game he played with the media. Puzzlingly, Jackson never learned from his mistakes. He either lacked the ability to think consequentially or he didn't care—which was most likely the case.
Jackson also didn't need encouragement from the paparazzi. The pop star underwent serial cosmetic surgeries in an effort to look like Supreme Diana Ross, wore surgical masks, dressed in Sergeant Pepper outfits, held puzzling sleep-overs with children whose parents waited in the wings with attorneys, and blew his wad on an adolescent fantasy lifestyle that even his royalties couldn't support. Jackson wore his self-loathing on his satin sleeve.
But whatever you thought of Jackson's lifestyle choices, the guy could swing a pop tune. Just listen to his Number Ones compilation. Jackson knew when to come in and out of a lyric, and how to hang behind the beat or rush ahead of it. He knew how to hold the listener. He also knew what a great pop arrangement needed to sound like and how to kick it up. The passion was always there with Jackson, and his breathless delivery touched fans worldwide. Take Rock With You. Or Break of Dawn. Or Bad, with Jimmy Smith's organ solo. Or one of my favorites, the little-known Show You the Way to Go.
I remember hitchhiking in the wilds of Wales in late 1979. In the middle of nowhere. In the late afternoon. In the rain. Seeking temporary shelter in a pub, I took a seat near the fireplace and ordered a pint. Across the room, a farmer fed coins into a small jukebox and then punched in his choice. What came up was Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough. Which was strange given how far I was from anything resembling a cosmopolitan community. Proving early on that Jackson's energy and enthusiasm were universal.
But as the years wore on, Jackson ran through much of the good will he had built up. Toward the end, the star had become a punchline, a sad, frail hermit managed by yes-men whose only mission was to prop him up in the money-making saddle. The too-dormant singer surely must have been dreading his upcoming concert tour. But given the reported state of his finances, he likely had little choice.
Based on the wall-to-wall TV coverage over the weekend, Jackson is now being remembered as an accidental pop megastar, a tragic waif blessed by too much talent and cursed by way too little adult supervision. Jackson's dangerous addiction to recklessness, play dates with minors, and his Disney-Goth persona all seem to be melting away, replaced in our minds by the kid in the fedora and flood pants moonwalking to Billie Jean.
Which made me wonder why, as a culture, we love and forgive our dead superstars (and jazz legends) more than those who are still living among us. That may be the strangest thing of all.
Basie and Coltrane. During my interview series with Bob Brookmeyer last week, Bob talked briefly about a 1959 concert in which he played with John Coltrane, Count Basie, Pepper Adams and Art Taylor. Photographer Hank O'Neal sent along this e-mail about that concert:
"In the spring of 1959 I saw a concert at New York's Town Hall that featured Bob Brookmeyer, along with the Thelonious Monk Quartet minus Monk. Basie was the sub. It's the one Bob described in your interview.
"I seem to recall that Monk was to be the pianist (maybe some kind of reunion with Coltrane?). Art Taylor was Monk's drummer of choice in those years. Monk bailed for whatever reason, and Basie was on piano. I can still see Coltrane standing at the head of the piano, swinging like mad with Basie comping.
"The three guys facing them were Pepper Adams, Bob Brookmeyer and Zoot Sims. There can't be too many instances of Basie and Coltrane together. Wish I'd saved my ticket stub or a program. I have always looked for anything that could document the concert because a lot of people don't believe it ever happened. Now you have provided an eyewitness. Hooray for JazzWax."
CD Discoveries of the Week. I usually don't care much for Thelonious Monk tributes, but Bobby Broom Plays for Monk is an exception. Rather than try to mimic Monk's falling upstairs playing technique, Broom applies his smooth guitar to the barbed compositions without compromising Monk's genius. The results are fresh and surprisingly warm. You'll find the CD here.
Trumpeter Donald Malloy has just released his first CD, Spirituality. All of the album's compositions were written by Malloy, and each has a strong African feel. He's joined by Tia Fuller on alto saxophone, soprano saxophone and flute. Malloy's playing here is introspective and fiery, retaining the music's soul and purpose. You'll find the CD here.
Sharel Cassity's Just for You shows off this alto saxophonist's chops and ear for history. I don't know many saxophonists in their right mind who would take on Lennie Tristano's Wow, but Cassity does, and it's a winner. Cassity takes the tune at mid-tempo and is joined by Michael Dease on trombone, Tom Barber on trumpet and Pete Rearson-Anderson on tenor saxophone. Her Cherokee also is ambitious. You'll find the CD here.
Oddball Album Cover of the Week: Looks like a great album based on the personnel. But like many albums from the 1950s, the deliberate way in which the producers used half-clad women to sell LPs never ceases to amaze.