Waxing & musings. If you want to know where the music business is heading, you simply have to go online. It's hardly news that revenue from downloads is rising as CD sales decline. Or that the ability to download individual tracks versus entire albums is shredding the music industry's profitability. Now a new trend is emerging called the "albumsite." Whether or not the concept catches on or makes money going forward is anyone's guess. But it's a rather intriguing trend just the same.
Unsure what I'm talking about? Last week Tunc Ak, a self-described musician designer in Los Angeles, reached out to me and hipped me to the concept. Mind you, Tunc's albumsite isn't jazz. It features tracks of drum-machine beats that one can download for free and play for a wide range of purposes—from gym workouts to alarm clock wake-ups. More important is the concept and what it means going forward.
I asked Tunc to explain:
"I created the albumsite to finally release my work and to do it independently by making the music, designing the art
and distributing it by myself. And I did it to prove and establish that this is the new free format and packaging of the modern music album.
"The goal is for everyone who has a computer to listen to it. I believe there is an audience for anything, and I want it out there for people to know it exists and have the lovers find it. My ultimate goal, is of course to make a living with it. To gain value through popularity, making it a hit. And to attract sponsors and investment in developing the project into a venue."
In the jazz cyberworld, it's not a stretch to imagine a saxophonist in New York, for example, laying down eight tracks of an album and then asking global musicians to upload, say, drums, bass, piano and trumpet. Then the saxophonist can audition what he or she has been sent before committing it to the albumsite. When the album is done, the saxophonist can promote it (along with the other musicians), and visitors can listen or download the tracks for free or a fee (provided our good New York reedman shares the wealth with his fellow e-bandmates). [Pictured: Internal and External Values by Terry Winters, 1998]
What this means is goodbye middleman—the record company. Which actually may not be a good thing as far as I'm concerned. There's something to be said for record companies and producers—particularly when quality control, packaging, sequencing and marketing are concerned. This is especially true of jazz recordings and historical reissues and box sets.
But like blogging for writers, the albumsite does give musicians who can't gain access to record companies and the marketplace a shot to get their art out there and consumed. But ultimately, the music has to sound good and excite, beyond the concept's initial novelty. And record companies can certainly compete in the albumsite space as well. Record companies, are you listening?
Henry Mancini. As long-time readers know, I adore Henry Mancini's music (go here). So I was overjoyed when I came across The Thorn Birds: A Case History of a Film Score by Henry Mancini and Los Angeles composer and arranger Roy Phillippe. In the book (2004), Mancini reflects on each phase of the film's score, elaborating on what he did step-by-step, and why. A fascinating oral history that's illustrated with page after page of sheet music and notes. Best of all, there's a CD of the soundtrack that includes the engineer calling out each song and takes. You'll find the book here.
Bonnie Bowden. Singer Bonnie Bowden reached out to me last week to talk about her recent work with Dave Pell and Med Flory, including a concert in San Jose yesterday. Bonnie's voice is a throwback to the 1950s. Among her recent recordings produced by Dave Pell is one called Yesterdays. It's different but addictive just the same. The CD features Bonnie singing along with Music Minus One versions of classic 1950s arrangements. The charts include the ones written for Margaret Whiting's Moonlight in Vermont, Nat King Cole's When Your Lover has Gone and Sarah Vaughan's Lullaby of Birdland. Learn more about Bonnie and sample tracks here.
Steve Kuhn on the air. Jazz musician and DJ Bill Kirchner will feature the music that pianist Steve Kuhn [pictured] recorded for ECM Records tonight on New York's WBGO-FM. Kuhn's collaborators on these recordings include composer-arrangers Gary McFarland and Carlos Franzetti, vocalist Sheila Jordan, reed players Joe Lovano and Steve Slagle, bassists Ron Carter, David Finck and Harvie S, and drummers Joey Baron, Marty Morell, Bob Moses, and Michael Smith. The show airs at 11 p.m. (EDT), and you can listen live anywhere in the world here.
CD discovery of the week. Vocalist Tessa Souter's Nights of Key Largo was recorded in New York and released late last year on the Japanese Venus label. I only caught up with the CD this past week. If you're unfamiliar with Tessa, she has a gorgeous vibrato and a timbre that's warm and sweet. And she's one of the few vocalists around today who knows how to distill a standard, pop tune or rock ballad into a tasteful jazz rendition.
Tessa started out as a San Francisco journalist in 1992, writing for British Vogue and Elle and London's The Guardian and The Times. After moving to New York in 1996, she started sitting in at jazz clubs and soon won a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music in 1998. After studying with vocalese legend Mark Murphy, Tessa performed with Murphy, Joe La Barbera, Marvin Sewell, Larry Koonse, Bobby Sanabria and jazz tuba legend Howard Johnson. [Photo of Tessa by Richard Conde]
Joining her on Nights of Key Largo are Joel Frahm (saxophones), Kenny Werner (piano), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Jay Leonhart (bass) and Billy Drummond (drums). The song selection is an interesting mix and includes the title sultry track by Benny Carter as well as The Island, Close Enough for Love, You Only Live Twice, I'm Glad There Is You, The Look of Love, and others. I personally can't stand Van Morrison's Moondance. Yet here, Tessa pulls it back a bit and creates an entirely different song, breathing new life into it. There's also fine work here by all of her sidemen, particularly Frahm, Werner and Drummond.
Nights of Key Largo is Tessa's second of three albums and is available here. It came out after Listen Love (a 2004 release that can be found at iTunes and on CD here) and just prior to her newest release Obsession (2009), which I mentioned in my Bill Evans: Six Vocal Versions post. Obsession (Motema Music) can be found here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Arranged by Benny Golson, this Art Farmer Tentet album was recorded for United Artists in 1959. Interestingly, United Artists was also the company that would distribute James Bond's Goldfinger five years later in 1964. Brass ain't gold, but I hope album designer Stephen Haas and photographer Hugh Bell were rewarded for originating the smelted covergirl concept.
Speaking of Bond. Somehow or other I wound up on YouTube Friday evening. Don't ask. At any rate, I dug up things I hadn't seen or heard in a while. Here are two of my absolute favorite James Bond intros to Dr. No and Thunderball (both by the great title designer Maurice Binder). Give the Thunderball clip a second to get in gear—and watch it in HD, full screen...