Waxing & musings. I'm not sure why Mary Travers was virtually ignored by much of the media last week after the announcement of her death. I'm also not sure why her significance and contribution to popular culture, pop-folk and rock wasn't fully celebrated. On television last week, Travers received only a few scant sentences by news anchors, not the retrospective segments that she deserved and that lesser pop-culture lights routinely receive.
The take-away here, I'm afraid, is that after all these years, media decision-makers remain mostly men, many of whom view the 1960s as a male-driven event with women tagging along as hangers-on. So allow me to do what Big Media's television producers and print editors neglected to do and put Mary Travers in perspective.
Travers, of course, was Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary. With her sack-like dresses and earnest face framed by straight blonde hair and bangs, Travers in 1962 emerged at a time when young female pop singers were mostly girls dressed up to look like their moms and bunched together in groups for maximum effect.
Travers was different from the rest. She looked grown up andexhibited a no-nonsense air and sensuality that helped her stand out—not as a pillow-talk-obsessed teen or a boy toy but as a woman. She also didn't look or sound like other female folkies. Listen to Travers in 1962, and you hear more than a me-too coffeehouse beatnik or angry protest singer. In Travers' voice and phrasing you hear the vocal basis for all of the strong-willed female rock headliners who would follow. The list includes Grace Slick [pictured], Cass Elliot and Stevie Nicks, as well as many of the pop-folk singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Prior to Travers, women weren't accepted by mainstream audiences fronting rock groups, and those who sought that role in the mid-1960s found her earnest voice and image an inspiration.
So, on behalf of all those who found strength and courage in Travers' voice and discovered the power of femininity, a hearty thanks and farewell. Sadly, it seems the cause Travers sang about so many years ago remains unresolved today in the newsrooms where decisions are made about who gets properly eulogized.
Here's Travers in 1963 with collaborators Peter and Paul singing If I Had a Hammer...
Sonny Rollins on Miles Davis. Video documentarian Bret Primack recently spent time interviewing Sonny Rollins about his recording sessions with trumpeter Miles Davis for Prestige Records in the 1950s. Here's Bret's interview in support of Concord Records' two-fer set...
"In the late 1970s I got to be good friends with Nan Evans, Bill Evans' last wife. I met Bill a few times but we didn't talk much until Nan held a 50th birthday party, which I went to. I almost fell over when George Russell and Warne Marsh showed up. I was 25 years old and was with my wife-to-be, who had no idea who these people were.
"Evans was very sober that night, and I had my one and only long conversation with him. We talked primarily about Dave Schildkraut, a friend of mine. Evans said about Schildkraut: “Oh absolutely, he was brilliant. As a matter of fact, I consider him to be one of only two alto players who didn’t copy Bird—the other was Lee Konitz. But Dave walked away from it all. I just can’t understand someone like that.”
John Coltrane. WKCR in New York will present its annual John Coltrane Birthday Broadcast next Wednesday, September 23d. The station will broadcast the music of Coltrane for 24 hours. You can tune in anywhere in the world here.
CD Discovery of the Week. Last week I came into possession of a sampler compilation of the newly remastered Beatles recordings. As you may have heard, Beatles' heirs finally allowed EMI to bring the Fab Four into the 21st century by restoring all of their recordings. The albums issued a week ago are as they were released in the U.K., which means more songs on albums up until the release of Sgt. Pepper's, when U.K. and U.S. versions were the same.
The sound is quite remarkable, providing sterling evidence of the group's infectious appeal. As long-time readers know, I run all my music through a Benchmark DAC-1 USB stand-alone digital-to-analog converter, which feeds into an Arcam integrated amp and comes out through B&W speakers. The converter, a little-known device, makes everything sound shockingly vivid, mostly because it exposes much more digital sonic information than the tiny converter housed in average stereo systems.
What you hear on the newly remastered Beatles tracks is way more mid-range than earlier CD releases. Everyone who came of age in the 1960s knows these songs backward and forward. The difference here is the detail. Listening to a newly remastered Beatles tune now is a revelation, akin to having corrective eye surgery and seeing everything in rich color instead of blurs.
So Come Together is a completely new song with all of the mid-range information exposed. Long story short, you hear stuff you didn't hear before. The tambourine and vocal harmonies on Day Tripper are downright scary. The opening guitar strums on Things We Said Today are even more spectacular. And the rich vocal harmonies on This Boy are so strong that you now get to hear the full Beach Boys influence.
This isn't the first time that the Beatles' material has been remastered. A few years back, EMI reissued the first eight Beatles albums released in the U.S., including both the mono and stereo versions of tracks. There also have been a few chosen cleaned-up efforts, including the compilations Yellow Submarine (1999), The Beatles 1 (2000) and Love (2006).
But this is the first time the entire U.K. catalog has been retooled, letting you hear again how incredibly eclectic and talented this big-beat vocal group was. You also hear again why this music pulled the rug out from under jazz and all pre-1964 forms of American popular music. It's easy to dismiss the Beatles as just four white wiseguys with long hair screaming and carrying on, but they were much more as evidenced here. The singing, songwriting and execution remain electrifying and transcend nostalgia.
The remastered U.K. releases are available as downloads or on CD at online retailers.
Oddball Album Cover of the Week. Here's another one of those up-in-the-air LP covers. This time, instead of instruments hanging from tree limbs, it's Paul Horn in 1957 perched on the balloon frame of a new house. To be completely honest, the photo's composition is quite interesting. I'm just not sure which came first, the album's title (House of Horn) or the photographer's concept to place Horn, Pied Piper-like, among the beams.
My guess is the photo came first, followed by the Dot Records' producer rubbing his chin and musing, "Interesting, interesting. But what does a construction site have to do with jazz? Hold on. If we call it Horn's House or House of Horn or something, I think we'll be fine."