In case you missed the news last week, downloading music is the future. According to a New York Times article on retail data compiled by Nielsen SoundScan, digital-music purchases last year surpassed those of physical albums like CDs and vinyl records. In 2011, 50.3% of all music units sold—singles or full albums—were digital downloads, according to SoundScan. [Pictured at top: A Lute Player, Theodoor Rombouts (Flemish), 1620]
That number will only grow exponentially over the years to come, since it's hard to see how the trend would reverse itself. But can the sound quality of the music downloaded keep up with the move to click, pay and groove? Or does fidelity even matter any more?
Back in the 1970s and into the 2000s, people of my generation cared about how music sounded. Young jazz fans saved up to buy component systems—with speakers, a turntable and integrated receiver sold separately. We also sought the finest recordings. And when friends were over the house, nothing was more thrilling than putting on an album that sounded as if the musicians were in the room.
The passion for sound quality seems to have gone the way of the yellow thing that used to fit inside a 45-rpm. Today, we rip CDs or download music and care a lot less about how the stored music sounds. Maybe that's because most of us no longer share music with friends. Or perhaps we're just thrilled to be listening to music we love seconds after we crave it.
Whatever the reason, the audiophile in the download age is similar to the typewriter lover and collector of cars without power steering. My iTunes system is pretty tricked out, but I still can't figure out how best to use the equalizer or whether I'm actually hearing the music in its optimal state. Not long ago I gave up caring. It sounds good enough, and I have work to do.
Note to Apple: It's in your power to turn iTunes users into audiophiles again. Think about developing a line of inexpensive high-end gear to enhance the sound quality of downloads. Also, set up a division of staffers who can tell callers how to maximize the sound of the equalizer and other iTunes devices. The novelty of the iTunes download is just about over. On to iFidelity.
NEA Jazz Masters. Tributes to the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters honorees and related concert will kick off on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Rose Theater at New York's Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Can't make it? You can watch on your computer from anywhere in the world by going to arts.gov or jalc.org (7:30 p.m., EST). The concert also will be broadcast live on WBGO-FM in New York and on SiriusXM Satellite Radio's Real Jazz Channel XM67. A video archive of the concert will be available at arts.gov following the event.
Jimmy Owens radio. Tomorrow night (Sunday), jazz musician Bill Kirchner will host a one-hour Jazz From the Archives show on trumpeter, composer and arranger Jimmy Owens (b. 1943), who will be inducted as an NEA Jazz Master on Tuesday. Bill will be spinning Owens' recordings from 1967 to the present. You can tune in on your computer from anywhere in the world by going to WBGO.org at 11 p.m. (EDT).
Max Roach radio. WKCR will present its annual Max Roach Birthday Broadcast starting on Monday at midnight (EDT). The late drummer's music will be heard for 24 hours around the clock until Tuesday at midnight. You can listen on your computer from anywhere in the world by going to WKCR.org.
Art Pepper freebee. Laurie Pepper, Art Pepper's widow, is offering a free download of Lost Life and a streaming taste of Angel Eyes. Lost Life was recorded live at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society in 1977 and features Art Pepper (as), Smith Dobson (p), Jim Nichols (b), and Brad Billhorn (ds). Angel Eyes is from 1979 and features Pepper, Russ Freeman (p), Bob Magnusson (b) and Carl Burnett (d), and was recorded by the Japanese label Atlas in Hollywood. In addition, Laurie has started a Widow's Taste blog, which she promises to update regularly. You'll find Laurie's audio gifts and fine words here.
Ray Charles 5. Here is the fifth and final video doc from Bret Primack in support of Concord's box Ray Charles: Singular Genius, the Complete ABC Singles. This installment looks at how Charles made songs his own...
Judy Garland and Count Basie. JazzWax reader John Cooper sent along a video clip from Garland's TV show in 1963. From where I sit, the Basie band isn't playing. Customarily back then, to limit errors and avoid having music stands clutter up camera pans, guest bands recorded the music before the show and then sat on stage pretending to play while the featured singer belted out the song. The flat feet of the sax section in this clip is the giveaway. Also, a sharp eye will notice that Sonny Payne's drumming doesn't quite match the audio.
Playing or not, Basie with Garland is a fascinating combination that I didn't even know existed...
Beach Boys on YouTube. With the announcement that Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys will be reuniting for a concert tour starting in April, Rolling Stone editors assembled their top 25 favorite videos of the band over the years. Go here to view.
Robert Dickey (1939-2011). Lost in the news last week was word that singer-guitarist Robert Dickey had died on December 29. He was 72. Dickey performed as "Bobby Purify" and joined his cousin as half the 1960s soul-pop duo James and Bobby Purify. Their biggest hit was I'm You're Puppet in 1966—a slow-bounce surrender by a smitten male to the captivating power of female attraction. Here's their big hit...
Tom Reney is a contributor to New England Public Radio's jazz blog. If you're a fan of jazz from Boston and its environs, you'll love Tom's take on the history of Yankee improvisation. This week, Worcester, Mass., jazz history. Go here and bookmark.
DVD discovery of the week. Ever wonder what it's like to be Paul McCartney? In The Love We Make (Eagle Vision), a highly revealing documentary by Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter), the camera tags along with the former Beatle in the days before a mega concert he organized a month after 9/11 on behalf of New York's police and firefighters. What makes Albert's films so exceptional, this one included, is how much you learn about the subjects without talking heads yammering about them. Just the editing of this footage says it all. Shot in black and white (with the exception of concert footage), McCartney takes a high-risk walk in Manhattan, has to outspeed autograph hounds in his limo, rehearses with bandmates, struggles with his own post-9/11 blues, and is visited backstage by a wide range of celebrities who turn to mush in McCartney's presence. The list of fawning VIPs includes Billy Joel, Bill Clinton, James Taylor, Jim Carrey and many others stars. Through it all, McCartney is the only one who keeps a solid, sober vision. Also to McCartney's credit, he fully understands Albert's unblinking art, his journalistic gut, the importance of the camera, and how such unfiltered exposure can be both stark and beautiful at the same time. Two artists hard at work during a tough time.
My conversation with Albert Maysles can be found here. You'll find The Love We Make DVD at Amazon. Grab Albert and David Maysles' What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA, their documentary on the Fab Four's arrival and first tour of America in February 1964 (Now known as The Beatles: First U.S. Visit).
CD discoveries of the week. Some of the finest and most lyrical jazz-rock fusion albums are being recorded by European musicians. Case in point: Germany's Florian Ross. On his ninth album, Wheels & Wires (FWM), you hear a restrained, intensive drive that places the emphasis on group results rather than lone wolves. Ross plays the Hammond B3 with a jazz-rock feel reminiscent of Thijs van Leer from the '70s Netherlands rock band Focus. Jesse Van Ruller's rock guitar is metallic without being icy. And Martijn Vink has a tender touch on drums. This is one of the prettiest neo- fusion efforts I've heard in some time. You'll find this one at iTunes and Amazon.
Organist Brian Ho slips neatly into a soul-funk groove on Organic, a self-produced album featuring guitarist Calvin Keys, drummer Lorca Hart (son of drummer Billy Hart) and saxophonist Oscar Pangilinan. Tracks range from a soulful reading of Horace Silver's Song for My Father to a funky take on Amy Winehouse's Rehab. What makes Ho special is his obvious hard-listening to players like Don Patterson and Dr. Lonnie Smith. The group fits together gently—dig how they blend together on In a Sentimental Mood. It's the band's ability to plan ahead that makes this album special. You'll find this one at iTunes and Amazon.
Increasingly, the rock and jazz that's coming from young musicians is intensively collagist, with single songs changing themes and genres multiple times, as though someone were slowly turning an FM radio dial. I suspect that this new restless movement is to some extent influenced by the electronic multitasking and highly distractional desktop world in which young people grew up. One such artist who is breaking new ground is Salim Ghazi Saeedi, an Iranian avant-garde guitarist and composer. (Yes, it's hard to believe they let him play this stuff over there.) His fifth album, Human Encounter is divided into a "dark side" and "bright side." The music is as intense and complex as urban alleyways, and rich with Persian rhythms and brooding rock-Shostakovitch shadows. You'll find this one at iTunes and Amazon.
Oddball album cover of the week. The Fontana label out of the Netherlands was notorious for pairing innocent portraits of jazz musicians with Dutch models so that it appeared as if the musicians were ogling them. As long-time readers know, I've uncovered about 10 of them. Here's yet another. This time, our model is the one who's reaching out.