I'm convinced that Americans are at each other's throats these days because we no longer share music collectively as a culture. Yes, music has never been easier to access through downloads and online CD retailers. But music is no longer consumed collectively, which is a shame. Today, most people listen to music in solitary confinement—either while working on their laptops or through earphones. [Photo: Untitled Woman, by Hans Hasenpflug, 1940]
Compounding this shift are other unfortunate events. Chart radio—which used to tell us which songs were rising and fading in popularity—disappeared long ago. CD stores that used to bring shoppers together are now banks. And friends rarely sit around listening to music together at someone's house. I suppose that's why sites like JazzWax have become e-communities where music fans can read about albums and share views.
Don't get me wrong. Having rapid access to digital music has been revolutionary and is enormously convenient. But what's missing is the communal experience. Music has always been about entertainment, but there was a time when it also bonded us as a people.
Back in the 1950s, teens turned radio dials and stopped when they found music that appealed to them. The race, height and weight of artists or how much hair they had on their heads weren't important. If a song was exciting and spoke to listeners' anxieties and dreams, the record was bought by millions of teens. All Americans shared this experience.
In the process, radio helped to erase stereotypes, preconceived notions and assumptions listeners had about people who were different.
America once again needs to share music—for its cultural value, community spirit and lessons in toleration. I'm not advocating a return to chart radio and record stores. They aren't coming back for a range of reasons. But there is a way for music to play a bigger role in reducing this country's pitched and destructive animosity. [Photo: Helen Levitt]
You know that blues concert held last week at the White House? It's going to air on PBS on Monday. Fabulous news. Now the White House should hold these types of concerts monthly and broadcast them just as often. Expose America to top quality reggae artists, jazz performers, hip-hop artists—everyone.
The more we are exposed to musicians of all backgrounds and cultures as a national community, the more likely we are to see a tamping down of bitterness. We also will likely see increased optimism about the future and less negativity. Music does soothe the savage beast—when consumed collectively.
'One Shot Harris.' Britain's Daily Mail ran this terrific feature last week on photographer Charles "Teenie" Harris, complete with rare black-and-white jazz photos. [Pictured: Benny Carter at the Savoy Ballroom in October 1945]
Eames' schemes. Director Raymond de Felitta has a terrific post on director Billy Wilder and a contemporary home he commissioned Charles and Ray Eames to build for him in the late 1940s. Go to Movies 'Til Dawn here.
Rudy Van Gelder. Mosaic Records' Michael Cuscuna dropped a line last week in praise of my Rudy Van Gelder interview. Which reminded me of Michael's own wonderful on-camera interview with Rudy called A Work in Progress...
CD discoveries of the week. Bassist, pianist and trombonist Chris Brubeck has his musical hand in many pots. On Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center (Blue Forest), Brubeck's band, Triple Play, performs a wide range of styles. There are jazz-roots pieces (Rumblin' and Tumblin'), Fats Waller's Black and Blue and a few by Chris' dad, Dave, who joins on piano. Clarinetist Frank Brown sits in as well, much to the seeming delight of guitarist Joel Brown and harmonica player Peter Madcat Ruth. There are three Dave Brubeck Quartet numbers—Koto Song, Take Five and Blue Rondo a La Turk, all with a grits-and-gravy feel. You'll find this one at Amazon.
When I flipped over Clayton Cameron's Here's to the Messengers, I noticed that the first track was Curtis Fuller's A La Mode, from Art Blakey's album The Jazz Messengers (1961). Pretty brassy, I thought. So I popped on the CD and was surprised by how nimbly the band attacked the number. Drummer Cameron has a solid feel for the Jazz Messengers and the energy level needed to pull off a tribute album. There are two additional old school pieces—Bobby Timmons' So Tired and Bobby Watson's ETA. But the real delight are Cameron's originals, including Art Full and The End of Our Winter. A fascinating passion play. You'll find this one at Amazon.
Canadian vibraphonist Peter Appleyard may not be a household jazz name in the States, but everyone else on The Lost Sessions 1974 album is. Joining Appleyard here were jazz giants Zoot Sims, Urbie Green, Bobby Hackett, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart and Mel Lewis. At the time in 1974, Appleyard played with the Benny Goodman Sextet. After the sextet played Carnegie Hall, the band minus Goodman and drummer Grady Tate headed to Toronto to play a concert with Appleyard (Lewis was added). Afterward, the group retired to a studio. The result here is one of those magical '70s sessions that defy gravity. Dig Sims on Tangerine, Hackett on You Don't Know What Love Is and Green on But Beautiful. There may not be a lot of searing heat here, but there is plenty of gorgeous playing. You'll find this one at Amazon.
Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley met in college studying philosophy. Then they took a seven month sailing trip. When the courtship was done, the husband-and-wife punk poppers started Tennis, a band named after an inside joke about Riley's way with a racquet. Their new album Young and Old (Fat Possum) shimmers with somnambulistic sweet-tart fun. Think The Cardigans meet She & Him. You'll find this one at Amazon.
One of the oddest and hopelessly captivating albums of the year is Elvis Found Alive. The surreal premise here is that the King has always been with us and is now back in a recording studio after years in the witness protection program. Sort of a tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theory thing. Some able impersonator handles the lead vocals, and the songs—from Every Breath You Take to Elvis Is Back Rap—sound eerily authentic. The CD is only half the story. And one can only imagine what legal dragon the makers unleashed on themselves from the singer's estate. Who knows, maybe the King never left the building. There's a DVD film—you'll find the trailer here—and the album is at Amazon.
Oddball album cover of the week. Album art directors in the 1950s had funny notions of what was bouncing around in men's heads. To entrap male record buyers, women were placed in all kinds of situations. In some cases they were photographed. In other cases, illustrators were used. Mostly, women were seductive props, appearing to the male consumer as available dates. But then there were covers that went to the next level—placing women in odd situations. Here, we find one model submerged (top), while another was pictured floating over a city. Unless the first one stayed under too long and became the second one.