Is the music industry bumming-out America? In "Emotional Cues in American Popular Music: Five Decades of the Top 40" published in the current issue of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, the article proposes that over the past five decades Top 40 music has become "progressively more sad-sounding and emotionally ambiguous." [Photo above: Self Portrait at 17 Years Old, Gillian Wearing, 2003]
According to the authors—psychologist E. Glenn Schellenberg and sociologist Christian von Scheve—an increasing percentage of pop songs are being written in minor keys that most listeners, young and old, associate with gloom and despair.
Hmmm. On the one hand, this is disheartening news, since music plays such a vital role in motivating listeners and stimulating feelings of happiness and optimism. Serving up supersized diets of downers risks unconsciously discouraging Americans—particularly young ones, who are likely to become more apprehensive about their future and abilities. [Photo above: Walter and I at the BIG SLIDE, Anonymous, ca. 1970]
On the other hand let's face it, the digital revolution has made the Top 40 obsolete to everyone except those in the trade. ITunes and high-speed modems upended traditional radio years ago, rendering it superfluous. Meanwhile, online CD and download stores have become electronic soda machines—dispensing music without offering much help with new and unfamiliar music short of samples. For exploration, many of us turn to YouTube.
So what's the takeaway? Blogs will only continue to replace radio jockeys and store clerks as the independent gateways to unfamiliar music. Young people may have less upbeat downloads to choose from in the "new music" sections of digital sites but they certainly have plenty of blogs today that offer up learning curves and examples of what's good and positive in almost every genre. They'll just have to do a little reading. [Polacolor ER photo above of Pia Zadora by Andy Warhol, 1983]
A special thanks to Steve Feldman for bringing the article in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts to my attention.
Bill Evans remembered. Tickets to the "Jazz in July" series of concerts at New York's 92Y are going fast—especially Time Remembered: The Music of Bill Evans, Messengers of Jazz: The Legacy of Art Blakey and Basie Roars Again. For more information about the concerts and tickets, go here.
Happy Birthday Marty Napoleon! Marty turns 91 today. Way to go! For my JazzWax interview wtih pianist Marty Napoleon and his amazing jazz-piano career, go here. [Photo by Geri Reichgut]
Mel Torme. Bret Primack, the Jazz Video Guy, found the following undocumented TV pilot for a half-hour musical sitcom developed by Mel Torme. My research shows it was filmed in early 1955, and that's Al Pellegrini on piano, possibly James Dupre on bass and Dick Shanahan on drums. Torme had been playing with them at L.A.'s Crescendo Club around this time period. I'm not sure of the guitarist—or should I say "guitarists," since a careful eye will notice that there's a switch between songs.
In this clip, some will hear Torme sing Will You Still Be Mine? and realize how gifted he was as a vocalist. Others will view the hack acting job as merely another example of the singer's egotistical, cheesy overreach. Either way, there's Technicolor film of San Francisco mid-century and a walk-on by Joe Besser. Without further ado, here's Everything Happens to Mel...
Peggy Lee. Legendary Los Angeles record promoter Dick LaPalm sent along this fabulous clip of Peggy Lee absolutely acing Baubles, Bangles and Beads. Dig the Fever intro and Lee's pacing behind and ahead of the beat. And watch that right eyebrow...
Herb Snitzer photo sale! Photographer Herb Snitzer is moving studios and closing out what's there now. Which means he's selling all photographic prints—signed!—at 30 cents on the dollar. Silver gelatin prints, 11 x 14, go for $300 + shipping while 16 x 20 prints sell for $600 + shipping. We're talking Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Lester Young, John Coltrane/Eric Dolphy, Sarah Vaughan, Zoot Sims, Thelonious Monk and many more.
Pick out what you like at Herb's site here (click on the "Gallery" tab in the left-hand column). To buy or for more information: 727-692-7646.
Lucky Thompson. New England Public Radio blogger Tom Reney posted another beaut this past week on Don Byas and Lucky Thompson. Go here to read it. And here's the fabulous video of Thompson that Tom featured...
Best song lyrics of the week. Listen carefully to the wordplay in We Belong Together, written by Matt Dennis. That's Dennis singing and playing piano, joined by vocalist Virginia Maxey, at Hollywood's Tally-Ho club in 1954...
CD discoveries of the week. Back in 2007, drummer Steve Smith and his funk-fusion band Vital Information recorded at the Mobius in Ashland, Ore. The result is on his new release Live! One Great Night (BFM), which is being supported by a reunion tour. This is a tightly wound rhythm-and-organ-driven group that delivers hip drama on each track. Smith's drumming kicks off a big beat, but there's enormous sophistication here, with intricate cymbal patterns throughout. Sample Seven and a Half and Cat Walk. The '70s updated with unconventional originals and revamped Corea-Hancock touches. Which makes sense, since Smith played with Focus and Steps Ahead The CD version comes with a DVD of the performance.
To understand Southern rock, you have to drive the Interstates down there. Big trucks, sprawling farmland and lots of neon signs. Louisiana slide guitarist Sonny Landreth's Elemental Journey (Landfall) is evocative of the entire twangy scene. The all-instrumental album also is a showcase for his unorthodox playing style. Landreth is able to play broadly for maximum effect, but it's his tight needle work in the clinches that makes this an important work. And yes, those are strings behind his rock wailing, by members of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra with arrangements by Sam Broussard. Dig Heavy Heart Rising and Reckless Beauty. Deep-fried original rocking with roots influences and long-hair touches.
Pianist Amina Figarova can play. And write. And arrange. On her new album, Twelve (In + Out), Figarova shows off all three gifts. What stands out most are the stewing, brooding moods that unfold on tracks like Another Side of the Ocean—with its complex, sighing orchestration and Ernie Hammes' flugelhorn. You also hear nature's patient influence on nearly every song, including Shut Eyes, Sea Waves and Morning Pace, my favorite. Figarova on this album has Bill Evans' heart, Thad Jones' whimsy and Les McCann's pacing.
Country singer-guitarist Mel McDaniel died last year. But back in the late 70s and throughout the '80s, while the rest of the country was embracing rap, British pop and Michael Jackson, McDaniel's Nashville story-tellin' sound was hot on the C&W charts. Now, McDaniel's hits for Capitol have been gathered and remastered on Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On (Real Gone Music). McDaniel has a wonderful, working-man sound, adorned with slide guitars, a female chorus and strings. Soul of a Honky Tonk Woman, God Made Love and Big Ole Brew are irresistible, as is virtually every track on the set. Music that's perfect for a couple of cold ones on a Friday evening.
Oddball album cover of the week. There were album cover
designers in the '50s who came up with wacky or banal concepts. And there were dull designers who had almost no imagination at all. And then there were designers like this one who had no idea what he or she was doing. So the designer threw everything but the kitchen sink into the graphic concept. We know from the cover that the organ has a beat and that Don Johnson was the king of something. But from there on, we're on our own to make sense of the other elements. My favorite is the bi-toned taffy-colored keys. The lipstick kiss print is a close second. Yours?