Jazz and misc.
By John Frederick Moore
The radio was always on during the drive to and from my grandmother’s house on Bergen Street. For some reason, I mostly remember music playing during the return trip. Down Washington Ave., across Empire Blvd. to Nostrand Ave., which took us the rest of the way home.
I must have been around three or four when I started remembering the songs. FM radio in those days was much more diverse. Stevie Wonder was ubiquitous, as was Elton John (my mother once explained to my brother and I that although the song is indeed called “The Bitch Is Back,” we were not allowed to sing along to the chorus). “Let Him In” was one of my favorites back then, although I wasn’t aware that this was a Paul McCartney song until I was in college. Ditto for Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” (still a favorite). “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” is distinctly tied to those drives. I remember that when I asked who sang this song, my mother added that Jim Croce had recently died in a plane crash (parents at that time didn’t hide such harsh facts from their four-year-old kids). I’m pretty sure we were on Washington Ave., parallel to the Botanic Garden. I must have heard music elsewhere during these drives, but that particular stretch always comes to mind when I think of the songs I heard back then.
My father did all the driving; mom didn’t get her license for another couple of years. I don’t remember there being a lot of changing the dial. And why should he, with such diversity of material. Though brief—no more than 10 minutes—these rides to and from my grandmother’s house seemed like an epic journey to my young consciousness. I passed the time by memorizing the each and every street we passed on the three-mile trip home (a neat trick that impressed one of the older boys on my grandmother’s block).
But it was the music that stuck with me most. To me, there was no difference between “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Got to Give it Up,” or “Tell Me Something Good” and “Long Train Running.” It was in high school that I was encouraged to divide my allegiances. White music or black music — you had to make a choice. I didn’t see any conflict in enjoying both Led Zeppelin and the Sugarhill Gang, but that’s not how things went in the ’80s. No one could figure out how someone could like Prince and Pink Floyd. At least not in Brooklyn.
It didn’t get much better in college. My tastes remained too black and too white, depending who you asked. (The heat you take from friends is difficult to endure. Your father accusing you of going off to college and “turning white” because you happened to like a particular Carly Simon record is unbearable.)
Possessing such catholic tastes is a fact of life for today’s generation. In high school, you either liked Run-DMC (because you were black) or Rush (because you were white). Today, people unapologetically listen to Jay-Z and Green Day. Hell, Jay-Z performs with Green Day (though, as I recall, the fact that Run-DMC collaborated with Aerosmith didn’t please fans of either group back then).
No one in the younger generation would think twice if someone cued up a playlist that includes the Black Keys, Gil Scott-Heron, Iggy Pop, Johnny Cash, A Tribe Called Quest, Talking Heads, and Hall & Oates. Even now, some of my friends can’t figure out how I can enjoy Miles Davis and Tom Waits in equal measure. But then they didn’t have those music appreciation classes while shuttling between Prospect Heights and East Flatbush.
Brad Mehldau, Where Do You Start (“Hey Joe,” “Samba e Amor,” “Aquelas Coisas Todas”)
Dave King Trio, I’ve Been Ringing You (“Autumn Serenade”)
Dr. John, Locked Down (“Revolution,” “Ice Age”)
Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man In the Universe (“Please Forgive My Heart”)
Marc Johnson and Eliane Elias, Swept Away (“Swept Away,” “Moments”)
The Darcys, Aja (“Deacon Blues,” “Peg”)
* Standout tracks in parentheses.
- Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio
- Brad Mehldau: Ode
- Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society
- Billy Hart, Ethan Iverson, Mark Turner, Ben Street: All Our Reasons
- Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos: Carrera
— Keefe Jackson & Hans-Peter Pfammatter (Self-Released)
— Tim Berne, Snakeoil (ECM)
— Amy Cervini, Digging Me, Digging You (Anzic)
— Josh Ginsburg, Zembla Variations (Brooklyn Music Underground)
— Lynne Arriale, Solo (Motema)
There’s been some back and forth lately about the need for a modern “Real Book” — a new set of standards more relevant to the new millennium. I would never suggest that I have the critical acumen of the people who have weighed in, but I’m still throwing in my two cents. Can’t let this Tumblr account go to waste!
Anyway, here are some tunes I think are worthy of inclusion in a new real book.
Rose Garden (Jason Adasiewicz)
Pas de Deux — Lines Ballet (Jason Moran)
Karma (Aaron Parks)
Avenging Angel (Craig Taborn)
Lost and Found (Chris Potter)
If I Were Blue (Patricia Barber)
Prehensile Dream (Reid Anderson)
Bird of Paradise (Adam Cruz)
R&B Fantasy (Ben Allison)
Miula (Guillermo Klein)
Third Option (Mike Reed and Greg Ward)
The Remedy (Kurt Rosenwinkel)
Ario (Dave Holland)
— Tom Waits, Bad as Me
— Deep Blue Organ Trio, Wonderful!
— Nicole Mitchell, Awakening
— Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa, Charles Ives: Four Sonatas
— Hilary Hahn, Schoenberg: Violin Concerto/Sibelius: Violin Concerto Op. 47
— Bill McHenry, Ghosts of the Sun
— Joe Henry, Reverie
— Bobby “Blue” Bland, “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”
— Kenny Werner, “Siena”
Sometimes the oldest friends are the best.
I’ve always used music to boost my spirits. But recently my mood had been so low that it seemed nothing in my music collection – or library as software insists on calling it – could lift the gathering gloom. Then as I was scanning the list of artists in iTunes it hit me: Mingus. He’d been one of my original obsessions, along with Miles and Coltrane. In my twenties, when I was starting my jazz collection in earnest, I listened to Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus over and over. I bought a used vinyl copy of Mingus at Antibes at a shop on St. Marks back in ’91 or ’92, and I played it obsessively, pops and cracks and all (today some would call it a “pre-existing condition”). I acquired a lot more Mingus over the years, though certainly not everything – you have to have something left to discover later in life.
But for the last several years, I’d mostly been ignoring Charles Mingus as I expanded my musical vocabulary. Partly by necessity – for the past 10 years I’ve been reviewing records for a jazz magazine – but also simply to broaden my horizons.
But when the darkness becomes visible, as William Styron would put it, you need to find light wherever you can. Last night I found it in Mingus at Antibes (a sparkling digital version – the old vinyl copy was great, but things change). Beginning with the exuberance of “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,” the fog slowly but surely began to lift. It helped that I was reading Jim Harrison’s The Raw and the Cooked along with the music (ostensibly about food, it’s really about navigating the minefield of existence, but that’s another story).
By the time I got to “I’ll Remember April,” almost everything seemed brighter. I’d played that one over and over back in the turntable days. It’s the one with Bud Powell sitting in on piano. Of course, I’ve heard many other versions of that song, and while some are probably better, this one is still my favorite.
That record, like all of Mingus’ music, seemed so wild to me back then. But, like all of Mingus’ music, it got under my skin and stayed there.
A reminder for myself: Even when you get low, dig down deeper. Find what’s been stuck under your skin. Use it to crawl out of the abyss.