My Five Essential Jazz Recordings

Saxophone

I am not a jazz expert, but I wish I was one.

My jazz experience began in high school and continued through college, right up until the moment when I realized I had taken my saxophone abilities as far as I could. I saw the wall, I could touch it… and I knew that whatever I needed to break it down, was not in me.

For those that aren’t certain what I mean, I’m talking about feeling the music in your own performance and then claiming it. Oh, I could play a song that was put on the stand in front of me, I could even do a “successful” solo. (I put that in quotes, because why it might sound good to the audience that day, I knew I was just repeating what I did the last time I performed the tune.) In other words, I was merely doing what I needed to do.

See, I’ve never been the kind of person to be satisfied with just “doing what I needed to do,” and this is especially true around the arts. If, for example, I am to write a book, it needs to be different from every other book you may pick up. And if it is in a genre, it will break the mold. If this sounds arrogant or bombastic, you are right. For that is how I see myself. I claim it. I am loud. You pick up a Scott Southard work and you will get something unique and different, nothing cookie-cutter. And I could never be that for jazz with my saxophone so I dropped being a music major, walked away from the music muse and ran over to the one that oversaw writers.

As much as I know my own limitations, accepted them, and my saxophone continues to gather dust in my closet, I still love jazz. I read books on artists, have watched Ken Burns’ documentary on Jazz numerous times, and collect jazz on vinyl. My weekends begin with the scratchy sound of the needle dropping, and doesn’t stop until the kids are asleep.

Below are my five favorite recordings, with my reasons and links. These are the one that stir me, inspire me, and make me wish I was something more than I am. I can’t give you reasons why they are important like an expert could for Mr. Ken Burns, I can only say, “this for me is jazz.” Continue reading

Advertisements

Book Review: Burr by Gore Vidal

BurrA new book review today! This time I am taking on the classic work of historical fiction, Burr by Gore Vidal. If you love the musical Hamilton, you will love this book.

You can check out my other book reviews (both for WKAR’s Current State and this website) here.

If you want to check out Burr for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Burr by Gore Vidal

Historical fiction is a dangerous genre.

In the wrong hands it can change a person’s perception of a real event or historical figure, tainting the truth for readers and the public. Debates and controversies in our world have been created out of less! But in the right hands it can inspire a reader to see something from a new light, possibly break out of their normal mindset. Easily the most dangerous, and possibly exciting, historical fiction I have ever read is Burr by Gore Vidal. In it, Gore Vidal tries to make a hero out of Aaron Burr, one-time vice president and killer of Alexander Hamilton.

HamiltonI discovered the book when my family (including my kids) became obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fantastic musical, Hamilton. While Hamilton puts many of the heroes of the American Revolution in the wonderful glow of the spotlight; Gore Vidal instead adds a lot of filters and a smoke machine. In Burr, Vidal seems to take a glee out of spoiling our history and understanding around the American revolution. This is not your normal 1776.

In Burr, George Washington is an incompetent general more worried about his image and politics as compared to victories. Alexander Hamilton is shady and driven by power. Even French military hero Marquis de Lafayette comes out as a little bit of a buffoon. Only Aaron Burr steps forward as a hero, and possibly the true father of our country.

Aaron Burr is the voice of reason and all of the decisions he makes are for the good of the country. He rarely thinks of his own self-interest, as he weaves each of his plots that he is certain will help grow the new country he loves. Everything seems to make sense from his perspective, but history will never know.

The novel Burr is told through the voice of Charles Schuyler, one of the few fictional characters in it. He spends his time hobnobbing with the political elites, dating questionable women, and meeting with important members of the New York literary circle, including Washington Irving. Charles is determined to write a book on Aaron Burr and is able to get him to open up and share his experiences. It is through those recollections that both the book and the character do not hold back. For Aaron Burr has a strong opinion about everyone in our revolutionary history and few walk out of his recollections unscathed.

I can’t help but imagine Vidal smiling throughout the writing of this book. Most of it seems to be built out of the rumors and gossip of that period as compared to what our historians will focus on. It is because of this fact that I find the book so dangerous. Yet, even I, a fan of nonfiction and Ken Burns documentaries felt a sense of horror and scandalous pleasure in the reading of it.

Even without Vidal’s wonderful writing, Aaron Burr is a fascinating and complicated character just waiting for a novelist’s pen. Besides the duel with Hamilton, he was once tried for treason, was quite the lady’s man, and was almost President of the United States. The question though is he an American hero? Vidal tries to present him as one and I can’t help but think the idea is a little… well… brilliantly dangerous.

Radio Radio: Surviving My Local Radio Scene

RadioA few months ago the CD player in my car stopped working. I put a disc in, it shoots it back out.

Yes? No! Yes? No! Yes? No!

It is like arguing with a two-year old and losing each and every freaking time.

Now, I’m not a car dude. I’m one of those kind of people that don’t see a vehicle as some kind of a mark of success, it is a tool, and, if given the option, I would drive a car until the last wheel fell off.  Honestly, I just don’t care. I think the only time I have ever drooled over an automobile was when I saw an ad for the new Honda Odyssey. Not because it looked smart. No, I liked it because it came with a vacuum cleaner. With two little kids that sounded awesome! Goodbye to all those fruit snacks! I could vacuum anytime I wanted!

Every day I need to drive my son to his school, which is about a 25-minute drive. And while I would love to just listen to NPR the entire way there and back, I can’t. My six-year old hears everything and there is a lot on that I just don’t want to explain to him. For example, yesterday while getting out of the car he said, “Boy, there are a lot of wars going on, isn’t there?”

Ah… yeah… there certainly are… damn…

So, for those moments when NPR goes a little “bleak,” I’ve begun exploring the dial, switching to the local music stations. What I’ve discovered though is something akin to a time capsule.

Yes, these stations are glimpses of some other time, but where exactly those other times took place, I can’t say. Continue reading

Music Review: Yvonnick Prene’s Jour de Fete

Jour de FeteBefore Yvonnick Prene I never considered the harmonica.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the extent of my knowledge even around harmonica and jazz mixing together was an odd little collaboration from the 1990’s. It was The Glory of Gershwin headlining the legendary harmonica player Larry Adler. The CD, like most collections, has some high points (Peter Gabriel doing “Summertime,” Sting performing “Nice Work if You Can Get It” and a spirited “Rhapsody in Blue” with Mr. Adler taking on the clarinet part) and some definite low points (Cher). You can’t put a CD on like that and just press play, you skip tracks. Your musical sanity demands it.

In many ways I am a jazz snob.

  • Electronic instruments can wait at the door (Sorry Miles Davis)
  • I don’t care for too much experimentation (Sorry Miles again) unless it is in the solo
  • Smooth jazz puts me to sleep
  • I feel more at home in the world of hard bop and be bop where the saxophone is king

Basically, even in that little rundown, I’m not sure where the harmonica fits in. It’s an anomaly, a glitch in the system, a hiccup; an almost hypnotic variation on the human voice, able to show as much emotion, passion, and charm, but fitting in… where?

Yvonnick Prene’s new CD Jour de Fete opened my beady eyes to new possibilities in jazz… and frankly, for me as a snob, that is kind of cool. Continue reading

Episode Nine: Time Out Of Mind

Episode 9 of

Time Out Of Mind,

The Sequel to

The Dante Experience

“Two Roberts for the Price of One”

OPENING CREDITS

Scene 1

SOUND: Of Heaven.

REPAIR ANGEL: Best out of three?

KELLII: Ok. You move first.

MICHAEL: Can you two stop playing that game! This is the throne room and I am doing important things. The big guy doesn’t want to see you playing a board game.

KELLII: I don’t hear him complaining.

REPAIR ANGEL: Actually, I haven’t heard him at all since I’ve been here.

MICHAEL: Can you two please stop judging the maker.

KELLII: Is he even awake?… Hello? Anyone there? Continue reading