Category Archives: Performers

Alice Coltrane’s legacy

Critics, historians, musicians, and jazz enthusiasts still debate the identity of the heir to John Coltrane’s musical throne; but his widow, Alice Coltrane, who performed with him from 1966 until his death in 1967, was the one artist who continued his experiments in marrying spirituality with jazz and furthered his explorations of new compositional approaches by introducing African, Indian, and Middle Eastern influences into the genre.

She was the first to develop a jazz harp sound into something more than a curiosity, and her use of non-Western instruments predated similar trends in other genres. The albums that she recorded after her husband’s death serve as documentation of her development as an innovator, and offer an alternative reading of the history and evolution of the free jazz or avant-garde movement.

This according to “Freedom is a constant struggle: Alice Coltrane and the redefining of the jazz avant-garde” by Tammy L. Kernodle, an essay included in John Coltrane and black America’s quest for freedom: Spirituality and the music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 73–98).

Today would have been Alice Coltrane’s 80th birthday! Above, performing in 2006; below, the title track from her last album, Translinear light.

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John Lee Hooker and “Boom boom”

In an interview, John Lee Hooker described the genesis of his 1961 hit Boom boom:

“I used to play at this place called the Apex Bar in Detroit. There was a young lady there named Luilla, she was a bartender there. I would come in there at night and I’d never be on time. Every night the band would beat me there; sometimes they’d be on the bandstand playing by the time I got there. Whenever I’d come in she’d point at me and say ‘Boom boom, you’re late again.’ It dawned on me that that was a good name for a song. Then one night she said, “Boom boom, I’m gonna shoot you down.’ She gave me a song but she didn’t know it.”

“I took that thing and I hummed it all the way home from the bar. At night I went to bed and I was still thinking of it. I got up the next day and put one and one together, two and two together, trying to piece it out—taking things out, putting things in. I finally got it down right, got it together, got it down in my head. Then I went and sang it, and everybody went, Wow!”

“About two months later I recorded it, and the record shot straight to the top. That barmaid felt pretty good. She went around telling everybody ‘I got John Lee to write that song.’ I gave her some bread for it, too, so she was pretty happy.”

Quoted in Working musicians: Defining moments from the road, the studio, and the stage by Bruce Pollock (New York: HarperEntertainment, 2002, pp. 290–91).

According to most sources, today is Hooker’s 100th birthday! Above, recording in 1960, a year before Boom boom; below, a classic performance.

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Maddy Prior gets her ear in

In an interview, Maddy Prior recalled her early impressions of English traditional music.

“We did a bit at school and as a result I didn’t like it very much,” she says, “but it was cool in my adolescence to sing American folk songs and get into Bob Dylan. From that I started going to folk clubs.”

“I drove Reverend Gary Davis around for a month in 1966. That was a character forming experience! Then I met this American couple and drove them around for a year. They told me to stop singing American folk songs, because they said I was rubbish at it!”

“They had lots of tapes of English folk music and I started to listen to them, reluctantly at first, I might add. I found the songs old and boring. But I listened to the tapes again, and again, and eventually I found ‘Oh I like that song’, ‘Oh I like that one too’. You get your ear in, that’s what you have to do with any music.”

Quoted in “Please to see the folk-rock queen” by Kernan Andrews (Galway advertiser 8 May 2014).

Today is Prior’s 70th birthday! Above, at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in 2016; below, singing Steeleye Span’s 1975 hit All around my hat in 2004.

BONUS: The female drummer in 1971, when the Steeleye Span lineup included the legendary Martin Carthy and Ashley Hutchings.

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Ian Anderson’s visual songwriting

In an interview, Ian Anderson discussed the songs on his third solo album, The secret language of birds.

“I like singing songs that put people in a landscape. I have a picture in my head for each song that I write, and it’s a framed, still image. My early training as a painter and drafter, I think, produced in me a way of writing music and lyrics that illustrate visual ideas.”

“I try to bring some maturity to the thing I’ve been doing for most of my career, writing songs that tell people a story, not in the temporal sense, but a story they make up to fit the picture I suggest to them.”

“It’s like sending people a postcard. You’re giving them a little flavor of where you are and what you feel and how you’re getting on. But it can only be just that, a little snapshot. They have to do some of the work to imagine the bigger picture.”

This according to “Passion plays: Ian Anderson’s three decades of visual songwriting with Jethro Tull” by Steve Boisson (Acoustic guitar XI/5:95 [November 2000] pp. 86–97).

Today is Anderson’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in 2000, the year the album was released; below, the album’s title track.

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Carlos Santana and “Smooth”

In 1971 Carlos Santana’s Black magic woman hit number 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It would take him nearly three decades to make the top 10 again, but it was a comeback worth waiting for. In 1999 Santana’s Smooth, featuring Rob Thomas on vocals, topped the chart for a stunning 12 weeks and stayed 58 total weeks on the list, making it the No. 2 Hot 100 song of all time. The recording also won three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

Recalling the recording session in a 2014 interview, Santana said “I didn’t want [the guitar part] to have brain or mind or energy. I wanted it to be with innocence. Innocence to me is very sacred and very sensual. People should never lose their innocence. So I didn’t practice, purposefully. As soon as I found out where my fingers go on the neck, you close your eyes and you complement Rob. Kind of like a minister: He says Hallelujah, and you say your name.”

“When you make it memorable, you hang around with eternity.”

This according to “Smooth at 15: Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas reflect on their Billboard Hot 100 smash” by Leila Cobo (Billboard 27 June 2014).

Today is Santana’s 70th birthday! Above, performing Smooth in 1999; below, the official music video.

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Arlo Guthrie and Alice’s church

Arlo Guthrie’s classic story-song Alice’s restaurant massacree hinges on an episode in which the teenaged Guthrie and a friend help Alice and Ray Brock clean their Stockbridge, Massachusetts, home—a deconsecrated 17th-century church—for Thanksgiving dinner, by hauling away a half-ton of garbage.

When Arthur Penn made his film Alice’s restaurant, he used the Brocks’ church/home as a metaphor, including a scene in which a man stands up and says “We’re going to reconsecrate this church.”

And so it came to pass: “Alice’s church” is now the Guthrie Center, an interfaith church celebrating religious and cultural diversity, and a not-for-profit educational foundation (inset; click to enlarge).

The church provides weekly community free lunches and support for families living with HIV/AIDS as well as other life-threatening illnesses. It also hosts a summer concert series; Arlo does several fundraising shows there every year. There are also annual events, including a  Thanksgiving dinner for families, friends, doctors, and scientists who live and work with Huntington’s disease (a condition that afflicted Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie).

This according to “Arlo Guthrie’s storied career” by Richard Harrington (The Washington post 12 August 2005).

Today is Arlo Guthrie’s 70th birthday! Above, a scene in the church from the film; below, the film’s ending, outside the church.

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When Lennon met McCartney

On the afternoon of 6 July 1957 a group called The Quarrymen performed at the garden fete of St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool; the group’s singer and guitarist was the 16-year-old John Lennon.

As the group was setting up their equipment to play again that evening, one of the members introduced Lennon to one of his classmates, the 15-year-old Paul McCartney. The pair chatted for a few minutes, and McCartney showed Lennon how to tune a guitar (Lennon’s instrument was in G banjo tuning). McCartney then sang some popular songs, including a medley of songs by Little Richard.

The two were impressed with each other, and after the Quarrymen’s show the group and some friends, along with McCartney, went to a Woolton pub where they lied about their ages to get served.

This according to “John Lennon meets Paul McCartney” (The Beatles bible, s.n., s.l.).

These events occurred 60 years ago today! Above, Lennon at the afternoon performance (click to enlarge); below, excerpts from The Quarrymen’s show that night, recorded by an audience member—the recording was acquired by EMI in 1994, but was not released commercially since the sound quality was deemed unacceptable.

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Lena Horne’s second act

 

“I was the first black sex symbol, the first black movie star, and the first black to integrate saloons…I had to take a lot of flak from my own people, and everybody else’s people.” Thus spoke the very forthright, five-feet, five-inches Lena Horne, a musician’s singer who overcame deep-seated prejudice to establish herself professionally. “I was always told to remember I was the first of my race to be given a chance in the movies, and I had to be careful not to step out of line, not to make a fuss. It was all a lie. The only thing that wasn’t a lie was that I did make money—if I didn’t, they wouldn’t have kept me.”

Horne’s artistry deepened over the years as she came into her own. In 1974, at peace with herself and liberated, she reckoned, “In my early days I was a sepia Hedy Lamarr. Now I’m black and a woman, singing my own way.” In 1980, shortly after she had been named one of the world’s ten most beautiful women, she announced her retirement and embarked on a farewell tour.

But she had a change of heart, and in May 1981 Horne opened on Broadway in Lena Home: The lady and her music. She performed a host of songs associated with her (Stormy weather, The lady is a tramp), interspersed with sharp talk and direct reflections on her life. Newsweek raved that she was “the most awesome performer to hit Broadway in years.” The New York times added, “The lady’s range, energy, originality, humor, anger, and intelligence are simply not to be believed.”

For her one-woman production, Horne received a special Tony Award and a Grammy (for the LP album set), and the show was taped for cable TV. Lena Home: The lady and her music ran on Broadway for 333 performances, closing on her 65th birthday. She went on tour with the production in 1984; that December she received the Kennedy Center Honors Award for Lifetime Achievement.

This according to “Lena Horne” by James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts (Hollywood songsters: Singers who act and actors who sing—A biographical dictionary [New York: Routledge, 2003] p. 380–90); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Horne’s 100th birthday! Above, the lead publicity shot for her 1981 show; below, an excerpt.

BONUS: Your wish is our command—here’s the whole show.

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Filed under Black studies, Performers, Popular music

Jason Mraz, avocado farmer

When Jason Mraz bought a 5½-acre ranch northeast of San Diego in 2004, he thought it would be “a place to be isolated when you have a crazy life.” The densely packed property is planted mostly with avocados, along with Meyer lemons, pomegranates, guavas, and mangoes.

In his early performing days Mraz had regularly subsisted on fast food, soda, and cigarettes, but as he began to tour he realized that a better regimen was essential to maintaining his health, and in 2008 “we decided to bring a chef out on tour with us for 30 days and go vegetarian and raw to see what would happen. And I mean, a dramatic transformation. Not just in weight loss, but in overall health and energy.”

Mraz became a dedicated locavore, and an avid cultivator and consumer of his avocados and other crops. “The first time I was served a big chunk of avocado on my salad, I didn’t know what to do with it. Now I’m among them all the time, experimenting with them, making meals and adding spices and whatnot. You know, your palate evolves.”

This according to “The accidental avocado farmer” by Jim Romanoff (Eating well XIV/1 [January–February 2015] pp. 88–94).

Today is Mraz’s 40th birthday! Below, performing Back to the earth at his avocado ranch.

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Svensk jazzbibliografi

Svensk jazzbibliografi is a new online resource that covers writings about Swedish jazz in Swedish and in other languages, in the areas of jazz history; biographies and memoirs; jazz-related literature, photographs, and art; anthologies, essays, and other literature; discographies; and periodicals.

Published by Svenskt Visarkiv, this open-access bibliography was compiled and annotated by the Swedish composer, arranger, and conductor Mats Holmquist.

Above and below, Holmquist in action.

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