Posts Tagged ‘Miles Davis’

As I write this here in the United States, we’re nearing the end of the three-day weekend devoted to Memorial Day. This is my favorite holiday, the holiday with an entire summer up its sleeve. The weather has been abfab and the house projects ended well, without the traditional two extra trips to the hardware store. The writing flowed, the dog charmed everyone at the beach, and as always the music is the best.

We trimmed two of the hedges that border our yard. Whenever I hack my way into these walls of vines, leaves, branches, and the mysterious dark spaces loved by raccoons I remember again why the Germans hid behind them on D-Day.

We sorted through shoeboxes of old photo prints, slides, and negatives. (What can you do with negatives today? Sew them into a Victoria’s Secret sarong?) Here’s a photo I found that stands in for my mood this afternoon. It’s Emma, our first dog, on a hike called West Cady Ridge in the Central Cascades of Washington, probably in late spring 1995:

The joy of being a dog
The joy of being a dog.

Of course, what’s a holiday weekend without a box from my Dad? Among the treasures I don’t know how I ever lived without were four spindles of string from the 1960s:

Spindle City
Free to good home, moldy atmo included.

All this string (one spindle holds twine) comes from an age when packages were routinely strung up. Pies, cakes, and donuts from a bakery always arrived in a flimsy cardboard box tied with string. Packages from department stores and even supermarkets were often hog-tied as if they might bolt if they had a chance. Four spindles of string – nothing’s getting away from me now.

If you live in the United States, I hope your Memorial Day weekend has gone at least as well as mine. I mean that sincerely, whether you support Donald Trump or a rational human being. Thanks for reading along, and welcome to: Big Week!

Random Pick of the Day
Miles Davis, trumpet, Gil Evans, arranger and conductor, Porgy and Bess (1959)
The highlights are what you’d expect – “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” – but the whole album is grand. Do you believe in heaven? If there is one and you end up there, you’ll be hearing this disc a lot.

Random Pan of the Day
Bad Religion, 80-85 (1991)
These Southern California political punks are harder-hitting than The Ramones, but 30 years on both bands have the same problem: Every song sounds the same. Thirty years have turned Bad Religion into a Weird Al parody of themselves. It doesn’t help that the drumming reminds me of Fred Flintstone’s feet slapping against the pavement to make his car go.

If you had lived in SoCal in 1980 through ’85, these 28 tracks would fill you with nostalgia; you’d be back on the streets in no time, though you might not remember what it was you used to do there. I couldn’t get all the way through them, but I must honor Bad Religion for the title of their 1983 debut: How Could Hell Be Any Worse?


The demise of Gilligan’s Island in 1967 left us with many questions. Most of these questions are about Ginger and Mary Ann. The rest are about the radio.

How was it that on this “uncharted desert isle,” somewhere in the middle of the Pacific or perhaps an ocean we have yet to discover, radio reception was in English and crystal-clear? How did the castaways get news reports that were relevant to them, decades before you could do that online? And where did they find that jazz station?

Forget uncharted desert isles. Whole cities don’t have jazz stations. Even here in super-enlightened Portland, Oregon, our local jazz station helps to pay the bills with programs of the blues, “roots,” and a sort of synthetic jazz-fusion that’s almost danceable. Let’s admit it: Jazz by itself is not a money-maker.

These days it’s not much of a crowd-pleaser, either. Jazz was the people’s music right through the end of World War II. One of the many things the Brits fumed about during the war was that American G.I.’s brought their jazz with them. Jazz answered an emotional need in people, but by the end of the 1950s, rock ’n’ roll had become a better answer. This was about the same time that jazz became more intellectual and more of an art form.

Joey The Lips in The Commitments put it best:

It’s anti-people music. It’s abstract….It’s got no soul. It is sound for the sake of sound. It has no meaning. It’s musical wanking, Brother…

It seems to me that jazz haters (naturally, I married one) hate jazz for two reasons:

1) Why listen to Miles Davis when you have ZZ Top? Try dancing to “’Round Midnight.” OK, stop acting like a spaz and give “Sharp Dressed Man” a try. No contest.

2) Search-and-destroy instruments.

Honk your alto sax if you love jazz
I can think of few musical works as dramatic as Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song,” as gorgeous as John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things,” as raucous as the Rebirth Jazz Band’s “I Like It Like That,” as haunting as Upper Left Trio’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” or as soulful as Davis’ entire Kind of Blue. Where would I be without Vince Guaraldi and A Charlie Brown Christmas?

But to reach these plateaus jazz made a few alterations, the main one having to do with the melody. When the horns leave the melody line and start flying around like go-karts in your bathtub, the jazz haters change the station. My studies of jazz and jazz haters has helped me rank jazz instruments based on threat level:

Horns: Saxophones, trombones, trumpets, tubas, bugles, French horns, dirigeridoos, and anything that can play the Lone Ranger theme or “Charge!” at a baseball game. The sax is public enemy #1, the instrument most likely to blow itself out the airlock. This is fine by me but you’d be surprised how many people would rather go to Vegas and pay $200 to see Celine Dion’s tribute to Gordon Lightfoot.

Piano: Alas, too many jazz outfits follow the same format. If the sax takes a solo, the piano takes one, too. And then the trumpet takes one. Next track: Same deal. And of course the soloist is never playing what the neighbors are playing. I can see how this might prove indigestible to anyone expecting a three-minute song with a story, a hook, and a catchy lyric.

Guitar: I’m talking electric guitars here, though you could throw in banjos on principle. Guitars are a lot less likely to trip your startle reflex. They generally mind their own business, or else the guitarist pretends the guitar is an organ (see next entry). And even when a jazz guitarist hits the afterburners, he or she isn’t playing much we haven’t already heard from Queensrÿche or Korn.

Organ: On the spectrum of jazz instruments, the organ is right in the middle. Like Switzerland. The organ is pleasant to listen to but an hour later I can never remember what I heard.

Drums: People like drum solos, though the drum solo in “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is taking things too far. I think the drum solo connects us with our John Philip Sousa/high school marching band souls. In jazz, the drum solo means you get a break from the intellectual exertions of the horn players. It also means the drummer is still breathing.

Xylophone: Guaranteed to lift your spirits, perhaps because we all played one when we were too young to go to school, go to work, or go waste time blogging.

Bongos: Are bongos the optimum jazz instrument? Judge for yourself with the Irving Fields Trio’s pioneering Bagels and Bongos (1959). But even if you never intend to give that masterwork a spin, tell me this. How can you not smile when someone is playing the bongos? Especially when you know they’re not going to practice at your house?

My research indicates that, for a jazz band to reach the widest possible audience, they have to outlaw horns and pianos and resort to guitars only on holidays. I’m not sure the world is ready for a jazz band composed of an organ, a xylophone, bongos, drums, and maybe a bass player or somebody armed with a ukulele. But why not? I love jazz. I’d give it a listen. Though a certain jazz hater might ask me to wear headphones.

News from Steveworld
I have a new post at The Nervous Breakdown. This one is a rewrite of my music-and-sex survey. This post is making as big a stir at TNB as it did here at Run-DMSteve, which is to say I’m not yet one of the lucky 10% who own 90% of the U.S.

More news from Steveworld
Portlandians: Do you look forward all year to Wordstock? You don’t? Illiterates! Get yourself down there this October and buy a damn book. And I know which one you should buy.

This summer I entered the Wordstock short-fiction contest and finished in the Top 10. (In fact I was the runner-up to the grand prize winner – the person who actually got the money. If for some reason that person cannot serve out his term, I will don the tiara. Though I suspect he will have spent the money by then.) Wordstock will publish a paperback anthology of the Top 10, available at the festival.

There were 400 entries in this contest, from writers as far away as Singapore and Ireland, so right now I’m feeling just like “Some Kinda Rush” by Booty Luv. (How I wish John Coltrane was around to take that one apart!)

When I was 15 and maybe even 20 I knew what was happening. Not every note, but I knew a lot. OK, I missed something big once. Epic, really: punk. In 1977 I was offered a free ticket to see The Clash on their first U.S. tour and I turned it down because I thought punk was a joke. This is particularly ironic given that in 1977 I was a disco activist.

My sense of what was happening musically was resurrected in my 30s when I worked for an alternative newspaper. Our reviewers were plugged in. We were all it and a bag of chips. And yet we missed something big once. Epic, really: grunge. Time and Newsweek  broke that story in 1991. Irony overload – Sub Pop was located right in our building and I often shared an elevator with some shambling, hairy hulk from Mudhoney.

My knowledge of popular music has deepened and broadened but I rarely know what’s new. Last week I wrote about a local band, Red Fang. It took me two years to catch up with them, and I caught them only because they were featured in The Oregonian. And if they’ve been featured in our daily paper’s lifestyle section they are probably way past their expiration date.

Fortunately, in my 40s I realized that I could still learn what was happening in music by befriending people younger than me and asking. That’s how I discovered Internet radio in 1999. (Spinner: Free music and a cool boombox on your desktop!) Youthful friends of mine in Boise made major contributions to my musical knowledge, not counting the guy who’s still fixated on Night Ranger.

Isabelle is in the house!
Today we’re going to learn about music from somebody who’s so young, she’s barely older than my dog, Storm Small. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm Run-DMSteve welcome to my 12-year-old niece, Isabelle!

Isabelle is an amazing young woman. I would’ve known this even if she hadn’t told me, which she did. In Isabelle’s world, when you want your music, you go first to YouTube. Her iPod is in second place. Third place is held by an ancient technological device called the radio. I visited her favorite station and checked the last 20 songs they’d played. I knew one, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” I had a lot of ground to cover.

Isabelle’s favorite artists right now are Ke$ha and Bruno Mars, so I listened to their debut albums, Ke$ha’s Animal and Mars’ Doo-Wops & Hooligans. I was prepared to floss my brain afterwards with Miles Davis, but I enjoyed myself. This is probably bad news for Ke$ha, whose audience is not middle-aged men, but good news for Bruno Mars, who is striving for a more universal appeal.

Trying to fill Lady Gaga’s skyscraper heels
If you take the nonstop pop appeal of The Go-Go’s, the sauciness of Bananarama, the oops-I-did-it-again dance grooves of Britney Spears, and then lower everyone’s IQ, you’ve about got Ke$ha. Her songs mostly focus on having a good time even if you have to drink until you can’t spell your own name. Which in her case wouldn’t take long. “TiK ToK” was a huge hit, and “Boots & Boys,” “Take It Off,” and “Hungover” neatly sum up the principles by which she lives her life.

I was surprised to see “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” on this album, but when I got there it turned out not to be a cover of Ultravox’s 1984 hit. Too bad, as Ke$ha would’ve kicked those syntho-pop pretty boys from here to eternity. Ke$ha’s song is about a love affair she torpedoed with her self-destructive behavior. This probably happens to her a lot.

“Party At a Rich Dude’s House” builds on a rich pop tradition. In Randy Newman’s  “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” the narrator is appalled by the shenanigans around him. The B-52s turned this idea inside-out with “Party Out of Bounds.”  They’re not appalled; in fact, they’re stealing everything out of your icebox! The Beastie Boys updated The B-52s when they told us “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party).” Ke$ha’s contribution is to throw up in a rich dude’s closet.

Animal has some spring-loaded dance tunes that will probably sound dated in 10 years but are hyperkinetic right now. Ke$ha spends a lot of time being kittenish, and I can’t tell how much of her voice is her and how much is her engineer, but overall she’s hard to resist. I probably won’t listen to Animal again, but I am sure that “Boots & Boys” will one day become a female anthem. When women hear it they’ll storm the dance floor, as they do today for “Dancing Queen,” “I Will Survive,” and “Venus.”

With a name like that he should be playing third base for the Cardinals
Bruno Mars is like David Bowie and Prince in his ability to change shape from track to track. He’s run every song recorded in the last 50 years through the blender that is his brain. “Runaway Baby” sounds like a 1960s rave-up between The Animals and The Dave Clark Five. Bono could’ve sung “Just the Way You Are” and it would’ve been the B-side of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” “Marry You” is an innocent gem that would’ve been right at home on MTV in 1985. “Liquor Store Blues” is reggae, “Count on Me” is Jack Johnson or Cat Stevens, and then there’s the weird “Grenade,” which sounds like Michael Jackson crossed with a European New Wave act I can’t put my finger on. (Not Ultravox.)

Mars has a supple tenor voice that seems to work in any genre and he not only loves Elvis, he impersonates Elvis. I can’t say that Doo-Wops & Hooligans is one of my favorite albums, but it does reward the time you invest in it.

Isabelle also informed me that the Worst. Song. Ever. was “Friday” by Rebecca Black. This song is such a stinker that Rhapsody not only refuses to carry it, they sent an electric shock through my keyboard when I requested it. Although Isabelle and I are of different generations, we can agree that “Friday” sucks. I haven’t heard anything this bad since the time Storm Small cornered a weasel in our drainpipe.

Thank you, Isabelle, for furthering my musical education. But before I get to Rihanna, Pit Bull, and P!nk I think I will give Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue a spin.