With summer giving way to fall, how ’bout a little trip down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi? There, at T-Bone’s Records & Coffee, you’ll find, over in a corner, Johnny Vidacovich, longtime New Orleans drummer—he’s played at every one of the 40 annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals—playing, singing, chatting, goofing.
Johnny Vidacovich, live, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 2009
Most drummers I couldn’t listen to for five minutes. This guy I could listen to all day. Why? Because his playing is relaxed and unshowy. He makes use of space. Instead of trying to bowl you over, he invites you in.
With a big shout-out to my older son Alex, here—on his birthday (22!)—is a small sampling of the music he’s opened my ears to.
The Very Best
Here’s something he emailed me just last week—new sounds out of Africa (by way of England).
The Very Best, “Julia”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Here’s a show he saw over the summer, while living in New York.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, live, NYC (South Street Seaport), 7/09
“Everything With You”
“The Pains of Being Pure at Heart”
Amadou & Mariam
I might have gotten around to Amadou & Mariam sooner or later on my own, but thanks to Alex—who played me their (wonderful) album Dimanche a Bamako a few years ago—I got to this Malian duo sooner. (He and I saw them together, at Chicago’s Park West, in May, just a few months after this performance.)
Amadou & Mariam, “Sebeke,” live, Paris, 2008
Several years ago, thanks to Alex, I first heard this hip-hop artist’s (terrific) album Quality.
Talib Kweli, “Get By,” live, NYC, 2007
Want to hear the original studio track? Here. (Yeah, that’s Kanye at 1:20 and again at 3:24—he produced this track.)
(For all you hip-hop-&-law trivia buffs, Kweli’s the answer to the following question: What hip-hop artist has a brother who’s a professor at a top law school? [Jamal Greene, Columbia].)
Want to see the world (bits and pieces of it, anyway) through the eyes of one now-22-year-old? Here. Here. Here.
Sheila Jordan has an instantly identifiable sound. But her singing, though idiosyncratic, isn’t just that. Saturday night, when I heard her perform at Chicago’s Green Mill, her musical language—her elastic phrasing, her sliding pitches, her often off-center approach to harmony—was so clear and vivid that, by the end of the second set, I felt as though I was hearing the world through her ears.
Sheila Jordan, “The Water Is Wide,” live, Paris, 2003 (75th birthday concert)
“The main thing is the feeling, and that comes across no matter what she [Sheila Jordan] does. In terms of instruments, maybe her instrument—her voice—is not as great as some. It doesn’t really matter. She sings one note and you know it’s Sheila. Unfortunately there are very, very, very few singers left now who are really unique. And she’s one of the last ones.”—Steve Kuhn
Want more? Here’s a review I wrote, many years ago, of another of Sheila’s performances, also at the Green Mill, for the Chicago Reader.
Sometimes, as in yesterday’s performance by Sam and Dave, more is more. Other times, as here, what drives a performance is the power of restraint.
Mahalia Jackson, joined by Nat King Cole, “Steal Away,” TV performance, 1957
“Without a song, each day would be a century.”—Mahalia Jackson
In the baseball/music trivia department, I learned yesterday, while listening to the radio broadcast of the Cubs/Giants game, that both of Barry Zito’s parents worked with Nat King Cole—his mother as a singer and his father as a conductor/arranger.
BuddyHolly, Patsy Cline, Stevie Ray Vaughan, this guy: if you could somehow revive all the folks who’ve died falling out of the sky, you’d have a hell of a band.
Otis Redding, “Try a Little Tenderness,” live, Norway, 1967
give the drummer some/part 2
Listen to the double-time pattern Al Jackson begins playing at the start of the second verse (0:47): what a subtle, rippling urgency it creates.
“[Otis would] keep pushing, and each time Al Jackson would go with him. He would enable the rest of the musicians to reach whatever Otis was trying for. Otis would record stripped to the waist. He put bath towels under his arms. He wanted those horn players live on the floor; he’d sing their parts to them and put that whole session together. Otis got a live feel that nobody else on that label [Stax] ever got.”—Jim Dickinson (in Peter Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music ; for more on Dickinson, see the 9/9/09 post)
Bassist Duck Dunn (also in Guralnick’s book):
— “Otis would come in [the studio], and, boy, he’d just bring everybody up. ‘Cause you knew something was gonna be different. When Otis was there, it was just a revitalization of the whole thing. You wanted to play with Otis. He brought out the best in you. If there was a best, he brought it out. That was his secret.”
— “When you talked to him [Otis Redding], he was like you was. Then you see him on stage. Hey, there ain’t too many people wear the crown. Elvis wore it, and I guess Frank Sinatra wore it. And here he comes, and, boy, he wore it. He wore that halo. He knew it. He was a goddam star.”
At Redding’s 1996 Whiskey A Go Go shows in Los Angeles, Bob Dylan “presented Redding with a prerelease copy of ‘Just Like A Woman,’ claiming his vocal approach had been Otis-inspired. ‘Otis’ appraisal of it,’ says [Phil] Walden, ‘was that it had too damn many words in it.'”—Carol Cooper
“So there’s this black guy, see, and he walks onto the stage of a concert hall in Norway, and this guy starts singing, in this Norwegian concert hall, ‘Do you like good music, that sweet soul music,’ and . . .”
Arthur Conley, “Sweet Soul Music,” live, Norway, 1967
give the drummer some
Listening to this performance, I’m reminded of what a terrific drummer Al Jackson was—how essential he was to the Memphis sound. Not only could he drive a band, hard, through the turnarounds (1:23-1:32, etc.); he could play with such lightness and buoyancy—just listen to what he does with the ride cymbal—that the groove floated (0:18-1:22, etc.).
One of the hazards of posting YouTube clips is that sometimes, as here, they disappear on you. But here (for the moment, anyway) is a shorter snippet from that same Arthur Conley performance (the times for the Al Jackson stuff referenced above are a little different here [the first turnaround, for instance, comes at 1:08-1:17]).
“Memphis is an ugly place, but I love it. People who wouldn’t have stood a chance anywhere else were recorded here. And have traditionally been drawn here, because, I guess, it’s always been a center for crazy people.”—Jim Dickinson (in Peter Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music ; for more on Dickinson, see the 9/9/09 post)
Mary Travers, who died last week at the age of 72, was one of the first recording artists I ever heard perform live. I don’t recall the exact year, but it would have been in the early 1960s, when I was nearing the end of elementary school or just starting junior high. My father, responding to our growing musical enthusiasm, took my older brother (Don) and me to see Peter, Paul, and Mary, who were performing at one of Chicago’s midsized concert halls (which one, I’m not sure at the moment [old age, etc.]; it would have been the Auditorium, Orchestra Hall, the Opera House, or the Arie Crown Theater).
The details of the music we heard that night are fuzzy. But what I do remember, vividly, with this and other shows that we saw together in the early ’60s (Kingston Trio, Beach Boys, et al.), is how exciting it was, at that age, to hear live music—what an event it was. It was something to plan for and look forward to. It was something that involved, on the night of the concert, traveling into the city and, once inside the hall, finding your seats and waiting, eagerly, for the lights to go down, for the spotlight to come on, for the performers to walk onstage, and for the magic of hearing sounds in the dark to take hold.
I don’t know that I ever properly thanked my father (who died in 1977 at the age of 49) for these early musical adventures. I do know that the feeling I first experienced while on them—that, in listening to live music, you left the humdrum of daily life for something magical—has never faded.
Here, to remember Mary Travers, are two clips. In the first she’s singing background, along with several others, for Bob Dylan. The second is of Peter, Paul, and Mary.
Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez; Pete Singer; Freedom Singers; live, Newport Folk Festival (Rhode Island), 1963
Here, on this last day of summer, saxophonist Albert Ayler takes the Gershwin classic to the far shores of the blues—where (as you’ll hear) the livin’ most certainly ain’t easy.
Albert Ayler, “Summertime”
Yesterday, I happened upon this radio interview with New Yorker literary critic (and Harvard professor) James Wood, which I found quite interesting (but then, as an old English Lit major [and one-time high school English teacher], I’m a sucker for this sort of stuff). (Bonus: It’s followed by an interview with director Jane Campion, talking about her new John Keats/Fanny Brawne movie, Bright Star. Oh, and speaking of poetry: If you’d like to receive, via email, a daily dose of one of the finest Japanese haiku poets, you can subscribe to “Issa Haiku-a-Day” here [you’ll be glad you did].)