Warming Up

Warming Up

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guess The Trumpet Player

Hello Readers,

It’s time for the twenty-fourth installment of “Guess The Trumpet Player.” I know what you are thinking: “Darn it, Outside Pants, it’s been a month now since we’ve had a listening contest – what gives?!?!” Ok, well maybe you aren’t thinking that. Maybe you didn’t even notice the absence. But its summertime and I’ve been a little lax. Ok fine; I’m going to make up for it with today’s track. It’s smokin’ hot and, if you are human, should make you smile and maybe even want to dance. The trumpet playing is burning but don’t miss out on the alto solo that follows because it might be even hotter. Awesome track from a really great album!

Click the link (it’s safe), click play, listen, guess the trumpet player. The first person to leave the correct name of this trumpet player in the comments section of this post wins a CD – your choice of
Outside Pants Vol. 1 – Old School Players or Outside Pants Vol. 2 – Ron Miles Mix or Outside Pants Vol. 3 – Brownie Mix or Outside Pants Vol.4 – Dave Douglas Mix. The contest ends with Monday’s post.

Here’s the tune: http://www.box.net/shared/noxzjudjcjm7aamc8ijt

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I recently finished reading legendary trombonist Fred Wesley’s autobiography “Hit Me, Fred” (2002, Duke University Press) and I thought I would post a few words about it. Of course you know that Fred Wesley, Jr. was the trombone player on all of those great James Brown tracks from the late 60’s and early 70’s. What you may not have known (I didn’t) was that Fred was also the musical director for Brown’s band and technically the composer of a lot of those classic tracks. His tenure with the JB’s is how Fred is most remembered today but he has had a really busy career in music that a lot of people just don’t know about – I was one of those people.

So, after reading Fred’s well-written, chronologically-ordered account of his musical life I can definitely say that it should certainly be required reading for trombone players. That’s a given. But musicians in general would enjoy and learn a lot from this book. But I think even fans of funk music – musician and non-musician - will also find Fred’s book a revelation, especially fans of James Brown and Parliament/Funkadelic in particular. This book is also a great document of life on the road as well as an interesting take on the record business and how it has changed over the years. “Hit Me, Fred” is also a compelling personal view of R&B from the inside out. I would even go a step further and say that this book is also a valuable document of African American culture, pre-Civil Rights era through the Hippy/Vietnam era, through the crazy 70’s and right on up to the present day. Sounds like some high praise but let’s stay grounded here. I’m not going to go on record and say this is the best autobiography I’ve ever read or some masterful piece of literature, but I do believe that a huge spectrum of people would really get a lot out of reading Fred’s book.

Alright so here are some random (not in any special order) thoughts after reading the book - and again these are my thoughts and impressions; yours might surely be different):

·        Fred Wesley is extremely confident of his abilities, especially his ear. He’s not afraid to admit when he’s learning about something (he always seems willing to admit errors in judgment) but he consistently comes across as confident. Not usually arrogant, but sure of himself.
·        Fred mentions about one hundred times that his dream is to be a jazz musician. I haven’t heard his one real jazz album. Might be good, but somehow I can’t see him as a real jazz player (at one point he mentions the extremely limited number of tunes he really knows – its even less than what I know! :) ). Nothing wrong with that. He’s probably the greatest funk trombone player ever. Being one of the funkiest dudes ever is absolutely nothing to scoff at.
·        Tina Turner was amazing; Ike Turner was an asshole. Big surprise, right?
·        Black R&B shows were full-on productions. An overload on the senses: visual, aural, olfactory (Fred dubbed the P-Funk costume trunk the “Trunk of Funk” because none of those clothes ever got washed!), sensual, sexual. The whole spectrum. The performers thought of everything. A James Brown show was an unbelievable spectacle. Same thing with Funkadelic and eventually Bootsy Collins shows. You witness an event, not just a concert. And the event would be mind-blowing!
·        James Brown was a controlling, ill-tempered, manipulative, insecure, egomaniac. And according to Fred’s claim, James Brown was nowhere near as musical as I had imagined (Fred and other guys in the band were the true composers. Mr. Brown often just came in at the end to add his vocals – and criticisms). That said, Fred is emphatic in his claim that James Brown was the greatest performer ever. I believe him.
·        James Brown got filthy rich while his sidemen remained in a state of just getting by.
·        Life on the road was/is often filled with sex and booze and drugs, crappy food, and crappy lodgings.
·        The musicians of Parliament/Funkadelic were supremely talented – as musicians and as performers.
·        Fred should have signed a contract with George Clinton and the P-Funk guys before he wrote all of their horn arrangements.
·        There are a lot of very fragile egos in the music business.
·        When technology changes, you have to adapt.
·        Prince changed everything when he arrived on the scene.
·        Fred had a family yet he barely ever mentions them. Almost completely randomly Fred mentions that, oh yeah, by the way, I married my childhood friend Gertrude. Then later, oh yeah, we had a daughter. And then, later, another. And then, later in the book, Fred mentions a son. But we never even heard about that son being born! Fred constantly mentions that he is making his decisions about what he needs to do musically so that he can make enough money to support his wife and kids back home, yet he always seems to be on the road somewhere and never at home. And we never hear anything about his family. For most of the book I was thinking that maybe Fred was a pretty crappy father. He claimed to care about supporting them but he never seemed to physically be there. But it’s not fair for me to judge. I don’t know what arrangement he made with his wife. Another thing to consider is that when a person writes a biography they chose what details and things that they want to include and what to omit. Maybe Fred purposely doesn’t include family information. Maybe there is a reason for that. I don’t know. It’s not my business. So I shouldn’t judge. Still, to me, it seems a bit weird to constantly mention making money to support the wife and kids when it seems like what he is really focused on is himself (he alludes to plenty of extra-marital activities). Just an observation. And one coming from a guy with three kids who has made a decision to put parenting first, sometimes at the expense of me getting better as a trumpet player. I’m working at it though!

·        Fred went through a dark period of addiction. Drugs and sex. Several years when music and everything else came a distant second place to the addictions. Fred spends about two pages talking about this. He says there’s enough to talk about from this period to fill another book. Hmmm. Kinda want to read that book. Reminds me of the mid to late 70’s retirement period in Miles Davis’ autobiography. Miles seems ashamed to really, truly admit what he was doing. All we know is that it was sick and twisted. Maybe some things are better left a secret. I can respect that.

So yes, all in all, a satisfying read. Thanks so much for having the courage to share your story, Mr. Wesley. You are one of the greats! I sure learned a lot and again, I’d highly recommend “Hit Me, Fred!”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Innovators

This past weekend was a hot one in Philly which meant some time at the pool and some time at the grill. My two favorite grill companions are a good beer and some good music. Both were on hand last night. And dinner turned out great: grilled chicken topped with grilled fresh pineapple slices topped with some melted provolone; grilled potato slices drenched in paprika-and-nutmeg-infused butter and then topped with sour cream and fresh chives (this was the boys’ favorite – we’re gonna try a sweet potato version soon, I think); and grilled asparagus. Boy was it good!  But the thing that really knocked me out was listening to Bo Diddley play his original tune entitled (what else?!), “Bo Diddley.” Wow! I’ve had this tune on CD for a couple of year now, but it really hit me the other night. This track is crazy!! Check it out:

The sound of this tune is just insane. There is a raw-ness and a level of badass-ness to this song that I just haven’t heard almost anywhere else. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to have been listening to the radio, or jukebox, back in 1955 when this song came out. It must have scared the crap out of people. That huge, reverbed-out guitar thumping that Bo Diddley beat. The maracas shaking like crazy in tandem with the bass-heavy drums. Then there’s the singing. It’s got a blues feeling. A country feeling (I’m not talking about Merle Haggard country – although that sure is nice, too – but country as in not urban). It’s got a swagger. But it’s deeper and more historic. It feels urgent and primal. It feels natural. It’s sexy and it’s badass. I bet the kids in the know back in ’55 must have shaken whatever they had dancing to “Bo Diddley.” And I bet their parents didn’t understand and didn’t like it one bit. The guy had a square guitar, for crying out loud. This is not music for stuffy grown-ups. And it must have sounded like nothing anyone had ever heard before. Because it was like nothing that had come before. This is some innovative music. And that got me thinking.

Some of my all-time favorite musicians are true originals. They don’t sound like what had come before. They are innovators. Some of my true favorites: Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, and because this is more or less a trumpet blog: Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Roy Eldridge, Lester Bowie, Clark Terry, Dave Douglas, Woody Shaw, Don Cherry, etc. Really the list goes on and on in all genres of music. But the real thing is that these musicians created something on their instruments that had never been made quite that way before. And sometimes the music they created was extremely new, maybe shockingly new.

Sure, as I’ve written on here before, everyone has a daddy. There would be no Miles Davis had there not already been a Louis Armstrong. Jimi Hendrix wouldn’t have been Jimi Hendrix were it not for the blues and rhythm and blues bands and players that he played with and emulated. And I think it’s also important to note that these musicians didn’t just appear out of thin air, fully formed as innovators (the Beatles took a few years to really find their true creative path, but when they did, they became, on so many different levels, some of the greatest innovators of the 20th Century).
Instead they followed the model that Clark Terry always talks about: imitate, assimilate, innovate – most musicians never make it past assimilate. And if they are lucky enough to get past assimilate, then maybe they are lucky enough to become a stylist on their instrument – no small feat. True innovators are indeed a rare breed. They somehow go past what came before them and truly create something new.
How exciting it must have been to have been a young musician or music lover in the mid-forties and to have heard for the first time a Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie side. That truly must have blown people’s minds. To have heard Armstrong’s “West End Blues” when it first came out. Wow! What was it like to have heard the early Beatles music only to then bring home the “Rain"/"Paperback Writer”single home and drop the needle? John starts singing backwards?!?! And those crazy Rickenbacker guitars!!

What about hearing “Purple Haze” for the first time?

Bitches Brew?
Ray Charles' “I Got A Woman.” This is powerful stuff! Original stuff. Like nothing that had come before. That’s pretty special. See what I'm saying here? Good food, good beer, and some Bo Diddley – the finer things in life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Videos: The Art of Farmer

A couple of days ago my father in law sent me a message:

Just watched an awesome session on Mezzo TV. Thought how much you would have enjoyed it. From 1964 in England. BBC. Art Farmer – Flugelhorn; Jim Hall – Guitar; Steve Swallow – Bass; Pete La Roca – Drums. I think you can Google it up on you tube.”

Have I seen this?

Yes! I have seen this before. It’s been released on DVD too, I believe. This might just be my favorite group and era of Art Farmer’s. He’s left behind the Clifford Brown influence that dominated his mid fifties work (I love that stuff too) and he’s found the vehicle that works best for his conception: the flugelhorn. He’s got chops to burn but you don’t usually hear that. Instead you get his quirky lyricism. It’s beautiful and a bit strange at the same time. And Jim Hall is the perfect partner for him too – especially at this post-Sonny Rollins “The Bridge” period. Hall is one of my all time favorite guitarists. And Steve Swallow adds a touch of the adventurous to the mix with his note choices (Swallow had just played weirdo free music with Paul Bley and Jimmy Giuffre before joining Farmer). Swallows’ fingers look like giant spider crabs crawling up and down the neck of the bass. And La Roca is perfect in this setting – sometimes swinging hard and other times swinging softly – always playing compositionally. Such an awesome group. Almost chamber-like at times, but they could straight up burn on a fast swing too. Glad you dug it! I need to watch these YouTube clips again. Maybe tonight after the kids are asleep and after I practice…

So here are the YouTube videos (in order; seven in all; the edits aren’t the best, but the footage and the music make it more than worth it, I promise). Please join me and my father in law, Gary Goldschneider, in enjoying the genius that is Art Farmer!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Miscellany

Hey, sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. But I also think I needed a break from extra responsibilities. It’s summer, right? Gigs to play, food to grill, beer to drink, kids to play with, yard work, house work. Well, I haven’t done too much of those last two, but you get the point. Nevertheless, I will try to be more current with Outside Pants, at least for a little while until summer takes me on some sojourns to far away exotic places (like Pittsburgh and Vermont, and possibly Montreal). For now, I don’t have anything super exciting for you, so here’s some Monday Miscellany.

To get me focused for this post I am listening to a great CD: Bill Frisell, Kermit Driscoll, and Joey Baron “Live.” An awesome record that I first heard in the late 90’s while on tour with Fathead. Thanks to keyboard player (and multi-talented) Jeremy Dyen for introducing me to Frisell’s music. I’ve been a fan and almost collector ever since.

I had a great gig on Friday night with PhillyBloco. We played at World Café Live here in Philly, and for a summer show we did pretty well – about 450 people came out and they ALL danced their butts off. The band played well, especially on the newer Brazilian tunes we’ve been doing. I was really hoping to bust out my distortion pedal for this gig, but when we tried it in the soundcheck there were some  electrical current issues that were creating feedback.

But I did learn that what I should do next time is bring my Roland GP-8 effects processor which has an XLR input which will negate those current issues. So look out, next time we play I’ll be making some non-trumpet-sounding joyful noise.

Summer reading has been a little light so far, but I am concurrently reading two awesome books right now. And once I am done with both I will definitely write a more in depth post about these books because so far they have been really enjoyable and entertaining. The first book “Last Stop: Carnegie Hall” is the only biography in existence of the great, longtime New York Philharmonic trumpet legend William Vacchiano. This guy was an old-school monster. He is proof that hard work pays off. A little talent and a little luck also helps, but there is no denying that this guy worked for perfection. And he achieved it. Every day for more than forty years. Vacchiano was a gift to the world. The other book I’m reading “Hit Me, Fred” is the autobiography of trombone legend Fred Wesley. You’ve heard Fred before. You know in those James Brown tunes where the Godfather says “Play it, Fred! Hit me, Fred!” and then the trombone player takes a solo? That’s Fred Wesley. Funk master. Reading this book I’ve learned a lot about life on the road back in the day. And I’ve discovered how much Fred wanted to be a jazz player – and how much he disliked James Brown! Really fun read. Not sure what I’m going to read next, but I think I might see if my library has the new Dan Simmons novel.

And here are two links to two blogs I’ve discovered somewhat recently – new additions to the blogroll. Really great reading. First, is Jazztruth which is written by pianist George Colligan. Colligan posts regularly and his posts are always enjoyable (at least for me they are) but what makes this blog so special is that Colligan is a heavyweight. Though his might not be a household name, he’s been in the trenches with the very best of the best for years. And he’s sharing some of that upper echelon knowledge with his readers. And on top of that, Colligan is a really good writer. Better than some people who write for a living, I think. He’s also a very good interviewer. And his interview subjects are his peers which is also a reason to check out Jazztruth. And Colligan has a sense of humor. Check out his most recent post about the (supposedly) upcoming Miles Davis movie. Pretty darn funny.

The other blog I’ve really been enjoying lately is jazz writer Ted Panken’s “Today is the Question.” Panken posts regularly and he puts up a lot of the musician interviews he’s done over the years. A recent Vernell Fournier interview was fascinating. Panken is a solid writer who really, really knows his stuff – makes for some interesting reading, for sure.

And here’s a picture of my family after a recent dinner with my mom and my Aunt Maria who were both visiting last week. Good times! It's not the best picture of each of us, but we have so few family pictures...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Holiday With Hendrix

So the Fourth of July is almost here and as is tradition in my house (my wife and kids have to bear with me), I will be blasting several versions of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner to celebrate the 4th. Most people have heard the Woodstock version, and yes, it is awesome. I will spin this one for sure. Here’s a video that someone made with the concert audio (I guess the Hendrix Estate won’t allow the film footage on YouTube):

 Some people thought that Hendrix’s rendition of the Woodstock anthem was unpatriotic and offensive. Naturally, Jimi disagreed. He was a paratrooper in the Army, remember. A Screaming Eagle. He was actually a pretty big patriot. He thought his playing of the Star Spangled Banner was a fitting tribute to his country (as do I). Check out Jimi on the Dick Cavett Show stating his case post-Woodstock:
Mad beauty indeed!!

But for my money, a more interesting, but lesser-known version is the one Jimi played at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970 – a year after Woodstock. The Atlanta version has a darkness and level of anguish to it that the Woodstock one doesn’t have. It’s moodier and more urgent. Jimi’s life was spiraling out of control at this point and he had less than three months to live. Check it out:

The whole entire show from the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival is amazing and if you ever see a bootleg of it or if you come across the four CD (now out-of-print) set “Stages,” buy it! The fourth CD is the whole Atlanta concert. Worth every penny and then some.

And now here’s a treat that you may not have heard, unless of course you have the Rainbow Bridge Soundtrack album (I’ve got it on vinyl and CD) – the studio version of the anthem (mind the occasional cheesy graphics):  

There will be, and there can only ever be, one Jimi Hendrix. I am grateful everyday that I have his music as a big part of my life. Best wishes for a fun and safe and music-filled Fourth of July holiday!!