Warming Up

Warming Up

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.

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