Which “Smooth Operator” had the Pronunciation of her Name on the Album Cover

Today is the 59th birthday of the gorgeous and supremely talented Sade.  Her serene and sexy vocal style coupled with her inspired band led smooth jazz, adult-oriented music, and world pop into a whole new direction. Their music was enjoyed by just about everyone; Mature listeners looked to nostalgic comparisons with Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, Jazz players ate up the technical abilities of the musicians and the sophistication of the songwriting and arrangements, dancers loved their Latin-inspired beats, and everyone else got off on her exotic good looks and her mysterious persona.

When singer Sade and her band of the same name were establishing themselves, their record company, Epic, made a point of printing “Pronounced Shar-day” on the record labels of their releases. Soon enough, the music had no problem with the correct pronunciation. With the breakthrough Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten single “Smooth Operator” propelling the debut Sade album, Diamond Life, to the same spot on the Billboard 200 chart in 1985, the band fast came to epitomize soulful, adult-oriented, sophisti-pop. Though only five more studio albums would follow in the next 25 years, the band’s following abated only slightly, and each release was treated like a long-awaited public return of a mysterious yet beloved diva.

sade-open

Born Helen Folasade Adu in Ibadan, Nigeria, about 50 miles from Lagos, Sade was the daughter of an African father and an English mother. After her mother returned to England, Adu grew up on the North End of London. Developing a good singing voice in her teens, Adu worked part-time jobs in and outside of the music business. She listened to Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and Billie Holiday, and studied fashion design at St. Martin’s School of Art in London while also doing some modeling on the side.

Around 1980, she started singing harmony with a Latin funk group called Arriva. One of the more popular numbers that the group performed was an Adu original co-written with bandmember Ray St. John, “Smooth Operator.” The following year, she joined the eight-piece funk band Pride as a background singer. Pride’s opening acts often featured members of the band in different combinations. Pride and their off-shoots performed often around London and stirred up record company interest. Initially, the labels wanted to sign only Sade — technically a trio featuring Adu, Stuart Matthewman, and Paul Denman — while the whole of Pride wanted a deal. The members of Pride not involved in the Sade trio eventually told Adu, Matthewman, and Denman to go ahead and sign a deal. Adding keyboardist Andrew Hale, Sade signed to the U.K. division of Epic Records.


Promise

The band’s debut album, Diamond Life (with overall production by Robin Millar), went Top Ten in the U.K. in late 1984. January 1985 saw the album released on CBS’ Portrait label, and by spring, it had gone platinum on the strength of the Top Ten singles “Smooth Operator” and “Hang On to Your Love.” The second album, Promise (1985), featured “Never as Good as the First Time” and “The Sweetest Taboo,” the latter of which stayed on the U.S. Hot 100 for six months. Sade was so popular that some radio stations reinstated the ’70s practice of playing album tracks, adding “Is It a Crime” and “Tar Baby” to their playlists. In 1986, Sade won a Grammy for Best New Artist.

Stronger Than Pride                                 sade-love-deluxe

Sade’s third album was 1988’s Stronger Than Pride, and featured their first number one single on the U.S. R&B chart, “Paradise,” as well as “Nothing Can Come Between Us” and “Keep Looking.” The fourth Sade album didn’t appear for four years: 1992’s Love Deluxe continued the unbroken streak of multi-platinum Sade albums, spinning off the hits “No Ordinary Love,” “Feel No Pain,” and “Pearls.”

 

Lovers Rock

Matthewman, Denman, and Hale went on to other projects, including the low-key Sweetback, which released a self-titled album in 1996. Matthewman also played a major role in the development of Maxwell’s career, providing instrumentation and production work for the R&B singer’s first two albums. Sade eventually reconvened to issue Lovers Rock in 2000. The lead single “By Your Side” was a moderate hit, peaking at number 18 on the adult contemporary chart; the following summer, Sade embarked on their first tour in more than a decade and sold out many dates across America. In early 2002, they celebrated the tour’s success by releasing a live album and DVD, Lovers Live. They resurfaced in late 2009 with “Soldier of Love,” the lead single on the album of the same title, released the following year. In the U.S., Soldier of Love debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 chart and sold over 500,000 copies during its first week. Another live set, Bring Me Home, followed in 2012.

At one time, after the release of Lovers Rock in 2000, the singer took a 10-year break from music (until 2010’s Soldier of Love) to raise her daughter, Mickaila, and to move to the Caribbean. Mickaila Adu is Sade’s only child (born in 1995), and from her relationship with Jamaican-American producer Bob Morgan. They raised Mickaila together during Sade’s break from music before breaking up.

Because her mom doesn’t like the spotlight, most people haven’t seen much of Mickaila. Still, the 20-year-old has been out here over the last few years sharing aspects of her life (and artwork) on social media. That includes her journey to identifying as a transgender man.

sades-daughter

According to Black Girl Long Hair, Mickaila, otherwise known as “Ila,” was open about being a lesbian for a while. Yesterday, Ila took to Instagram to let people know that he’d started taking the necessary shots, or hormone replacement therapy, to transition. He shared the news with the caption, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.”
Ila hasn’t shared what his new name will be, or if he plans to have a new one at all now that he identifies as male. But he has reportedly been open for some time about his desire to transition. Of course, you won’t hear what Sade has to say about any of this because her private life has always remained just that — private. Still, I’m sure she’s been nothing short of supportive of her child.

Which Jazz Trumpeter Started his Career as a Circus Contortionist?

harry-benny

For many jazz fans, trumpet player Harry James was at best superfluous and at worst a sellout: a musician of formidable technique who abandoned the fiery style that made him a star of the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the late 1930s, only to adopt a much more schmaltzy, flashy, commercial manner that led to a remarkable number of hit records throughout the 40s.

Born in Georgia in 1916, Harry James learned to play the trumpet at age eight and became one of the most admired jazz musicians of the big band era. He was so popular in the early 1940s that Columbia Records couldn’t press enough of his records to meet demand.

To dance music lovers, James was the leader for three decades of consistently satisfying big bands whose earliest incarnation gave Frank Sinatra his start and whose 1950s version found its most lucrative gigs at the casino hotels in Vegas and at Tahoe.

harry-betty

But most of America knew Harry James simply as the husband of movie star Betty Grable, the blonde pinup who caused World War II G.I.s to croon, “I want a gal, just like the gal, who married Harry James…”

There were a number of different Harrys – jazz player, big-band leader, celebrity husband (as well as a promiscuous womanizer, unrecovered alcoholic and ruinous gambler). Harry James was both one of the most essential trumpeters and bandleaders in the history of American music, and a man who lived a sad and misguided life.

harry-at-circus

Born to circus performer parents (his father was a bandmaster, his mother a trapeze artist and horse rider), Harry Haag James was reared as a prodigy and learned that performing well was the price of approval. He became a performer himself as early as the age of four when he began working as a contortionist.  By age 5, he was a featured drummer; by 9, he played trumpet; at 12, he took over leadership of the second band in the Christy Brothers Circus, for which his family was then working. Schooled by his father, a stern taskmaster, James studied the classic trumpet repertoire and developed the iron chops and bravura technique of a circus musician; but he also soaked up the jazz and blues of his native Texas and loved Louis Armstrong‘s playing.

After a stint with the influential Ben Pollack Orchestra band in 1936, James joined the wildly popular Benny Goodman in 1936 at the startlingly early of 20 and an early first marriage, he rapidly gained notice in the band, and by December 1937 he had begun to make recordings under his own name for Brunswick Records (later absorbed by Columbia Records).He was an instant sensation, and the rest of his life was lived in the spotlight.

By 20, too, his bad habits were formed: heavy drinking, incessant gambling, and compulsive promiscuity. In his decades of success, James found no reason to change, remaining (in the words of one of his band members) “a perpetual teenager as a man,” someone who “served all his appetites and all his desires. He wasn’t terribly concerned with other people.” Indeed, his dark sides had a tendency to eclipse his skill on the silver trumpets.

In early 1939, he left Goodman and launched his own orchestra, premiering it in Philadelphia in February. That spring, he heard the then-unknown Frank Sinatra on a radio broadcast and hired him. The band struggled, however, and when the more successful bandleader Tommy Dorsey made Sinatra an offer at the end of 1939, did not stand in his way.  In later years, Frank bankrolled a number of different Harry James’ Orchestras. Around the same time, he was dropped by Columbia and switched to the tiny Varsity Records label.

After two years of difficulties in maintaining his band, James changed musical direction in early 1941. He added strings and turned to a sweeter, more melodic style, meanwhile re-signing to Columbia Records. The results were not long in coming. In April 1941, he first reached the Top Ten with the self-written instrumental “Music Makers.” (His band was sometimes billed as Harry James and His Music Makers.) A second Top Ten hit, “Lament to Love,” featuring Dick Haymes on vocals, followed in August, and late in the year James reached the Top Five with an instrumental treatment of the 1913 song “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It).” This was the record that established him as a star. But with its sweet style and what was frequently described as Harry’s’ “schmaltzy” trumpet playing, it was also, according to jazz critic Dan Morgenstern (as quoted in the 1999 biography Trumpet Blues: The Life of Harry James by Peter J. Levinson), “the record that the jazz critics never forgave Harry for recording.”

James was second only to Glenn Miller as the most successful recording artist of 1942. During the year, seven of his recordings peaked in the Top Ten: the Top Five “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You,” with vocals by Helen Forrest; the number one instrumental “Sleepy Lagoon“; the Top Five “One Dozen Roses,” with vocals by Jimmy Saunders; the Top Five instrumental “Strictly Instrumental“; “He’s My Guy“; the Top Five “Mister Five by Five“; and “Manhattan Serenade,” the last three with vocals by Helen Forrest.

glenn-miller

 In September, when Miller went into the armed forces and gave up his radio show, Chesterfield Time, he handed it over to James, a symbolic transference of the title of top bandleader in the country. (James was ineligible for military service due to a back injury.) Meanwhile, wartime travel restrictions and the recording ban called by the musicians union, which took effect in August 1942, had limited James’ touring and recording activities, but another avenue had opened up. He began appearing in movies, starting with Syncopation in May 1942 and continuing with Private Buckaroo in June and Springtime in the Rockies in November. His next hit, “I Had the Craziest Dream,” with vocals by Helen Forrest, was featured in Springtime in the Rockies; it hit number one in February 1943. The movie is also memorable for having starred Betty Grable, whom James married in July 1943; they had two children and divorced in October 1965.

He had continued success throughout the 40’s & 50’s, even as the Big Band Era’s popularity was slowly waning, By then, he was deliberately trying to make his band sound like that of Count Basie. He was back onscreen in February 1950, his trumpet playing was heard in the film Young Man with a Horn, though the man fingering the trumpet onscreen was Kirk Douglas, and in November 1956 in the film The Opposite Sex.

harry-in-60s

He made his first major tour of Europe in October 1957, and in ensuing years he alternated national and international tours with lengthy engagements at Las Vegas hotels. There were two more film appearances, The Big Beat (June 1958) and The Ladies Man (July 1961). James performed regularly through the early ’80s. He was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1983, but continued to play, making his last appearance only nine days before his death at 67. Led by trumpeter Art Depew, his band continued to perform.

No one questioned Harry’s talent as a jazz trumpeter, though after his commercial ascendance in 1941 many jazz critics dismissed him. After his period of greatest success, he turned back to a more jazz-oriented style, which failed to change the overall impression of him, if only because he was no longer as much in the public eye. Nevertheless, his swing hits remain among the most popular music of the era.

James’ self-centered existence had its colorful aspects. A great sports fan, he was very serious about his band’s baseball team and often hired band members as much for their athletic prowess as their musical abilities. A lover of Western movies, he eventually arranged to star in one (Outlaw Queen, 1957). And as a big-band leader for much of his life, he participated to an expected degree in the antics and merriment that punctuated the dullness of life on the road.

But antics aside, Harry James was aloof. “Harry never got close to people,” one of his drummers said. “I don’t think anybody really liked him.” His first of three wives, singer Louise Tobin spoke of James’ “inhuman side,” his “cold, icy stare” and his “absolute indifference to his own children.”

James’ stunted personality stemmed from his deeply ingrained loneliness and insecurity to a childhood in which he received no proper nurturing. It appears he grew up not knowing the meaning of love. From boyhood on, Harry needed an audience to feel alive, special, important and loved. Without it, he believed he really wasn’t worth very much. Lacking any real education, he wouldn’t allow people to get close to him fearing they might find out he was a fraud. Only on the bandstand did James feel fulfilled and safe, according to singer Helen Forrest: “He was at peace and he knew he was loved when he was playing the trumpet…. He knew nobody could hurt him.” Another singer, Marion Morgan, thought that James “gave all his warmth and love through his trumpet. There just wasn’t much left.”

The good-looking, high-living James slickly packaged by record and movie people, quipped trumpeter Pete Candoli, “like a WASP Cesar Romero” — thought his success ride would never end. Certainly his work never did. His poor gambling luck, which found him losing millions of his own dollars (plus some of Betty Garbles’), kept him touring virtually to his dying day, on July 5, 1983, in Las Vegas. Harry James said he didn’t fear death: “It’s just another road trip.”

 

Which Influential Blues Pioneer’s Band Members Were the Inspiration for Reg Dwight’s (Elton John) Stage Name?

The guitarist and singer Long John Baldry, born January 12, 1941, and died July 21, 2005, at the age of 64,  played a key role in the growth of the British rhythm and blues movement, notably as the vocalist with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated.
https://youtu.be/SVSgmUIlCz8
He led bands in the mid-1960s that featured the youthful Rod Stewart and Elton John before recording his big hit, Let The Heartaches Begin, in 1967.
leadbelly                                     crane-river

Baldry grew up in a middle-class family in Queensbury, north London, attending the local grammar school and singing in the choir at St Lawrence’s, Edgware. Listening to a neighbor’s collection of jazz and blues records, he was entranced by the voice and 12-string guitar playing of the black American songster Huddie Leadbetter (“Leadbelly”). He also heard New Orleans jazz, recreated by the Crane River Jazz Band at Kingsbury baths hall.

Baldry acquired his first guitar at 14 and taught himself to play in Leadbelly’s style, often practicing in nearby Canon’s Park. This had once been owned by Handel’s patron, the Duke of Chandos, and, in a recent interview, Baldry joked that if he were to write an autobiography he would call it From Handel To Howlin’ Wolf.

Aged 16, in 1957 he discovered the skiffle and folk scene of Soho, where his 6ft 7in frame earned him the nickname “Long John”. He soon formed a duo with the guitar virtuoso Davy Graham and bought, for £15, a 12-string guitar built by a furniture maker and blues fan, Tony Zemaitis. A year later, he found himself billed at a Bradford folk club as “the world’s greatest white, 12-string guitarist”.

By the late 1950s, Baldry was a leading figure on the Soho scene and the only regular performer at both the blues club of Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies and the folk-song sessions run by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. The policy of the irascible MacColl was that singers should perform only the music of their native country, but he made an exception for Baldry, who remained a close friend until MacColl’s death in 1989.

When Korner and Davies decided, in early 1962, to form Britain’s first amplified blues group, Baldry was the natural choice as lead singer. Blues Incorporated‘s pioneering sessions at the Ealing Club, in west London, drew audiences that included future members of the Rolling Stones, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Manfred Mann. Baldry’s commanding vocal presence is one of the glories of R&B From The Marquee, the only album made by the original Blues Incorporated line-up.

Within a year, Korner and Davies had fallen out and formed separate bands. Both implored Baldry to join their new groups. He decided to go with Davies because, he later said, “Alexis was too hospitable to other musicians and I did not want to share the stage with 20 other singers.”

steam-packet

The Cyril Davies All Stars also featured the exceptionally talented guitarist Geoff Bradford, but the group’s progress was halted when its leader died suddenly in early 1963. Renaming the band, the Hoochie Coochie Men, Baldry assumed the role of leader, recruiting the 19-year-old Rod Stewart as a second vocalist in 1964 after hearing him singing on the platform at Twickenham station.

elton-john-bluesology

When that group disbanded, Baldry formed Steam Packet with organist Brian Auger, and later hired, as his backing group, Blues-ology, whose pianist Reg Dwight chose the stage name of Elton John by combining the first names of Baldry with that of the group’s saxophonist, Elton Dean. Baldry’s sage advice, when Dwight was experiencing a sexual identity crisis, is commemorated in the Elton John song, Someone Changed My Life Tonight.

 

long-john-still-aint

By 1967, Baldry’s swinging, jazzy blues were out of favor and he was persuaded to move into middle-of-the-road pop. This was a commercial success when Let The Heartaches Begin and Mexico became top-20 hits but was an artistic disaster, from which Rod Stewart and Elton John rescued Baldry by co-producing his well-reviewed 1971 album, It Ain’tEasy.

This revival in his fortunes was short-lived and, at the end of the 1970s, he emigrated to Canada, living first in Toronto and then in Vancouver. He was signed to a recording contract by Holger Peterson, of Stony Plain Records and became a popular figure on the blues club and folk festival circuit. He returned occasionally to perform in Britain and Europe, most recently in 2003. He also exploited his gruff, but mellow, bass voice by recording numerous voice-overs for advertisements and for Captain Robotnick, the villain of a children’s television cartoon series.

remembering-leadbelly

His final album for Stony Plain, fittingly, was Remembering Leadbelly, in 2002, of whom Baldry said, “His songs touched me as a kid and they still talk to me all these years later”.

Jimmy Page

Today is Jimmy Page’s 73 birthday.
In tribute, I am reposting my thoughts from 7 months ago.

Beryl Porter's In One Ear

With all the attention Jimmy Page has been getting as a result of the court case regarding the origin of “Stairway to Heaven”, was it nicked from Spirit or not (it wasn’t), I thought I would post some history of Page’s life and career for your pleasure.

Jimmy Page is best known as the fire-slinging riffmaster who helped Led Zeppelin to hard-rock dominance in the 1970s. His work with Zeppelin made him one of rock’s most important and influential guitar players, writers, and producers; in 2003, Rolling Stone listed Page as number nine on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. Since Zep’s demise, Page has alternated between solo projects and collaborations with other superstars. Largely uninterested in new trends and technology, Page’s later work has been as bound to classic rock as his legendary band was.

jimmy page 3

A self-described “introspective loner” as a child, Page, who was born January…

View original post 2,067 more words

Nat Hentoff, Famous Jazz Critic and Activist from Boston Dies at 91

Nat Hentoff, the civil liberties advocate and columnist who wrote about jazz and politics everything in between during a career spanning seven decades, died Saturday at 91, his son said. He passed surrounded by family and listening to Billie Holiday.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Mr. Hentoff on several occasions in New York and I always found him to be a walking encyclopedia of Jazz.He would start out every encounter with a “pop quiz” on music, after which he feigned disgust with any wrong answer. He took great pleasure in regaling you with anecdotes about famous musicians, singers, songwriters, and producers.There will never be another Nat Hentoff.

Hentoff was born in Boston to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in 1925. The New York Times reported that he tried to rebel at the age of 12 by publicly eating a salami sandwich as people walked by him on the way to synagogue, which angered his father and his neighbors. He said later that he did it in order to know how it felt to be an outcast, calling the experience “enjoyable.”

He attended Boston’s Latin School and graduated with honors from Northeastern University in 1946. In 1950, he was a Fulbright fellow at the Sorbonne in Paris. From 1953 through 1957 he was associate editor of Down Beat magazine. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in education and an American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award in 1980 for his coverage of the law and criminal justice in his columns. In 1985 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by Northeastern University.

george_wein__nat_hentoff

George Wein presenting Nat Hentoff with the NEA Jazzmaster Award

He has published many books on jazz, biographies, and novels, including a number of books for children. Among his works: “Does Anybody Give A Damn?: Nat Hentoff on Education,” “Our Children Are Dying,” “A Doctor Among Addicts,” “Peace Agitator: The Story of A. J Muste,” “The New Equality,” “The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America,” “The Day They Came to Arrest the Book,” “The Man from Internal Affairs,” “Boston Boy,” and “John Cardinal O’Connor: At The Storm Center of a Changing American Catholic Church,” “Free Speech for Me and Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other,” and “Listen to the Stories: Nat Hentoff on Jazz and Country Music.”

Hentoff developed a love for jazz early in life, and unlike many fans of his generation, took it seriously as art music rather than as glorified dance music. He brought to his listening a quality of focused, sustained attention that has always been rare. In Lewis’s film, Hentoff relates a story that seems as extraordinary as it is characteristic of the man: Unable to appreciate Charlie Parker’s genius — the ideas were too dense, he says, and came too quickly for him to grasp — he followed a friend’s advice and listened to Parker’s records at half-speed, closely and repeatedly. Slowed down, the music gradually became comprehensible, its intricacies less opaque, its beauties less veiled, and he began to understand the scope of the talent on display. It is no accident that Hentoff was the first non-musician to be named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The title of David Lewis’s documentary “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step/Notes on the Life of Nat Hentoff” begs a central question: Has Hentoff, 91, famed social commentator, critic, jazz writer, and activist, really spent his life being out of step? Or is that largely a romanticizing conceit?

If one considers the prevailing conformity of Eisenhower-era culture out of which his career first flowered, the answer, of course, is yes; a bearded, left-leaning, jazz-loving, African-American-befriending agnostic Jew was about as out of step as a person could get. But situated more narrowly within his own milieu, among his own kind, this East Coast child of the Great Depression who lived in the heart of Greenwich Village, frequenting its lively night scene while helping to forge the distinctive tone of its own local newspaper, has spent most of his life not only in step, but also frequently choreographing those steps for his confreres.

hentoff-mingus

Charles MIngus with Nat Hentoff

Musicians themselves sensed in him a kindred spirit, and many became his personal friends. Charles Mingus wrote in his memoirs that Hentoff with whom he found it possible to form a deep, abiding friendship. The writer’s admiration for his favorite artists was unfeigned, wholehearted and free of any consciousness of a racial divide. Interracial friendships were not so very rare in left-wing circles during the 1950s; nevertheless, there seems to have been a special quality of warmth and receptivity that Hentoff brought to these relationships.

hentoff-close

In addition to his weekly Village Voice column, Hentoff wrote on the subject of music for the Wall Street Journal. Among other publications in which his work has appeared are the New York Times, the New Republic, Commonweal, the Atlantic and the New Yorker, where he was a staff writer for more than 25 years.

 

 

 

 

Which Brilliant Jazz Saxophonist’s Music was Deemed so Holy that he had a Church Named After Him?

John Coltrane never stopped wondering what he wanted from music, and never stopped pushing the boundaries. Trane genuinely strove to be saintly in his devotion to the divine, creating a body of deeply spiritual music that has come to be regarded as holy by his many devotees. His musical legacy was officially consecrated in 1971 when the Church of Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane was founded in San Francisco.

A gentle and enigmatic man of many voices, Trane was an often fiery, shockingly original musician. Put on any of his records, and the sounds emanating from his saxophone crackle with life. While his music was criticized by some as being too “aggressive,” Trane knew (as some people “knew” in the 1960s) that love was the answer. His albums gaine momentum, one after the other, until his death in 1967, when perhaps he finally went even further beyond.

Right from the outset, Olé Coltrane establishes itself as a continuation of the approach taken on its predecessor, My Favorite Things. The modal jazz setting remains, the lineup is mostly the same, and Coltrane is playing soprano sax again. But the title track, a Coltrane original, is a different framework for the musicians to build on in terms of tone, with its strong Spanish influence. While Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain album recorded the year earlier could’ve been an influence, Davis and company opted for a more rigid orchestral setting which limited the opportunity for group improvisation. Coltrane’s take is far more conducive for that.

When he recorded Olé Coltrane in 1961, Trane was already transitioning over to Impulse! Records and his playing reflected the greater freedom that the new label afforded him. In the original liner notes, he is quoted as saying (in a classic understatement), “I like to play long.” On the 18-minute showpiece Olé, one can imagine the profound satisfaction he must have felt, when for the first time, he was free to let his playing stretch out across the record grooves. This is trance music of the highest order.

Trane’s Olé resonates with the mystical sounds of the North African Moors who once ruled the Iberian Peninsula. While Sketches of Spain is big on Gil Evans’ sweeping orchestrations and flamenco grandeur, Olé” explores the Eastern-influenced musical modes of Islamic Spain in a more stripped down and earthy manner. Just two days after recording Africa/Brass, his stunning debut album for Impulse!, Trane took old band mates McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones into the studio for a rendezvous with some talented new friends. Joining them there were Trane’s equally intense and innovative counterpart, Eric Dolphy, the very young and fabulous trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and two bassists: Reggie Workman and the Art Davis.

workman  Reggie Workman                   davis Art Davis

He would often record within a conventional quartet in which he was the only horn player, but here he expands his group, adding a trumpet, a flutist, and even a second bassist. The way the band accommodates the two bass players on Olé is interesting and effective – one hammers out the distinct, simple, repetitive riff that establishes the Spanish theme on which the piece is built, while the other tinkers in a higher register, arguably operating free of pure rhythm section duties. The two co-exist without ever crowding each other out or cluttering the low end.

dolphy  Eric Dolphy                  jones Elvin Jones

hubbard  Freddie Hibbard

This dream team provided a great deal of musical empathy, liberating the conception and size of Coltrane’s solos, spurring him to unknown heights. Everyone except Elvin Jones solos on Olé, shaping the song with ever increasing freedom into the masterpiece that it is. Eric Dolphy’s flute solo is unforgettable, communicating genius in a voice that no one could fail to identify. The interplay of the two basses lends an eerie mysticism to the song, with Art Davis’ strong rhythmic bow-work suggesting the entrancing dance of Istanbul’s Whirling Dervishes. Dahomey Dance is a more traditional sounding blues, with Trane switching to tenor sax. If not for the double-bass frontline and Dolphy’s blissfully unconventional solo, this song could easily be mistaken for a missing gem from Miles’ Kind Of Blue sessions.

The soloing is fantastic throughout, as you’d expect from these musicians. Eric Dolphy’s contributions on the flute stand out very prominently, not just for the choice of instrument but also his distinct style and delivery. The instrumentation is more typical of jazz than on Dolphy’s most famous work, but the solo is brilliant in any case.

tyner  McCoy Tyner

Tyner is also wonderful, managing to thrive in this format as he did on My Favorite Things. His interplay with Elvin Jones is incredible. The title track is one of Coltrane’s greatest songs and is clearly the highlight of the record, spanning 18 captivating minutes. It’s intense but in a radically different way to his work that would follow. Ole casts a long shadow on the rest of the record, but Aisha, written by McCoy Tyner, is another excellent song – the ballad of this set. Aisha burns with such sensuality that it’s hard to understand why it was one of the few McCoy Tyner compositions Trane ever recorded. People familiar with Coltrane’s more famous, frenetic work can appreciate the restraint shown, particularly Jones’ minimal brushwork on the kit.

. The final track, a Billy Frazier composition entitled  Original Untitled Ballad (To Her Ladyship),  was not released until 1970. A lovely and delicate tune, it was excluded from the original release for some strange reason.

my-fav                                                                     africa

Fans of My Favorite Things will find lots to like about this album. This, along with Africa/Brass from the same period, are good starting points for hearing Coltrane playing in a larger group than his typical quartet formation. Four short years later, he’d record in larger ensembles again, but by that stage, his philosophy towards performance and composition had changed considerably and it bears  very little immediate resemblance to what he offers here.

Olé Coltrane was his last recording for Atlantic Records, after which he’d record for Impulse for the remainder of his career – a label that would afford him tremendous freedom and faith that’d be reflected in his later work. It’s an intriguing listen that further showcases Coltrane’s rapid development, and is worthy listening for fans of his work or modal jazz in general.

A transitional record, Olé Coltrane successfully navigates the line between Trane’s sonically challenging later years and his earlier accessibility. A magnificent milestone in Trane’s artistic growth, this is an essential recording for any collection.

The Doors- The Doors is 50 Years Old

 

It was (gulp) 50 years ago this week that The Doors first self-titled album was released. When I hear it even today, it reminds of the first time I was exposed to its inherent coolness. It was on of those “cold chill” records that had to be played again & again & again and, for some reason, was empowering. To me, it represents the late 60’s California vibe of love, sex, debauchery and pushing the limits of what was good taste, at that time. (Remember when your parents picked up on the theme of “The End?” It was guaranteed to prompt a demand to “get rid of that filthy album!”  Those same parents, however, loved “Light My Fire” – the Jose Feliciano version! It is a beautiful interpretation of the song (see below.)

When the Doors entered a Hollywood recording studio to make their debut album at the end of August 1966, they knew what they wanted. Months of serving as house band at the Whisky a Go-Go had sharpened their playing and performing skills to the point where one member of the quartet could abruptly swerve toward a new direction and the others would follow without missing a beat.

the-doors

And they had become adventurous songwriters in the process, coming up with a culture-tipping set of songs that sampled the flavors of 1967, from blues and pop to folk and psychedelia. Built on Ray Manzarek’s woozy organ (which fell somewhere between old-man jazz and tripping-balls garage rock), the Doors’ music sounded playful and serious, stoned and studious, artsy and yes, it must be said, pretentious.

Its dubiously in-charge ringleader was Jim Morrison, one of rock’s most magnetic frontmen, a swaggering mound of sweaty flesh who was defined by a combination of slurred lyrics and pants-down-now sex. His penetrating presence turned The Doors into something more than just another hippie-era relic; he got under your skin and wormed his way into your system’s vital wiring. Without him, the music was an empty vessel.

But it all came together in a collision of ideals, ideas and high-as-a-kite philosophy during that week in late August 1966. When The Doors was released on Jan. 4, 1967, it sounded both part of and a distraction from a scene that was on the verge of discharging. “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” was the album’s lead track and single, but the showpieces came at the end of each side: “Light My Fire” was Top 40 pop with a hard-on; “The End” was apocalyptic theater laced with Oedipal tension. And they pretty much summed up The Doors experience.

Interestingly, “Light My Fire” was the first song Robby Krieger ever wrote. Wow.

He said in a 1990 interview about the cover: “It’s really a great feeling to have written a classic. I think I owe a big debt to Jose Feliciano because he is actually the one, when he did it, everybody started doing it. He did a whole different arrangement on it.”

“Break on Through” failed to crack the Top 100, but “Light My Fire” made it to No. 1, hitting the peak position in July, just as the Summer of Love was ramping up.

The song has become a pivotal moment in that momentous year. So has the album, which reached No. 2. Its blues (“Back Door Man”) and pop-art (“Alabama Song [Whisky Bar]”) covers blended with originals like “Soul Kitchen” and “Twentieth Century Fox” for the start of a trip that helped open rock’s expanding perceptions.

Also recognizing the half-century anniversary of that debut album, Rhino Records announced plans for a deluxe reissue of “The Doors,” originally released Jan. 4, 1967, in a 3 CD, one LP set that will be available in March.

“The Doors: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” will include stereo and mono mixes of the album. The stereo version has been remastered for the first time in nearly 30 years and the mono edition is appearing for the first time on CD, along with a 12-by12-inch hardcover book and a CD of a live performance from the Matrix club in San Francisco, which the band gave shortly after the album debuted.

Although the Matrix performance had been previously available, Rhino officials noted that the 2008 release was taken from a third-generation source and that recently discovered original tapes long thought to be lost have been used for the new version. It will list for $64.98.