Thursday, September 11, 2014

Watching Magical Mystery Talent Shows on God-Awful Television

Talent Shows
I watched this talent show on teevee t'other night [America's Got Talent].  A big huge money-wasted affair being held at Radio City Music Hall.  The judges: Howie Mandel; some babe with tattoos I've never heard of; Heidi Klum; and Howard Stern.  My immediate question was: What the hell do these people know about talent?  As I watched the vaudevillians, and that's what they are, trotted out to do their "amazing" entertainment: I saw hand-standers, one with a couple of obedient Chihuahua dogs in his act; a troop of amateur dancers involving little kids on up to big kids; I saw a pretty boy in a wool skullcap make out like he's one of the great singers of all time but whose effort turned out to be limp shit but Howie Mandel, the girls, and Howard Stern leapt to their feet in billionaire-adoration for this half-talented pretty boy; then I saw a young White girl trying to sing Black who was so nervous she ended up singing exactly like what she was: a nervous White teenager in need of Pro-Tools.

Talent?  Is this talent the best we can come up with?  And judged by 4 show-biz under-contract jugheads who wouldn't know talent if it bit 'em on their fat-stuffed egos.  Like Heidi Klum.  What's her talent besides being an empty-headed blonde...what? is she a model? an actress? an author?  What the hell is Heidi Klum?  And Howie Mandel.  Hasn't he produced failed teevee show after teevee show (remember Bobby?).  Why is he so popular with NBC?  Could it be he's under contract to them to do whatever shark-jumping show they produce with him in mind?  Howard Stern, who back in the late 80s and early 90s was one hell of a funny guy, has now gotten so big and rich and egomaniacal  he's now simply a safe shadow of his old self.  He tries to be rude and fifth grade on this show, but it ends up making him look more like a clown than a comedian.  The tattooed woman who I never heard of, I have no idea what she claims as her ticket into the big-time show biz, but she's dopey at best in her constant swooning over these semi-talented 2nd raters.

I must say, I did see a very impressive magician on the show, though as a personality, he sucked.
On the other hand, I saw a great magic act using a compressed-air nail gun put on by Penn and Teller on a cheap channel show that features these two guys.

Arnold Porcine
for The Daddy O'Daily 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Old Jazz Cats Trying to Get a Gig

Rehearsing With Hope
Awhile back I started rehearsing with a trio of old friends and new friends (a couple of the bass players I met for the first time).  I started off way back in the seventies as a blues piano player but one night while drinking at a bar where I knew the band's leader, he came up to me, I was already three sheets to the wind and heading fastly into the fourth, and asked me if I could sing.  My rather bibulous reply was, "No, but if I could sing, I could sing better than your singer."  Immediately, this cat pulled me up off the bar stool and dragged me up on stage, put a mic in my hands, and said, "Sing."  And I sang.  I don't recall what I sang but whatever it was, a blues I'm sure, it went over big enough that I got a roaring and impressive round of applause from the bar's music patrons.  From that day on I became a singer.

In the first bands I was in here in New York City, I still played the piano, but from that time on I also sang.  I played and sang with a series of downtown Manhattan cult bands, bands that covered everything from the blues, r and b, rock 'n roll, to original tunes by some of the most talented bunch of musicians I would never have met had it not been for that night in that bar when I was hit on to sing.

I worked as a singer/pianist (and later as a harmonica player) in the New York City area pretty steadily during the late seventies all the way up into the early 2000s when suddenly most blues and jazz venues were closed down for good or at least closed to my kind of what had then become to younger musicians old fogie music.

My last steady gig went south around 2004 and from then on if I worked I would guest with bands I knew doing a couple of tunes and getting paid in camaraderie, free beers, and occasionally free meals.

I haven't done any steady gigging for quite a while now though I'm still working on my music, keeping my chops up on the piano and harmonica and trying to learn to play the guitar.  I also produce my own CDs in my own recording studio, CDs covering a gamut of venues from blues on up to my more serious and elaborate compositions.

More than a year ago, a drummer friend of mine called me and said he and a bass player and pianist had started rehearsing once a week at the Local 802 Union Hall and he invited me to drop in if I felt like it and sing a few with them. That initial drop in soon had me invited as a regular member of this rehearsal group, as their vocalist.

Things evolved so well, that after one rehearsal while the leader, the piano player, and I were sipping cold pints of Bass ale at Hurley's Bar, it was decided that we'd try to book some gigs.

Previous to these rehearsals, I had been pretty cynical about the jazz situation here in New York City.  I had commented on how what few jazz venues were still around had been captured by a few old has-beens who were still humping the system by depending on their past associations with jazz superstars to get gigs, even though those associations were of perhaps a one-gig moment or as a back-up musician on one album.

Well, anyway, here we are a bunch of old cats from the old school deciding we can't give up.  We gotta forge on no matter the odds against us.  We're all of us still powerful executioners of several aspects (genres) of jazz.  We rehearsed an all-Horace Silver show the other day and were surprised at how many Silver tunes we knew.  And, though you don't usually think of Horace in terms of vocals, he recorded quite a few albums with vocalists Andy Bey and Oscar Brown, Jr., for instance.

So one fine afternoon a month or so back, the drummer and leader of this rehearsal group went out looking for gigs.  He came back depressed.  Even though the jazz magazines still being published around New York City, and there are quite a few, list club after club still catering to the jazz crowd, his experience found that these clubs were first of all not paying anything and second of all the better ones, the more established ones, wanted groups or individuals who were being recorded or had signed on with record labels and had CDs released.  That stipulation left us out in the cold.

As a result of NO GIGS (how can old cats like us compete with a beautiful young Asian pianist? or a young man who has just graduated with honors from a college music program?), our rehearsals went the way of all flesh and our little group broke up.

The drummer got into flamenco and he works now with a flamenco pianist from Spain, a flamenco singer, a flamenco dancer, and a bass player friend at a small Spanish bar down in the East Village.

The piano player has become a church organist at an Episcopal church in New Jersey.

And I?  I have become a writer currently editing a novel I recently finished.  I stay at home (I can't afford to go out...except I do have a friend who works for Jazz at Lincoln Center that treats me to a jazz concert occasionally), I read a lot, and I collect CDs of those jazz albums I once owned back when I was young and open minded and able to get a gig every now and then.  I also have put together quite a collection of Lester Young 78s, photos, and posters.  I still listen to 78s trying to convince myself that they are as close to the performer as I'll ever get, though some of the players I have on 78s, like Lester, moved on into the LP years and recorded on EPs and LPs, though I still nostalgically hold that their sounds on 78s are still just a step away from them blowing directly into the microphone while the master waxes are having their grooves cut as they are playing.  Maybe the young cats are right.  I'm just an old fogie on my way to the jazz and blues boneyard.  Still, I miss the stages and atmospheres of the bars and joints and dives in which I used gain wonderful applause and loving kudos.

Recent CDs I've bought that I find worthy of multitudes of listens are:
Grant Green's amazing Idle Moments Lp from the 1960s (a truly finely done jazz classical performance); Jimmy Rushing singing so fine with of all people Dave Brubeck and the Quartet (Desmond, Gene Wright, Joe Morello), a recording from 1960; and coming closer to now, Bill Charlap (with Kenny and Peter Washington) playing the music of Leonard Bernstein (I love Lennie's tune "Ohio" done masterfully by Mr. Charlap).

An Old Jazz Cat Who Still Remembers When Louie, Bird, Klook, Budo, J.J., Fats (Navarro), Rich, Diz, Miles, Blue, Mingus, et. al., were still alive and innovating.
My last paid gig...I'm the vocalist: 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fifty Years After the Fab Four Ruined American Music

The British Invasion Ruined American Music
I often ask Fab Four fanatics, how can you compare the Beatles to the much more talented American performers whose careers they didn't necessarily ruin but drove them lower in the charts and drove down their record sales?

I've often said that the Beatles were the White American record promoters' "Great White Hopes" against the domination of American music by an onslaught of innovative and overwhelmingly better Black performers like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Larry Williams (from whom the Beatles ripped off "Slow Down"), Paul Williams (the man who made "the Huckle-buck") (who?), B.B. King, the Howlin' Wolf (who when he recorded with a Brit band in England said on hearing the results, "That's dog shit music"), Sonny Boy Williamson #2, the great Muddy Waters (one of the most embarrassing idiot performances I've ever seen is when a stone junked up Mick Jagger gets up on stage with Muddy and tries to out-Black him (and, folks, I met Mick Jagger once and he was a damn nice guy)), Ruth Brown, T-Bone Walker, J.B. Lenoir, Otis Redding, Billy Preston, Bo Diddley, Little Johnny Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, the great Jimmy Reed, the overwhelmingly great Ray Charles (a versatile blues, r and b, rock, and jazz musician and entertainer), the ultimate great James Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson ("The Gangster of Love"), the great songmaster and musician Stevie Wonder, Magic Slim, John Lee Hooker (one of the great songsters and one of the best guitar players ever), Jimi Hendrix (I know, he had to go to England to find fame), Patti LaBelle, Fontana Bass (who?), The Mighty Hannibal ("Hymn #5), Solomon Burke, Frank Motley (the cat who played two trumpets at once), Lightnin' Hopkins, Manse Lipscomb, Mercy Dee Walton ("One Room Country Shack"), Ike Turner, Sly Stone, King Curtis, Gatemouth Brown, Charles Brown ("Driftin' and Driftin'"), Prince, Larry Graham ("Release Yourself" one of the greatest albums ever recorded), Al Green, et. al.

Here's something on this subject I wrote back in 2002:
November 24, 2002, Interesting discussion between an older musician and a couple of musicians from the Detroit, Michigan, area--it had to do with influences, the old musician talking about purity, nurturing a seedling garden of musics that came about in the US of A full force right after World War II. Kids in the late forties and early fifties were of a special generation. That generation had no designation, like the Lost Generation, the Beatniks, or Generation X; in fact, a good designation for that generation would be the Forgotten Generation, or for an even crueler appellation, how about the Never-Heard-of Generation. The old musician's generation, a generation that turned its back on Swing, Jump, Boogie, a generation like the Beats there when Be-bop up and changed the mainstream of jazz, which is all Swing was, a white interpretation of black jazz out of New Orleans, Harlem, Chicago's Mafia jazz clubs, and the Middle American big band jazz coming out of the Midwest, especially Kansas City, truly out of which came Charles Parker, Junior, and in New York advanced by a bunch of super musicians coming out of the Deep South, like Dizzy and John Coltrane, though their southern-style of music learning had been heartily refined after these geniuses settled in the confines of the New York City scene during and after WWII. Miles was from the Midwest. What a gathering. And it happened at the same time the old musician was learning music, taking piano lessons and being classically trained in the rudiments of ancient music. Listening to the early bop was quite a revealing experience. Some of the Swing charts had been hairy, sure, but the bop charts were head arrangements, spontaneous blowing, taking off on a riff and improvising through measure after measure of crescendo and diminuendo--oh, the freedom of it--blow, man, blow, that was the order of the day in jazz. Just blow. Yeah, you knew all the notes, the chords, the forms, shit, those were engrained in your head--everybody had music lessons in those days--if you were into music. Most homes had pianos. Guitars were not yet the most dominant omnipresent instruments they are today. Bands had guitars but they were chordal strummers. Even the earliest be-bop guitarists started off the chordal strum, evolving single-note lines as they had to revamp to catch up with the horns and pianos, fuck the bass and the drums, though they were fighting for attention, too, to fit into be-bop, like Max Roach, a very young man, figured it out; then Blakey, Philly Joe, dudes like that. Jo Jones with Basie had the right idea, but he was a foundation on which Roach and the other boppers built a whole new music of the drums. The old musician could go on for decades describing growing up musically at such a time. Such an all-American time, too. Music right out of the American soil and soul. Black origins, yes, but whites gloriously favoring it, even though they made a minstrelsy mess out of it when they made a mockery out of the music while at the same time being madly in love with it [Bing Crosby, for example; minstrelsy in order to make a living, but enchanted by the black aspect of the music at the same time]. It's like when one day you would as a white man have to take sides, say in another Civil War--either stay with the blacks and face annihilation, or get behind the whites you basically despise and save your ass. Artists can't save their asses no matter the color of their skin. Art exits the human soul as art, no matter the race of the artist. Art is universal. Life is universal. It was only natural that this pure American music as art would become universal.

It was hard for the old musician to admit such a point. He was progressive, so he had to admit it, was hard. He was a purist when it came to American music. That was his bias, his ethnocentric bias. He was extremely jealous of the way others learned his precious music after the music did become universal.

One of the guys from Michigan said, "Hey, I understand what you are saying, old dude, and I must admit I never considered the subject from your point of view. I assumed all guys my age learned jazz and blues and such the same way I did." The other Michigan guy agreed. "What he means is, at least I speak for myself being from the same hometown, you dig, I came to jazz through bands like the MC5, or the Detroit Wheels. I heard the Beatles before I really knew jazz. I accepted the Beatles." The old dude growls. "God, the Beatles...shit, they ruined jazz especially. They did respect our black rhythm and blues and rock. Their first album was a rip off of all American black tunes, like 'Slow Down,' a tune by Texan Larry Williams that really flip-flopped-and-flew, man, whereas the Beatles did it like a kids tune. They turned our classical music into children's tunes, like Barney...I mean, you ever watch Barney, man, play the piano?--hell, yeah, Barney plays hinkity, rinky-dink, sloppy jazz piano, man--a child's respect for jazz. Am I making sense? The Beatles, hell, as Ray Charles said, 'I had to do their tunes because of their popularity, but I never did dig their music.' Their music changed the modal aspects of rhythm and blues and rock. Took it out of the traditional homemade mode or whatever blues idiom you were coming to the music from...and you had to know the blues in order to properly construct say a be-bop tune. An old original type blues guy, John Lee Hooker, was one of the best at it; he could hold a measure open for what seemed like minutes, getting the full flavor out of a line, out of a musical point, their guitars as much a part of their voice as anything, their pianos jumping and dancing with the vocals--12/4 times, 32/4 slow draggy hully-gullies and things. Fuck the Beatles. I never listened to 'em, never studied them, though I admit, I did do their stuff when I was a piano bar pianist, or playing once in a bowling alley restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had to play what bowlers wanted to hear."

One of the young guys said, "Come on, Mr. History, the Beatles wrote some good tunes." The old musician pondered. "Wanna know the truth, and this applies to classical music as well as pop, everything that is British is stolen--when they were an empire, they stole all of the musics from their colonies, or they Anglicized them like they did American music in the sixties. Boring fucking modes. Boring fucking music, like Sir Eddie Elgar. Benjamin Britten stole everything American. Hell, at one time, St. Martin of the Fields was doing more American stuff than American orchestras, certainly the boring New York Philharmonic, which since Lenny Bernstein was their most famous conductor, they haven't hired an American-born conductor, preferring instead the rigorous Nazi conduction of guys like this last Viennese dude, Kurt Von something or the other. I remember when Pierre Boulez, who thought he was so fucking modern, came here--he was a total flop. And this is the guy who found errors in Stravinsky's scores."

Peter Pounder [not his real name]
for The Daddy O'Daily