I was watching “That Thing You Do” on one of the handful of HD stations I receive. The drummer in the film plays in a pop band but has this love of jazz. He loves the way it sounds, feels and smells when he’s experiencing it, and THAT is what this post is about. I love good jazz too. And I really enjoy when I can turn someone on to some jazz cat who’s been doin’ it since they was five and on fire by the seat of his breeches.
Now jazz music isn’t easy to listen to. It’s not easy to play either. I know of classical musicians who can’t even wrap their brain around a jazz solo unless they reference their theory books, write it out on a staff and practice it twice daily. The beauty of jazz is that most of what you hear is unscripted. It really is the epitome of live music and live is, in my opinion, the best way to experience it. But, I live in Los Angeles. And trying to find a good jazz club out here is like trying to find a Dunkin Donuts or a Sheetz Gasoline (You east coasters know what I mean… don’t you?). Nothing against the L.A. jazz scene and the incredible musicians that somehow make money playing at the handful of joints that will have them, but the jazz scene in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania (home of the Slinky) is bigger than the scene out here. But rant aside, jazz shouldn’t be intimidating to listen to. It’s usually that small section of music you’ll see next to the equally sized “New Age” or “Classical” section in your local Mega Merchandise Store. But more and more Mega Coffee Shops and Mega Bookstores are expanding their Jazz sections and repertoire. Why? Well because jazz, like most music, can sell an idea or lifestyle. Go to your local Pottery barn, Crate and Barrel, or Starbucks and you’re almost guaranteed to find a dinner party or cocktail hour CD of some great performances by both old and new artists. Well, if the idea of the dazzling urbanite puffing on a $500 pipe in a smoking jacket or the hip cat having a few friends over for some martinis and poker strikes you as COOL, give these tracks a listen. Or, if you are curious and have no idea what to buy to get started into this vast world of “it’s the notes she’s not playing,” then enjoy these selections. Or if you love GOOD JAZZ, have at it! Beatniks of the world… unite… and snap your fingers… I knew that you could…
So to ease you into this, we’ll start off with some vocalists. I’ve always found it easier to listen to jazz vocalists, both male and female. Mostly because it’s harder to jump around from note to note, octaves apart, than it would be on a piano or vibraphone. When this is done right, and most jazz singers do it well, it’s impressive and appealing. And also because most of what is released nowadays is new artists putting their spin on old standards. Two women come to mind when I think of newer artists putting out the old standards: Lisa Ekdahl and Diana Krall. Now they have both been around for a while, and have added their sultry vocal stylings to some old standards. In fact when Diana started to get some real attention in the jazz community, it was thought that she was a little too oversexed to be singing such classics and so she recieved a lot of attention. Well, all I know is the first time I heard her cuts, my heart skipped a beat. And not just that “bad Pink’s Hotdogs” Halloween experience skipped a heartbeat, I’m talking high-school-first-kiss-behind-the-football-bleachers kind of skipped a beat. If ever there was a woman that could make a man swoon… mercy! Enjoy!
Diana Krall – Popsicle Toes
As for Lisa Ekdahl: I discovered her from a salesman I was testing at the local Good Guy’s video store. I was looking for a new pair of stereo reference speakers and brought in some music to sample. He had some crappy mix cd that was showing off how well the home theater could reproduce the 808 but had a track that was just incredible. I asked him to go back so I could listen to it. Well, simple small ensemble stuff, a crystal pixie voice and that special something only a Swede could add had me hooked. Lisa actually started as a pop musician and hit it pretty big in Scandanavia in the early 90’s. Anyway, her petite Billie-esque voice just drew me in and brought me back to the first couple of times I heard Billie Holiday. The smell of my old Ludwig gold sparkle drumkit, the way the sticks felt in my hands as I tried to keep up with Buddy Rich, and the way the record would skip if I started to play too loud; all these things got me invested in her as an artist. Music always has some emotional value, so her take on these standards may actually be terrible based on my experiences. But as heightened or diminished as my emotional interpretaion of Lisa may be, her ability to stay true to the standard, breathe her own style into the music and bring that night club jazz twist into the mix is brilliant.
Lisa Ekdahl – Down With Love
Joe Sample loves to play jazz. Well, I don’t think you’ll find a working musician out there that doesn’t love what they are doing, but you can tell that he just loves jazz. When I hear his music, I think of Paris, New York, beatniks, filterless cigarettes and cognac. Well, these things may actually reflect one of my favorite albums of his. I’ll let the track speak for itself and let his ivory stylings take you back to some simpler times. enjoy…
Joe Sample – Hippies on A Corner
Art Blakey is a drum god. I saw him live with the Jazz Messengers in the 80’s and was just blown away. Although he would be the first to have denied it, his drumming style reflects a lot of African drumming techniques. My favorite is the use of a stick, hand, or elbow on a tom head to alter the pitch, much like a conga player would do. But he is most known for his trademark hi-hat ‘chick’ on two and four which is the staple of any ambidexterous drummer and the cornerstone of percussive educators when teaching basic drum kit. But not only was Blakey an innovator, he was also a monster on the drums: loud, agressive and yet completely invested in the other members in the ensemble. Playing off of solos, feeding soloists, moving music forward and pulling it back… that was Blakey. I can only hope that this track gives you some idea of what he was all about.
Art Blakey – Minority
Geoff Farina… HI-YA! Karate chop! Ki-ya! I got turned on to his music by a friend I worked with at 20th Century Fox. In between daily grinds of booking edit bays and keeping the Fox Sports divisions afloat, we would trade music. After I was kind enough to lend him some Wonderstuff albums, he gave me a CD of this band named Karate. Really mellow stuff that had that East Coast edge which kept it from becoming Morrissey or Death Cab. Anyway, Farina was the guitarist and frontman for the now disbanded Karate. To my pleasure, I got to see them perform live at LA’s version of the Knitting Factory. Please realize that the New York Knitting Factory and the LA Knitting facotry are two completely seperate vibes. One because of location and two because of level of talent. So I was really suprised when Farina and Karate were playing there. They are good. And by good I mean, I met my future wife for dinner with friends beforehand… had a terrible time… went to the show with them, and by the end of the set, had decided that we were going to go on a real first date, alone, and without that terrible double date / first date akwardness. Well Farina is alone and without a terrible awkwardness on his solo efforts. Some musicians sound out of place or studio rehearsed… edited and plasticine in their first solo outings. Farina just brings it. And not in that all out ballsy way that Maynard Ferguson can bring it. It’s more like listening to a poet recite something they just wrote or watching a modern artist create something almost confusing, yet beautiful. Dig this track and then pick up on Karate; or if you have more of a pop ear, Karate first then learn the way of Geoff… his Farina style is more powerful than our Kung-fu…
Geoff Farina – Special Diamonds
Django Reinhardt makes me happy. He is my favorite Basque gypsy guitarist of all times. In fact, he was one of the first jazz guitarists in Europe. His music is indicative of the early 1900’s and has that early American feel and flavor about it. It wasn’t until after World War II that Django was able to bring his Euro-influenced, gypsy instrumental jazz style of music to the states. His trip to the states changed his music and he began adapting American jazz styles to his already established sound. After returning to Europe, he released what is one of his most highly acclaimed albums, Djangology, where he chose not to bring his American-influenced form of jazz to the platters, but to record an album in his original style, which took him 30 years to develop. I hope you enjoy this quirky and stylistic form of jazz as much as I do and at the very least, purchase some of his music to use in your vacation videos and photo slide shows.
Django Reinhardt – I Saw Stars
Well I hope this gives you a nice look into the various types of what I consider a solid introduction to jazz. I tried to stay away from the typical Coltrane, Monk and Davis; and haven’t even touched the Afro-Cuban influence that exists. But then, I wouldn’t have anything to write about next time. Hope you dig all the tunes and keep reading The Alternakids blog for more great music.
Purchase “Popsicle Toes” – Diana Krall
Purchase “Down With Love” – Lisa Eckdahl
Purchase “Hippies on a Corner” – Joe Sample
Purchase “Minority” – Art Blakey
Purchase “Special Diamonds” – Geoff Farina
Purchase “I Saw Stars” – Django Reinhardt
Biographical information gathered from various resources including:
-by David Schatanoff, Jr.