Archive for April, 2019

27
Apr
19

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond “At Wilshire-Ebell”

I didn’t even know I had this record, and I don’t have very many records, but then I regularly lose notebooks, and it took me months to find a particular pair of socks once, and then it turned out they didn’t grant me the gift of invisibility anyway. You can pick up Dave Brubeck albums in cheap bins, I suppose, because they made a lot, and he doesn’t have the collector appeal of certain jazz legends whose records you never see, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. I mean, you see those at record shops where you have to pay for them. Sometimes I question my cheapie approach to cheap records—why not just spend the money on ones I really, really like? But if I start questioning that, I have to question my whole life, like why can’t I figure out how to make above poverty level wages. And just, generally, why do I suck so much? This thinking is a vicious cycle. It’s much better to just try to keep moving.

I picked a random card, Ace of Spades, lined it up to my random record picking system, and this one came up. It’s got a glossy cartoon cover, a drawing of a proscenium, presumably the Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles, with some little cartoon musicians, white guys with glasses, Dave Brubeck at piano and Paul Desmond with an alto sax. The drawing is small enough to fit full-size on a cassette, without the theater that dwarfs them, of course, but then you’d lose the effect. The back cover is covered with words, not one but two sets of anonymously written liner notes. It’s a delight, if not particularly entertaining or weird. This 1957 record is on Fantasy, who seemed often to favor the red vinyl, so if nothing else, when you’re having a guest over, the visual of putting the records on will mix well with a well-mixed cocktail and mood lighting. This record, in spite of its live recording format, could function well in that setting. All good songs on here, standards that don’t sound enough like classic versions to put them in the forefront of your evening’s activities. The massive but polite applause at the end of each number sounds like someone briefly turning on a water faucet full blast.

For me, I’ll always associate Brubeck with his most famous composition, “Take Five,” (written by Paul Desmond) which, if you’re a certain age, you’ll not be able to disconnect from its use commercially here and there, now and then. I seem to remember some really corny TV stuff from my childhood that used either Dave Brubeck music or very similar stuff, but I can’t remember what exactly—nor do I particularly want to return to it, as I consider the bulk of my TV watching as a mild version of childhood trauma. Not to be negative—I love Dave Brubeck. Maybe I should just have a Brubeck marathon someday, with all my thrift-store vinyl, to try to shake overplayed associations. Really, I could spend weeks, or even a season, listening to nothing but scratchy old “Cool Jazz” records—though it would be best in hot weather, preferably while staying at a beach house, overlooking the vast Pacific.

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19
Apr
19

Allan Sherman “My Son, the Folk Singer”

I never heard of Allan Sherman before playing this 1962 record, but apparently he went through a period of widespread success and popularity, which is why this record exists and I was able to pick up a copy for nothing. According to the internet, his popularity declined after the JFK assassination 1963—is that true? Did the masses lose their taste for frivolous humor after that time, and if so, does that partly explain why I grew up only occasionally cracking a smile—I wonder. Anyway this is essentially a comedy record comprised of goofy folk songs with lyrics that are sometimes pretty obvious and sometimes rather obscure. Kind of typical of me, I find myself annoyed by the stuff I understand, and intrigued by the stuff I don’t. I supposed if I understood the stuff I don’t understand I’d be annoyed by that too. The overall tone is that kind of humor that says “this is humor”—but I actually really like the singing style of Allan Sherman, I guess because he sounds like an urban Jewish guy to me, like the kind of co-worker who cracks you up daily. Let’s see, where is he from? Chicago, moved around a lot. I guess a lot of these songs are parodies, where you have to know the thing it’s parodying to make sense—but again, I’m wondering if I personally like stuff that doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, it’s a live album, and the audience is finding it all hilarious—from the individual, tittering laugh, to bursts of uncontrolled laughter, to the full on roar. For me it’s pretty much torture to hear people laugh like that. Now that I think of it, I don’t much care for live recordings, in general, but live comedy is the worst. I mean, if you’re there, then it’s live, and when it’s a recording of something live, it’s not live anymore, is it—it’s just annoying. I don’t like recordings of live “specials” either, or podcasts that are recorded in front of a live audience—I can’t listen to them. The audience on this album is recorded really loudly, too, it’s just unbearable—I mean, just torture me, okay? The cover, though, is great—well, not that great, but there is a woman in a black dress holding a dead chicken, and a bagel lying on the floor, it’s goofy, and, yeah, it’s almost a good album cover.

12
Apr
19

Virgil Gonsalves Big Band Plus Six “Jazz at Monterey”

For one thing, if you see this 1959 album cover somewhere, like at thrift-store prices, you can’t NOT buy it, with the monochrome, crude pasteup of Virgil Gonsalves and an enormous baritone sax perched death-defyingly on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, facing a witch-like wind-blasted tree. He looks kind of like the guy who does your taxes or fixes your porch, but that horn is no joke. The bold red letters, JAZZ AT MONTEREY—irresistible. If I was starting a record company, I might steal the Omega Records label design outright—it’s one of the coolest I’ve seen. I’m not sure if this is considered “cool jazz” or what—someone correct me. I mean, it is cool, very cool, cool as a cadet blue DeVille—but I’m not sure if it’s/he’s the official member of any movement. In the first song (and all of them) you can imagine soundtracks—to stuff like a guy wearing sunglasses driving a convertible really fast, somebody standing on a corner, two scientists making love, captains of industry eating whole fish, dentists at war with each other, the city of tomorrow, a really good poetry reading—I don’t know. Mostly, what I am thinking about this record is that I like it.

On back, there’s really long and extensive liner notes by Johnny Adams, Jazz DJ at KIDD in Monterey—way too much to paraphrase here—I didn’t even read it all! I’ll get to it some day, because he’s going into great detail, and ends by saying: “SO… bend an ear and listen!” And this is a listening record for me, meaning I’m going to put it on again, just to listen to it, see? I also like how he says that Virgil Gonsalves “has not one direction, but many.” I feel like I can hear that in the music. I believe there is a six piece band playing on some songs and a band twice that size on other songs… but it all sounds simultaneously minimal and maximal, subtle and complex. Virgil Gonsalves, besides being the bandleader, also plays the baritone sax, which is a very cool instrument. The lineups here are pretty much piano, bass, drums, and then horns, and more horns—saxophones and trumpets. Horns, lots and lots of horns. And more horns. Did I say horns?

06
Apr
19

Julie London “Calendar Girl”

This is one of the best theme records of 1956, if not ever, as each song represents a month of the year. Naturally, some months have more than one song written about them, while others needed an obscure song dug up, or a new one composed for this record, I’m guessing—so a lot of work had to be done and hard decisions had to be made. Like, it starts out with “June in January”—representing the first month of the year. The other aspect of this theme thing is that the album cover, both the front and back, are each decorated with six calendar style pinup photos of Julie London in skimpy costumes. Older people reading this might have an indelible image of Julie London in a nurse’s uniform, from the TV show, Emergency! in which she convincingly played a nurse, and about which I have no nostalgia. Her husband, Bobby Troup, played a doctor, but in real life he wrote “Route 66” as well as some of the songs on this album.

The best way to approach this record, then, is song by song, with visual accompaniment of the cheesecake photos—and to make matters richer, there are liner notes by Richard Breen (screenwriter of Tony Rome 1967), a man who needs no introduction, as I’m not going to paraphrase any, busy as I am writing my own. “June in January” is a song I’m well-acquainted with, and JL’s calendar photo is with balloons and a noisemaker, presumably after hours of the New Year’s party. February is a valentine, naturally, a big heart and a bear-skin rug, but a sad song, “February Brings the Rain.” “Melancholy March” is another sad one, the bear rug again, a see-through nightie, a feather duster, and green telephone (reminding me of how sad it is that cell phones will never be cool or beautiful objects). “I’ll Remember April” (especially this one) and she’s donning a polka-dot bikini and a parasol. “People Who are Born in May” is a goofy song that I’m not going to try to make sense of. JL is wearing a gingham bikini and is posing with basket of flowers. “Memphis in June” has some really nice imagery, and the pic is of her wearing a wedding dress, but one that wouldn’t be appropriate at a first wedding, a church wedding, or really any wedding, outside of the Playboy Mansion.

Side Two: “Sleigh Ride in July” is a nice compliment to the first song on the record, and the Preston Sturges movie, maybe, but it’s a weird song—the expression “I’ll take you on a sleigh ride in July” sounds at best too aggressive, and possibly felonious. In the picture she’s holding a firecracker big enough to destroy a house. Also, what this reminds me of is when, in grade school, I mixed up the spelling of the month of July and the name Julie (who I had a crush on), and I never got over being mortified. “Time for August” is a sultry song, and the pic is JL in a very small bikini sitting on some tangled fish nets, holding some kind of a large ball which I have no idea what that is! “September in the Rain” is about springtime, which for some reason feels like September? Another fishing theme, and this time she looks like Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. “This October” is another Bobby Troup song, and she’s wearing probably the most sexy Devil Halloween costume ever attempted, and of course there’s a pumpkin. “November Twilight” is a beautiful, melancholy song, and JL is wearing tasteful black lingerie and sitting on satin draped over something, maybe a large compost bin? Finally, she’s a scantily dressed Santa Claus with wrapped presents, and tells us that she’ll keep us warm in “Warm December.” Wait, but there’s one more, “The Thirteenth Month,” the “month of remember”—a very sad tune—perhaps she’s a ghost—but the picture—(this one full-size, on the inside as the cover opens, facing the liner notes) is flesh and blood—but especially flesh, as there is no costume to speak of, this time, just some tastefully draped ermine.




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