Posts Tagged ‘Swing’

In Memoriam: 2016

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Merle Haggard, 1937-2016

Listen to a selection of these artists on Spotify

January
Tony Lane, art director (Rolling Stone) and album cover designer
Brad Fuller, composer and music director (Atari)
Paul Bley, jazz pianist
Jason Mackenroth, rock drummer (Mother Superior, Rollins Band)
Long John Hunter, blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter
Georgette Twain Seiff, hall-of-fame banjo player
Robert Stigwood, manager and film producer
Nicholas Caldwell, R&B vocalist (The Whispers) and songwriter (“Lady”)
Elizabeth Swados, writer, composer and theater director (“Runaways”)
Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, jazz and salsa trumpeter
Pat Harrington Jr., actor and comedy recording artist (Some Like it Hip!)
Kitty Kallen, vocalist (“It’s Been a Long, Long Time”)
Troy Shondell, pop vocalist (“This Time (We’re Really Breaking Up)”)
Otis Clay, soul vocalist (“Trying to Live My Life Without You”)
Red Simpson, country vocalist and songwriter
Brett Smiley, glam rock vocalist (“Va Va Va Voom”)
Ed Stewart, radio broadcaster and television presenter (Top of the Pops)
David Bowie, vocalist and songwriter
Joe Moscheo, gospel vocalist (The Imperials) and industry executive
Giorgio Gomelsky, club owner, manager, producer and label owner
Hoyt Scoggins, country and rockabilly vocalist and songwriter
René Angélil, impresario and manager (Celine Dion)
Noreen Corcoran, actress (Bachelor Father) and vocalist (“Love Kitten”)
Pete Huttlinger, guitar virtuoso
Gary Loizzo, pop vocalist and guitarist (The American Breed)
Clarence “Blowfly” Reid, musician, songwriter and producer
Mic Gillette, brass player (Tower of Power)
Dale Griffin, rock drummer (Mott the Hoople)
Ramblin’ Lou Schriver, radio broadcaster, musician and concert promoter
Glenn Frey, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist (The Eagles)
Andrew Johnson, album cover artist (The The)
Jimmy Bain, rock bassist (Dio, Rainbow)
Joe Esposito, road manager (Elvis Presley) and Memphis Mafia member
Colin “Black” Vearncombe, vocalist and songwriter (“Wonderful Life”)
William E. Martin, songwriter (Monkees), screenwriter and voice actor
Signe Toly Anderson, vocalist (Jefferson Airplane)
Paul Kantner, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist (Jefferson Airplane)
Billy Faier, banjo player

February
Maurice White, vocalist, songwriter and producer (Earth, Wind & Fire)
Leslie Bassett, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer
Bobby Caldwell, keyboardist (Terry Knight and the Pack)
Joe Dowell, pop vocalist (“Wooden Heart”)
Jimmy Haskell, arranger, composer, producer and bandleader
Ray Colcord, film and television composer, producer and musician
Dan Hicks, vocalist and songwriter
Sam Spence, composer (NFL Films)
Obrey Wilson, soul vocalist (“Hey There Mountain”)
Rick Wright, country guitarist (Connie Smith)
Roy Harris, British folk vocalist
Kim Williams, country songwriter (“Three Wooden Crosses”)
L.C. Ulmer, blues musician
Denise “Vanity” Matthews, vocalist (Vanity 6), actress and evangelist
Joyce Paul, country vocalist (“Phone Call to Mama”)
Ray West, Emmy and Oscar-winning sound engineer (Star Wars)
Paul Gordon, keyboardist and composer
Brendan Healy, actor and musician (Goldie, Lindesfarne)
Vi Subversa, vocalist and guitarist (Poison Girls)
Charlie Tuna, radio broadcaster (KHJ, KROQ, KIIS, KBIG)
Buck Rambo, gospel vocalist
Sonny James, country vocalist and songwriter
Lennie Baker, vocalist and saxophonist (Danny & The Juniors, Sha Na Na)
John Chilton, jazz trumpeter and music historian
Craig Windham, radio broadcaster (NPR)

March
Gayle McCormick, vocalist (Smith ”Baby It’s You”)
Martha Wright, vocalist and actress (South Pacific, The Sound of Music)
Gavin Christopher, R&B vocalist and songwriter
Joey Feek, country vocalist (Joey + Rory)
Chip Hooper, agent (Phish, Dave Matthews Band)
Ireng Maulana, jazz guitarist
Joe Cabot, jazz trumpeter
Bruce Geduldig, synthesist and filmmaker (Tuxedomoon)
Timothy Makaya, jazz guitarist
Ross Hannaford, rock guitarist (Daddy Cool)
Ron Jacobs, radio broadcaster (Boss Radio KHJ, American Top 40)
Sir George Martin, producer
Jon English, musician and actor
Ray Griff, country vocalist
John Morthland, music journalist
Naná Vasconcelos, Latin jazz percussionist
Ernestine Anderson, jazz vocalist
Keith Emerson, progressive rock keyboardist
Gogi Grant, pop vocalist
Ben Bagdikian, educator, journalist and media critic
Ben Edmonds, music journalist
Louis Meyers, promoter (co-founder of SXSW) and manager
Tommy Brown, R&B vocalist (The Griffin Brothers)
Lee Andrews, doo-wop vocalist and father of Questlove
Frank Sinatra Jr., vocalist and actor, son of Frank Sinatra
Steve Young, country vocalist and songwriter (“Seven Bridges Road”)
David Egan, songwriter and pianist
Ned Miller, country vocalist and songwriter
Terry James Johnson, drummer (Bar-Kays) and clinical psychologist
Phife Dawg, rapper (A Tribe Called Quest)
James Jamerson Jr., R&B bassist (Chanson)
Jimmy Riley, reggae musician (The Sensations and the Uniques)
David Baker, symphonic jazz composer, musician and educator
Wally Crouter, Canadian radio legend (CFRB)
Patty Duke, actress and vocalist
Andy Newman, pianist (Thunderclap Newman)
Larry Payton, drummer (Brass Construction)

April
Gato Barbieri, jazz saxophonist
Don Francks, jazz musician and actor
Bill Henderson, jazz vocalist and actor
Carlo Mastrangelo, doo-wop and progressive rock vocalist
Dorothy Schwartz, pop vocalist (The Chordettes)
Leon Haywood, soul and funk vocalist
Dennis Davis, rock drummer (David Bowie)
Merle Haggard, country vocalist, guitarist and songwriter
Jimmie Van Zant, southern rock musician, cousin of Ronnie Van Zant
Earl Solomon Burroughs, musician and songwriter (“Great Balls of Fire”)
Jim Ridley, editor, critic and journalist (Nashville Scene)
Tony Conrad, experimental musician
Doug Banks, radio broadcaster (KDAY, KFI, KDIA)
Emile Ford, pop musician and sound engineer
David Gest, producer and former husband of Liza Minnelli
Gib Guilbeau, country-rock musician (Nashville West)
Filthy McNasty, nightclub owner
Mariano Mores, Argentine tango composer, pianist and conductor
Phil Sayer, British voice artist (“Mind the Gap”)
Vandy Anderson, radio broadcaster (KULF, KGBC)
Elliot Spitzer, radio executive (WLIR-FM)
Lord Tanamo, ska and mento musician
Richard Lyons, culture jammer (Negativland)
Pete Zorn, multi-instrumentalist (Richard Thompson Band)
Victoria Wood, actress, vocalist and songwriter
Lonnie Mack, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter (“Wham”)
Prince, vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist
Billy Paul, R&B vocalist (“Me & Mrs. Jones”)
Remo Belli, jazz drummer and inventor of the synthetic drumhead
Harrison Calloway, musician and bandleader (Muscle Shoals Horns)

May
Candye Kane, blues and swing vocalist and songwriter
John Stabb, punk rock vocalist (Government Issue)
Peter Behrens, drummer (Trio)
Tony Gable, percussionist and graphic designer
Julius La Rosa, pop vocalist
Buster Cooper, jazz trombonist
Bill Backer, jingle writer (“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”)
Tony Barrow, press officer (The Beatles)
Johnny Sea, country vocalist (“Day For Decision”)
Emilio Navaira, tejano and country vocalist, guitarist and songwriter
Guy Clark, singer and songwriter
John Berry, punk rock guitarist (Beastie Boys)
James King, bluegrass musician
Nick Menza, rock drummer (Megadeth)
Marshall Jones, bassist (Ohio Players)
Floyd Robinson, country vocalist and songwriter (“Makin’ Love”)
Rick Vanaugh, country drummer (The Time Jumpers)

June
Alan Wise, promoter and manager (Factory Records)
Muhammed Ali, boxer and spoken word artist (“I Am the Greatest”)
Mac Cocker, radio broadcaster (Australia’s Double J)
Mark Parenteau, radio broadcaster (WBCN)
Dave Swarbrick, violinist, vocalist and songwriter (Fairport Convention)
Bobby Curtola, Canadian teen idol (“Hand in Hand With You”)
Dan Sorkin, radio broadcaster (WCFL, KFRC, KSFO)
Brian Rading, rock bassist (Five Man Electrical Band)
Christina Grimmie, vocalist and songwriter (The Voice)
Chips Moman, songwriter and producer
Henry McCullough, rock guitarist (Grease Band, Spooky Tooth, Wings)
Charles Thompson, jazz pianist and organist
Attrell Cordes, hip-hop, soul and R&B artist (P.M. Dawn)
Tenor Fly, rapper and ragga vocliast
Bill Ham, manager, producer and songwriter (ZZ Top)
”Dandy” Dan Daniel, radio broadcaster (WMCA, WYNY, WCBS)
Wayne Jackson, R&B trumpeter (Mar-Keys, Memphis Horns)
Freddy Powers, country songwriter and producer
Leo Brennan, Irish musical patriarch
Harry Rabinowitz, conductor (Chariots of Fire) and composer (I, Claudius)
Dr. Ralph Stanley, mountain music banjoist, vocalist and songwriter
Bernie Worrell, keyboardist and composer (Parliament-Funkadelic)
Mack Rice, songwriter (“Mustang Sally” “Respect Yourself”)
Scotty Moore, rock ‘n’ roll guitarist
Rob Wasserman, bassist
Don Friedman, jazz pianist

July
Teddy Rooney, actor, musician and son of Mickey Rooney
Bob Goldstone, music industry executive (Thirty Tigers)
William Hawkins, poet and songwriter
Danny Smythe, rock drummer (The Box Tops)
Vaughn Harper, radio broadcaster (WBLS “The Quiet Storm”)
Carole Switala, vocalist and puppeteer (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)
Steve Young, musician (Colourbox, MARRS) and songwriter
Johnny Craviotto, rock drummer and drum maker
Charles Davis, jazz saxophonist
Bonnie Brown, country vocalist (The Browns)
Alan Vega, vocalist, songwriter (Suicide) and visual artist
Claude Williamson, jazz pianist
Gary S. Paxton, vocalist, songwriter and producer
Fred Tomlinson, vocalist and songwriter (“The Lumberjack Song”)
John Pidgeon, rock music writer and BBC radio executive
Lewie Steinberg, R&B bassist (Booker T. & the M.G.’s)
George Reznik, jazz pianist
Marni Nixon, playback vocalist (West Side Story, My Fair Lady) and actress
Roye Albrighton, vocalist and guitarist (Nektar)
Allan Barnes, jazz saxophonist (The Blackbyrds)
Sandy Pearlman, writer, producer and manager (Blue Oyster Cult)
Lucille Dumont, vocalist, songwriter and television star
Nigel Gray, record producer (The Police, Siouxsie and the Banshees)
Penny Lang, folk musician

August
Ricci Martin, musician, entertainer and son of Dean Martin
Patrice Munsel, coloratura soprano
Richard Fagan, songwriter (“Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)”)
Pete Fountain, jazz clarinetist
B.E. Taylor, pop vocalist and songwriter (“Vitamin L”)
Ruby Winters, soul vocalist (“Make Love to Me” “I Don’t Want to Cry”)
Padraig Duggan, folk musician (Clannad, The Duggans)
Glenn Yarbrough, vocalist and songwriter
David Enthoven, manager and record label executive
Ruby Wilson, blues vocalist
Connie Crothers, jazz pianist
Bobby Hutcherson, jazz vibraphonist
Preston Hubbard, bassist (Roomful of Blues, Fabulous Thunderbirds)
Lou Pearlman, producer and manager (Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC)
Irving Fields, pianist, composer and bandleader (Bagles and Bongos)
Matt Roberts, rock guitarist (3 Doors Down)
Tom Searle, guitarist (The Architects)
Louis Stewart, jazz guitarist
Headley Bennett, reggae saxophonist
Derek Smith, jazz pianist
Gilli Smythe, vocalist (Gong)
Toots Thielemans, harmonica player, guitarist and whistler
Rudy Van Gelder, recording engineer (Bluenote)
Monty Lee Wilkes, sound engineer (The Replacements, Nirvana)
Hubert Dwane “Hoot” Hester, country and bluegrass fiddler

September
Fred Hellerman, folk singer, songwriter and guitarist (The Weavers)
Kacey Jones, singer, songwriter and humorist
Jerry Heller, agent, promoter and manager (N.W.A.)
Bud Isaacs, steel guitarist
Lewis Merenstein, producer (Van Morrison, Gladys Knight, John Cale)
Clifford Curry, R&B vocalist (“She Shot a Hole in My Soul”)
Prince Buster, ska singer-songwriter and producer (“One Step Beyond”)
”Crazy” Eddie Antar, electronics retailer
Chris Stone, studio owner (The Record Plant)
Leonard Haze, rock drummer (Y&T)
Don Buchla, pioneering synthesizer designer
Jerry Corbetta, vocalist, keyboardist and songwriter (Sugarloaf)
Trisco Pearson, R&B vocalist (Force M.D.’s)
Charmian Carr, actress and vocalist (The Sound of Music)
Micki Marlo, vocalist (“What You’ve Done To Me” “Little By Little”)
John D. Loudermilk, songwriter and vocalist (“Tobacco Road”)
Richard D. Trentlage, jingle writer (Oscar Mayer, McDonald’s)
Rob Meurer, vocalist and songwriter (Christopher Cross)
Stanley “Buckwheat Zydeco” Dural Jr, zydeco accordionist
Kashif, R&B vocalist, instrumentalist, producer and songwriter
Jean Shepard, country vocalist and songwriter
Joe Clay, rockabilly vocalist and guitarist
Royal Torrence, soul vocalist (Little Royal and the Swingmasters)
Nora Dean, reggae and gospel vocalist (“Barbwire”)
Oscar Brand, folk vocalist and songwriter, radio host (WNYC)
Michael Casswell, session guitarist (Brian May)

October
Joan Marie Johnson, pop vocalist (The Dixie Cups)
Caroline Crawley, vocalist (Shelleyan Orphan, This Mortal Coil)
Rod Temperton, keyboardist and songwriter (“Thriller” “Off the Wall”)
Peter Allen, radio broadcaster (Metropolitan Opera)
Don Ciccone, pop vocalist (The Critters) and songwriter
Leo Beranek, acoustic engineer and co-founder of BB&N
Robert Bateman, songwriter (“Please Mr. Postman”), vocalist (Satintones)
Sonny Sanders, songwriter, arranger and vocalist (Satintones)
Robert Edwards, R&B vocalist (The Intruders)
Ted V. Mikels, filmmaker and record label owner
Phil Chess, producer and record company executive
Chris Porter, americana vocalist, songwriter and guitarist
Mitchell Vandenburg, americana bassist and songwriter
Dave Cash, radio broadcaster (Radio London, BBC Radio 1)
Herb “The Cool Gent” Kent, radio broadcaster (WVON, WJJD and V103)
Pete Burns, vocalist and songwriter (Dead or Alive)
Bobby Vee, pop vocalist
Hazel Shermet, actress and singer (New Zoo Revue’s Henrietta Hippo)
John Zacherle, TV host, recording artist and radio broadcaster
Ron Grant, film and television composer (Knot’s Landing)
Tammy Grimes, actress and vocalist (The Unsinkable Molly Brown)
Curly Putman, country songwriter (“Green, Green Grass of Home”)

November
Bap Kennedy, vocalist and songwriter
Bob Cranshaw, jazz bassist
Kay Starr, pop and jazz vocalist
Jean-Jacques Perrey, electronic music producer
Laurent Pardo, bassist (Elliott Murphy’s Normandy All-Stars)
Sir Jimmy Young, radio host (BBC Radio 1 and 2) and vocalist
Al Caiola, guitarist, composer and arranger
Leonard Cohen, vocalist, songwriter, poet and novelist
Raynoma Gordy Singleton, songwriter and second wife of Barry Gordy Jr.
Billy Miller, magazine publisher (Kicks) and record label owner (Norton)
Leon Russell, vocalist, pianist and songwriter
Holly Dunn, country vocalist and songwriter
David Mancuso, disc jockey and private party host (The Loft)
Mose Allison, jazz pianist, vocalist and songwriter
Cliff Barrows, musical director (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
Milt Okun, producer, arranger, conductor and publisher
Don Waller, music journalist and vocalist
Mentor Williams, songwriter (“Drift Away”), producer and engineer
Sharon Jones, soul vocalist (The Dap Kings)
Al Batten, bluegrass banjo player and band leader
Hod O’Brien, jazz pianist
Craig Gill, rock drummer (Inspiral Carpets)
Al Broadax, television and film producer (The Beatles, Yellow Submarine)
Florence Henderson, actress and vocalist
Pauline Oliveros, composer, educator and accordionist
Tony Martell, record industry executive (CBS Records) and philanthropist
Ray Columbus, vocalist, songwriter, manager and television host
Carlton Kitto, jazz guitarist

December
Mickey Fitz, punk rock vocalist (The Business)
Mark Gray, country vocalist and songwriter (“Take Me Down”)
Herbert Hardesty, saxophonist (Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew)
Wayne Duncan, bassist and vocalist (Daddy Cool)
Mohamed Tahar Fergani, Algerian vocalist, violinist and composer
Greg Lake, vocalist, bassist and songwriter (King Crimson, EL&P)
Palani Vaughan, Hawaiian vocalist and songwriter
George Mantalis, pop vocalist (The Four Coins)
Valerie Gell, rock ‘n’ roll vocalist and guitarist (The Liverbirds)
Bob Krasnow, record executive and co-founder of the R’n’R Hall of Fame
Joe Ligon, gospel vocalist (Mighty Clouds of Joy)
Barrelhouse Chuck, blues vocalist, songwriter and pianist
Jim Lowe, songwriter (“The Green Door”) and radio broadcaster
Ahuva Ozeri, Israeli singer-songwriter
Betsy Pecanins, blues singer and songwriter
Päivi Paunu, vocalist and Eurovision contestant (“Muistathan”)
Bunny Walters, Maori pop vocalist (“Brandy” “Take the Money and Run”)
Fran Jeffries, vocalist, dancer and actress (The Pink Panther)
John Chelew, producer and concert promoter (McCabe’s Guitar Shop)
Bob Coburn, radio broadcaster (“Rockline,” KLOS)
Léo Marjane, French vocalist (“Seule ce soir”)
Gustavo Quintero, Columbian singer-songwriter
Gordie Tapp, radio broadcaster and television performer (Hee Haw)
Andrew Dorff, country songwriter (“My Eyes” “Somebody’s Heartbreak”)
Dick Latessa, actor and Tony winner (Hairspray)
Sam Leach, concert promoter (The Beatles)
Betty Loo Taylor, jazz pianist
Frank Murray, manager (The Pogues) and tour manager
Mick Zane, rock guitarist (Malice)
Rick Parfitt, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist (Status Quo)
George Michael, pop vocalist and songwriter
George S. Irving, musical theater and voice actor
Alphonse Mouzan, jazz drummer
Pierre Barouh, lyricist (A Man and a Woman), composer and actor
Debbie Reynolds, actress and vocalist
Billie Joe Burnette, country vocalist and songwriter (“Teddy Bear”)
Rich Conaty, radio broadcaster (WFUV’s The Big Broadcast)
Allan Williams, booking agent and manager (The Beatles)
Johnny Canton, radio broadcaster (WDGY, WCCO)
David Meltzer, poet and jazz guitarist

The Flat Five: It’s a World of Love and Hope

Friday, November 18th, 2016

flatfive_itsaworldofloveandhopeUtterly charming harmony group swings pop, jazz and R&B

Though only a part-time congregation, this Chicago quintet has brilliantly combined the cool swing of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the complex arrangements of Curt Boettcher and the lush harmonies of the Anita Kerr Singers. Comprised of NRBQ’s Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough, the Decemberists’ touring vocalists Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor, and session ace Alex Hall, the Flat Five debut a mesmerizing blend of pop, jazz, R&B and folk that is laden with joie de vivre. The opening “Florida” is effervescent with harmonies and a chiming guitar hook, and the R&B “Buglight” sounds like a jivey mashup of the Andrews Sisters, Roches, Mills Brothers, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks and Coasters.

The album’s ‘60s vibe recalls Boettcher’s work with the Association, Millennium and Sagittarius, along with the sunshine pop of the Free Design and Spanky and Our Gang. There’s a touch of Bacharach in the trumpet solo of “Birmingham,” a McCartney-like bass line on “I Could Fall in Love With You,” and the Latin-styled “This is Your Night” recalls Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66. Though to be fair to the latter’s playfulness, it’s unlikely that Brasil ‘66 vocalist Lani Hall ever sang anything like “don’t just sit around and mope / buy yourself a great big bag of dope / it’s a world of love and hope.” Those lyrics, along with those of the entire album, come from Chris Ligon, older brother of group member Scott, and a writer of uncommonly fine senses of melody and humor.

The group’s instrumental sound is the perfect complement to their harmonies, fluidly stretching from the banjo-lined folk of “Bottom Buck” to the languid guitar and accordion of “She’s Only Five” and Emmit Rhodes-inspired “I Could Fall in Love With You.” The waltz-time jazz “You’re Still Joe” has a tasty electric piano solo to complement the swinging rhythm section and a remarkable bell-like vocal round that plays the song out. The closing “It’s Been a Delight” is nominally a farewell from lovers who’ve loved the night away, but it’s also a clever thank you to the record’s listeners, and a fittingly sweet end to thirty-five minutes of vocal delight. This is the biggest, most unexpected and best musical surprise of the year. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Flat Five’s Home Page

Anne McCue: Blue Sky Thinkin’

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

AnneMcCue_BlueSkyThinkinAnne McCue swings

Anne McCue is better known for standing in front of guitars and drums than clarinets and brass. Her previous albums reached back to the gutsy sound of 1970s rock vocalists, as well as contemporaries like Sam Phillips and Lucinda Williams; her latest reaches back several more decades, to the sounds of the 1930s. There’s always been a bluesy edge to her singing, and here those notes consort with the roots of swing and gypsy jazz. McCue dials down the ferocity of her vocals to an era-appropriate slyness, picks terrific figures on her guitar, and perhaps most impressively of all, writes songs that bid to fill some blank pages in the great American songbook.

Drummer Dave Raven nails the era’s blood-pumping excitement with Krupa-styled tom-toms on the opening “Dig Two Graves,” Deanie Richardson’s fiddle provides a superb foil for McCue’s six string swing, and Jim Hoke’s clarinet and horn chart fills in the period detail. The song’s bouncy tempo camouflages lyrics of noirish revenge, with San Francisco fog cloaking fatalistic fortunes. McCue turns to folk-blues with the finger-picked renewal of “Spring Cleaning in the Wintertime” and the old-timey “Cowgirl Blues.” She turns into a charming, coquettish chanteuse for “Long Tall Story,” and gets slinky, ala Peggy Lee, on the double bass and finger-snapping “Save a Life.”

Within the realm of swinging beats, McCue’s songs are quite diverse, ranging from the rockabilly “Little White Cat” to the fiery tango “Uncanny Moon.” There’s a nostalgic jazz core to the album, but it’s embroidered with elements of New Orleans funk, New York sophistication, big band rhythms, sinuous blues, stage flair and lyric craft. Dave Alvin guests as vocalist on the Cab Calloway-styled “Devil in the Middle,” and the album’s lone-cover, Regis McNichols Jr.’s contemporary “Knock on Wood,” fits perfectly with the standards vibe. McCue’s virtuosity is no surprise, but the ease with which she’s absorbed and restated the beating heart of swing music is impressive and thrilling. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Anne McCue’s Home Page

Various Artists: ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Jews sing of both Hanukkah and Christmas

A musical battle between Hanukkah and Christmas is really no battle at all. As the popularity of recorded music grew through the twentieth century, so did the Christian-to-Jew population advantage. A 50:1 advantage in 1900 grew to a 150:1 advantage by 2000, and magnified by Western commercialization of Christmas, its celebrants produced an unparalleled abundance of popular holiday music. Hanukkah, in contrast, mostly made good with candles, dreidels, latkes and music that bore more resemblance to traditional Jewish melodies than the top of the pops. Sure, there’s the catchy “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” but it’s more of a nursery rhyme than a hit single, and Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song” (covered by both Neil Diamond and the hardcore rockers Yidcore) was a heartfelt, but ultimately self-conscious response to the dearth of Hanukkah songs. Beck, They Might Be Giants and Ben Kweller, to name a few, have given it a shot, but don’t expect to be humming along to a Muzak™ version of Tom Lehrer’s “I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica” any time soon.

Even with the LeeVees’ Hanukkah Rocks on the shelves, Hanukkah fights the musical battle with both arms tied behind its back. If Christmas is the Beatles, Hanukkah is at best a lounge band covering the Four Seasons (cf: The International Battle of the Century). The relentless repetition of Top 40 hits, on the radio and in stores, has made dozens of Christmas songs icons of the season. And in keeping with the secularization of Christmas as aU.S. celebration, many of the best-loved Christmas songs were written or sung by Jews. The Idelsohn Society’s two-disc set traces the transformation of Christmas from a religious holiday to a popular bonanza, and further emphasizes the second-banana position into which the relatively minor holiday of Hanukkah was pressed. The songs on disc two demonstrate how Christmas cut across cultural lines to become as much a secular seasonal feeling as a religious celebration. As the set’s liner notes point out, American Jews celebrated Christmas “not because it was Christian, but because it was American.”

At the same time, the designation of Christmas as a national holiday in 1870 set off a desire among some Jews for Hanukkah parity. And though Hanukkah songs were written and revived, none ever reached true popular acclaim. Disc one, “Happy Hanukkah,” includes historical odes, folk songs (including Woody Guthrie’s “Hanukkah Dance”), traditional melodies, klezmer, cantorial standards, children’s songs, chorals and humor. The disc’s one hit is Don McLean’s “Dreidel,” which just missed the Top 20 in 1972, and is really only Hanukkah-themed in its title. Disc two is filled with popularly familiar artists (The Ramones, Bob Dylan, Benny Goodman, Sammy Davis Jr., Herb Alpert, Mel Torme), all of whom are Jewish. The song list features many perennials, including Irving Berlin’s classic “White Christmas,” which author Phillip Roth characterized as subversively turning “Christmas into a holiday about snow.”

The two discs and accompanying 36-page booklet are entertaining and thought-provoking. The story of Jewish assimilation into American society is perhaps nowhere more evident than the secularized national celebration of Christmas, and the failed (and perhaps misguided) attempt to bring Hanukkah to parity. Christmas iconography – Santa, reindeer, snow, trees, candy canes, decorations, lights and brightly wrapped presents – are generally more visible than Christian religious symbols, and the holiday’s musical hits, even when referencing historical places and people, have more often taken a general celebratory tone than one of liturgy or dogma. Jews may sing a Hanukkah song or two by the menorah, but the soundtrack to most holiday gatherings, office parties and shopping – for Jews and Gentiles alike – is filled with Christmas music. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

The Two Man Gentlemen Band: Two at a Time

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Country-tinged guitar-and-bass swing and jazz

The two gentlemen in question, Andy Bean on four-string electric tenor guitar and Fuller Condon on upright bass, hark back to the same era of swing that fueled Dave and Deke, Big Sandy and others of the West Coast revival. The Gentlemen are influenced by jazz and country, but with a bon vivant humor that has them worrying about watery drinks, luring females into bathing suits with a pool party, and upgrading to two-star accommodations. They don’t employ the hipster lingo of Louis Prima or Slim & Slam (though their riffing on “Tikka Masala” is a clever update of “Cement Mixer (Puti Puti)”), but still evoke a similar mood of high jive. Bean has an old-timey sound to his voice, and borrows guitar stylings from gypsy jazz, western swing and other pre-war delights; Condon’s bottom end is both melodic and percussive, adding a second instrumental voice and keeping dancers on the swinging beat. Laid down on monaural tape with vintage microphones and no digital processing, the recording holds the vitality of performance, rather than the precision of multi-track construction, complete with imperfections and even bits of tape hiss. Mostly, though, it holds the energy and nostalgia-tinged verve of two talented and well-read musicians. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Sheb Wooley: White Lightnin’

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Boogie, swing and honky-tonk from 1945 to 1959

To those weaned on Wooley’s 1958 chart-topping rock ‘n’ roll novelty, “Purple People Eater,” his acting roles in High Noon, Giant and Rio Bravo, or his tenure in a featured slot on television’s Rawhide, the totality of his recording career may come as something of a surprise. Starting in the mid-40s on the Nashville-based Bullet label, moving on to the Fort Worth-based Blue Bonnet, and settling in with the coastal MGM label, Wooley recorded a wealth of country, boogie, swing and honky-tonk sides, both under his own name, and as a parodist, under the name of Ben Colder. He topped the charts a second time – the country chart, this time – with 1962’s “That’s My Pa,” and continued to score with singles throughout the rest of the decade.

Wooley’s acting career sustained him financially, but it was his move to Hollywood – ostensibly to break in to the movies as a singing cowboy – that shaped the sound of his records. Recording in California, he was backed by many of the same West Coast musicians (including Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant and Cliffie Stone) that played on Capitol sessions for Merle Travis, Tex Ritter and Tennessee Ernie Ford. But even before he got to California, Wooley was recording dance tunes like his steel-swing “Oklahoma Honky Tonk Girl” and the fiddle-led “Peepin’ Through the Keyhole (Watching Jole Blon).” He sang his upbeat tunes with a smile, stringing together clever wordplay on “Lazy Mazy” that echoes the hipster jazz sides of the late ‘30s. And even when he wasn’t writing parodies, he often wrote with humor, such as the troubled date of “Wha’ Hoppen to Me, Baby” and doghouse lodgings of “Rover Scoot Over.”

The two 1959 sides that close the set showcase different sides of Wooley. The driller-themed “Roughneck” has a rockabilly beat, while the hit single “That’s My Pa” is a talking blues novelty that anticipates “A Boy Named Sue.” The all-mono audio shows only minimal surface noise on some of the earliest sides, and noise reduction is so discreet as to be inaudible. The digipack is decorated with vibrant graphics, and the 31-page booklet includes photos, poster and label reproductions, a detailed discography (including label, recording dates and personnel) and liner notes by Todd Everett. This is a great look at Wooley’s boogie sides, and compliments Bear Family volumes that focus on western tunes and rockin’ sides, as well as their 4-CD box set. But for an introduction to Wooley’s country and honky-tonk sides, this is a great place to start. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles: Genius + Soul = Jazz (Expanded Edition)

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Four-LPs-on-two-CDs reissue of Ray Charles’ jazz sides

Ray Charles’ helped inaugurate the Impulse! label with this 1961 release, the label’s second album. Produced by Creed Taylor, and recorded in the same New Jersey studios that hosted Jimmy Smith and other Blue Note greats, Charles sat himself behind a Hammond B-3 and together with key members of the Count Basie band, he swung arrangements written by Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns. From the opening horn stabs of “From the Heart” it’s clear that this band plays big, brassy and hard, yet Charles keeps it cool on the organ, and his two vocal numbers (“I’ve Got News For You” and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”), are blue and soulful. Charles gave the band and its soloists plenty of room to shine, but when his keys step to the front, such as his growling lead on “One Mint Julep,” it’s clear whose leading the sessions.

Concord’s two-CD reissue adds three albums that Charles recorded in the 1970s: My Kind of Jazz (1970), Jazz Number II (1972) and My Kind of Jazz Part 3 (1975). These are primarily instrumental albums and are filled with the sort of charts used to warm up audiences at Charles’ live shows. There is a generous helping of 3/4 jazz waltzes and Latin rhythms. Recorded with his road band, the lineup is filled with instrumental stars, including Blue Mitchell, Joe Randazzo, Clifford Scott, David “Fathead” Newman and many others. Highlights include the Stax-styled groove of “Booty-Butt” and a bubbly take on Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder.” As an additional bonus, a cover of “Misty” is included from trombonist Steve Turre’s In the Spur of the Moment.

The recording quality is superb, with a super wide stereo image. Remastering is by Paul Blakemore at Telarc. The set’s 12-page booklet includes new liner notes by Ralph Friedwald, original album notes by Dick Katz and Quincy Jones, and full-panel cover reproductions. The original sessions show Charles at full power; the 1970s albums feature great playing, but often feel like pre-show warmups. If you already have Genius + Soul = Jazz in high fidelity, the upgrade may not be necessary, but if you haven’t yet enjoyed Charles’ 1961 classic, this is a great way to hear it. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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Frank Sinatra: Strangers in the Night

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Sinatra climbs past the Beatles to the top of the heap

By 1966 Frank Sinatra had ridden the roller coaster of artistic and commercial success to several high points, maintaining an unmatched profile of fame through radio, live performance, recording, television and film. He’d broken through as a swing-era big band singer, wowed bobby-soxers with his solo crooning, and reinvented himself (with the help of legendary arrangers such as Nelson Riddle) as a sophisticated interpreter of standards, a deep-feeling balladeer, and a ring-a-ding-ding hipster. In the last half of the 1950s he unleashed a string of iconic albums that showed his thorough mastery of down-tempo ballads, lush orchestration and snappy up-tempo romps, and in 1961 he literally became the chairman of the board, as he founded the Reprise record label.

Sinatra’s Reprise albums of the early 1960s continued to sell well, but his action on the single’s chart had been curtailed by pop music’s skew to a younger audience, the arrival of the Beatles and the musical revolution that followed in their wake. Sinatra had scored recent Top-40 singles (and a chart-topper on the adult contemporary chart with “It Was a Very Good Year” earlier in ‘66), but his last major success on the pop hit parade remained 1958’s “Witchcraft.” As had been the case when the big band era closed, and again as Sinatra’s solo career wound down in the early 1950s, many thought that Sinatra had finally estranged himself from broad popular acclaim. But someone as talented and as artistically resilient as Sinatra couldn’t be counted out so easily.

The genesis of his mid-60s resurgence was the album’s title track, combining a memorable Bert Kaempfert melody (from the film A Man Could Get Killed) with lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder. The other key ingredient was producer Jimmy Bowen. Bowen had started out as a contemporary of ‘50s rock singer Buddy Knox, but edged his way into production as his singing career faltered. By the mid-60s he was working with all three members of the Rat Pack, and brought “Strangers in the Night” to Sinatra. Ken Barnes’ liner notes recall the urgent circumstances under which the single was recorded and distributed to radio, and how it scooped two contemporary versions to become Sinatra’s first pop chart topper. All of this was accomplished by a fifty-year-old Sinatra, who iced the cake by knocking the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” from the top slot.

With the single winding its way to #1 – it took three months to reach the top – Sinatra returned to the studio with his regular producer, Sonny Burke, to record a supporting album. The sessions reunited Sinatra with Nelson Riddle, who’d helped Sinatra re-launch his career once before with 1954’s Songs for Young Lovers and the brassy swing of 1956’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! Here he and Sinatra split their attention between reanimating songs of the 1920s and 1930s, and finding something for Sinatra to say with a few contemporary numbers. In addition to the title track, Sinatra turned Johnny Mercer’s “Summer Wind” into an easy listening favorite, picked up Lerner and Lane’s “On a Clear Day” from the then contemporary Broadway show, and wrestled unsuccessfully with a pair of Tony Hatch tunes, “Call Me” and “Downtown.”

The pop tunes are given the full Riddle treatment, including a modern and soulful organ, but Sinatra isn’t impressed by either, and tosses off “Downtown” as a sop to the then-modern pop tastes. Riddle’s arrangements are typically energetic throughout, but his sublime take on “Summer Wind” inspires Sinatra’s most effortless and artful vocal in this set. Sinatra sings the older songs with a nod to their period origins, but also a free-swinging verve that brings them up-to-date. As an album this ends up schizophrenic as Sinatra moves through Bowen’s pop edgings, Riddle’s punchy charts and Hatch’s ill-fitting pop songs. The original album ends with a frenetic arrangement of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” which brought down the curtain. Concord’s reissue adds three bonus tracks: live takes of “Strangers in the Night” and “All or Nothing at All” that demonstrate Sinatra’s 1980s stage presence, and a previously unreleased first take of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” that doesn’t vary greatly from the master recording.

Though this LP was one of Sinatra’s most popular, his voice was in fine form and Nelson Riddle’s arrangements add some pizzazz, it wasn’t one of his truly great artistic achievements. The hit singles are memorable and essential elements of the Sinatra catalog, but the album cuts don’t match up with his earlier pioneering work. Unlike his Capitol albums of the 1950s, Sinatra wasn’t pushing forward anymore; he was looking back to earlier successes and looking sideways at popular music forms that didn’t excite him. This is certainly worth hearing, but if you’re just starting to build a collection of Sinatra albums, you’re better off starting with his key works of 1954-1961. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Frank Sinatra: Christmas with Frank Sinatra and Friends

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

FrankSinatra_ChristmasWithFrankSinatraAndFriendsSampling of Sinatra’s post-Capitol Christmas recordings

This 2009 collection combines eight post-Capitol Sinatra tracks with selected performances by Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett & Bill Evans, and Ray Charles & Betty Carter. This is a new compilation of existing material, rather than a collection put together by Sinatra during his lifetime. Sinatra is in good voice throughout, supported by full orchestrations and arrangements from Nelson Riddle and Don Costa. He sings Christmas classics and lesser known songs, such as “Christmas Memories” and “An Old Fashioned Christmas,” written by his friends Don Costa, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, and Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen; his original “Mistletoe and Holly” is also included.

Sinatra’s singing friends were invited to the party through the magic of archival compilation, rather than a personal summons from the Chairman. Still, the disc’s producer has done a terrific job of programming, and the re-mastering smoothly weaves together material from multiple studios and thirty-plus years of recording. Tony Bennett sings to the solo piano of Bill Evans, and Ray Charles sings a famous duet with Betty Carter (a track that also appears on the recent reissue of Charles’ The Spirit of Christmas). Mel Torme sings his own “The Christmas Song,” and Rosemary Clooney provides a warm, if somewhat wavery reprise of the Irving Berlin classic “White Christmas” from her 1996 album White Christmas.

The set’s most notable tracks for collectors are a pair taken from his 1957 holiday television special Happy Holidays with Bing & Frank, the aforementioned “Mistletoe and Holly” as well as “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” Those looking for original Sinatra holiday albums should check out 1957’s A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra or 1968’s The Sinatra Family With You a Merry Christmas. You can also find a compilation of his late-40s Christmas recordings for Columbia on Christmas Songs by Sinatra (and a deeper helping of his Reprise-era work on The Christmas Collection). These are traditional and classy rather than ring-a-ding-ding, which itself can be found on Christmas With the Rat Pack. All are worth hearing, but this short collection (37 minutes) provides a nice alternative, particularly for its inclusion of related artists and two rarities. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

The Belleville Outfit: Time to Stand

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

belleville stand coverGypsy jazz, blue swing and country harmony

Though the Belleville Outfit makes their home in Austin, Texas, three of the members originally hail from South Carolina, and two more were drawn from school connections in New Orleans. Only violinist Phoebe Hunt is an Austin native (and a UT graduate to boot!), and the Southern roots help account for the original flavor in the band’s swing, particularly in Rob Teter’s pinched, Satchmo-style vocals. Along with the long-running Hot Club of Cowtown, this sextet has become one of Austin’s foremost proponents of gypsy jazz. The group hots things up with Reinhardt-influenced guitar runs and dramatic Grapelli-like violin flurries, but they also pick more ruminative mid-tempo blues, add keyboards (piano, B3 and Rhodes), vary their vocals from sly old-timey to fetching country harmonies, and make room for a few instrumental string jams.

As on last year’s debut, the group’s written most of the songs, adding covers of the Louis Prima/Keely Smith hit “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby” and an up-tempo take on Walter Hyatt’s “Outside Looking Out.” The originals strike immediately with their melodic and instrumental complexity, but themes of falling, being in, running from, lamenting and losing love provide Teter and Hunt words over which to stretch their solo and harmony vocals. The jazzier tracks have a cool-cat hipness that’s balanced by earthier harmonies on the country tunes. The group’s hot-picking is impressive, but the mid-tempo twang of “Safe” and countrypolitan harmony of “Will This End in Tears” are equally fetching. The album closes with the uncharacteristically pop production of “Love Me Like I Love You,” suggesting the Belleville Outfit has a lot of musical range yet to explore. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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