can’t see the forest

Teen Town

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In honor of the Shministim, and with Tel Aviv in mind, we post here a 1977 appearance on Saturday Night Special of the fusion group Weather Report, performing the Jaco Pastorius showpiece “Teen Town.” It was enough for me to learn to play this bass line on a keyboard; for a hearty laugh, you should see me attempt it on a fretless.

Wayne Shorter, saxophone; Joe Zawinul, keyboards; Jaco Pastorius, bass/composer; Manolo Badrena, Latin perc.; Alex Acuña, perc.


Shoring up the economy and putting it on the right track . . . the jazz track.

Posted in 2008 Election, beat, humor, Jack Kerouac, jazz, Piano, political humor, Sarah Palin by Curtis on 12/6/08

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Alright. This is a cathartic post—I’ve got to quit watching this video, and this is how I’m going to get it out of my system.

. . . . . . Sorry. Ahem. Had to . . . take a phone call. Yeah.

It’s been popping up around the Internet lately; I tried to follow the trail in pursuit of responsible parties, but with no success. From CollegeHumor, via YouTube, Governor “Swingin'” Sarah Palin, here for one night only:

Man, I need a smoke. Wha . . . it’s already smoky in here, wow.

This reminds me of those old Jack Kerouac spoken word albums with Steve Allen playing narrative piano in the background. Assuming that it’s not Condolleezza Rice, of course, I wish I could identify the pianist, because s/he did an amazing job. I would love to see a whole series of these.

Trinta anos depois

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Vinicius de Moraes, the poet behind many of the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, and other Brazilian artists, died in 1980; later, Jobim and Gilberto came together to honor their colleague in performance. From YouTube, here are two of their best-known tunes: first Desafinado, then Garôta de Ipanema.

The sound quality is mediocre, but the musicianship is mesmerizing and the energy unbelievable. João sings a beautiful impromptu introduction to Garôta commemorating Vinicius, the poetinho, and Tom Jobim.

Blues Rules, and Here are the Rules

Posted in blues, culture, humor, jazz, Music, USA by Curtis on 11/8/07

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The blues is a distinctly African-American form of music by lineage, but it is often said, truly enough, that “the blues knows no color.” The astonishing, global, and continually evolving breadth of its influence somewhat obscures its origins, its core—so that what we call “the blues” in our time includes a far greater stylistic diversity of material than the term might have denoted even fifty years ago—and I suppose that, as a musician, a great part of my fascination with the blues stems from the fact that this music is a cultural phenomenon which sprang from the humblest of origins right here in my part of the world, the southeastern United States. I know of at least two places near my home where you can come by a guitar made from a cigar box and fishing twine, and I’m familiar with a couple of guys who can tear the holy sh** out of them on command. Equipment junkies: go home and count your overdrive pedals, k? Thanks. ;-)

In my experience as a performer and teacher, the charge that “white people can’t play the blues” comes usually (actually, always) from the mouths of white people frustrated by an utter lack of soul in their own playing—and soulful musicianship is most assuredly not governed by melatonin counts. One has only to consider the careers of Caucasian giants from Django Reinhardt to Dave Brubeck to Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughan to quickly ascertain the falsity of such a claim; and this is not to mention the fact that there are almost certainly a profusion of competent bluesmen and blueswomen of several ethnicites in every major city of my country, and of various nations abroad.

RobertJohson For lack of a better way of phrasing the idea, I would suggest that the essence of the blues is primarily a state of mind combined with intimate knowledge of a specific musical style. It is authenticated not by the color of the skin, but by pure musicianship, life experience, world-weariness, and the heartfelt drive for self-expression. Unfortunately, there are a number of individuals who fancy themselves true-blue wailers in the absence of some or all of these qualities.

Posted at Mad Stratter, here is a humorous take on “bluesmanship” in the form of a list of compositional rules and qualifications. I got a hearty chuckle out of it, and, I’m betting, so will you. I got a hearty chuckle out of it, and, I’m betting, so will you. If you don’t chuckle heartily, now, well—babe, I just don’t know what I’m goan do:

1. Most blues begin “woke up this morning.”

2. “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin the blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line. I got a good woman – with the meanest dog in town.

3. Blues are simple. After you have the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes. Sort of. Got a good woman with the meanest dog in town. He got teeth like Margaret Thatcher and he weighs about 500 pounds.

4. The blues are not about limitless choice.

5. Blues cars are Chevies and Cadillacs. Other acceptable blues transportation is Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Walkin’ plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin’ to die.

6. Teenagers can’t sing the blues. Adults sing the blues. Blues adulthood means old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. You can have the blues in New York City, but not in Brooklyn or Queens. Hard times in Vermont or North Dakota are just depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the blues.

8. You can’t have the blues in an office or a shopping mall; the lighting is all wrong.

9. The following colors do not belong in the blues:
a. violet
b. beige
c. mauve

10. Good places for the Blues:
a. the highway
b. the jailhouse
c. the empty bed

11.Bad places for the Blues:
a. Ashrams
b. Gallery openings
c. weekend in the Hamptons

12. Do you have the right to sing the blues?

Yes, if:
a. your first name is a southern state-like Georgia
b. you’re blind
c. you shot a man in Memphis.
d. you can’t be satisfied.

No, if:
a. you were once blind but now can see.
b. you’re deaf
c. you have a trust fund.

13. No one will believe it’s the blues if you wear a suit, unless you happen to be an old black man.

14. Neither Julio Iglesias nor Barbra Streisand can sing the blues.

15. If you ask for water and baby gives you gasoline, it’s the blues. Other blues beverages are:
a. wine
b. whiskey
c. muddy water

16.Blues beverages are NOT:
a. Any mixed drink
b. Any wine kosher for Passover
c. YooHoo

17. If it occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is a blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse, or being denied treatment in an emergency room. It is not a blues death if you die during a liposuction treatment.

18. Some Blues names for Women
a. Sadie
b. Big Mama
c. Bessie

19. Some Blues Names for Men
a. Joe
b. Willie
c. Little Willie
d. Lightning

20a. Persons with names like Sierra or Sequoia will not be permitted to sing the blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

20b. Other Blues Names (Starter Kit)
a. Name of Physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Asthmatic)
b. First name (see above) or name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi)
c. Last Name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.)

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The Noonward Race

Posted in 1970s, fusion music, jazz, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Music, music video by Curtis on 10/22/07

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Presenting the Mahavishnu Orchestra, one of the first and greatest of the jazz-world-rock-fusion bands, in a television broadcast from the 1970s. The tune is titled ‘The Noonward Race.’ At this stage, the MO consisted of Billy Cobham on percussion, Rick Laird on bass, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman on violin, and, of course, the preposterously gifted John McLaughlin on guitar.

Hellhound on my Trail

Posted in audio, blues, blues guitar, Entertainment, jazz, Music, rock, USA by Curtis on 9/28/07

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Robert L. Johnson (1911 – 1938) was a Delta blues guitarist and singer, and among the most famous and influential of them. He is “the blues man” to many, from the top of his musty old hat to the toes of those slick, black shoes.

His life and his untimely death are cloaked in fog—he is never as real as in the grooves of a record, and can’t be pinned down otherwise. As filmmaker Martin Scorsese put it: “The thing about Robert Johnson was that he only really existed on record. He was pure legend.” This is one of only two known images of the man. We know that he made some records in Texas in 1936 and 1937, and there are a few details of his life that have been inferred from secondhand accounts and such. That’s about all we know for sure.

There are three tombstones.

Most say he was born in Mississippi in May 1911 and raised by his mother, an itinerant laborer. He spent time in Memphis as a boy, where he began to play the guitar. In 1929 he married, but his wife died in childbirth the next year; he remarried in 1931, and it was at about this time that he first regularly traveled the country to play publicly. He wrote many songs, but played by request and strictly for tips in most cases. Johnson became well-known on the blues circuit.

In 1936 and 1937 he did sessions in San Antonio and Dallas, and it is through a 1961 Columbia compilation of these cuts that Robert Johnson is so widely appreciated. It would be easy to overestimate, retrospectively, his impact on the scene that was contemporary to him—but he was quite significant to later blues artists and to early rock & roll. Eric Clapton calls him “the most important blues musician that ever lived,” and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin has said that, in some measure, all rock artists owe their existence to him.

There is a Gothic complexity to his songwriting and to his guitar playing that is unmistakable, his signature sound. The whine in his voice is immediate and sincere, giving him a weathered tone far beyond his twenty-something years.

Here is “Love in Vain,” ca. 2 1/2 min.:


From Youtube, here is an interesting presentation of stills accompanied by Johnson’s “Crossroads.” There is some beautiful photography from the Mississippi Delta region, but I don’t know how Angelina Jolie got in there just in time for the “sweet woman” line of the song:

As the most prevalent story goes, Johnson died at a little crossroads in Mississippi in 1938 after drinking poisoned whiskey. A man offered him the bottle, and it is said that Sonny Boy Williamson himself knocked it to the floor, cautioning his friend not to accept an open bottle. Later, the man repeated his offer, Johnson accepted again, and shortly afterwards died from strychnine poisoning. Some say Johnson had been seeing his killer’s wife.

Johnson himself may have encouraged the legend of the bluesman meeting the Devil at a crossroads to trade his soul for phenomenal musical ability. The symbolism is harrowing—the trade of a peaceful (if toilsome) life at home for a hard-drinkin’, soul-sapping existence on the lonely backroads and in the dives.

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