Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sun Ra Does Gershwin

And then, suddenly, one afternoon, from out on the edges of the quantum foam comes the thought: I wonder if Sun Ra ever did any George Gershwin?

Of course Sun Ra did George Gershwin! They were both from outer space!

Why did it take me so long to make that connection? And to find a half dozen tunes! This one from 1960.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ralph Ellison on Lester Young

Ralph Ellison recalling his first encounter with a 20-year-old Lester Young back in 1929:

"A tall, intense young musician . . . who, with his heavy white sweater, blue stocking cap and up-and-out-thrust silver saxophone left absolutely no reed player and few young players of any instrument unstirred by the wild, excitingly original flights of his imagination. . . . Lester Young . . . with his battered horn upset the entire Negro section of town. . . . [We tried] to absorb and transform the Youngian style."

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bob Dylan: The Poet's Poet

The poet Michael McClure on Dylan in 1965: "I absolutely did NOT want to hear Dylan. I imagined, without admitting it to myself, that Dylan was a threat to poetry — or to my poetry. I sensed that a new mode of poetry, or rebirth of an old one, might replace my mode…. Joanna sat me down in front of the speaker and told me to listen to the words. I began to hear what the words were saying, not just the jangling of the guitar and the harmonica and the whining nasal voice. The next thing I knew I was crying. It was "Gates Of Eden.”… I had the idea that I was hallucinating, that it was William Blake's voice coming out of the walls and I stood up and put my hands on the walls and they were vibrating.

Then I went back to those people who had tried to get me to listen and I told them that I thought the revolution had begun."

Michael McClure's 1974 Rolling Stone article captures some of the profound excitement and revolutionary change Dylan represented in the mid-1960s.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sinatra & Jobim: A Collaboration of Musical Greats

Looking forward to giving this listening party on Sinatra & Jobim on Monday, October 17. Hear selections from their two collaborations and other songs that give a broader context to the recordings. Discover the stories behind some of the tunes, including the role of a young Candice Bergen in Jobim’s “Bonita.” Learn some of the history of Bossa Nova and Sinatra’s surprising role in its early development. Get an insider’s view of recording sessions that had the atmosphere of intimate party-concerts—with an audience that included Vanessa Redgrave, George Plimpton, Mia Farrow, and Quincy Jones. And dig into the mystery of an album that was never released and the rarest 8-track tape of all time.

Monday, October 17 
6 pm
Landa Library
233 Bushnell Ave
San Antonio

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Jobim in Hollywood

Antônio Carlos Jobim. Hollywood, 1966.

Waiting around for Sinatra to show up for their recording sessions.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours (1955)

The starting point for great album covers. By the musician who first understood the role of an image in contributing to the overall artistic mood of a recording, and designed by the father of album cover art, Alex Steinweiss.

"Sinatra was the first artist to construct an album that sought to unite thematic and musical elements rather than simply collect popular singles. Through sequencing and the cohesion of narratives within the lyrics—and even the iconic impact of the album covers themselves—Sinatra created an entire aural and emotional experience rather than a simple compilation." Robert C. Sickels - 100 Entertainers Who Changed America

There are several essays and scholarly articles that discuss the cover of In the Wee Small Hours, often connecting it with film noir. A few also mention its relation to the work of Edward Hopper. ("It appears as though Sinatra has been transplanted into one of Edward Hopper’s metropolitan settings such as 'Approaching City.'")

The cover was designed by Alex Steinweiss, who served as the sole graphic designer for Columbia Records from the late 1930s through the mid 1940s and basically developed the concept and language of album cover art. Here's an interesting article about him that features some of his other covers. Taschen also has a book devoted to his work.

PS: Credit also to Ava Gardner for making the album possible. Until she kicked Frank's ass and transformed him from a cocky pop star into an emotional wreck, he couldn't have produced this work. Without her, I don't think he would've become a great artist. 

"Ava taught him how to sing a torch song. She taught him the hard way." -- Nelson Riddle. 

In Ava, Sinatra finally met his match.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus (1956)

I was debating between this cover and another great one: Thelonious Monk / Sonny Rollins (1954), but I had already posted one by Monk. Turns out, both covers were designed by the same person: Tom Hannan. Originally from Michigan, he was a jazz drummer when he was young, but then took up art. He moved to NYC in the early 1950s to study with Hans Hoffman and served as his studio assistant for three years. To earn money, he designed album covers for Prestige, Blue Note and other labels, including several covers for Rollins (Tenor Madness), Miles Davis, Red Garland and others. Later he moved to Vermont and became a dealer in fine American furniture and decorative arts. He died in 2000.

Biographical information on Hannan from "'In the Circle of Hans Hofmann: Works from the Hannan Art Collection' on view at Betty Krulik Fine Art, Ltd" at Art Daily.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What Insomnia Looks Like

Eric Dolphy – Out To Lunch (1964)

RIP Bobby Hutcherson.

"Unlike most Blue Note covers, which tended to be abstract geometrics or portraiture, Out To Lunch actually shares a joke. The clock in the store window announcing ‘will be back’ has seven hands. The Reid Miles photograph is bathed in indigo, creating one of the most iconic cover images ever produced." -- Greg Simmons at All About Jazz.