Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bruce Koball is one of the greatest all around forces for good in my musical universe. He's a successful sound designer who spends his off hours recording talented but impecunious musicians. A veteran of KSAN-FM live remotes in the 'seventies, when FM radio was absolutely the hippest thing going, he's recorded some legendary San Francisco performances.

Bruce was also one of the main guiding voices in the establishment of The Well, ostensibly the first internet conversation community, and is a tech geek of the noblest and most venerated stripe.

In the interest of full disclosure I shall state that many of the tracks on Old Puppy - Fetching were recorded by Bruce.

I'm sure the New York Times can tell you better than I can.

Monday, August 28, 2006

God bless Lee Hartsfeld.

I have been remiss in not mentioning earlier the 'net's nutritional powerhouse of old music mp3s, recordings lovingly recovered from technical difficulty, delivered with bitter humor and a deep affection for abandoned musical strategies. His old blog, Vintage Lounge, held forth much evidence refuting the widely held canard that lounge music was born in response to the hi-fi boom of the fifties. There were recordings from the forties, thirties, twenties, and before, which bore striking resemblances to lounge archetypes of the fifties. If you've got any interest in the forgotten histories of recorded music, Lee's blog, "Music You (Possibly) Won't Hear Anywhere Else" will get you stuck in its corner of the web for quite some time. His own pan-stylistic series of midi realizations of "Stairway To Heaven" (polka? slaughter on tenth avenue?) are endlessly entertaining and deserving of critical study. (His Raymond Scott style arrangement of Ghost Riders In The Sky is hilarious, too.) What are you doing here? Check out the music on offer from Lee Hartsfeld of New Florida - I mean, Ohio.

Lee Hartsfeld's music blog: Music You (Possibly) Won't Hear Anywhere Else
I sent a friend an mp3 of "The House Is Haunted" by Mel Tormé, and mentioned that when he wasn't thinking up clever stuff for intros and endings Mel was about the best boy singer ever. He wrote back, credulity strained, what about Fred Astaire and the guy who sang Thank Heaven For Little Girls. Here's what I replied:

"I'm not talking about entertainment. I'm talking about singing, without the acting.

"Fred and Maurice were good at entertaining. Maurice had no other strength. Sang and danced with charm and no talent. It was easy to like him and enjoy his appearance. It was how comfortable he seemed at doing it that sold it as a performance. But I don't care about that half as much as I care about the pleasure I can get from hearing the sound of the singing. That's what Mel did best.

"Fred danced better than he entertained, and he entertained better than he sang. Mel danced well but sang spectacularly, and when he tried to be entertaining he was nearly unbearable. Buddy Rich once said that Mel's drumming was pretty good for a dancer.

"I'm not talking about liking the performer or the performance. I admire the work of all three but I don't expect personal accounts of their lives will give me a lot to cheer. I'm sure the loved ones of women they dated all dreaded what would become of the ladies.

"...the cute little intros and outros on Mel Torme records? I swear they got put there to make for a more entertaining presentation, but to me it's the part that makes it seem desperate.

"In closing I can only point out that "boy singer" is a category from which Fred and Maurice would have been denied entry. The standard of that category would be Merv Griffin.

"Show business is in our blood,
whether it makes us sick or strong."

Just hear how Mel Tormé could sing.

The House Is Haunted - Mel Tormé

Friday, April 21, 2006

One thing that probably seemed obvious to you (though it blind-sided me) is how many social or political conservatives I'd encounter in traditional or "square" music. I guess I assumed that the kinds of abandoned technologies and unfashionable musical values I hold dear would make anyone feel like a freak.
But at least in the San Francisco bay area, retro music worlds turn out to be havens for conservatives of many kinds. There's the dixieland bandleader with the No Spin Zone door mat and the welfare queen jokes, the rockabilly kids who beat up old dirty foreigners on principle, the vo-do-de-o ukulele strummer who thinks gay people are sick and best avoided, the jitterbug dancer who claims to know what God wants us all to do.
family values
I'd expect these people to listen to Toby Keith and Rod Stewart, not to Louis Armstrong and the Cheap Suit Serenaders. What do I know? According to inside sources, the latter band suffered a near fatal seizure in the late seventies amid troubling conditions of internecine hatred and ethnic bigotry.

Addendum: Then there's the public's willingness to make racists out of anti-modernists. If I avoid Hip Hop for its obsessions with boasting and threatening, that makes me vulnerable to charges of racism. (Aggressive young men of every race and culture embrace Hip Hop as confirmation of their aggressive natures. Hip Hop is really not being made for librarians; I maintain the right to listen to music that flatters the egos of nerds like myself.)

The Flea Market Music bulletin board linked to a New York times article about the musical tastes of Stephin Merritt, a New York 'uke scenester. More concept than art, but different strokes, you know?

Link to New York Times piece. Also Slate picked up a rock in this fight.


key change

Hey, when disco came in I saw the money fall out of the live band market, just as I was getting started. Did I demonize disco? Vociferously. Could I do a thing to stop it? Nothing, really. Was I ingracious? Undoubtedly. (Have I been listening to Donald Rumsfeld lately? Of course I have.) But although it made music sick for a while, disco didn't kill music. Disco's own inability to retain popular rule forever lends a new poignancy to those slick, unsubtle sounds.
mirror ball skull
Now that we know that the most coked-out players of the idiom either cleaned up or crashed and burned, I'm freed from my resentment. Bye Bye, Rick James. There's just a rueful sniff for the ruined and a relieved "right on" for the survivors. And I can listen to Funky Town with my windows rolled down.
arthur murray disco
But the dancers appeared so pleased with themselves, and in such an unseemly manner. Was I jealous of how much more action they were getting? Come on, baby, let me know.

record technology

Thursday, April 13, 2006

If you want to know why a person who plays music on the 'ukulele might break his toe kicking stuff, look no further. Go here to the San Luis Obispo Tribune to read all about the kind of empowerment for which my beloved instrument is world famous.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet

Hollywood found the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet irresistible for their hard-swinging, gospel-based, rhythmic singing. If their one appearance in a Hollywood musical is any indication, Hollywood had no convincing notion of how to exploit their considerable charisma and elan. In the recording below, from the Dick Powell picture "Star Spangled Rhythm," the Gates are given to impersonate railroad car attendants, coaxing a night owl and his date out of the dining coach in time for curfew. Lead singer and proto-rapper Bill Johnson makes rapturous hay of the premise, courteously laying out the case against staying up all night. No subsequent recording of the song has approached the relaxed swing and easy confidence of this premiere performance, entrusted to the highly capable Golden Gate Quartet.

Hit The Road To Dreamland - Dick Powell, Mary Martin, The Golden Gate Quartet

Monday, February 27, 2006

The master. Herb Ohta. Ohta-san.

He knows how to play music on the 'ukulele. And now he's set to be honored Saturday, March 4, by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts as one of five recipients of this year's HARA Lifetime Achievement Awards.

I think he's talking to a few notable young gunslinging 'ukulele players with the closing quote of the herein-linked Hawaii Star Bulletin feature. He's seeking a "sophisticated simplicity -- because you know a little more and you can feel the music. I've always told people that you have to feel the music or you can't play it. Just because you play 1,000 notes, it doesn't mean a thing if it doesn't say anything."

Little Brown Gal - Ohta-san

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Alfons Bauer
Upper body strength: Alfons Bauer

Alfons Bauer is the man when it comes to the alpine zither. His superior technique, his broad expressive control of the instrument, amaze even more when you find out how hard the player has to push on that fretboard to get a sound! Even before I blew out my elbows I could get a sound out the thing for maybe twenty seconds, tops. Alfons looks like he could have held up the end of an axle and walked your busted wagon back to the shop. Hearing this man play ALWAYS makes me want to pick up my 'ukulele!.

Beim Schützenfest - Alfons Bauer

I hope Lee Hartsfeld likes this music!


PS~ Monday midday and I find Alfons Bauer's name in the credits for two tunes on Morcheeba's album Big Calm. "Bullet Proof" and "Diggin' A Watery Grave." I couldn't hear no zither on "Bullet Proof." Any ideas?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Here's a fretboard diagram chart I just finished for my 'ukulele arrangement of Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo. It's not much help if the tune isn't in your head already, there are no chord names whatsoever, and if you're using classic re-entrant tuning (high G) some parts of it will sound wrong. If you know how the tune goes and have a low G tuned 'ukulele, it might sound pretty good to you. I'd be interested to read your comments on it.

Mood Indigo chord solo.JPG

Monday, February 20, 2006

Am I into the 'ukulele? I've always assumed so, but I have to ask myself. Aside from playing string bass parts and bass guitar parts in groups with other people, the only music I have learned to make is music I arrange for solo 'ukulele and train myself to play.
My piano playing is sloppy AND choppy; my guitar playing sounds as though I have claws for hands. It hurts my ears and discourages dancing.
At fourteen, I began playing music for my own enjoyment. It was on my dad's dusty Harmony 'uke (with molded fretboard) that I first began to look for the music going through my head. There was a lot of humming and a lot of strumming, but I got in the habit of making music so I could hear with my ears the tunes I was thinking about.
I played string bass for a living, however moth-eaten, for a dozen years, before a catastrophic attack of tendinitis in the mid-nineties cut it short. For two months I played nothing, and then I began to play 'ukulele, just a little every day. From playing bass in other people's bands I'd committed to memory a few hundred tunes, and a couple dozen of them were just stinking up the waiting room. I had to learn to play them on 'ukulele just to help exorcise them from my thoughts, and before long I was playing 'ukulele all day.
I've gone from three crossword puzzles a day to three a year. I take the 'ukulele anywhere and everywhere, and I'm forever playing on it just as quietly as I can. I've found unexpected rewards in playing it quietly. The louder you play it, the faster the decay, i.e., the plunkier the tone. The thing sounds prettier and has a warm sustain when played quietly. It's kind of adddictive.
I've come to understand music more fully because of playing music on the 'ukulele. I love the sound of the thing, particularly my own instrument, strung and tuned away from standard but entirely to my taste. Your 'ukulele? I guess it would be polite to take an interest in everyone else's 'ukulele, but I have music to learn, and I'm not going to live forever.
I am wild about Jim Beloff's The Ukulele - A Visual History, and there are a couple of living 'ukulele players I enjoy listening to, but with a few exceptions, the great big 'ukulele community and I met, made eyes at each other, and then just sort of lost each other's numbers. As a 'uke nut I feel wholly inadequate. Am I trawling for 'ukuleles on eBay, collecting 'uke memorabilia and tiki mugs, getting a 'ukulele themed aloha shirt, going out to hear 'ukulele players? Not so much. It all takes money. I've been a musician most of my adult life. Apart from playing music, life is a scramble for gigs interspersed with chores at home and driving gear around. Am I trying to figure out a way to get Bobby Black in a recording studio with me again? More like that.
I apologize if the name of my web log aroused an appetite for 'ukulele-themed materials without doing anything to satisfy it. I'm doing my very best.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Viewing the video clip linked here is a lot like watching me play Gilbert and Sullivan on the 'ukulele, if you're sensitive to fluctuations in basic dignity. At least I experienced a profound sense of a dream shared. This Eurotainer's orange jump suit is embroidered with little squeeze-bulb bike horns. He gets the Beethoven, Vivaldi, even Strauss, but when he busts out "Popcorn" by Hot Butter, you got to hand it to him. Think he's French?


Monday, January 23, 2006

spot 1019 first album
spot 1019 neckties
"The Spot Ten Nineteen is discussed"

Spot 1019's first album, now on CD, turns twenty years old in 2006. Superficially a classic power trio with a writhing lead singer, Spot inverted every convention it found in the course of its smart, determined and unique career. Their web pages don't seem to have been updated since before Colin Powell's resignation, but at the time of the last update they announced a new CD, "In Her Satanic Majesty's Secret Service Entrance." They deserved a great deal more attention than they got as youngsters, but you can still adopt a new favorite band, one that's sadder and wiser, more bitterly funny than ever. A band more like you.

CMJ wrote this about the first album. Something in the tone tells all you need to know about the shot the machine was willing to give them, man. Around 1990 Spot's lead singer Joe Sloan told an interviewer that in a world where people claim Rod Stewart has a meat and potatoes rock voice, his would probably qualify as macaroni and cheese.
Find your checkbook, go on line to their BUY STUFF page, get their mailing address and send them some money. They'll send you some scorching grinding grooves with a brilliant madman's freely associated rhymes and sideways smartassery. The new album makes four from which to choose. The two songs posted below are from the debut album, depicted above with the lovely spray-painted macaroni on ramen panels artwork.

Spot 1019 - Taste the Feel
Spot 1019 - Copacetic


Friday, January 20, 2006

On the subject of musical evolution I can heartily recommend Richard Hadlock's illuminating book, "Jazz Masters Of The Twenties." (As of this writing there are thirty one used copies in paperback at Amazon dot com, from $3.49.) His chapter "The Chicagoans" describes in detail some congruent and overlapping spheres of musical influence in the world of Bix and Hoagy and George Wettling and Dave Tough. The book provides a perspective on creating music wholly unrelated to the usual "Sonny Rollins returned from exile with a mission burning within..." claptrap.
Like any language, music can only be understood to the extent that listener and player share points of reference. Music is created in community, and its sounds are made of the music its players remember. You'd be surprised how much jazz writing forgets that.

(From 01/20/06)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

constance queeling
Yes, Connie - singer Connie Doolan

Just so you don't assume from my windy entries here at the web log that I'm always full of hot air, here's a confession. Connie Doolan asked me to submit a little bit of text for the liner notes of the new album by Connie Doolan Quartet, of which I am the bass playing member. In five weeks I started three different little submissions, but I couldn't bear to send any of them for approval.
I'm certainly proud of the recordings; the musicianship of my colleagues is exceptionally good, and it definitely brings forth my best effort. I don't usually have a better time playing music in other company, and I couldn't ask to be stuck backstage with nicer, more interesting people. The good time I have contributing to a musical whole has never been better. They let me play 'ukulele on one song, and they asked me to write a string section for another. Why I couldn't write anything worth reading about one of the very best records I've ever been part of, I may never know.
Here's an all-acoustic excerpt from an early, abandoned take of one of the songs we recorded for our "debut" CD. I was tickled that Connie took my suggestion that "Sunday Blues," the Julie London classic, would look great on her. I'll post something from the CD when it finally appears in the spring.

Connie Doolan Quartet - Sunday Blues - Take 3 (conclusion)