Saturday, July 31, 2010

Little Peggy March: I Will Follow Him

If this is your first visit, or you're not sure whether or not you want to continue following this blog, then let the devotion of Little Peggy March convince you (above).

I'll be covering the Osheaga Music Festival in Montreal this weekend, so stay tuned.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Je T'Aime, Montreal

Back in Montreal and it feels good. Yesterday I took a thirteen-hour train ride to get up here from New York, and this is what I would have written on the train if I weren't so damn tired:

I'm sitting next to an old man, looks about 80, and I'm wondering if he likes jazz. A lot of old men like jazz. Maybe that's why I like old men. But that can't be completely it. I'm past liking people just because they like jazz--too superficial.

I like this old guy, though. He's wearing Velcro sneakers, blue starchy pants, and a funny red striped shirt. We haven't spoken at all, but I think we understand each other pretty well. We understand that we're both tired and this train ride is interminable and we're only into Schenectady and the Amtrak coffee is weak and burnt.

As the train pulls out of Whitehall I take out my laptop and plug in my earphones to listen to some music. I wonder what he thinks of the Beatles. "I Should Have Known Better" has been in my head for about three weeks and I put it on. The iTunes controls are on random selection and when the song ends, Billie Holiday comes on.

There's something soporific about Billie's voice, and I want to fall asleep, so I let a few of her songs run through. No luck. But the man is asleep beside me. He didn't even need Billie--or maybe he could hear her through my earphones.

Back on random selection and Duke Ellington's "Morning Glory" comes on. Beautiful, but it ends. I really want to listen to Sonny Rollins, but I have none on my computer, so I put on Cassandra Wilson. Her voice is sort of soporific too, though I love her.

Looking to my left, the man's eyes are open. Maybe Cassandra woke him up, though I doubt this version of "Polkadots and Moonbeams" could do that to anyone. He must know this song though. He probably danced to it at his prom. I wish I could have danced to it at my prom. My wishes were probably his reality. Maybe that's what we have in common.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Making A Recommendation

I might have lied in my profile. I can also play "Blue Bossa," "All of Me," and "All The Things You Are" on the piano. I started taking lessons last October with a jazz piano student at McGill. He first taught me the blues, so I play that a lot, in C.

I don't have much discipline when it comes to learning keys out of C. "Blue Bossa" is in C minor and "All of Me" is in C major. "All The Things You Are" is in A flat major, so that's a point of pride for me. Along with the B flat blues, I also plan to learn "Misty"--one of my favorite ballads--soon.

Although I consider the blues scale a bit glib, I use it a lot because I am not a great pianist. Most people also find it satisfying in a gutbucket sort of way. Last night I was playing--C blues, of course--on my friend's baby grand piano. Another friend, Tim, was watching me play, and I asked him if he liked jazz as I began to walk the bass and stab in a subdominant chord.

He said that he didn't know much about jazz, but that he wanted to get more into it. Could I recommend anything? That question is hard for me to answer because, simply, there's a big difference between Albert Ayler and Ben Webster, but it's all jazz. I figured since he was enjoying my shoddy attempt at blues piano I'd recommend Oscar Peterson, whose music often serves as a gateway to more jazz because it is so swinging and gospel-tinged and reliable. It did for me.

When I got home, I thought maybe I should have recommended an album instead of an artist. I remembered the 1955 album "Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers" and posted the thought on his Facebook page. I felt more satisfied, but when I make a jazz recommendation, I usually feel sort of feeble.

Even though Tim wanted me to recommend him some jazz, the recommendation felt like an apology--like I was making a case for something beleaguered. It also felt inadequate, as I was saying earlier. I would have rather told him to buy a solo Earl Hines CD than an Oscar Peterson one. Maybe I didn't put enough faith in his tastes.

Or maybe I should have just directed him to Louis Armstrong's Dinah, which I posted above.

Do I even need to make a case for that? What would you have recommended? Is anyone out there?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

First Post: Joel Frahm Review

Hello All,

Although my profile says I will be posting from Montreal, I am still in New Jersey. But rest assured, I will be going back to Montreal in two days. This first post is a review I wrote of the Joel Frahm Trio. The saxophonist Joel Frahm performs every Tuesday night (for two sets) at The Bar Next Door in the West Village. I saw him play just last week. It was great fun. Go if you can. 12 dollar cover and one drink minimum. (Not bad for a New York affair.) I hope you enjoy the review:

Downstairs at The Bar Next Door

The Bar Next Door, an elegant, dimly lit walk-down in the West Village, probably seats about thirty people. On Tuesday night, during saxophonist Joel Frahm’s weekly gig there, about ten showed. It didn’t seem to bother him.

Two excited women sat at the bar tapping their feet and smiling as Mr. Frahm coolly soloed his way through “My Shining Hour,” his shoulders hunched tightly in, like Charlie Parker's—a stamp of focus.

In the back of the room, a young couple munched on crisp salad and sipped from iced cocktails—a respite from the heat outside—as Mr. Frahm quoted the first few bars of “Stardust” in a ballad solo. The women at the bar knowingly chuckled. His eyes stayed closed as he moved on to the next idea.

In fact, his eyes were often closed, which lent itself to his seeming unflappability. It’s not that his focus on structure and balance would divert his attention from the paucity of people in the room. Perhaps he just cares more about structure and balance.

Mr. Frahm’s warm, loping sound fit smoothly with the piano-less context known as strolling where there is no chordal accompaniment aside from the arpeggiated, walking bass line. In a way, there’s more harmonic freedom for the soloist. But Mr. Frahm kept his solos refreshingly tame over the gliding accompaniment of the rhythm section—which included drummer Bill Campbell and bassist Joe Martin. Perhaps the best example of the strolling style is Sonny Rollin’s 1957 album, “Way Out West,” in which he reveals his indefatigable sense of balance and swing.

There didn’t seem to be much Rollins in Mr. Frahm’s sound, barring some kazoo-y burps here and there. Although Mr. Frahm has certainly learned from and absorbed Rollins’s sense of soloistic equilibrium. You might have heard some Johnny Griffin in a tortuous, extended solo on Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl.” Some lush passages in “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” might have evoked the breathy soulfulness of Houston Person. A dry Coltrane squeak found its way in occasionally.

The band relied a little too heavily on the vices of jazz-jam egalitarianism: meaning the drummer and bassist took a few too many solos, which made the interplay more predictable. In a ballad or medium swing—the tempos of which well suited this group—Mr. Campbell’s easy brushwork provided an emulsifying texture for Mr. Frahm’s sound.

A sheen of sweat appeared on Mr. Frahm’s nape as he continued through the first set. By the last song, one of the women from the bar had made her way beside the stage, a trumpet in her hand. “Please welcome Carol Morgan,” said Mr. Frahm. She took a timid solo on “I Love You,” a bit overpowered by the bass and drums. Mr. Frahm pointed out the other woman, alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity. “If you don’t know her, you should,” he said.

When the band concluded, the sun had set, and the candles on each table slightly illuminated the red mahogany walls. Village walkers outside took in the sights and sounds of MacDougal Street, their shadows cast by streetlights into the bar. Perhaps the second set would fill up more.