Jazz is holy! Jazz is the most profound, deepest, most challenging, most relevant, most political, most soulful of musics or maybe any art form. Jazz is Holy!
Jazz is an inevitable outpouring from the African Diaspora, born when African Americans suddenly had some freedom, mobility and time and picked up instruments abandoned after the 1st Civil War. They blended the Western Music tradition with an African sense of collectivity and "well regulated" improvisation.
Jazz is entertaining but its not entertainment. Jazz is serious, soulful, demanding, deep, steeped in an amazing tradition that needs to be absorbed and internalized just to be a journeyman player let alone a great innovator.
John Coltrane is the very spirit of jazz personified and arguably its greatest artist. He left behind an amazing body of work in the 41 years he walked the Earth. For Trane, music was both the discipline and a reflection of an intense spiritual quest, a vehicle to achieve and share higher consciousness. My mentor told me "When you are refining your music, you are really refining yourself" Coltrane was that. His career started in a world of jazz dominated by Charlie Parker and rampant heroin and alcohol abuse. Bird died in his early thirties so damaged that the medical examiner though he was in his 60s. Trane lived for his music and eventually adopted a better life style. His powerful musical quest was the faster than light drive fueled in his later years by frequent LSD use and deep study of many spiritual traditions. You could hear his progress week by week. He died from liver cancer at the age of 41.
This week's show is a 90 minute overview of some of the landmarks in the journey that was Coltranes work. Its his history but also a chronicle of a period when jazz was the cutting edge. He was at the center of most of the innovations that were coming so fast.
The show is bracketed by the first and last movements of his greatest work, A Love Supreme.
Lazy Bird and Moments Notice are examples of his early work in a style known as 'hard bop" prevalent in the early 60s. Still following the jazz model of improvising on the framework of pop tunes of the day it is hard edged and demanding. He was consumed by an exploration of the harmonic implications of standard tunes.
But it wasn't just an intellectual exercise. Ray Charles said "Genius plus soul equals jazz". And it was all there in Tranes mind and heart. "Say It" and "All or Nothing at All are from what some say is the most romantic record ever made, the Impulse LP "Ballads".
But the quest continued: "Giant Steps" is the culmination of that period. He wrote the hardest chord progression he could and then wrung every possibility implied by the chords at a breakneck tempo.
After that, where to go? He and his employer, Miles Davis went the other way and started playing tunes based on one or two scales rather than chords changing two to a measure. "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise is a transition, but Miles' "So What" is the signature tune of what came to be called "modal jazz" (a mode is one of a number of scales that makes up our Western music). So What is the opening tune of Miles epic album Kind of Blue (biggest selling jazz record of all times.
From modal music, he moved even furthur, to music not based on chords or scales but pure sound and raw emotion. "Dearly Beloved" is just a taste of that. Maybe Ill do a show on "free jazz" at a later date.
Well, I hope you enjoy and benefit from this man's epic achievements.
Jazz is holy!
This weeks show is a celebration of that uniquely American art form, blues music. Blues is a major tributary of the miraculous river of African American music that was born of the collision of African culture, the institution of slavery and European music. All jazz, blues, funk, soul, R and B, reggae, zydeco, and rock and roll is essentially African in origin.
Ive been a professional working musician for the last 50 years and much of what I have been involved in is blues based at its core. Ive played with some great Northern California based blues musicians and toured the US and Canada with the late great Frankie Lee. In 2014 I was inducted into the Sacramento Blues Society Hall of Fame and have been an artist in residence with the Blues in the Schools program.
But in spite of decades of obsession, if you ask me "what is blues?" I would say I cant define it but I know it when I hear it. Blues is more than a style, its a QUALITY of music that appears ubiquitously in music all over the world, even from cultures that wouldn't know Albert King from King Tut.
Blues is the bleeding heart of music, speaks about and to our true humanity. My dear friend, the legendary late great Johnny "Guitar" Knox said "If you're gonna sing the blues you have to sing like an 11 year old boy who just saw his parents die in a fiery car crash. You got to sing from down where you live" But Johnny knew that wasnt the whole story. Blues, like other musics encompasses everything that is the experience of life. Its not about sadness, its about joy beating sadness back for a moment. It transcends suffering and gives us the wisdom to live life.
Blues is a living language with many regional dialects. Ive played blues with musicians from all over the world and in spite of not having much verbal language in common, when someone calls a tune and counts it off we are on the same page, working together to create a great experience for all that can hear.
Maybe I will do another show with an historical outlook but many of my friends are much better historians than I. Todays show is just a sampling of some of the great music that illustrates some of the huge territory under the label "blues"
A bit about the artists and some of the songs:
Muddy Waters- Muddy come to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta as part of the great migration of African Americans in the late 40s. Muddy had been a field hand who also played music for his fellow laborers. His music was field recorded by Alan Lomax and then he moved north. The noise of the big city and the crowded night clubs made the acoustic music he had been playing just too quiet. Muddy got an early electric guitar, put together a band with an upright bass, second guitar, amplified harmonica, piano and drums and turned the South Chicago blues scene on its head. Then and there Muddy invented what soon would become the standard instrumentation of rock and roll. I Cant Be Satisfied was his first hit and it is still dripping with a Delta vibe but now electrified.
Many other artists followed suit. Some represented here are the three Kings BB, Albert and Freddie (no relations) Jimmy Reed, Elmore James and Buddy Guy.
At the same time another blues revolution was happening, one with its roots in jazz. T Bone Walker was a prime mover of this stream and his tune Stormy Monday Blues is played a million times a night all over the world by bar bands of every type. Charles Brown was also doing a similar thing.
As the 60s dawned, people all over the world were discovering blues and falling in love. Up to this point, blues had been pretty much an African American art form, but the 60s revolution had so many of us suburban kids looking elsewhere for a more authentic culture than what was forced on us by straight society. Along with Eastern Wisdom, Indigenous American lore and psychedelics, African American culture seemed to be that. In the early to mid 60s the first white blues bands started appearing. People like Charlie Musslewhite , the Blues Project the Segal-Schwall Band, John Hammond and Dave Van Ronk started gaining big followings amongst white college students and inspired many to listen and grab instruments and learn the form. Probably the best of these was the Chicago based Paul Butterfield Blues Band. An integrated band when that was still an issue, they knew that the key to being accepted was to be so undeniably bad ass that people would forget the paint jobs. Some familiar names came from that band including the late Michael Bloomfield and the much loved Elvin Bishop.
A couple other artists included in this show are Jimi Hendrix, who bridged the gap between blues and rock and his Red House is probably the greatest blues-rock slow blues ever recorded.
I played with the late Frankie Lee on and off from 1999 to his passing in 2015. Here he does a tune made famous by B.B. King. I learned much about being a professional sideman from Frankie and got to play some great gigs in the US and Canada.
One more: A great internationally famous blues band Little Charlie and the Night Cats came out of my home town Sacramento and had great success. Charlie Beaty retired from touring about 10 years ago (and recently passed) and his singer/harmonica player/songwriter Rick Estrin took over the band and continued to tour and record. One of their biggest hits was a tune called Dump That Chump and Rick recently rerecorded it as Dump That Trump.
Well thats the show! Okay fellas, shuffle in G from the V, Omar you got the first 12, right here...1,2,1,2,3,4
This week is an attempt to capture the flavor, spirit and significance of being a High Schooler in 1968 80 miles from the corner of Haight Ashbury. Needless to say, the streets were flooded with potent hits of Hoffmans Compound. Purple Wedge, Pink Wedge (my first), Orange Wedge, Blue Wedge, we argued about the relative merits of each but now I figure it was the same stuff just different colors.
But suffice it to say lots of people were tripping and across the social spectrum. Psychedelia was becoming fashionable and the rock music the big labels were serving up was just dripping with acid. Music really mattered and as we all know music is the warp drive that powers the starship.
A lot of this music was on AM radio and you could hear the rest on the underground FM stations springing up like mushrooms every where. Ours was KZAP. All the ads were for counterculture businesses and the assumption was that a majority of listeners and Friday and Saturday nights were tripping.
My brother and his friends would send letters to each other labeled "Do not open till intense" with LSD inspired art and messages. Im gonna let this weeks music speak for itself.
Do not open until intense!
This show is the first step towards something I’ve been thinking about for a number of years. I’m not really a singer or a songwriter, but I’ve been involved in a lot of recording projects as a player or producer. So I’m going to put out a collection of the best of my recorded work from 1974 to the present day.
Here are the bands and tunes:
1. Tommy Miles and the Milestones – “Fire One Up”
Tommy is great singer-songwriter in a country/honky tonk/Americana vein. He has co-written with some of the best: Delany Bramlett, Spooner Oldham, Mark Narmore and many others. This song is about his relationship with cannabis. This is from 2017 but I thought it set the tone and and the stage for what follows. From our “Ol’ Dude with an Attitude” album.
2. Watercolor – “All Bundled In One”
This is from my first recording session in 1974. I had all but forgotten this until one day, about 5 years ago, I was just waking up and I heard my wife on the phone saying, “Well, if you're really calling from London, I guess I could wake him up,” I got on the phone and heard, “Hello, I’m from Jazzman Records in London, England and are you the Joe Lev who recorded ‘All Bundled In One with Watercolor’?” I said, “Indeed I am.”
He went on to say that what his label does is collect basically garage bands from the 1960s and 1970s, and puts out compilations of their recordings. The latest one they were working on was going to be called “California Funk,” and it was going to be funk bands from the ‘70s in Northern California. He said he had heard our record and wanted it included. I was the only person he could track down.
I said as far as I was concerned, I would love to see it released, but I didn’t know where but one person from our sextet was. I never found out how he got the track but he offered me $250 on the spot if I had a copy of the 45. I didn’t have one. After some negotiation about the liner notes, he agreed that if it generated any income it would go to the guy who produced and recorded it because I knew he was having hard times. About a year later, I received 2 copies of “California Funk” and ours was the opening track. We were pretty much the only band on it that wasn't a James Brown rip-off.
3. Beer Dawgs – “Hair of the Reindeer”
I didn’t do much recording after that until 1986, when I was contacted by Slim Bawb Pearce (Bob Pearce), a great multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, now in the Austin, Texas area. He was putting together a band to play his original music. We got together as a side project, just playing his tunes, usually for no money, everywhere we could, while we all were in other working bands. We worked hard on his music, rehearsing several days a week.
After a year or so we all found ourselves out of work so we added a bunch of cover songs to our list and went to work in biker bars mostly. Inspired by Bob, I started writing songs of my own. Bob is a generous guy and he let me do my songs at our shows as well as his and some covers. We wrote together some. Usually I would give him a cassette with a number of ideas for tunes, usually just a groove and some chords. He would take them and add a lyric and maybe some other sections.
Sometimes I would send him a partial song with maybe a verse and a chorus and he could flesh them out. We wrote “Hair of the Reindeer” for a compilation CD with a bunch of local bands. It’s about Santa’s hangover after the after Christmas party. On the CD it was right after “The Santa Rumba” which was about the aforementioned party. Last year Bob rerecorded a song we wrote together, called “Honey Do,” and his CD got a Grammy nomination.
Working with Dave Lippman
My old friend and one of my first music partners, Dave Lippman, has a had quite a career as a political comic/songwriter his whole life. We had a couple of bands from 1966-1969. He has spent most of his life touring, doing his comedy show, and singing a few of his serious songs in all kinds of places all over the world. When he would come here Sacramento, California), I would try to see his show and hang out. In around 1997, after a college show, we started talking about “getting the band back together” and doing some recording.
A few months later he told me he was working on a new album and he’d like to try me out as a player and as producer. He sent me four songs. We decided to use the best players our minimal budget could afford, and I called in favors, made promises, and begged some of my friends to be part of the project. Dave liked the the result, so he did the whole record with me. “I Hate Walmart” was voted one of the 100 best folk albums of 1998 by some college radio station in North Carolina. The following 5 tunes are from this album.
4. Dave Lippman – “If You Can See Me”
This song is about political prisoners all over the world. It features some great piano work by James Malone. The chorus goes:
I am not famous, I’m not Mandela
But I’m imprisoned in a jail
If you can see me, then they must free me
So won’t you please lift up the veil
Between the time Dave wrote, and we recorded, this tune, Geronimo Pratt was released from jail so we got a local newscaster to do a fake news broadcast about it.
5. Dave Lippman – “I Think There’s More”
This is maybe my favorite on the record. It’s Americana before it was a genre. My concept for the record was to make everything friendly and inviting—like sitting around a fireplace with your best friends—to set up Dave’s hard-hitting lyrics. Mandolin, accordion, and pedal steel let it breathe. Bob Pearce from the Beer Dawgs played mandolin and steel.
6. Dave Lippman – “Indoors”
This is a tune about homelessness in America.
7. Dave Lippman – “Free At Last”
This was the first one we recorded. I said I wanted it sound like “1000 folk singers marching to the Capitol in Washington.” Some great church organ from James Malone. And Bob on a bunch of instruments.
8. Dave Lippman – “In My Younger Days”
This is the story of how Dave became who he is. Having grown up together, I was there for a lot of what he wrote about.
The sad thing is that the hard-hitting political commentary is just as true now as it was then. Dave was almost prophetic with the tunes, or maybe he just saw more than most do.
9. The Bayou Boys – “Junco Partner”
This is my only lead vocal performance on a released CD. In 2006 I joined the Bayou Boys, a cajun/zydeco/ New Orleans R&B band, playing fairs, festivals, and casinos. We made two records in my time with the band. This is from our studio recording “Swamp Tracks.” This song is a classic old New Orleans song recorded many times by artists like James Booker, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, and the Clash.
Working with the Michael Ray Band
Michael is a young guitar player, singer, and songwriter I’ve been playing with for a couple of years. He’s part of a new generations of DIY artists that have brought new life to the music world these days. You can see him riding his bicycle, with an amp on the back, and a guitar on his back, all around town. His concept, execution, and production of our recording “RAW” is nothing amazing.
It was done on a total shoestring. We had one short rehearsal and then we went into a great studio with a room set up for video as well as sound recording. We sold tickets to a studio audience to help defray the cost and give us ambience. Then we blew through 22 tunes, one take each and no overdubs. Ended up with enough good material, about 15 tunes, for a CD and a DVD. It certainly exceeded all of our expectations.
From the liner notes: “This album was recorded live one evening in February 2017 in front of a studio audience. What you hear and see on this DVD is what happened that night. There are no overdubs, no retakes, no bullshit. This is six professional musicians doing what they have dedicated their lives to.”
10. The Michael Ray Band – “Hit the Road Jack”
This song features my good friend Sandra D Swanfeldt singing Ray Charles’ classic tune.
11. The Michael Ray Band – “Fussing and Fighting”
This song is an original. Michael would call it neo-soul. Its fresh!
12. The Michael Ray Band – “I’d Rather Go Blind”
This song features Lauren Wakefield, one of my favorite singers to back up. She was a local treasure now based in LA. She keeps it real, no pretense, just great vocal chops and emotional honesty.
Working with Tommy Miles and the Milestones
The rest of the songs on this episode are from my latest recording project with Tommy Miles and the Milestones, the aforementioned “Ol’ Dude with an Attitude.”
13. Tommy Miles and the Milestones – “Old Man in the Mirror”
This song embodies the theme of the whole record. How does someone still young at heart, who has done a lot of living and still loves life, grow old with grace? Tommy wrote these songs for all of us aging hippies and artists.
14. Tommy Miles and the Milestones – “This Old Man”
All you need to know is that, in some cases, 68 is the new 25.
15. Tommy Miles and the Milestones – “Last Hoorah”
I’ll leave you with Tommy’s words:
“I’m on my last hoorah, got my bucket list in my car
I’m on the fast track so get out of my way
Had my heart set on Rio but I’ll settle for Reno
I’m ready for my last hoorah”
For more information, go to:
Ray Charles said it best when he he named an album Genius plus Soul = Jazz. Jazz is the one true great American native art forms and in my opinion the pinnacle of the edifice called music. Jazz takes the technical mastery equal to that of classical players plus the seemingly magical ability to create highly organized compositions collectively in real time.
Jazz is a language and musicians that speak the same dialect can play together as one instantly. Its a spiritual discipline and the bar is so high. It demands the deepest concentration and openness to each other. Magic is expected every time a tune is counted off.
A few of the highlights from this week's show:
Workout by Hank Mobley -one of the first jazz records to catch my ear, its an all star cast recording for Blue Note Records. A perfect example of the elusive but unmistakable quality we call "swing"
Say It (Over and Over Again) by John Coltrane.
Trane was pretty much unarguably the greatest of improvisors, composers and band leaders. Always searching for more: More sounds, more soul, more freedom. This track is from one of my favorite records by JC or by anyone. Jazz is all about intimacy and this is that in spades. The most romantic of records. Music is love!
Busted by John Scofield
This is more contemporary from one of my favorite guitar players, the great John Scofield. I heard this track on the radio made a hard left turn into the parking lot of the original Tower Records store and bought it. Its Sco's tribute to Ray Charles and one of my favorite CDs.
O Pato (The duck): if this dont make you smile you must be dead or a Trump supporter.
Fool on the Hill: Lena Horne and Gabor Szabo: This may or may not be jazz but the combination of Sir Paul's writing, Szabos guitar stylings, Lena, and the brilliant Fender bass work of Chuck Rainey is both the perfect 60-70s record and a timeless classic.
Old Man Time and Certified Senior Citizen are both short songs that address my current obsession: How does someone who still has creative energy and is young at heart age gracefully. Since I got MY Medicare card this has been pondered everyday.
General Mojos Well Laid Plan: This is a reprise from my last show, and another of the records that pointed me toward jazz. Its from the earliest days of what became known as jazz/rock fusion. Larry Coryell, on this record and Terry Haggerty from the Sons of Champlin were both playing rock sounds with jazz instruments, ideas and abilities. Soon the were 1000s doing that but these guys were the first.
Enjoy and I hope this inspires you to search out that treasure know as jazz!
I'm very excited about this show. I'm featuring music that made a huge impression on me in my younger days, 1966-1973. These are all recordings that pointed me in a direction that I still travel.
In 1966 my older brother brought home records by a few of the new wave of young, white electric blues bands. Up to that point, blues bands were pretty much to be found in the black ghettos of big cities like Chicago, Detroit, NYC--but the emergence of white English guys playing the blues (Eric Clapton, John Mayall, the Stones, the real Fleetwood Mac), and the integrated Paul Butterfield Blues Band, signaled a new era in the music.
By 1967 our souls were gettin' psychedelicized, and even straight blues bands weren't immune. "East-West" was inaccurately called raga rock, but the long open jam on a single chord was a clear precursor to jam bands. You can hear the Butterfield influence on the early work of Jerry Garcia.
"General Mojo's Well Laid Plan" was my introduction to jazz. It featured the recently deceased Larry Coryell (April 2, 1943 – February 19, 2017).
"Glimpses" is Gregorian rock with a definite middle eastern flavor by way of Hoffmans compound.
"Frownland" is my mission statement: My smile is stuck, I will not go back to your Frownland.
I feel very fortunate to have come of age in that amazing golden era of popular music and jazz. Music was both a catalyst and a manifestation of the great changes happening in the world.