Monday, December 21, 2009

"Rabbit Hole" by David Lindsay-Abaire at Arden Theater, Philadelphia

Oh, yes, the Prof was socked in by the snow on Saturday, but made it into the Quakin' City the next day because he held a ticket to a play at one of his favorite haunts. The Pulitzer-grabbin' drama was *eh* s0-so, but it starred the luminous Grace Gonglewski, so it was worth tunneling through a snowbank.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jingle Jammin' VI: Cigar Box Nation Christmas

Download this collection by bringin' the electronic rodent to this hyar link.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Dean Delivers: Christgau on Monk

The Prof has been following Robert Christgau's music writing since he started reading The Village Voice in 1982. Here is one of his all-time best pieces, his latest "Rock & Roll &" essay at Barnes and Noble's site (which they really ought to call "Barnes & Noble &") on the new biography of Thelonious Monk by Robin D. G. Kelley. Like a great New York Review of Books piece, it opens up from the book under consideration and expands to include an overview of the artist. If you read the Dean's picks for Monk discs, just keep in mind that the Prof loves Monk's Music beyond all reason.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jingle Jammin' IV: Mommy and Santa Claus

Jimmy Boyd started it with the hit song by Tommie Connor, a recording that combined cutesy with a creepy vibe and went to the top of the Billboard chart. Buck Owens improved somewhat on the concept and a whole lot on the music with his rockin' country favorite "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy." (But George Jones cashed in with "I Saw Mommy Twistin' with Santa Claus," yeesh. Oh, well, he's in great Thumper Jones mode at least.)

Mack Rice (above) went one better with "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" in which daddy does the singin' and the cutesy kids are relegated to bed. (I particularly like the stanza where Dad gets fed up with trying to assemble a bicycle and longs to get it on with Mon before the little cherubs awaken.) His version was as funky as you could get and since then other rockers, funkers, and bluesmen have taken a crack at it, most notably Albert King. (The Christmas Jug Band has a nifty zydeco flavored live version, and alterna-acapella group The Bobs penned a variant from the point of view of Mrs. Claus.)

Akim and Teddy raised the stakes deliriously with "Santa Claus Is a Black Man" which made the racial element in Rice's song explicit. This time the high-pitched child's voice is groovy rather than creepy.

The idea of Santa with a libido, especially an uxuriously yearning Santa, is amusing, but Clarence Carter took the idea further with a Lothario Claus in "Back Door Santa," whose ho-ho-hos are not only lascivious, but perhaps slyly triumphant about his Kringling cuckolding of the hood
("I ain't like old Saint Nick--he don't come but once a year." Hmmm.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pig Iron Theater's "Chekhov Lizardbrain" in Philadelphia

The Prof slithered into his seat at the Arts Bank and wedged his scaly self in between the other patrons in the sellout matinee.
Many thanks to Mr. Pink for the tipoff.
Review in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As the anonymous review from explains:

The performance draws from Paul Maclean's Triune Brain Theory. MacLean noticed that when the human brain is dissected, one discovers a "paleomammalian" layer that looks almost identical to a pig or dog brain; this layer controls breathing, sleeping, hunger, and the startle response. Cutting deeper into the brain, one finds a "lizard brain" in the form of the human brain stem. This area is responsible for emotions, connections between individuals, and territorial behavior. A thrid layer is the "neomammalian brain," our large neocortex, which contains the wiring for symbolic thinking,self-awareness, ambivalence and language. In her bestseller Animals in Translation, autistic author Temple Grandin proposes that her own empathy with animals comes from an compromised "human brain" and a compensating "dog brain" and "lizard brain." Templeton notes, "here's the really interesting part: each one of those brains has its own kind of intelligence, its own sense of time and space, its own memory, and its own subjectivity."

"Me and Orson Welles" Richard Linklater

Though he is well aware that the framing story (or is it the sub-plot) of the film is a bit wan, The Prof was nonetheless exhilarated by this account of the Dog-Faced boy, the incipient Falstaff of celluloid in his gloriest days.

The Prof enjoyed Klawans' take in The Nation and invites you to check it out.

Friday, December 11, 2009

John Storm Roberts Is Dead

The great student and promulgator of world music is gone. Read his obituary here.

Read an old interview here.

The dean's review of the immortal "Sound of Kinshasa."

Read the Dean's review of "Heavy on the Highlife" by Oriental Brothers.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jingle Jammin' III: Leo's Bells

The Prof nods! How could I forget Leo Watson's "Jingle Bells"? (I guess of George Harrison forgot Billy Preston at the Concert for Bangladesh, I can be forgiven.)

To learn about this great idiosyncratic scatter, a bridge between swing and bop, click here to read Leonard Feather's reminiscence in The Jazz Years: Earwitness to an Era.

Watson was dubbed the James Joyce of Jazz because of his enthusiastically free associating as he scatted, evident in the lyrics here:

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
wedding bells,
bells of the wedding,
wedding cake,
cut the cake,
snowflakes of Chicago,
Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town...

Oh, yeah, and the band is led by a raucous Vic Dickenson on trombone with piano by "Jellyroll Lipchitz" (Leonard Feather, who put the session together, you could look it up, himself)!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jingle Jammin' II: "One Horse Open Sleigh"

The granddaddy of all jinglin' jive, the archetype of secular yule-be-singin' along, an evergreen of of the old tree-killin' format--sheet music. The story goes that transplanted New Englander James Lord Pierpont composed it for a children's choir at his Savannah congregation's Thanksgiving service and it proved popular enough to be repeated at Christmas. (But the origin myths abound. Check here for a discussion of the controversy surrounding the song's composition.)

The song was first published in 1857 (see above) and then again two years later with the title changed to the more familiar phrase from the chorus. Some claim that phrase is an imperative sentence rather than an interjection-- "Jingle, bells." --commanding the bells to do their thing in much the same way as der Bingle does in his jive coda to the title song of Bells of St. Mary's ("O ring you ding dong bells"). Over time we've come to think of the "jingle" as an adjective specifying just what kinda kooky bells won't stop ringing. (And, indeed, in the pop music recording biz adding that species of bells to the mix will convince you that that heavy metal Christian riff, greasy funk beat, or gypsy jazz instrumental actually is a Christmas tune.)

[By the way, there's a somewhat similar misunderstanding about the carol "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Most of us tend to think of a bunch of happy fellows being granted a rest by the guy upstairs (God rest ye, Merry Gentlemen), but it is actually an idiom from medieval and Renaissance English blessing the chaps with a merry break from labor (God rest you merry, Gentlemen). Hence Capulet's servant to Romeo (I.ii): "Rest you merry!")]

The song was not a hit at first on the page, but the Currier and Ives atmosphere must have created a sense of instant nostalgia and it seeped into the country's unconscious. According to The Dawn of Sound website, the very first Christmas record ever was a version of "Jingle Bells" cut in 1889 by banjoist Will Lyle. No copies have survived. The next recorded version under the name "Sleigh Ride Party" is by the Edison Male Quartette in 1898 (download available here).

Bing's 1943 release with The Andrews Sisters which charted at #19 is probably the most-beloved pop version of the song, but I particularly enjoy the Armed Forces Radio Service transcription (apparently a rehearsal) where the sisters swing harder and Bing has one of his legendary blowouts when he flubs the lyrics and ad-libs "O Holy Jesus Christ" as a substitute. The Jesuits could perhaps assess whether this Gonzaga alumnus was blaspheming or channeling the seasonal spirit.

Check the All Music Guide database and you'll find hundreds of names, familiar and obscure, covering the song. Of course, the opening three notes serve as an opening or ending tag to a wide variety of original Christmas tunes as if to confer open-sleighed mojo to your fledgling seasonal composition. The Prof could go on with commentary on many more Jingling platters, but even the long-winded must pause for an intake sometimes or succumb to hyperventilation.

So let this last comment suffice. "Jingle Bells" tends to appeal to jazzbos quite a bit. Maybe the dit-dit-dit, dit-dit-dit rhythmic pattern calls out to arrangers stacking riffs and performers looking for a steady beat to syncopate against. Certainly, you can hear it in Fats Waller's sly 1935 recording, Glen Miller's straight-ahead 1941 swinger with Tex Benecke, and Count Basie's machine-tooled live blast from Birdland in 1961. Both sophisticated arranging gents the Duke and Gerald Wilson conceived more harmonically complex frameworks for the chestnut later. And the original swingmonster was Spud Murphy's arrangement for Benny Goodman. The first version made in June 1935 for Thesaurus Transcriptions as The Rythm Makers at an all-day marathon featureing cracking solos by Pee Wee Ervin and Art Rollini. The Victor recording a month later had the immortal Bunny Berigan with the original Benny Goodman Orchestra. Benny's own clarinet soars through the loping reeds and brass on both, and the Victor went on to become a hit when the label rushed out everything it could after the band broke the following year.

But the Prof's own favorite "Jingle Bells" is from a 1936 London session of Benny Carter and his Quintet. The guitar chugs along for a measure and the bass introduces the by-then (and by-now) instantly recognizable Kringle cadence. Carter's clarinet insinuates itself in and the ensemble takes off. Carter continues under a trumpet solo and reappears on alto later on. Just when you think reindeer will lift them into the stratosphere, Benny returns to clarinet and cools things down for the final cymbal crash. Combining such relaxation and insistent swinging is the secret of the greatest small group jazz--a Christmas gift, indeed. O what fun it IS to ride.

"A Left Hand Like God": Recommended Boogie Woogie Website

The Prof loves barrelhouse piano and has been fascinated with its culture ever since reading Peter J. Silvestri's book on the subject years ago. Want to find out where his evocative title phrase came from and what it has to do with boogie woogie? Then bring that mouse-like object to this link to the Boogie Woogie Foundation' site run by Nonjohn (scholar John Tennison). Marvel at John's mastery of the minutiae of train lore. Thrill to his crusade to get boogie brothers George and Hersal Thomas admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Deepen your understanding of the wonder that is Meade Lux Lewis' "Honky Tonk Train" by clicking on the link to a PDF of an academic paper on its sources and meaning. In short, beat me daddy eight to the bar, cats and kittenheads.

Recommended soundtrack to boogie browsing:
The French Fremeaux label is a good place to start exploring the sounds born on the rail and turpentine camps of the Piney Woods. Their first volume rumbles around the Prof's den on a regular basis. (Amazon UK has the better deal). Seventy years ago, Alfred Lion started Blue Note Records by recording his boogie faves Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. That session is still out in a bargain cd "The First Day." Jasmine records has compiled a swell anthology of big band numbers that trace the boogie craze, "Bands That Can Boogie." The generically titled "Boogie Woogie" is an awesome ten disc box that has no documentation but plenty of rolling thunder and is a steal at under $20.

The Prof leaves the final word to John Lee Hooker in ?Boogie Chillen":

"One night I was layin´ down, I heard Mama and Papa talkin´,
I heard Papa tell Mama: Let that boy boogie woogie,
´cause it´s in him and it got to come out!
Well, I felt so good, and I went on boogie-woogie´n´ just the same..."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jingle Jammin' Begins! : Featured Cut: Merry Christmas, Baby

Prof Pals are well aware what the Prof will be doing in the next few weeks aside from saving the brains of the youth of America--burning Xmas mixes! Yes, cats and kittenheads, he's up to volume 46 of the customized "Jingle Jammin'" CDRs and will attempt to reach a half o' hundred by New Year. So the Prof herewith initiates a series within a series, featured cuts and albums from his humble estimation of the bestest of Kringlepop music. (That's ol' Fezziwig above gettin' down at the archetypal holiday office party just to get you in the mood. The illustration is by John Leech from the first edition of A Christmas Carol. You can check out a cool site dedicated to the book and other Dickens by clicking your mouse (a creature that isn't stirring, I guess.)

We begin with one of the biggies, the number which is probably the first R & B Christmas composition, written by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore and first recorded in 1947 by Moore's Blue Blazers with an assist in the studio by Johnny's brother Oscar, guitarist for Nat Cole's trio.
The track begins with bluesy arpeggios wrapped around the chords of a celesta (suggesting the jingling season subliminaly) and leads into the smoky vocals of the keyboard player Charles Brown (photo below), who switches to piano a few measures later. Brown and Moore keep it simple and urbane so that the music glows with its easy good-time feel and Moore gets in a jazzy Jingle Bells quote that spirals back down into the blues.

The lyrics are iconic American secular Xmas good-times hipness-- the first verse evokes the bling (she gave him a diamond ring so he's "livin' in Paradise," no, not that Paradise), the second verse gets all self-reflexive (he's feelin' mighty fine coz there's good music on the radio), and the last provides a good-natured gag about not drinking but feeling all lit up like a Christmas tree (they did call what Johnny and Charles and Nat and Osacar did cocktail music, after all).

This formula proved so potent that Brown recorded the song at least a dozen more times (and the Prof has interlarded them throughout his Xmas Mix), most notably in a duet with Bonnie Raitt. Brown also became a specialist in Yuletide piano blues--as we shall see later in this series.

A durable blueprint for so many great versions:

1950 Lionel Hampton Orchestra with a blistering vocal by Sonny Parker in the jump manner of Wynone Harris.

1960 Chuck Berry sliding some twangy chords that influenced snake around Jimmy Johnson's classic Chess Chicago-style fills that update Johnny's and Charles' original conception.

1964 Ike and Tina Turner burn up the Yule log with a choogling version that ends with Tina screaming "Jingle all the way!"

1968 Otis Redding Kicking off with a "dashing through the snow" riff by Booker T on the organ and cushioned by the jubilant Stax horns, this version features an exultant O at his best. You can hear him grinning through the whole track.

1971 Elvis Presley stretches out and gives it his all changing the last line from "I'm livin' in paradise" to "I'll play it through Al's mike." He plays an electric guitar solo as D J Fontana urges "Play it dirty." El is one bad Santa, know what ahm sayin?

Sherry Coben at Movie Smackdown

The Prof spent most of last Sunday afternoon reading pieces by Sherry Coben at Movie Smackdown, the site that promises "Two films! One review! No holds barred!" The format is revelatory, the referees deft and witty, and Sherry's the best writer there. Click and enjoy.