Sunday, November 28, 2010

Beale Street/The Soul of Memphis: "Sounds Like The Blues"



  The R & B Review


Tim Marchio is back again writing about his recent visit to Memphis and arguably the best music street in American, Beale Street.

I recently had the opportunity to go to Memphis on a business trip.  I had heard of Beale Street but did not have a real expectation of what it was.  Within walking distance from my hotel was an area one block long and lined on both sides with blues clubs highlighted by BB King's club.  Make no mistake, these were not high end expensive eateries with occasional music on the weekends.  These were authentic, old, some a bit weary from age, bars where Delta and Chicago Blues were the order of the day.  I went out on a Monday and Tuesday night to walk around and was greeted with at least five live acts each night at various places along the strip.  I was able to wander in and out of the clubs to take in a bit of each.  The feel is old and authentic.  Mr. King's club was located in an original building set up for southern hospitality, food and music.


In one club there was an older man playing harmonica from his new (self produced) CD with his much younger backing band, playing real blues as he lived it.  Next door, actually part of the same club, was a younger band playing the blues they loved, but most likely hadn't yet lived.  A interesting juxtaposition, yet both were authentic, good and musical in their own style.  I was entranced by the variety and quality of the music, because, when all is said and done, isn't that what this is all about, the music? 
On Tuesday evening I was on my way to BB King's club to see a band talked up by a waiter when I was there for lunch.  As I walked past a bar I heard some music I liked, so I sauntered in.  With 3 other patrons in this club, I saw a band (members in their twenties it seemed) play songs from Otis Redding, Clapton, Hendrix, George Thorogood and even the song "Wipeout" (by request from a slightly inebriated guy at the bar).   I thought they were quite good and loved their ability to change style so readily.   Then I went to BB Kings' where there were many more people and the band was more professional and experienced (also playing a Hendrix tune, The Stones and other blues standards).   
I have never seen a more special block for music.  Memphis has a very rich history in Rhythm and Blues, Soul and RockElvis lived here and the careers of many famous artists started in the two studios founded in Memphis; Stax, who had the likes of Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Booker T and the MG's, Wilson Pickett and more; and Sun Records had Elvis, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison were both located very close to Beale Street.  This area provided a true fusion of Blues, Soul, Rhythm & Blues and Rock & RollSun and Stax launched the careers of so many visionary, iconic and important artists in several musical genres in such a short period of time. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this city in the history of music and it's influence in music as we hear it today.  Try to find an artist today that has not been at least partially influenced by some of the artists whose careers were launched by Sun and Stax.
I doubt it can be done. 
Interestingly, when I was being taken back to the airport to leave this great music oasis, I spoke to the cabbie and found out that he had played with the great Albert King and had written songs with and played on the recorded versions of several Al Green tunes.  I could have spoken to him for hours.  He also worked as a sound engineer at BB King's.  What a rich history.  Apparently the music doesn't leave this place, it may take a short sojourn but it always comes back home to Memphis.  This is where it all happens and where it always will.  This city, this small strip of old buildings, sings with the music of the blues and the call to those who feel its magic is so magnetic, Beale Street will remain the home of this particular form of art. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Music Awards: Let's Play Follow The Leader

I watched most of the "American Music Awards" last Sunday night and thought to myself, "this show could have been a documentary on why the music industry in American is declining". I think I know what's hot in today's music scene and try not to judge today's music product based on my tastes.  But was it my imagination that a lot of today's young singers all sound alike?  And look alike? And dress alike? And I am not totally sure but after a while it sounded like a lot of these singers were singing the same song. The producers of this show and others like it, have good reason to use elaborate dance routines while these young "Stars" are singing.  Could it be that they are trying to hide the fact that many of these young "Stars" have voices that are unremarkable?  Don't get me wrong, there were a few exceptional performers on the stage last night, but too few to support a pop music industry that needs help badly. By the way, does anyone know if wearing dark glasses improves one's voice? I spend a lot of time looking into the past to find the musical gems that I missed, which is a much easier task then looking for the musical gems of today. Just one man's opinion.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gladys Knight Honors The Great Performers Before Her

"Before Me" is a tribute CD released on May 2, 2006.  This CD was produced by the talented music genius, Phil Ramone. The orchestra is perfect for these jazz ballads and standards. I can't find out who these superb musicians were but if anyone out there does, please share the info with me. I love the sound of Gladys Knight's voice and while her voice on this CD is smoother and clearer, it works perfectly for this group of great songs I have listed below.  I particularly loved her version and arrangement of "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me". "This Bitter Earth"is also one of my favorites on this CD.   I read a lot of reviews for this CD and was surprised to see quite a few reviews from Gladys Knight fans that were  not moved by it.  I think the problem is that  the core Gladys Knight  fans like her when she is sings R & B and gospel songs and had difficulty moving into these jazz  standards.  I had no problem, in fact, the songs on this CD fit  like an old comfortable glove. If you love the sound of Gladys Knight and the great evergreen songs listed below, you need to get this CD.  Over the past few years, we have seen many popular contemporary singers like Rod Stewart, who have put out CDs of songs from the Great American Songbook. While I was personally happy to see this occur, most of the product offered has been pretty average in my opinion.  None the less, the results were good for all lovers of these great songs because Mr Stewart and others have exposed their fans, many for the first time, to our "Special" music. I have listed the songs on this CD below and wonder how many of my readers can identity who the performers were that did the signature recordings of these songs.  If you can name any or all of the signature performers on these songs , please let me know.

1. "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me"

2. "The Man I Love"

3. "Good Morning Heartache"

4. "Since I Fell For You" 

5. "God Bless The Child"

6. "This Bitter Earth"

7. "I Got It Bad"

8. "Someone To Watch Over Me"

9. "But Not For Me"

10. "I'll Be Seeing You"

11. "Stormy Weather"

12.  "Come Sunday"






Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wynton Marsalis And The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra: Jazzmen Exceptional

Take one part Billy Strayhorn, add one part Duke Ellington, one part Stan Kenton, one part Maynard Ferguson, and one part Arturo Sandoval and what do you get?  "The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra", that's what!  Friday night November 12,  I had the listening pleasure of hearing and seeing Wynton Marsalis and the "Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra" at NJPAC.  This group is comprised
of 15 of the best soloists I have ever heard in one place at any time in my musical life.  With most jazz orchestras of this size, maybe you get to see four or five of the members playing a solo, but not in this orchestra.  Every one of the 15 had their shot at a solo before the one hour and forty-five minute show was over.  The orchestra consisted of five saxes, four trumpets, three Trombones, one bass, drummer and piano player.  The highlight of the evening for me was when the orchestra played the Duke Ellington's arrangement of "The Peanut Vendor".  This song brought me back to the late 50's, a time when I listened to this song over and over again played by the great Stan Kenton band with Maynard Ferguson on trumpet.  Here it is 50 years later and the song, the arrangement and the orchestra never sounded better.  Wynton Marsalis is clearly a musical genius by any measure and one of the good guys of jazz.  His resume is just unbelievable. He began his classical training at the age of 12 and attended the Julliard School at age 17. He made his recording debut in 1982 and has since recorded more than 70 Jazz and Classical albums.  He has won nine Grammy Awards and in 1983 became the first artist to win both a Classical and Jazz Grammy in the same year and he repeated this feat in 1984.  It's clear he is a classic jazz gentleman. He still loves to play and play he did,  preferring to sit with the trumpet section and be one with the band. All and all, a totally enjoyable evening!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Liz Callaway Shines At NJPAC

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Liz Callaway in person for the first time.  What a voice, what stage presence, what great songs she sang.  I have been a fan of her sister Ann Hampton Callaway for a while, and now I am a fan of both sisters. It never ceases to amaze me how much greater enjoyment there is in experiencing a live performance. Liz's stage credits can only be described as outstanding.  She made her Broadway debut in Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along".  She also received a Tony Award nomination for her performance in "Baby" and appeared as "Grizabella" in "Cats" just to name a few of her credits.

Her NJPAC show was entitled "An Evening With Liz Callaway" and her program included many songs from her new CD "Passage of Time".  I loved every song she sang.  I loved her pure voice and most of all I loved her original interpretation of every song she selected.  What a difference it makes when a singer understands the meaning of the lyrics of a song and then has the talent to musically present the meaning to the audience.

Liz was so impressive singing "Memory" from the role she played in "Cats" that I really felt she stunned the audience.  I have never heard it sung better!  She sang a great combination of "Raindrops Keep Falling and Singing In the Rain".  This was followed by "Make Someone Happy" combined with "Something Wonderful" from the "King and I".  This was the first of a series of a Cabaret series at NJPAC.  The next performer in this series is the legendary Marilyn Maye on December 4.  There are tickets still available, and you should make the effort to hear one of the great cabaret singers of our time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Miles Davis, Simply The Best!


There are a lot of talented trumpet players we know and love but there is only one Miles Davis.
His projection of a song's emotions is raised to a point where the listener can almost touch, as well as, hear the lyrics coming from his trumpet. Miles Davis has always been an exceptional instrumentalist who had the musical sense to bring some of the best players in the US to his recording sessions. The results of these sessions produced some of the best sounds ever recorded. Picking just one favorite from the vast list of superb songs is almost impossible. What makes this effort a little easier for me is that I have always been drawn to the great love songs Miles Davis recorded. These songs reach their top emotional level when listened to with someone you love. The best CD I found that demonstrates this is "Miles Davis Plays For Lovers". Released in 1966 and remastered in 2003. This CD is the best of the best. My favorite song that no instrumentalist has ever done better, even to this day, is the Rodgers & Hart classic,"It Never Entered My Mind". The great piano playing on this song and many of the songs on this CD is done by Red Garland with Philly Joe Jones on drums and Paul Chambers on Bass. I would like to add that Chris Botti has done an excellent job in covering several of the Miles Davis love song classics. I recently heard Chris say that Miles Davis was one of his first musical heroes and the Miles Davis influence can clearly be felt in Chris Botti's recent work. I love the sound of Chris Botti's trumpet but, for me, Miles Davis still remains in a class of his own. One last footnote, there is a trumpet player in the California desert, Rancho Mirage to be exact that has this wonderful ability when playing his trumpet to transfer all the emotion of the music and lyric directly to the listener. I am talking about my friend, Steve Madaio. Steve has the same ability that Miles Davis has when it comes to playing a great love song. I really love two songs Steve does that our from the "20 Greatest Songs Ever Written" list, "Here's That Rainy Day" and "What's New". I have never heard any instrumentalist perform these two great songs with more skill and emotion than Steve Madaio. If you are ever in the Rancho Mirage area, you can find Steve playing at "The Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa" in the Blue Ember Restaurant. If you can get there, it will be well worth the trip. Mention either of these two songs to Steve and there is a good chance he will play them for you.

I would love some feedback about your favorite Miles Davis recordings. Also, tell me about any other trumpet players you think have reached a similar level as Miles Davis, Chris Botti and Steve Madaio.

CD Review: Stephane Spira :New Playground"

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