The great jazz trumpeter has passed, way too young. I saw him play with Other Dimensions in Music (also featuring William Parker, Rashid Bakr, and Daniel Carter) in Atlanta in 1999. Here’s a piece from the band in 2009.
Another of the great country legends has traveled to the great honky tonk in the sky. Today, Ray Price doesn’t have the cache of Cash, Nelson, Haggard, or Williams. But like George Jones, his influence within the genre of country music was titanic, even if it traveled less to the broader musical culture. Check this out from his obituary in the Times:
Over a career that began in the 1940s, Mr. Price placed more than 100 singles on the country charts, including Top 10 hits like “City Lights,” “Heartaches by the Number” and “Make the World Go Away.” He hired future country stars to play in his band, notably Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck. And Pamper Music, the publishing company that he owned with two partners, helped start the careers of hit songwriters like Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran and Mr. Nelson.
He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Mr. Price first helped change country music in the mid-1950s, when, hoping to distinguish his sound from that of his former roommate Hank Williams, he and his band transformed the gutbucket country shuffle of the postwar era into sleek, propulsive honky-tonk.
That’s a pretty bloody impressive resume. Among the other people in the Cherokee Cowboys was a young fiddler named Mark Feldman, now a legend of his own on the avant-garde jazz scene in New York. I’ve always found this fascinating given how little his own music is influenced by his years in Nashville.
Part of the reason I suppose Price’s legend is less well known was his choice to keep selling records by transitioning into the countrypolitan sound in the late 60s. That smoothness doesn’t sing to modern hip audiences who like their country, which is defined against the garbage coming out of Nashville today, as something rough, manly, slightly violent. Lots of songs about prison, murder, drinking, etc. And that’s fine. But not only is not all of country music, it leaves out a lot of really talented people who get relegated to “the country music I don’t like even if I’ve never heard Ray Price/Faron Young/Jim Reeves/Hank Snow/Etc” category.
Another key point to Price’s legacy was the release of his Night Life album in 1963. We’ve talked before here about the failure of the country music establishment to understand the potential of the album format, and thus you’d have all these people releasing 4 albums a year, each consisting of 2 good songs, a bunch of lame covers of current pop hits, and some real dreck. Night Life was one of the first real thought out albums in country music history. It’s also a masterpiece of the genre. The great Austin musician Dale Watson calls Night Life his all-time favorite album, and it certainly deserves consideration for the honor. Here’s a couple key tracks off the album. First, we have the title track, “Night Life.”
And then we have “Bright Lights and Blonde Haired Women”
But of course his legacy includes dozens of other hits. One is “City Lights.” This is a live performance from 1962.
And finally an example from his countrypolitan period, doing a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times,” which Price has called his favorite recording of his career.
If you were at the James McMurtry show last night in Fall River, Massachusetts, your least favorite intellectually dishonest blogger was there with you. I had forgotten how utterly compelling McMurtry could be live. He doesn’t exactly scream charisma, either on his albums or in his bearing or in his limited singing voice. He’s extremely socially awkward and only interacts with the crowd to the extent that he wants to tell them things. But in this solo acoustic show (the first time I’ve seen him in this format, though this is probably the 7th or so time I’ve seen him), I don’t know that I have ever seen an audience as singularly focused on the performer. Usually there’s some jerks talking, people milling about, whatever. Not last night. It was almost total attention. I guess it’s a combination of his unusual personal intensity (he really seems to start right through you when performing) and the amazing quality of the songs.
True story. In 2005, I was driving back from Las Vegas to Santa Fe. And I was getting really sick. By the hour, I was feeling worse and worse. I suppose I should have had my friend drive, but he hated driving and didn’t own a car. Anyway, by the time we got to Flagstaff I was really struggling and thinking about pulling over for a nap or to have him take over. But he had just purchased McMurtry’s Live in Aught-Three album. The only of his albums I think I had at that point was Where’d You Hide the Body, so I wasn’t all that knowledgeable of his catalog. Anyway, listening to this, struggling to go on, was the first time I ever heard “Choctaw Bingo.” I was so blown away and so amused by this comedic tour de force of a meth family that it picked me right up and I slammed through the rest of that drive and got home OK. I credit it with helping to save my life that night. This is a song that works best electric, but it was highly enjoyable to see last night in any form.
Edward Bland’s 1959 documentary The Cry of Jazz is one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen. An early statement of the black nationalism that would become famous in the late 60s, Bland argues in this 30 minute film that only African-Americans have the soul and history to play jazz and that whites need to understand their inferiority in the genre is precisely because of their racist history. It’s an amazing film.
Shot for nearly nothing, The Cry for Jazz has bad acting, cheesy dialogue, and an awesome political point. There’s some sort of jazz club meeting. Whites and blacks are both there. They start arguing about race and jazz. The whites typically eschew any sense that blacks are better at jazz or that they have any responsibility for racial inequality or the legacy of slavery and racism. And for Bland, those two things are inseparable. The rest of the film switches from a narrator explaining the relationship between race and music (along with some quite technical information about the music, not every casual fan would get all the references) and the conversation continuing onto new points. The black characters in the room utter such lines as “The Negro is the only Human American” and “If whites had souls, they wouldn’t have tried to steal the Negro’s.” The legacy of racism creates the suffering that allows jazz to exist, thus “Jazz is the one element in American life where whites must be humble to Negroes.”
At the point of maybe convincing the whites, the lead narrator makes an even more shocking statement–Jazz is dying. Why? Because it can’t contain the black experience. New forms of music are needed, a clear reference to rock and roll. One assumes Bland saw hip hop as the extension of this late in life, but I wonder. And let’s face it, jazz is pretty white in 2013. Not exclusively so. But pretty white.
Who thus was Bland’s choice as the vanguard of the African nationalist music at the time? Why Sun Ra and his Arkestra! First, it’s of course the appropriate choice but who knows how obvious that was in 1959? Second, this is the first known footage of the Arkestra! It’s shot very darkly so most of it is of John Gilmore and you only see Ra’s back. But wow.
The film was quite controversial within the African-American intellectual community. Ralph Ellison hated it. LeRoi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka, loved it. For a period where assimilationism dominated the civil rights movement, this is quite the forward thinking statement.
Certainly not the best movie I’ve ever seen but judged for its jaw-dropping message and audacity, it’s a must see.
The great free jazz drummer has passed. Here’s a clip of him in possibly my favorite jazz band of all-time, Last Exit, with Peter Brotzmann, Bill Laswell, and Sonny Sharrock. This clip really features Jackson’s work.
I know after watching that, everyone is ready for a nice smooth mellow evening, just like after listening to a little Kenny G. I love Last Exit so much because for all the craziness, Jackson still grounds it in a big blues-rock beat that drives the music like a hammer.
Check this out too:
Mr. Jackson was born in Fort Worth on Jan. 12, 1940. His mother, Ella Mae, played piano and organ at a Methodist church and his father, William, was the proprietor of Fort Worth’s only black-owned record store and jukebox supplier. The saxophonists King Curtis and David (Fathead) Newman were relatives; among the musicians who preceded him at I. M. Terrell High School were Mr. Coleman and the saxophonists Dewey Redman and Julius Hemphill. Mr. Jackson played his first public engagement, with the saxophonist James Clay, at age 15, then worked with Ray Charles’s band in Dallas. In 1966 he went to New York, where he enrolled at New York University. That year he made his first recording, with the Charles Tyler Ensemble, and joined Ayler’s band. His work with Ayler is documented on two roughly recorded but urgently played volumes of “Live at Slug’s Saloon.”
So the same Fort Worth high school produced Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, Dewey Redman, and Shannon Jackson. Huh. Whatever was in the water out there was pretty potent.
If Robert Byrd and his awesome fiddling were still in the Senate, it seems we could solve most of our political problems.
Bipartisanship around mountain music is something I think everyone can get around.
Byrd actually was a quite a good fiddler.
Woody Guthrie summed up the 2013 Republican Party without knowing it.
For your Saturday night, Louis Armstrong in Copenhagen, either 1933 or 1934 (sources use different dates). This has to be one of the first recordings of live music on film. Sound is pretty good too.
Do you ever wonder what your LGM writers do on Friday evenings, scouring the internet to entertain you? Well this, your daily World War II musical artifact, is pretty much what I do. It goes well with a negroni. As does everything else.
…A film in the same series, “Yankee Doodler” is just a bit more problematic, as music, as racism, and as propaganda. But hey, it stars Fred from I Love Lucy.
Others may have their own choice for the year’s best song, but I don’t know that I’ve heard a song as powerful as Jason Isbell’s “Elephant.” Note: this is not a song that will make you feel happy. It is about cancer. Be warned.