“Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan (1977)

13 04 2009

It wasn’t until I got older that I started really appreciating Steely Dan.  I knew who they were from their radio hits (“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “Do It Again,” “Reelin’ in the Years,” etc.), but I didn’t really appreciate the smooth, smart sophistication of their music.  Steely Dan is led by Walter Becker and Donald Fagan, two wildly inventive musicians who assembled some fantastic groups of session musicians to create great albums, including my favorite, “Aja,” from which this track comes.

I’ve always loved the gorgeous sax arrangement, including the loose but intense solo, and it wasn’t until a few days ago that found out who played that part:  Pete Christlieb.

Now here’s the thing that knocked me down about that discovery (other than feeling like a fool for not knowing the musicians on these great recordings):  When I was in my high school jazz band, Mr. Christlieb visited my school to talk to us and to sit in with our band for a couple of tunes.  I had no idea that he was the man who laid down that great solo, mostly because I wasn’t really aware of the song at the time.  But for the next 20 years or so, I’ve really enjoyed the track and its horn “section”— never realizing that I once played alongside the very artist who did it!

I was lucky to have a pretty good music program in my public school, but that’s not the case for most schools, especially with the massive cuts our schools have had to endure.  Yes, our kids need to learn the basic subjects like math and English and science, but they also need exposure to other things like art and music.  They also need to know about different avenues they can travel in life.  Some kids are just not that great at academic subjects, but they may find their calling elsewhere.

We need to make sure our schools have everything they need to educate and provide opportunity for our kids.

So here’s Steely Dan, featuring the blazing tenor sax of Pete Christlieb, a supporter of public schools.  And former bandmate of your daddy.  Um, sorta.

(Thanks to Melegorm for the video upload to YouTube)


“Garota de Ipanema” performed by Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz, and Joao Gilberto (1963)

6 03 2009

Better known as “The Girl From Ipanema” in the U.S., this music by Antonio Carlos Jobim has almost become the archetype of smooth bossa nova jazz pop.  This is probably the music my parents were listening to when courting each other, hanging out at cocktail parties and subtly swaying to the gentle groove.

Sweet, buttery goodness.  And very, very fattening.

“When the Saints Go Marching In” performed by Louis Armstrong (1938)

26 02 2009

What’s not to love about Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong?  A brilliant musician, an inspired singer, and by all accounts a kind and generous human being.  As a kid playing trumpet in school bands, I knew about Mr. Armstrong from a very young age.

This song is one of the most popular tunes in western music.  Just about every musician has probably had to play it, either by request or at some point while learning their instrument (like me, in school bands).  It’s so popular that many musicians have come to resent having to play it so much.  Supposedly, some musicians in New Orleans are so fed up with the non-stop requests to play the song, that they charge extra to play it.

“Saints” is a great example of Dixieland jazz, with a bouncy beat and wonderfully intertwining parts (especially from the clarinet and trombone in this track) that set off the melody.  Truly joyful music, and in New Orleans, it’s the kind of music they play at funerals, which is far and away better than the morose organ-based music most funeral homes cue up to bring everyone down.

You’ve probably heard the tune many times, but I want to make sure you hear it from Satchmo himself.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” performed by Roberta Flack (1972)

16 01 2009



“A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness” (John Keats)


“Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles (1960)

15 09 2008

For most of my childhood, I thought Ray Charles was my third grandpa, the one I just hadn’t met yet.  I remember seeing his face on album and magazine covers, and thinking he was the epitome of pure cool.  I didn’t even know he was blind until much later.  I thought he wore the sunglasses all the time because he was, well, Ray Charles.

But Mr. Charles was as cool as you could get, at least in my opinion.  He was a pioneer, and his mark on western popular music is unmistakable.  He was, truly, a giant.

This song is kind of a lazy pick, as it is one of his signature tunes.  But it has always knocked me speechless.  You just want to sway to it.  Or at least I do.  I also want you to really hear it, before it shows up again in some vacuous tourism commercial.

Notice how the performance just seethes with tension, as if the musicians are holding back some powerful force.  Like there is so much they want to tell us about Georgia, but they can’t do it outright, so they tell us in the spaces, and in the phrasing, until they explode forward to the ending.  Awesome stuff.

And that voice!  Mr. Charles could sing the ingredients off a box of laundry detergent, and I’d buy it!  Both the record AND the detergent!

“I Wish I Was In New Orleans” by Tom Waits (1975)

14 09 2008

Every decent human being–and certainly all musicians and music-lovers–should never forgive what certain “leaders” let happen to our beloved New Orleans.  Never.

Okay.  Moving on.

Tom Waits is the poet laureate of the so-called “underclass,” the people who live around the edges of Brady Bunch bliss.  A voice from the wise people outside our lifestyle, who can better see the folly of our ways.  All of Mr. Waits’s records are worth poring over.  His songs are biting, canny, and a joy to behold.

And to New Orleans and all of her fine residents, I am so sorry.  We really let you down.

(Major kudos and thanks to coolcrowe87 for the poignant images and video upload to YouTube)

“Jumpin’ Jive” by Cab Calloway (1943)

10 09 2008

This is a two-fer:  Superb music with superhuman dancing.  Cab Calloway and his group were sort of the second house band for the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, filling in for Duke Ellington’s band when they were on the road.  Not easy shoes to fill, by any standard.

But fill them he did, and he brought the house down.  Calloway just seems like a lightning rod for all that is happening sonically in that room, moving and shaking like a cat possessed.  Listen to his singing and watch his showmanship.  Brilliant.  The enthusiasm is contagious.  Anyone not tapping his foot or moving some part of his body should be checked for a pulse.

Some people want to grow up to be doctors or pilots, but I wanted to grow up to sit behind one of those little bandstand shields, belting out all this joy from my trumpet, or shouting out responses to Calloway in that “call and answer” style.

This clip is from a movie called “Stormy Weather,” and while it’s not such a great movie, it showcased a lot of terrific talent.  Like the Nicholas Brothers, the dancers who take over the floor.  Can you believe how good they are?  How wonderful would it be to so submerge yourself in music, that you could move your body like that?

Enjoy!  As Calloway sings:

“The jip-jam-jump is a jumpin’ jive

Makes you nine foot tall when you’re four foot five!”

Okay, a three-fer:  Joe Jackson, who is quite well-represented in our music collection, made a great album of old jazz/swing standards called “Jumpin’ Jive.”  He normally did smart post-punk rock back then, but his small ensemble of musicians (including Graham Maby, one of my favorite bass players) does a terrific job of covering this tune.  As you can see, he’s a fan of Calloway’s music as well: