Tag Archives: miles davis

Etiquette & An Unexpected Journalistic Assist

[UPDATE 05.21.14: David got in touch with me privately and was quite thoughtful and sincere, nullifying the below post.]

I’m happy to report that, albeit in a very small way, I have possibly contributed to an article in The Boston Globe. More on that in a bit. I’d first like to say, however, that this post is simply about manners, if it’s about anything at all (beyond, perhaps, quasi-narcissistic neuroses). I often consider blogging about etiquette, as there never seems to be enough to go around, but this particular episode has provided the proper inspiration. Again, I’m only concerned with manners here. (I am in NOT suggesting plagiarism or anything of the sort AT ALL – my former students know how seriously I consider that charge to be…)

The Globe article in question is last week’s review of Miles Davis’s recently released Miles at the Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3. It appears as though I helped find source material for the opening passage. Neat! However, I didn’t know at the time because the small nugget of information I believe that I provided – or at least showed the way to – to the article’s author, Globe Correspondent David Weininger, went unthanked and ignored. I’m certainly making a mountain out of a molehill here, but it’s nonetheless curious and a bit annoying.

A few weeks ago I happened to see via Twitter that someone (Weininger, whom I was unfamiliar with at the time) was asking about a particular Keith Jarrett interview regarding a Miles anecdote. His question, retweeted by an account dedicated to ECM (Jarrett’s label of choice), grabbed my attention, as I immediately knew the answer. (My large Miles and Jarrett collections pay off in more ways than one, I suppose.) After quietly gloating to myself and quickly confirming the answer with my own copy of the interview, I checked online video sources (hence the YouTube mention) and answered. And, as you can see, I was at least the only one to respond publicly via Twitter (screenshot taken tonight from his page):

One retweet by @ECMSound and one reply from yours truly. That’s the extent of the whole thread. I had visited his Twitter feed a few times after that to see if anything came of it, but I never heard back and eventually forgot about it. Until this evening, that is, when I thought of it for no reason whatsoever. Returning to his feed, I was surprised to see the following succession of tweets from last week:

And if you click on the links to the actual article, you’ll see that that Miles anecdote is the first paragraph.

Now, should I have been cited in the article? Absolutely not – the very thought is absurd. But a simple reply of “thanks” (no capitalization or punctuation required!) or some other brief acknowledgement would’ve been great. And, who knows, perhaps Weininger found his answer elsewhere. Totally feasible, and I completely understand. Though, the aforementioned video of that interview is difficult to track down outside of sold, copyrighted media – hence my YouTube reference. It’s noteworthy that a quick Google search of that quote, for me, is topped by Weininger’s article, which is accurate, followed by some slightly paraphrased versions on websites of Miles quotes. (I just watched the interview on my DVD again to confirm the accuracy.) So he must’ve tracked down the legit video somewhere…

Even so, isn’t it polite to say “thank you”? In a similar crowdsourcing escapade last summer, Dr. Mark Berry asked his many followers (of which I’m one) for recommended recordings of Wagner art songs. It’s a positive case study, considering he already received his answer:
IMG_0527(Granted, I had had limited online interaction with Dr. Berry preceding this, but I doubt he could pick me out of a crowd despite the semi-annual RT.)

Again, my “role” in that review is tangential at best. If Weininger’s a head chef, then I’m a dishwasher…but he did ask for a clean salad bowl! Tonight I tweeted at David to see if he’d respond. He hasn’t yet, but he’s since been tweeting with others, so I’ll go ahead and green-light this post that I doubt he’ll see. And that’s unfortunate, because I really want to tell him something…

You’re welcome.

Earnestness or Excuses? II

I’d like to continue exploring the topic of intention and reception. I ended my previous post on this topic referencing technical ability and execution. This was on my mind quite a bit a few weeks ago as I listened to Pat Metheny and Ornette Coleman‘s Song X: Twentieth Anniversary. I really enjoy that album, as I enjoy both Pat and Ornette separately, but I found myself still tuning out through Ornette Coleman’s violin solo in “Mob Job.” For the uninitiated, Coleman famously – infamously? – extended his free jazz (or harmolodic) approach beyond the saxophone, his instrument, and started incorporating trumpet and violin – instruments he couldn’t play. After years of this, he’s now labeled as a saxophonist, trumpeter, and violinist in many articles.

I could listen to Ornette’s sax playing all day long and really dig it, but there’s a part of me that can’t get past his taking up instruments and just making noise without any ability. While most lay listeners would probably just think it all sounds the same, I can’t get past it as a musician. (And no, it certainly does not sound the same.) For reference, here’s some footage of Coleman on violin, later switching to trumpet (it’s entertaining to see him adjust the violin’s fine tuning peg):

Now contrast that with his saxophone playing from the same concert (the first half of this video). I get behind this. It’s not just a sonic wash of ascending and descending passages:

Before going further, I should say that I don’t mean for this article to be an “attack” on Coleman. Far from it. (And what would he care, he’s accomplished far more in his career than I could hope to.) I do genuinely enjoy his music and greatly appreciate what he did for art. But this one aspect sticks in my craw and, more importantly, relates to the larger topic I started exploring here a few weeks back. In fact, many more offensive examples that I’ve seen in person come to mind, but Coleman’s perhaps the most well-known example I can think of for use here. I find myself really agreeing with Miles Davis on this point (from his autobiography):

For him – a sax player – to pick up a trumpet and violin like that and just think he can play them with no kind of training is disrespectful toward all those people who play them well. And then to sit up and pontificate about them when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about is not cool, man. But you know, music’s all just sounds anyway.[1. Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), p. 250.]

I sympathize with both Miles’s disagreement but also his acknowledging the place of sound. If someone just wants a wash of ascending and descending lines, then who cares if they play the instrument well or not? I easily concede that point, as I get it from an artistic/theoretical perspective. What if a musicians just wants a bunch of squeaks and squawks on the saxophone? One could argue that it may be best for a non-saxophonist to produce such sounds. In fact, we can see this here in a live video of none other than Marilyn Manson in 2005:

Before too many of you raise your eyebrows and say that Mary (as I’ve called him since middle school) is just being obnoxious while Ornette is creating art, briefly consider a few things:
1. Yes, the saxophone was used to create noise. That was the intent.
2. This occurs at the end of the title song of 2003’s The Golden Age of Grotesque. That whole album (and tour and surrounding ethos) was not just about “the grotesque,” which is vague, but rather it drew heavily from German Kabarett, censorship (particularly the Degenerate Art exhibitions under the Third Reich), and minstrelsy. He then connected those themes with post-Columbine and post-9/11 American culture. (Manson’s no intellectual slouch…)[2. If you want to go deeper down this rabbit hole, I suggest this article that I recently came across when assembling some links for this post. Good stuff.]
3. Strictly focusing on saxophone, kudos to him for using a period-appropriate model. Sigurd Rascher would’ve been proud. 🙂
4. Outside of including “saxophone” under his name in the album’s liner notes, Mary isn’t referred to as a “saxophonist” in his articles or titles. He understands the context.
5. FYI: I didn’t go searching for an outrageous example saxophone squawks to be incendiary. The last time I saw Marilyn Manson in concert was on this tour in 2003, and I occasionally go back to that memory when thinking of this particular instrumental conundrum.

Context matters, of course. Because at the end of the day they’re two men making noise on instruments they can’t play.

Now of course there can be an intersection between the above two poles in which someone “makes noise” on his/her primary instrument that seems indiscernible from a novice. Some of Evan Parker‘s music comes to mind. In the below video, if you were to just watch the images without sound, one would think he’s just letting his fingers run wild. However, when you actually listen to his sounds, you hear incredible control of both tonguing, range, and contour. He manages polyphony all by himself. (I can be partial, though, because I’m a Parker fan.):

Also, Parker’s no one-trick pony. His playing on Boustrophedon and Composition/Improvisation No. 1, 2, & 3 is different, for example. As is his playing in the second video of this MTH-V post.

Whew. Well, that’s enough to chew on for now. I’ll definitely be returning to this topic. And, as I said in my last post in this series, these are real rough drafts. I’m just trying to collect my thoughts on this topic.


Grammys 2012: My $0.02

For me, the Grammys largely come and go most years without much notice. I occasionally have some small emotional stake in one or two awards. This year I was pleased to see Bon Iver (praised here) not only nominated but win, and I was pleased that they refused to perform. I don’t often watch the show. It’s not out of protest or an attempt to be some sort of hipster; I’m more curious in the outcome than the fanfare, presentations, and most performances. And yes, I’m well aware that the Grammys are more of a corporate than artistic affair. (That’s part of what made Herbie‘s well-deserved 2008 Album of the Year win so exciting.)

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

This year I actually had Sunday evening free and decided I’d watch the awards show. You know, give it a chance. (After all, I was hoping for some Bon Iver success, and I was quite looking forward to the Beach Boys‘ reunion performance.) That lasted about 30-40 minutes, or however long it took for Chris Brown‘s sad display to end, before I shut it off. Bruce was Bruce (and wasn’t helped by the awkward camera work), and the derivative Bruno Mars set lost my interest after a minute or two. (I love James Brown’s music, especially when it’s James Brown doing James Brown. [Un]fortunately [for Bruno Mars], it’s more than wardrobe and staging.)

Then good ol’ Chris. Not only was I offended when I first saw it (having looked up from my laptop, as I was also following the Greek debacle), but my irritation has grown as the week’s progressed. His performance, as I’m sure you know by now, sparked controversy across all media, but not for artistic reasons. Everyone’s been in a furor over 1) the Grammys allowing him to perform after his pre-Grammy domestic violence a few years ago, and 2) various reactions to those reactions, etc., especially via the all-powerful Twitter (granting gravitas to dumb 14 year olds everywhere). Yes, domestic violence is awful, and should not be either taken lightly or even forgiven. But here I’m coming from a strictly artistic point of view – music only, personal history aside. People who have done far worse have received infinitely much more praise throughout the years, and it’s often necessary to separate the music from the (wo)man. As someone with a deep, deep love of the music of both Miles Davis and Richard Wagner, I know this all too well. As high as a mantle as I may place the appropriately-named Prince of Darkness, I know and discuss his many shortcomings. It would’ve been amazing to have been his employee and band member, but not so much his friend or acquaintance. Forget Brown, Miles could have given a masterclass in misogyny and domestic violence. (Let’s not forget that he also enjoyed boxing). And of course there was his legendary drug addiction. Yet he recently received his own US stamp…

Often, an artist is quite complicated, and while a person’s life can and does inform their art, the art can – though understandably not always – also be judged separately from the (cult of) personality. Sure, different strokes for different folks – what some can compartmentalize others cannot. It can be as severe as Miles, or as subjective (for me) as Ted Nugent. 🙂

Anyway, back to Mr. Brown. Aside from his absurd staging, which resembled more of a realized Q*bert fantasy than anything else, his lip-syncing was atrocious. Not that he was lip-syncing, but that he was doing so poorly. Unless, of course, he wanted onlookers to believe he could circular breathe while doing so. Add to that the fact that he was lip-syncing something that was severely auto-tuned and you’ve got a recipe for something really special. I watched it as one would watch a train-wreck, and then to my astonishment the crowd (largely of music industry types) went wild. Hm. A man lip-syncs vocal effects in front of thousands of musicians and is adored. Corporate or not, that’s something to behold.

This whole last week, Adam Carolla has been saying about Brown on his podcast that, “We’ve constructed a society in which you can be forgiven for anything as long as you can dance.” While he was saying that in context of Brown’s domestic violence and Jacko’s many controversies, his point could just as well be applied to Brown’s performance itself (and many other pop acts). As with most things, Ace was on-point.

I simply waited until Monday to catch the Beach Boys performance on the internet, and I must say I watched it probably twenty times. What a joy. Unfortunately, most reviews referenced or centered around their age and appearance, but let’s not forget that they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary. (That generally means old.) Sure, some of the harmonies could have been a little cleaner, but overall they sounded quite good for all being near 70. And in context, they outdid the preceding lackluster cover performances by Maroon 5 and Foster the People. (Case in point, when Adam Levine and that other guy joined them for the end of “Good Vibrations,” Levine made no effort to actually sing into the microphone. Was he afraid the judge wouldn’t turn his/her throne around?) Yes, the Beach Boys are old, and Brian Wilson often looked near death. However, given everything they’ve been through – professionally, emotionally, physically, mentally, and psychopharmacologically – it’s amazing those survivors did anything at all. (Just skim their lineup history for a taste of the drama.) And Brian Wilson actually looked to be having a ball at times.

As surprised as I was to hear so much discussion of Chris Brown after the Grammys, I was equally surprised – and disappointed – at the lack of Beach Boys discussion. While I didn’t expect them to receive undying praise from all media outlets, it seems as if their performance was largely unnoticed. Perhaps I’m cynical, but maybe there are just too many left alive to care. I mean, The Beach Boys are one of the biggest rock/pop acts in American music, and Brian Wilson is consequently considered one of the great American pop songwriters. The Beach Boys also allowed the US to give England & the Beatles a run for their money in the 1960s. I’m sure part of it is their heavy association with a particular geographical area (i.e., the tropical coast), and the fact that their enduring career provided a decent amount of cheese, possibly diluting the more substantial material. (I can’t be the only one my age who remembers endlessly hearing “Kokomo” at the roller-rink in elementary school.)

[This of course touches on a whole other area worthy of much discussion – longevity and surpassing one’s prime – distilled in this clip from High Fidelity (a GREAT movie for pop music snobbery — one of my favorites, and one I often reference in this blog) – simply substitute The Beach Boys for Stevie Wonder.]

Although Brian Wilson (and the rest of his bandmates) have enjoyed wildly different post-1960s careers than those of McCartney, Lennon, et. al., and even the Grateful Dead, the fact remains that they belonged to bands that laid the groundwork for much of what took place the subsequent 4+ decades. I saw a (skeletal) Beach Boys performance around 2003 – Mike Love had licensed the name for touring with bandmate Bruce Johnston and a backing band that I think comprised most of the Grammy backing band – and it quite fun. Similarly, and more profoundly, when I saw the original Black Sabbath in 2004 & 2005 and The Dead in 2010, I knew that I was seeing a genuine piece of rock history. Also in those cases, the old original members blew away their younger competition.

Going back to the aforementioned Grammy performances, The Beach Boys actually sang (!!!) those trademark tight vocal harmonies and ended up a footnote, whereas Chris Brown pretended to sing auto-tune and walked away with much of the press’s attention (thanks also to his tremendous hubris).

And jazz and classical musicians are sad to be largely excluded from this circus…? Blech.

MTH-V: Miles – Live in Berlin ’73

This Christmas, for whatever reason, I’ve been in an early Liebman & electric Miles kind of mood. Hence this week’s video. Miles’s pre-hiatus electric period is one of my favorites of his. For those fans of the addicting Dark Magus (1977), you should love this clip.

This was originally a television broadcast of a live performance, but I believe it’s since been circulated on one of the European bootleg outfits. (I have a number of those, but have yet to pick up this gem. I didn’t know it was available.) The video and audio quality are quite crisp for being so old and “lost.” For those Miles fans out there intimately familiar with The Miles Davis Story DVD, a clip or two from this concert (this particular clip, in fact) are included in the portion on his electric 1970s period.

A couple highlights (among many) in this clip:
1. Miles as Bandleader:  I’ve mentioned before my fondness for Miles as a bandleader. Here you see him “conducting” at time, especially during Liebman’s solo (3:34-5:20). Sure, his back was to the audience (gasp!), but what he was really doing was facing the band.
2. Liebman’s solo: On fire! (As always…)
3. THE BAND!: This core lineup is featured on a number of ~1973-5 recordings.
Miles Davis – Trumpet, Organ
Pete Cosey – Guitar, Percussion
Al Foster – Drums
Michael Henderson – Bass
Dave Liebman – Saxophones, Flute, Percussion
Reggie Lucas – Guitar
James Mtume – Percussion

Title: “Moja – Pt. 1” (or “Turnaround”)


MTH-V: Mike Stern & Bob Berg

Two weeks ago I posted a 1985 Miles Davis performance featuring Bob Berg and John Scofield. Piggybacking on that, this week I’d like to focus Bob Berg and another guitarist: Mike Stern (another Miles alumnus). This time they’re fronting their own band, having each moved on from being sidemen to the Prince of Darkness.

Berg’s “Friday Night at the Cadillac Club” is a fun and funky blues, especially with Stern. (I like bassist Lincoln Goines; Dennis Chambers‘s drumming is pretty static, but that somewhat comes with the funk-ish territory.) This particular tune sticks out in my mind after having seen Berg in what turned out to be his final year. (I saw him in February 2002, and he was killed in an car accident that December.) I whistled that melody to myself for weeks afterward.

Both of the videos are from 1990. The first is from Japan’s 1990 Newport Jazz Festival. (Enjoy the ubiquitous Budweiser ads throughout the festival grounds.) I prefer the solos in this first video, but the sound quality is better in the second (though the first is good enough). Beware the hideous cuts around the second chorus of each solo in the second video, however. (That’s why it’s not the main video in this post.) Music aside, someone should have suggested that Bob pack a second outfit for this tour. 🙂 But, at least his fashion sense drastically improved after 1985!


(Beware of skips!)